nobody owns tomorrow - The Other President

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nobody owns tomorrow - The Other President
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
1
NOBODY OWNS TOMORROW
ENJ. CARTER
© 1994
The USNS Geiger would slowly crawl to the top of a towering wave
and then plunge into the turbulent North Atlantic like a drunk
taking a dive out of a hotel window. Then, seemingly helpless in the
churning hollow between the violent cresting waves, it would begin
its climb again until it repeated it’s sickening plunge like a roller
coaster. The Geiger’s GI passengers threw up continually from their
bunks, or slid in the vomit of their shipmates, as they desperately
held on to the rails that lined the Geiger’s snake-like passageways,
and waited to be slammed against its metal walls on the next savage
wave.
Up on the small companionway space the led to the middle of
the stormy deck, Terry Chandler lit a Camel and thought about
Mario Pisanello’s advice.
“Don’t drink the liquids, Terry; and eat plenty of crackers, my
friend,” Mario had said on the bus to Bremerhaven.
And it worked. While most of the ship was puking on each
other, he was okay. He took a long drag on his Camel and pushed
opened the hatch door. The spray from the mean North Atlantic was
cold, stinging, but felt good, as he held the door and looked out into
the night. The deck was lit by spotlights, and he could see the
violent waves climbing over the bow, desperate, it seemed, to pull
the Geiger under, but the Geiger refused to submit.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
Well, at least he wasn’t paying for the trip, he thought, as he
looked at the nimbus of light that projected just beyond the bow.
“You up there, Terry?” said a whining, nasal voice. It was the
voice of Joyce Bannon. Terry had only known Bannon since
boarding the Geiger at Bremahaven, Germany, but he liked him. He
could hear Bannon climbing the metal steps that led to the
companionway.
“You up there, Terry?” asked the voice again, but this time it
was out of breath.
“Yeah, you are.”
Terry let the hatch door slam shut.
“Figured you’d be getting off on the waves, Terry--got some
bad news. No fuckin’ way that you’re going to like it,” Bannon said,
pausing before the top step and holding onto the rails with both
hands.
“Let’s have it,” Terry said impatiently.
“No fuckin’ way are you going to like it,” Bannon repeated.
“Okay Bannon, what is it?”
“I know you admired him so I wanted to tell you instead of
you hearing it first from some cracker.”
“Good, now what is it, Bannon?”
“They shot Kennedy in the head.”
“A rumor, right--just a dumb-ass rumor,” Terry said wishfully
while feeling himself go hollow.
“Right in the fuckin’ bean,” Bannon said, sticking out his
thumb and forefinger to approximate a gun.
2
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
3
Terry opened the hatch door. The violent sea looked like it
was throwing up.
“Jesus I’m sorry, Terry, I know how much you thought of the
guy.”
Terry turned to look at Bannon again. There was only a small
amount of light from the passageway below, and he could barely see
Bannon’s face.
“Russians?” he asked.
“Nobody knows--they got the short wave on downstairs.”
Terry could feel his body drain out until it didn’t feel like it
was there. Like a piece of chalk, he thought.
He looked at Bannon again…a sorry-assed lifer if there ever
was one. Raw meat for the hungry green machine in Southeast Asia.
The war every lifer was trying to get to because of quick
promotions. How the hell could Bannon have re-enlisted?
“Most of the ship don’t give a shit, you know,” Bannon said,
scratching his crotch. “Hey I just had a weird thought. What if they
hit Johnson too, who the fuck would be president?”
“You sure about this, Bannon?”
“Does a bull elephant have a cock?”
“Okay, you told me,” Terry said searching his fatigues for the
Camels he tried so hard not to smoke.
“Jesus you’re taking it hard, Terry. I can see you’re taking it
hard. It’s almost chow time, you could use a little food, you know.”
Terry gave Bannon a cold stare.
Bannon shrugged instinctively.
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4
You little shit, all you can think of is food? Terry thought,
sticking another Camel in his mouth.
“Your mother, your girl, and now Kennedy. I mean a guy has
got to have a friend at a time like this,” Bannon said
sympathetically.
“Get some chow, I’ll see you in a few minutes,” Terry said,
desperately trying to get control over himself, but the assassination
had already penetrated his nerve endings.
Bannon spoke for a couple of minutes but Terry didn’t hear
him. All he could hear was Kennedy telling Terry Chandler he could
do great things for his country, and for all of mankind. He ran
Kennedy’s speeches and press conferences over in his mind, a
montage of words and pictures that had stirred him, and awakened
him, and made him laugh as well, always the laughter, the president
fielding a difficult question with a quip that would send uproarious
laughter throughout the press room, the hardened cynical faces of
the press breaking down to human expressions of warmth and
admiration, smiling glowingly, as they shared a laugh with the
President of the United States.
You don’t kill something like that. You just don’t do it, he said
to himself. Well he wasn’t going to change, he would remember the
way it was. Nobody was going to change him. He wasn’t moving on.
He wouldn’t forget.
Bannon was halfway down the steps when Terry noticed him
again. A dark shadow dropping away from him.
“That guy who took your girl, you want help, you let me
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5
know,” Bannon said in a tough voice.
Terry watched the dark shadow clump down the metal
staircase for a few seconds and then disappear. He turned around,
gripped the hatch door handle and pulled on it until the hatch door
opened wide enough to reveal the Atlantic Ocean. The USNS Geiger
seemed incredibly vulnerable as its bow plunged into the clutching
sea, and then rose again to break the Atlantic’s vicious grasp,
moving forward as if bad luck would be the only thing to bring it
down. But after the news about Kennedy, watching the Geiger’s
struggle against the Atlantic was like looking at a soundless black
and white movie. Terry could not feel himself actually standing
there, the realness of everything that had existed before the news
about Kennedy seemed to have been sucked away, leaving only a
colorless silent world before him. It was if the news about Kennedy
had sucked the life out of his body like the townspeople in the
movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
The mess hall was too small to accommodate the thousand or
so GIs on the Geiger, so the GI’s ate in shifts.
Terry and Bannon were seated at a metal table.
“Fuckers are really throwing up in my bay,” said Bannon,
sticking a sausage in his mouth.
“Change the subject, will you?” Terry said, pushing a sparse
tray of food away from him, and then taking out a Camel.
“Some crackers in my bay applauded when they heard the
news about Kennedy--can you imagine?” Bannon said, looking down
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6
as if he knew he had just delivered a kick to Terry’s gut.
“You little fucker. You know I don’t want to hear that,” Terry
said, breaking his Camel.
“You’re going to have to get used to it, Terry, a lot of crackers
hated Kennedy’s guts. I’ll tell you...in the end people don’t really
give a shit, one president comes in, the other goes out.”
Terry was suddenly watching a movie. Bannon was on the
screen, so was Terry with a fistful of Spec 4 Bannon’s fatigue collar
in his hand. He was twisting it into a knot so that Spec 4 Bannon’s
face started to look purple. Finally, the hand in the movie released
Spec 4 Bannon.
“I’m sorry,” Terry said, standing up. He had never done
anything like that before and he was confused.
Bannon took a few deep breaths and said, “Shit, sometimes I
don’t know why I say things like that...you’re a good person, Terry. I
didn’t mean to get you upset--the offer still stands, I mean it, I really
fuckin’ mean it. Stay with me and my mother, 205th Street is heaven
compared to 177th Street. I wouldn’t send a dog to live in that
neighborhood--Look, I know you don’t want to stay with your
stepfather. And my mother would love to have you.”
Terry took out another Camel. He liked Bannon, he really did,
but the little fucker loved to bust balls. One minute he was like a
choir boy, the next, trying to get you all riled up. Besides being
small, his face was pinkish and real oval. He could have easily had
rabbit as a nickname.
“An Italian guy I was stationed with thinks he can get an
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7
apartment real cheap in the Village,” Terry said, sticking the Camel
in his mouth. He was still standing.
A look of astonishment appeared on Bannon’s face.
“Greenwich Village?”
“The Village--yes,” replied Terry, now sorry he had continued
the conversation with Bannon.
Bannon put his pinky to his eyebrow and moved it
effeminately.
“You don’t know when to leave things alone, do you, Bannon?”
Terry said, walking away from the table. He could hear Bannon
mumble an apology but he didn’t turn around.
Terry walked down the passageway and then climbed the
metal stairs leading to the dark companionway space next to the
hatch door where Bannon had given him the bad news. He sat on
the metal floor and closed his eyes. The whooshing sound of
crashing waves and hail lashing against the hatch door were
comforting as he tried to keep his mind blank, but his brain insisted
on sending him images of German children standing at attention
like wooden soldiers on the Autobahn overpasses, saluting him and
other soldiers because of Kennedy’s visit to their country. And then
he saw Kennedy at Fligorhorst Airfield: standing in a jeep, trooping
the line, shaking the hand of each battalion commander, looking
right at him as he passed by, a war hero that any American soldier
on the old Luftwaffe air base would have followed in combat. And
he could still hear the speech Kennedy gave in front of l5,000 men
whose heads did not move, and he could not take it anymore and
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8
forced this image from his brain only to have it replaced by his
mother lying in a hospital bed with a brain tumor. He wondered if
he would be able to have a conversation with her when he got back,
the tumor was winning, his sister’s letters had indicated, but at least
he could be near her now--yeah, the Village, why not? It would be
good to be around people with dreams. Order a chicken sandwich
and you could be talking to the next Picasso.
The thought of living in the Village made Terry feel good for a
moment, but then the sudden image of Kennedy’s brains being
blown away dizzied him, and caused him to gag violently.
Hours later Terry was still in the companionway space, but
standing instead of sitting, listening to the churning sea as one
thought after another smashed against him like waves against a
bow: He had to return to see his mother, it was the right thing to do
and it was what he wanted to do was a huge wave. If he had taken
his discharge in Europe it would have been easier to forget about
Rosemary and the 4F she was going to marry was another. He could
join the Peace Corps like he had intended even if Kennedy was dead,
was a towering wave that seemed to smother him.
He gasped for air and kicked open the hatch door, which flew
back and forth wildly in the cutting wind. The deck had a safety line
for the crew strung from the bow to the stern with spotlights
highlighting the safety line. The light was brightest near the bow
and he decided that’s where he wanted to go. The USNS Geiger
bounced fiercely from the energy of the storm, but Terry managed
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9
to get a good grip on the safety line. He was well past mid-deck
when a huge wave accompanied by a thunderous roar seemed to lift
the Geiger out of the water and leave it suspended in the air for a
moment before it dived head first into the dark, turbulent sea. Terry
slid like a hockey puck and bounced off a smokestack. He tried to
get to his feet but another wave sent him sliding across the deck.
Finally he managed to get to his feet but staggered like a New Year’s
drunk before being thrown to the deck face down.
That was when he decided to crawl on all fours to the lighted
area near the bow. It was so fuckin’ funny, he thought--on all fours.
He had seen a Pfc doing that once in front of a first sergeant, but the
first sergeant just laughed. Then the Pfc started barking and the first
sergeant became nervous. When the Pfc sank his teeth into the first
sergeant’s leg the first sergeant finally became convinced that the
soldier had snapped. It took three men to pull the Pfc off the
sergeant. Terry laughed to himself and started growling, not so
much like a dog but like a hungry beast. The drill sergeant in basic
training would say “Raw meat,” and you were expected to growl. He
began laughing again as he tried to crawl to the lighted space that
had appealed to him, but a violent wave turned him over on his
back like a turtle. The sea spray began to choke him and he started
to lose his breath.
“You fuckin’ crazy,” said an African-American marine looking
straight down at Terry. He was holding the safety line with two
hands, he paused for a moment and then finally reached down with
one hand and pulled Terry to his feet. He was a strong son-of-a-
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bitch, thought Terry, as the marine guided him back to the
companionway space.
Once inside, the marine said, “You crazy bastard, you’re not
supposed to be out there. I can see trying to get away from the
puke, but not that way, bet you’re a New York boy--is that right,
New York boy?”
“And I bet you’re a southern boy,” chided Terry.
“Deese, dems, and doze,” replied the marine.
“Saw your first bathroom when you enlisted,” snapped back
Terry.
They looked at each other’s eyes just as they did in the streets
when you were trying to size up somebody. Just one glimmer of
weakness and the bastard was yours. Take his money. Kick him in
the balls. Pull his pants down and fuck him in the ass. The more of
an animal you where the more you took advantage of the weakness.
Terry had learned the stare in self-defense. But he knew he didn’t
need it now, he was sure he was looking into the eyes of a brave
man.
The marine smiled. Terry lowered his head and with both
hands wiped the excess water off his head.
“Jesus, New York boy, get washed over on someone else’s
watch. I mean, what were you trying to prove?”
Terry thought about the marine’s question, but he didn’t have
an answer.
The marine handed Terry a cigarette. “I’m still on duty--light
it up and save me a few puffs.”
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
11
“Bet you never had sloppy seconds from a New York boy,”
Terry joked as he lit the cigarette, took a few puffs, and handed it to
the marine.
“Some of you white motherfuckers are really acting weird
since Kennedy’s death. Thank god the mother that shot him was
white--or else you whiteys would have another reason for treatin’ us
like shit,” the marine said while exhaling an extremely large drag.
“Thanks for out there,” Terry said, nodding his head towards
the hatch door.
The marine seemed uneasy with Terry’s thank you. “Kennedy
wasn’t that bad,” he said handing the cigarette back to Terry. “He
had some weird views of us, but he wasn’t bad.”
The marine then walked to the foot of the stairs, his back now
facing Terry, suddenly he turned just before taking the first step
and said, “You weren’t going anywhere--you know that?”
The marine was big. His footsteps clanged loudly on the metal
stairs even after he was out of view.
Terry walked over to the hatch door and pulled it open. As
long as he could see the towering waves and hear the sound of the
furious sea he didn’t have to think about anything. He didn’t have
to wonder what would happen to him when the Geiger docked in
Brooklyn, he could stop thinking and feeling for the moment. The
bullet that killed Kennedy had killed him too, he thought.
Joyce Bannon looked at Terry huddled in the corner of the
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12
companionway space.
“Fuck Terry, you’re turning into a fuckin’ bum, you can’t sleep
up here--you missed bed check you know,” he said as if nothing had
happened between them in the mess hall.
Terry ignored him and thought: rooms and buildings didn’t
make you feel like you were going anywhere, but the sea was
different.
“We’re stopping in Liverpool tomorrow,” Bannon said, opening
the hatch door which gave permission to the revealing light of early
morning to enter and strike Terry’s eyes.
Terry winced, then smiled.
“What’s so freakin’ funny?”
“First time I saw you in daylight, Bannon--Jesus, did anybody
ever tell you you look a little like a rabbit?”
“That ain’t nice, Terry, you know that’s not nice.”
“A nice cuddly little rabbit.”
“I’m just trying to be your friend that’s all.”
Terry stopped smiling. “You’re right,” he said, getting to his
feet. “I’m in a pissy mood this morning--you know I didn’t mean
that.”
“That’s okay Terry, but you can’t live up here. You’re still in
the fuckin’, freakin’, cocksuckin’ Army. You’ve got to stand tall,
you’ve got to kiss the asses of your leaders, it’s your duty,” Bannon
said in a tone of voice that made it hard to determine if he was
joking or not.
Terry stepped out onto the deck. The sun was beginning to
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13
break through the fat gray clouds. The deck would not be off-limits
today, he knew. The crew would force the GIs topside to get some
fresh air and sunshine. The government didn’t want the GIs to look
like zombies when their mothers, wives, and girlfriends saw them.
He would not have a chance to be alone today, he reasoned, as he
studied the waves which were smaller than the night before, but still
powerful. They seemed to have a life all their own; magical creatures
that lived and died in a fraction of a second. The rays of the sun
connecting with the white foamy crest to create a halo that seemed
to emanate a powerful energy--Jesus in the head! Why in the head?
he agonized.
“We’re staying overnight in Liverpool,” Bannon said, sticking a
cigarette in his mouth in one quick movement but almost missing it.
“They want to save on food so it looks like we’ll be going ashore.”
“You sure?” asked Terry.
Bannon scratched his crotch, rubbed his nose with the same
hand holding the cigarette, and with a smile of victory, answered, “I
heard two of the crew talking.”
“Liverpool--never seen it,” Terry said, wondering who was
telling Kennedy’s daughter she didn’t have a father any more.
“You probably won’t,” Bannon said authoritatively.
“More inside information from the Bannon secret service?”
Terry said facetiously.
“It ain’t funny, no way is it funny,” replied Bannon, tossing the
cigarette into the now calmer sea. “That cracker--the first sergeant
in charge of details--hates New Yorkers. He calls us egg-cream
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14
suckers. Anyway, I saw your name on the detail list--you’ll be
working in the butcher shop. Four hours on, eight hours off for the
rest of the trip. It’s a bitch but they tell me when you stick your
prick in liver it feels just like a pussy.”
“You on the detail list?” Terry asked with an edge now to his
voice.
“Fuck no, I gave at the office--twenty dollars, to be exact…man,
I’m going to eat some pussy tonight.”
Terry leaned over the rail and looked at the waves again. What
would happen now? he thought. What the fuck was going to happen
now? Can you kill a country with one bullet? Finally he turned to
Bannon and said, “When does the detail start? I mean, you know
everything else.”
Bannon gave Terry what is known in New York City as a shiteatin’ grin.
“You got about an hour.”
“Then I’ll see you later, have a good time tonight?”
“You stayin’ at my mother’s or what?”
“I’ll let you know,” Terry said, looking at Bannon’s squinting
eyes which had a pink hue around them. He really did look like a
rabbit, Terry thought.
Terry opened his locker and put on his dirty fatigues for the
detail. The faces on the hammocks around him had a greenish hue,
but they were holding on, he knew, knowing that in a week or so
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15
they would be met by their families and girlfriends. There would be
parties, screwing, and then they would settle down and live their
lives as best they could. Kennedy’s death wasn’t going to make a
difference in their lives. Not a freakin’ difference.
It took him a half-an-hour to find the butcher shop. A long,
narrow, dimly lit room.
“You here to help, Chandler?” asked the merchant marine
butcher looking at a piece of paper, probably the detail list, figured
Terry. The butcher was in his Fifties, and chubby.
“Looks that way.”
“Think you can handle it?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Terry said, looking around.
“Dead meet,” replied the butcher. “The ship starts bouncing
up and down and you guys start staring at the meat--all that dead
meat in front of you, in back of you, alongside of you, and this tub
rocking back and forth--get the picture?”
Terry nodded his head slightly.
“Look,” said the butcher putting the detail list in his back
pocket, “I don’t like using you guys for detail, you served your
country honorably--even if there was no war. You shouldn’t have to
cut meat so an officer’s wife can have a fancy party in the middle of
the Atlantic.
Terry peered at the merchant marine butcher and wondered
what was coming next.
The butcher started cutting steaks in the dimly lit room, and
said, “I’ll tell you what, you put in a few good hours today, and I’ll
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16
dismiss you from this detail.”
“Okay,” Terry said, still wondering what the punch line was.
The butcher put his knife down and turned to Terry. “I feel
awful about the president, you know. You have to push people
around on this detail, I just don’t feel up to it right now. Anyway
we’re picking up some extra kitchen help in Liverpool, so I’ll be
okay.”
Terry didn’t want to think about Kennedy now, he had been
down at the bottom, and it hurt too much, and he still didn’t have a
good feeling about the butcher.
“So what do I do?” Terry asked coldly, looking at the square
cuts of meat with toothpicks in them laid out on the wooden
counter.
“I don’t know why anyone would want to kill that man,” said
the butcher, slamming his clever down on a large piece of meat and
leaving the cleaver in the meat with his hand on it. Then releasing
the cleaver, he brought both of his hands to his face and pressed
them against his eyes and began to let out gasping sobs.
Terry stood there and looked at the butcher suspiciously.
There was something wrong, but he just couldn’t put his finger on it.
The butcher, still sobbing violently, turned and suddenly put
both of his arms around Terry.
Terry could smell cheap wine on the butcher’s breath as the
butcher inched close enough for Terry to feel something hard
pressing against his leg.
“Hey, what’s the matter with you?” Terry said, pushing the
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17
butcher off him.
“I’m sorry...really sorry,” the butcher said, raising his hands as
if to say he would not touch Terry again. His eyes were not as teary
as he had sounded.
Terry’s face hardened.
“I don’t know what came over me,” the butcher said
apologetically.
But Terry did not believe him.
The butcher, as if nothing had happened, turned around and
began chopping cuts of meat. “I’ll excuse you from the detail, I
didn’t mean it, honest I didn’t mean it, don’t say anything to
anybody...please,” he whimpered, his back still to Terry.
Terry, afraid to turn around, walked backwards towards the
hatch door and unlocked it slowly, not taking his eyes from the
butcher who had stopped cutting meat and just leaned against the
counter with the palms of his hands, his head down, not moving,
frozen.
Terry did not say anything as he stepped outside into the
passageway.
The GIs, dressed in Class A uniforms, stood alongside the
railing on the port side of the USNS Geiger as it knifed through the
waters of Liverpool harbor. It was dusk, the lights from the factories
and houses along the shoreline were just being switched on as the
sun began to sink in the horizon. The voices of Peter Paul and Mary
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18
singing “If I Had A Hammer” blared from a portable German radio
sitting on the shoulder of one of the GIs.
Terry, who had been released from the butcher shop detail,
stood at the railing and wondered what Liverpool would be like, but
his attention was suddenly drawn to the seamen from other ships
anchored in the crowded harbor waving at the GIs. Their waves were
not cheerful but had a respectful sadness to them, and he felt good
for a moment that they had understood how painful Kennedy’s
death was for Americans.
“Sure gonna get some English pussy tonight,” exclaimed an
African-American Pfc in delight.
“After my dick’s been in it,” responded a white soldier with
corporal stripes. He had a heavy, rural southern accent.
The Pfc turned from the rail and looked at the southern
soldier angrily.
Germany hadn’t changed anybody, Terry thought. Negro and
white soldiers worked during the day, but at night there were two
Armies: An Army of whites drinking in one part of town, and an
Army of Negroes drinking in another. Any soldier who stumbled
into the wrong bar was fair game. The Negroes in the Army, he had
learned, were not pacifists--they were jumping whites when they
could--using guerilla tactics. And the southern whites were doing
the same thing. It got so bad at some military Kasernes, the military
decided to keep one battalion permanently in the field at all times.
The African-Ameican soldier tightened his lips. The white
corporal tightened his fist. One blow, Terry knew, could cause a riot
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on the ship. The truce as it was between whites and Negroes would
only last until they got out of uniform.
“There’s enough pussy for everyone no matter how you like
it,” Terry said, breaking the silence, but feeling ashamed at using
the term pussy in such a public way.
“Sheet, this man is right,” said the white corporal.
The African-American soldier smiled. A few others hooted in
glee. The crisis of African-American against white was over for the
moment. But men, particularly soldiers, would inevitably think with
their pricks Terry had learned as a court martial clerk, and trouble
would erupt after a few drinks.
He turned away from the GIs on the dock and looked again at
the Liverpool shoreline but this time he no longer wondered what
he would see or discover in Liverpool, instead he tried to connect
himself to the still waving seamen in the harbor: Here, look at me
over here, I appreciate your waves of sadness, I understand, I know
what you’re feeling, he tried to say with his eyes.
The Liverpool dock was dark, shadowy against the red glow of
the sinking sunset. Most of the GIs leaving the USNS Geiger on an
overnight pass approached the dock cautiously until they saw a
column of black taxis pull into the pier like coal cars that had been
specifically designed to pick up and unload the GI semen machines
and then return them as humans until the next shipment came in.
Terry jumped into a cab with Bannon and two other GIs.
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20
“Where to, Gents,” asked the driver.
“You hear that, Terry? We’re gentlemen in this part of the
world.”
“Something to sit on my face,” said one of the soldiers in a
southern accent.
“It’s not on any of my street maps, but I’ll give it a try,”
replied the driver. “Thought you chaps might be mourning your
president.”
“Mourning the president? What for?” said the southern soldier
who was no more than 19.
“You don’t know,” Bannon said contemptuously.
“I just got off of guard duty in the brig. Sheeet, it’s like the
north pole down here. Now what’s this crap about mourning the
president?”
Terry’s face muscles tightened. Bannon glanced at him as if to
say loosen up. And then he smiled at the southern soldier.
“Nothing,” Bannon said. “We’re out to have a good time tonight,
aren’t we, fellows? Remember they’re known as BIRDS. That’s what I
heard and wait until you see them mini-skirts--they go right up to
the old snatcherrooti.”
“Here!” said the southern soldier handing a bottle of cognac to
Terry. “It’s good shit. Damn good shit.” And then the young soldier
let out a rebel yell. Southerners could yell like that, Terry knew. He
figured it was the Cherokee blood they had in them. He could yell
like that too, but the other kids in his neighborhood in the Bronx
could never do it. They didn’t have a father from the South, and
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21
they never understood how he could do it. He hadn’t thought much
about his Southern father, who had been a merchant seaman and
then a drifter, who told stories to other drunks while they sat on
park benches and drank sneaky pete--a cheap wine that gave
moonshine a good name.
The other soldier sat silently. He had been stationed with
Terry in Gelnhausen, forty kilometers south-east of Frankfurt, but
seldom spoke. He had been the battalion photographer although he
was color blind.
Terry glanced at Liverpool through a dirty taxi window, it
seemed lit up and lively, but he suspected it was like a prostitute
who looked pretty and desirable in the horny alcoholic darkness of
evening only to turn out ugly and severe in the honest light of
morning.
CHAPTER TWO
“Plenty of birds in here,” said the taxi driver pulling up in front of a
club called Zanzibar. Terry could hear the band playing from the
taxi. It wasn’t like anything he had ever heard before. And he could
see what Bannon meant about the skirts. Young girls with crotchhigh dresses were entering the club in twos and threes.
“No cover charge for Yanks tonight,” said the doorman.
“Hey, that’s nice of them,” Bannon said to Terry “Maybe it’s a
presidential special,”
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
22
Terry felt too drained to confront Bannon’s stupid comment.
“Oooo,” responded Bannon zooming right over to one of the
few empty seats in the place--a table for two occupied by a pensive
looking girl with spidery legs which were accented even more by
incredibly high heels.
Terry and the other GIs stood at the bar and ordered pints of
beer. Like the taxi driver, the bartender had no problem accepting
American dollars.
The music was exciting, thought Terry. What’s more, the band
seemed to be having FUN, but after looking at so many mini-skirts,
Terry began to think of Rosemary.
What was the name of that park in Queens they went to--the
one under the Triborough Bridge to Manhattan? He could never
remember it. He, with his hands on her ass angling his crotch
between her legs. She, trembling in his arms. He, trying not to stick
it in because that would mean the altar. And then finally, when he
could stand it no longer, he would take her hand and it would fall
limp. Then he would have to guide it and show it what to do. And it
would pull back and forth mechanically as if it were separate from
the body it was attached to. And just before coming he would smile
and look at her. And the light from the bridge would reveal a
dreamy, faraway look in her eyes. And then she would always say,
“What’s happening, Terry?” because she was very Catholic and she
didn’t know about such things, and it was true. And he would ask
her to pull a little faster and then stop it from pulling when he was
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
23
finished, and then he would wipe his semen off of it with a Kleenex,
and it would return to being a hand once again.
He thought of the last time they were under the bridge and she
had said, “I can’t stop you, you know. I don’t know why, but I can’t
stop you, we could end up with a baby.”
He remembered how guilty he felt after that statement for all
the times he had come in her hand. She was the good Italian girl
who really loved him. The girl who picketed newsstand dealers for
selling Playboy. The girl who needed him.
After the hand job they would both look at the glittering
Manhattan skyline and she would talk about their future together
which always included the mention of Jack Kennedy, because he was
so much a part of everyone’s future then.
“A bloody awful thing about your President,” remarked a
young woman to Terry in a heavy Liverpool accent.
She was in her early twenties and had a pretty face, especially
around the eyes.
“Yeah, I still can’t believe it,” he replied,
“Who’s taking his place?”
“The Vice President--Johnson.”
“My step dad said he’s a shitkicker. Quite different from JFK,
wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes, different alright,” Terry said introspectively.
“My name’s Ellen Murphy, what’s yours?”
“Terry…. Terry Chandler--Murphy? In England?”
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
24
“There’s a lot of Irish in England only we don’t dwell on it-and what’s a Chandler doing in America?” she asked with a sudden
playfulness in her voice. “Isn’t that English?”
“My mother was an O’Connor--she was from Ireland,” Terry
answered defensively.
“Anyway,” said Miss Murphy looking at Bannon’s table, “your
friend has made a good choice. The lady he’s sitting with loves
Americans specially when they’re only staying for the one night.”
Terry looked over at Bannon. He already had his hand under
the dress of the mini-skirted girl with the spidery legs. She sat there
indifferently and sipped her drink through a straw.
“What kind of sound is the band playing?” he asked.
“They call it the Mersey sound, fun isn’t it?” she answered
enthusiastically.
Yes...fun, he thought, but not now. Not at this moment when
all he could think of now was trying to keep the aliveness of
Kennedy’s memory from stopping the deadness that seemed to be
forcing itself on him, seemingly trying to overtake him and replace
him with a new version of Terry Chandler. There would be no new
versions of Terry Chandler he told himself. He was sticking with JFK.
At the end of the evening he walked Miss Murphy home to her
flat. She lived in an ugly, three-story, red-bricked building on a
dark, brooding cobblestone street. She took a long time to find her
keys, but he had already decided that it was no big deal if she didn’t
invite him up although he had enjoyed her company. Finally, she
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
25
pulled the keys out of her purse and said softly, “I don’t think any
American should be alone tonight.”
They made love, but not passionately. It was more of a case of
two people getting together because of sadness. Terry still reeling
from the news of the president. Miss Murphy, trapped in the
working-class environs of Liverpool, and the sadness it brought fine
young women like her, knowing full well that she had to be cautious
with her dreams or they would kill her.
“Was Elvis a good soldier, Terry?” she asked, snuggled up next
to him.
“Yes, he was a damn good soldier, I understand. You know
there are prostitutes in Frankfurt who charge GIs more than other
hookers because they slept with Elvis.”
“What kind of proof do they have?” Miss Murphy asked
excitedly.
“Photographs, autographs, stuff like that.”
“Will I be able to charge extra money because I slept with
Terry Chandler?” she giggled.
“Charge?”
“Never mind, I’m just having fun, Terry. I can tell you I don’t
go home with men the first time, but tonight...well...that was
different. I like you, Terry. Has anyone ever told you that you look a
little like Elvis?”
“No--never.”
“Well you do,” Miss Murphy said, jumping out of bed and
darting across the small room excitedly. She then pushed a button
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
26
on her turntable and Elvis began singing the words to Memories out
of a small speaker.
“Oh Terry,” Miss Murphy pleaded, “could you pretend you’re
singing.”
Terry threw the covers aside and stepped out of bed like he
was holding a microphone. Miss Murphy’s eyes glowed.
Encouraged by her enthusiasm, Terry began mouthing the
words to Memories.
Miss Murphy continued to look at him in wonderment as if he
indeed was Elvis.
He did a few quick gyrating moves and she giggled like a
teenager. Finally, as the song neared completion, he dropped to one
knee and extended the hand holding the imaginary microphone as
far as it could go. Miss Murphy smiled and then tears trickled down
from her almond-shaped eyes as Terry bowed his head on the final
word of the song.
Miss Murphy, sitting on the edge of the bed, held out her arms
and he laid his head on her lap. She had her panties on and he
turned his head and pressed his face into them and began gently
licking them with his tongue.
“Me real dad doesn’t care about me, and me mum ran off with
a chocolate salesman who always bragged he had free
transportation in the company car,” she said, fingering Terry’s hair.
“Don’t have to even pay for petrol,” he would always say. She
looked down at Terry’s head and smiled. “I suppose all you men
want the same thing but I don’t mind. After all, it isn’t every girl
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
27
who gets a chance to spend an evening with Elvis--now is it? She
reached down and held his head in both of her hands and hummed
the words to Soldier Boy. Then she gently lifted his head and guided
it to her bare breasts. Finally she put her lips to his hair and
whispered, “My soldier boy is so far from home and his president is
dead. My poor soldier boy.”
Right in the head, he thought. And when he forced Kennedy’s
death out of his head, Rosemary’s letter was waiting to jump right
in: The letter that hurt so much, the letter that called him selfish.
The letter that informed him that she had finally met someone who
loved her as much as she loved him. He pulled Miss Murphy’s
panties down and began to lick her vigorously so as not to think,
but animal emotion was never his forte...his mother’s head, the
President’s head, getting ahead, head games, he thought, as tears
rolled down his eyes,and he smothered his face in Miss Murphy’s
lap.
Miss Murphy by now was relaxed and lying down, seemingly
overtaken by Terry’s tongue. At least she was having a good time,
and that seemed like progress in a way, he thought.
They were seated in the mess hall. Bannon’s right eye was
puffed and had a purplish glow to it.
“Jesus, Terry, I needed you last night. The little twit had a
boyfriend. He was watching me finger her and she knew it. Imagine,
she’s getting wet on me knowing all along that the guy was gonna
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
28
break. I had to fight my ass out of there, the photo freak had his
glasses broken.”
“I’m glad I left early,” Terry said, dunking a piece of toast in
his tea.
Bannon looked up from his metal tray. “Jesus, Terry, how
could you say that? We’ve been friends since we got on this tub--I’ve
asked you to stay at my mother’s, you’ll be in the apartment when
I’m not there, and you being a handsome bastard too.”
Terry ignored Bannon’s implication about being alone with his
mother.
“Okay, I’m sorry I wasn’t at the club to help you.”
“Now that’s more like it, that’s what friends are about, Terry,”
Bannon said seriously. “Anyway, I kicked that limy bastard right in
his cunuions, he won’t be stickin’ it in for a while--Hey, get any last
night?”
“She was good company, that’s all,” replied Terry, finishing his
tea.
“Good-lookin’ guy like you always gets them.”
Terry stood up. “Think what you want.”
“You’re always rushing off--to where? Up there, what the fuck
is up there?” Bannon said, looking up at the ceiling.
Terry didn’t answer Bannon’s philosophical inquiry. Instead
he looked at the wall at the far end of the mess hall where
Kennedy’s picture had hung as the Commander in Chief. Lyndon
Johnson’s craggy face was now in the same picture frame that had
held the Kennedy photograph.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
29
Well, I’m not a goddam picture frame, he said to himself.
Nine days later, the USNS Geiger passed Ambrose lighthouse at
dawn, and most of the GIs stayed awake to see the lighthouse boat.
It was the first sign of America and they cheered when they saw it
bobbing up and down in the swelling waters.
Most of them, on average, had spent two years playing war
games on the East German border. The U.S. Army was convinced
that they had to prove to the Russians that American troops could
camp out in snow for weeks at a time and stay awake as long as the
Army wanted them to. It was too bad the Russians never convinced
the American Army that didn’t matter, thought Terry. It might have
saved a lot of frostbite, sleepless nights, and more importantly, lives.
Exhausted jeep drivers turned over jeeps--many he had heard had
been decapitated.
As the USNS Geiger passed under the half-completed
Verrazano Narrows bridge, Terry wondered if it would make any
sense to visit Rosemary--or at least take a swipe at the 4f who took
her from him? Or was it just how nature worked? When a male isn’t
around was it supposed to be that the female of the species needed
a sudden replacement? Nature making sure that procreation was a
sure thing? A lot of guys on the kaserne had gotten Dear Johns. Who
the hell knew what the reason was? In Rosemary’s case, he
suspected, it was the 4f and the mother ganging up on her. Twisting
her all up and making her unsure of herself.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
30
A military band greeted the Geiger as it pulled into the Fort
Hamilton pier. The spiffy-looking band at dockside played a
welcome home song, but you could tell that their hearts weren’t in
it. They were probably thinking about the pussy the guys in
Germany got while they were stuck in Brooklyn. Or maybe they were
thinking about Kennedy. He realized that he and the other GIs had
missed a lot while they were away: Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King,
JFK’s press conferences. Some of the GIs still looked like children, as
they rushed into the arms of their mothers and girlfriends.
On the bus to the Port Authority, Queens looked more
depressing than Terry had remembered it. There seemed to be a
gray cast over everything—seemingly no color, black and white.
The GI faces on the bus were beaming, however. They were
probably seeing wonderful colors in their minds, Terry guessed: the
colors of crops in the fields, the lipstick on their sweetheart’s face,
the pickup they were going to buy, the forest where they would
hunt deer.
After all, New York for them was just a pit stop. They
were headed for places like Conrad, Montana, and Bakersfield,
California, and St. Paul, Minnesota--lucky bastards, Terry thought.
“Doesn’t feel the same,” he said to Bannon.
“Queens is cocksuckin’ Queens,” replied Bannon. “When my
pecker is in Mary Dinapoli tonight, it’s gonna feel great to be home.”
“And then Fort Irwin,” Terry said with a hint of condemnation
in his voice.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
31
Bannon countered immediately. “Hey, it’s good duty, Terry, it
means Vietnam. Shit, you know how the lifers are fighting to get
over there--man, you need that combat shit on your record.”
Bannon was a fool, Terry thought, as he turned around and
looked at Mario seated two rows behind him. Mario smiled. Good
old Mario. Him and Mario in the Village--just being free.
“Right in the fuckin’ bean, can you imagine?” Bannon said as
he waved at two young women with their coat collars up and their
heads bent down to soften the fierceness of a hard December wind.
The Port Authority Bus Terminal was its usual sleazy self, but
Terry welcomed the opportunity to have a couple of goodbye drinks
with some GIs he had been stationed with. They hadn’t been
through a real war together, nobody ever thought the Russians were
going to invade Germany, but they became close because they had
fought another kind of war together. A war against the Army. An
organization that was only happy when it was fighting a real war. In
peacetime the Army declared war against its men. It spent its entire
energy trying to tear down a decent man. It wanted to strip him of
all his sensibilities. Force him to reveal his weakness. And then
magnify that weakness by constant harassment. It was a technique
as old as the Army itself. First come down on the man for a minor
infraction--like not allowing him to ever have a pass. And then wait
for the man to commit a serious offense like going AWOL. Or
perhaps the dud would commit an even more serious offense and
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
32
end up in Levenworth. In this way without a real war to fight, the
officers and NCOs, who needed such a thing as war, kept themselves
occupied to the point that a private missing a button would become
the major offense of the day. It was hard not to become close to
someone under these conditions.
After a few drinks, two GIs, one from St. Paul, Minnesota, the
other from Conrad, Montana, said goodbye to Terry--they had been
put in another bay on the USNS Geiger, and he had not seen them
for most of the trip across the Atlantic. As he watched them cross
the grimy terminal floor with their duffel bags on their shoulders he
knew he would never see them again, he knew that as well as he
knew he would never see Clifford Brown play trumpet again, or Roy
Campanella catch a foul ball.
Just before stepping on the escalator to the bus platforms, the
GIs Terry had been stationed with turned and waved to the bar,
which was inside the terminal. Terry returned the wave and watched
them rise out of sight: Boys from the heartland--the best, the damn
best. Now there was only Mario.
Bannon ordered another round of beers.
“I know what you’re thinking, Terry--go over to Queens and
see your ex-girl--But I say fuck her. I say there’s plenty of pussy
around.” Bannon took a long sip of his new beer. “But if you need
help let me know...here’s my address. Just take the D train to 205th
Street. My block is just a few minutes from the station--capish?” he
said, pronouncing the word the way the Sicilians did.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
33
Terry took the address from Bannon and peered into the bus
terminal at the bus commuters of 1962. He had never realized how
tall Americans were, but the men appeared robotic in their drab,
ankle-length overcoats and wide-brim hats, walking as if they were
being held against their will, moving on some sought of invisible
track, their frozen heads passing each other closely, but not turning,
their newspapers a straight line under their armpits, their attache
cases swinging stiffly, a spot of gold color under their knuckles
created by a wedding band or college ring. At certain points of the
terminal they crisscrossed each other as if they were engines being
switched to another track, their faces unsmiling, grim in a manner
that reminded Terry of a child being punished for something the
child believed he didn’t do.
And the woman? Young. Mostly secretaries. Little Jackies in
their pill-box hats, A-line coats, sharply pointed shoes, and leather
gloves, seemingly lost among the men, not part of anything,
soundless except for their narrow high heels striking the terminal
floor. Why were these commuters so different now? Terry thought.
He had been in the terminal hundreds of times, and he had never
seen them this way. Something was gone from them, he reasoned, as
he watched them move silently through the terminal, almost as if
they were walking underwater.
Hell, Oswald’s bullet hadn’t stopped at Kennedy, he thought. It
was killing something good in Americans one at a time. The
commuters in the Port Authority were walking around as if their
bodies had been invaded by the body snatchers.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
34
The girl who gave him handjobs under the bridge would not
open her door. She would only say how sorry she was that
everything had turned out like it did. But Terry would not accept
her answer and he pounded on her door until she finally opened it.
The three of them stood rigidly in front of him: The bureaucrat who
worked for the city and always bragged how she would never lose
her job. The 4f, a nervous-looking man with weak eyes, and
Rosemary standing between them--looking dazed, seemingly being
held up by a prop.
He knew what she was thinking and why she was afraid to be
alone with him: He might change her mind. He might remind her
where her heart wanted to be, and then she would end up loving
someone more than he would love her and, that was not acceptable
anymore. He would break her heart just like her mother had said.
And Kennedy was dead and nothing was the same.
The bureaucrat put her hand on the apartment door and
began to close it, but Terry put his foot in the way.
“It’s over, Terry,” chided the bureaucrat.
“It’s not over,” Terry said apprehensively, looking at
Rosemary.
“Rosemary has made her decision,” said the 4f.
“Can’t you speak for yourself?” Terry pleaded to Rosemary.
“I...I...” she sputtered, but then she began to cry.
“Get your foot out of the door,” screamed the 4f.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
35
“What the fuck have you done with her?”
“Goodbye asshole,” said the 4f as he pushed Terry.
Terry grabbed the 4f by the throat and began squeezing.
Rosemary became hysterical.
“Don’t worry honey, the police are on their way,” screamed a
voice from one of the apartments down the hallway.
A African-American police sergeant drove Terry to Astoria
Park, which was under the Triborough Bridge, and patrolled
regularly by police cars. The same area where Terry had taken
Rosemary so many times.
“Cooled down by now, Spec 4?” said the sergeant in a friendly
tone of voice. “You can let it out--I understand. As soon as I saw the
uniform and the three of them, I knew what happened. That’s the
way life is, you can’t change that. She has a new life now, and you
have to pick up where you left off.”
Terry lit a Camel.
“You’ll feel bad for a little while,” continued the sergeant, “but
you’ll forget. Hate helps you forget. It gives you something to hold
on to while you’re getting better--anyway a good-looking boy like
you is not going to have any trouble with the ladies.”
“I just wanted to talk to her,” Terry said, breaking his silence.
“You went at that guy pretty hard. Tell you the truth if you
hadn’t been in uniform I would have taken you down and booked
you.”
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
36
“I didn’t mean to lose my temper, but that guy...”
The sergeant shook his head side to side. “Men always take it
tougher than women--it’s a fact. Now do you have a place to stay,
son?”
Terry didn’t answer. He was looking at the river and thinking
about all the times he had watched its silky black flow. All the times
he had listened to the roar of traffic overhead. All the times
Rosemary and he had felt safe together in the darkness as they held
each other and looked at the lights of Manhattan across the water.
“Now, either I’m going to take you home or the station house,”
the sergeant said harshly.
“My duffel bag is checked at the Port Authority.”
“That’s no problem, son, where do we go from there?”
Terry handed the sergeant the slip of paper Bannon had given
him, and looked at the river again.
A woman in her middle thirties answered Bannon’s door. Even
without makeup, she looked like a model or actress. She had a skijump nose, and eyes that were almost oriental. Her skin was very
light and seemed to go perfectly with her blondish-red hair. She
wore a loose-fitting robe that almost revealed one of her breasts.
Terry wondered why Bannon hadn’t told him he had a sister.
“You must be Terry,” she said.
He nodded yes.
“I’m Joyce’s mother--come in.”
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
37
She was a knockout alright, he thought, as he followed her into
the apartment. Now he understood Bannon’s remark about trusting
him with his mother. She must have had Bannon as a child herself,
he guessed.
It was a typical Bronx railroad apartment, the kind he had
grown up in. It looked tidy, but he could smell feet.
He sat down on a worn kitchen chair.
She moved closer to him. “I’ll make you some tea. Joyce is out
trying to get into the pants of his old girlfriend. He may be home
and then again he may not--there’s room for you to stay if you want
to--he thinks a lot of you,” she said, putting her hands through her
hair.
“Thanks Mrs. Bannon,” Terry said, suddenly grateful for not
having to go to the Swede’s apartment.
“My name is Irene and you can sleep on the couch.”
“I appreciate it Mrs...Irene. You know I thought you were
Bannon’s sister.”
She smiled. “Joyce told me you had a lot of Irish in you--the
Irish are the only race that can say the right thing at the wrong
moment. Joyce is a good boy, but I’m not so sure his motives for
inviting you up here were totally honorable. You’re an extremely
good-looking young man.”
Jesus, problems already, Terry thought, as he fumbled with his
duffel bag and hoped the tea would be ready soon.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
38
“Joyce didn’t have a father,” she said, standing near the stove,
the robe now revealing her thigh. “Never saw a boy who wanted a
father more than Joyce--he hates me for it.”
Terry thought about leaving but he was just too tired. He
anxiously waited for the tea water to boil and then said, “Sounds
ready.”
She smiled and brought the boiling water over to the kitchen
table. When she leaned over to pour it, he could see one of her
breasts. It could have been an accident, he hoped.
“Joyce is a devil, he’s always trying to find ways to get back at
me for not giving him a father--milk or lemon?”
“Milk--the Irish way,” Terry joked.
She stood next to him and touched his hair. “Joyce was right,
you could be a movie actor, you’re very handsome. You know, Joyce
likes you a lot, he couldn’t stop talking about you. He’s just a child
who never grew up--a naughty child.”
Terry froze, but she backed off.
“Just put the cup and saucer in the sink when you’re finished,
handsome. I hope Joyce won’t be too noisy when he stumbles in-he’s a hell-raiser, just like his father--the bastard. I’ll see you in the
morning.”
Terry sat in the kitchen chair until Bannon stumbled in.
The next morning wearing an Army fatigue jacket, a borrowed
shirt from Bannon, Class A shoes, and a pair of jeans he had
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
39
smuggled in his duffel bag because the Army said he had to ship his
civilian clothes home, Terry took the D train to West 4th Street.
The December wind was biting as he walked up Greenwich
Avenue. At Perry Street a puppy brushed against his leg and hippity
hopped into the gutter.
“No Ruffles! No! shouted a boy about l3 from down the street,
about a quarter of a block away. But the puppy continued to
playfully scamper across Greenwich Avenue, his leash dragging. As
the puppy neared the curb on the opposite side of the avenue,
where the schoolyard was, a bucket-seated Oldsmobile Cutlass V-8
with a vertical blade grill and chrome body spears, came shooting
up the avenue.
The speeding brain behind the wheel of the Oldsmobile Cutlas
did not see the hippity hop, hippity hop, motion of the playful
puppy.
Terry looked at the Oldsmobile, and then back at the puppy.
He tried to put a barrier between them with his scream for the
speeding monster to stop, but he knew it was too late. The puppy
hippity-hopped under the wheels of the Oldsmobile, its head
crushed.
The scream of the boy and the scream of the breaks melded
together to create a sound that briefly stopped a two-hand touch
football game in the schoolyard. The players crouched down to look
under the body of the sleek chrome-trimmed Oldsmobile, hoping to
see what former living thing could have caused such a scream. The
driver backed the Oldsmobile away from the crushed puppy, as the
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
40
boy, still running, dropped to his knees and cradled the puppy in
his arms. Terry wanted to run over to the boy and comfort him, but
he closed his eyes, and put his hands over his ears, and held his face
up to the cutting December wind, and tried to imagine that the
puppy had gotten to the other side. Yes, he could see the boy
throwing a ball in the schoolyard, and the puppy playfully
retrieving it, and at dusk both of them scampering home. Right now
that was the best he could do he told himself as he turned away
from the accident and began walking towards St. Vincents hospital,
a block away. But how real was that? he questioned after a few steps,
and he was real goddam it, not like those zombies walking in the
Port Authority.
He quickly turned and ran towards the sobbing boy, and held
the boy as the boy shook hysterically, while the driver of the sleek
Oldsmobile made excuses.
CHAPTER THREE
As soon as Terry walked into St. Vincent’s hospital he could feel the
draft. It seemed to be everywhere: rustling papers on the reception
desk, blowing against the pants of the security guard, stirring up the
window curtains so that they shimmied. He even felt it on the
elevator to the sixth floor.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
41
When he got off he watched the draft blow against the back of a
nurse and outline her shapely ass. The draft even followed him into
the room where his mother lay dying from a brain tumor.
There were five women patients in the room, each with a
shaved head, three were also wearing oxygen masks and looked like
bomber pilots in a World War II movie.
The visitors for the other brain-tumor patients cursed the
draft and placed extra blankets over their loved ones.
Terry sat down on a small white stool next to his mother’s bed
and looked at her eyes. They were funny eyes, eyes that could only
see straight ahead and had no peripheral vision. They were also
eyes that were glassy from medication, and one of her hands was
tied down to a bed post. The result of unsuccessful brain surgery,
Terry would later find out.
He could feel the draft around his ankles as the nurse propped
up the brain patient and moved her around like a puppeteer
manipulating a marionette until the patient looked comfortable.
His mother looked at him with a blank expression for a few
moments but then her dead eyes came to life. She reached out the
hand that wasn’t tied down and Terry was grateful that she had
recognized him. For the moment there would be no drift into
incoherence as his sister had warned him in her letters.
What could he say to her? he agonized. Thank her for her
sacrifices? Tell her everything was going to be alright? He knew the
amount of words she would understood until her death were
precious--amounting at the very most to a few conversations.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
42
“Cunt-sucking bastard,” said the woman from the next bed.
Terry’s mother took no notice. “Terry, you’re home-- you’ve
never disappointed me, I’m so proud of you,” she uttered softly.
“Cunt! Fucking bastard!” screamed the woman in the next bed
at the top of her lungs.
“Mom,” Terry said, trying desperately to ignore the cursing
patient, “You know how much I care for you.”
A warm smile appeared on his mother’s face. It was still a face
that had not been twisted by drugs. Not manipulated by the best
that medicine had to offer.
Terry began to speak again, but the woman in the next bed
became hysterical.
“Get down and suck my pussy,” she screamed.
Terry, in disgust, rang for the nurse. The other visitors left the
room.
“I’m okay, Terry,” his mother said, ignoring the woman’s foul
mouth. “Your sister is doing alright, it was better that she got her
own apartment.”
Now he understood why she had wanted his sister to get her
own apartment. She had known before the doctors did about her
tumor.
“I’m not going back to the apartment, mom.”
She didn’t answer him, she was there and then she wasn’t.
Her eyes drifted away and she became silent.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
43
Terry stood up and rushed into the hallway. A nurse greeted
him with an anxious smile. “It’s about the cursing patient, isn’t it?”
the nurse said sympathetically.
“How could you do this to the patients?” he said angrily.
“Dr. Lee stuck her in there, there’s nothing I can do. The
woman doesn’t have a tumor--she just goes off the deep end every
once in a while.”
Terry looked at the nurse incredulously.
“Who the hell is Doctor Lee?”
“You’ll meet her alright, but the cursing patient is well
connected, her brother’s a big shot in the city. They keep her in
here until she gets over her fits.”
“And this Doctor Lee figures that brain patients won’t mind
hearing her?” Terry asked furiously.
The nurse didn’t answer him but her eyes became alert
suddenly.
“There she is now,” said the nurse as she pointed behind Terry
and then darted away as if she had done the same thing many times
before.
The nurse had pointed to a young Chinese doctor, a woman,
standing impassively in front of an older sobbing woman, looking at
the older woman as if she couldn’t wait for the woman to stop
crying. It appeared to Terry that Dr. Lee had just given the woman
bad news about a relative. Terry watched the sobbing woman walk
away from Dr. Lee. She took slow deliberate steps as if she were
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
44
unsure where to go, her head was down and her shoulders drawn in
as if there was now less of her than before.
When the woman was a respectful distance from Dr. Lee, Terry
stormed over to the icy-looking Doctor and introduced himself.
“I know what you’re going to say Mr. Chandler, but that
woman in your mother’s room deserves a bed just like your
mother,” Dr. Lee responded tersely.
“Look, this may be the last chance I have to talk to my mother.
I can’t hear her, that woman is cursing at the top of her lungs,” he
said anxiously.
“I’ll have the nurse sedate her, but that’s all I can do right
now--in any case we’ll have to talk about your mother shortly, Mr.
Chandler,” the doctor said coldly. And then she was paged over the
PA and rushed off.
Terry met Bannon at Washington Square Park.
“Never liked it down here,” Bannon said, looking up at the
Washington Square Arch--too many weirdos.”
It was a cold, blustery day. A folk musician stood under the
arch singing Woody Guthrie songs. He had a panther-like grace and
wore spiky boots and seemed to enjoy looking at Bannon as he sung.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Bannon said uncomfortably.
“Thanks for coming,” Terry said. “We’ll get something to eat
and go to a bar I know.”
“You queer or something?” Bannon said, scratching his crotch.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
45
Terry laughed. “I used to work with this guy who knew the
Village pretty well. He was from the south--he sure could tell you
some stories.”
“What kind of stories?” asked Bannon, peering at the folk
musician as if he were a caged animal.
“Stories,” answered Terry who began walking in the direction
of West 3rd Street. “Stuff about southern writers and where people
hung out.”
Oh that kind of stuff,” said Bannon indifferently. Then he
turned around, smiled, and stuck his middle finger out at the folk
musician.
“What did you do that for?” asked Terry incredulously.
“Wise ass,” Bannon replied.
Terry decided to change the subject. “How did you do last
night?”
“She wouldn’t let me take it out...lot of dry humping and stinkfinger stuff. That’s about it.”
Terry smiled at Bannon’s answer and headed towards
Chumley’s on Bedford Street. Chumley’s was a former speakeasy and
hard to find if you didn’t know the exact address. Bannon seemed
uncomfortable walking in the Village and stuck close to Terry most
of the way. When they reached Chumley’s, Terry chose the
courtyard entrance, his favorite, over the street entrance, which was
just a number on a door. When they entered Chumley’s from the
courtyard there was a fire going in the huge fireplace, and it was
cozy and fine just as Terry had remembered it.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
46
For dinner Terry convinced Bannon to try chicken with red
peppers and onions done Thai style which Bannon appeared to like.
After the meal they headed over to the Kiwi bar on West Houston
Street.
As they walked past the fish stores, bakery shops and
vegetable stands near Carmine Street, Terry wondered if he would
run into J.W. Sawyer, his old work buddy, at the Kiwi. He wondered
if J.W. had been affected by the assassination, J.W. had never been a
Kennedy fan.
The Kiwi bar was packed with sailors from New Zealand, native
American steel workers from the Mohawk reservation in upstate
New York, local artists, ex-beat poets and a magician who would do
card tricks for a gin and tonic.
A customer had to step down to basement level to reach the
Kiwi but at street level it always looked closed.
There was sawdust on the floor as Terry had remembered it,
and John Coltrane was playing “These are My Favorite Things” on
the jukebox. Everyone seemed to be smoking and drinking and
talking at once. The talking was often intense, and created
tremendous energy that directed itself to anyone opening the front
door--causing many first-timers to look around before taking
another step, and then deciding that the faces in the Kiwi, as
interesting as they were, were still downright unfriendly.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
47
“This fuckin’ place is weird,” whispered Bannon through the
side of his mouth.
“Fuckin’ weird.”
“That’s why I like it,” Terry said, looking for an opening at the
crowded bar. Terry had loved the Kiwi from the first moment that
he had stepped into it. It had been the hottest day of the year in
August 1960. J.W. Sawyer had invited him out for a beer. They
spent the rest of the evening drinking schooners of beers while J.W.
told him stories. They were wonderful stories, Terry recalled,
involving a litany of characters. Many of them Southerners who
were famous or becoming famous, and Terry did not want to leave
the Kiwi that evening, because the Kiwi jolted him with a feeling of
aliveness that he would not feel again until Kennedy.
Two hours after they walked into the Kiwi, Bannon left with a
marketing major from N.Y.U. and Terry had a buzz on.
“Your friend moves fast,” said a young woman in her early
twenties.
“He doesn’t have much time, he’s on leave.”
“Just out of the Army?” she asked politely while looking at
Terry’s short haircut.
“Yes,” nodded Terry, noticing her large breasts and curvy
frame. She was good-looking, he thought, but her black dress and
black stockings made her look like she was still living in the 1950’s.
And her makeup was not put on that well, it was almost as if she
didn’t care about her appearance.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
48
“You missed a lot, you know, these past couple of years,” she
said with a serious voice.
“I get that feeling.”
“My name is Cynthia Stein”
Terry introduced himself and ordered another beer.
“Have you been following the Civil Rights movement at all,
Terry?” she asked as if she was going to write down his answer.
“The Kaserne I was stationed at in Germany had a few race
riots--that’s about as close as I’ve come to it,” he replied without
much enthusiasm.
“Well, you should get closer, Terry--every American should get
closer,” she said intensely. Her saucy brown eyes were bright with
enthusiasm.
He took a long swallow of beer.
She looked at his bottle as he placed it on the bar. “You’ve also
had too much to drink, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“No, I don’t mind,” he replied, looking at her more closely and
realizing that she was more beautiful than he had thought, but there
seemed to be a wildness about her that he didn’t like, yet the
wildness made her seem more alive than those commuters in the
Port Authority, and that was good, he decided. This was no zombie
he was talking to, this was a human who cared about the Civil Rights
Movement. She certainly wasn’t your everyday garden variety
female that he had met so often at Catholic dances.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
49
“Look, I would like to continue talking to you but not here,”
she said enthusiastically. “Why don’t we go around to the Figero for
some cappuccino?”
She was pushy too, he thought, or was it that wildness in her
that seemed to be fighting to get past her, and assert itself?
“Sure, sounds like a good idea,” he said, leaving the remaining
amount of beer in the bottle, something he knew you would never
do in the Bronx because people worked too hard there to enjoy a
bottle of beer.
The Figero was crowded with bohemians left over from the
1950’s, folk singers and their girlfriends, tourists, and a few wouldbe writers jotting down first impressions of the Village.
“Are you interested in people?” Cynthia said while they waited
for their cappuccino. “Do you think Negroes should be treated as
second-class citizens because of their color?”
“No, I don’t,” he muttered, wondering if he had made such a
good move after all. She was so damn intense and all he wanted to
do was have a few laughs, and stop thinking about Kennedy, and
those bastards in Queens, and that cursing bitch in the hospital.
“I was on a freedom ride in Anniston, Alabama, Terry. I saw
hate that’s hard to imagine.”
“Hate is hate,” replied Terry, now feeling defensive.
“Hate you can’t imagine,” she said, suddenly smiling.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
50
“You sound like one of those New York Intellectuals,” he
replied with a glint of a smile.
“You left out Jewish,” she said with a wide grin.
“I’m really not into labels,” he said lighting a Camel. In the
background he could hear two men arguing over Jack Ruby and
whether he was part of the assassination or not.
“You know, Terry, you’re the first person I’ve wanted to talk to
in a long time. It’s just that I’m not into small talk. The Negroes are
laying their lives on the line for something they should have already
—as a generation we’ll have fun later, we’re still young, but right
now all of us have got to help--do you understand, Terry?”
He held his cigarette just like he saw James Dean do it in a
movie, and studied her intensity. It was almost scary. But she looked
like a courageous person, and he liked that.
“What do you do?” he asked, just to keep the conversation
going.
“I’m a parasite, I guess. I don’t have to work. My father has
signed over a part of his royalties for two books he’s written on the
theatre--until six months ago I was doing as much as I could to help
Negroes--working with various civil rights organizations--but I’ve
been told to take it easy for a while.”
“So you’ve just settled for recruiting people to the Civil Rights
Movement,” he joked.
“It’s not funny,” she replied angrily, and he became
embarrassed at her curt reply.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
51
Their cappuccino finally came and they drank it in silence. He
didn’t know what to make of her or himself. All his life Negroes had
been an important part of his life. As a child all his heroes were
Negro: Jackie Robinson, Clifford Brown, Charlie Parker, Roy
Campanella. He had never thought of them as different from him.
He had been poor like many of them. He had gone to free summer
camp with them. He had stood on the same welfare lines to get free
shoes as them. He had waited in the same hell hole of an emergency
room as they had. But the Movement was new to him, he had been
playing war for two years, and now he was home and he didn’t
know what he wanted because his hopes and dreams for the future
had gotten fucked up on a street in Dallas. It was as if there was a
hum in his ear that was driving him crazy. That would not let him
relax. That was trying to take over body like the invasion of the
body snatchers. It was as if Oswald was trying to kill him too.
They drank their cappuccino without speaking to each other
and he paid the check.
When they left the Figero, Cynthia handed him a five-dollar
bill.
“What’s that for?” he said, confused.
“After you walk me home you can take a cab,” she said with a
sudden exuberance to her voice. She didn’t seem like the same
person who had just gotten angry at him.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
52
Cynthia Stein lived in Stuyvesant Town. It was a where a lot of
Metropolitan Life workers lived and very difficult to get in to unless
you worked for Metropolitan Life. Terry had once had a friend in
the Bronx whose aunt lived in Stuyvesant Town, his family talked
about it as if she had lived at Buckingham Palace.
Cynthia walked slowly down a well-lit tree-lined path that led
to her building at 18 Stuyvesant Oval. She talked most of the way,
but chose non-controversial subjects like art and music, she was
holding back from her real passion, Negro rights, Terry suspected,
but he was flattered by her attempt to end the evening on a pleasant
note.
When she reached her building, she fished for her keys and
said, “You coming up? I can make some coffee.” Her voice was bright
and cheerful and he decided that he liked her very much and would
call her again, but right now he just wanted to get some rest, it was a
long trip back to 205th Street in the Bronx.
“Next time,” he replied, and handed her the $5 back. “I can
take the Lexington Avenue and make a connection to the D train in
the Bronx.”
“I want to see you again; I know I can lay it down a bit heavy
sometimes,” Cynthia said, taking the money back, but keeping it in
her hand.
“You were fine,” he said, feeling entirely sober.
“Will you call me, Terry?”
“Yes,” he said, “but I don’t have your number, or a pen to
write it down.”
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
53
She opened her purse, stuck the five dollars in it, and looked
at the inside of it as if it were a mystery that she hadn’t figured out
yet. Finally she closed it again, appearing frustrated for a moment.
“I don’t have anything to write with either, but I just
remembered, I’m in the book, Cynthia Stein, 18 Stuyvesant Oval.
“I think I can handle that,” Terry said, feeling fatigued.
“I’m glad I met you,” she said, sounding very honest.
“So am I,” he said looking at her partially revealed face under
the building entrance light.
She smiled, looked downward at his crotch for a moment, and
then in one continuous movement, kissed him on the cheek and
darted into her building.
Terry stuck his hands deeply into his pockets so that his
elbows were almost straight, and walked into the night.
It was the D train to the Bronx, but where the hell were the
passengers really going? Terry thought. Most of them, he suspected,
didn’t have any dreams beyond a house on Long Island, and an
occasional night game at Yankee Stadium. And where was he going?
He had thought about joining the Peace Corps, but now it didn’t
matter, everything was fucked up, America seemed to be moving in
another direction, and he could not figure it out because it did not
include Kennedy, and he grew angry at that thought, and promised
himself that he would never forget Kennedy or allow anyone to
dismiss Kennedy as a footnote.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
54
Of course there was always a job at McGraw-Hill, they had to
take him back because he had been drafted. He had liked working
on a magazine but large organizations had a way of molding you
that he didn’t like. What he really wanted to do was ask that son-ofa-bitch Oswald--why? Why did he have to do it? Why did he have to
shoot the country?
He wondered what the Southerners living near Sunnyside
Gardens, Queens, were thinking. He knew all about them from J.W.
They had come streaming into New York City after World War II, full
of dreams, but if you were still in Jamaica, Queens, in 1964, did you
still have any dreams? You certainly weren’t able to go back to the
South and call Negroes “boy” for the rest of your life--that option
was fading fast. And that was a good thing, but Kennedy’s death was
not a good thing, and he hated the feeling of nothingness that
seemed to be trying to overwhelm him and pull him under, and
make him something he was not, make him like those automatons
walking through the Port Authority terminal with their big hats and
long overcoats-- hats, he hadn’t seen hats when Kennedy was alive.
Why were men wearing hats all of a sudden? he asked himself, as
the D train screeched into the 145th Street station like a snarling
angry beast that defied anyone to get in its way, the momentum of
the jerking stop lurching the passengers to one side in unison, and
then bouncing them back to their original positions.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
55
In the days ahead the pattern was always the same. Irene
Bannon would wait for her horny son to race out of the house after
supper, and then she would cocktease Terry. Sometimes she would
sit facing him on the worn living room chair and change the
position of her legs provocatively. What one guy in his barracks had
described as “getting your picture taken.” Other times she would
wear a loose-fitting robe and allow one of her breasts to
momentarily fall out. Or allow the robe to open for a fleeting second
to reveal a pair of tight-fitting panties. And then before anybody
could think about what happened she would go to her room and
lock the door. She always made Terry uncomfortable, but her son
seemed to sense what was going on and take pleasure in it. A
conversation might go this way:
“Mother’s a looker, huh, Terry?”
“She’s good-looking, Bannon.”
“Wonder what you guys do when I leave?”
“I’m not a mother-fucker, Bannon.”
“Wish she’d meet a decent guy. hangs out with all those
cocktail lounge types. You know, she spends all her money on
clothes and the bar--she don’t have a pot to piss in. But she likes
you, you know. Thinks you’re a good influence on me, what with
your visiting your mother in the hospital all the time--she told me
you’re giving her some of your unemployment money.”
“She wasn’t supposed to tell you, Bannon.”
“You know, I never hear you call my mother by her name,
Terry. She wonders about that, she doesn’t mind being called Irene.”
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
56
And Terry would always have to straighten Bannon out about
his little game.
“Listen you squirt. I’m not your father, nor am I going to be
your father. You and I are practically the same age. And what’s with
you anyway? What are you trying to do, get me to poke your
mother?”
And Bannon would always go on the defensive.
“Jesus, take it easy. I just want to see the two of you be
friends. Remember, when I go I want you to stay until Mario gets the
apartment--but Jesus I wish she’d meet an older version of you. You
got something a lot of guys around here don’t have.”
“Like what?” asked Terry skeptically.
“I don’t know but it’s something--decency, maybe that’s it.
Even Gloria noticed it. Speaking of Gloria, what a pain in the ass she
is. We’re getting engaged. She’s got me crazy. I get the finger in, and
she pulls my prick, but that’s it. I haven’t told my mother yet, but I
know Gloria’s the one, if only she’d let me have a little…just once!”
“You’re thinking with your prick, women accuse us all the
time of that,” Terry said in a non-accusatory manner, still pondering
what Bannon had said about him, wondering what being decent
really meant.
“If I had your looks Terry, I’d be fucking all the time, fucking
them all the time, fucking them all the time.”
Bannon would talk like that for hours, but Terry didn’t mind.
He was beginning to like Bannon very much, and knew that he
would have no problem staying at Bannon’s apartment because
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
57
Irene Bannon never did turn him on. Anyway it would be bad to fool
around with Bannon’s mother--he had a dying mother, it was just no
good to be fooling around with someone else’s. Something to do
with karma, he thought.
One week after Bannon left for Fort Irwin, California, Terry
moved in with Mario Pisanelo at 205 Bleecker Street. 205 was a fourstoried, red-bricked building that had two apartments on each side
of the hallway. Terry and Mario lived in 1A, which was just to the
left of a steep flight of rickety wooden stairs that went straight down
to the bottom landing and allowed very little room for maneuvering
after opening the vestibule door. There were two rooms in the
apartment, the bathtub was in the kitchen and there was a small
toilet in the living room that had a sink. Facing the living room was
the little Red School House, “A private school for the sons and
daughters of rich-son-of-a-bitch liberals,” Terry had heard one of
his Italian neighbors say.
Terry visited his mother every day but she would not talk. He
would take the hand that the nurse had tied down to the bed and
unloosen the bandage that kept the fingers from moving. And then
he would hold that hand and talk to her because he believed
somewhere down in her damaged brain she could hear him and
understand him even if the doctors--they liked to be called
physicians--didn’t. He had learned that they had opened her up and
closed her up. Good practice for new surgeons, he suspected, only
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
58
someone had screwed up. When her hand wasn’t tied down it would
come up and touch her head constantly. And she was now being fed
through a tube. The head nurse had tricked him, he believed, into
thinking the tube was only temporary when he agreed to it. The
tube made it easier for the hospital staff, not his mother, he finally
realized.
Terry saw Cynthia Stein again, and continued to like her very
much. She encouraged him to drop in after visiting his mother, and
it became a regular thing. She would talk incessantly about civil
rights and was absolutely positive that all whites were inhuman to
Negroes.
Terry would listen silently and sometimes get annoyed with
himself because he couldn’t feel as passionately about civil rights as
she did. Finally, she would run out of steam, and joke that she was
too serious about things. Then she would serve him a glass of wine,
smile obsequiously, and unzipper his fly. He didn’t like getting a
blow-job at first, it didn’t seem natural. In the hallways of the Bronx
it had been different. There was the finger in the panties and the
girl then jerking you off, and always giving you a Kleenex
afterwards. If you got real hot, you would put your wet tongue
between her sweaty panties and lick her until she moaned. Gloria,
Bannon’s girlfriend, had it right for the premarital stage, he
thought. Heavy petting, no screwing, but Cynthia was from another
world, she loved oral sex, she told him. And she did it well. She
would always know just when he was going to come and speed up
her movement just as he ejaculated into her mouth. When he was
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
59
finished she would go to the bathroom and spit out his semen. The
first few times she did that he gagged, but he soon got over it. But
he never got over the feeling of being a little ashamed after coming
in Cynthia’s mouth.
One evening, after he had just ejaculated into her mouth, she
came out of the bathroom and said, “I’m going down south. There’s
a lot of unfinished business down there and you could help, Terry.”
He had begun to suspect lately that she had something on her
mind for the both of them, but he didn’t know what. Cynthia, for all
her sexuality, struck him as a person who would not waste her time
on matters of little consequence. He had hoped she would not ask
anything of him because it was all he could do to stop thinking of
Kennedy. The lousy feeling would come first thing in the morning,
as if it had hidden in some dark corner of his body all night, ready
to spring forth at the promise of morning, ready to knock him down
and plunge him to the bottom of his feelings, and turn him into one
of those automatons he had seen at the Port Authority, or what he
saw everyday outside his window, zombies marching off to work
with their wide-brim hats, and long overcoats, not appearing to have
any sense of being alive, and he would be angry at them for their
indifference, their seemingly total negation that Kennedy had even
existed. They trudged on, business-as-usual-life-goes-on people, and
he wanted to shake them by the collar, tell them the dream wasn’t
over, GODDAMN IT IT’S NOT OVER, Kennedy was dead, but his
dreams were still alive. Why didn’t they understand that? The
fucking emptiness he was feeling was driving him crazy.
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60
“Terry, you could come with me,” Cynthia said, beaming.
“I don’t know, Cynthia, I’m not sure what I want to do.”
“There’s someone I’d like you to meet, Terry, his name is
Andrew Koslowski. He’s a man who means a great deal to me. He’s
an old friend of the family--more importantly he’s in charge of
allocating funds that are donated from some of the top labor unions
to the Civil Rights Movement.
“What would I talk to him about, Cynthia?” Terry said,
knowing she would be upset at his lack of enthusiasm.
The pupils in her eyes became pinpoints. “Freedom, goddamn
it, you would talk about helping Negroes gain the freedom that’s
due them. You would talk about fighting bigotry. More importantly,
you would talk about how you can do something about it.”
“I want every Negro to have the freedom they deserve, but
right now I’m trying to get my life in order,” Terry said defensively.
“You died when Kennedy got it in the head, that’s your
problem--Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, what about the living, Terry?
What about the suppression of the Negro in the South.”
“Look, I care, goddamn I care!”
“Then do something about it,” she raged.
“Look, I’ve had a relationship with Negroes, I just don’t view
them as a cause like some of your liberal friends. There was a family
in my building where I grew up. The father worked in the laundry
on the corner. He was a Negro musician from the South. The mother
was from an Italian family in Louisiana. This man formed a band-his sons, a few whites from the neighborhood, and he played
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61
trumpet. In the summer he used to give concerts on the roof of our
apartment building and everybody would come. Everyone loved
that family. They used to invite me into their apartment whenever
Ella Fitzgerald or Sara Vaughn or some other great Negro artist
would perform on television--I didn’t have a TV, we were on welfare.
Anyway, I was always told I could watch as long as I never said a
word during the performance. Because of that wonderful family I
grew up loving musicians like Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown. I
loved Parker because he was the best, not because he was a Negro. I
loved Jackie Robinson because he was the best, not because he was a
Negro. And I never thought of that man’s family in my building as
being mixed.”
“So what the hell does that mean?” Cynthia said, folding her
arms while peering at him from her expensive-looking couch.
“It means I don’t have anything against anybody, that I don’t
have to march to show my respect for the Negro,” Terry said,
grabbing his jacket.
“Where are you going?” she said in a surprised voice.
“For a drink, I’ve had enough of your bullshit for the day.”
“For a drink,” she repeated. “That’s all the Irish ever want to
do; stare at a head of beer and swallow the world away.”
Terry slammed the door and ran down the stairs instead of
using the elevator. It was already dark outside. He zippered his
fatigue jacket and walked crosstown. He was sick of Cynthia using
the Civil Rights Movement as a hammer for her anger, he decided.
He was sick of her making him feel like he didn’t care. She hadn’t
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62
even batted an eye, he remembered, when he had told her he was
volunteering three nights a week to work with adolescent boys at
Bellevue Hospital. Before being drafted he had wanted to do it, and
now he decided it was a good time to do it. Didn’t she fucking
understand? He hated the way she and the others had stopped
thinking about President Kennedy. They had their own fucking
agendas, and more power to them, but the changes they wanted to
make suited their own needs: ask not what your country can do for
you, but what you could do for your country, was now an a la carte
affair. Everybody wanted to help the part of America they believed
was worth saving. But right now the best he could do was volunteer
at a place nobody wanted anything to do with.
The Psychiatric Building for Bellevue Hospital on 32nd Street
had the pinkish-red color of a fresh welt. Six stories high, and
surrounded by a nasty looking iron gate, it took up an entire city
block, ending somewhere near the East River. Its decrepit main
entrance, which Terry had to enter to get to PQ5, the ward for
adolescent boys placed in Bellevue for observation, was guarded by
two filthy concrete Greek Revival Columns that bespoke of
generations of New Yorkers from earlier times who had been treated
without pain killers and died of diseases like yellow fever.
Under these columns it was easy to imagine adults and
youngsters seeing their last light of freedom before they were locked
up forever as crazy.
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63
Bellevue, of course, moved into the 20th century even if its
buildings hadn’t. It became one of the most respected hospitals in
America. Interns fought to go there. Because after Bellevue, there
would be very few diseases and medical procedures they would not
have seen. Knife wounds were a specialty at Bellevue. If you were
lucky enough to get sent there after being stabbed, you had a very
good chance of survival.
At the Volunteer Department they gave Terry a red jacket with
a volunteer patch on it, and reminded him to be careful. Some
adolescent boys, he had been told on the orientation tour, were in
PQ5 for only minor offenses that for subjective reasons the court
found abnormal: pissing in the classroom, starting fights, habitual
truancy, but others were there for serious offenses, like starting fires
and violence against someone, often a parent. If they had one
parent that visited them while they were in PQ5, and showed an
interest in them, they went home, Terry would find out. If nobody
showed an interest in them, they had a good chance of being sent to
an upstate mental institution until they were 21. All the boys were
given medication three times a day to keep them calm.
Originally Terry had intended to be a volunteer in the
psychiatric ward for children, where the castoffs of drug addicts and
prostitutes were kept until the city could find a place for them.
On the orientation tour the smaller children ran to him, and
hugged whatever part of his body they could get their hands on, the
older children leaned their heads forward and grabbed him around
the waist. Both fought for his body until he could no longer move.
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64
This would always happen, he was told, which is why the children’s
section had the most volunteers. Nobody, wanted to work with the
adolescent boys, they weren’t cute and non-threatening like the
children, and volunteers were afraid to be locked in a room with so
many male teens. Terry knew that was where he wanted to be,
where nobody else wanted to go.
Terry took the elevator to the fifth floor, and banged hard on
the PQ5 door as he had seen the Director of Volunteers do on the
tour through the wards. The huge metal doors swung open slowly,
but not all the way.
“You the new volunteer?” said an African-American aide with a
patronizing look. He was dressed in a freshly starched blue uniform.
“I understand you don’t get that many,” Terry replied with a
smile.
“Oh, we gets a few,” said the aide, opening the door wider.
“Students from rich schools, they come down here and pine over the
boys and study them, you know, the future shrinks of the world.
They don’t treat the boys as humans, they look at them like they
were put on this earth just to be studied--come in, I can’t be keeping
this door open too long.”
Terry stepped into PQ5 for the second time, only this time he
was alone, this wasn’t a tour, this was for real, he thought nervously.
PQ5 was a large room with massive columns seemingly
supporting the ceiling. Thick wire mesh covered the large windows.
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65
There was a ping-pong table and smaller tables with checker sets
and chess pieces on them. One of the psychiatrists was talking to the
other aide and gesturing effeminately. He was complaining about
one of the boys masturbating in his classroom.
The aide who had opened the door for Terry introduced
himself as Buster, then pointed to the ping-pong table. “It’s yours,”
he said.
A few seconds later a scarecrow of a boy approached Terry. He
was no older than 14.
“Got a cigarette?” asked the wisp of a boy.
“Just ran out,” Terry answered.
“Sure could use a cigarette, they won’t let me have one unless
I eat. Food in this place sucks, made in big pots, I told them all I eat
is Snicker’s bars, but they don’t believe me.”
“I’ll bring you a Snicker’s bar next time I come,” Terry said to
the stick-like boy, “but you should eat, you look very thin. You don’t
look like you have any strength at all.”
The boy smiled slightly and stuck his hands in his pockets. He
looked like he was going to pass out. He didn’t seem to really be
there, he seemed incorporeal.
Terry was tempted to put out his hand and touch the boy’s
shoulder just to see if he really existed.
“I’ll see you when you come again,” the boy said. And then he
turned and walked towards the sleeping section of the ward as if he
had little strength.
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66
Buster, who had been standing in the doorway of his tiny
office just off the hallway, walked over to Terry and said, “You did
real good. That kid hasn’t said more than two words since coming
here last week.”
The other boys were looking at Terry now. He had passed
some sort of test, he felt.
“The future shrinks of the world would have given him all the
cigarettes he wanted and tried to get him to talk about himself, you
didn’t do that, that’s good.”
“He seems so frail,” Terry said. “What’s he in here for?”
“I’m not supposed to tell you but I will. Neil Lawrence, that’s
his name, attacked one of his mother’s johns. It seems she works out
of her apartment. She was going down on the guy when Neil stabbed
the john in the shoulder.”
“I don’t know what I would do if I saw that either,” Terry said
sympathetically.
“Neither would I,” Buster said, “but he’ll probably be sent to
an upstate mental institution until he’s 21, won’t cooperate with
anyone, won’t eat, won’t talk, the doctors are thinking about forcefeeding him. Anyways, without one parent showing they care about
him, he’s a goner.”
He had only said a few words to Neil, but Terry knew before
Buster finished his sentence that he would do everything he could to
save Neil Lawrence from being sent to an upstate mental institution,
where the state would try and remove all that was human and good
in him, so that a shell only existed that could be stored like a file.
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67
Two days later, on his next visit to PQ5, Terry managed to get
Neil to talk again. He gave Neil a Snicker’s bar without any strings
attached. By the following week he was tossing Neil a basketball,
which Neil dropped most of the time. But Neil began to eat, and was
talking to the other boys as well, and the doctors decided not to
force-feed him much to Terry’s relief.
By the third week Neil was catching and tossing back the
basketball which gave Terry great satisfaction, but there was always
the feeling of ultimate doom: that Neil would not be there one day,
that he would be sent away like the other boys who did not have
parents visit them, or who were so fully institutionalized they
couldn’t wait to return to PQ5 from their weekend passes. There was
an exception however. The German boy was a victory of sorts. His
parents had died in a crash on the autobahn. He was sent to his
uncle in Queens, but ran away from him. When Terry first saw him
he was wiping off the dirt under the tops of the recreation tables.
But in just a few visits Terry saw him turn into a slovenly mess
which embarrassed the doctors. Finally, he left a note saying he
didn’t think he was being helped, and escaped PQ5 by feigning
illness. Later, Terry would learn, he went to live with an aunt in
Minneapolis, and was doing fine. Because he was white, Terry
suspected, the aides didn’t care about him that much, or notice him
that much, and he must have suspected that in addition to feeling
the doctors weren’t helping him.
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The doctors were a real piece of work, Terry observed.
Nervous, frazzled men, some of whom seemed effeminate, always
screaming at the boys for doing something wrong, but always on the
alert for a recent donation to the ward by a well-intentioned person.
Usually the donations that found their way to PQ5 were goods that
nobody wanted like shoe polish, or sets of electric trains, however,
one of the boys told Terry that four air conditioners donated by a
Sutton Place millionaire had been taken by the doctors for their
private practice.
The recreational director’s name was Graig. He had a master’s
in psychology and was working on a Ph. D. in Asian art.
On Terry’s fifth visit to PQ5, Craig said, “You’re very effective
with the boys, Terry.”
“I guess I don’t see them as guinea pigs,” Terry replied,
putting on his volunteer jacket. They were standing in Buster’s small
office.
“I’ve told management I don’t want eggheads working with the
boys, the boys think they’re jerks, that’s why I’m glad you’re here,
Terry. Sometimes I wonder, though, why I’m still here. There must
be easier ways to work your way through graduate school...you
know, I think it’s the Kennedy thing, I still think about Kennedy and
what he dreamed, my wife tells me to get practical, ‘Graig, move on
with the times, get your ass moving, or get left behind,’ she tells me.
She’s a graduate of Smith, so nothing she says surprises me.”
“I never saw how the shooting affected the country,” Terry
said wistfully, “I was on a troop ship.”
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69
“Devastation, just devastation,” Craig said sadly.
Terry picked up a basketball. “Think we have a chance to get
it back?” he asked.
“I don’t know, God I don’t,” Graig answered, but Terry did not
feel comfortable with Graig’s answer. There was something hollow
about it, as if it were rehearsed, as if this Craig did not really believe
what he was saying, as if he was not confused about the future at all,
in fact was, indeed, very comfortable with it.
Graig’s face was also blank and expressionless, a mystery like
the commuters at the Port Authority. Terry didn’t know what was
behind this kind of face anymore. Before, when there was John F.
Kennedy, he would have suspected a glimmer of hope, but now he
didn’t know.
“These things happen,” said Graig, finishing his thought, and
then blowing his whistle to get a basketball game going.
Terry noticed one of the Negro aides sneaking a dirty look at
Graig. With the exception of Buster, the anger that the Negro aides
emanated against white doctors, white patients, and white visitors,
was unnerving, Terry thought. He had heard two of them talking
about their hatred for whites, and the management of Bellevue, and
any Negro who wasn’t espousing the teachings of Muhammad Elijah.
Terry wanted to tell the Black Muslims that King and
Kennedy, although they had their differences, could have eventually
done it together. He wanted to tell them that the dream of John F.
Kennedy could still be alive if enough people believed in it, but, he
suspected, they would have told him that they did not want what
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70
John F. Kennedy wanted for this country. But he was not so sure he
would have believed them.
CHAPTER FOUR
Mario Pisanello was a muscular Italian with curly dark hair and a
nose just slightly large enough to prevent him from having matineeidol looks. Terry had met Mario in Basic Training when both were
assigned to the 3rd Training Regiment at Fort Dix. After basic, they
were sent across the base to learn the skills off a mortarman. Even
under the most miserable training conditions Mario could make
Terry laugh, and Terry appreciated that very much.
When they arrived in Germany, Mario went into the mortar
platoon, but Terry, because he could type, was asked if he wanted to
be a clerk, and he said yes. Terry remained tight with Mario even
though he was a clerk, a clearly superior position if you intended to
not make the Army a career. Clerks and mortarmen did not hang
out together, their worlds were too different, but Terry and Mario
managed to still go on pass together. Mario got his divorce while
stationed overseas. Terry had always suspected that Mario had
married an American to get his green card, but never mentioned it.
Mario had been on his own since eleven when he ran away from his
native Calabra to work as a bus boy on an ocean liner. In New York
City he had worked as a waiter in a fancy Italian restaurant on Third
Avenue and often bragged about all the woman he had met and had
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71
affairs with. He received dozens of letters overseas from different
women, often sharing them gleefully with Terry.
It was Thursday, nearly three weeks since Terry had argued
with Cynthia, and he was debating whether to call Cynthia to patch
things up when Mario, who had been drinking wine all day, began to
lecture him.
“Pussy can have you do anything,” Mario said, pouring himself
another glass of wine. “You must not let it dictate your values,
Terry. Personally, I like to eat pussy and have them urinate on my
chest, but that’s my preference. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it. Not
even if it meant getting a green card--you understand? You must
always make a woman feel beautiful, Terry. When a woman feels
beautiful she makes your life beautiful.”
“You fooling around with the boss’s wife again?” Terry asked,
facing Mario across their rickety kitchen table.
“She won’t let me alone. And now the daughter is flirting with
Mario. What am I to do? Two nights ago the daughter brushed
against me with her tits and smiled--it was lovely.”
“You’re Italian,” Terry said in a concerned voice as he helped
himself to some of Mario’s Chianti Classico, “you know what will
happen if the boss catches you with his wife. Or the wife gets jealous
of the daughter and blows the whistle. Why do you have to do this?”
“My sweet friend,” Mario said, reaching a hand across the
table affectionately, “who worries so much about people?”
“Cut the crap, Mario,” Terry said after taking a big sip of wine.
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72
“Yes, you worry about people, Terry, that’s why I liked you
right away. You always tried to help the helpless ones in basic
training. Even when they screwed up and couldn’t get a pass you
would console them and deliver packages from their families to
them. When Kennedy died I knew you would take it very badly. I
left you alone.”
What was the point of trying to conquer the mind of a
Calabrian, Terry thought. Calabra had been invaded countless times,
but nobody ever really conquered its people. They saw the world
their way and that was that. Mario thought he was making women
feel beautiful. And no one could tell him otherwise.
“I was at my cousin’s in Brooklyn today,” Mario yawned. “He
saved all the newspapers about the assassination for me. I thought
you would like to look at them, they’re over on the chair. Go ahead,
take a look.”
To indulge Mario, Terry got up and walked over to the chair
and glanced at the papers. ‘Johnson Leads Mourning,’ stated the
Sunday Daily News. There were other papers underneath it. ‘A
mourning nation buries John F. Kennedy today on an open hillside
scarred with history after a formal farewell from statesmen,
countrymen and family,’ wrote the lead paragraph of the Long
island Press. Terry turned to Mario. “Thanks Mario, I appreciate it, I
can’t look at them now, but I will.”
“You’ve got to start working again, Terry, get your old job
back--they have to give it to you, sitting around all day and working
at Bellevue at night with those crazy kids, is not good, Terry.”
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
73
“They’re not crazy, Mario, just drugged up all day on
medication, if only they could get in touch with reality a little.”
Mario laughed. “And you, my friend, what is your reality?”
“My feelings,” replied Terry tersely, “they’re my reality.”
“It will get better my friend, it has to,” Mario said, pouring
himself some more wine. “It is not your time, but it will get better.
Call up Cynthia, fuck her brains out, it will do you good. Try not to
think about the thoughts you had before the Army. That is the past,
Terry. It’s not good to look back.”
“Save the lecture for another time,” replied Terry finishing the
wine in his glass.
Mario got up from the table, stretched, then burped. It was
hard for Terry to stay annoyed with him when he did things like
this. And Mario knew it.
“I know you want to smile at Mario’s bad manners. Go ahead
my friend, Mario doesn’t mind playing the fool.”
“As long as I don’t have to hear another Mario-at-sea-as-a-boy
story, I’ll be okay,” Terry said harshly.
“You used to like my stories,” Mario said in mock indignation.
“I love your stories, Mario, but not tonight, okay, because I feel
you got one coming on.”
Mario shrugged. “You are becoming bitter, Terry, you should
relax.”
“I’m trying to relax, goddamn it, if you’ll let me.”
“Your mother is very bad, I know.”
“Just fucking leave it alone, Mario.”
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74
“I do not like to see everything taken away from you, it pains
Mario as well.”
Terry leaped up from the table, picked up his fatigue jacket,
which he had placed behind the kitchen chair, and stormed towards
the door.
“Okay my friend, get mad at me, but you’re thinking too much
about things, go back to work, occupy your mind.”
“I’m telling you now, Mario,” Terry said, standing at the door
and pointing his finger at Mario, “I’ll think about what I fucking
want to think about.” Terry slammed the door behind him.
Mario mumbled the Italian word for crazy under his breath.
Terry broke down and called Cynthia from the Hip Bagel. She
cried happily and said she would make every effort not to put
pressure on him, but her contact to the Civil Rights Movement just
happened to be on his way over to her place and she wanted so
much for Terry to meet him. It was extremely important to her, she
added. And she was sorry she was so pushy sometimes, she cooed.
Terry agreed to come over
Cynthia’s friend stood up when Terry walked into the living
room. He was a broad man in his late fifties, slightly balding, who
despite the fact that he had an expensive suit on, appeared sloppy.
“Glad to meet you, Terry,” he said in a tough-sounding voice.
“My name is Andrew Koslowski, Cynthia talks about you all the
time. She’s told me about your volunteer work at the hospital, it’s
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good to know that there are young people who care. Cynthia says
you feel for people, that you have a lot of depth. I’ve always trusted
Cynthia’s judgement--even when she was a little girl.”
Cynthia beamed. Terry sat down on the couch across from
Koslowski who looked amazingly comfortable in Cynthia’s chair.
“Cynthia says you work with civil rights organizations,” Terry
said.
Koslowski leaned forward. “I coordinate money donated by
labor unions to fight for civil rights,” he replied modestly.
“The biggest unions in the country and Andrew sits at the
head of the committee,” interjected Cynthia who was still beaming,
“Washington calls him all the time for his advice,” she added.
“There are people in Congress in favor of what we’re doing,”
Koslowski said nonchalantly.
“Sounds important,” responded Terry.
Koslowski’s eyes lit up. “This summer is going to be extremely
important, Terry. We’re working right now with the Council of
Federated Organizations--there’s going to be a massive invasion of
students into Mississippi. Over 500, Terry, will pour into Mississippi
to spend the summer involved in voter registration and educational
projects. The spotlight of a nation will finally be on that cesspool of
a state.”
Cynthia looked at Terry. “Do you remember William L.
Moore?”
“No...no I don’t,” replied Terry.
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“On April 23rd last year, William L. Moore was murdered while
protesting segregation. He had been walking from Tennessee to
Mississippi. Andrew knew him well, not because he was white, but
because Andrew works with the brave ones. The ones with courage,”
she said passionately.
Koslowski laughed. “Lighten up, Cynthia, we don’t want to
scare Terry away.”
“Away from what?” Terry said, lighting a Camel
“Just a figure of speech, Terry. We know you are sympathetic
to the cause of Negro people--at least according to Cynthia.”
“I’m sympathetic to anyone who’s treated like dirt,” Terry
said, feeling uncomfortable with Koslowski’s sympathetic to the
cause of Negro people description of him.
Koslowski spoke for the next half-hour on the duty of every
white citizen to help Negroes gain their rights. Then he began to ask
Terry questions. “You were in the Army, weren’t you, Terry?”
“Yes sir, I was.”
“Cynthia says you were a court-martial clerk, but have had
extensive infantry training.”
“They call it Advanced Infantry Training,” Terry said,
beginning to feel uncomfortable.
“It’s too bad you didn’t have the opportunity for even more
training, Terry. That kind of training is so valuable. Knowing how to
defend yourself is so important. Even Mike King would tell you
that.”
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Terry couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was something
strange about Andrew Koslowski that disturbed him.
“Yes indeed, we’re going to do things this summer, Terry, that
are going to kick that bully Mississippi between the balls,” Koslowski
said, tightening his fist. Then he turned to Cynthia and said, “Excuse
me, honey, I hate those bigots so.”
Cynthia continued to beam.
“A lot of innocent heads are going to be busted though,”
continued Koslowski, “but volunteers will know that, and they still
will go, and that’s the kind of courage we need in this nation,” he
said as if he had rehearsed those words for a speech.
“Sometimes I wish there was a little less passive resistance and
a little more shoving back,” he continued, “but most of these kids
never got a black eye in their lives, they didn’t grow up in a tough
section of the Bronx like you did, Terry.”
“I didn’t know you had my bio,” Terry said skeptically.
“You have nothing to hide,” Cynthia interjected. “I told
Andrew about you and I was proud to.”
“We could use a few more people like you in the Movement
Terry. I’m sick of these pseudo-intellectuals who are so pure. I would
have liked to see how pure they would have been in Pittsburgh in
the Forties, and Chicago in the Fifties fighting Industrialists and
scabs on the strike lines. Anyway, I’m not here to talk about my life.
I’m here to talk about yours, Terry.” He took a deep breath. “In a
couple of weeks, Terry, I’ll be making a trip to Oxford, Ohio, and
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then to the South concerning this summer’s Mississippi Voting
Project--I’d like you to ride with me, Terry.”
“Andrew can help you, Terry--really help you,”Cynthia said
excitedly.
“I don’t know, my mother’s pretty critical and--”
“You don’t have to decide now, Terry, think about it. I like
Cynthia very much and she likes you very much. She was going to
accompany me, but we’ve decided she needs a little more time for
herself, didn’t we, Cynthia?”
Cynthia nodded obediently.
“Will you think about it, Terry?” Andrew asked
sympathetically.
“Okay,” Terry said, getting up to leave. Maybe this trip would
do him some good, he speculated, but was it fair? He didn’t feel
passionately about going—certainly going for connections was not
the right thing to do, he’d have to give it some thought.
He left Koslowski and Cynthia just as they began a serious
conversation about Martin Luther King’s leadership. Koslowski kept
referring to King as Mike which sounded awkward, something only
close friends should know, Terry thought.
Terry walked towards the light emanating from the basement
level of the Kiwi. The Kiwi, he believed, represented freedom in its
purest terms: Customers could say anything they wanted to say to
each other and if a person didn’t have the stomach for it, they could
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79
leave. Pretension, he had observed, could easily be crushed at the
Kiwi. Society people would occasionally come in and think the Kiwi
was cute until they realized that most of the regulars thought they
were parasites, even if they let these same uptown people buy them
drinks.
Someone had placed a gallon jug over the bar with a sign
saying ‘Fund For Pilgrim Mothers’ and Terry didn’t know why, but it
made him laugh. He ordered a Carlsberg and wondered if he was
going to have a hard time getting a buzz on. German beer had been
a lot stronger and he had built up a tolerance to most brands of
American beer. He slowly looked around while he waited for his
beer. The Kiwi was as close to a Brugel painting as anything he had
ever seen. In addition to the frivolity, Francis the Magician was
selling one of his tricks to a very rich-looking gentleman whom
Terry found out later was an English lord. Kerwin, the little Irishman
who quoted Joyce relentlessly, and dressed like Beau Brummel, was
doing a layout for an airline. Charlie the beatnik, who waited on
tables, and always dumped ashtrays on the sawdust floor, was
reading a poem to himself.
“Damn, I told Hank you’d be here,” said a Southern voice.
Terry turned towards the voice and saw J.W. Sawyer emerging out of
a blue haze of cigarette smoke. J.W., as Terry had remembered him,
was dressed meticulously: wearing a snappy brim hat, Camel
overcoat, and expensive-looking suit and shoes. He was an editor for
Electrical World magazine, and held an electrical engineering
degree.
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Terry was happy to see him again.
“J.W., you old ditchdigger.”
“You haven’t been around, Terry,” J.W. said warmly.
“EVERYONE knows you should be out of the service by now, and you
haven’t called. The law says they have to give you a job that’s
comparable to the one you had. Hank, however, is trying to get you
your old position back, but hell, you haven’t contacted anybody.”
J.W. delicately held out a cigarette with a long ash and flicked
it.
“I’m collecting unemployment until I figure out what I’m going
to do, J.W.,” Terry said, stepping aside to make room for J.W. at the
crowded bar.
The smile on J.W.’s face disappeared for a fraction of a second
and then appeared again. “Well, I’m just glad to see you,” J.W. said,
not responding to Terry’s comment.
J.W. would wait until the booze set in before getting personal
again, Terry knew.
They spent the next two hours joking around about the Army
and talking about people they had worked with on the magazine.
Finally, when J.W. had had about five scotches, he said, “You got too
many demons to take care of, Terry. Reminds me of Amanda when
she was writing her way to the Pulitzer. Crying like a baby in my
arms because she couldn’t remember what happened to her when
she crawled under her porch at three years of age. And that fag
coming around. It always thrilled her, him being the darling of the
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New Yorker crowd and her a grown woman crying because she
thought she couldn’t get a serious sentence right.”
Terry brought up the assassination, he had to know where J.W.
stood on Kennedy’s death. He had to know if J.W. was one of those
executives walking through the Port Authority who were business as
usual, who only had dreams for themselves and no one else, who for
a brief moment had allowed themselves to be caught up in the
Kennedy mystique, but quickly abandoned the idea of Kennedy as
soon as they learned about the assassination.
J.W. looked at him indifferently and gingerly took out another
cigarette. J.W., Terry had noticed, enjoyed moving slowly and in a
refined way, particularly when drinking. His Camel overcoat hung
over his shoulders like an Italian movie director. Finally, after taking
a long drag on his Pall Mall cigarette he let the smoke creep out
slowly through the side of his mouth and said, “I told Hank you
were going to be let down by this Kennedy thing.” His face grimaced
for emphasis, and then he curled his lip and smiled. “Sheet, Terry,
we’ve been drunk together enough times for me to know what’s
going on in that mind of yours. Damn, you’ve got to stop worrying
about whether you should be devoting your life to your fellow man
or whether you’d be brave in a P.T. attack. Man, that stuff is over.
Hats and steaks are in, and so is making money...come back to
McGraw-Hill, finish your college education, start getting on with
your life, Terry.”
J.W. then downed a double scotch. “You know you got folks
that want to help you.”
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“I’m thinking about things,” Terry said, turning towards the
bar and drumming his fingers on his quarter-full glass of beer,
disappointed at J.W. for killing Kennedy off so quickly.
“No, you ain’t,” J.W. said, his voice now slurring for the first
time. “You bought that stuff lock, stock and barrel. Fifty mile walks,
poetry readings, man on the moon…greatness.”
Terry looked down the bar and ignored J.W.’s stare. When J.W.
got loaded, Terry knew, any kind of discussion with him was
hopeless. And anyway, he now knew where J.W. stood on Kennedy’s
death and that hurt, but he wasn’t going to let the bullet or bullets
fired in Dallas kill Kennedy in his mind. Under no goddamn
circumstances was he going to let some fucking asshole called
Oswald erase the greatness of Kennedy.
J.W. was swaying now. He had already had another double.
The coat finally fell from his shoulders. Terry picked up the coat as
spittle began to seep out of J.W.’s mouth like it did with a baby.
J.W. placed both hands on the bar and wobbled a little. Then he
turned to Terry and smiled. But Terry knew the smile was a shield.
“I told him to stop,” J.W. said. His Alabama accent still
charming but slurred, “but he just kept going. Where was he going?
He didn’t have anyplace to go, but my instructions were clear. If one
of those German prisoners run--shoot to kill. Don’t shoot to wound.
Shoot to kill. Sheeet, I was a teenager, I didn’t join the Army Air
Corps to guard German P.O.W.’s in the desert. Where was he
running to? I hollered STOP!” J.W. said loud enough to get a few
stares. “And there he was circulating the compound like a scared
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rabbit until he finally started climbing the fence. Sheeet! He was
getting away. I had to fire, honest I had to. Stupid kraut--21. Stupid
kid. Turns out two of the Nazi bastards in the barracks liked men-they had jumped the kid and he had been told if he said anything it
would be consorting with the enemy and he would be executed by
his fellow prisoners. Shot the man because he didn’t want to be
cornholed--now that’s what it’s all about, Terry. I GOT A CITATION
FOR IT. The kraut kid was buried LIKE A HERO by the Germans for
trying to escape from the enemy. Profiles of Courage. P.T. 109.
Sheeet like that makes you look the other way in life. You turn your
head at the wrong moment, take your eye from the ball. Makes you
end up wanting to define yourself by someone else’s press release...
do you understand, Terry?” J.W. said drunkenly.
Terry had heard the P.O.W. story many times. J.W. would use
it differently to make whatever point he wanted to make for the
evening. He had hoped that J.W. would keep the Kennedy light
burning a little longer, but J.W. had not really been crazy about JFK
and Terry knew now that he had expected too much from J.W. Yes,
wide brims and steak would suit J.W. just fine, Terry thought, as he
smiled at J.W., knowing that it was more of a shit-eatin’ grin than a
smile.
A half-hour later Terry put J.W. in a cab hoping J.W. would
remember that they had agreed to see each other the following
week. By the time the taxi sped off, J.W. had already told the cab
driver a joke about wheelbarrows being too complicated for a Negro
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called Leroy. J.W. hadn’t bothered to notice that the cab driver was
Negro.
The corridor walls at St. Vincent’s were green, the floors
marble, with cracks running through them like fat in a cheap cut of
meat. When Terry got off the hospital elevator, he was surprised to
see his mother strapped in a wheelchair seemingly peering at some
faraway place. The floor nurse, seeing Terry’s puzzled expression,
explained to him that his mother had actually spoken a few words.
Doctor Lee had never seen anything like it, the nurse gleefully
commented. The nurse told Terry that it was her idea to put his
mother in the chair now that she had said a few words. Doctor Lee
reluctantly agreed, she added.
Near his mother’s wheelchair was a wooden bench. Terry
moved the wheelchair next to the bench and began talking to the
woman that had born him 25 years ago. He told her about her
friends asking for her, although he had no idea where they were
now. He told her how great things were going for him now that he
had his own apartment and was back at McGraw-Hill. White lies, he
thought. He remembered as a boy how his father had asked him to
tell a white lie to his mother, and then explained to him that a white
lie was not harmful. But his father had alcohol on his breath, and he
was never sure that a lie in any form could not be harmful. And now
he was telling white lies. And he did not feel good about it. But he
would not give her any more pain, he said to himself.
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85
“Mom, you should have seen the Kennedy press conference,”
he said as if he had just finished watching the President on
television. “His best press conference yet.” He was determined to
keep the dead president alive for her. He would raise Kennedy from
the dead, if only for a few minutes in the mind of his mother.
Because he knew she could hear him, and she would want to hear
about the President she loved so much: her being from Ireland and
Kennedy being the grandson of micks from the other side.
Terry spent the next half-hour talking about how great
Kennedy was doing, much to the chagrin of passing nurses and
visitors walking in the hallway.
They would look at him almost in disgust. Kennedy is dead.
Don’t you know that? They would say with their mean stares. How
dare you act as if he is alive. How dare you pretend that November
22nd didn’t happen. How dare you say that we shed tears for a
living person? How dare you imply that we are not moving on and
getting on with our lives? You should be the one with the bandage
around your head, not your mother.
But Terry continued to talk about Kennedy until Dr. Lee
suddenly appeared. She watched him for a few seconds with the
same look of disdain as the visitors walking by had given him.
Finally, she said, in a voice pumped up to sound authoritative,
“Perhaps this is the wrong time to bring this up, Mr. Chandler, your
mother did say a few words today, but she is going to die. We’d like
to transfer her to a Catholic home on East 7th Street where the nuns
will take care of her.”
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86
Her nickname “Dr. Ice” seemed a bit too warm for the cold
eyes in front of him.
Terry put his finger to his mouth and signaled for Dr. Lee to
have the conversation further down the hall.
“Oh, your mother can’t hear us, I’m sure of that,” Dr. Ice said
firmly. She was holding a clipboard in her hand.
Terry looked at her menacingly. “Move, Doctor, or we won’t
have this conversation at all.”
Dr. Ice shrugged and reluctantly began walking down the
corridor.
Terry kissed his mother on the cheek and then followed Dr. Ice
to the end of the hallway.
“Is this far enough away?” Dr. Ice said in a voice that shouted
displeasure at having to be part of a scenario for a patient she was
sure couldn’t hear her.
“What is it, Doctor,” he said, looking at her frigid eyes.
“Your mother will get the kind of care she needs at the
Catholic hospice, Mr. Chandler, we’re recommending that you move
her there.”
“I’ve told you, East 7th Street is a terrible section of the city,”
Terry said, reaching for a Camel, but not really wanting it. “I
wouldn’t feel safe for my sister down there at night,” he continued.
“She can only visit my mother in the evenings.”
Dr. Lee’s pupils became pinpoints. “Your mother is taking up
precious space, Mr. Chandler, there are patients waiting to be
operated on.”
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87
“My mother can die at any moment, is that correct, doctor?”
“Yes...any moment.”
“Then I’m not moving her.”
“I can’t accept that answer,” Dr. Lee said threateningly. “One
of my responsibilities is to see that terminal patients don’t occupy a
hospital bed for months at a time. We need beds for the living, Mr.
Chandler. This is a teaching hospital.”
“You need terminal patients for your Ritz Brother brain
surgeons to practice on, that’s what you need, Dr. Lee,” Terry
replied bitterly.
For a moment, he thought, she was going to strike him with
her clipboard. Instead, her face grew even more sub-human in its
coldness so that it was hard to see her facial features. He
remembered his second visit to the hospital when she had
questioned a patient in his mother’s room suspected of having a
tumor. The woman spoke with a heavy German accent and
obviously had a hard time understanding Dr. Lee. Over and over Dr.
Lee asked the patient the same question, “What does throwing
stones in a glass house mean?” And the woman would look at Dr.
Lee mutely each time. Finally Dr. Lee asked, “What is President
Kennedy’s first name?” And the woman replied gleefully
“John...John F. Kennedy,”.
Terry could see the disappointment in Dr. Lee’s face. Almost as
if someone had slapped her, almost as if she knew there would be
no practice surgery that week for The Team. The older surgeons
would have to concentrate on the patients they could help, and the
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88
younger brain surgeons would have to wait until a hopeless case
arrived to get their experience.
Dr. Lee/Dr. Ice gave Terry a hateful look and stormed off.
It was people like Dr. Lee who would take over now, Terry
thought. Their lack of human emotion would be applauded as they
got the business of self-interest done. They would try and turn all of
us into automatons who worshipped expediency, he thought, as he
watched her charge down the hospital corridor.
“Good for you,” said a Jamaican aide. “If that Doctor ever
expressed any feelings for people, we haven’t seen it around here,”
the aide said in a broad Jamaican accent. “She gets brownie points
for getting terminally ill patients off the floor--the young surgeons
they want to cut all the time--all the time...I take care of your
mother real good, Mr. Chandler, real good. I change her sheets and
wash her everyday--her skin is so pure. Your sister told me she’s
Irish--they have skin like that. So pure. My grandfather was half
Irish you know...so pure.” The aide smiled for a moment and then
scurried into a ward room. Terry looked at his mother again.
Seemingly not in contact with anything around her. The way
Kennedy might have been if he had lived.
CHAPTER FIVE
Terry watched the street kids playing two-hand touch football in the
schoolyard just off West Houston Street. They were fast and good.
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89
Only on some plays, it would be a Kennedy, usually Robert, going
out for the ball. This caused some anxiety in Terry and he took a
few deep breaths until there were no Kennedy’s on the field. Don’t
get too hung up on this, he told himself. He didn’t know what was
worse, thinking about Kennedy or thinking about his mother. It was
when he got like this that he thought about Rosemary which
plunged him into a deeper depression. But he had his volunteer
work, and he liked Neil a lot. Cynthia wasn’t bad either. And thank
god for Mario. Too bad Americans seemed so different now that
Kennedy wasn’t President. They had lost something--well screw it.
He wasn’t going to change. Kennedy, and what he stood for wasn’t
just going to be wiped off the face of the earth for hats and steaks,
he was determined.
Terry took a closer look at the football players. One of them
had a Harvard jersey on. It probably belonged to an older brother,
he reasoned. The kid was good-looking and looked like he had
everything going for him. But what did everything going for you
mean now? Hats and steaks and what? And what?
Terry walked around the Village and lower Manhattan for a
few hours which made him feel somewhat in control again. Sharks,
he had read, had to move all the time or they would die. Somehow
he didn’t like the comparison, but did people keep on the move a lot
when they didn’t want to feel pain? Was being indifferent, or
business as usual, how people fought pain? Did Kennedy’s death
turn everybody into a shark?
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Without planning it, and just walking randomly, Terry ended
up a half a block from 205 Bleecker Street. In less than a minute he
was back in his apartment. Cynthia was sitting at the kitchen table
reading a newspaper.
“Mario let me in before he went to work,” she said defensively.
“I know, I haven’t called you in a few days.”
“Andrew was very impressed with you, Terry, honest he was,”
she said, half looking at the newspaper.
“I told you I would think about it, Cynthia, it’s not like he
needs an answer right away,” Terry said, tossing his fatigue jacket
onto Mario’s precious Castro convertible.
Terry then walked around Cynthia, took a tea kettle off the
stove, and filled it with tap water. Once he got the fire under it, he
said, “Look, can we skip my future tonight, I know the trip could be
interesting, and an opportunity to see what’s going on down south
but I don’t feel like discussing it this evening.”
“Andrew Koslowski is an important man, Terry. He gets things
done. You’ve hardly got an education, you’ll get suffocated out there
in the real world if you don’t watch out.”
She put the paper down and turned towards him. “You may
see King’s name in the paper, but it’s people like Andrew who are
getting King the money. Andrew is a saint, Terry, an absolute saint.
There isn’t an organization in the Movement that doesn’t turn to
Andrew for help--that’s power, Terry. Do you understand that? More
important, it’s a fantastic opportunity to help your fellow man.”
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“And myself too, right?” He gave the tea kettle an impatient
look.
“There’s nothing wrong with having connections, Terry. Or
being influenced by parents or friends, or by what they do for a
living. I mean if you want to get so righteous about making
connections, where the hell would JFK have been without his father?
You think he would have been President without his family’s help? I
bet 99 percent of all successful people have a head start in life
because of their family or friends. It doesn’t make them any the less
for it.”
“I think Kennedy wanted to balance those figures out a little,”
Terry said cynically as he poured the boiling water into the teacup.
But he welcomed Cynthia’s seemingly rational conversation. Lately
he had wondered about her. At times she seemed to drift off, or
become obsessive about civil rights.
He sat down at the table and smiled at her. At first she smiled
back warmly, but then the crooked smile appeared, almost as if it
knew he had dropped his guard. It was the smile she always used
before insisting that she go down on him. It had a life of its own.
When he saw it he felt he wasn’t looking at Cynthia, but at another
person.
Damn it, he didn’t want a blow-job, he thought, as he watched
her drop to her knees and unzip his fly. And then it started to feel
more like a movie again. Like it wasn’t happening to him. Cynthia
playfully took out his limp penis but she didn’t put her mouth on it
right away.
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“And what have we done that’s constructive?” she said to his
penis. “Do you you have any purpose in life but to come inside
every pretty girl you meet, or come all over their pretty dainty
clothes? Oh, I know you’re waiting for my warm mouth, but we
never get a chance to talk to each other.”
Terry, with his back to the kitchen sink, reached down and
tried to put his penis inside his pants but she smacked his hand as if
he were a naughty little boy.
“We were talking, Cynthia--remember?…It takes two to have a
sex act,” he said looking down at her smiling face.
“Don’t interrupt, I’m having a conversation with a dear
friend.”
Terry crossed his arms and smirked. His penis continued to
remain limp as she whispered to it and spoke to it in hushed tones,
so that Terry could not hear her. She then began to masturbate him
but nothing happened.
“So we won’t get hard, will we, naughty boy?” she said
condescendingly to Terry’s penis.
“Cynthia...we should talk about this.”
She looked up at Terry, her mouth was curved downward and
she seemed to be breathing heavily.
He tried to pull her up but she resisted.
“I’m not talking to you,” she said angrily, “I’m talking to this
naughty boy who’s trying very hard not to be friendly.”
She grabbed his penis firmly and thrust it into her mouth,
immediately licking the tip with her tongue. To Terry’s disgust it
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became hard. She then moved her mouth back and forth vigorously
until, finally, he ejaculated into her mouth thinking of Rosemary.
When he had finished coming she went into the tiny bathroom
and began rinsing her mouth. He poured what was left of the tea
water into his cup.
“Well?” she said, coming out of the bathroom with a satisfied
look on her face, “What about Andrew?”
“I’ll talk to him again about it, but it’s not because of the blowjob--you seem to like it more than I do.
”Your friend is nice and relaxed now, Terry--your judgement is
much better when it’s relaxed.”
“I said I’ll see Andrew as soon as I can, now lets drop it.”
“Oh, Terry, that makes me so happy,” she said like a little girl.
And then she hugged him.
This was the Cynthia he liked: the compassionate, caring
person. He hated the calculating Sex Goddess, though. And somehow
she always came along for the ride.
After talking incessantly about famous Negro scholars for
another hour, Cynthia kissed Terry and left. Apparently in the best
of spirits.
Terry opened the kitchen cupboard where Mario had put the
newspapers. He had only seen the headlines, but now he wanted to
know what the country was feeling during the mourning. New
President Leads Notables Past Bier was a lead story in the Sunday
News. But when he got to the description of the dead President’s
coffin he could go no further. He could only think of the
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94
inauguration: the newly sworn President hatless and coatless in the
stiff January breeze. His handsome and noble face clearly standing
out among the faceless dignitaries standing behind him. His eyes
sparkling and his Massachusetts-Harvard voice beckoning the
Nation to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you
can do for your country.”
Terry put down the paper and walked over to the living room
window which faced the Little Red Schoolhouse. Bleecker Street
seemed dead. The little shops selling leather goods and trinkets
were closed. Terry didn’t know why, but he suddenly felt like he was
in prison.
Neil, the boy in Bellevue, could now catch a basketball and
return it to Terry with force. Terry was told by Buster--the only aide
that Terry liked--that Neil now looked forward to seeing Terry, and
Terry was pleased by that. Oddly, Terry was anxious to see Neil for
another reason as well.
Cynthia had asked him if he was Negro or white and Terry
hadn’t been able to answer her. He just hadn’t noticed, or thought
about it, but now he was curious himself. Neil, along with the other
boys, came from a class and entered the ward. He didn’t look Negro
or white and Terry felt anxious for a moment, and wondered why he
couldn’t see Neil’s color. Finally, he forced himself to concentrate
and decided that Neil was light but a Negro, or maybe Spanish, and
finally said fuck it, because he was just glad to see Neil.
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They played catch, then ping pong. Then Neil insisted on
playing chess, which all the boys in PQ5 had to learn. Terry played
badly, but it was a good opportunity to talk to Neil so he agreed.
While they were setting up, Neil said, “How come you only
come two nights a week, Terry? How come you don’t come more?”
“That’s all I can handle right now, Neil.”
“They usually don’t have people that the boys like,” Neil said,
moving a pawn.
“Is that a compliment?” Terry said, moving a knight.
Neil smiled. It was the first time Terry had seen him smile. But
he didn’t answer Terry’s question.
“How long have you been here?” Terry asked, studying the
board but not really caring about the game.
“Three months,” Neil said, looking at the board as if every
square contained a secret message.
“Has anyone visited you?”
“I don’t want to see anybody,” Neil said, still studying the
board.
“Who’s anybody?”
“The blow-job artist that lives with me--my mother.”
“You don’t really like it here, do you?”
“It’s okay,” Neil said, moving a bishop and smiling.
Terry looked up from the chess board. “It’s not okay, it never
will be okay. Look…your mother’s got to visit you, it’s very
important. You have to call her and ask her to come down and see
you.”
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“She don’t have a phone, the johns just stand outside on the
landing and wait for her to finish. She’s afraid of phones...I don’t
know why.”
“Don’t you want to see your mother, Neil?”
Neil studied the chess board intensely for a moment, and then
with one sweeping motion of his hand sliced the chess pieces off of
it.
“I guess not,” Terry said calmly without reacting to Neil’s
anger. He had learned that from observing the aides.
Terry picked up the chess pieces while Neil sat stoically.
“Your mother’s got to visit you, Neil,” Terry said, setting up
the chess board again.
Neil studied Terry closely. “Why does she have to visit me?”
“So you can get out of this place, you know that. If one of your
parents doesn’t come to visit you, you could end up in Creedmore
or some other awful place upstate.”
“That’s where he wants to go,” Neil said, pointing to a thin
blonde-haired, poorly dressed Caucasian boy who looked no older
than eleven. “When it’s time to go to bed the fun starts for him. He’s
just like my mother.”
“You’re not making sense, Neil.”
“I don’t want to talk anymore,” Neil said angrily. And then he
got up abruptly and walked in the direction of the sleeping quarters
at the north end of the ward.
The frail little boy that Neil had pointed out, walked over to
Terry.
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“Got a cigarette, mister,” he asked in a child’s voice.
“Aren’t you too young to smoke?”
“I’m the same age as the kid you were talking to, mister. My
name is Danny.”
Terry handed Danny a cigarette and said, “I didn’t see you
here last week, Danny, is this your first week here?”
“This place--yes,” answered Danny, waiting for Terry to give
him a light, since matches were forbidden.
The cigarette looked foreign in Danny’s small hand, almost
obscene.
Terry reluctantly gave him a light.
“Can’t wait to get to Creedmore...that’s the big time, I hear,”
said Danny, hardly taking a puff on his cigarette.
“Aren’t you tired of places like this?” asked Terry, looking at
Danny’s frail body, thinking how much Danny looked like pictures
of himself at that age.
“Naaah,” replied Danny who then took another awkward puff
on his cigarette and looked at Terry as if to say what did he know
about such places? Didn’t the adult understand the inevitable?
Didn’t the adult understand what excitement lay ahead? There was
medicine in the morning to calm him down. Medicine in the
afternoon to wake him up. Medicine in the evening to help him
sleep. There were rules so he didn’t have to think. It was wonderful,
didn’t the adult understand that?
“Can you do me a favor, mister?”
“I don’t know, what is it, Danny?”
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“I asked Buster, you know the aide, for some Vaseline, but he
won’t give it to me, I need the Vaseline...honest I do.”
Terry eyed Buster standing in front of the tiny office just off of
the ward. He was wearing his blue aide’s uniform which was not
unlike those worn by nurses in the operating room. Buster
announced, in his robust voice, that bed check was in five minutes
and that lights were going out.
Terry looked at Danny again who seemed to draw into himself
until he appeared to be a small white ball...the small white ball
pleaded, “Please mister I need it.”
“Why Danny?”
“I just need it.”
Terry, still puzzled, walked over to Buster and asked why he
wouldn’t give Danny the Vaseline he requested. He probably had a
burn or needed it for his hair, Terry guessed.
Buster looked at Terry incredulously, while the small white
ball waited in a dark corner--the ward lights had just been turned
off.
“He wants it so the boys can get their pricks up his ass easier,”
replied Buster matter of factly.
“Jesus, don’t tell me that,” Terry said, feeling like someone
had just slammed a two-by-four into his stomach.
“He’s too much trouble for the system to straighten out now,
Terry,” Buster said sympathetically. “If they let him out he’ll do
something to get back into a place like this. He’s been living on and
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off in institutions like this since he was a baby. Mother deserted him
when he was three.”
Terry stared at Buster for a moment as if there could be
something he could say that might make sense, but anger seemed to
be the only response.
“Damn it, Buster, don’t they put kids like him in orphanages?
Don’t they get a chance to be adopted?”
“They slip through,” replied Buster unemotionally. “Mother
dies of an overdose, where’s the city going to put them? They grow
up in a place like this, that’s all they know--relatives keep them for a
little while, but then there’s always trouble...It’s why my relationship
with God Allah is so important to me, Terry. A lot of Negro kids are
falling through the cracks like Danny. With the God Allah’s help
we’re going to turn that around.”
Terry looked over to where Danny had been standing, the
little white ball was gone.
“You don’t give a shit about kids like Danny--they’re white,
right Buster? Is that it?”
Buster stepped back into his office as Terry stood in the
shadows of the ward.
“Terry, I like you,” Buster said, “but you’re steppin’ over the
line that keeps me from hating white people. I’ve got to care for my
people first--don’t you understand? Don’t you get it?”
Terry stepped into the white office from the shadows.
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“The only thing I understand is these kids need love. Maybe
you can’t have the time to give it to every one of them but the ones
that need it the most should get it, whatever color they are.”
Buster furrowed his face. “I don’t see too much of that stuff
going around outside...the only love Danny knows is when he gets it
up his ass, now what am I supposed to do about that? I don’t care
what color you are in this place, you don’t have people visiting you
during the observation period and you got a problem. I told you
that...look, you want to do something constructive, you get Neil’s
mother to come down here and visit him.”
Terry stiffened. “I’ve tried to talk to him about it, but he won’t
budge.”
Buster moved his face muscles around for a few seconds, and
then closed the door behind Terry.
“Look, I like you, Terry, you’re not like those eggheads we get
from medical school who volunteer for experience, so I’m going to
do something that could cost me my job. Neil’s mother lives up in
the Bronx, near Clairmont Parkway. She don’t have a phone, but I
can give you her address. Man, she’s got to come down and see him
or he’s straight to Creedmore--he stabbed a John, and shit, if I
thought I could help Danny I would, but he’s gone, Terry-institutionalized by whitey. When he realizes what he’s done with
his life it will be too late.”
Buster wrote down the address and handed it to Terry, who
felt he had just run out of words.
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A few minutes later, Terry waited for Buster to let him out of
the ward. From the darkness a child’s voice said, “He won’t give it to
you, mister, will he?”
“No, he won’t, Danny.”
“Well thanks for trying--I appreciate it.”
“Danny!” shouted a husky voice from the dormitory where the
boys slept.
“Gotta go,” said Danny’s voice as it slipped into the darkness
almost as if it were a little dog playfully tagging behind its master.
“That’s the way it is,” said Buster, unlocking the large metal
doors for Terry. “Danny’s lost, but Neil, you still got a chance with
him.”
Terry didn’t respond. Walking through the dungeon-like
hallway of Bellevue hosptial, he thought: there are all kinds of
hurts in this world. From damaged pride to losing a loved one to
shame, but the degradation of a fellow human is one of the worst.
“Lost.” What did that mean? Did that mean not worth saving? Was
that the way it was going to be from now one? The “Losts” and the
“Worth Saving.” Priorities? Triage for the human race?
Was that the way it was going to be?
The next day Terry took the Lexington Avenue local to 149th
Street and Third Avenue. After a walk through a long passageway,
he climbed a flight of wooden stairs leading to an outdoor elevator
platform that overlooked the roofs of one-story stores selling cheap
clothing and shoes. 149th Street had once been a prosperous area,
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but it was now in total decline. His mother, Terry remembered, used
to take him to Hearn’s Department Store to see Santa Clause. They
didn’t have very much, including the money on most Christmases to
have a Christmas tree. His father was on the bum, and they had to
survive on low welfare payments. One Christmas, he remembered
fondly, a family of four brothers, who were desperate to have a tree
and too poor to have one, went over to the Botanical Gardens and
cut down a beautiful Norwegian spruce. Years later when he told the
story to people who had never been poor, they became aghast at
such blatant thievery, and nearly wept for the tree.
Terry took a closer look at the view from the Third Avenue El
platform. The hopelessness that he had felt since hearing about
Kennedy seemed to manifest itself in the ugliness that lay before his
eyes. Everywhere he looked, there were unimaginable slums. The
burnt-out buildings and filthy streets seemed to suffocate the
aliveness of the once-prosperous shopping area. The streets below
him only seemed to be on the planet earth because of the constant
sound of police cars and fire trucks. It was even hard to see the sky.
The sickening decay seemed to make the sky and the clouds look
pale and sickly like the colors of a dead bird.
One could not look up at the sky and see beauty in the Bronx.
That option had been taken away.
The Third Avenue El train finally pulled in and Terry walked
to the first car, as he had as a kid, and got on. The smell of urine
was unpleasant but Terry had expected it. More disturbing was the
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lack of heat as passengers huddled in the cold. They looked like
refugees from another country, maybe another planet.
The El was an ugly scar that ran from 149th Street to Gunhill
Road, a 21-minute train trip. Terry had not looked forward to the
ride, but the decay he saw riding from the lower Bronx to the East
Bronx was much worse than he remembered. Many buildings along
the route were burned-out shells; they looked like they belonged in
a World War II newsreel of bombed-out Berlin. Hell, Berlin was a lot
better off even with the Wall, he thought. At least East Berliners
wanted to get out of East Berlin--these poor bastards, living in their
Bronx slums, had given up. Their wall of poverty and hopelessness
was too big to climb over, it seemed to Terry.
He got off at Claremont Parkway between 171st and 172nd
Street. For a moment he turned to look at Crotona Park and
expected to see “Pike’s Peak” again--the hill he had once gone sleighriding down, but there was a new expressway slicing through the
park and the hill was gone. Terry chided himself for expecting to see
anything that would please him in this decayed environment.
The day was cloudy, and there was little light under the El
girders. The tenement buildings were less than 10 feet from the El,
so it must have been like living in a mindshaft, he figured.
As Terry followed the building numbers downtown for a block
he spotted an old junk man with a long white beard walking under
the shadows of the El. The old junk man was bent over and slowly
pushing his wooden wheelbarrow cart as if he was walking on a
country road. The pale streaks of light slashing through the El tracks
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illuminated the old junk man and seemed to give him a divine
presence. He was a large man as well, and pushed his wheelbarrow
with gracefulness. There had once been a large Jewish population in
the east Tremont section of the Bronx, Terry recalled. As a boy one
of his first memories was that of being held over a pickle barrel in a
Freeman Street market. Many Jewish families, however, had moved
to Long Island by the late 1950’s, but there were still a lot of Jews on
the Concourse less than a mile away. They would be gone soon, he
knew. Life was better elsewhere. They had given the area stability,
wonderful markets, and dedicated school teachers, among other
things. As a boy, before his mother moved, he had spent many
hours with Jewish families in the Freeman Street tenement building
where he lived while his mother did housework in the area. Yes,
there had once been another Bronx. Perhaps the old junk man still
saw that Bronx in his eyes. It certainly wasn’t the Bronx that Neil
lived in, he thought.
Neil’s building, 3805 Third Avenue, was near 170th Street. He
lived on the top floor. Terry knew about living on the top floor: the
tar on the roof in summer holding heat and baking the apartments
below it. The coldness in the winter because the heat was nearly
gone by the time it reached the top floor.
The smell of garlic and rice permeated the cold air as Terry
climbed filthy marble steps to the fifth floor. He hesitated for a
moment on the dirty landing, but then knocked on apartment 5B.
There was no answer. He knocked again.
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“Tell her you’re not the police or Con Edison,” said a wispy
voice from a crack of an opening in apartment 5D.
Terry felt foolish but he followed the instructions of the wispy
voice.
5B flew open. “Just what do you want?” said an AfricanAmerican woman in her early thirties wearing a loose-fitting
bathrobe.
If she removed her heavy makeup, she would be damn
attractive, Terry thought.
“I’m a volunteer at Bellevue, I know your son.”
“Is he dead?”
“No, nothing like that.”
“Then why are you here?”
Terry heard a giggle from the crack in 5D.
“Can I come in, Mrs. Lawrence?”
“We can do our talking out here,” she said harshly.
Terry heard a cough from inside the apartment.
“Mrs. Lawrence, if you don’t visit your son, they’ll probably
put him away until he’s 21. The authorities have got to know
someone cares about him.”
“He doesn’t want to see me, calls me a fuckin’ cunt--his own
mother...stabbed one of my clients,” she said, fighting back tears.
“Refers to me as the blow-job artist.”
“Does he have a father?” Terry asked cautiously.
“Killed in prison--never lived here anyway...had them big
dreams, flashy car, big house, lots of women--part spic.”
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There was another cough. Neil’s mother turned towards the
inside of her apartment. “I’ll be there in a minute, honey--don’t get
anxious.” Then looking at Terry, she said, “Neil liked his
grandmother, but she’s dead.”
“I’d like to know how Neil got in trouble.”
She looked at Terry meanly. “You a faggot or something...Is
that why you’re interested in my son?”
“No...I just care about your son.”
Neil’s mother turned towards 5D: “Thelma, you shut that
motherfuckin’ door or I’m going to be in your face,” she said
violently.
The crack closed. Neil’s mother grunted in satisfaction and
said, “That day he was supposed to be in school--look, I have to
make ends meet, I work for myself, nobody owns me--you know
what I mean? Nobody’s pimping this lady around. Hell, I’m the only
person in this building that’s not on welfare--some tenants even
look up to me. Nobody from the city comes barging through my
door trying to find out if I’m hiding my old man. Anyways, Neil
can’t stand the men that come to see me. He sleeps up on the
landing near the roof, attaches a heater with an extension cord from
my kitchen. Anyways one day I was doing my thing for a client--oral
…you know, and Neil came charging in and stabbed my john in the
shoulder with a pen knife, he just grazed the john’s shoulder, but
the son-of-bitch reported it to the police. I tried to see Neil before
they put him in Bellevue for observation, but he wouldn’t have any
of it. He doesn’t want to see me, says I’m garbage--a dirty whore who
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lets men come in her mouth. That’s what he says in public, now
what can I do about that?”
Terry said, “Look, you’ve got to make an attempt to see him,
show the authorities he has a place to go--as uncomfortable for him
as it is.”
“I don’t hate him, he’s my son,” she said, dropping the
hardness from her face. “But the way he talks about me in public...it
ain’t right. I do what I do because it’s the only thing I know.My
mother worked the best cat houses in Harlem when I was a little girl.
I used to sit on the knee of a world champion--it’s not right that I
tell you who it was, but he was a world champion, and I used to sit
on his knee--that’s right.”
What a fucking world, thought Terry, suddenly feeling an
unexpected sympathy for Neil’s mother. Goddamn, everything was
screwed up.
“Look, I’ll talk to him, I’ll tell him how much those names he
calls you hurt you, but you’ve got to come down and see
him...please, Mrs. Lawrence, can you do that?”
“I’ll think about it,” she said coldly. It was as if the little girl
that had sat on the knee of a world champion had been too long
ago.
When she closed the door she did not slam it, and Terry was
hopeful as he turned to walk down the filthy marble stairs. The
crack widened in 5D, the wispy voice said, “She’s a bitch,” and
cackled.
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On the way down the stairs, Terry knew he would have to find
a place for Neil to live if he did get out, anything was better than the
conditions he was living in now, he decided.
Outside, in the empty lot next to Neil’s building, a small boy
was clinging to a discarded chair while a woman, from all
appearances his mother, swept garbage into the street. She must
have been the super, Terry thought. There was so much garbage in
the lot; the job seemed hopeless, but continued to sweep.
This woman might be able to climb the Wall, Terry thought.
CHAPTER SIX
The Swede faced Terry across the luncheonette both and said, “I
want to be buried in the same grave as your mother...you’ll see to
that, son, won’t you?”
“If it can be done, I’ll do it,” replied Terry.
The Swede toyed with his coffee cup nervously. “All those
headaches over the years, she must have had the tumor for a long
time.”
“I don’t think her life was that happy,” Terry said, looking at
the Swede and hating him. He had heard about the Swede’s behavior
from his sister. The wild drinking. The dictatorial demands, the
bullying...the Swede becoming furious at the cost of a specialist to
examine his mother.
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The Swede was a crude man with no education who saw Terry
as his rival, and tried to drive Terry from the house while he was
still in his teens.
The Swede pretended not to hear Terry’s remark. “I was ready
to collect Social Security, your mother had another four years--it
would have been so great, the two of us collecting Social Security,”
said the old carpenter.
Terry laughed to himself. If it hadn’t been for his mother the
Swede wouldn’t have been qualified for Social Security. Although
just an immigrant herself, she had helped get the Swede’s legal
status straightened out--he had jumped ship in the twenties. Until
the Swede had met his mother, he had only known boarding houses
and bars.
“The neighbors are asking for you, Terry. They wonder why
you won’t come to the neighborhood.”
“The place depresses me,” Terry said indifferently.
“Your mother loves you very much, Terry, too bad it turned
out this way--it would have been so wonderful, the both of us
collecting Social Security.”
Terry felt a pang of sympathy for the Swede but that was all.
He looked at the Swede’s face, particularly his right eye. He had
never noticed it was cock-eyed until the Swede had mentioned being
ridiculed as a boy in Sweden because of it. He remembered how
angry the Swede became when Terry had told him he had never
noticed that the eye wasn’t normal. The Swede had called Terry a
liar--Terry was 15. The Swede had a handsome face, and it was still
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hard to tell his right eye was cock-eyed, but the Swede would never
believe that. Nine-year-old Swedish boys had noticed it and the
damage had been done.
“Has anybody talked about moving my mother?” Terry asked.
“A Chinese doctor, but I told her you would be a better judge
of that, son...she seemed like an impatient young woman.”
“We shouldn’t move her, the area they want to move her to is
in the East Village, it would be very difficult for Jean to get there
from the Bronx.”
“You take care of things, son, that’s what I told her.”
“I’m not coming to the apartment, I hope you understand.”
“I don’t understand, son. I don’t understand why you won’t
come to visit me--did you meet a lot of girls in the Army, son?”
“I did okay.”
“You’re a smart boy, you take after your father, people say.”
“My mother was a smart woman too.”
The Swede looked at Terry suspiciously. “Your father was
much smarter than your mother, Terry--that’s where you got your
brains from. People down at the bar say your father was a very
smart man.”
“Well...I never knew him that much.”
“Merchant seaman like I was, Terry--very smart, they say.”
Terry spoke to the Swede for a few more minutes and then left
the luncheonette which was next to the Loew’s Paradise Theater on
the Grand Concourse. Going to the Paradise had been a big deal
when he was in his teens. It was the ultimate Hollywood dream
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111
machine. Built in the 1930’s, the Paradise was a mansion for every
depression tenement dweller: A man cutting dress patterns all day
in a garment sweat shop could feel like The King of Saturday Night
when he took his family there. It had thick crimson rugs so that the
King could feel like he was floating on a heavenly body when he
walked on them. It had goldfish fountains that could have come
from a Chinese Emperor’s palace. It had gold-flecked staircases and
winding bannisters that would have pleased any French monarch.
Nothing was too good for The King of Saturday Night. When the
King sat on his orchestra or balcony throne it was so comfortable he
usually fell asleep, after all he was a working man. But no King of
Saturday Night, or his family, could ever resist looking up at the
Loew’s Paradise sky. Before The Kings of Saturday Night, the Milky
Way, and the constellations of the universe. Twinkling stars, and
heavenly bodies, as well as steam heat so you could take your coat
off, and hot water in the bathroom just in case you missed some dirt
while rushing to the movie.
And sometimes even a good movie.
Terry had once put his finger inside a girl’s vagina at the
Paradise during a Ronda Fleming movie, but couldn’t walk upright
after leaving the show, his testicles hurt so much.
But now there were no Kings of Saturday Night, they had all
gone to Long Island.
Terry decided not to see the Swede again until his mother’s
funeral.
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112
Terry had first gone down to Greenwich Village when he was
16. He had applied for a part-time job in a hat factory, which he
didn’t get. It was daylight then and the area didn’t seem that
exciting to him. Later, however, when he was 18 he would take girls
down there on dates. He would sit in lofts and listen to newcomers
like Charlie Mingus. Or he would listen to poetry at the coffee
houses, and giggle sometimes when the audience applauded by
snapping their fingers. But he never really knew the Village. He
didn’t know about the Kettle of Fish. He didn’t know about the Kiwi.
And the girls he took to the Village from the Bronx were always
uncomfortable. They had dreams of little houses on little lots in
little towns. They weren’t like the City College girls in their black
dresses and black stockings who hung out in the coffee houses, and
who always seemed to be searching for something, needing
something more than other people, hungry, it seemed, for anything
that came along, whether it was the poem or the poet. Occasionally
these creatures in black would flirt with him though he might have
Natalie Mazzarelli, or Kathleen O’Mooney, or Jeanie Poloski, from
the Bronx with him. Sometimes these creatures in black would brush
their legs against his when he walked to the bathroom, their eyes
open and welcome. Their movements unrestricted by not having
heard hundreds of sermons on Sunday by Father McGrath who
believed that anyone who saw The Moon Is Blue or Jane Russell in
The Outlaw would go to hell.
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One night a girl in black looked at him from across your
typical crowded smoky room, and opened her mouth wide as if she
were blowing a smoke ring. Terry waited for the smoke ring to come
out, but nothing came out. She then closed her mouth slowly,
suggestively, and smiled. He really didn’t know what kind of
forbidden pleasure she was alluding to at the time. Later, a French
prostitute would put her mouth on it briefly, but it left no effect on
him, nor did he desire her to continue, but preferred, instead, to
penetrate her. It was only when Cynthia began doing it to him that
he would understand the enormous pleasure of a woman’s mouth
massaging his penis, and the guilt that could come from such
pleasure.
It was a cold gray day that reminded Terry of Copenhagen,
when he stepped inside the Hip Bagel. Cynthia was waiting for him
at a table. They exchanged pleasantries, and Terry talked about Neil.
He waited for her to talk about Koslowski but she didn’t. So he told
her about the bind Neil was in, and how he had visited Neil’s
mother.
“With Andrew Koslowski’s help, you could help hundreds of
Negroes, Terry,” she said pontifically.
“But I’m not helping Negroes, Cynthia, I’m helping a person.”
While spreading cream cheese on her bagel--very carefully-Cynthia replied, “There are so many Negroes like Neil, Terry, who
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need our help. Sometimes I can’t sleep or eat thinking about all the
Negroes who need our help. Andrew, I know, feels the same way.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll talk to him like I promised,” Terry said
without enthusiasm.
“I know you will, Terry, I want you to be a part of the
Movement so much. The Negroes are our brothers, Terry. they need
our support for what we’ve done to them. God, the hatred I felt on
the Freedom Ride. It was like being on another planet. They peered
at us in the bus terminal, and then they came closer, and finally
they became a mob, and our support from the FBI seemed to just
disappear...they attacked us like vicious dogs. I was lucky, I fell, a
cracker hit me with a club, but then changed his mind. You know
what the son-of-a-bitch did while all that screaming and hollering
was going on? He stuck his grimy hand under my dress and started
masturbating me. There was screaming and crying all over the
terminal, and this defender of Southern tradition was trying to stick
his finger in my crack. I just went limp, and he left to crack a few
heads--get it, Terry?” Cynthia said cynically. “Cracker, trying to get
in my crack, then cracking heads...I’ll never forget the smile of
control on his face--it was devastating--Andrew’s nephew wasn’t so
lucky, however.”
“The Andrew I spoke to?” Terry said, staring into his empty
coffee cup.
Cynthia nodded yes, and then her eyes became moist. “Mike’s
his name. I’ve known him all my life. We begged Andrew to go, but
he said he couldn’t arrange it, but we knew better. He had done a lot
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for CORE which was sponsoring the rides. Finally he agreed but just
for the Atlanta-to-Birmingham part of the trip. We were supposed to
be well protected, but it didn’t happen that way. A good old boy
smashed Mike’s spine with a baseball bat...I don’t think Andrew will
ever get over it.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Don’t just be sorry, Terry, help us--they are our brothers,
Terry, they need our help for what we’ve done to them.”
He didn’t know how to answer her, but he knew where she was
coming from. She had told him about her mother and father
teaching her to love and respect her fellow man, particularly
Negroes, which seemed like a family compulsion. She had told him
about the fundraising and their insistence that she have a Negro
tutor teach her Negro history. She had told him about her family’s
brief fling with the Communist Party, and how they felt the
Communists weren’t doing enough for the Negro. And she told him
of the split--which began when her father told her mother that he
had a career to think of, as well.
“Look, I respect what you’re trying to do,” Terry said, reaching
across the small round table and touching Cynthia’s hand, “I’m
interested, I told you that.”
“You’re so elusive, Terry,” Cynthia said, grabbing both of
Terry’s hands. “You never talk about anything, except maybe
Kennedy. I don’t know very much about your family or your
friends. Do you have friends, Terry?”
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Terry withdrew his hands. “I feel like I’m applying for a job
when you start asking me those kind of questions, Cynthia.”
“Because I care about you, Terry. I know we’ve only known
each other two months, but I should know more about you. Andrew
said you seemed secretive as well. Are you secretive, Terry?”
“Jesus, can’t we relax once in a while?” Terry said, taking out a
Camel and lighting it. “You’re either talking about the Negro
Movement or my future...you know you’re getting very compulsive,
Cynthia, did anybody ever tell you that? Anyway, I told you about
Neil.”
Cynthia’s eyes brightened. He wondered when the Sex Goddess
was going to show up.
“There’s so much that we can do, Terry, don’t you feel it in the
air? We are greater than we are...the answer, my friend, is blowing in
the wind,” she said, snarling her voice like Bob Dylan.
He turned from Cynthia’s gaze and tried to look outside, but
the windows were too steamy.
“You must commit yourself to the Movement, Terry. I’ll be in
Mississippi this summer, I’m willing to put my ass on the line.”
Terry clasped his hands and leaned forward. In almost a
whisper he said, “I know you’re sincere, Cynthia--god knows I
know.”
“Are you sincere, Terry? You moan and groan about the loss of
Kennedy and the great passion he stirred in the American people,
yet you hid behind an unemployment check, and a sickly ward in
Bellevue. It infuriates me that you even hesitate about Andrew’s
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offer. People would kill to have such an in with the Movement--kill,”
she said violently.
Terry gave her a dumb smile and shrugged.
She looked at him for a long time, and then her eyes began to
drift away from the table as if his lack of an angry response had cast
her off into a dark sea. He watched her float away and tried to pull
her back.
“Look, I want to help, honest I do,” he said with a fast delivery.
But she wasn’t there, she seemed to be drifting further and
further away until he began to doubt whether this was
reality...maybe he was dreaming. Maybe he was drifting off? Was
that possible? But the she returned from her journey with a wicked
crooked smile, flipping one of her shoes off, she leaned back and
began rubbing his penis with her foot. The Sex Goddess had showed
up. He was embarrassed, but he let her do it, because he didn’t want
to see her drift off again.
Terry stayed with Cynthia most of the night, and then walked
home. It was dawn when he reached Washington Square Park. He
decided to sit on one of the benches and enjoy the sunrise. He
couldn’t remember seeing the sun much since coming home.
“Good morning,” said a tall well-dressed African-American
with a coffee container and bagel in his hands. He sat down on the
same bench as Terry.
Terry responded courteously and then smiled.
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“What’s so funny, brother?” asked the man politely.
“You’re so damn polite, every Negro I knew in the Army was
angry about something.”
“I thought my cheerful ‘good morning’ would get your white
heart pumping,” said the man.
“Why bother?”
“Like to talk when I come from playing a gig, like to unwind-no drugs, no booze, just a lot of walkin’ and talkin’. Keeps me going,
keeps me from wanting to put shit in my arm. Forces me to look at
reality...pretty heavy for dawn in the Village, wouldn’t you say?”
“Just unusual,” Terry said matter-of-factly.
“My name is Burt Dale,” said the musician.
“Terry...Terry Holmes.”
“Playing the Vanguard this week, staying at The Earl, just split
from my woman--never did like going to an empty hotel room.”
“You from here?”
“Baltimore, Terry--some town, ever been there?”
“No, I haven’t, Burt.”
“Kennedy was a bummer, wasn’t it?” Dale said sadly.
The comment caught Terry off-guard. It was a grand slam, and
he had expected a grounder.
“They’ll get the others,” continued Burt Dale. “King. Robert.
They’ll make sure there are no bridges for us to cross over to each
other. Some brothers say I shouldn’t be worrying about JFK’s death,
he wasn’t doing anything for us, they say.We have to do it ourselves,
they say and I agree with them, but shit, the man had something
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just like Martin does--now I’m supposed to be concentrating all my
attention on African studies and converting to Muslim. Peer
pressure,” said Burt Dale cynically.
“Everything’s fucked up alright,” Terry said, crossing his arms
and stretching out his legs.
“Yeah, fucked up,” replied Burt Dale as he put the coffee
container to his mouth and drank slowly. Then he said, “You know
this park was never an Uncle Tom zone, it always felt like freedom
to me down here, never spoke to anyone down here with selfdepreciating tones that white people like. Fucked a lot of women
from this park in the fifties. They used to wear black stockings and
black dresses and loved to give blow jobs. I’d feel good for a few
days until I’d put on Thelonious...then you want to throw in the
fucking towel. Shit, I’m drifting all over the place, ain’t I?”
“You got your music, you’re lucky,” Terry said.
“And what else do I have to look forward to?”
“Hope...this is your time.”
“My time,” said Dale with a deep look of skepticism on his
face.
Terry didn’t want to, but he lit a Camel. “Me, I don’t know
what I want,” he said, carefully taking a puff. “I don’t feel so alive
anymore...don’t even know if I’m dreaming or I’m on this bench
talking to you--sometimes I feel like Oswald got me, too.”
Dale said, angrily, “The sensitive folks, they’re feeling it the
most--the business-as-usual people don’t feel shit--they just see
dollar signs.”
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“You got something to fight for--and you got King,” Terry said.
“I didn’t think it was just my fight.”
“You don’t do it yourself, nobody is going to do it for you,”
Terry said cynically, but chided himself inside for sounding so hard.
“And what’s your fight, young man?” Dale said, crushing the
coffee container with his long piano fingers.
“I wish I knew,” Terry said, tossing the Camel in front of him.
Feeling empty again, feeling as if he was unattached to the world,
feeling as if he had been just reduced to human functions like
defecation, or urination, or scratching his body. Was it just him? Or
were other people feeling like him? He didn’t know. If the generation
of the twenties was the Lost Generation, what was he? Kennedy had
defined him as he could have never defined himself. The future
would have been excellence, and caring, and doing one’s best,
without personal gain. The future would have been feeling every
fucking nerve ending in your body being alive.
It was nearly dawn and Terry did not want to have the feeling
of being placed under a magnifying glass, a feeling he always got
when the sun was fully up in the early hours of the morning, and he
had not been home yet.
Dale even looked tall sitting down, and sat on the bench as if
he had a piano in front of him. Terry liked him and told him he
would see him the next time he played the Vanguard, and then left
the park.
The rest of the walk home was eerie and dreamlike. The few
people out on the street seemed zombie-like, as if the buildings and
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streets were in control--these early-morning people could have been
ants building a hill for all the humanness they emanated, Terry
thought.
Buster, the aide at Bellevue, gave Terry a funny look when he
opened the door to PQ5, and then told Terry that Neil had escaped
by forging a pass to the dentist in another ward. He was only
wearing a sweater, Buster added.
“Will they hold it against him?” Terry asked, like a concerned
parent.
“It’s more fuel for the fire,” Buster answered indignantly.
“Did his mother come?” Terry asked, knowing that the other
boys were looking at him.
“Stood right where you’re standing, Neil wouldn’t look at her,
wouldn’t acknowledge her presence. The System got the message
alright, now it knows he’s a wonderful candidate for full
institutionalization until he’s an adult. They won’t help him much
when they find him. If he gets in trouble again--he’s gone for sure.
He’s a good-looking kid, he’ll be thrown in with older people, and
you know that ain’t good,” Buster said, looking around the ward.
Buster, Terry had noticed, never stopped moving his eyes. He
reminded Terry of a lighthouse, his eyes going around and around,
until he saw something he didn’t like. The boys seemed to like the
attention, however, and would do little things to annoy Buster so
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they could get his attention, like pretending they were lighting a
cigarette with their own matches.
That evening Terry went through the motions and played ping
pong with the other boys, but he kept thinking about Neil. It pained
him to think of Neil rejecting his mother, after all he had pleaded
with her to visit Neil. Maybe Neil had run off because of his
mother’s visit? Maybe Terry Chandler should have stuck to playing
ping pong instead of playing God, he thought. One thing was for
certain, he decided. He had to do something to help Neil.
Cynthia insisted on riding to the Bronx with Terry, and he
reluctantly brought her along. They took the IRT to 149th Street
and changed for the Third Avenue El as passengers had been doing
for decades.
Cynthia seemed fascinated with the burned-out buildings,
garbage on the rooftops, and the feeling that she could look into
apartments as the El rumbled by. They got off at the Claremont
Parkway stop, and walked in the downtown direction toward’s Neil’s
building.
“It’s ugly as sin up here, isn’t it, Terry,” Cynthia said,
seemingly still fascinated by the poverty and ruin.
“If this is what sin looks like, it’s ugly,” Terry said looking at
Cynthia. She could be a problem, he thought. She walked like she
wasn’t in danger. She was not street smart. It was as if she were
walking through a carnival freak show tent in some midwestern city.
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Oh, look at that burned-out building. Oh, look at that woman
sleeping in the doorway. Oh, look at how dark and dingy it is here,
how could people live like this? she said with her gaping eyes.
“It’s frightening, I can’t get over it,” she said, as Terry stopped
in front of Neil’s building.
“Be prepared for some pretty bad smells,” he said. “We’re
going in.”
Terry bounded up the steps at a pace that left Cynthia gasping
for air. He had lived most of his life on the fifth floor, and that’s how
you did it when you had to do it six or seven times a day. On the top
floor he knocked on 5B but there was no answer. An extension wire,
however, crawled from under the apartment door and crept up the
stairs leading to the roof landing.
On the skylight landing Terry saw Neil’s sleeping bag and
heater. He stepped out onto the tar roof, Cynthia followed. Neil’s
back was to them. He was swinging a large pole with a piece of cloth
attached to it. Scores of pigeons circled around the pole as if it were
some sort of magnet. A 5’ by 5’ pigeon coop with a screen around it
stood a few feet from Neil.
Neil turned briefly to look at the two intruders, and then
turned back to the pigeons.
“Hello, Neil...didn’t know you loved birds.”
There was no answer, Cynthia busied herself by looking at the
grim view as Terry approached Neil and touched his shoulder. Neil,
still holding the pole, moved his shoulder away from Terry’s hand.
“I ain’t going back, I’m never going back.”
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“If they find you, they’re going to put you away, Neil--they
have an assault charge against you.”
“If I don’t get into trouble, I’ll be okay,” he replied while still
waving the pole--the pigeons started landing on the wire coop.
When Neil seemed satisfied that all his pigeons had returned,
he said, “I’ll be okay. I’m not going to get sick, I’m eating all the time
now...today I did real good. Two birds from another flock joined
mine.”
Neil was wearing a pea jacket, dirty cream-colored pants made
from a synthetic material, a woolen cap, and sneakers. He still
looked like a stiff breeze could blow him over, thought Terry.
“Neil,” said Terry with quiet desperation, “you’ve got to
straighten things out with the authorities or you’re going to end up
in one of those upstate loony bins. The judge sentenced you to
Bellevue for observation, you’ve got to show the court that you’re
being cooperative. If they don’t send you upstate it will be reform
school, either way you lose.”
Neil placed the pole down next to the pigeon coop. From the
roof Terry could see much of Crotona Park and the surrounding
slums. In the sunlight the view might have looked okay, he thought,
but in the gray din of January it looked depressing.
“Ahhhh, I’m okay, Terry. I have my heater and the blow-job
artist gives me a few bucks a day.” He looked at Cynthia. “Is that
your steady lay?”
Terry tried not to show any indication in his face that Neil’s
remark was disturbing. “That’s a friend of mine...Cynthia.”
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“Friend, my asshole, you’re stickin’ her crack, I don’t care
anyway.”
“Jesus, what’s come over you? That lady cares about you, and
watch your mouth, okay?”
“Okay, but I’m not going back, Terry, things are fine here,” he
said, sticking his hands in his pockets and jumping around to keep
warm.
“What happens if you get mad at your mother again?”
“I’m always mad at her, Terry--always. I got my pigeons, I’ll be
okay.”
Terry looked at Neil in exasperation. “You’re not going to
school, the law is looking for you, and you have no home to speak
of--that’s doing okay?”
Neil smiled. It was the kind of smile that was forced but not
because it was false, but because the boy smiling must have known
it made him seem vulnerable when he did it.
“I appreciate your coming up here, but I’m okay...honest,
Terry, I’m okay,” Neil said, blowing warm air from his mouth into
his cupped hands.
Terry handed Neil a slip of paper with his address and
telephone number on it. “I want you to call me, Neil, if you have a
problem, any problem, will you do that?”
“Sure.”
“How old are you again, Neil?”
“Fourteen.”
“Fourteen and so independent.”
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“I got to go now, Terry, I don’t like to stay on the roof too long
in the afternoons. And I suggest you take your girl and leave while
there’s still daylight. The brothers are in a mean mood these days.”
“You’re okay then?” asked Terry.
“I ain’t going back,” replied Neil coldly. And Terry felt bad for
being so patronizing. Neil’s shift of mood, however, had not
surprised him. Neil, he figured, trusted no one.
“Well, I guess there’s nothing I can do,” Terry said, “right?”
Neil raised his hands in resignation just like an elderly Jewish
man might have a long time ago when the area had been
predominantly Jewish.
“Okay, then I’m going, but you call me if you need help--I
don’t care what time of night it is.”
Neil stood mutely and did not answer, or show any emotion.
With the roof door in his hand, Terry waved to Neil, and Neil
returned a slight smile as he stood near the edge of the roof.
Crotona Park in the distance was now barely visible because of a
winter fog.
CHAPTER SEVEN
Third Avenue El With your Urine Seats and Screeching Disrespect/
To ride you and look out the window/is the shame of America for
35 cents.
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The words were scrawled with lipstick on a Claremont Parkway
El station poster. Terry studied the street poem and thought about
Kennedy. It wasn’t supposed to be this way--fuckin’ wasn’t, he said
to himself.
Still looking at the street poem, he said to Cynthia, “Neil
doesn’t stand much of a chance, does he?”
“It’s good that you’re working with him Terry, good that
you’re working with the boys in PQ5 too,” she said, her voice
sounding vulnerable.
“I’ve got to get him away from there, do you understand,
Cynthia?” he said turning away from the poster and looking at her
and sensing how fragile she looked standing on the filthy El
platform.
“I understand, Terry--honest. Our Negro brothers need all the
help they can get from us.”
Damn, that kind of remark annoyed him. He wished she would
stop thinking in terms of masses and start thinking in terms of
individuals.
“I’m just thinking of Neil right now,” he said curtly, looking
directly at her, noticing the fatigue on her face.
She looked at him with tired eyes and said, “You should do the
trip with Andrew, Terry, it might do you some good to get away
from New York for a while. Of course, I’ll miss you,” she added,
sounding more like a little girl than a grown woman, which was very
un-Cynthia like, and made Terry feel uncomfortable. He just wanted
to get on the train before the Sex Goddess showed up.
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Finally the El train lumbered into the station, screeched to a
stop, and the doors opened hesitantly. Cynthia stepped on the train
playfully, which made Terry anxious. He had had it with the Sex
Goddess and her demanding ways, but she did not show up. Cynthia
closed her weary eyes and rested her head on Terry’s shoulder.
As the El train shook, rattled, and noisily rumbled downtown,
Terry looked at the tenement buildings seemingly shaking alongside
of him. In the summer, he knew, the heat from the melted tar on the
roofs would turn the five-story walkups into furnaces--especially
the top floor. When the occupants of these buildings would hear the
El train coming, they would stick their heads out of the window to
catch a breeze. Riders who didn’t know better waved at them
thinking the Third Avenue People were just being friendly, not
realizing that the apartments they were riding by were miniature
hells.
Basically, The Third Avenue People were modern-day moles.
They lived in darkness and endured ear-shattering noise from the
uptown and downtown El trains. Many were people who were
leftovers from the Great Depression; they could not afford to move
elsewhere, or they were newly arrived Negroes from the South who
had dreams of a better life, or they were Puerto Ricans waiting to get
into a housing project. There were Irish and Italians too. Once the
Third Avenue People must have had dreams, Terry speculated. Once
they must have wanted to do something with their lives. In his
boyhood he had known a few kids his age from Third Avenue and
177th Street. They would occasionally come out of the darkness and
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129
visit the candy store on his block. They had nicknames like Sniper,
and Blackie, and Secret, and they had light skin from always having
the sun shielded from them, and their faces were often dirty from
playing under the El, so that they looked like miners, but they were
very tough and no one joked about their appearance, in fact they
were welcome because there was something mysterious about them,
although they were not noisy or brutal like the El, they moved like
it, often walking in pairs in front and back of each other, turning
corners as if they were attached , seemingly part of something
bigger than they were. The darkness of living under the El, and its
ruthless noise, had made them different from other boys their age.
Later he heard one family, who had a small grocery under the
El, hit the Irish Sweepstakes. The day they received the check they
left for Arizona screaming insults at the El, at times laughing
hysterically, witnesses said, while the El seemingly tried to drown
them out with it shattering violent rumbling sound.
Cynthia snuggled against Terry as he peered into the windows
of the Third Avenue People, now filled with artificial light in the
darkness of sunset, the only light the Third Avenue People must
know now that Kennedy was dead, Terry thought.
J.W. Sawyer called Terry during the week and said he hadn’t
forgotten his appointment to meet for a few drinks at the Kiwi.
Terry was convinced, as he walked into the Kiwi, that J.W. was
going to try and talk him into going back to McGraw-Hill.
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130
The blind poet, who dressed like a Viking, and played the best
bongos in New York, was standing at the Kiwi bar drinking scotch.
Terry stood besides him without saying anything. He hadn’t
seen Moondog in two years.
“Is that you, Terry,” said the blind poet.
“It’s me, Louis, I still see you have the magic working for you.”
“Been away in the Army, I heard.”
“Yeah,” replied Terry, looking at Moondog in his Viking garb,
which included a headpiece with horns, fur covering his feet, and a
seven-foot wooden staff.
“You staying indoors during this cold spell?” Terry asked in a
concerned voice.
“I’m staying with my daughter, Terry--thanks for asking.”
Terry had known Moondog since 16 when his part-time job for
a lamp store in the Bronx required him to pick up oil paintings from
an elderly woman artist who lived in a brownstone apartment on
52nd Street. Moondog, standing on 54th Street, would astonish
tourist families on their way to visiting Rockerfeller Center: Well
over six feet, Moondog, with his horned headgear, seven-foot staff,
leather kneecaps, sandals, and skirt-like covering, would stand silent
for hours like an extra in a Wagnerian opera. Children would giggle
but cling to their parents least the Viking monster devour them.
Most passersby didn’t know that Moondog was composing in braille,
as he stood motionless, with his right hand inside a leather bag. His
father had been on a Native American reservation in Wyoming. He
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had lost his sight at 16 when a dynamite cap his brother found on a
railroad track exploded in his face.
During the late forties he walked across-country from the West
to New York City and began attending the rehearsals at the
Philharmonic until an up and coming conductor, Moondog alleged,
got annoyed at reporters taking pictures of him in his Viking
costume--Moondog might have referred to it as Wagnerian--so this
conductor had Moondog banned.
The conductor’s name, Moondog said, was Leonard Bernstein.
Moondog was classified as a blind beggar by the New York
Police Department although Moondog never begged. If a passerby
wanted to drop a few coins into his cup, Moondog would give them
a poem in return.
In the fifties he played bongos in loft concerts with jazz
musicians like Charlie Mingus, and had almost collaborated with
Charlie Parker on an album. But Moondog had made a famous
contribution to music that was little known until he began telling
people about it. All anyone had to do was ask Moondog about the
trial and he would be off.
As Moondog prepared to leave the Kiwi, a young college kid
from NYU handed Moondog a dollar and said, “Can you tell me
about the trial, Mr. Moondog? I heard it’s a hell of a punchline.” All
the patrons at the Kiwi respectfully hushed their voices as Moondog
spoke. Terry had heard the story more than once, but enjoyed
seeing Moondog have an audience.
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“Alan Freed had a radio show in Cleveland,” Moondog said in
his deep operatic baritone. “He was very popular and would say
things like ‘I am the Moondog.’ He called himself Moondog and
played my Moondog Symphony which I had recorded on a small
Spanish label. He would call the Rhythm and Blues songs he played
on the air, MOONDOG MUSIC. Friends had told me about the show,
but it was in Cleveland and I was in New York so there wasn’t too
much I could do about it. Shortly after, however, he came to New
York—WINS --with his Moondog radio show. He was stealing my
identity so I took him to court. The case was reported in the New
York Daily News everyday. It was a big story then because Freed was
big. Freed had a bunch of high-priced lawyers saying he had never
heard of me, and I knew I was losing the case: a blind street person’s
word against the establishment--you know how it is?”
“So what did you do?” asked Charlie the Beatnik, who loved to
give people cues.
“I stood in front of the jury and said the only thing I had was
my name. And if they took that away from me, what did I have? I
won.”
Moondog paused for a few seconds knowing that someone
would ask.
“Is that it, Mr. Moondog?” asked the college student.
Louis harden laughed, not unlike the Santa in the Macy’s Day
Parade.
“The Judge ordered Freed to stop using my name. He had used
it as a noun. As a verb. He used it every way you could think
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possible to keep the show flowing. And there he was the next day
trying to figure out how to fill in all that air time he had previously
used with my name and a few howling wolves. It turns out I did him
a favor, because he came up with a hell of a term to use instead of
my name.”
“Lay it on them, Moondog,” said Charlie, who had been
smoking reefer in the men’s room.
“Rock and Roll was the term he used. It had never been used
until Freed said it after my trial--I think he got it from an obscure
record.” Moondog said proudly.
The Kiwi crowd applauded and Moondog bowed and left.
Terry watched the unique man leave. It was when he walked that
you saw how vulnerable he was. He had to take small steps and use
his staff to guide himself. His outrageous outfit was designed for two
reasons, he had once told Terry. One was to attract people, since he
couldn’t move around too well--the second reason was not so
obvious--his outfit was practical. It was loose-fitting to give him
better mobility. The leather guarded his kneecaps and the helmet
guarded his head when he bumped into walls and other objects.
And the Wagnerian staff he held so proudly on 54th Street and Sixth
Avenue, was much bigger than a cane and less obvious when he
leaned it forward slightly and used it to guide him. It was also a
pretty good weapon against muggers and teenage punks who made
fun of him.
J.W. came strutting in with his blue camel-hair overcoat
draped over his shoulders, and a snappy dark brown wide-brim hat
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angled severely on his head. He was beaming. He ordered a gin and
tonic and bought Terry a beer.
“Talked to Hank. We think we can get your old job back on the
magazine, you’ll have a new title, Terry--Production Editor instead
of Editorial Production Assistant--man, they’re thinking about
offering you $105 a week, sheeet that’s good money,” J.W. said
exuberantly in his Alabama drawl. “Lots of pretty girls asking for
you on the magazine as well,” he said slyly.
Terry told J.W. about Andrew Koslowski and the drive down
south he was thinking about making.
J.W., Terry had noticed, always had a habit of grimacing when
he heard something he didn’t like, and he frowned effusively at
Terry throughout Terry’s conversation about Andrew.
“Terry, you’ve got to get hold of yourself, they’re sure not
going to hold that job for long...hell, you ain’t rich enough to be
doing something like that--and what’s got into you, anyway? I
thought you wanted to make something out of yourself? Sheeet, you
still got that New Frontier stuff in you, you’re still thinking about
Kennedy--man, that’s over,” said J.W. suddenly smiling, “I told you
hats and steaks are back in.”
This was the kind of moment that terrified Terry the most. The
inevitable life goes on. Don’t look back. All the garbage words and
thoughts that eliminated feeling and passion. What existed under
Kennedy was now ancient history to people like J.W. The great
moments of the New Frontier would now rot like ancient bones in
the Museum of Past Memories.
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“I don’t know what I want anymore,” Terry said, ordering
another round. “This country feels dead, I feel like I’m living inside
a zombie, I don’t feel like I belong much to anything--sometimes I
wish I were one of those Southerners you came here with at the end
of the war...artists, writers, people with dreams.”
J.W. gingerly took out a cigarette and lit it, then cleared his
throat.
“We all had dreams then, Terry--New York, man, that was
some city, but you learn to accept reality.”
“I never liked reality,” Terry said, feeling the beer.
“I wasn’t so drunk last time we were here that I don’t
remember what you told me about Cynthia and all the Negro souls
she’s trying to save, Terry. I just hope you’re not going to get
involved with that stuff because she’s a good lay. You know, those
boys down South aren’t dreamers and faggots, they ain’t thinking
about Kennedy’s speeches or making this country a better place to
live, they’re thinking about how they’re going to get their finger in
Amy Lou’s panties. More importantly, they are thinking that a lot of
white people from the North ain’t minding their own business--you
let the sons and daughters of rich people register the Negro, Terry.
They can run home to mommy and daddy anytime they want. Tell
this Andrew to get himself another companion to travel with.”
“I don’t know,” Terry said slurringly. He was feeling like chalk
again.
“Sheeet, you’ve done well for yourself, Terry--drifter father,
welfare, mother not even a citizen, man you’ve done well.”
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“White trash, is that what they call it down South, J.W.?”
J.W. prided himself on his diplomacy. Terry could see his
mind working, wondering whether to answer honestly, or just duck
the question.
“That’s what they call it, Terry,” he said respectfully. On the
jukebox Miles was playing ‘Round Midnight for the zillionth time.
That was the place Terry wanted to be. The place the music was at.
Free, but feeling. Down, but up. Straight ahead, but not direct. And
always hopeful.
“Forget all the Civil Rights stuff and what rich liberals are
thinking,” said J.W., sipping his whiskey and soda like a dandy.
Funny, under JFK, J.W. hadn’t seemed so confident, Terry
remembered.
“They’ve got nothing better to do with their lives than to go
down South and start trouble,” J.W. continued as his voice grew
more confident. “You’ve got to help yourself before you can help
anybody.”
“All we might do, J.W., is check on a proposed staging area in
Oxford, Ohio, and then drive to Mississippi.”
“And then drive to Mississippi,” J.W. repeated sarcastically.
“Just you and this pinko taking a leisurely drive.Maybe just asking a
few questions along the way like, ‘Would your gas station mind
giving fuel to a bus full of Negroes and whites sitting together?’ Or
‘Would your motel mind housing a few students who are trying to
change your way of life?’ Man, from what you tell me about this
union guy, he’s going to get some good old boys real angry--if
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there’s anything they hate worse than a smart-ass Negro, it’s a white
person helping him to be a smart ass--I never thought you’d be
pussy-whipped, Terry.”
Terry turned from the bar to look straight at J.W. “Goddamn,
J.W., I’m not doing it because of Cynthia, I want you to leave her out
of it. And I didn’t like that crack before about her either.”
“Okay, I’m sorry,” J.W. said, getting closer to the bar, “but they
got some big swamps down there, Terry. Ask the wrong questions
and you might end up as part of the ecology.”
J.W. had never been so vocal before about the Civil Rights
Movement, and Terry realized that he didn’t know very much about
J.W. or his politics. If he was a bigot he had hidden it well, but then
again maybe he was just a good friend trying to scare his buddy
back to good old corporate America. Certainly, J.W.’s writer friends
were known liberals. When J.W. talked about coming from the South
with them after World War II, he seemed larger than life, but now, in
his put-down of people trying to help the Negro, he seemed so
small. His Southern companions had gone on to win fame as well as
a few Pulitzer prizes, and J.W. had gone on to be an editor on an
industrial magazine. Maybe he was bitter, reflected Terry.
The Kiwi now seemed strangely subdued, Terry noticed. The
Regulars, their faces contained in framed black and white
photographs hanging on the wall, seemed to have lost something, he
suddenly realized. It was the same music, the same cast of
characters, but something had been taken away from them. What
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they had had only been on loan to them and they hadn’t known it.
And now it was gone, and they would not get it back.
He didn’t know if it had anything to do with Kennedy. The
Regulars had had a good run, and that was that. In essence their
strong individual nature, which gave the bar its persona, had really
created something they detested. They had become popular, and
had played up to that popularity in front of lesser mortals. In short,
they had become what they detested. They had become a fad. And
now there was no place to draw new energy from.
J.W. drank himself into a stupor, but not before cursing a wellknown N.Y. baseball announcer from Alabama, who threw big
parties four times a year for successful Southerners and up-andcomers newly arrived in New York City. The announcer had stopped
inviting J.W. to his parties.
As the evening ended, J.W. drunkenly tried to convince Terry
to come back to McGraw-Hill, it was almost as if he had to have
Terry back, seemingly a mission that had to be accomplished at all
costs, and it was puzzling to Terry.
Terry stuck J.W. in a cab, as he had always done, and walked
on Sullivan Street towards Bleecker. A cold January rain mixed with
the light from street lamps and formed an illusion in Terry’s mind
of a wire fence always being just in front of him. His fatigue jacket
and dungarees became soaking wet as he grew more and more
anxious about the wire fence that would not go away.
The fucking beer, he thought, had to be. Laugh it off. But the
wire fence stayed in front of him until, finally, he squinted his eyes
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until he could barely see, until he was blind like Moondog. And
when he did this he could not see the fence.
The next morning Terry went to see Cynthia. As soon she let
him in the door he noticed the pictures. They formed an unbroken
line that continued into every room of the apartment; row upon row
of framed photographs of famous African-American musicians:
singers, sports figures, politicians, labor leaders, and clergy. The
kitchen seemed to be a special shrine to Jackie Robinson: photos
with Branch Rickey. Winning the batting title. Caught between third
and home plate.
Terry didn’t recognize a lot of photographs. Cynthia said they
were of famous church leaders, businessmen and other important
Negroes going back for more than 20 years. The collection had
belonged to her parents, she said, and had been stored in a
Manhattan warehouse.
“Where would we be without them?” she exclaimed to Terry
while fixing him a cup of tea.
Why not? he thought. The photographs of Robinson reminded
him just how much he had loved to watch Jackie Robinson play as a
boy. How, at 10, he used to talk an older boy in his building into
taking him to Brooklyn to see the Dodgers. He would treat the older
boy as part of the deal. It was money he had earned from selling
Kool Aide to stickball players.
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“One of the few things my mother and father agreed on was
the Brooklyn Dodgers,” she said, while pouring the water into his
cup. “Most of the time, though, before I moved to Maryland with my
mother, I went to Ebbets Field with my father. There would be lots
of Negroes in the stands. Jackie would be so exciting. He would
explode going from first to third and the stands would erupt in
delirious glee. Once the Dodgers were behind by seven runs going
into the ninth, but they scored eight runs to win. The fans went
crazy. People were passing wine bottles around, and I remember my
father, who never drank, taking a swig and passing on the bottle. I’ll
never forget that day, Terry. The sun was shining, and we were one
with our fellow Negro fans--you could feel humanness, the oneness,
the gloryness. My mother and father wanted me to experience Negro
people as human beings, so going to ballgames and sitting in
bleacher seats was a good thing...my father, after he separated from
my mother, had a Negro maid who cleaned on weekends in his
Central Park West apartment. He used to pay her extra to tell me
stories about her people. She had grown up in the South and made
the stories sound like a lot of fun, now I realized she couldn’t have
had that much fun. My parents were greatly concerned for Negroes
—-both were Communists for a short time--they were always
involved in causes, they taught me to care so much for people.
Sometimes I think I can’t get any life from myself, it has to come
from helping other people...sometimes I even think I don’t care
about myself at all.”
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“You’re a good human being,” Terry said, getting up from the
kitchen table and holding her.
“You think so, Terry--do you really? I’ll be so proud of you if
you go with Andrew, Terry. It’s the right thing to do.”
“I’m giving it serious consideration,” Terry replied, looking at
a photograph of Jackie Robinson standing next to Branch Rickey,
but now he was beginning to feel uncomfortable with the
photographs in the kitchen.
“I wish I could go with you, Terry, but I’m saving my strength
for Freedom Summer--but I’ll be so proud of my brave Northern boy
defending the rights of the Negro,” she suddenly said in a mock
Southern accent.
At first in their relationship he hadn’t noticed the transition to
the Sex Goddess, but now he did. It wasn’t the idea of sex that gave
him the creeps, it was Cynthia being someone else. He didn’t want to
have sex with the other person, just with Cynthia.
“Cynthia,” he said coldly, “no games, please.”
“Well, what does the other guy think?” she said with a doll-like
smile on her face.
“What other guy?”
“Mr. Penis.”
“Lets talk about Jackie Robinson, Cynthia.Don’t you want to
talk about Jackie Robinson?”
“Once,” she said with a faraway look in her eyes, “my father
left me in the seat while he went to get some hotdogs. The man
sitting next to us, I can’t remember what color he was, picked up my
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hand and put it under his jacket, and I felt this hard thing, then this
sticky fluid all over my hand. Before my father returned the man
had gone. Terry, come on my breasts!”
“C’mon, Cynthia, can’t we just talk once in a while? I like you, I
want to talk to you sometimes not just fuck you.”
She removed her blouse and aggressively began massaging his
crotch until he finally gave in as he usually did. This time the twist
was pulling him off while she was on her knees, and then letting him
finish while she bared her breasts in front on him. After he
ejaculated on her, she rubbed the come around her breasts with one
hand and began masturbating herself with the other. Terry, in
disgust, went into the bathroom to wash up. Hanging on the
medicine chest was a framed autograph photograph of Martin
Luther King.
The walk to the hospital always created anxiety in Terry. He
dreaded the day his mother would not be there although some
doctors might say she was dead already. In the Army he had visited
her birthplace. Four in her family had stayed in Ireland and three
were sent to the land of milk and honey. One uncle now ran the
family farm. He had been too young to remember Terry’s mother as
were the others. They had stayed and done well, and seemed
somewhat guilt-ridden for not having been sent away. When Terry
saw the pastoral beauty and apparent productivity of the family
farm it puzzled him why the three oldest in the family had been
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sent to America. He later read that the Irish thought that was the
only way for a large family to survive. The farm, they reasoned,
would not be enough to support an entire family so some of the
young adults were told they would have to go. The night before
leaving for America, there would be a wake for them. All their
friends and family would come and say goodbye to them as if they
were dead, knowing that the chances of ever seeing them alive again
were remote. They left from a port called Queenstown, a holdover
from the British occupation. The night before leaving these often
terrified adolescents would stay in a local hotel and go to Mass. In
the morning they would be rowed out by tender to the ocean liner
that would take them to America. Often, the mother or father would
ride out on the tender with them. More out of guilt than love, Terry
reasoned, or else why would they have sent them away so easily?
Dr. Lee was standing in front of the entrance to his mother’s
room. She studied Terry with her cruel dark eyes and said, “I can’t
understand your stubbornness, Mr. Chandler, other families
cooperate. They understand that we need our beds for emergencies,
we’ve done everything we can for your mother.”
Terry could feel the draft surging for a moment then dying
down.
He shifted his body weight and said, “What you’re saying is
rational, Dr. Lee, not just human--look, my stepfather’s medical plan
is paying for her to stay here, she’s not a charity case, I want you to
leave me alone about moving her.”
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“You think I’m cruel or I don’t care about these patients, but
that’s not true, Mr. Chandler, but I have my job to do--I have to help
families understand that terminally ill patients are better off
elsewhere. We operated, unfortunately it wasn’t successful, why
won’t you let us move her to the hospice?”
Terry looked at her in an unbelieving way. “I’ve told you a
number of times Dr. Lee, the neighborhood is very bad. My sister
would have to visit her in the afternoon and have to pay for a babysitter. She can’t afford it.”
“Well, we can’t afford to have patients like your mother
occupying a bed with her prognosis, why won’t you understand
that, Mr. Chandler?”
Terry looked at her emotionless face, and then stepped into
his mother’s room.
“I’m not giving up, Mr. Chandler,” she threatened, her voice
nearly cracking.
Terry’s sister, Jean, was at his mother’s bedside. They
embraced and Terry apologized to his sister for not visiting her
after getting out of the Army.
He then asked who was watching her son, Sean.
“Lars.”
“I wouldn’t trust the Swede to watch a dog,” Terry said. “He
might get drunk.”
“He likes the baby a lot, Terry, he can’t understand why you
won’t visit him.”
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“We lived in a dump before he came, and he’s still there.”
Terry looked at his mother. “She never drank, never smoked, never
cursed, never said a bad word about anyone, and all she got from
God was a kick in the ass.”
“Terry, please, don’t talk like that, she might hear you.”
He unwrapped the bandage that tied his mother’s hand to the
rail, and held it. He then looked at his sister Jean, it was hard to tell
what she was thinking. He wondered how she felt about being a
mother at 18, and how she felt about breaking his mother’s heart.
Him writing letters to her about milk bars in Germany, and her
screwing some typewriter salesman with an angel face and the guts
of a coward.
The Swede didn’t like that stuff and the typewriter salesman
ran. There was nobody to blame really, his sister loved the guy.
“You didn’t get such a good start in life, Jean, at least I had 12
years with mom before the Swede.”
“She always liked you better, Terry,” said his sister. “Only I
didn’t mind, honest I didn’t. All Lars talks about is how great it
would have been if mommy had lived long enough to collect Social
Security. He drank all the time while you were away, he argued with
mommy about the medical bills. He screamed at her when she went
for a brain scan. The insurance man said he wouldn’t put a dog in
the hospital the doctor originally put mommy in--West Farms
hospital. They thought she was a psycho case and had her
transferred to the mental unit in St. Vincent’s. It took doctors three
hours to discover her tumor.” His sister paused, then sobbed. “I
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146
didn’t have anyone to talk to, all Lars talked about was Social
Security.”
The African-American aide who had spoken to Terry in the
hall, walked over to his mother’s bed. “It’s the first time I saw you
both together, it’s good that a family sticks together in these times-you know all of us are jealous of your mother’s skin, she’s never
been in the sun, has she?”
The remark caused Terry and his sister to smile.
“Ireland must be a beautiful place for skin, your mother’s got
the prettiest skin I’ve ever seen,” the aide said, patting the bed. And
then she left with a cheerful smile on her face. Terry knew that
some of the smiling aides changed when visiting hours were over
and the relatives were no longer around to watch them. On a few
occasions, when he had stayed at his mother’s bedside after visiting
hours, and then took a break by walking in the hallway, he had seen
aides changing bedpans, and making beds, with scowls on their
faces. One afternoon he saw an aide continually ignored the pleas of
an older patient by pretending she didn’t hear her.
The draft was stirring up again. Terry looked up and saw a
handsome man covering his wife, who was wearing an oxygen mask,
with a blanket bought from the outside. He looked at Terry and
grimaced.
Terry reached down and pulled the covers up to his mother’s
chin. With the sun streaming in, and the bandage wrapped tightly
around her head, she looked like she belonged in a Flemish
painting.
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“When are you coming up to see the baby, Terry? I have an
apartment near the Grand Concourse, mommy insisted I have my
own place.”
“I’ll be up, I promise,” Terry said, thinking about the draft.
“A famous writer’s mother lives next door to mommy, James
Baldwin is his name. His family argues about him all the time, his
mother and sister are real nice, though. No one can figure out how a
woman can have a famous son and still be living in our
neighborhood.”
Baldwin--Cynthia was always talking about him, remembered
Terry.
“You wouldn’t believe how bad it is up there, Terry--mommy is
one of the few white people left on the block. Mostly it’s Spanish
and Negroes now.”
Terry gave his mother’s hand to his sister. He had last been to
The Block in April 1961 just before leaving for Germany. He hated it
now but once it had been his whole world.
They had moved to Fontaine Avenue on the day the Germans
surrendered. The first thing he remembered seeing on Fontaine
Avenue were dummies of Hirohito, Mussolini, and Hitler hanging
from a telephone pole. That night there was a block party, and he
stayed up all night throwing confetti off the roof--Leon, a janitor’s
son, was his companion. They talked to each other all night in the
darkness, while the adults celebrated below on the street, and his
mother talked with her new neighbors. There were fireworks, and it
was magical.
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“You see that cherry bomb, Terry?”
“Yeah.”
“It’s something, huh!”
“Yeah, Leon, something.”
“You ain’t got a father, do you, Terry?”
“He’s at sea.”
“Did he fight the Nazi’s, Terry?”
“No, did your father?”
“No, they don’t like Negroes in the Army, he got beat up in
England and was discharged.”
“This is my first war, how about you, Leon?”
“The same, I’m glad we beat those Nazi’s, they treated people
awful--look, I’m going to give you something, Terry, but you mustn’t
tell anybody else.It’s top secret, real hush hush.”
“Are you sure you want to do it, Leon?”
“The other boys don’t like me anyway, I guess, nobody likes
Negroes.”
“I like you, Leon.”
“And I like you, Terry, here.”
In the darkness Terry could feel the hard lump, he had never
felt anything like it, it had paper around it, and he unwrapped the
paper, and held the hard lump between his fingers.
“You put it in your mouth, Terry.”
Terry swiftly put it in his mouth and began chewing. He had
never tasted anything like it.
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149
“If you stick your tongue between it and blow, you get a
bubble--they call it bubble gum, you can’t get it anywhere because
of the war.”
The two of them blew bubbles and talked all night while the
fireworks blew, and the radios blared the latest news of Germany’s
surrender.
Leon moved away a few years later, but Terry never forgot
him.
Terry looked at his mother’s lifeless eyes, was she cold, he
wondered? The fucking draft never seemed to let up, he thought, as
his sister sobbed softly.
CHAPTER EIGHT
Terry agreed to meet Andrew Koslowski at the Russian Tea Room. He
felt out of place with his fatigue jacket and dungarees, but he often
felt out of place in public places. He could still not walk into a
department store without feeling the eyes of a store detective on
him. In the days when he was not even in his teens, the
neighborhood kids would go to the department stores on Fordham
Road and steal, but he could never do it, and he wouldn’t do it, but
he would go along with them, and he would always keep his hands
in view, like he was doing now as he walked towards Andrew’s table.
It was obvious by the way the waiters fawned over Andrew that he
was a regular.
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After sitting in Andrew’s booth and exchanging pleasantries
for a few moments, Terry said bluntly, “I just can’t see why you’re
so interested in me, Mr. Koslowski. Maybe you need someone who’s
getting his Ph.D. in Civil Rights?”
Koslowski lit a pipe, his eyes hinting that the cynicism in
Terry’s remark had not gone unnoticed. In a soft voice he replied, “I
like Cynthia very much, Terry, and she likes you very much. Her
father and I are old friends--even if I have done a thousand things to
embarrass him over the years.
You’re an extremely good-looking boy with a lot of brains,
Cynthia thinks you could be somebody, I’d like to give you that
opportunity, the Movement needs people like yourself, Terry, if it’s
ever really going to be part of the mainstream: whites who haven’t
gone to the best schools, who go to work everyday and don’t earn a
hell of a lot. Negroes have got to see that folks like you care--believe
me, it’s not going to be easy down there this summer. When those
Mississippians see white people trying to get the Negro to vote,
they’re going to hate the whites worse than they do the Negro-sometimes it’s hard to turn the other cheek when that happens.”
Terry could not get comfortable in the Tea Room. There was
something about it that was strange to him. Seemingly, you had to
be a certain kind of person to enjoy the food, had to have had some
kind of success. The food, he suspected, tasted better the higher you
got on the corporate ladder. The cheese cake might be great when
you were making $8,000 a year, but incredible when you were
making $50,000 a year.
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“I don’t quite understand what you mean,” Terry said,
watching the fat cats stuff themselves.
Koslowski smiled. “Like they say on Perry Mason, disregard
that last remark.”
“I’m still not clear exactly what this trip is about, Mr.
Koslowski,” Terry said, peaking at the menu--the prices seemed
reasonable.
“Preparation for Freedom Summer, Terry. Certain unions are
throwing a lot of money into this project via the Council of
Federated Organizations. I’m going to make a preliminary trip, and
see how organized this thing is really going to be this summer. An
important part of the trip will be checking out possible staging areas
and other such essential matters.
You’ll be around Americans who are making a difference,
Terry.Americans who are ALIVE, who haven’t stuck their heads into
the ground. I could use a good pair of eyes and ears on this factfinding trip.”
“I’m working at the hospital.”
“Yes,” replied Koslowski, with an edge. “I admire that, but
when you think about it, isn’t it a place where white witch doctors
turn small Negro boys into institutional zombies.”
“You could say that,” Terry said defensively. “The kids there
are certainly not worried about going to school, or saving their own
race, all they want is a hug once in a while and the knowledge that
they’ll be able to eat a meal and sleep in the same bed two nights in
a row.”
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Andrew had raised the menu up in front of his face, but
suddenly lowered it to reveal a sympathetic face. It was a face, no
doubt, that had launched a lot of fund drives. This is a man who
really understands, the face said.
“They are victims, Terry, wards like PQ5 in Bellevue are Bandaids for a serious wound. We can only do something for the Negro
when we speak with one voice, blacks, whites--together until the
establishment realizes it must suffer for its indifference, or worse, its
condoning of segregation and lack of humanity towards another
race.”
He was convincing, thought Terry, damn convincing. Was it a
chance to help a thousand Neils? Maybe a million? Was that what it
was all about?
“Lets order,” said Koslowski loosening his tie. The cheesecake
is sensational.”
The Tea Room definitely did not feel like a mess hall, Terry
concluded.
After a few fatherly slaps in the back, Andrew gave Terry two
days to make up his mind about the trip. Terry walked out of the
Russian Tea Room as he had walked in, not feeling that he belonged.
When he got back to the apartment, Mario had left him a telephone
message from his sister: Patsy Goldberg from the old neighborhood
was dead--murdered for not paying his debts, it was rumored,
pushed in front of a D train.
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The funeral parlor on Jerome Avenue was a block past
Fordham Road--it was not considered a good thing anymore to live
below Fordham Road, Terry knew, much less a good thing to have to
pay your respects to the dead below 190th Street, even if they had
lived below it.
The faces from the past were all there, observed Terry. The
two-bit hoods, the freshly minted cops, the old Greeks, and the
Jewish kids from around the corner on Monterey Avenue. Patsy was
half Jewish and half Irish. The funeral was a regular neighborhood
reunion, thought Terry, who felt no particular kinship for most of
the mourners in the room except for Ryan--a half-Swede and halfIrish kid he had grown up with. Even now, he thought, with all the
booze, Ryan still had the face of a matinee idol and the conscience
of a saint, but the street had taken its toll. It had, on everyone,
particularly when you were young. If you weren’t in a fight, some
adult might be trying to molest you, or get you to rob someone, or
try to cheat you out of something. And if you had an alcoholic
father or were on welfare, you got treated like you were shit. But
Ryan and his brothers were the best, he thought. Good and decent
people who would be considered white trash by J.W.’s friends in the
South.
“Jesus, Terry, no one has seen you since you got out--half the
neighborhood has moved anyway--how the fuck are you?” Ryan
said, trying not to open his mouth too wide, concealing his teeth
which Terry knew had gotten bad.
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154
They talked about the old days, of Reese, Robinson and
Furillo, of the shows at the Brooklyn Paramount with Alan Freed, of
days that meant very little to Terry anymore. Could Kennedy have
turned it around for these people? he wondered. How many of them
would have joined the Peace Corps, or gotten involved in Civil
Rights? Ryan would have been perfect for the Peace Corps, the
others, he wasn’t so sure about. But Ryan was close to being a drunk
now, the bottle was winning as it so often did with people who had
vivid imaginations and no way to use them. Ryan loved opera
passionately, and would get drunk and play Caruso records for
hours, but the morning would always come, but not even Caruso’s
voice could do anything about the cockroaches, tenement slum
conditions, and Ryan’s alcoholic father.
Terry looked at the body. Patsy Goldberg was dressed in what
appeared to be a brand new Robert Hall suit. The suit had obviously
been picked out by the funeral director, Patsy never would have
worn a powder-blue suit, Terry thought.
Terry looked at the expression on Patsy’s face. The funeral
director had done a good job. You never would have known the last
thing that face saw was a subway car car coming at it.
Terry had agreed to go with Andrew.
“Negro rights, black power, what has this to do with you?”
Mario asked. “You still haven’t straightened yourself out,” he raged
while he sewed a button on one of Terry’s shirts.
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155
“We’re just taking a run through Ohio, Mario, then a quick
dash down to Mississippi. The shit’s not going to hit the fan until
this summer,” Terry said, still packing. “They expect over 1,000
students to be involved in the Mississippi Voters Project.”
“This Koslowski, what does he have to do with this voting
business?” asked Mario, with a thread between his teeth.
“It’s pretty complicated,” Terry answered as he continued to
pack. “Something to do with coordinating grants made by the
government, church groups, and labor unions. Negro organizations
need the money badly, so they listen to guys like Koslowski.”
“It looks to me like the Negro is doing okay for himself,” Mario
said skeptically.
“Andrew’s an adviser, he makes sure the money isn’t going to
be pissed away, and he lobbies for Negroes in Washington,”
continued Terry, somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of
defending Koslowski.
“Why would he want to take you along?”
“I really don’t know, Mario, I think he just wants company.”
Mario held up Terry’s shirt, pulled the newly sewed button to
test its strength and smiled triumphantly.
“A man like this lives in secrecy, Terry, I don’t think you
should make the trip--and how can you help the Negro when you
have not straightened out your life?”
“You sound like J.W.,” Terry said, closing up his handbag.
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156
“Yes, your Southern friend, I’ve never met him, but you should
listen to him. I think this Cynthia is influencing you, Terry,a man
will do anything for pussy, this I know.”
Terry looked at Mario, who looked away sheepishly. “You
knew that would piss me off and you said it anyway.”
“I’m your friend, Terry, I don’t want anything from you.”
“You’re always nagging me about finishing college, even my
mother didn’t do that.”
“If you were angry at the way the Negro is treated I wouldn’t
say anything,” Mario said, folding Terry’s shirt like a parent. “But
you don’t know what you want, why don’t take your old job back?
Indoor work with good pay and a future, what more is there?”
Terry put his jacket on. “There’s not thinking about yourself
all the fucking time, that’s one thing, Mario. There’s a whole fucking
world out there, and all I’ve seen is an Army base in Germany.”
“What do you want, Terry, tell me what you want?”
Terry leaned down and picked up his handbag.
“You really want to know, Mario, you really want to fucking
know? Is knowing what I want so important to you?”
“Tell me what you want?” Mario asked, waving both his hands
in front of him excitedly.
“You’re going to piss me off, Mario.”
“C’mon, what does Mr. Terry Chandler want?” probed Mario,
raising both hands as if he had just been introduced to a large
audience.
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“What I want can’t happen, can never happen,” said Terry, his
voice trailing off.
Mario didn’t pounce on Terry’s half-finished comment like he
might have at some other time. He took his time like he wanted to
get his words just right.
“Kennedy is dead, my friend,” Mario said softly. “You can’t
bring him back.”
Terry looked at Mario angrily. He then pointed to his own
chest and said violently, “He’s still in here, do you fucking read me,
Mario? Still in here.”
“It’s a good heart, too,” Mario said condescendingly.
Terry shook his head and smiled, “Did anybody ever tell you
you were complicated, Mario, and too hard to argue with,
sometimes?”
“Watch this man, Terry, for Mario’s sake,” Mario replied
seriously.
“Okay paisan, I’m going.”
Mario, with an expression that seemed unique to Italians,
managed to have a worried look on his face that emanated from
thousands of years of experience with conspiracy. It was as if every
Italian had a gene that understood the matters of the world in terms
that ordinary mortals couldn’t quite comprehend.
Mario’s look stayed with Terry all the way to Cynthia’s
apartment.
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158
Terry had agreed to say goodbye to Cynthia before Koslowski
picked him up on 18th Street and First Avenue.
It was seven in the morning, but she greeted him in a costume
ball dress straight out of Gone With The Wind.
“It just makes a Southern girl’s heart flutter to think that her
man is going off to fight racism and prejudice.I have a candlelight
breakfast waiting in the dining room for my hero.”
She was getting worse, no doubt about it, Terry thought.
“Damn, Cynthia, you’re twisting it around a little, aren’t you?
Wasn’t Scarlett a slave owner?”
Cynthia didn’t answer.
“Anyway, all we’re doing is driving around for a few days,” he
said, but Cynthia was already involved with putting a pitcher of
juice on the table, and seemed not to have heard him.
A bagel with cream cheese was sitting on an expensive-looking
china plate. When they were seated, Cynthia dropped her atrocious
Southern drawl and said, “I know I’ve said it, but I’ll say it again,
you don’t have much of an education, Terry...an A.A. from N.Y.C.
Community College in printing is not going to get you very far.”
Terry slammed his fist on the table. Cynthia cringed
mockingly. He smiled cynically. “Boy, you’re a ball buster, aren’t
you? And it’s not printing--it’s Advertising Production!”
“Andrew can help you get those community college credits to
really count, Terry, and you have the GI Bill, you could finish
college in two years.”
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“I thought you wanted me to make this trip because you care
about civil rights and the bad deal Negroes are getting?”
Her face tightened. “There’s nothing more I want in the world
than to see Negroes rise above the ashes, nothing, but that doesn’t
mean I can’t have feelings about you.”
“Okay, forget it,” he said, trying to finish his meal and
wondering what Cynthia was going to come up with next. He still
had a half hour to go before he met Koslowski.
However, she seemed reasonable enough, he thought, as he
went through the grape fruit and bagel under the light of
candlelight. And then he heard an electronic sound.
“What the hell is that?”
“What do you think it is, big boy?” said the Sex Goddess,
smiling back at him. Her hands were under the table, and her
crinoline dress nearly up to her chin.
He got up and leaned over. Her legs were spread and she was
holding onto a vibrator.
“Cynthia, please.”
“Say some four-letter words, handsome.”
“Goddamn it, cut it out,” Terry said in disgust. He held his
hands to his head, and paced the room in anger.
“Then fuck me, do you understand, fuck me,” she screamed.
“Then take that thing out of your body,” he said, pointing to
her vagina, as she sat spread-eagle on the dining room chair.
He turned away, as she pulled the vibrator out of her, and
tried to think of a sexy thought, but couldn’t.
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“Okay,” the Sex Goddess said condescendingly, “Come over
here.”
“Cynthia, I’m going to meet Koslowski in a few minutes,” he
said, standing in front of her, feeling helpless, almost mute.
She unzipped his fly and began to suck him off, when it got
real hard she lay on the floor, and lifted her circa 1860 dress above
her head. He penetrated her easily, and the sex they had was good.
At one point, when they were both climaxing, she screamed
Billy Holiday’s name.
The morning sky was bleak when Koslowski picked up Terry
on 18th Street and First Avenue in a 1961 Buick LeSabre. By the
time they reach the Holland Tunnel it began to snow. Terry by now
was angry at himself for having sex with Cynthia, somehow it didn’t
seem right, he told himself over and over.
“Worried about the trip?” Koslowski asked as they entered the
tunnel, his big-bear hands steering the Buick as if they were
separate from his body, moving side to side as if they had a life of
their own.
“No, just thinking,” Terry replied, looking at the long, dirty
tunnel that he had taken so many times in the past as a GI recruit
stationed at Fort Dix.
The hands steered the Buick as Koslowski looked at Terry and
said, “Cynthia is an outpatient at Payne Whitney, the psychiatric
division of New York Hospital, that’s not even her apartment, it’s
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mine, Terry. This is the longest she’s been out since 1960--you’ve
been a big help to her.”
Terry slumped in his seat. He didn’t want to share what was
going on in his mind with Koslowski, but the sympathy he felt for
Cynthia forced out a response.
“I knew something was wrong, damn it,” he said, watching the
bricks in the tunnel whiz by, feeling bad like he had so many times
before in the tunnel when he had to return to Fort Dix after
spending Saturday with Rosemary, feeling the pull of the tunnel
sucking him through, ready to spit him out on the other side.
“The doctors nearly gave up on her a few years ago, but she’s
a fighter,” Koslowski said, loosening the top button on his shirt as if
the Holland Tunnel were the appropriate place to do such a thing.
He had been a fool, thought Terry. He should have suspected
that she had severe psychological problems, he should have realized
that her mood changes were serious. He should have known that the
Sex Goddess was the creation of a troubled mind. Poor, brave, wild
Cynthia--not only fighting the demons of racism, but the demons in
herself. He would try and help her get well, but he would never
sleep with her again, not until she was well, he said to himself
determinedly.
“Then she never made the Freedom Ride?” he asked.
“She did,” Koslowski said solemnly. “I called in some favors
and got her and my nephew on before Birmingham--damn mistake.
My nephew is going to be in a wheelchair for life,” Koslowski said
bitterly.
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“I guess passive resistance is a pretty vicious business,” Terry
said, wondering what normal behavior was for 1964.
Koslowski seemed to think about Terry’s remark for a
moment.
“When we get past Ohio and start rolling into the South, Terry,
you’re going to see a South foaming at the mouth. A South that has
always been a reality for the Negro--constant fear--that is the
weapon of the bigot. Having to step off a sidewalk when King White
walks by. Or making sure you don’t sound too uppity when talking
to a white person; always referred to by a first name, always fearful
that a too-long look at a white woman might invite a visit by the
KKK and possible castration. Slaves without a plantation--tenant
farmers. They have to borrow money for grain and supplies, then
they’re cheated for what they’ve grown. They can’t read. They can’t
write. Schools are closed so they can get out in the fields and pick
crops. It amazes me--no, astounds me how the Southern Negro has
managed to keep his dignity.”
“What I see happening in the North doesn’t seem to be the
answer either,” Terry said, not feeling attached to his comment,
feeling as if Andrew could have been talking about tires, or a
baseball game. Confused about why such an important subject could
seem like patter to him.
The snow increased. Koslowski turned on the wipers. “Damn
good point, Terry, there are some well-educated Negro educators
who think once the white Southerner accepts racial equality, he will
be a better friend of the Negro than any Northerner. The Negro and
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163
the Southerner understand each other. The Negro--mostly as slave-has cleared the swamps and farmed the land for over 200 years,
they have an attachment to the land unlike the Northern Negro.”
Yeah, Koslowski was into it alright, thought Terry. The
secretive union organizer, the powerful manipulator, seemed to
believe in what he was doing, but underneath, Terry could sense
some deep, hurtful anger ready to explode in the sitting next to him.
Koslowski talked about the Civil Rights Movement for the next
couple of hours as the storm increased. When nightfall came he
pulled off at Exit 14, near Willow Point, Pennsylvania, and stopped
at the Shiloh Baptist Church.
In the darkness the small wooden, steepled church seemed like
a welcome sight. The snow was thick and crunched when he and
Koslowski walked on the unshoveled pathway leading to the church.
Inside the church it was warm and comforting and full of
Negro worshippers. The service was moving and eloquent, Terry
thought. The Negro worshippers and singers appeared remarkably
happy. They seemed to have a dignity and grace that almost defied
understanding. This was their place, their time to be themselves,
they seemed to shout.
The music director led the choir as if God was in the audience.
He would look at the singers sternly when he wanted more from
them, and smile at them like an approving parent when he was
pleased with what he heard. The singers totally subjected
themselves to the movement of his hands. There would be karatelike chops on faster phrases, and subtle, almost imperceptible
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164
movements of his fingers--furled and moving ever so slightly, on
softer notes of music as he crouched forward and seemed to be
sharing a secret with them. The chorus swayed to the gospel music
as if he, the music director, were a magnet that pulled them from
side to side.
On the final chorus of the song, their bodies, which were
hundreds of small movements, came together as one movement that
seemed to lift them to a higher place.
After the singing, the minister took over the service from the
music director. He was a small, wiry man, who emanated a great
inner strength. He preached about The Movement and how the
brothers and sisters had to keep the higher self in command. The
power of love, he reminded them, had to be used for social change.
Soul force, he called it. It was true, he said, that they were being
beaten, jailed, and murdered in their quest for equality, but they
had to live by Reverend King’s example because violence begot
violence. They had to turn the other cheek and not cooperate with
evil.
Many in the full rows of pews groaned.
“Now I’m telling you,” said the minister, “that’s the way it’s
going to be, don’t be groaning and moaning and feeling sorry for
yourself, when we’re starting to make progress. Nonviolence will not
only free us, but free our oppressors from his sins. Nonviolence
embodies the dignity of struggle. When the white man watches the
evening news, he’s not going to be seeing any clowns or tap-dancing
niggers,” the minister preached.
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“Our defense is to meet every act of violence towards one of us
with the fact that there are thousands of others who will present
themselves in our place as potential victims.”
“Dynamic unity--amazing self-respect,” the minister called it.
Terry was moved by the minister’s speech and realized how
little he knew about the Negro struggle over the past couple of
years. He had been away for two years, and the white GIs stationed
in Germany did not see the struggle in the same way. Many, he
knew, saw it as a violent movement because of the race riots on the
Kasernes and in the German bars. Nonviolence didn’t seem to be the
message the Negro GIs wanted whites to have. Violence between
Negroes and whites got so bad, he remembered, battalions had to be
rotated to the field to cool things down. Yet he realized how foolish
it was for the white soldiers to believe that the struggle only
happened when the media reported it. It was happening, he
realized, every moment of every day in churches like Shiloh.
After the service the minister invited Koslowski and Terry to
his large rambling house for dinner and invited them to stay for the
evening. Over dinner the minister tried to talk to Koslowski, but
Koslowski seemed to withdraw, which baffled Terry. After an
excellent meal of crispy fried chicken, Koslowski said he had to take
care of some business in the area but would be back shortly. Terry
helped the minister and his wife with the dishes, and then
accompanied the minister back to the nearby church to close up.
Inside the empty church, the minister turned to Terry and said, “I’m
worried about Andrew, Terry.”
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“I don’t know him that well, sir, we have a mutual friend that
arranged this trip.”
“His nephew being crippled has changed him,” said the
minister who began shutting off the lights. “Frankly, I never really
felt that Andrew was too enthusiastic about nonviolence anyway.
He’s a tough boy who fought the scabs in the forties and fifties. He’s
result-orientated. He needs to see improvement or he grows
impatient. In the 1940’s Andrew helped organize a company I
worked for at the time. I saw Andrew take on three men with clubs
with his bare hands, but really his special gift--thank the almighty-isn’t violence but persuasion. That man has a great gift for
reasoning, but lately his reasoning always seems to have a threat
lurking about, Of course none in the labor movement stood by us
like Andrew did, and for that we’ve given him a special place that
few white people hold.”
The reverend shut off the last light and locked the church
door. Outside the snow continued to accumulate, but the moonlight
and crisp cold air made Terry feel more alive than he had in a long
time.
“Andrew may be like many Negroes,” continued the minister.
“He may think not striking back is being too passive, being a
coward. Not realizing that you are being anything but passive--you
are trying to win over your adversary with resistance. Andrew is
very important to us in the Movement. The unions and government
have great trust in him, as do rich white organizations with private
funding. We need him, but he seems so troubled these days, so
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167
angry. Perhaps he’s thinking of this summer. Perhaps he knows what
is going to happen to young people like yourself. You know, there
have been 4,000 lynchings in the South since the turn of the
century, most of them in Mississippi,” said the minister, his steps in
the crunching snow seemingly punctuating every sentence.
Later, when Terry was in bed, he heard Koslowski come in.
Terry could not be certain, but he thought he heard the minister
and Koslowski arguing, but the wind was howling, and he was up in
the attic lying in a cot, so he could not be sure. When he looked out
the window the scenery was almost dreamlike, inbetween the
shadows of branches the snow was tinted blue from the moonlight
and looked like a large stain glass window.
CHAPTER NINE
Koslowski was sullen and moody as they crossed over into West
Virginia. A few minutes later he pulled off the interstate and said he
had to have a real breakfast--coffee at the minister’s house had not
been enough, he declared.
The Exit 128 Restaurant was a ramshackled one-story building
sitting on a hilly slope just off the exit ramp. The locals, seated in
straight back wooden chairs at tables with cigarette-burned Formica
tops, looked up in unison as Koslowski and Terry seated themselves.
It was like a Norman Rockwell painting, observed Terry: teenaged
boys and wrinkled-faced men dressed in heavy winter clothes,
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168
chatting away eagerly, heavy cigarette smoke hovering near the
ceiling, patches of snow outside, the feeling of security
predominant, while the shapely waitress wisecracked with the locals.
It wasn’t until Terry saw her walk to the kitchen that he noticed the
tightness of her pants, so tight that the crack of her shapely ass left
no secrets. The boys and men who faced her backside raised their
eyebrows slightly and smiled all-knowingly at the men and boys not
yet in that prized position, but obviously knowing they would get
their turn too.
“Sorry about last night,” Koslowski said, not looking up from
the menu, but seemingly in a brighter mood. “Frankly, there’s a lot
of concern about the Mississippi Voting Project scheduled for this
summer...a lot of things to do, a lot of people to talk to, it’s SNCC’s
show, but the National Council of Churches is overseeing it. I’ve
been asked by union management to give the whole project a good
going-over before we make any contributions.”
Terry knew that SNCC stood for Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee and was pronounced SNICK, but knew
little else about the organization, except that Cynthia admired them
greatly. Koslowski had discussed the Mississippi project briefly at
the Russian Tea Room, but Terry had not really paid attention.
“Seven hundred or more students are going to descend on
Mississippi this summer, Terry,” Koslowski said eagerly, but softly,
seemingly afraid he might be overheard. “They’re going to establish
community centers, freedom schools, and try to get local Negroes to
register to vote. It’s a hell of a project--the students, mostly white,
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169
will be from the best schools. They’ll be given two weeks’
preparation at a staging area and then sent into Mississippi,” he said
in nearly a whisper.
“There was something very engaging about Koslowski, Terry
decided, but secretive as well. He just never seemed to be revealing
what was really going on in his mind.
The boys and men stared at the crack of the waitress’s ass as
she took the order from Koslowski and Terry. Terry could smell
wine on her breath, but her wisecracking manner and friendly smile
were a good diversion from the serious persona of Koslowski. As she
walked back to the kitchen, Terry watched her for a moment and
noticed that the Norman Rockwell Boys and Men were looking at
him eagerly, seemingly wanting his acknowledgement that he had
noticed The Crack. He smiled demurely at his audience, and they
giggled, some coughing from cigarette smoke.
Koslowski, however, did not seem to notice. “The student
volunteers are going to get their asses kicked,” he blurted out,
“frankly that’s what SNCC wants. They want mommy and daddy
raising hell with the politicians and the press about their kids-SNCC people have been taking the brunt of the violence these past
couple of years, and the press has mostly ignored them, but
something has to be done. Mississippi is a totalitarian state, but this
time those bastards down there will be beating the shit out of our
best and brightest students--the future of America,” Koslowski said
angrily.
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“Sometimes I think turning the other cheek isn’t the only
answer,” he continued. “Sometimes I wonder what would happen if
Negroes didn’t turn the other cheek--I’ll tell you,Terry, the rights of
miners and other exploited workers were not won with letting scabs
beat you on your head. Maybe we need a little violence in the
movement. Maybe the bigots of this world need to get their asses
kicked,” Koslowski said violently. And then he smiled as if it were a
curtain dropping suddenly down in front of his anger. “Hell,” he
said. “I should just keep my mouth shut, let’s eat.”
The dinner windows were steamy; the locals were chatting
away about a girl they all seemed to know who had apparently died
from an abortion.
After he got through some very greasy eggs, Koslowski said, “I
was a big fan of Kennedy too, Cynthia has told me how much you
admired him.”
Terry could feel the emptiness of Kennedy’s death begin to
overwhelm him again. And being in a room with strangers who
could have been from another planet did not help.
“His loss was devastating. He was the only poll who brought
the poor and the rich together, the Spanish and the White, the
Negro and the Jew,” said Koslowski between sips of coffee.
Terry, in his mind, could still see the helicopter coming down
at Fligerhorst Air Field. He could still see the troops lined up--larger
men in front, smaller in back--the president coatless and hatless as
he spoke about the brave Americans who stood before him, and how
they were needed for the defense of freedom. He could still see
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171
Kennedy trooping the line and he had wondered then as he did
now, what the Negroes on the old Lufwaffe Air Field were thinking.
Who were their heroes? The fighting between the Negroes and the
white soldiers on his Kaserne had gotten bad. A friend of his from
Kentucky had been disfigured after being jumped by a gang of
Negro soldiers, yet Kennedy seemed to have changed the bitterness
between Negro and white soldiers for a brief moment. The bus ride
back to the Kaserne was less tense between them than any situation
had been for months--and then the fucking Oswald bullet.
“Cynthia tells me your childhood heros were Jackie Robinson,
Lester Young, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Charlie Parker--very unusual
for a white person,” Koslowski said.
“It never occurred to me that they were Negroes, maybe
there’s something wrong with that, I’ve been giving it a lot of
thought.”
“I can’t tell if you’re being facetious or not, Terry, but it’s good
to be traveling with someone who even knows who Charlie Parker
is.”
“You left out Clifford Brown,” Terry countered.
“So you really know your jazz, that’s good, Terry.”
But he had already pushed Koslowski into the background
along with the Norman Rockwell Mouths that never stopped moving,
who were enjoying the morning’s entertainment of gossip about a
neighbor’s daughter, and ogling The Crack, much as the Roman’s
had enjoyed the spectacle of lions devouring Christians.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
172
Terry did not talk again until the need to straighten out
Koslowski about liking Negro musicians became stronger than the
need to observe the Exit 128 Restaurant spectacle.
“Look, Andrew,” he said carefully, “I care about the Negroes
you named as artists, I still do, I don’t see their color when I think of
them, not consciously, anyway. As I’ve told Cynthia--I liked them
because they were the best at what they did. Maybe I should have
realized that they were being treated pretty shitty, but I was being
treated pretty shitty myself so I didn’t have that luxury, does that
make sense?”
Koslowski shook his head up and down slightly. “That’s why
it’s so important for this Movement to have people like you, Terry,
and not just a bunch of white college kids marching in the streets.”
“I just don’t know how strongly I feel about civil rights right
now,” Terry said, fingering the edge of his cup. “You should know
that,” he added, looking up and seeing the locals still chatting away
about the abortion, still looking at The Crack.
“Hell, you’re just out of the service, your mother is dying, you
don’t have a job, that kind of stuff can confuse you,” Koslowski said,
taking out a cigar and gingerly removing the wrapper.
“And anyway, I understand you’re helping a Negro kid at
Bellevue.”
“He’s not a cause, he’s a human being in trouble,” Terry said,
hearing the voice of Elvis come out of a jukebox he had not noticed.
“Treating the Negro race as humans is what it’s all about,
Terry,” Koslowski said, rolling the tip of the cigar around his lips
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
173
before lighting it. He then talked about the famous Negro people he
knew, but Terry lost interest and drifted off to the place that
everyone went to when they heard Elvis singing on the jukebox in a
crowded room.
The foothills of Ohio became more rolling as they drove closer
to the Indiana border. Even the sun seemed to have lost its
midwestern pale and now shone vividly on the still-winter
landscape. Terry was intrigued with the height of the farmhouses
which were nearly three stories high, much taller, it seemed, than in
the East. Many farmhouses were weather-beaten, an indication that
the farmers had all they could to do to keep up with eking out a
living, but the land was open and impressive, and he was glad to be
looking at it.
“Oxford, Ohio, is a college town,” Koslowski said cynically. “A
student could lie down in the middle of main street and not worry
about being run over lest the town lose their meal ticket.”
They were still driving past farmland, however, and Terry had
a hard time picturing a university town in the middle of this rural
setting.
Koslowski stopped for gas and directions, and was told to turn
onto a two-lane road just off the interstate that would eventually
take him to Oxford. The road was incredibly hilly and rural, and
Terry had his doubts about it, but after a few miles they ended up
in the middle of the Miami University campus: ugly, long, five-story
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174
red-brick buildings surrounded by lush green lawns. Minutes earlier
there had only been farmland, Terry thought, shaking his head in
disbelief.
Koslowski said the university was named after a Native
American tribe that had once inhabited the area, which is why
Miami University was not in Florida, but Ohio.
After a few wrong turns, Koslowski stopped for instructions
and was told all he had to do was make a right at a traffic light next
to a large playing field, and that would lead him “Uptown,” the
student said. “So we must be downtown,” Koslowski replied, and the
student smiled. “There is no downtown, sir, only ‘Uptown.’”
By now Terry had observed the students walking on campus.
They seemed mute, and inward, and this bothered him greatly, but
he didn’t know why.
As Koslowski drove ‘Uptown’ it was hard to tell where the town
of Oxford began and Miami University ended. Frat houses seemed to
run right into town, and students were the only people walking on
the streets. Oxford did have one distinguishing feature, however,
that gave it some character: a 70-foot water tower in the middle of
town.
As Koslowski searched for a particular street, he explained that
various representatives in the Movement were staying at an offcampus house to take a look at Western College for Women--also in
Oxford-- as a proposed launching site for Mississippi Freedom
Summer. They were meeting on logistics and other matters as well,
he explained.
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“There has never been anything like it ever before in the
Movement,” Koslowski continued. “It’s going to be history, Terry,
history,” he said. But somehow his words seemed mechanical and
Terry suspected he really didn’t believe what he was saying. Finally
after stopping again for directions, Koslowski found the street he
was looking for and stopped in front of a worn-looking Queen Anne
house which stood next to a large field and cluster of White Oak
trees.
Koslowski introduced Terry to various members of CORE
(Congress of Racial Equality) and COFO (Council of Federated
Organizations) and to Alison Page of SNCC. Koslowski then said he
had some things to check out, as he had done the night before, and
was off.
Alison Page was dazzling, Terry thought. Lean and energetic,
with vivid red hair and deep blue eyes that seemed to be on fire. She
wore Levi coveralls, Army boots, a white T-shirt, and spoke in a
moderate Southern accent with great energy and enthusiasm. After
showing him his accommodations for the evening, a cot in the
hallway, she invited him to a communal meal. The workers at the
table were remarkably talkative but ate quickly. At the end of the
meal, a Negro with sharp, penetrating eyes, and dressed in coveralls,
led the table in song, and then everyone joined hands for “We Shall
Overcome.” Alison explained that SNCC was a circle of trust, and
different from any other civil rights organization.
She then invited Terry for a walk.
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“Dusk is my favorite time of day,” she said, putting on a blueblack peacoat. Terry followed her through the kitchen door which
led to a small, winding path lined with White Oak trees on both
sides. The Ohio winter air was crisp and cold, and he was glad to be
with someone like Alison.
As they walked on the path between the living-oak trees, the
sun setting, Alison told Terry she was working with SNCC because of
a grant from the YMCA, but she hoped to land a full-time job with
SNCC before the summer, “Something in communications,” she said
enthusiastically. She also told Terry she had graduated from Smith a
year earlier, and had a brother who was attending Yale Divinity, and
that she was from Savannah, and had a father who was a minister
there. She conveyed all this information in one rapid-fire sentence,
which caused Terry to smile. She ended her brief introduction to
herself by asking Terry if he was an accountant.
“Now, what the hell made you ask that?” Terry asked,
somewhat confused at the question.
“People on the Finance Committee warned me about Andrew.
He’s always worried about how his union grants are being spent,
most organizations give up the money and let go, but Andrew wants
to know how every dime is spent. I thought you might be helping
him look at the books,” she said innocently.
“I’m just keeping him company, that’s all,” Terry said,
suddenly feeling uncomfortable. “We have a mutual friend who
thought I should get more involved in the Movement.”
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177
He didn’t want to, but before he could stop himself he found
himself telling Alison his entire background including being on
welfare and not having a four-year degree.
Alison stopped walking and then peered at Terry as if might
be on exhibit.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she said, walking again.
“No, tell me, something I said shocked you, what was it?”
“You’ll have to forgive me,” she said, still emanating a persona
of confusion. “I’ve never met a white person that’s been as poor as
you, you look so Joe College, it threw me,” she apologized.
“Disappointed?” he asked as the darkness came quickly.
“Of course not,” she replied, but he could hear the lack of
energy in her voice now. He knew her type, he said to himself.
Pretending to help her fellow man, but always making sure it was
the right thing to do for her career. Always making sure she had the
right connections, always keeping in contact with her fellow dogooders around the world, always crying poverty, but all she had to
do when she got in trouble was pick up the phone and call mommy
and daddy as she climbed up the do-gooder ladder of success she
would equate her desire to help others as the reason for being
ambitious. He recalled the prominent minister who lived next door
to his uncle’s house in Norwalk, Connecticut, where he used to
spend his summers. The minister’s wife liked him and always invited
him in the house to watch television or have dessert. The house
would always be full of young clergymen who were passing through
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178
town, or who were just visiting the minister or his beautiful
daughter. He would hear them chatting away about their
assignments or about who had written whom, or who was getting
the choicest assignment. They would talk endlessly about church
politics and choosing the right cause to dedicate their lives to. He
would never forget the young minister who studied him at the
dinner table one time. Looking at him like some sort of
anthropologist, the subject seemingly being The Kid from the Slums.
“Do all of you move your hands so much and talk so fast?” he
asked Terry. Could Terry roll up his sleeves? He had heard that
gangs in the Bronx were shooting heroin. Did Terry curse much?
Were young women in his neighborhood becoming prostitutes?
The dinner table full of young ministers had looked at him
with smug faces and self-assured glances at each other, and he had
felt like telling them to go fuck themselves, but the minister’s wife, a
good woman, told the young minister to stop asking her guest such
questions and to let him enjoy his apple pie.
Terry and Alison walked back to the house in the darkness.
She asked him a few questions about his trip, but his answers now
were only cursory. He felt like he was back at the minister’s table
after Alison had told him she hadn’t met anyone with his type of
background before.
Terry dozed on and off until he heard two voices talking in
Alison’s room, which was between his cot and the bathroom. It was
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179
odd, he thought, one of the voices sounded like a man. Restless, he
got up and went to the bathroom, hearing the man’s voice as he
passed her room.
As he was leaving the bathroom, the light, which he had been
instructed to leave on because it served as a night light, revealed a
husky Negro in a sweatshirt and overalls leaving Alison’s room.
Terru suddenly became angry at himself for even allowing himself
to be attracted to her, the real meaning of her helping the Negro
cause, he was convinced, was to use the experience as a tool--an
impressive footnote for future resumes. “Ask what you can do for
yourself,” he said to himself as he tossed about, the cot creaking like
a wooden ship in a storm, at the same time angry with himself for
being so damn cynical.
Alison said hello to him on his way to breakfast, but he ignored
her, and then felt stupid for acting so immature. At the breakfast
table, the energy and excitement were startling to him. He was
introduced to three representatives from the National Council of
Churches. He knew from a conversation he had with Koslowski that
they were going to pay a lot of the bills for Freedom Summer, He
was also introduced to representatives from Martin Luther King’s
organization, the Southern Conference Leadership Coalition, but it
was SNCC’s show, as anyone at the table could see. As Koslowski had
explained it, SNCC had been doing the grunt work and taking the
beatings for years, and probably did not look forward to the press
writing about the “Brave white students fighting injustice,” but the
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180
students, SNCC knew, were absolutely necessary for Mississippi
Freedom Summer to succeed.
“Well, honestly, Terry Chandler, you walked right by me,”
Alison said, standing over Terry, who was about to dig into some
pancakes. She was smiling.
“You know how grumpy some people are in the morning when
they wake up, I guess I’m one of those people,” he said, suddenly
not feeling very hungry.
“Andrew called, he wants to leave for Mississippi this
afternoon. He apologized for not returning yesterday. I suspect he
put himself up in a nice cushy motel after looking at this place,” she
said all-knowingly.
“Thanks for the message, I’ll be ready,” Terry said, slicing up
the pancakes but now suspecting he would not finish them.
“We never got a chance to finish our conversation, I think we
should do that,” she said intensely.
“It’s pretty noisy here.”
“We can take another walk, I’d like that,” she persisted.
“Okay, we’ll do that,” he replied, feeling better somehow.
They took the same path they had taken the night before. The
country path seemed to hold none of the hope it had held briefly
the night before. The morning fog was thick.
“I saw that guy come out of your room last night. I know it
shouldn’t bother me, but it did,” Terry finally said under a cloudy
Ohio winter sky.
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181
“He’s a field secretary in Alabama. One of his people was
brutally beaten yesterday. He felt guilty about being here and not in
the field with his guy. He wanted me to call the family, he didn’t
want to say he was here. He was embarrassed. Except for Atlanta,
this is the only Watts line SNCC has access to. It’s in my room so
people passing through don’t use it all the time.You had no way of
knowing that, of course.”
Terry hated to admit it to himself, but Alison’s explanation
pleased him.
She then began talking about the Movement and he felt like a
fool, he knew so little about it. There was a deliberateness to
Alison’s discourse, a pragmatism that made everything she said
about the Movement seem like a logical next step to eventual
success so that even her being involved with it appeared
preordained.
“Nonviolence, SNCC, SCLC, nothing like that is happening in
the Bronx where I come from,” he said. “Negroes up there have the
vote and they still live in conditions as bad as you can imagine.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that Negroes in the South can’t
vote, and live under the poorest conditions in the country. In slave
times four out of a hundred blacks lived to 60, today it’s barely
much better,” she said, sticking her hands in her peacoat.
“Overseas we never heard of SNCC,” Terry said. “It seems,
from some of the people I’ve seen, to be a pretty dedicated
organization.”
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Alison burst forth with facts and figures about SNCC, and how
proud she was to be associated with it. She said they were the major
force in trying to achieve political power for Negroes, the shock
troops, so to speak,the guts of the Civil Rights Movement,” she said
proudly.
She then said that it was the one organization that didn’t
subjugate women to lesser roles like SCLC--Martin Luther King’s
organization. She went on to praise Martin Luther King, but said
that the day-to-day grunt work was being done by SNCC, although
King got all the headlines.
Terry was bowled over by her enthusiasm and spirit, and he
found himself comparing her to Cynthia although he knew that
might not be fair. Alison’s views seemed to be less compulsive than
Cynthia’s, and seemed to be coming from a healthier place.
He confessed that Kennedy’s death had just about sapped
most of his enthusiasm for anything.
“We have to seek out truth because we want to, not because
somebody wants us to,” she said eloquently. “The Negro in the
South is subject to a system of hate and terror that’s beyond our
comprehension as it was Kennedy’s. Imagine being accused of
looking at a white woman The Wrong Way and having your penis
cut off. Imagine your mother or sister being raped and you not
being able to press charges? Imagine losing your job for exercising
your right to vote? You should be with us this summer, Terry, we
don’t discriminate against people without a college education or
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people who are unemployed,” she said with a warm smile on her
face.
They didn’t speak much after that but Terry could sense that
she enjoyed his company as much as he enjoyed hers.
There was a field with icy patches of snow at the end of the
path, and a large barn. Some cows were in the field, floating in the
fog, it seemed to Terry, unattached to the earth, and this made him
nervous. But he brightened quickly as he and Alison walked back to
the house.
Towards the end of their stroll he found himself trying to
imitate Kennedy’s walk, the way he had seen Kennedy do it in
newsreels.
Later that day with his handbag in his hand Terry stood in
front of the Freedom House, as SNCC people called it, feeling like
some kid going off to college. Alison had been a nice touch of
reality, but he knew he was in a fight to feel alive, to feel grounded,
to feel purposeful again. The Civil Rights Movement was right and
just, but it did not move him like it did the others at the Freedom
House. Perhaps that would change, he hoped. But something was
missing for him still. Maybe he had to let go of the past to find
peace, he speculated. But he would never think of Kennedy or his
goals as just a memory. It was not possible for him to do that as it
was not possible for a farmer to forget the earth outside his door.
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Koslowski showed up from his latest overnight disappearance
in his 1961 Buick LeSabre, and apologized again for getting tied up
in a union matter, a strike forty miles south, near Cincinnati, he
said.
Terry got in the Buick and took one last look at the house. He
thought for a moment that he might be able to see the incredible
energy happening inside the structure, but quickly realized how
foolish it was to think that. Then just as quickly he realized that
what he really wanted was one more look at Alison.
To his surprise she didn’t let him down. She came bursting out
of the front door and ran towards the Buick spewing words, but he
could not hear her because the car window was closed, but her face
was smiling, and it was radiant with hope, and that made him very
glad.
He got the window down by the time she reached the Buick.
“I’ll write,” she said. “I always write people I like.”
CHAPTER TEN
As they headed south Terry could still not get rid of the feeling that
he was not a part of anything. It was if he had entered a stranger’s
home and immediately went about eating and sleeping there, yet
did not talk to the strangers in the house. The America he saw felt
broken in places, unfocused, but there was nothing he could do
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185
about it. He was thinking about Neil now, and wondered how he
would be able to help him.
One, just save one, that was about the only level he could handle
now, he thought, as the gas stations, motels, and small towns of
Kentucky appeared in the horizon, small at first, then growing, and
suddenly behind him as he rocketed past them.
Americans aren’t like anyone else, he remembered his history
teacher, Mr. Rosen, telling him. Certainly Mr. Rosen wasn’t like
anyone else. In-between lectures on the War of Independence and
the War of 1812, he played old songs from the revolutionary period
on a borrowed upright from the music room, such was his fever for
the subject. Terry recalled his story about a French writer in the late
eighteenth century who came to visit the recently formed United
States of America. Traveling to New England, the Frenchman spotted
a farmer in a field. He asked the farmer who his protector was, and
the farmer said he had none. “No, you don’t understand,” continued
the Frenchman, “who owns the land?”
“I own this land,” said the farmer, much to the chagrin of the
Frenchman.
“Then, who makes your laws?” the Frenchman questioned
impatiently.
“I help make them,” replied the farmer. “I am part of the town
council,” he said proudly.
“And who will defend this land?” said the Frenchman,
confident that he had come full circle in his questioning of the
farmer and would finally find out who the farmer’s protector was.
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“I will, and my fellow farmers will,” said the American farmer
proudly. “We are the local militia, in fact I am a Captain.”
Mr. Rosen, Terry remembered, loved that story and constantly
told it to point out that America did not have the chains of fealty to
tie down its people as Europe had.
“That’s why no one else in the world thinks like an American,”
he would say with tremendous force and vigor, his clear blue eyes
would sparkle, and his bushy gray eyebrows would do a little dance.
Terry wondered if Americans realized how different they
really were?
Koslowski, sullen and secretive, as was his pattern, broke into
Terry’s thoughts.
“Sorry about not bringing you along yesterday, Terry, there’s
so much I have to do in one day, and so many confidential
conferences, anyway I thought the Freedom House would be a good
place for you to get the sense of the Movement. Obviously, Alison
likes you, a real spitfire, that one.”
“You sound like you don’t approve,” Terry said, watching the
two-lane road become a four-lane highway.
“On the contrary, Terry, I think the people of SNCC are leaner
and meaner than King’s organization, and possibly may get better
results in the end.They’re not so sure about turning the other cheek,
although they do, but they’re tough, maybe even fearless, and I
admire that.”
“They are also,I’m told, outnumbered down South. I would
imagine that Martin Luther King’s nonviolence approach is not only
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187
effective but pragmatic,” Terry said, still distant from the subject as
if it were an academic exercise.
“Well, we’ll certainly have to be nonviolent on our drive
through Mississippi, Terry. Think of Mississippi as a combat zone,
and remember they use clubs down there to make a point and for
god’s sake don’t mention anything about voter registration, as far as
the folks in Mississippi are concerned we’re two dumb salesmen
driving through.”
“What do we sell?” asked Terry.
“We’re insurance salesmen, I have a truck full of policies.”
“Why are we down here?”
“We’re from the East, we decided to drive to our main office in
Oklahoma because I wanted to stop in New Orleans and see an old
War World II buddy--red necks can relate to that stuff.”
“I guess it’s plausible.”
“Unfortunately they don’t give you the benefit of the doubt
down there, so lets be convincing if they ask us any questions,”
Koslowski said, changing the tone of his voice to sound concerned.
They drove through Kentucky and Tennessee and entered the
Mississippi Delta on Highway 61. Cotton fields now stretched to
infinity on the fertile flood plain that ran from Memphis to
Vicksburg and 70 miles from the Mississippi River to the west. It was
the land of King Cotton, its fields resurrected from the malarial
swamps dredged by slaves. Rotted wooden sheds with zinc roofs,
and old hubcaps covering holes, lined the highway like refuse ready
to be picked up. Bottle caps from soft drinks served as patios.
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188
Ancient African-Americans moved slowly on their porches,
seemingly unable to make a spontaneous gesture lest that be
construed as being “Uppity”, a human frailty, and Coloreds were not
human in Mississippi and gestures of humanness were forbidden
and were dealt with severely, much as a dog might be, if he
suddenly spoke and told his master in clear English to go to hell.
It was nearing dusk. Andrew exited 61 onto a narrow one-lane
road. There was a vine that grew menacingly close to the road, it
almost seemed human to Terry, as if it had a life of its own and it
wanted to grab him and devour him. It was the Kudza vine, Andrew
said. It seemed to know that he and Andrew were outsiders, and for
a moment, Terry thought, it would reach out to the Buick and grab
it and pull it into one of the green-slimed swamps that lined the
narrow one-lane road.
In half an hour they were in Oxford, Mississippi--home of the
University of Mississippi, and home to William Faulkner for the last
years of his life.
As they drove into Oxford, Terry noticed the stares
immediately. The people gaping at them were white and they were
Americans, but they seemed to be from another place, another
country, another planet. Terry suddenly felt like he was behind
enemy lines.
Andrew parked his car near a large square occupied by a
worn-looking, but still majestic Greek revival courthouse.
“What the hell were those people looking at?” he asked
Koslowski.
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189
“New York license plates, should have rented a car.”
“We’re just salesmen driving through, right?” said Terry
cynically.
Koslowski didn’t answer as he got out of the Buick, which he
had parked within the shadow of a 12-foot statue of a Confederate
soldier, its inscription proclaiming The brave defense of Confederate
soldiers against the Yankee Slaughter.
They had been driving all day, and Terry, despite the
uncomfortable stares of the towns people, looked forward to being
able to stretch and walk around.
Just off the square was the Jefferson Motel. It looked quaint
and comfortable as they entered the lobby.
Koslowski asked for two singles.
The woman behind the front desk, her face looking like a giant
goldfish, shook her head and grimaced her lips.
“Would have been able to accommodate you early this
morning, but am all filled up.”
“To tell you the truth, ma’am, it doesn’t look that occupied,”
Andrew stated in a non-confrontational voice, but Terry knew it was
a lost cause. The Mississippians already knew about Freedom
Summer, he suspected.
“Pure Yankee conjecture, sir,” she smiled maliciously.
As they left the hotel Terry could not help but notice the
irony. The town of Oxford in Ohio, the launching site for Freedom
Summer, the town of Oxford in Mississippi, preparing for the
invasion.
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190
Inside the car Koslowski checked his black book, he had
constantly looked at it since the beginning of the trip.
“Have a friend I haven’t seen in a long time,” he said. “I was
going to visit him anyway, I guess now’s as good a time as any.Our
student volunteers this summer will be staying in places like his, the
Negro sections will be their best protection, maybe it will be ours
also.
Terry wondered just how safe students would be in places like
Oxford, Mississippi, no matter where they stayed.
They rode south in the Mississippi darkness. They were
driving to Johnny Light’s house in Coahoma County, Koslowski
explained. Light was a former blues musician, who had nearly
graduated from the University of Chicago, but had to give up his
music, and his educational aspirations, to support his family.
Koslowski had worked with Light in Chicago in the early Forties, he
said. Like many Negroes in Mississippi, Light owned his own farm,
Koslowski added.
The clouds in the evening sky blocked the moon’s light which
added to the eeriness of driving in Mississippi at night. Outside,
along the road, Terry knew the kudzo vine was still waiting to get
him, waiting for him to break down, Mississippi was just a goddamn
scary place, he decided: both the land and the whites who looked at
every outsider as if they were runaway slaves.
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191
Johnny Light’s farmhouse was modest, but his porch was
extremely cluttered, full of objects that one might have stored in an
attic, put there, in seemed, as if to appear purposefully untidy, as
the quarters inside looked clean and bright. Peeling paint on the
porch columns added greatly to the downtrodden look of the
farmhouse.
Light was in his sixties, wiry with deep bronze skin, but looked
barely over forty. He greeted Koslowski warmly and they hugged
each other unabashly with the same enthusiasm Terry had seen
SNCC workers do in Oxford, Ohio.
After a catfish dinner, Koslowski spent a few minutes looking
at his black book, and then excused himself by saying he wanted to
check out some other farms in the area that would house Summer
Volunteers. It would be better if Terry didn’t go, he emphasized, in
case they had been followed. Terry looked too much like a student
agitator, he said. Then Koslowski spent another 20 minutes with
Johnny Light discussing directions. By now, Terry reasoned,
Koslowski still didn’t trust him entirely, which was okay with him.
After Koslowski left, Johnny Light and Terry sat on the porch
rocking chairs and talked.
“We write each other once in a while,” said Johnny Light.
“Andrew’s a complex man who is trying to accomplish too much by
himself, “ said Light, revealing his intelligence and education
directly, not letting it be drawn out and coyly discovered at a level
that could be tolerated by white people in Mississippi. And then
Light laughed, “This summer may break us all.”
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192
The heat from the afternoon sun still lingered and felt like it
was sucking the energy out of him, Terry thought.
“How do Negroes feel about freedom down here?” he asked,
instantly realizing how trite the question was.
If you don’t have money enough to eat at a lunch counter,
there isn’t much point to being free to go into it,” said Light, with a
glint in his eye. “Mississippi is different from other places, we’re
going to have to get our power by political means. Sit-ins, direct
action, and that other stuff isn’t enough--How do we feel about
freedom down here?” Johnny Light repeated with a big broad
grin...we loves it like watermelon.” And when he stopped grinning at
his watermelon line, he added, “Right now Negroes in Mississippi
are trying to register to vote and losing their jobs, losing their
farms, losing their way to make a living and support their families...
freedom isn’t going to do you much good, if you’re buried in some
swamp. But there are Negroes out there beyond the darkness who
are going to fight back. The white man in Mississippi is not prepared
for that, he’s used to having his own way.”
Johnny Light sat there in his rocking chair for a few minutes
and looked out at the darkness. Still silent, he went inside the house,
returning a few minutes later with an electric guitar, a small amp,
and a long cord that appeared to be plugged in somewhere. He had
rolled up the sleeves on his shirt and held the guitar affectionately.
He looked even younger now.
When he began playing he leaned forward and tapped one
foot, and held his head so that his ear seemed to be searching for
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193
something. The guitar looked like a part of him. Much like the
drums did for Gene Krupa, who played with Benny Goodman.
Light’s playing was extraordinary, Terry thought. Clean, woeful lines
of crisp notes and chords that sounded painful and beautiful at the
same time. His singing voice, as well, had a sad, heroic quality.
Terry could understand now for the first time how a Negro,
after working in the fields all day, could feel good about listening to
the blues at night, facing, perhaps, his sadness through the music,
but restoring his humanness--a trade-off.
After playing a few delta-blues numbers, Johnny Light said,
“In slave times, before the word blues was ever used, it was called
shout. Slaves would be bent down pickin’ cotton, not being seen,
and SHOUT out lyrics, that’s how the blues started.” Light suddenly
sounded like he was no longer from a textbook but from the soil.
This was his other voice, the one most people probably heard every
day.
“I didn’t expect to hear music that good,” Terry said
unabashedly.
“You didn’t,” said Johnny Light with a gleam in his eye.
“It’s just about the best blues I ever heard. I mostly grew up on
Jazz.”
“Who were your favorites?” asked Johnny Light, strumming his
guitar lightly, discovering notes that seemed to be waiting for him.
“I loved Clifford Brown, and, of course, the Bird--Lester Young
a lot, too.”
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194
“Charlie Parker was a motherfucker, there ain’t no proper
word in the white man’s English to describe it. Clifford also scared
the living daylights out of a lot of musicians--and the Pres--man he
was just beautiful. You know, I like your musical tastes, Terry, too
bad, though, you don’t know anything about the blues.”
“I didn’t until tonight,” replied Terry, looking at Light and
liking him a whole lot.
“You going into politics?” asked Johnny Light seriously.
“Me? No. No, I’m not into politics.”
“Thought you might be some sort of protege of Andrew’s. He
had a lot of hopes for his nephew, lot of hopes.”
“Yes, I know about that.”
“He’s hurting inside real bad,” said Johnny Light while he
picked out chords.
“Aren’t we all?” replied Terry.
Light stopped picking for a moment, and stared hard at Terry
in the dim porch light.
“You’re one of those Kennedy people, I can see that now, we
got them down here too. They’re feeling so empty, so empty.”
Terry didn’t answer, but Johnny Light, like a fisherman for the
blues, had put out the bait and discovered Terry’s hurt. And now
that he knew his hurt, he could play to it, get Terry past the
technical stuff that usually impressed white people, play to the hurt,
make the hurt work for the music. Make the music and the hurt one.
Johnny Light loving the blues, the blues loving Johnny light back.
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195
After playing for about an hour, Light said, “I play for the old
dead slaves all the time from this porch, it gets sometimes that I
don’t have the time, and they let me know about it.You see, they
been out there in those fields a long time, and they need a little
blues once in a while. Fact is, everyone of us could use listening to
the blues. Whites around here would rather listen to Perry Como,
though.”
Terry smiled and thought of another person who probably
never listened to the blues--Dr. Lee at St. Vincent’s.
Terry slept on the living room couch, Koslowski in Johnny
Light’s spare bedroom. Johnny Light’s wife had recently died, and
his son was in the Army, stationed in Berlin, Terry learned the next
morning.
Over the next three days Koslowski stopped being mysterious
about his whereabouts and took Terry along on all his trips. It was
painfully obvious now to Terry that Mississippi was a combat zone.
He witnessed seven Negroes pickets in Greenwood get beaten
furiously for picketing the courthouse. In Natchez he saw the fire
department turn their hose on a group of Negro mothers, which tore
the clothing off their backs. The SNCC people, as Alison had
claimed, seemed to be the only Negro organization that was on the
firing line in Mississippi. To the person they wore overalls, white Tshirts, Army boots, and had a persona that Mississippians thought
uppity. In Terry’s eyes the SNCC people appeared to have a quiet
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196
dignity that forced Mississippians to look at them as humans, which
he concluded must have been a very uncomfortable feeling for a
Mississippian.
In the evenings Terry and Koslowski slept in the same AfricanAmerican homes as the Mississippi Freedom Volunteers would in the
summer.
On their last afternoon in Mississippi, they were invited to a
SNCC meeting which took place in the Church of Zion, Greenville,
Mississippi. After announcements, and a long speech by one of SNCC
leaders from Atlanta, the SNCC workers, mostly black, joined hands
and began to sing. Terry felt self-conscious at first because he didn’t
know the words, but the SNCC people sang slow enough so that he
could still sing the words while the congregation held the note. The
songs were chosen by The Leader. He or she would stand in front of
the congregation and start singing the words to the song they had
chosen. It was considered an honor to be chosen as The Leader,
Terry was told later. Many of the SNCC staff and local people had
tears in their eyes as they sang. Koslowski whispered that some in
the room might not be alive at the next meeting, and that’s why
these SNCC meetings were always so emotional. In its own way, their
singing, felt Terry, seemed to unleash their humanness; the
humanness that was suppressed daily by the white Mississippian.
The church was a time and place to get in touch with the
expectations of themselves. To get in touch with their real selves.
They were not the same people who stepped into the gutter and cast
their eyes down when the white people walked by. They were not
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197
the same Negroes who jumped to the word boy. Instead, they
seemed to be alive with themselves. Could any man and woman
deny this humanness? thought Terry. How would a white
Mississippian experience such a meeting? What would they see that
was different? Would they, by experiencing this humanness and
outpouring of warmth, believe that their own humanness would be
taken from them and be given to the nigra or colored as
compensation?
After the meeting, the SNCC staff and locals drove to a nearby
farm for a party. “We know how to enjoy ourselves,” said a tall,
intense African-American to Terry in a modulated voice. He
appeared to Terry like he had been sculptured out of a huge slab of
chocolate. He was wearing the typical SNCC uniform--overalls, Tshirt, and black Army boots. Terry was standing on the porch, the
door was open, the light from inside the house sliced the darkness
of the porch like it was cutting into pie. Ray Charles was singing
about Georgia.
“It seems like you’re on your own down here,” Terry said to
the intense, tall, SNCC worker.
“It seems?” he replied indignantly. And then his voice became
friendlier. “You could say the sun never sets that one of our own
don’t get a beating or worse. That’s what we’re all about--the shock
troops of the Movement. But I can’t say that we’ll stay that way,
some of us are getting tired of turning the other cheek. People like
Andrew are good people, they get us money, cut red tape for us in
Washington, but we have to do it ourselves. That’s where we’re
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198
headed.People like Andrew are going to be the past for us,” he said
determinedly.
The porch floor by now was shaking from the dancing inside.
Although discreet, two white female SNCC workers were dancing
with their fellow workers--most of whom were African-American.
The tall African-American seemed to read Terry’s thoughts. “We’re
out here pretty far. If we hear engines, we’ll be discreet.”
Koslowski, in the meantime, was huddled in a corner arguing
softly with two important SNCC leaders. Then suddenly, the tall
African-American waved his arms frantically. “Quiet, goddamn it,
quiet,” he shouted.
Terry hadn’t heard them at first, but now he could hear car
engines approaching. He looked out at the dense Mississippi
darkness, but couldn’t see anything, although he had expected to
see headlights. By now he had heard enough stories about
Mississippi to know that Negroes and female whites being together
in a social situation would be dangerous if any white found about it.
“Shut the lights, get rid of the music,” whispered the tall SNCC
worker.
The dancers were motionless now, statues in the darkness of
the farmhouse. Trembling, mumbling words of confidence to
themselves.
“We’re deep into the Negro area, this shouldn’t be happening,”
said one of the white SNCC volunteers, her voice cracking.
The engines drew closer. The only sounds now were crickets
and creatures of the night. The kind, thought Terry, that didn’t walk
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199
on all fours. Bodies shifted inside the farmhouse causing the pine
floor planks to give off an eerie creaking sound that sounded like
the breaking of bones.
Terry began to sweat profusely and breath deeply.
The engine sounds moaned to a stop, followed by hushed
voices, then beams of light struck the SNCC workers standing on the
porch as if they were targets in a penny arcade. The beams of light
moved around the porch and paused on each face for a few seconds
then moved on, which made the faces appear vulnerable, in the
wrong, because that’s what a spotlight did to you at night.
“Get your nigger-lovin bitches out of here or they’ll be swamp
meat,” hollered a young male voice from the darkness. It was a
young voice, a voice that came from a brain that had not formed
independent ideas of its own, it was a knee-jerk brain, you do that,
and I will act this way. But it was a fairly new brain and it had not
learned to use words like swamp meat with conviction or real
hatred. There was room in this brain for change, although the voice
connected to it, in the hazy cricket darkness, would not have
desired any change at all.
The young brain, however, must have sensed the relief
pouring out of the SNCC workers on the porch, must have known
that he was not scaring anyone now. There was a brief heated
discussion in the darkness, and then the engines roared to life again
as if the young knee-jerk brains were trying to draw power from the
acceleration of the engines, but it was too late. They had only
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200
instilled fear for a brief moment. They did not know how to hate
enough yet. And they drove off.
“Kids, just kids,” laughed one SNCC worker, but everyone in
the room piled out and got into their cars. Those volunteers who
were going out of state quickly devised a plan to drive in a column
out of the county using back roads. The children trying to scare
them had failed, they realized, and in that failure, real hatred could
come.
In the darkness Terry heard the movement of bodies hugging
each other. There were a lot of quiet sobs, and driving directions
whispered anxiously. And then those who had shared so much
together in the past few hours, were separated, shadows in the
moonlight cautiously moving out of the darkness of Mississippi like
giant catfish moving along the bottom of a well-fished river.
“It’s hard, really hard to be passive when some snot-nosed
kids threaten people just trying to enjoy themselves,” grumbled
Koslowski as he lit a cigar and stood defiantly on the porch until all
the SNCC people and local people had gone, determined, it seemed,
to be the last to leave, although in the darkness, no one would be
able to tell.
They spent one night in New Orleans before driving back to
New York. Koslowski was in good spirits and splurged on a cajunprepared lobster dinner in an outdoor restaurant around the corner
from their hotel on Rue Dauphine which was in the French Quarter
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201
or Vieux Carre as the locals called it. Terry was not impressed with
the French Quarter, the Dixieland music pouring out of the bars into
the street was not played with the same intensity he had heard in
the clubs like the Metropole in Times Square, the Central Plaza in
the Village and the Stuyvesant Casino in the East Village. The
tourists and conventioneers didn’t appear to know the difference
but he did. The constantly changing audience might have been
uninspiring to the musicians, he thought, but he really didn’t know
why they played so heartlessly. Koslowski got drunk, and friendly,
but the music was not good, and Terry could not really enjoy
himself, not even when Koslowski in a real moment of weakness
suggested, but then backed off, seeing a live sex show between two
women.
Terry did most of the driving back to New York with overnight
stops in Atlanta, Georgia, and Baltimore. During the long drive
Koslowski seemed preoccupied with constantly updating the notes
in his black book, and was reclusive for most of the trip. Finally on
the last part of the journey, the New Jersey Turnpike, he said, as if
he had been talking the whole trip, “I guess I’m tired of programs in
my old age. Lyndon Johnson will be programs and more programs,
but that will not change the heart of the white Southerner. The
Negro will suffer greatly for his freedom. They are up against the
purest animal--the racist. The racist will say anything and do
anything to suppress the Negro. Some Negroes will not turn the
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202
other cheek and fight back, and this will surprise the racist and
make him wonder, and maybe that won’t be such a bad thing.”
Terry didn’t have a response to Koslowski’s sudden comment.
Koslowski at times had seemed so deep in thought, Terry wondered
if he would ever speak again during the trip. He seemed to be
wrestling with something that seemed to draw all his energy and
numb him.
Perhaps Koslowski suspected that the Movement was
something he could not control. The SNCC workers Terry had seen
on the trip acted and appeared remarkably independent. People like
Koslowski were no doubt needed to raise funds and help get support
from Washington, but the Movement had a life of its own, led by a
man who inspired both Negroes and whites--Martin Luther King.
Koslowski’s comment seemed odd and out of place, thought Terry,
as they rode through the verdant New Jersey landscape.
Two hours later as they neared Elizabeth, New Jersey, the
landscape became flat and ugly, with chemical plants belching grayblack smoke, and the air smelling of rotten eggs. As a GI on a
weekend pass from Fort Dix, the chemical plants had seemed like
friendly landmarks, to Terry--a sign that New York City was only a
few miles away, but now they seemed ugly, and evil, and intent on
harming him just like the kudzo plant along the swampy roads of
Mississippi.
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CHAPTER ELEVEN
The Italian who owned the leather store next to 205 Bleecker Street
said hello to Terry as he entered the building. It was the first time
the Italian had been so friendly, the warmth of the greeting caused
Terry to climb the stairs a little faster than he usually did.
Mario, lying on his Castro convertible, was reading a new
Playboy when Terry walked into the apartment. Mario, suspected
Terry, was one of the few subscribers who read most of its articles.
Mario probably laid more women than the average Playboy reader
as well, Terry concluded.
Mario did not say hello and continued reading, an indication,
Terry knew, that something was wrong. But in an odd way, Mario’s
rudeness buoyed Terry, because Mario would never do that if there
had been bad news about his mother. In retrospect, thought Terry,
Mario had sounded curt when they had spoken three days earlier on
the phone.
Terry poured himself some orange juice. Mario put down the
Playboy and said, “Cynthia has called a number of times, this
woman is driving me nuts, all she talks about is this Mississippi
Freedom Summer project.”
“Well hello asshole, I’ve been away for 16 days, remember?”
said Terry good-naturedly. “And we had this conversation already,
didn’t we?”
“Listen, my friend, forget about this summer bullshit.You have
to be working, your unemployment checks will run out. Terry, I’ll
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204
tell you, this woman is not right in the head, I don’t think this
Koslowski is, either, from what you tell me.”
“You’re being my mother again, Mario,” Terry said in a
belligerent tone of voice. “I don’t know what I’m going to do this
summer...okay?”
Mario gave Terry the Italian I’ll-get-to-you-yet-look which
always included raised eyebrows and feigned indifference.
“Is that it?” said Terry opening his palms. “Or do you want to
hear about my trip?”
“I’m not convinced you’re doing the right thing, Terry,” said
Mario lowering the Playboy so that his fiery brown eyes met Terry’s
directly.
Terry drank down the juice, and studied Mario who was
probed up in his $575 Castro like a deity.
“You’re not convinced, but what about me? What about what I
think?” replied Terry with an edge to his voice. “Look, there are a lot
of things happening down South, Mario. The Negroes in Mississippi
live under conditions you would consider barbaric, yet they can still
smile, and go to church--unbelievable.”
“Those students who will help the Negroes, they can afford to
take time off--they are middle-class or richer,” said Mario lowering
the Playboy further. “When the summer is over they will go back to
their vine-covered campuses and write home to mommy and daddy
about how wonderful it was to save the Negro in Mississippi. But
you? You’re just a poor Irish kid from the Bronx who has nothing,
you have to help yourself first, Terry.”
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205
Terry walked into the small living room and plopped down on
a worn imitation Louie the XIV armchair that Mario had gotten from
the ladies room of a fancy east side restaurant that went out of
business.
“Hell, I can go back to college in the fall.I could do it with the
GI bill, did you forget about that, Mario? And to hell with evenings, I
would do it full-time. Tuition paid for by the government and
enough to live on--three hots and a flop, just like the Army.”
You would be foolish to leave McGraw-Hill,” mumbled Mario in
a noncommittal voice--you should go to college but in the evening.
Terry ignored his reply. “But right now those Negroes in
Mississippi need help, Mario. They live in these shacks you could
knock over with one blow, earn $3 a day picking cotton all day or
being a housekeeper in some white home. Most don’t have running
water, and have to use outhouses that would make you gag. It’s only
right that they be helped this summer,” said Terry, suspecting
perhaps that Mario’s pompous attitude was making him angry, and
in turn making him sound more strongly committed to Freedom
Summer than he really was.
Mario gave Terry a disconcerting look.
“It would be doing something for somebody, Mario--goddamn
it wasn’t supposed to be this way,” Terry said, jumping to his feet
and looking towards the window.
Mario propped himself up even more so that he really did look
like an Italian Buddha.
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206
“I know Kennedy is still in your heart, Terry, but you must get
on with your life. In Germany, when we lined up for Kennedy at
Fligorhorst, it was a wonderful thing. The handsome president
landing in his pretty helicopter. The German children saluting us.
The German people with envy in their eyes that such a man was
ours, but it’s over. Camelot, as some called it, is over, Terry. The
Peace Corps--over. The 50-mile walks--over. The dreams--over.”
Terry spun around and looked at Mario menacingly. “Shut
the fuck up! Just shut the fuck up. Just because you want to wait on
tables all your life, doesn’t mean everyone else does.”
“I’m going to computer school next year, Terry--remember?”
said Mario with a hurt look on his face, the Playboy now was just
barely in his hand.
“The Mississippi Summer Project is a good, decent thing to do
no matter what background you’re from,” Terry said. “Goddamn it,
Mario, life isn’t just having a woman urinate on your chest.”
Mario laid the Playboy aside and smiled. “Last night I took the
daughter of the restaurant owner out. She did what I wanted, and I
didn’t want to help my fellow man, Terry. After I ate her pussy she
urinated on my chest. It was very pleasurable, I can die a happy
man.”
“You’re not going to get me to smile, goddamn it. You live
your life your way, I’ll live my life my way,” Terry said, folding his
arms and yawning, determined to finish the conversation with Mario
before crashing out on his own cheap danish-styled couch.
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207
“I don’t trust this Koslowski fellow, Terry. He sounds too good
to be true, and when something is too good to be true, it’s not. Why
should he care about you so much?”
“I don’t know, he likes Cynthia a lot,” Terry said, moving over
to his couch, tired now, beat really, the trip had been tedious.
“People are strange, Terry. On the cruise ships you would
learn this quickly. The old widows would ask me to bring
refreshments to their rooms, then they would ask me to rub them
down--I was 12. They would put my finger in their--you know what-and move it up and down, they would make noises and curse their
dead husbands, some would ask me to beat them. When they were
on the deck they looked so proper, sometimes I thought I was losing
my mind.”
Terry turned towards Mario. “The trouble with you, Mario, is
you’re the one who sees everything through your prick.”
Mario, who could break Terry in half, mumbled something
under his breath.
“What was that? What the fuck was that, Mario?” Terry said,
jumping to his feet again.
Mario was still propped up like a Buddha. “Ofesseercodene,”
he replied. “It means you think I’m the fool, but you’re the fool for
thinking I’m the fool.”
A hint of a smile came to Terry’s face. He gave Mario a Bella
Lugosi look and pointed his forefinger and pinky at Mario--it was
the horns, which caused Mario to boyishly raise the Playboy to
protect himself from the evil sign.
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208
They had made peace with each other.
Terry had been born in St. Vincent’s Hospital compliments of
Catholic Charities. It had been the Depression his mother told him,
and she didn’t have money for a doctor or a hospital.
He had never realized that he had been born in Greenwich
Village until he was 18 and had looked at his birth certificate to
register for the draft. After that, when he took neighborhood girls
down to the Village, he always felt at home, like he wasn’t visiting.
The February morning was cold and damp as Terry walked the
Village streets to St. Vincent’s Hospital. The townhouses on 11th
Street looked cozy and warm inside and Terry wondered for a
moment who lived in them.
At the end of the street, near Seventh Avenue, he entered St.
Vincent’s. The elevator was crowded and seemed to take forever to
get to the sixth floor. When it did, he could immediately hear the
psychotic woman screaming out her filthy words. When he walked
into his mother’s room the psychotic women shouted, “Suck my
sweet dirty pussy!”
Terry looked at the cursing woman and wanted to stick a gag
in her miserable mouth.
Instead, he unwrapped the bandage that held his mother’s
right hand to the railing of her bed and held her hand. Her eyes
looked dead like a fish caught hours earlier and left in the sun, her
mouth was crooked, and her shaved head had some growth, but not
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209
much. The feeding tube protruded from her stomach like a plastic
umbilical cord.
He sat down on a white stool.
“Mom, I know you can hear me.”
“Cunt fucker!” screamed the psychotic woman.
“Mom, you should see the Kennedy’s, they’re really doing
right by us Irish. The French are nuts about them--.”
“Fuckin’ bastard! Cocksuckin’ blow-job fucker!”
Terry shot up from the white stool, looked at the psychotic
woman, her face sneering, and said, “Shut up you bitch!”
“Thank god someone has said it,” exclaimed a nearby woman
visitor for a patient that just stared back from an oxygen mask.
As Terry stood over the psychotic woman she smiled at him. It
reminded him of Cynthia’s smile.
Two nurses, hearing Terry, rushed into the room.
“She’ll be off the floor tomorrow,” reassured one of the nurses.
“Dr. Lee put her in here, didn’t she?” Terry asked excitedly.
“I don’t know, sir, she’s kind of been rotated around.”
“You tell Dr. Lee I know what she’s up to, and she’s not getting
away with it, you tell her that,” said Terry fiercely.
“You can tell me in person,” said Dr. Lee stalking into the
room.
“You’re disgusting,” said Terry, looking at Dr. Lee’s face with
contempt. “Do you hear me, disgusting?”
“This patient has a right to treatment, Mr. Chandler.”
“She’s a mental patient.”
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“And what are you, talking to your mother all the time about
Kennedy? The aides tell me, I know.”
“Keep your comments to yourself, doctor, do you hear me? My
mother can hear everything you say. I’ve told you that.”
“It’s impossible, Mr. Chandler, your mother can’t hear a thing.
She shouldn’t have the slightest problem being next to this
unfortunate woman here. And if you were so concerned about your
mother you would let the nuns take care of her.”
“You son-of-bitch!” said Terry shooting darts at Dr. Lee with
his eyes.
Dr. Lee grew even more stoned-faced.
“I’ll overlook that remark this time, Mr. Chandler, but I can
have you thrown out of here.”
“And I can have this whole matter investigated by a State
Medical Board,” said Terry, glancing at the sneering woman patient
who was now strangely silent.
“This is one of the finest hospitals in America, Mr. Chandler,”
Dr. Lee replied indignantly.
“But you’re obviously not one of the finest physicians, Dr. Lee,
now can I get back to my mother?”
“By the way, Mr Chandler, President Kennedy is dead,” she
said cynically, and then stormed off.
A nurse gave the psychotic woman a sedative. Terry sat down
again on the stool next to his mother’s bed. She moved her lips as if
she wanted to swallow, and this encouraged him to talk to her. He
told her about his recent trip, and the brave field workers for SNCC
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211
that he had seen. He told her they were the kind of people Kennedy
could be proud of even if they did feel the president had moved too
slowly on civil rights. And then he told her of his love for her, and
how he would never forget her.
As he talked, his mother’s face seemed to grow more peaceful,
which convinced him even futher that she could hear him.
When visiting hours were over he kissed her cheek and began
walking towards the exit, but suddenly he heard a short, highpitched sound which sounded like it had come from the woman who
had given birth to him. He spun around and looked at her but she
was silent. There was always a lot of noise at the end of visiting
hours, and he wondered if he had been mistaken about the
direction the sound had emanated from, but he looked at her, and
she did not seem peaceful anymore and he felt he could not leave
her. He returned to her bedside and kissed her on the cheek, and
stayed with her until he was asked to leave.
Later that day he met Cynthia in front of The Figero. She was
beaming, and seemed particularly pleased with him, but she seemed
so vulnerable. How had she managed to look so independent the
first few times they were together? he wondered.
When they were seated inside he wanted to talk about the trip
right away, but seeing Cynthia in such a cheerful mood, depressed
him. Because in her bright, buoyant mood he could see all the
potential of her personality, and the wonderfulness of it, but it
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212
would not last long, he knew, the Sex Goddess, or the Negro
Emancipator would show up, and pull the wholesomeness out of her,
and bring her down, in turn creating a feeling in him that anything
positive they talked about couldn’t really be positive.
After ordering, Terry gave her a brief rundown of the trip.
“Andrew said you did well, Terry, I’m proud of you,” Cynthia
said, clasping her hands joyously in front of her face which was
freshly made up with loving touches of makeup, and bright red
lipstick.
“Sometimes the way Andrew talks, Cynthia, I wonder how
much he’s into this nonviolent thing,” Terry replied, while staring at
her, trying to see into her harder than he had ever tried, knowing it
was foolish but still trying to see it, trying to discover it, so that she
could be cured.
“What Andrew thinks as a person doesn’t affect his work,
Terry. He knows how important funds are for these people, he
believes in them and what they stand for--now that he’s been in the
field again, he can lobby much better with his powerful union
friends,” she replied intelligently.
It eluded him, the best Terry could hope for now was the
continuation of their rational conversation.
He said, “Andrew is a take-charge kind of guy, a person who’s
fought back all his life, but he has a lot of anger in him.”
Terry suspected criticism of Koslowski was not going to help
the conversation, but was finding it hard not to talk about the way
he felt about him.
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Cynthia’s mood quickly changed to sullen.
“Look, don’t get me wrong, I admire the way he is helping
organizations like SNCC with funds, but, I can’t explain it, there’s
something weird about him,” Terry continued.
“Can you be more specific, Terry?” asked Cynthia harshly.
“No...no I can’t...it was just that he was always going off by
himself. I don’t think he trusted me.It was just weird.”
Cynthia did not respond right away. Terry could see her
running his comments around in front of her eyes, trying not to be
anxious, trying to be rational, trying to give it her best shot,
meanwhile he was mad at himself for making a big deal out of
Koslowski’s furtive disappearances.
“Stop spoiling everything with paranoia about Andrew,” she
said icily. “You made the trip and I’m proud of you. That’s what’s
important.” Her mood brightened. “I understand that he’s invited
you to participate in the Mississippi Summer Project--few noncollege people will get that opportunity, I might add.”
The food came to the table, but Terry had lost his appetite.
Cynthia, however, began to wolf her sandwich down as if she hadn’t
eaten in days.
“It seems like he’s asked me, I’m not really sure,” Terry finally
answered.
“It’s a great opportunity, Terry...a great opportunity,” she
said, chewing vigorously on her corned beef sandwich. “A lot of
college kids will be turned away--it will look terrific later on in your
career.”
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“Goddamn it, Cynthia, I can’t figure you out. You sound like
it’s something for a resume, yet you moan all the time about
injustice of it all--where do you stand, anyway?” Terry blurted out,
now even madder at himself for putting her on the spot. Perhaps it
was the tension of waiting for the Sex Goddess to show up or the
Negro Emancipator, he mused.
“I just want to stand behind you,” she replied, seemingly
undisturbed by Terry’s comment.
“Well, I don’t know where I stand,” he said angrily. “I’m not so
sure I can’t be more useful just staying where I am, helping Neil, for
instance; that I can relate to, but the Mississippi Summer Project,
right now it’s just words.”
Cynthia took a couple of deep breaths, and in a controlled
voice said, “There are moments in history that are more significant
than others, Terry. The Mississippi Summer Project is one of them. It
will be a part of us our whole lives. You’re always depressed about
what’s going to happen to this country without Kennedy’s
leadership, well look at SNCC. Look at these young Negroes and what
they are doing down there. And tell me you weren’t moved by the
plight of the Negro down South.
For anyone else it would have been a reasonable comment,
thought Terry, but had the Negro Emancipator shown up and tried
to nudge its way into the conversation? He decided to give Cynthia
the benefit of the doubt, there was something that he needed from
her, and he didn’t know what.
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215
“It was terrible, they live terribly,” he replied, “Yet in some
respects they seem stronger than us.”
He was vulnerable now, he knew, as he looked into Cynthia’s ,
almost teary eyes. He clasped his hands together and remembered
how bad it had been in Clarksdale: the wooden shacks on the other
side of the railroad tracks. Cardboard windows. The stench of
outhouses. The suppression was absolute, all encompassing, beyond
anybody’s understanding who hadn’t seen it, and in thinking of this
suppression, Terry could sense his brain wanting to go somewhere
else, it wanted to think of Oswald’s bullet, and Kennedy’s brain, and
his mother’s brain, and he felt like screaming.
At the next table two tourists who looked like Barbie-dolls,
were taking pictures of people eating sandwiches.
Terry leaned over and angrily asked, “Tell me, sir, how do you
feel about civil rights?”
“Well, I think they should teach it in every school.”
“Honey,” said his wife who was wearing a beehive hairdo, “He
didn’t say civil studies, he said civil rights.”
The man at once assumed an arrogant posture. “It’s okay as
long as the protests don’t get out of hand.”
“What in your opinion would be out of hand?” grilled Terry as
if the man were being questioned for a crime.
He looked at his wife, then Terry. “Keeping a man from doing
business, closing him down--that’s what the Communists want.”
The tourist’s wife agreed visually. Her head bobbed up and
down a number of times.
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“Thank you, America,” said Terry facetiously, and then he
turned back to his table.
“So what did you prove?” said Cynthia.
“Nothing.”
“We don’t need these people,” whispered Cynthia. “They’re
lemmings--they’ll jump on whatever bandwagon is sweeping the
country, they don’t know what it’s like to be a Negro in America.”
Her facial expression grew indignant.
“I suppose you do,” shot back Terry.
“Don’t hit below the belt, Terry. I’ve been involved in helping
the Negro better himself most of my life, you know that, I’ve told
you about that.”
“Talking with your Negro maid, and going to Brooklyn Dodger
games is not my idea of the Movement,” said Terry, immediately
annoyed at himself for making the remark.
“You know that’s not all I’ve done, why are you doing this,
Terry?” she said, her voice beginning to crack.
“I don’t know, honest I don’t. Look, let’s start over again.”
Cynthia stood up and began to cry. The Sex Goddess hadn’t
shown up, neither had the Negro Emancipator. She had been normal
and he was the one that had fucked up.
“Look...I’m sorry.”
“I was a Freedom Ridder, goddamn it, don’t you talk to me
that way.”
“Cynthia, I’m sorry, honest I am.”
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217
She spun around and charged towards the exit. Terry signaled
the waiter to pay the bill but couldn’t get his attention. The hell
with it, he said, as he slumped back in his chair and opened a pack
of Camels that he had been carrying around for a week and stuck
one in his mouth. The two tourists at the next table looked at him
gleefully.
Terry spent the rest of the week visiting his mother and
drinking beer at the Kiwi.
The first evening he did get to bed early the downstairs buzzer
rang. He wanted to ignore it, but the person ringing it was
persistent, almost, it seemed, desperate for someone to answer back.
Still in his boxer shorts, he buzzed back and opened the door to
look down into the hallway. The bulb was out, so he couldn’t see
who it was, but the visitor whispered, “Hello, Terry,” and started
climbing the stairs. He was still puzzled, until the visitor was
practically in front of him.
“I figured you to be a jockey man,” said the visitor.
“Alison, Alison is that you?”
“It’s me, Terry,” she said, slightly out of breath.
“Shit, I didn’t know who it was,” he said suddenly realizing he
was standing in front of her with his briefs on.
“Hold on for a minute, I’ll get my pants.”
Alison smiled and gave the living quarters a quick looking
over while Terry put his pants on.
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Zipping his fly he said, “I know it’s only 10 o’clock.”
She smiled. “No, I’m the one who should apologize, they just
plucked me out of our Raymond Street headquarters two days after
leaving Ohio and here I am. I was on my way to a SNCC fundraiser in
the Village, and I said to myself, well here’s an opportunity to see
my new friend Terry and to ask him if he wants to come along. The
SNCC people I’m with remembered you so you obviously made an
impression.”
“Me?” said Terry skeptically while pointing to himself.
“You...honest,” replied Alison, dressed in a field jacket over a
strapless gown. “You’re fondly remembered as the guy that was with
Andrew,” she giggled.
Terry looked at her closely for the first time. He hadn’t seen
her with makeup on. She really was the all-American girl. Freckles,
cute little nose, sparkling eyes, right out of Norman Rockwell.
She explained that her two SNCC buddies were on the Cocktail
Fundraising Circuit for SNCC and it was a great opportunity to meet
people. She said she had already been in New York for a day of
conferences with CORE and was headed back to Atlanta the
following afternoon. She asked him again if he wanted to attend the
fundraiser.
“I don’t have a fancy suit,” he replied.
“Good,” she said, “the people who give money to SNCC don’t
like us to look too well fed or groomed. And you really are an
awfully good sport for letting me barge in on you like this, I really
never did have a moment to call.”
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“It’s okay,” replied Terry finding it too hard to resist her
invitation although he hated cocktail parties.
He finally agreed to go and Alison looked at him glowingly. He
suspected it wasn’t because he had agreed to go to a party with her,
and he liked the idea of that.
“I’m now a full-time member of SNCC,” she said proudly,
touching a pin on her field jacket.
Yes, she was something, he thought. She could have been on a
Peace Corps poster she was so all-American, but in a spunky sort of
way.
When they were outside on the street Terry noticed for the
first time that Alison had boots on under her gown.
The SNCC fundraiser was held in a Bank Street townhouse.
Terry was uncomfortable as soon as he entered the townhouse.
Faces he had seen in newspapers, magazines, and the movies were in
the high-ceilinged room.
“Cir...cu...late,” Alison whispered to him. “When people ask
you about SNCC tell them what you’ve seen. And if they walk away
thinking you’re a SNCC volunteer it wouldn’t be terrible, these kinds
of parties pay a lot of bills,” she whispered with obvious relish, and
then she dove into the crowd, and worked it. Two of Alison’s coworkers, both black, dressed in overalls and work boots, had already
been at the party, and appeared to be drinking heavily. Terry,
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220
feeling out of place, hesitantly took a white wine off a very fastmoving serving tray.
“I do admire what you’re doing in the South,” said an actress
Terry had seen often on the screen. She was in her late thirties.
He was flustered for a moment, then looked at the actress’s
larger-than-life face, and realized how anxious it was to talk to a
real-life SNCC worker.
“I’m not doing anything at all, I just came to the party with a
friend.”
The famous actress smiled slightly, looked downward at
Terry’s old Army boots, and then slowly panned her eyes up his
dungaree pants, pausing at his crotch, and then moving her eyes
further up to his Army fatigue shirt, and then finally resting her
eyes on his face.
“If you want to be modest that’s all right with me,” she said,
wolfing her drink down. “Have you ever thought of being an actor,
you’re an extremely attractive young man.”
“No, no I haven’t,” replied Terry, wondering how to get away
from her before he said something stupid.
A waiter paraded by with fresh drinks. The actress plucked a
champagne cocktail off the serving tray like a lizard’s tongue
snagging a fly.
“You SNCC people--am I pronouncing it right?”
“Yes, just like snick,” replied Terry.
“Well, anyway, you SNCC people are holier than thou,
sometimes its infuriating. You’re either humble pie or nasty like
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those two,” she said, looking towards the two African-American
SNCC workers. “I’ll tell you, those boys are turning everyone off--so
goddamn defensive. Making us feel like shit just because they’re
getting shot at. We care, we’re sincere, we just don’t want to be
talked down to.”
Terry shot a glance over to the smaller of the two SNCC
workers. He had his finger pointed at a well-groomed man in a tux
and appeared to be admonishing him. The other SNCC worker was
standing in front of an attractive woman with a huge boner that he
seemed proud of.
“We know what you’ve been through, we’re your friends, we
want to help,” the famous actress said between quick sips of
champagne.
Terry replaced his white wine with a vodka and said, “I saw
things you wouldn’t believe.”
The actress’s eyes lit up. And Terry proceeded to lie to her for
the next half hour. He told her of demonstrations he had never seen.
Of narrow escapes he had never been a part of. He quoted people he
had never heard speak. He told her of places he had never been to.
The famous actress was enthralled. Soon words like “Don’t
keep him to yourself,” interrupted his daring civil rights adventures,
and he began to be passed around by the beautiful people as some
sort of important new find. In the process Terry discovered that he
could lie to these people, because he was angry at them, but he did
not know why he was angry at them. Occasionally, he would glance
over and see Alison working hard for donations. The beautiful
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people seemed to love her too. They fawned over her to get the
latest news from the front lines, and they were desperate, it seemed,
to reveal their sympathy for the Movement.
The two legitimate SNCC representatives were now alone, and
confused-looking. Nobody seemed to want to talk to them anymore.
Perhaps they were too real for the beautiful people, Terry suspected.
“We’re leaving,” said Alison, her face glowing. “He’s lending us
his chauffeur for a ride uptown,” she said, pointing to a worldfamous conductor. The conductor looked over and smiled.
“A chauffeur for what?”
“Mr. Chandler, the evening has just begun,” said Alison,
bowing obsequiously, like a servant might in a foreign kingdom.
CHAPTER TWELVE
Outside, parked across the street was a chauffeured Lincoln
Continental waiting for Alison and Terry.
“This person I want you to meet lives in Harlem,” said Alison,
ogling the Lincoln. “We could have never gotten a cab to her place,
they told me at the party.”
Terry walked behind Alison as she sauntered across the street
to the Lincoln like a teen on a prom night. Again, he thought, he was
along for the ride, seemingly on everyone else’s schedule but his
own. And the goddamn ache that had started with the news about
Kennedy was still there, and because it would not go away, it
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223
blurred everything, so that he never seemed to be a part of
anything, but experienced things more like an observer, looking at
life from behind a one-way mirror, unable, or was it unwilling, to
feel the aliveness around him.
Traffic was light, in a few minutes they were crossing 100th
Street. This was no-man’s land for a white person, Terry knew, but
he remembered a time when a white person could come to Harlem.
Even by subway.
Alison peaked out of the window with the same apprehension
and excitement one might get by driving through East Berlin at one
a.m in the morning.
He thought about the times he had come to Harlem. He
remembered when you could stand on line at the Apollo and never
get a stare. He recalled the magic of a performance he had seen by
Frankie Lymon, who brought the house down, not by singing rock n’
roll, but by singing the blues. Blues so deep and so full of hurt that
Lymon seemed to fill the whole theater up with his pain. Then there
was Dizzy Gillespie, freshly arrived from his African tour. Dizzy,
wearing Aladdin shoes with curly tips as he blew the Apollo apart
with his big band blast. By 1959, however, a white person attending
the Apollo could be perceived of as patronizing, liking the music for
all the wrong reasons. Whitey wasn’t wanted anymore. Whitey had
his own culture, and should stick to it, and stop stealing from the
Negro’s pain.
The limousine stopped at a modest brownstone on 126th and
Amsterdam Avenue. Three African-American teenagers stood in the
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224
gutter burning trash in a barrel. They gave Alison and Terry a
menacing look as they stepped out of the limo. The chauffeur, who
was also African-American, and well-built, said, “Don’t worry. These
boys ain’t messin’ with this man. No way are they messin’ with this
man, take as long as you want.”
Alison rang the doorbell, and crossed her fingers. “I called, but
you never know,” she said nervously.
The brownstone door opened slowly.
A large woman with deep brown skin stood at the doorway. No
plantation owner had ever raped her ancestors, thought Terry. She
was a proud woman, anyone could see that. Her voice was deep and
resonant. Oddly, thought Terry, she was every cliche a white person
might expect a Negro leader to be: regal, religious (she had a Bible
in her hand) with a noble voice obviously honed from thousands of
speeches.
The woman had known Alison since she was a little girl, and
was glad to see her.
When they were comfortably seated in the living room, the
woman, whose name was Dorothy Franklin, was introduced to Terry
by Alison as Miss Dorothy. When they were seated Miss Dorothy
immediately said, “Mr. Chandler, I understand you just got back
from Mississippi.”
“Yes, Ma’am.”
“What are your vibes?”
“Whites don’t like Negroes.”
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225
Miss Dorothy looked at Terry without any expression on her
face. Her penetrating eyes, and finely honed features emanated
incredible strength of purpose. She was a woman who had seen it
all. She wore a plain cotton housedress, the kind a maid down South
might wear, yet it took on the presence of a uniform of sorts. It
represented hard work and struggle, at the same time it suggested
that any woman who had it on, was living life on a higher moral
plain, because, certainly, the woman wearing it should be striking
out physically at the treatment she received as a human being, yet
she went on nobly day in and day out doing the tasks of life.
Finally in response to Terry’s remark, she said, “Brilliant, Mr.
Chandler, simply brilliant, some of the visitors I get here would have
talked about racial injustice for an hour, but you’ve put it where it’s
at--very commendable understand you were traveling with Andrew
Koslowski.”
“Yes, that’s right,” replied Terry, feeling comfortable for the
first time that evening.
“What do you think of Andrew? He was one of the first whites
to be involved in the Movement.”
“I’m not sure he’s comfortable with the idea of passive
resistant.”
Miss Dorothy’s face lit up. “Well, I do like your man, Alison,
he’s right to the point.”
She turned back to Terry. She was a woman with an agenda,
he suspected. She obviously wasted little time on small talk.
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“Andrew is a street-fighter, Mr. Chandler. The kind of man
who has given his whole life to helping others, but also a person
who likes to be where the action is...and SNCC, right now, is where
the action is. In many way, I suspect, he’s bewildered by the likes of
Martin and other nonviolent types. He’s a union man who knows he
didn’t get results playing tiddlywinks with the powerful white
management. Of course, many Negroes, no matter how long Andrew
has been involved in the Movement, will not appreciate what he has
done, and he has done a lot, Mr. Chandler. Andrew, unlike many
whites, knows that until the white power structure unlocks the
chains of oppression, they will be in chains themselves.”
Miss Dorothy then got up and brought back a decanter full of
scotch and three crystal glasses. Alison politely declined the offer of
a drink, but Terry accepted. He could see that Alison was enthralled
by being in the Negro leader’s presence.
“What are your feelings on the Mississippi Summer Project,
Mr. Chandler?” asked Miss Dorothy, sipping her scotch.
Terry didn’t feel he was qualified to answer the question, and
he was going to say so, but Alison eagerly looked at him for the
answer.
“A lot of students will do it for the wrong reason, I suspect.
They’ll probably think it’s very fashionable.”
“But aren’t the results what counts, Mr. Chandler? Or are you a
perfectionist?”
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“I suspect you like a good debate, no matter what the subject
is, Miss Dorothy,” Terry replied, holding his drink, but not touching
it.
Miss Dorothy laughed and took a healthy sip of Scotch. “If a
thousand Negro students went down there this summer, with all the
right reasons, the press wouldn’t give a damn, Mr. Chandler, and
sad to say, neither would the White Mississippian. He sees Negroes
as less than human, he’s not used to seeing the same color as he is
confronting him morally, it will create confusion and doubt no
matter what his externals actions are. Of course, we intend to fight
our own battles inside of Mississippi and out of it, as we are this
very moment, but these white children, some of whom may die, are
necessary--essential—to the success of this summer’s project.”
Miss Dorothy continued talking for another hour and Terry
was now enthralled. She spoke about Gandhi, Frederick Douglass,
W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and the contributions of the
Negro race to American culture, and her words poured forth with a
passion and conviction that convinced Terry that the Movement was
not as fragmented as some newspapers suggested.
It was 4:30 in the morning when they left Miss Dorothy’s
house.
The chauffeur for the famous conductor stood bloodied next
to his employer’s limousine. His face was marked with small cuts,
and his uniform sullied and torn. Oddly, he looked content.
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228
“No way are they messin’ with this man,” he said, smiling as
he opened the limousine door for Terry and Alison.
“What happened?” shrieked Alison.
“They thought they could have some fun with me, only they
ain’t laughing very much now,” said the chauffeur. “I was
middleweight champ of the 6th fleet, and I ain’t taking no guff from
the likes of those punks.”
After starting the engine, he continued. “They said I was still a
slave--I’ll tell you I’m not taking that from nobody--the man treats
me good, he’s helping me put my son through college, no way am I
taking that talk from street punks.”
On the way downtown Terry wondered just what the chauffeur
really thought. Had the punks hit a nerve just waiting to be
exposed? Was standing around a bon fire in the streets a more valid
way to fight racism? No maids, no cooks, no chauffeurs--wash your
own underwear, whitey? It had to be an awful feeling knowing that
your horizons as a human were limited because of the color of your
skin. Eventually that had to create feelings of inferiority, Terry
concluded. Not all the time, but at certain times, like the same way
he felt when he walked into a department store, knowing it had
been 15 years since he had walked into a department store with
neighborhood kids intent on robbing the store, yet still feeling the
eyes of the store detective on him, waiting for him to fuck up. Or
had any inferior feeling a Negro might have felt been overridden for
the moment by the Movement? The idea of equality being so
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powerful an idea, and so god-driven, that it could conceivably
overide any feeling Negroes had about themselves, good or bad?
Terry suggested The Hip Bagel for breakfast, Alison thought it
was a good idea, but she wanted to walk through Washington Square
Park first.
The chauffeur, who finally introduced himself as Marcus,
dropped them off in front of the Washington Square Arch.
“Isn’t Miss Dorothy an inspiration?” said Alison, seemingly
floating on air as they walked under the arch that led to the park.
“It felt good to talk to her, Alison, real good,” Terry said,
feeling at peace for the moment, wondering why Washington Square
Park felt so special, so mystical. He remembered reading an article
that claimed it had the same magnetic field as Jerusalem, he didn’t
know, but he felt the park represented freedom just as the musician,
Burt Dale, had said. Somehow ideas felt more alive in it, had more
possibilities when they were discussed in it. They did not die so
easily in the park as they might have in a five-story walk-up.
“I wonder if Miss Dorothy ever spoke to Kennedy,” said Terry
as they stood near the fountain and looked at the lighted arch, its
words, “____________” chisled across the top.
Terry’s question was greeted by silence.
“What do you think?” he persisted.
“Kennedy was not popular with the Movement, Terry,” she
said with the kind of nervousness usually reserved for mothers
telling their daughters the facts of life. “A lot of people in the
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230
Movement feel we’ll be better off now. SNCC in fact didn’t even send
an official delegation to the funeral.”
Terry could feel his blood getting warmer, a thickness
suddenly came to his throat.
“You can’t say Negroes didn’t like Kennedy. You can’t tell me
that,” he said angrily.
“There are some who think Kennedy’s death is a blessing,” she
said in a direct manner, as if she believed what she was saying was
the truth no matter what the person she was talking to thought.
“They feel there would have been continual delays on legislation,
and attempts to evade it at every point and water it down had
Kennedy lived.”
Terry tried to calm himself, but he was suddenly swimming in
a sea of nothingness, floating away, at the same time hurting, at the
same time angry at Alison for her indifference, at the same time
furious at Oswald, the slimy bastard. Terry’s mind raced to find the
words that would relieve some of the hurt and balance him again,
and keep him from disappearing into nothingness.
“Are those the same people who think King is slowing down
the Movement?” Terry asked forcefully, relieved for the moment.
“I’ll have to think about that,” Alison said diplomatically. She
then gripped his arm, and they began walking on the winding path
that would eventually lead them out of the park. Alison’s neutral
response, and the feeling of her hand gripping his arm, felt
reassuring to Terry. His anger seemed to leave his body at the point
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231
of her clasped hand. Or was it just going back to a secret hiding
place? He didn’t know.
They walked silently and slowly in the February cold as dawn
began to impose itself on the night sky. There was shoveled snow
along the sides of the path and Terry was surprised it was there. It
had snowed two days previously, in the afternoon, but it had turned
to mush quickly--too quickly for him--and had, he thought, been
washed away by a slight rain. Snow in the city was magical, he
believed, especially when it got high enough to cover parked cars.
Snow halted progress if only briefly. Snow brought out the child in
adults, and magnified the innocence of children, and brought
blessed silence to the city, but snow on the streets of New York
eventually became dirty, and you always ended up wishing it had
stayed white and pure.
Alison seemed at ease at they neared the exit of the park, but
perhaps she was just holding back, he thought.
“The Movement is where your energy should be now, Terry,”
she said, squeezing his arm, and stopping under the light at the
edge of MacDougal Street. She looked scrumptious, almost comical
with her Army boots peaking out from under her strapless dress,
her fatigue jacket much more beaten up than his.
Terry continued staring at her, enjoying her womanliness, and
hoping her comment would just pass without needing a response
from him.
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232
“Terry, I’m serious, you don’t want something like the
Movement to pass you by,” she said with a determined look on her
face.
He had seen that look before, the future ministers of the world
would have that look in the house next door to his uncle, the
Puritans must have had that look too, he surmised. It was a look that
said you had to get the job done whatever your feelings were.
He smiled and continued south on MacDougal towards West
3rd Street.
Alison, he suspected, had her own agenda and would persist.
“The Movement is where we would be whether Kennedy was
alive or dead,” she said determinedly.
He could tell by the tone of her voice that she did not want to
hurt him, that what she was saying, she believed, was in his best
interest. But he would not allow the decay to set in, the president
would be more than a memory, more than a footnote, Kennedy
would remain alive in him and he would not let anyone take those
feelings from him and turn him into something he was not.
“Terry, you’re more of a dreamer than anyone I’ve ever met,”
Alison said innocently. “Or perhaps dreamer is too harsh a word,
idealist is more like it. You want to hang on to a feeling that died
when Kennedy died, a feeling that many believe was manufactured
by PR.”
There was confusion at first, why would anyone want to forget
Kennedy so quickly? And then the thickness returned to his throat,
and along with it came anger.
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“Goddamn it, Alison, I don’t want to hear that Puritan crap,”
he said, picking up his pace and rushing ahead of her.
She did not try to keep up with him as he stormed down
MacDougal and crossed West 3rd Street, and then suddenly thinking
of Alison’s safety, he sat down on the steps of a brownstone which
had a used clothing store in the basement, and waited for her.
Alison took her time, but she finally sat next to him and
rubbed his back as he hunched forward, his face in his palms, his
elbows digging into his thighs.
“People like me just move on, don’t we?” she said softly.
“That’s how I feel when I’m with you, Terry, and I’m mad at you for
giving me that feeling. There are no dreams for you anymore after
Kennedy, are there? Nothing to latch your star to?”
“You have your Kennedy,” he replied stoically, his chin still
resting on his open palms.
“But what you really mean, Terry, is that if there wasn’t the
Movement I would be just as involved in something else...even
perhaps if it were superficial.”
Terry looked up. Dawn was a reality now, the night was dead,
a million arguments had taken place, hundreds of thousands had
fucked, some had died, a normal day in New York had gone and a
new one was starting, yet he felt he was still living one long day and
night that never seemed to change.
Terry put his arm around her. “If I’ve given you that feeling,
Alison, I haven’t meant to, it’s just...things are so up in the air now.”
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234
“I would like to see your mother, Terry,” she said inching
closer to him.
“No, I couldn’t do that--it’s not a nice thing to see,” he said
anxiously.
“It would be good for me to see her, Terry, then you would
know that someone knows what you’re going through.”
“I can’t do it,” he said shaking his head no. “She doesn’t look
human. Her head is shaved and wrapped like a mummy, her eyes
are like a dead fish’s, her stomach is attached to a plastic tube, and
her hand is tied down so she doesn’t keep tapping her head with it.”
“She’s your mother, Terry--stop holding it in,” said Alison
softly as she rubbed his neck.
Terry’s head was down again. He could hear the city coming to
life, the garbage trucks, the light traffic, the footsteps of the working
class walking to the subway, while college students and folk singers
still sat in the all-night coffee houses and tried to save the world
between sips of expresso.
They had breakfast at the Hip Bagel and walked over to St.
Vincent’s. The cursing woman was gone, replaced by another B52
pilot wearing an oxygen mask.
Terry untied his mother’s hand, held it, and said softly, “Mom,
this is Alison. She works with an organization, mostly Negroes, who
are battling white racists in the South. She’s a very brave lady.”
Alison smiled at the mute figure in front of her.
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“Hello, Mrs. Chandler,” she said as if Terry’s mother had just
greeted her on a sunny porch in suburbia.
Terry leaned his head towards Alison. “I know it doesn’t look
like it but I’m convinced she can hear us.”
“I don’t know your son a long time, Mrs. Chandler,” continued
Alison, “but from what I’ve seen you can be very proud of him.”
Her face didn’t change, but Terry could see the smile on his
mother’s face.
He then proceeded to tell his mother about Kennedy’s trip to
Vienna as if it had just happened.
Alison continued to smile although it wasn’t a complete smile,
one without strings attached, and Terry was aware that the Kennedy
update was probably disconcerting for Alison, yet that’s how it had
to be, he said to himself, because he felt it was right.
Just before visiting hours were over, while Terry was saying a
silent prayer for his mother, Alison sang an old Irish ballad over the
din of hissing oxygen tanks.
Alison affectionately held Terry’s arm as they left the hospital.
“I don’t have much time, Terry, before I return to Atlanta.
Maybe we should go back to your place.”
“It’s my roommate’s day off today,” Terry said, careful to look
perplexed.
“And I’m at the Y,” replied Alison dejectedly.
“Well, I guess I’ll have to put you in a cab then,” he said,
knowing Alison might be hurt, but unsure what to do.
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“Damn it, Terry, is that all you’re going to say?” replied Alison,
dropping down to the hospital steps and sitting on them dejectedly.
“We’ll see each other again, Alison, you know that.”
Alison sprang angrily to her feet. “Goddamn it, Terry, who
knows where we’ll be tomorrow? Why do you think SNCC people
hug each other so warmly, and why we’re so glad to see each other?
Because we know we could get it any minute. When we want to make
love we don’t arrange it as if it were a business meeting.”
“Look, I’m tired, you’re tired, we had a great evening--frankly I
don’t have the money for a hotel,” he said while looking at her
warmly.
“Is that the only reason that’s stopping you?”
“Scout’s honor.”
“We may not see each other for awhile, Terry, I’m not going to
pin you down about this summer.”
“Thanks, Alison.”
“I really did have a nice time. You are different from lots of
guys your age, you know that, don’t you?” she said holding him
around the waist.
He brought her lithe body towards him. She felt warm and soft
and smelled fresh and he knew somehow he would see her again.
“Your mother has such beautiful skin,” she said, getting into a
taxi.
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237
Mario was sleeping, but there was a letter from Specialist
Fourth Class Joyce Bannon on the kitchen table. The return address
was an APO number so Terry knew Bannon was writing from
overseas. He opened it right away. It said:
Dear Terry, Yours truly had gotten himself in some deep shit.
I’m an adviser with some dink outfit here in Nam. It looks like the
shit is going to hit the fan over here. They needed commo people so
I volunteered. It looks like they’ll be sending regular units over here
pretty soon. If I don’t watch my ass I’m liable to end up an RTO
(Radio Telephone Operator) with some grunt outfit. Man, it’s a
whole other world over here. Even GI talk is different. Fucking is
BOOM BOOM. Boo koo means “much” or “many.” Titi is used a lot--it
means “A little.” And Number One is the best, which is logical. A 16year-old whore in Saigon told me I was Number One--how do you
like that? Man, you’ve got to watch your balls over here. Mines
every-fuckin’-where. Barbed wire everywhere. And a smell I can’t
explain, something like a dead mouse that’s been lying around your
apartment for a few days. I know you think I’m an asshole for
coming here, and you’re probably right, but the Americans I meet
here are the best--Number One. Write when you can.
Kennedy would have pulled out of Vietnam, mused Terry, as
he folded Bannon’s letter and put it in his dresser. But now it didn’t
look like anyone was going to pull out. A few of Patton’s former
officers had been promoted over other Generals by Defense
Secretary McNamara and now held high positions in the chain of
command. Terry had been stationed with an armored battalion and
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238
had heard a number of officers talking about fast promotions in
Vietnam. The career officers and cadre smelled blood in Vietnam
and knew that Patton’s men would not let them down. A war, every
career soldier knew, was the fastest way to get a promotion. And
promotions meant more money and more privileges, and more
power, Terry thought, as he lay on his Scandinavian couch without a
pillow or blanket.
He didn’t want to wake Mario up getting the pillow and
blankets out of a drawer.
Neil, fully dressed, was lying inside a cardboard General
Electric washing machine carton with an electric heater a few inches
from his head when Terry reached the top landing of 3825 Third
Avenue. It was four in the afternoon.
“I’m resting,” said Neil defensively.
“I can see that.”
“Blow-job artist tell you I was up here?”
“No...no she didn’t.”
Neil raised himself from the carton, moving like an old man.
“I was up all night waiting for my pigeons, five are missing. up
all night hollering for them, figure they got lost somewhere, but
they ain’t come back.”
“I’m sorry to hear about your pigeons, Neil,” Terry said,
crouching. “You doing okay? Anyone been asking about you?” he
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239
said, raising himself up again while fighting the urge to have a
cigarette.
“They been around a few times,” said Neil, opening the roof
door. They don’t know I’m here, too stupid to walk another flight of
stairs.”
Neil stepped out onto the tar roof and Terry followed. It was
windy. The way the first week in March always seemed to be. The
sky was sickeningly gray and seemed to be part of the conspiracy to
pull anybody down who lived under it in this section of the Bronx.
“You doing okay, Neil? I haven’t seen you in a couple of
weeks.”
“Thought you wouldn’t be back, that’s what I thought,” said
Neil, adjusting a latch on his pigeon coop.
“Have you thought about school, Neil?”
Neil shrugged.
“What are you doing for money?”
“What’s it to you anyway?” shot back Neil angrily.
“I thought we were friends, Neil.”
“Friends,” said Neil as if had spit the word out. “How can you
be friends with a kid? Can we drink together? Can we go out and
pick up girls together? Can we join the Army together?”
“A friend is also someone you can depend on, Neil. I could be
that kind of a friend,” Terry said, feeling anxious.
Neil buttoned his peacoat. “She,” he said pointing downwards,
“wants me to be sent to one of those loony bins until I’m 21.I’m
scaring away her business, she said. How would you like to hear
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your mother gives good head. Or she swallowed my brother’s come
last night. One asshole in the schoolyard said he fucked her in the
ass, but they heard what I did to that other John, they’re a lot more
quiet than they used to be--cause I’ll stick them again,” he said,
swallowing heavily, his eyes moist.
He looked so vulnerable, Terry thought. A young deer walking
around a meat-packing plant called The Bronx.
“You’re going to be put away for sure, if you stay here, Neil,”
Terry said, sticking his hands into his fatigue jacket in frustration.
“Ah, bullshit,” replied Neil, waving his hands, palms open, in
disgust.
Terry reached out, his fingertips grasped Neil’s shoulders,
“Damn you, I want to help you, don’t you understand?”
Neil, in one reflex motion, raised both hands up to break
Terry’s grasp, then looking at Terry, he said, “I didn’t ask for your
help.”
“Okay,” said Terry angrily. “Stay here and end up in mental
institutions until you’re 21.”
Terry then stormed off towards the roof door, aware of every
millimeter of a second of silence that followed, but determined not
to look back.
“My mother’s Aunt Juliet--I like her a lot,” Neil said, raising his
voice.
Terry stopped, turned around, and said, “That’s better,”
realizing for the first time, that he was committing himself to
helping Neil stay out of Bellevue, helping Neil break the law.
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241
“She lives in Alabama,” said Neil, walking towards Terry. “She
visited my mother once two years ago, that’s all I know. She said I
could come see her anytime I wanted to.”
Alabama, Terry thought, why Alabama? Was there some force
in the universe that just wouldn’t let Neil get out of a tough
situation easily? Alabama or mental institutions? The choice
frustrated Terry. Think of something else, kid, fast, please, don’t
make it so tough. Goddamn it, don’t make it so tough. Come up with
somebody from Oshkosh, or New Jersey.
“There’s a lot of things happening down South these days,
Neil, is there anyplace else you could go to?” Terry asked in a calm
voice, but realizing suddenly that Alabama was probably Neil’s only
option, and now afraid that Neil might change his mind.
“Aw, forget it,” said Neil smirking, and then pivoting around
like a soldier marching in close-order drill.
Raising his voice to Neil’s back, Terry said, “Listen, we’re
making progress here, I just wanted to know if there was anyplace
else you could go?”
“No,” he screamed back as if he fully understood the
uncertainty of his predicament.
“Okay, we’ll do it, I’ll talk to your mother.”
“She ain’t going to tell you nothing, the bitch has been
drinking all morning.”
“You’ve got to go somewhere. We have to try, you know what I
mean, Neil?”
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Neil didn’t answer. Instead he looked up at the sickly-gray sky
and scanned it for his missing pigeons.
Terry knew by Neil’s silence that an agreement had been
made.
The door to Neil’s mother’s railroad apartment was open. She
was sitting in her pink panties, drinking wine, and watching a soap
opera.
“Mrs. Lawrence, it’s Terry Chandler, the volunteer who spoke
to you about Neil,” he said hesitantly as he took a few steps into the
living room.
She crossed her legs, stuck out her hand, “You want to talk to
me, put some cash in this palm,” she said in a slurred voice.
Terry put a ten-dollar bill in her hand.
“Now take down your pants,” she said wavering, “I want to
check out that white pecker.”
“No, Mrs. Lawrence, you don’t understand. I want to talk about
Neil.”
She froze for a moment as she tried to catch up with her brain.
“Take that little jerkoff back with you, I can’t stand him,” she
said waving her hand.
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Mrs. Lawrence, Neil
going someplace else. He mentioned your Aunt Juliet.”
A look of disgust appeared on Neil’s mother’s face. “Oh, Miss
Righteous Baptist. So pure in her ways and thoughts. Talking about
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her farm in Alabama, and filling Neil’s head with lies...it’s hell down
there for us,” she said, saliva dripping from her mouth. She took
another drink directly from the bottle. Most pint bottles, Terry had
noticed a long time ago, made the opening so it would fit snugly in
the mouth for big gulps, a real marketing discovery.
“Get out, you white motherfucker. Do you hear me? Get out!”
she screamed.
“Mrs. Lawrence, I just wanted to--”
“Get out!” she screamed again, and then threw up.
“Okay,” Terry said, his arms raised in surrender, “I’m leaving.”
Neil’s mother, however, was no longer paying attention to
Terry, she was retching on the floor, tears flowing from her eyes,
hands and knees on the floor.
The front door flew open. “She didn’t tell you nothing, did
she,” said Neil, his face grimacing in disgust.
“I’ll talk to her when she’s sober, it wasn’t a good time right
now.”
“She’s a whore, that’s all she’ll ever be,” said Neil, peering into
the apartment as if he would be contaminated if he steeped any
further into it.
He turned away and bolted up the steps.
Terry ran to the door. “We’ll work it out if you get the
address--do you hear me, Neil? We’ll work it out,” he shouted as Neil
disappeared up the steps from his view.
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Neil’s mother was on her feet now. He watched her wipe
herself off, she was drunk and wavering, but she looked at Terry
and he could see that she was ashamed of herself.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN
Terry crossed Clairmont Parkway and continued walking uptown,
the Third Avenue El girders never far away, crowding him as they
did anyone who walked on Third Avenue. He walked about five
blocks until he reached the Golden Orchid bar, which was located a
few feet from the corner where Tremont Avenue sliced across Third
Avenue. In the window of the Golden Orchid bar was a New York
Daily News four-color magazine section photograph of John
Kennedy with black crepe paper draped around a cheap wooden
frame. The streets below the Orchid, Terry knew, were now
considered no-man’s land by the Irish who still lived in the area.
They clung to their family, their friends, their church and their
neighborhood like vines, with no place to grow. They were slowly
being crushed, as the sociologists would say, by urban blight.
Terry had not been back to the neighborhood since getting out
of the Army, but after Neil’s mother, he needed a drink. It was early
Friday evening, which meant the Golden Orchid would be packed.
The Orchid was a place where Irish rebel songs were sung, where
ancient men relived their battles with the Brits. It was a place where
Vietnam was, as yet, still unheard of. A place where the words spic
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and nigger were often used, but if a man cursed in front of a man’s
girl or wife, he was sure to get his face punched. And looming over
the Golden Orchid like a giant erector set was the Third Avenue El. If
you stayed in the Golden Orchid long enough, and had enough to
drink, you never heard the El rumbling by, or felt the shake in the
ground that accompanied it. But the Golden Orchid had its
moments, Terry had discovered: the clientele was Irish, the beer was
right from the tap, and the conversation good, if the person on the
receiving end of the discussion managed not to pass out.
“Terry, is that you?” said the spidery-looking man.
“And who else would it be, Mr. O’Hara.”
O’Hara looked solemn as he waved his finger as if it was
floating by itself; it told the bartender to fill his glass and give Terry
a beer.
“You’re going to hear about it sometime, so I might as well tell
you,” said O’Hara after swallowing his new beer, the foam still on his
mouth. “Little Mikey was involved in an armed robbery.”
“Jesus--Mikey, your son?”
“The very one,” said O’Hara. “A bank guard was killed. Mikey
didn’t even know the guy that well who pulled the trigger, he was
just scooping up the loot when the jerk did in the guy.”
Mickey O’Hara had been an altar boy. Terry could still see him
serving Mass at St. Joseph, moving around the altar with uncommon
grace. His angelic face and golden blonde hair making him look
saintly. Worshippers often thought that Mickey looked much closer
to God than the priest.
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“It gets worse,” said O’Hara with tears in his eyes.
In the background above the talk and countless mention of
boxing and baseball names, “Come Go with Me” by the Del Vikings
was playing on the jukebox.
“On the way up to Sing Sing, the guy who pulled the trigger-he was not from the neighborhood--strangled one of the state
troopers with his handcuffs, Mickey knocked out the other guard.
Both escaped for about three hours--three hours, can you imagine, a
man’s life gone for three hours. There’s no hope for Mickey now, no
hope at all, he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison.”
To brighten things up Terry asked O’Hara about the rest of the
family.
“Jack is a detective, and Red is studying to be a CPA,” replied
O’Hara still grim-faced. He angrily signaled the bartender for
another round, which Terry paid for.
“You’re thinking,” said O’Hara, looking at Terry angrily,
“There’s one I haven’t talked about, that’s what you’re thinking, is
that right, Terry?”
“I was wondering how Tommy was doing, Mr. O’Hara?”
“You were wondering...so am I, Terry--Tommy’s a goddamn
fag, worse--a male prostitute--giving blow jobs to the truckers on
the West Side--he’s a junkie.”
O’Hara studied Terry’s face in the dimly lit bar. Terry figured
the old man was just waiting for anyone to wisecrack about Tommy
and then he was going to unload.
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247
“Jesus, Mr. O’Hara, I don’t know what to say, I grew up with
your sons. They were the best, the fucking best.”
O’Hara relaxed, “I heard about you mother, Terry, we’re all
sorry to hear about her--get yourself a good union job, a nice girl,
and you’ll be okay.”
Terry was still stunned about Mickey as he looked down the
bar at the Friday night crowd. For the first time in his adult life, he
felt like an observer at the Golden Orchid, and not a participant.
“Elizabeth Sullivan, you know from the Sullivans next to me-the nurse, well anyway, she’s joined the Peace Corps. The family is
heartbroken, what the hell is she doing in Africa, we ask ourselves-helping jigaboos. She should be here helping her own...help your
own first, I say,” said O’Hara angrily, wiping the beer suds from his
small creased mouth.
Elizabeth, thought Terry, sweet Elizabeth, who cried after she
let him touch her in Crotona Park...a Peace Corps volunteer, good
for you, Elizabeth, Terry said to himself, good for you, Elizabeth.
“Help your own,” said the wiry old man, pounding the bar.
“Does anybody care how Brits are treating the Irish in the north?”
said O’Hara in anguish. “The world thinks because the English grow
nice lawns that they couldn’t possibly be killers.” He laughed
wickedly, and then he started to sob uncontrollably.
The men at the dark mahogany bar huddled around O’Hara
and comforted him with soft words and sweet Irish ballads. Sooner
or later every one of them would need this kind of support for one
reason or another. The hard wall that drinking created would crack
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eventually, and all the pain, anger, frustration, and misery that
came with knowing they had wasted their lives, would pour out, and
the shell that would be left would not be a man, but a drinking
machine that said good morning and looked at the sports pages of
the Daily News, and kissed the wife on the cheek before leaving for
the bar where they would try to remember what every brick in the
house back in the old country looked like when they were young,
not realizing that that was the only way they allowed themselves to
think of themselves, that in their past as young men they had
dreams of a glorious life, and now they had no dreams, but they
could not face that.
Later that evening Terry talked to old friends about old
stickball games, and old fights, and anything else that had not
happened in the past 10 years. He pretended to be interested in
their words, but each conversation seemed to be robbing him of
more and more air until he began to feel like he was suffocating. He
was about to walk out when Ernie came in. Ernie was an engineering
graduate from City College who had argued with Terry many times
about Kennedy. Ernie was Irish and Polish, the combination never
clicked as far as Terry was concerned, although it was often said
that Irish blood could mix with anything--look at those native girls
in the south seas with Irish fathers who were sailors, the old-timers
would say at the bar, although most of them had never ventured
further than Coney Island since coming from the other side.
Terry and Ernie exchanged pleasantries, but Terry knew what
was coming.
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“Well, I guess we’ll never know what could have happened,”
said Ernie, plunging into the crowded bar to order a beer. Old man
O’Hara was still bawling in the background.
Ernie, what the fuck kind of name was Ernie? Terry thought. It
couldn’t be Irish or Polish, it was probably Italian? He watched Ernie
deftly step among the regulars and get his brew, Terry could see
Ernie’s smugness rising from him, mingling with the blue-tinged
cigarette smoke floating above the bar like a nuclear cloud. Ernie,
Terry remembered, had always been a bully with his mouth, not his
fists. He was always the one on the block, or in the schoolyard, who
could make a smaller kid cry just by using the cruelty of his mouth.
Later, he went to City College at night, and worked passionately as a
volunteer to get Richard Nixon elected.
“Yeah,” drawled Ernie, “I guess we’ll never know how great
Kennedy could have been.” Then, as if to cap off his thought, he
chug-a-lugged his freshly drawn beer, wiping the foam from his
mouth with his tongue.
“Now don’t get me wrong,” he said with a sneer hiding behind
his words, “I don’t like to see anybody get killed--”
“Not even somebody who beat Nixon?” Terry replied
argumentatively. He wanted to shove Ernie’s empty beer glass down
his throat.
Ernie smiled, and ordered another glass of beer on the bones
of Kennedy.
“The trouble with you, Terry,” said Ernie reaching over the
bar for his beer, “is you believe in dreams. This place is nothing but
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people who had dreams at one time. I come in here every Friday
night to remind myself what being a dreamer can do to you.
Kennedy was a dreamer, pouring tap beer for 180,000,000 people at
a time, and what has the country got to show for it?” Ernie said
meanly.
Terry positioned himself against the partition that separated
the bar from the tables and finished his beer without answering
Ernie.
Suddenly, Ernie became solemn. “I broke up with Elizabeth,
because of Kennedy; filling her head with taking care of the world,
now who’s she doing it for?” he said violently.
“Herself, Ernie, she’s doing it for herself,” Terry said, thinking:
good for you, Elizabeth, good for you.
“Kennedy won by less than 1 percent, that’s not a mandate for
a dogcatcher,” Ernie scowled.
“He was a Catholic, he had more of a hill to climb,” Terry
replied, wanting to get the hell out of there, but also wanting cruel
mouth to say something so bad he would feel good about putting a
chair over his head.
Ernie went to the bar for another beer. Terry could see Ernie’s
brain trying to find the right words, his mouth moving ever so
slightly, rehearsing itself for the kill.
Terry looked around the Golden Orchid, the old drinkers and
their sons were moving in slow motion, their bodies trying to catch
up with their brains, the drink making them feel like kings, their
reality shaped for the moment by successive beers, and some were
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now brave enough to search the booths for the bar whores--who-ers
as they said in the Bronx--who would be waiting like Queens.
Knowing the lads would have to cow-tow to them, listen to their
troubles, buy them drinks before they would give anything away.
One of the Queens, whose specialty, if you were patient
enough to hear her life story, was a hand job from your pants
pocket, had once told Terry when he was 17, a secret she thought
ungodly--she knew how to masturbate, she said, looking up as if the
roof of heaven was going to fall on her for revealing such a thing.
Yes, after the talk, and the booze, the boners would always come,
and men not able to talk to another woman but their wives, would
find their way to the Queens, who grew more regal in their eyes as
the evening drew to a close.
Ernie returned to his place and did not say anything, but
drank his beer enjoyably.
Terry wanted to leave now, but this bastard was not going to
denigrate the accomplishments of a great man, he said to himself.
Come on, Ernie, lets hear it, you schoolyard creep.
“Johnson will do right by this country,” Ernie said allknowingly. “He’s not a goddamn dreamer, but a doer. Nixon will be
back though, I predict that.”
Close but no cigar, you asshole, Terry said to himself, now
confident that Ernie would not be able to get to him intentionally,
now realizing that it was the unintentional denigration of the
president that hurt the most, whereas the intentional denigration
would have to be more cunning and more vicious than even the
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Ernies of the world could come up with to hurt him. Because
logically, these people had always hated Kennedy and they did not
count.
Ernie was now movement on a screen, and the sound system
was fucked up, thought Terry, as he headed for the swinging
padded doors of the Orchid, its portholes revealing the grimy street
outside in two ovals, one on each door.
The girders of the El loomed angrily over him, and Terry still
felt like he was suffocating. He turned to study the Kennedy
photograph in the window, and for a moment there was peace, but
soon the El train roared by, shaking the photograph of Kennedy
violently, causing Terry to take it personally. He looked up at the
rumbling El train as it spewed sparks. “Fuck you,” he said as the El
train came to a screeching stop on Tremont Avenue.
Andrew Koslowski had an office in a building that faced Union
Square Park on 16th Street. The 14-story building was unusual in
the sense that it was only three-windows wide, and had a Greek
Revival facade. There was a concrete balcony on the third floor that
was part of the facade and faced Koslowski’s office.
“Thanks for coming, Terry,” said Koslowski, from behind his
giant oak desk positioned to the left of the balcony in front of a wall
so that he could look out at Union Square Park if he wanted to.
Koslowski’s tie was loose, and his white shirt stained with sweat,
although it was only March. On the wall behind Koslowski hung
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dozens of photographs of presidents, union leaders, movie stars, the
Mayor of New York, and a few comedians.
Terry studied the autographed picture of Kennedy hanging
just above Koslowski’s head and wondered why it had center stage.
Koslowski had not indicated any great respect for Kennedy on the
trip.
“I won’t mince words, Terry. There’s a communication grant
that I’ve just been authorized to give. Most in my pool of labor
organizations would probably prefer that the grant be given to
Mike’s--Martin Luther King’s--organization, but I’d like to see SNCC
get it.”
He looked like Lee J. Cobb, thought Terry, amazingly like Lee J.
Cobb in On The Waterfront.
“An expanded Watts line network is essential for the kind of
field work SNCC is doing in the deep South,” he said convincingly.
“The grant will also cover monies for new typewriters, duplicators,
walkie talkies and other expenses needed for an expanded
communication grid including housing and postage costs. This is an
important grant, Terry, a lot of mucho bucks, so I have to make sure
it’s spent wisely.”
“I’m sure you will, Andrew,” replied Terry, somehow feeling
distant from Koslowski’s comments, unconnected, as if Koslowski
were there on the same movie screen as Ernie.
“Not so easy,” he said authoritatively, “SNCC, as you might
have observed, Terry, is considered a loose cannon among other
civil rights organizations. I believe in what they’re doing, and I like
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their brash style, but they’re a very close-knit organization. Frankly,
it’s difficult to penetrate their Negro hierarchy--they only trust a few
whites, and they’re smart enough to know how to be vague in their
bookkeeping so I really don’t have a good handle on how the money
is spent. I--”
Andrew’s sound system was conking out too, thought Terry.
Better get a question in there, something, think of something, Terry.
“I don’t mean to be rude, Andrew, but what does this have to
do with me?” Terry said, suddenly feeling bemused, wondering what
Mr. Blood and Guts was going to come up with this time, hoping that
Koslowski would say something so disagreeable, he could just get up
and walk out.
“Let me continue, Terry,” replied Koslowski, lighting a cigar
and arching back in his chair.
“Alison Cox has become smitten with you, first Cynthia now
Alison, the girls do love you, Terry,” Koslowski said, smiling with
great confidence. “Anyway, she called me yesterday, she’s SNCC’s
lobby, so to speak, on this grant. One of the few white people they
trust, in my opinion. She lobbied heavily, but also spent a lot of
time asking me questions about your future plans, that’s when I got
the idea.”
Terry wanted to ask immediately what idea Koslowski was
referring to, but forced himself to remain silent.
Koslowski looked down at his cigar for a moment, leaned
forward, and said, “I want to make sure the money is used wisely,
she likes you a lot, SNCC likes her a lot, what the hell?”
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“You want me to spy for you--you know what you can do with
that idea, Andrew,” Terry said forcefully, almost ready to get up and
leave Lee. J. Cobb on the fatest piers in America.
“Not exactly, Terry,” answered Koslowski calmly. “I need a
coordinator for the grant, someone who can work with those people.
I just can’t give the amount I’m talking about to them unless the
paperwork is done properly. They’re like missionaries who go into
the jungle to save souls--lousy record keepers.”
“I’m not your man, Andrew--I got other things on my mind,”
Terry said, looking straight at Koslowski.
“I saw your face down there on our trip, Terry, you wanted to
help, I could see you screaming inside to help. SNCC won’t survive
without grants like this, I can tell you that. Is that what you want to
see, Terry? This grant will help put them on the map, it will be
terrific for their resume, other organizations will see what we
contributed and get on the bandwagon. SNCC is still a mystery to
many white organizations.”
“They’re putting themselves on the map, Andrew, by putting
their ass on the line.”
“And grants like the one I’m authorized to give can only help
them, save lives in fact. They need this equipment, Terry, if only to
save lives. Those good old boys this summer are not going to mess
around. A good communication network is absolutely essential when
you’re going to do field work in the deep South--look, think about it,
it would only be for a few weeks until we get the program off the
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ground, and look: how many young men get such an opportunity to
be part of history, and be with a girl like Alison?”
Terry looked into Andrew’s cunning brown eyes. They were
the eyes of a man who knew every dirty trick in the business. A man
who had seen brother fight brother brother in the union wars, a
man who could be kind one moment and a bastard the next.
“I just never thought about anything like this,” Terry replied,
wondering if Andrew would really bypass SNCC and give the funds
to another organization. It was almost as if Andrew had set him up
to take this offer: the field trip, meeting Alison, but there was his
mother and Neil.
“Think about it, Terry,” Koslowski said like a Dutch Uncle.
Koslowski’s voice was soft, reassuring, his eyes now bright with
optimism, his face grinning with kindness.
“Giving money away is an art, Terry, you have to know how to
do it,” he added. And then almost as if he had planned it, the
phones started ringing, and Koslowski’s secretary scurried in and
out of the office with paperwork to sign.
As he left Koslowski’s office, Terry was still not sure Koslowski
really wanted him, and he wondered if that really made a difference
anyway.
At Bellevue Terry was visited by two New York detectives. They
used Buster’s tiny office to ask Terry questions about Neil. After
denying he had seen Neil they became aggressive.
“His mother said you saw him in the Bronx, Mr. Chandler.”
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“She drinks a lot, I understand, and is often confused.”
“This kid stabbed an adult, and now he’s escaped
observation--we don’t consider him salvageable anymore,” said the
smaller of the two detectives, a mean-spirited man with a bad
complexion. “We’re going to get his ass off the street one way or
another, Mr. Chandler.”
“I wish I could help you, gentlemen, Neil is just one of dozens
of boys that I work with here.”
“His mother says you’re a bad influence on him. She thinks
you’re trying to get Neil to leave the city,” the smaller detective
continued aggressively.
“I don’t know why she said that,” Terry said defensively,
trying very hard not to denigrate Neil’s mother, but knowing he had
to be convincing.
“You seem like a reasonable young guy,” said the other
detective, a tall, thin man, with an almost saintly persona.
“Look, if I could help I would,” Terry said, knowing general
answers would displease them. “I’ve been up to Neil’s place, but he’s
never been there when I’ve tried to see him.”
“He’s around, we know that; it would be better if he turned
himself in,” said the smaller detective.
“Better for whom?” Terry shot back, knowing he couldn’t keep
his temper in check too much longer.
“Better for society,” said the smaller detective. “This kid is a
menace. He’s threatened his mother’s friends if they visit her.”
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“Friends?” replied Terry in a disgusted tone of voice. “You call
some guy ready to stick his dick in his mother’s mouth a friend?”
The smaller detective turned to the other cop. “See these
fucking do-gooders are all alike, I told you it was better to get him
down to the station house.”
The saintly detective said, “We know you care about the
boy,that’s why we’re here. If you can tell us anything about the
boy’s habits, where he might be, it would be a great help.”
Knowing they would not give a truthful answer, Terry asked,
“What’s going to happen to him if he’s caught?”
“A slap on the wrist,” said the smaller detective.
“I thought you said he was a menace, they don’t give menaces
a slap on the wrist, do they?” retorted Terry.
“He’s in serious trouble,” said the saintly detective, “but not
anything he couldn’t get out of, witnesses for the boy like yourself
would help him a lot as character references.
Terry trembled inside at the thought of Neil being sent away
until he was 21 but knew he couldn’t help Neil by antagonizing the
two detectives any more than he had already.
Although it was difficult, he pretended to be a cooperative
witness for the rest of the interview. Oddly, he noticed, his sudden
change in attitude did not seem to please the smaller detective, who
constantly stared at him with pinpoint pupils.
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On the same day Terry was going to call Cynthia, she called him.
They agreed to go to the movies around Third Avenue and 60th
Street and take pot luck with whatever was showing in the area.
Cynthia became agitated when she saw Terry standing on the
line for Zulu. “I know these movies,” she said. “They portray the
white as noble and heroic and the African as less than human. The
British are good at this: they lost the battle, and yet the movie, I’m
sure, is about their heroism against a bunch of savages. They’ve
managed to take this historic battle with the Zulus and turn it into a
psychological victory. I will not see this kind of movie, Terry, I will
not,” she said excitedly.
The movie-goers on line for Zulu peered at Cynthia, obviously
disgusted with her opinion. Some, Terry guessed, wondering if she
wasn’t right after all.
They settled for Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love. The
movie turned out to be a pleasant surprise for Terry, and Cynthia
seemed to relax as soon as Sean Connery appeared on the screen.
After the movie they went downtown to the Village Vanguard to see
Burt Dale, the musician Terry had met in Washington Square Park.
Dale was playing piano for an up-and-coming tenor sax player and
had been mentioned in an article Terry had seen in the Village
Voice.
They arrived just before the second set. The Vanguard was
smoky and lively, with lots of chatter, and the usual scurrying back
and forth to the bar by the waitresses. Terry and Cynthia got a table
by the bar.
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“Andrew spoke to me about the grant, Terry, I’m so excited for
you,” Cynthia said after they had ordered drinks.
That bastard, Terry thought. Koslowski knew Cynthia could
put pressure on him. He knew he had feelings for her.
“I’m thinking about it, I just wonder why he’s going through
all the trouble,” Terry said skeptically.
“Because he likes you, silly, why wouldn’t he? You’re bright,
you’re personable, you care about people, and you’re somewhat of a
stoic, what’s not to like?”
Terry felt embarrassed by Cynthia’s comments. She was
beaming however. Her silky brown hair cut short; cute to a fault in
her pretty pink woolen sweater and white blouse. Her lips painted in
a sensuous bright red, the fragrance of her perfume exotic.
“The Mississippi Voting Project will be a watershed in the Civil
Rights Movement, Terry. You’ll have a chance to live the words
Kennedy said, ‘Ask not what--”
“I know the words, Cynthia, it’s just that maybe I’m better
suited for one-on-one.”
The waitress slapped the drinks on the table. When she left,
Cynthia,with a sudden hard look on her face, asked, “What does that
mean?”
“It means maybe just helping one person like Neil instead of a
whole race, is all I can handle.”
“You think you’re going to help anyone by being out of a job
and having no future, Terry? You’ll meet important people this
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summer...with the GI bill, you’ll be able to go back to college and
have a real degree.”
“Don’t knock my A.A.S., I worked damn hard to get it, going
for it in the evenings got me a job at McGraw-Hill.”
“Okay, I’m sorry,” she said, touching his hand. “It’s just that
you have so much more potential.”
“We’ll talk about it, okay?”
There was a long pause for her response. She finally smiled,
and for a moment he thought everything was okay, but she
continued smiling, and all at once it seemed as if the cute girl in the
pink sweater and penny loafers had left the table. She stared at him
without comment and then slowly stuck out her tongue and
sensuously wiped her lips with it. He knew he would not have sex
with her, but he knew she needed to keep in touch with life outside
her apartment and the hospital, so this time he was not bothered by
her suggestiveness.
The set started moments later.
The rising tenor star opened with “Parisian Throughfare.” The
first solo was handed over to Burt Dale. His left hand was dazzling,
Terry thought, as Dale built his solo layer upon layer, bending every
note until it sounded brand new, taking sudden side trips of soaring
imagination, and only returning to familiar ground when the
listener least suspected it. Terry thought of Birdland when he was a
teenager--the thrill of seeing the pages of Downbeat come alive. The
management thought he was too young to even sit in the bleachers,
instead he would always be seated in a dark corner where he would
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eat a chicken sandwich and drink an orange juice to cover the
minimum--$2.75.
At the end of the set Terry visited Dale in the quasi-dressing
room between the kitchen and the bathroom. Dale was seated on a
small stool drinking a beer. He looked pensive and withdrawn but
recognized Terry.
“The man in the park,” he said, sticking out his hand. “Don’t
mind if I don’t look too happy to see you, it’s what happens when
I’m not sticking anything in my arm.”
“Exploitation of the Negro masses by the criminal element,”
Cynthia blurted out.
“Your lady friend’s got it,” smiled Dale, “only the person who
stuck the needle in my arm was me,” he said, condemning himself.
“You should be complimented for your candor, Mr. Dale,” said
Cynthia, gushing. “You don’t even know us.”
“Oh, I know you,” he said from his stool. “I’ve known you all
my life.”
Cynthia turned red.
“The music was great, and that’s why we’re here,” Terry said.
“Do you have any albums?”
Dale took a swig of beer. “I’m on a lot of albums but they’re
not my albums,” he answered pensively. “When I die I hope there
will be a Dale section at Sam Goody’s but I doubt it. Some critics say
I make the piano look too easy. The public doesn’t HEAR the
creative--sheeet, you don’t need your eyes to tell you that, that’s
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what you got ears for man, it’s just hard to get a record deal. If I was
white and played the way I did? Man, I don’t know.”
“You’re too good not to make it,” Terry said.
“You think so?” replied Dale, sounding like a little boy. “It
seems the only way a Negro musician gets recognition from white
America is when they die. That’s no fun.”
Terry said a few more complimentary words and left. During
most of the conversation, Cynthia seemed to be flirting with Dale.
He wondered if she really meant it.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN
She looked so wholesome and innocent, thought Terry, as Cynthia
fixed tea for him. A photograph of Duke Ellington now hung on the
wall over the stove.
Cynthia talked about Burt Dale for a few minutes and then
took her panties off without missing a beat. She seemed to enjoy
Terry’s puzzled expression as she swung the panties around her
finger.
“I read about Billie Holiday, Terry, you know what female
performers had to do when they sang for tips in Harlem?”
He knew but didn’t answer. There was no doubt now in his
mind, Negroes, and the Negro cause were an obsession with Cynthia,
and somehow had merged with the Sex Goddess. He was seeing a
new creation now, The Negro Emancipator as Sex Goddess. Or were
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these two creatures still apart? Was picking up tips with the lips of
your vagina still in the Exploitation-of-Negroes category?
She put her panties on the edge of the kitchen sink and lifted
her skirt.
“Go ahead, Terry, put a dollar on the table.I’ve been
practicing. You kind of see the Negro woman’s perspective from a
different angle when you try to do it yourself. You can’t possibly
feel good about it.”
Terry would have protested as a matter of conscience but
suspected it would do little good. He wondered just what the doctors
knew that he didn’t.
He said, in a light way, “I was hoping we would just have a
normal evening.”
The Sex Goddess as Negro Emancipator (or was it the other
way around) pondered Terry’s comment with an expressionless look
on her face.
“You mean fingers in the panties, hand jobs, blow jobs,
screwing, that sort of stuff?” she replied, smiling slightly and taking
a deep breath which caused an odd expression to form on her face,
and made Terry nervous.
“Relaxing, talking to each other, enjoying each other’s
company,” Terry replied anxiously. “That’s what I meant.”
“Please put the dollar on the table, honey, but not too far from
the edge,” she replied coquettishly.
“Look--”
“No, first applaud, Terry, then throw the dollar on the table.”
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Did those doctors know what they were doing? he wondered.
“Please, Terry, it’s important to me, honest it is.”
He clapped reluctantly as Cynthia looked past him at the few
hundred people seated in the nightclub. Then she held her chin up,
turned her head from left to right, smiled, and prodded him with
her eyes to throw the dollar bill, now in his hand, on the table.
He did.
She lifted her skirt, held the edges, and made a dainty attempt
to lift the dollar, almost like a curtsey, but couldn’t. She continued
trying for the next ten minutes, but still failed. She then tore her
skirt off, and continued trying while sobbing at the same time.
“I can do it, damn it, I can do it.”
“Please, Cynthia--”
“I can do it, I can do it.”
Terry quietly got up from the table and drew Cynthia into his
arms.
“Andrew told me about the clinic,” he said softly. “I
understand you’re doing great.”
“Can’t even pick up a dollar with my pussy,” she replied
tearily.
“Cynthia, you’ve got to pull yourself together.”
She pulled away from him, her face was streaked with
mascara, she suddenly seemed okay.
“I can’t be part of the Mississippi Voting Project this summer,
Terry. I’m not going anywhere for a long time, the doctors are
watching me real closely.” She picked up her woolen skirt off the
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floor and held it in the palm of her hand as if it belonged to
someone else, much the same way a clerk in a dry cleaning store
might hold it.
After putting on a pair of tight-fitting jeans, she finally poured
Terry his tea and continued her conversation as if there had been
no pause in it.
“That’s why I want you to go so badly, when you’re down
there it will be like we’re both down there helping the Negro, you
know what I mean Terry?”
“What is it you exactly have, Cynthia?” he asked, while
Cynthia sat pensively staring at his tea.
“They’re not sure. They can’t make up their minds if it’s
treatable with drugs or intensive therapy, or a combination of
both...sometimes I want to go back to the hospital and stay there,
but they won’t let me, they think the longer I’m out the better; they
know Andrew is keeping tabs on me. My parents, of course, are out
of town and basically out of my life.”
“You’re going to get well, Cynthia, I just know it.”
She smiled at him, and gently placed his hand on her crotch.
She then took his forefinger and manipulated it back and forth.
It was some sort of test, Terry suspected. To pass it he would
have to masturbate her. Prove to her that she was still attractive to
him. Prove to her that he still thought of her as a healthy young
woman. But it wasn’t right, or was it? What should he do? Maybe he
was making too much out of it, no, that wasn’t right. He wanted to
make love to a woman who knew what she was doing, who had all
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her facilities. On the other hand, was it more destructive to reject
her? Did the doctors know what they were doing? Was he letting the
old chestnut, Catholic guilt, get in the way? To hell with it, he would
do what he felt was right. That was the only thing he could go by.
He pulled his hand away.
“Please, Terry,” she pleaded.
But he would not do it, and she got up and ran into the
bedroom sobbing.
Cynthia fell asleep listening to Billy Holiday records.
Terry was studying a catalogue from New York University
when his phone rang.
“It’s Alison, I was speaking to Andrew, he mentioned the grant,
and well...you know.”
The call caught Terry off-guard, he hadn’t decided what he
was going to do, his mother could die at any minute, and there was
still Neil, he couldn’t do anything until he was satisfied that Neil was
going to be okay.
“Koslowski just wants a snitch down there,” Terry said coldly.
There was no immediate reply, but he thought he heard a
giggle.
“What the hell’s so funny, Alison?”
“Some friends of ours over at the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference and the NA of P, said that’s how he operates,
he’s real paranoid about his grants, and that’s why so many
organizations trust him with their money.”
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“Shit, I’m no snitch, Alison, and that’s that.”
“We need the money, Terry, should I tell you how much we
need the money?”
“If I was interested, I’d tell him, I’m no snitch.”
“We don’t want him to get mad at you, Terry, we need him on
our side.”
“Look, I don’t want to get involved in this political bullshit, get
someone else to coordinate the grant.”
“He likes you, Terry.”
“Well, I don’t think I’m doing it.”
“Terry,” she said softly, “I know you have deep principles, but
it’s too late for us to go over Andrew’s head--the grant would be a
godsend, the Mississippi Voting Project is only a couple of months
away, all you would have to do is call it like you see it...honest.”
“I don’t know, Alison.”
“It’s important to us, Terry, it could save lives in the field.”
Terry could feel the pressure, he wanted to help, but why did
it always have to be on someone else’s terms?
“I’ll think about it.”
“It’s a tough call for you, Terry, I know that,” said Alison, full
of insight, and seemingly so understanding.
Her voice rising, she added, “But what we’re going to
accomplish this summer in Mississippi, you’ll remember for the rest
of your life.”
“I’ll give it some thought.”
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There was a moment’s hesitation before Alison said, “I’m really
looking forward to seeing you in Atlanta, Terry, very much, in fact.”
He said good night to her and thought about her holding his
mother’s hand in the hospital and singing an Irish folk song. It was a
beautiful moment, and in its Irishness, in its perfection of the sad
moment, his mind drifted to photographs of little Caroline greeting
her father as he got off Air Force One. And of the president walking
on the beach, photographs that he had thought of with elation and
warm feelings now turned around by tragedy, reversed, so that all
the happiness he had gotten from them in the past was now all the
sadness he got from them.
Craig, the recreational director of PQ5, and Ph.D. candidate,
phoned Terry and told him there would be a boat ride around
Manhattan for the children and teenage patients in the psychiatric
wards, and hoped he would come. Terry said he would.
The boat ride around Manhattan was scheduled for four in the
afternoon. It was a cold, blustery, March day, but the sun was out,
and Terry took advantage of its radiant warmth as he leaned over
the railing of the aging cruise ship, and studied the reflection of the
boat in the water.
“We have a ride in the summer too,” said Graig, also leaning
on the railing. “An old lady on Sutton Place pays for the trip--you
should see the weird donations we get from these people--cartons of
shoe polish, old clothes you wouldn’t give to a drunk in the street,
crap like that...look, Terry, you’re the best volunteer I’ve seen here,
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but those two creepy detectives are putting pressure on me, they
think you know where Neil is.”
“If I did I wouldn’t tell them.”
“They’re real assholes, Terry. They get people where they’re
vulnerable, they’re going to stop you from coming to PQ5 if you
don’t cooperate.”
“There’s nothing I can do about it,” said Terry, lighting up a
Camel as the wind picked up velocity and slapped hard waves
against the bow. March was a dumb time to have a boat ride for
kids, he thought, as Graig’s face became increasingly agitated.
“Those detectives are really messing around in the front office,
Terry, I get the impression that they’re implying that Neil got a little
help to escape from the ward, now I know that’s not true, but those
guys are real assholes, they don’t like the idea of a kid who stabbed
someone roaming the streets.”
“You know the facts of the case,” Terry said defensively as the
boat slowly left its mooring and headed up the choppy Hudson
River. The March wind had increased to the point where passengers
were holding onto their coats, hats, and handbags.
“That kid from Germany, the one who cleaned under the
tables, nobody seems to care what happened to him,” Terry said,
after a long silence, already knowing the reply Craig would give.
“He hadn’t done anything violent, Terry, anyway a relative is
taking care of him, Neil doesn’t have anybody.”
“He does a pretty good job of taking care of himself I think,
and he’s got me if he needs me,” Terry said, as he turned from the
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railing and looked at Craig directly. “You know, I’m not to sure
about this program anyway.”
“It’s the love and respect they get from aides and volunteers
like yourself,” said Graig, suddenly with a faraway look in his eyes.
“We’ve touched someplace in their hearts that hasn’t been touched,
the ones that do want to leave make it most of the time.”
“I’m beginning to think this whole program is bullshit, Graig.
Some of these kids are getting institutionalized--they don’t want to
go home.”
Graig took a deep breath. “Look, I don’t want to argue with
you, Terry, if Neil comes back he avoids reform school.”
“And what are those upstate institutions you have? vacation
lands?”
Graig’s eyes now looked even more faraway. “Try not to get
too attached to these kids, Terry, you know that.”
“What am I supposed to get attached to?” Terry said, as the
boat lurched violently--Jesus, what the hell kind of a boat ride is
this?”
Craig smiled in a bemused sort of way. “Pretty rough, isn’t it?”
he said, his eyes still faraway.
Terry tried to close the distant between them. “It’s hard not to
feel for these kids, Graig, it wouldn’t be human if you didn’t. It’s a
fucking mess, fag shrinks running around, Black Muslims aides who
think all whites are devils...I’m not telling you anything you don’t
know.”
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“Terry, like I said, you’re the best volunteer we’ve ever had,
the boys like you a lot, but you can’t take the place home with you,”
Graig’s eyes not as faraway now, maybe close to New York.
“Look let’s change the subject, there’s is something else I
wanted to talk to you about since you’ve been down South
recently.”
By now Terry could hear a few patients throwing up as the
water became choppier.
“We’ve got flyers at colleges about the Mississippi Summer
Project, my wife and I are thinking about volunteering, what do you
think?” Craig asked, his eyes now on board the cruise ship.
“I think it’s going to be dangerous, they crack heads down
there,” Terry said, while looking at two African-American aides
taking swigs of whiskey from a brown paper bag, the children sat
inside the cabin, listlessly.
“My wife is pregnant.”
“Then I don’t think it’s a good idea, Graig.”
“Gee, I didn’t really believe that violence crap, there doesn’t
seem to be much about it in the papers.”
He liked Graig, but for a Ph.D. candidate, he didn’t know very
much, it seemed, about the world. They had once had a discussion
about Vietnam and Graig had thought it was still a French colony.
Terry looked at Craig sternly. “Everyday Negroes from
organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,
and local organizations, are getting their heads cracked and thrown
into jail, Graig. The feeling is when some nice middle-class white
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kids from the North get their faces bashed and call mommy and
daddy, it’s going to get in the papers.”
“Jesus, that’s cynical, Terry...really cynical. I mean, I want to
help, so does my wife, but shit, if she’s going to get pushed around I
can’t do it.”
Terry looked at Graig and wondered if he would want him
alongside of him if he went into combat. He thought about the court
martials he had sat in on as a Courts and Boards clerk, and how the
military court always asked the witnesses whether they would want
to go into combat with the accused. For a long time he had thought
the question foolish, because no matter how favorable the answer
was for the accused it never seemed to have an impact on the court
when the accused was found guilty, but lately he had wondered
about such a question. Mario, he was sure, would fight bravely, and
certainly not rat on a fellow prisoner if captured. Graig, however, as
much as he liked him, would probably keep his head down to save
his hide, or probably rat on fellow prisoners to get better treatment.
There was no way to really tell, but Graig did emanate a certain
weakness of character. He was made for academia, and academia
was made for him.
“I wanted to help, I really did,” said Graig forlornly as the boat
churned up the murky waters of the Hudson and the children of
Bellevue confined themselves to the wooden cabin of the boat, away
from the sun and the spray of the Hudson, away from reality which
always hurt them and treated them as expendable.
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Terry found Neil hiding on the adjoining roof just behind his
pigeon coop. It had been difficult, but Terry convinced Neil to come
with him to the St. Patrick’s Day parade.
The day was overcast and breezy. They stood on the top of the
steps of the Protestant church on 52nd and Fifth. Terry had
discovered as a youngster that if you stood on the lower step you
could move up the steps as people on their lunch hour left, until
finally you got a grand view, as the Irish might say, from the top
step.
Neil was quiet until they got midway up the church steps. “I
don’t know anything about the Irish,” he said as if he wouldn’t want
to know anything about the Irish.
“You don’t have to, Neil, just enjoy the parade,” Terry said,
hoping none of the Irish on the steps heard Neil.
“Bagpipes don’t turn me on,” Neil said defiantly. At that point
Terry got some hard stares from the Irish standing next to him,
particularly a group of laborers brandishing beer cans.
“Give it a chance, Neil, it’s a lot of fun, look--here they come.”
The bagpipers, resplendent in their plaids and tassels, were
marching in step, waiting to cross 50th Street, marching in time to
the beat of the old country, conjuring it up like so many witch
doctors, thinking if they thought the right thoughts, and moved the
right way, and pounded the drum exactly like it was supposed to be
pounded, the world would understand what it was to be Irish. It had
been easier to be Irish under Kennedy, now it was going to be
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tougher again, especially in the North--the troubles, they called
it.Most of the world never understood the suppression and brutality
against the Irish in Northern Ireland by the Protestant majority.
Oddly, Terry speculated, the Scotch Presbyterian ancestry who
fostered this brutality were the same stock that settled in the South
in the 1700s and helped begin slavery--suddenly, there was a
crescendo of sound. Felt, in fact, before it could be seen. Neil’s eyes
lit up. “That ain’t Irish playing,” Neil said happily.
“How do you know?”
“I know,” he said smiling and pursing his lower lip, which he
often did to let Terry know he was just as smart as any adult.
The marching band was still three blocks away. The viewers on
the church steps craned their necks to see the oncoming explosion
of sound. The band, in yellow and blue, were marching in place as
the Irish bagpipers had previously done, but this band had a
majorette whose legs moved high in the air as the brass section
swayed side to side in perfect unison. Unlike the Irish band, the
notes stretched longer and were more playful--less sorrowful, almost
competitive, saying we’re the fucking best no matter how you try
and fuck with us. The band’s playing, in fact, burst forth with such
power, the city seemed to be theirs as it never would be at any other
time, captured for the moment and held prisoner by the PAL band
from Harlem. Finally, as the PAL band stepped off in front of St.
Patrick’s Cathedral, the music reached such a level of
expressiveness, and became so emotional, that even the police
guarding the avenue stopped what they were doing to look. And the
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PAL band from Harlem didn’t just put one foot in front of the other
when they marched: they strutted, and stridded, and swung their
instruments high in the air with fierce energy as if the white crowd
on both sides were a gauntlet that had to be mesmerized, lest they
become dangerous and forget it was just a parade.
Terry looked at Neil who was not smiling now, but stood
motionless, seemingly unaffected by the power of the PAL band.
What was he thinking? What was he feeling? Terry wondered.
“Niggers,” said one of the white Irish laborers.
After the parade, Terry took Neil to a coffee shop just outside the
skating rink at Rockefeller Center. When they finished eating Terry
suggested that they walk inside some of the buildings. Neil asked a
few questions about the paintings on the lobby ceiling of the RCA
building, but otherwise seemed indifferent to being thrust into a
completely different environment than the one he was familiar with.
Terry felt disappointed and questioned himself. He certainly
hadn’t expected Neil to get wildly excited about watching a bunch of
Irish walk up an avenue painted with a green stripe. And just
because he loved to walk around the RCA building, didn’t mean that
was for everybody. So what did he want from the kid? Did he want
the same thing from Neil as others wanted from him--to do the best
for himself based on what they believed was the best for him? Or
was it what they believed was the best for him, based on what was
the best for them? He hated needfulness, because it was never
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exposed for what it was, it was always lurking behind statements
like, I’m doing it for your own good. When in fact the only good it
was for was the person making the statement who had a need to do
something for somebody’s own good.
As far as Terry knew, the only thing he wanted from Neil was to
be able to help him. But wasn’t that a needfulness of sorts? He didn’t
have an answer, but somebody had to help Neil, he was convinced
of that.
It was late afternoon when they took the Lexington Avenue
subway to 149th Street to change for the El train. As they waited for
the El to pull into the tracks, Terry grieved at the urban cancer that
was eating the Bronx and wondered why the politicians weren’t
noticing it. But that was a stupid assumption, he chided himself.
Sure they noticed it, but people working for a minimum wage or
being on welfare didn’t have much clout. And maybe, the politicians
figured, Uncle Sugar would take care of the problem.
The decay now was so much a part of Neil’s life, Terry
wondered if he noticed it at all, But how do you notice what you
don’t have? Terry could still remember when the welfare authorities
took him away one spring afternoon right from the classroom. He
hadn’t known his mother was sick (he never did find out the
sickness). They placed him with a family in a section of the Bronx
called Classen Point. Classen Point was as small-town America as the
Bronx could ever be: it was close to the water, there were boats and
American flags on lawns, and most of all it had something that
seemed unbelievable to a 10-year-old boy who had lived all his life
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in tenement buildings, it had apartments with an upstairs and a
downstairs--they called them houses. He was stunned at first that he
could go upstairs and downstairs in the same place. He had not
thought of this, or wanted this, because he didn’t know such a thing
existed, but now he knew what it was to live in a house, and it was a
good thing, the only thing if you had the money, but he had not
known, and would not have known for a long time had he not been
placed in one.
The El train pulled into the track, there was only service now
from 149th Street. Once a person could take it all the way from
Chinatown.
Terry had seen the Bronx before the burnt-out buildings, he
had a frame of reference, he thought, as the train began its journey
to Gun Hill Road. Surely Neil could not have thought that the decay
was acceptable. Certainly he must realize that he didn’t have to live
on a roof? That life could be better for him? Because if life could not
be better for him, then it could be better for no one.
They reached the Clairmont Parkway stop in about 14
minutes. Neil was moody and did not talk during the trip, or when
they left the grimy station.
When they reached his building, Neil ran straight up the stairs
two at a time. He didn’t stop at his mother’s door, or say goodbye to
Terry.
Terry knocked on 5B and was told to come in. Neil’s mother
was sober and ironing and wearing a house dress which was
partially open and exposed one of her breasts.
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Terry explained why he was there. That it might be better for
Neil to stay with her aunt.
She put down the iron, buttoned her dress and said angrily,
“Oh she’d like that fine, bragging all the time about her farm, filling
Neil’s head up with lies, do you know what it’s like to be a Negro in
Alabama, do you have any idea, Mr. Whitey?”
She didn’t have to tell him it wasn’t good down there, but
what choice did Neil have? Being locked up until he was 21? There
was at least a glimmer of hope that his going South would keep him
out of a mental institution or prison,
“He doesn’t have much choice the way I see it, Mrs. Lawrence,”
Terry said, trying to conceal his uncertainty.
She continued to iron, but Terry could see that she was caught
up in the conversation.
“Why should I care about that little shit? He looks down on me
like I’m dirt--calls me the blow-job artist. So a couple of regulars
come by every day and pay for sex--at least I’m not on welfare. Have
you ever seen how they treat Negroes on welfare?” she said,
slamming the iron down on the board. “They barge into your home
unannounced, accuse you of all sorts of things, like ‘Where is your
boyfriend? I know he’s around.’ They look in your closets for items
you weren’t supposed to purchase with the money, like a television
set, or clothes. What I’m doing may not be respectable, Mr.
Chandler, but from where I stand, it ain’t hurtin’ nobody and I don’t
have to stand for some fat bitch coming into my home and sassin’
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me...and I use rubbers for anybody I don’t know,” she added as if
that fact was a period at the end of a sentence.
Terry sat down on a blue kitchen chair that had been painted
many times. Neil’s mother lived in the same kind of apartment he
had grown up in. Steaming hot in the summer because of the tar on
the roof, cold in winter because landlords in any poor section of the
city could do as they damn well pleased. And it pleased them not to
spend too much money on coal in the winter.
“I grew up not far from here,” Terry said softly. “Just across
Crotona Park, less than a mile from here.”
Neil’s mother looked surprised, a confused look appeared on
her face.
“Same type of apartment, same type of landlord, on welfare
until I was Neil’s age, but I was white, and a cute little kid, and that
helped. Teachers bought me clothes, and the neighbors helped out
as well. But this part of the Bronx hasn’t been a good place for any
person for a long time, Mrs. Lawrence. It just hasn’t. Neil is going to
end up hurting someone real bad or getting hurt real bad. You’re
not going to change, and he’s not going to change--he needs some
perspective.”
“Perspective?” she said almost spitting the word out of her
mouth, “what kind of word is that?”
“Maybe not the best word,” Terry said sullenly, “but if he’s put
in an upstate institution he’ll be there until he’s 21. He’ll be given
drugs everyday to keep him quiet. He’ll probably be sodomized by
other bigger, stronger adults--”
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“Sodomized,” she said with a suspicious look on her face. The
kind of look that says I wasn’t ready for that, that doesn’t sound
right, you’re bull shitting me, you must be.
“They’ll put their penis in his mouth. He won’t survive, not a
proud kid like Neil.”
“You mean they rape boys in those institutions?” she said, her
mouth now wide open, a pained expression frozen on her face.
“Constantly, I’m told.”
She put her hand on her neck and rubbed it. She mumbled
something under her breath but he couldn’t hear it. She walked to
the window, which faced an alleyway, and stared out at the building
across from her. There was about a foot of sickly blue sky in the
frame. She didn’t say anything for a long time.
“My aunt lives in Chatham, it’s on the Mississippi-Alabama
border. She don’t have a phone, though--I couldn’t talk to Neil if I
wanted, it would be just like he was in prison.”
“He could write, Mrs. Lawrence, he’s a very intelligent boy.”
“I can’t read, Mr. Chandler,” she said humbly, assuming in
Terry’s eyes all the dimensions again of a rounded human being
because of her cooperation. No longer a fucking-machine, no longer
a walking repository of semen.
“Well then he could call you if you get a phone.”
“I guess he could,” she said wearily, “but he won’t; calls me the
blow-job artist.” She shook her head. “I was on my knees when he
stabbed Willie who ain’t no good anyway.” She laughed, and then
gave Terry the address, which he repeated a few times in his head,
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afraid even to ask for a pencil or paper because she might change
her mind.
“Thanks, Mrs. Lawrence, thank’s for the address,” Terry said,
now feeling that he may have been wrong about her. She loved Neil
in her own way.
“You’ll have to send a telegram, but they’ll be there, they ain’t
going anywhere. Damn, I need a drink,” she said as if she had just
surprised herself.
Terry left the apartment and went back up on the roof.
“What did she say?” asked Neil, holding one of his pigeons and
tickling it.
“She gave me the address.”
“Them two cops is coming around all the time now, they know
I’m up here.”
“Well, are you going to do it?” asked Terry, relieved that he
had gotten this far.
“I guess so, I’ve got to think about it.”
“Maybe I could talk to the police, the court, get this thing
straightened out once you get settled. Maybe I could do that,” Terry
said optimistically.
Neil pursed his lips in the funny way that he always did to let
the person speaking to him know what he had just said was foolish.
“Of course there’s your pigeons, we’d have to think about
them, too.”
Neil put the pigeon he was holding back in the coop. “I’d keep
them up in the air until they attached themselves to another flock,
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that’s what I’d do,” he said with moist eyes. “I don’t want that bitch
downstairs having one of her customers look after them.”
“I’m not kidding about talking to the authorities,” Terry said.
“They’re always making deals for real criminals, maybe they would
be flexible.”
“I ain’t going back to no place with bars on the window, I’m
never doing that again...never,” Neil said, wiping his nose with the
sleeve of his pea jacket.
Terry put his hand on Neil’s shoulder and smiled confidently,
but inside he was trembling, he had taken it upon himself to be
responsible for another human being’s life and he didn’t like the
feeling of uncertainty that accompanied that responsibility.
“I have to talk to someone about taking a temporary position
in Atlanta, as soon as I get that settled I’ll get back to you with a
telegram--your mother won’t change her mind again, will she?”
“I don’t know,” replied Neil, sounding like an old man.
“You’re starting to look thin again, are you eating?”
“She don’t cook, lives on booze.”
“I don’t mean your mother, I mean you.”
“I’ve got to watch myself, them two assholes is always around
now.”
“Just be careful,” Terry pleaded. “I’ll send the telegram the
day before we leave...that’s it, it’s decided.”
“You don’t sound so sure,” said Neil, lighting a cigarette. His
face hard, expressionless, the kind of face a poker player would kill
for.
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“Sure, I’m sure,” Terry lied.
Neil smirked as he often did.
“Goddamn, Neil, sometimes you have to toss stuff around in
your head, think about it.”
Neil walked towards the edge of the roof, flattened himself on
the sloping rise, and looked down.
Just as quickly, his flattened body shot up in the air as if it
were on film and being rewound.
“Their car is downstairs, I got to go,” Neil said anxiously.
“Just be ready when I send the telegram,” Terry said, his
words chasing after Neil, who was already leaping like a highjumper over a two-foot-high tar-covered brick barrier that separated
the buildings.
Out on the street, both detectives looked at Terry cynically as
he walked out of Neil’s building. There was no pretense of good cop
and bad cop this time. These were the kind of cops, Terry knew, who
called up junkies and petty hoods on light days and asked these
pitiful creatures to turn themselves in (information supplied by
informers) and save the city the trouble of trying to find them
because that would be a lot of trouble and there would be no plea
bargaining if New York’s finest had to exert themselves. The arrests
satisfied the weekly arrest quota, and the junkies and petty hoods
were on the street the next day. There were five men from Terry’s
block on the police force, two had written to Terry in the Army
about their newfound power. These two had never even been close
to him, two years older in fact, but you would not know it if you
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read the letters, they glowed about the old days and kissed the ass
of the past. They were only written, Terry surmised, to let him know
how much power they had over people. By the time the letters
ended--he received them a week apart--he would have been nervous
to be in their company socially. Because that kind of power does
something to people who are not statesmen. Absolute power
corrupts absolutely, he had read somewhere, and in 1964 detectives
in New York City had absolute power. Cracking heads on Saturday
night, and communion on Sunday with their families. Believing that
every action they took was for the good of the community in the
end. Not necessarily in the beginning or the middle, where they
might take a few bucks here and there, because they could never be
paid enough for their sacrifice, but in the end when they brought
the real criminals to justice.
Terry remembered the first time as a child he had ever noticed
a policeman in uniform. The cop was being paid off by bookies who
were having a big crap game on the roof. The cop was sitting in a
patrol car with the window lowered, smiling, while the bookie
handed him a roll of bills. This action, even in the mind of a 6-yearold, did not seem right. It was this blurring of right and wrong that
confused ghetto kids later on in life, Terry believed. The same police
force that cracked down on criminals, in turn, were capable of being
criminals themselves, there was no right or wrong, only being stupid
if you got caught. Since 17, Terry had drunk in the Golden Orchid
bar with detectives from the 48th precinct. After too much to drink
they always bragged about their power over punks and junkies and
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how this power made the vermin shit in their pants. And so what if
there was an extra brand new Admiral refrigerator in the Arthur
Avenue social club that nobody was using, along with five others,
and somehow one of them was given to a good cop, who needed
one.
It seemed to Terry that the cops who were most human were
always the ones who took graft. They talked about it as if talking
about it made it socially acceptable. They seemed to be the best
cops as well: awarded for bravery, dedicated. Perhaps they had
started out caring too much, he reasoned, perhaps they had been
too vulnerable, too fragile for the world of the criminal, so that right
and wrong became blurred for them, so that more and more heads
had to be cracked before they cracked.
“Well look who’s here,” the small detective said, leaning
against his car, arms crossed, smug, waiting to unload the power.
“I’m trying to find him myself,” Terry replied confidently,
knowing that sounding any other way but confident would be a hole
in the dam that they would make larger and larger until he told
them about Neil’s great aunt.
“That little shit better turn himself in,” said the taller
detective, who had been decent to Terry the first time, but was now
impatient. They looked like Mutt and Jeff from the comic strips,
Terry thought.
“He’s been sleeping in other hallways at night to avoid us, but
we’ll get his ass,” said Mutt, the runt detective.
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“He thinks we’re afraid to come around here at night, he’s
really a dumb kid,” added Jeff, the tall detective.
“I wish I could help you guys out,” Terry said, but he
immediately regretted his words, he knew that by saying them he
had broken the contract that said, don’t try and make me look
dumb, asshole.
Mutt and Jeff both joined together into one angry seething
mass of movement that spun him around and cuffed him before he
realized what was happening. Jeff began a degrading search through
Terry’s pockets while Mutt held Terry’s head and kicked his legs
apart.
They had nothing, Terry knew, he had not written down the
address of Neil’s great aunt, but power didn’t need a thing, power
molded and shaped events as power saw them.
“Leave him alone, assholes,” said a voice from the sky.
Mutt and Jeff looked up as if they were in centerfield waiting
to catch a fly ball. Their faces reddened. Neil’s small head was
sticking out from the edge of the roof.
“He don’t know nothing,” Neil admonished.
“Yeah, leave him alone,” came a heavily accented Spanish
voice from a window that was opening up at the same time.
Mutt looked at Jeff, but they had not decided their next move
fast enough. The windows opened and the garbage started coming
down. It rained empty soup cans, and Kotex pads, it poured milk
containers and chicken carcasses.
“Leave him alone,” the gleeful inhabitants thundered.
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Terry, who was now handcuffed, knew Mutt and Jeff would not
waste much time. He had heard detectives in the Golden Orchid
talking about riots in the Puerto Rican sections near Mott Havan. No,
Mutt and Jeff would have to back off or worse would happen than
banana peels falling from the sky.
Terry felt the handcuffs being released from his wrists.
“Fuck you and fuck these people, Chandler,” said Mutt, his
voice seething.
Jeff tried to open the driver’s side of their unmarked 1961
Chevrolet Bonneville, but a huge number of coffee cans and beer
cans came raining down, accompanied by laughter. Mutt raised both
hands to show he was washing his hands of the whole matter, but
the garbage continued until the throwers realized that Terry had
ducked into the hallway.
Finally Mutt and Jeff were allowed to drive away but not
before their car was pelted with more soup and beer cans.
Terry, not wanting to take any chances with the garbage
throwers, or with Mutt and Jeff, waited in the hallway about twenty
five minutes before leaving. He was kept company by an old Puerto
Rican woman with no teeth who told him that she was the super’s
grandmother, and her grandson was going to be very mad when he
came home, but she would explain to him what happened, and he
would stop being mad, because a victory over power was not
something that happened every day.
“Cocksuckers,” she added in halting English.
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CHAPTER FIFTEEN
When Terry walked into his apartment, Mario was getting ready to
leave for work. He looked like an extra in a post-war Italian movie
with his ankle-length camel overcoat draped over his shoulders, and
his wide-brim hat.
Terry was grateful that he had not been taken to the station
house with Mutt and Jeff. There was an envelope from McGraw-Hill
on the kitchen table--opened. It was addressed to Terry. Mario
smiled sheepishly. “They want you back, Terry.”
“They have to give me a job,” replied Terry angrily. “And what
the hell are you doing opening my mail?”
“Am I not your friend, Terry?” Mario said in his best trying-tobe-nice voice. “And occasionally these friends don’t mind their own
business because they care about somebody, particularly when they
think their friend is not using his best judgment,” Mario continued.
At the same time he adjusted his body around his camel overcoat,
mostly at the shoulders.
Terry thought he looked like a hood in it, but never had the
nerve to tell him.
“Stay out of my life, Mario, as long as I’m pulling my share of
the rent, you don’t ever touch my mail again.”
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Mario shrugged, but in the Italian way which said you really
don’t know what you’re talking about, but I will be considerate and
wait for you to come to your senses.
“I mean it, Mario, stop busting my chops about my future, I
wouldn’t say waiting on tables was such a great thing to do.”
As soon as he said it, Terry regretted it.
“Mario’s huge frame sulked. “I’m going into computers. You
know that, Terry.”
“I know, Mario, but you haven’t done it yet, and I haven’t
decided what I want to do yet. You’re a good friend, but stop pulling
shit like this, between you and Cynthia, I feel I can’t breathe
sometimes.”
Mario paused for a few seconds before saying, “The police
were around asking questions about the boy in Bellevue--Neil. I told
them you didn’t know anything about his escape.”
“Well, that was the truth.”
“I know you’ve seen him, Terry,” said Mario now partly out of
the door, his favorite place to take a parting shot when the
conversation wasn’t going his way.
“How do you know?”
“You were very upset when you found out he had escaped,
then suddenly you’re your old self. On the ship--”
“Please, Mario, no on-the-ship insights.”
Mario was nearly out of the door, but straddling it. “These
people, they have nothing to do with your life, Terry,” Mario said,
his face a study in thousands of years of not giving in when you
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think you’re right. Then raising his hands resolutely, and drawing
his body further into his overcoat, he said, “Okay, I mind my
business.”
Mario’s feet were heavy on the steps. Terry figured he would
get in the last word before reaching the bottom steps, but the front
door shut slammed without further words from Mario.
Terry fixed himself a cup of tea and thought about Mario and
their friendship. They had always been on different wave lengths
since first meeting in basic training, but still they had managed to
like each other and understood each other to the degree that Mario,
being at sea since 11, wanted someone to dote over without any
responsibilities, and Terry wanted a friend he could trust. He knew
Mario never really understood Kennedy, or what it meant to think
beyond just trying to survive. Mario, like himself, could cry over a
Caruso record, but he wanted the whole world to feel what he was
feeling, whereas Mario could be content to enjoy Caruso personally.
The world didn’t stop with Terry Chandler--and he was glad of that.
And he could not really fully understand the Marios of the world:
they could go on just as themselves in their own internal universe.
They could hear a speech by Kennedy or King and be moved only to
the degree that it impacted on their own individual lives. Some
might say they kept the world running, but who said the world had
to be a well-oiled machine? The thought that Mario’s goals basically
stopped at having a woman urinate on his chest, or that most of
Middle America eagerly counted off the days for a Fourth of July
Sear’s sale, did something to Terry to the point of frightening him.
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He didn’t understand this world. It was only when Kennedy had
spoken that the world had meaning and yes, logic. Kennedy touched
something deep in people that transcended materialism and self. A
mystical thing, really, that allowed people to think positively
without consciously thinking that they had to. A field hand in
Florida could feel that there was much more purpose in his life
without tossing his machete aside. An assembly line worker in
Detroit might take some time off from thinking about the Tigers to
think, yeah, helping those Africans is a good thing. And with such
thinking, people saw each other as being more connected to each
other, in turn, this allowed them to see each other more clearly,
more in focus, and in this new understanding of each other they
gained strength from each other, and were stronger for it, much
stronger than people who had never heard of Kennedy.
It was in realizing this, Terry believed, that you could enjoy a
ballgame or a jazz set even more than you had in the past, because
you were confident that everyday life on earth was being directed to
a greater place, a whole world of people believing in each other. He
knew with all his heart, and being, and imagination, and love, and
stuff of himself, that to now accept a world any less that it could
have been under Kennedy, when the earth’s potential for greatness
began to rival all the life-after-death places mentioned in all the lifeafter-death religions, was untenable. And he would not be
responsible for darkness where there once had been a world with
the potential to light up the heavens. And those that would try and
get him to move on and forget the dead president would not be able
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to do it, because it was they who were moving backwards not
forwards. Accepting less than they could be.
The next morning Terry took the subway to 42nd Street and
Eighth Avenue, America’s hell-hole, the degradation of the human
species working at breakneck speed, where you could be a runaway
one minute, a prostitute the next. Terry had worked on the ugly
street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, in a mail order house,
a summer job at 17. Rows of women would stuff envelopes with
direct mail literature for all the Hearst magazines. They would be
paid piecework for the number of envelopes stuffed, and they would
scream “TRAYS!” and he would have to take the heavy trays of
stuffed envelopes, and meter them, and then stuff them into a mail
bag, and then run back to the table and get more trays before the
pieceworkers panicked and screamed for the foreman. When the
pieceworkers had to stuff something bulky into an envelope like a
fish hook, it would be a nightmare, because the envelopes became
difficult to meter, and he would fall behind, and the women would
scream for the trays piled in front of them to be removed as if they
were knives in their bodies.
In the mornings Terry would see the junkies, the prostitutes,
the gays, the child molesters, and the homeless. They would hang
around the penny arcades and all-night movie houses: the flotsam
of America’s sea to shining sea, trying to score, trying to be positive
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about the possibilities of the new day--the same as most 9-to-5
workers might.
Terry felt like these 42nd people were pulling him down and he
fought them by loving jazz and musicians like Clifford Brown and
going to foreign movies made by directors that Hollywood had no
use for at the time--Bergman, De Sica, and Truffaut. But a good thing
had happened as well on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth
Avenues. He had been walking between the two avenues on a
searing summer’s day when he noticed a crowd standing in front of
a bar. He discovered that they were watching the Democratic
Convention and he stopped to look at what the crowd was looking
at. A young senator from Massachusetts, who had been nominated
for Vice President, was speaking. During the time of the young
senator’s speech, Terry did not feel 42nd between Seventh and
Eighth pulling him down. Here was a man who spoke about the
future, as if he believed in it. Terry followed up on the young
senator by reading his Pulitzer Prize book, Profiles of Courage, and
thus was struck by the lightning that was Kennedy, and he became a
Kennedy man, and in becoming a Kennedy man he had structure for
the first time in his life, but not in the same way a rich kid did, who
knew that he was going to college, and then he was going to get a
good job on Wall Street, and then he was going to get married, and
then he was going to move to Connecticut...no, not in that way, but
in a way that said Terry Chandler’s life finally had purpose: that
cramped tenement apartments, hopeless jobs, and alcoholism were
not on the horizon if you believed in helping others and you
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believed in helping your country. And if anyone had said that Terry
Chandler had these feelings about Kennedy because Kennedy was
Irish or because Kennedy was Catholic he would have told them that
was nonsense, as much nonsense as a Negro liking a solo by Charlie
Parker because he was a Negro. But there was no escaping that the
Irish did feel good about Kennedy, proud of his Irishness, but their
strongest feelings were reserved for Kennedy as a man: what he had
accomplished as a man, what he stood for as a man, what he made
them feel inside as a man.
Later, just a block away, another good thing happened to
Terry Chandler on West 42nd Street. He got a job at McGraw-Hill.
It was a sunless March morning with gusting winds. Executives
headed towards the McGraw-Hill building holding on to their widebrim hats--mostly brown--and angled themselves against the biting
wind charging up from the Hudson River. Their long overcoats,
seemingly a part of them, flapped in the gusts, and gave them the
appearance of being in a blurred photograph.
Terry’s heart raced as he approached Raymond Lowery’s
structural masterpiece, which was surrounded by the decay of
Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen.
Before being drafted, it had been his job to paste down galleys
for the dummy of Electrical World magazine, crop photographs,
transcribe corrections, and make sure the stories went out on time.
A miracle of a job, he thought, for someone who only had a General
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High School Diploma, but they had hired him because he had been
taking printing production classes at New York City Community
College. Many print production people were from the immediate
area. They were mostly Irish and didn’t have much in the way of an
education. The editors, Terry recalled, were engineering or
journalism majors from Southern universities. When you took the
brightness of these young Southern graduates and added it to the
street savvy and intelligence of the Irish from Hell’s Kitchen, you got
a winning combination that fueled the incredible energy one felt
when entering 330 West 42nd Street.
It was going to be hard saying goodbye for good, he knew. The
editors on the staff had been role models in the truest sense of the
word. Particularly the managing editor.
“Jesus, Terry, you’re not coming back?” grimaced Hank
Brecker. “You know, we almost had you up here again, but your
replacement, also the first young lady to have this position, decided
she likes the job after all, but I spoke to Production on the fifth
floor, they’re making an opening for you, you’ll be our production
guy...would have been our production guy.” His voice tapered of.
They were good people, he thought, the best, but they had not
been moved by events. Their goal was to get into heaven unscathed,
or retire to Florida with a big boat. They were the best for people
who had stopped being passionate about anything, and he didn’t
mean obsessive like Cynthia, but passionate. At first they tilted
towards Nixon, and he had actually converted some of them, but
now, it seemed, Mickey Mouse could be president and it would be
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okay with most of the them, because security was now the new god,
always was, probably. Always would be.
“I hope you understand, Hank...I want to try some other
things,” Terry said, looking at the autographed picture of Franklin
Roosevelt on Hank’s wall.
“Oh, running boy with lots of cheek, who grows crazier every
week, we’re glad you survived your first year,” Hank said softly, like
he was reading a poem.
“Remember those words, Terry?”
Dave, the news editor from Oklahoma, had written those
words for Terry to celebrate his first year on the magazine. Dave
strummed a guitar and was always screwing the best-looking woman
in the building, Terry remembered fondly.
“I’ll never forget the party you gave me,” Terry said looking
around Hank’s cramped office, knowing he would never be in it
again. And then he looked at Hank. Hank, a big man, always seemed
to fill up his office with his bear size.
“I’ll always be grateful to the staff for taking me under their
wing,” said Terry.
Hank smiled slightly. “People like you, Terry, you’re a hard
worker, bright, honest, we want you here. Remember the time the
publisher’s secretary pulled down the Kennedy banner hanging over
your cubicle, and how we defended your right to have it, even
though the publisher was a Nixon man? Remember that, Terry, how
could you forget it, hah?”
“Don’t make it tough for me, Hank.”
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“It’s funny,” said Hank, lighting a pipe, “I never plugged into
Kennedy until you ran around the place telling us what great things
he was going to do. You’d think I would be the one to have all the
insight, but a lot of us didn’t get it at first.”
Terry slouched in his chair.
“The 22nd, it was a day a lot of dreams died,” continued Hank
with a faraway look in his eyes. “I thought about you a lot, Terry, on
that day. Wondered how you would take it, Jesus I never saw anyone
so thrilled about a politician before as you were. We all thought you
were crazy at first until the first debate with Nixon...how seedy
Nixon looked with that five o’clock shadow of his--It will really make
us feel good if you come back, Terry.”
“Hank, I can’t, I got other things I’m doing.”
“Who grows crazier every week,” said Hank, smiling warmly.
“If I could I would,” Terry said, moved by Hank’s little
Kennedy speech, and at the same time suspicious of Hank’s motives
for telling it, not that Hank was lying about how he felt, but would
Kennedy or Johnson, or the first American in space, be on this
man’s mind again? Terry wasn’t sure.
Terry spoke to 21 people that morning, and all of them
brought up Kennedy, and each time they did Terry felt like they
had placed a staple gun on his skin and slapped a staple into him.
They talked about Kennedy as if they were reviewing a
photographic album, only the feeling Terry got was that it was not a
family album, not an album that they were a part of, and that’s what
he wanted it to be, not just a photographic album reviewing the
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President’s career, which is why Kennedy sounded like he had been
dead 100 years when they talked about him.
He saved J.W. for last. J.W. was reading the dummy edition for
the week when Terry stepped into his cubicle and told him he
wasn’t coming back to McGraw-Hill.
“When you have a place like this, and people like this, you
don’t throw it away,” J.W. Sawyer said in almost a whisper. “You
think liberals and pinkos care about you? You think you’re going to
make one bit of difference down South?”
“I didn’t mention what I was going to do, J.W.,” Terry said
defensively, knowing J.W. was a hard man to out-logic when he was
sober.
“You don’t have to. It seems like those pinkos you’ve been
hanging out with have made their mind up for you,” J.W. said in a
controlled voice. A voice that, like the words it used, was from
another generation, and was now locked into that generation and
could pronounce words like pinko with a spin that future
generations would not be able to duplicate.
“A race fighting for the right to live decently has nothing to do
with Communism, you know that, J.W.”
J.W. released the magazine dummy from his hands and
allowed it to fall heavily on his desk.
“Terry, you’re throwing it away, drifting, you have no
direction,” he said anxiously.
“I’ve got to go, J.W., I’ll be in touch.”
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“Goddamn, you’re stubborn,” J.W. said frantically while
searching his desk drawer for a cigarette. Finally finding one in a
crumpled pack, he lit it and said with a grin, “Man, a hundred
smackaroos a week for a bachelor in this town ain’t bad...lots of
beaver around.”
“I made my decision,” Terry said, trying not to get caught up
in J.W.’s secret-society-of-men humor.
“Hats and steak, but you don’t get it,” J.W. said hurtfully.
“I’m going, J.W.--we’re still going to see each other socially, so
what’s the long face for?”
J.W. got up from his desk and hugged Terry. “Okay asshole,
get yourself all beaten up, maybe it will get you in focus again.”
J.W.’s face was sullen, and his body sagged, and the flesh on
his neck protruded over his starched-to-death Arrow shirt and
spilled over the collar. J.W. only wore Arrow shirts and had a secret
fear, Terry knew, that he might not be buried in an Arrow.
“We’ll be in touch real soon,” Terry said in an upbeat voice,
J.W. did not respond with a closing quip, which disappointed
Terry.
Terry took one last look around the editorial offices of
Electrical World before leaving. It had only been two years and a
couple of months since leaving the magazine, but it seemed much
longer. It was as if he were now a college student trying to re-live
first grade. He looked across the floor to the cubicle where he and
Franklin Mann, the art director, once shared an office. It faced the
ladies room, which was close to where he was standing now. He
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chuckled at the code he had developed for Franklin when a shapely
female was on her way to the toilet. Franklin’s face would always be
buried in the dummy so he would shout out typefaces. Venus Bold
Extended meant a real piece of ass was on her way to the ladies
room. Franklin would always look up innocently when that typeface
was announced.
Terry tried to imagine Franklin’s face suddenly looking up
from the dummy but he could not. But he could see the Kennedy
banner, clear, almost as if it were still hanging on the cubicle, and it
sent a chill through him.
He knew he would never be back.
There was another letter from Spec 4 Joyce Bannon.
Dear Terry,
Since we don’t pay for postage in country, I’m getting into
writing letters all the time. I don’t know how much you’re reading in
the papers about this place, but I’m bumping into more and more
Americans. So far I don’t have much to worry about. ARVN goes out
on these huge battalion sweeps looking for dinks and don’t do a
very good job of it. (I’m an adviser.) I’m attached to the 39th
Communications Battalion. These guys were the first regular Army
unit sent to Nam. You won’t believe this but some of these guys have
already done two tours. Man, the pussy is something. You know
yours truly loves to boom boom as much as he can. Changing the
subject. You know my mother mentions you all the time in her
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letters. Now you wouldn’t be fooling around with your friend’s
mother (just kidding)? So what have you been up to, Terry? What’s
the BIG DECISION (ha ha). You know, as crazy as it sounds, you
would like it here. Guys really hang tight together--nobody trusts
the dinks. You just never know who Victor Charlie is. There’s a real
feeling of Americans helping other Americans here. Most of the
officers--so far--are of high quality, the best the Army has to offer. I
don’t know if it will stay this way, but so far so good. I can’t give you
any details, but a lot of stuff is coming into Nam. The Green
Machine ain’t fucking around and it makes all of us here feel good,
like something important is happening, like we’re doing something
special. Well, I got to go now, Terry. I’m pulling guard tonight. Just
me and the stars and Victor Charlie...one happy fuckin’ family.
Your friend as long as you
leave my mother alone (ha
ha)
Joyce Bannon.
Union Square was grimy, but it had been that way as long as
Terry could remember. He passed Klein’s on the way to Koslowski’s
office and laughed to himself thinking about Brian, who was two
years older and from the neighborhood. Brian’s mother wouldn’t
give Brian any money for clothes unless he bought them in Klein’s.
Brian always resented having to travel all the way from the Bronx
when he could have just as easily bought the clothes in the Fordham
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Road section of the Bronx. Brian’s mother didn’t have any time for
Brian, she was a bingo fanatic, so her day was spent going from one
game to the next. Brian always asked Terry to go with him to Klein’s.
And each time they would go, no matter how much Brian’s mother
had given her son to spend on clothes, Brian would steal a few
items. Our of anger, Terry suspected, but it would always make
Terry uncomfortable and he would keep as far away from Brian as
he could inside the store. It was hard not to steal when you were
from the kind of block he was from, but Terry never did, no matter
what the peer pressure. And he would always keep his hands in full
view because he knew the store dicks were looking.
Finally, Brian was caught, and both of them were brought to a
back room by store detectives. When one of the women detectives
said, “That one over there is honest, didn’t take a thing,” and
pointed to Terry, he felt a vindication of sorts, he had been
rewarded in a strange way for being honest. He had a surging
feeling of pride, while Brian did a bad job of trying to talk his way
out of the crime.
He had never forgotten that day, but he would never be able
to drop the habit of keeping his hands in full view when he walked
into a department store.
Koslowski’s secretary immediately showed Terry into
Koslowski’s office. He gave Terry a big smile and pointed to the
phone in his hand and mouthed the words, “I’ll be off in a minute.”
Koslowski took another five minutes. Terry waited patiently
and looked at the photographs of famous people hanging on
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Koslowski’s wall. Most of the fountain-pen inscriptions were long,
and gave the impression that Koslowski knew these famous people
on more intimate terms than others they might sign autographs for.
Koslowski ended his conversation with “Love yer,” while
smiling at Terry at the same time.
“Okay, I’ll help out with the grant for a few weeks,” Terry said
as Koslowski hung up the phone.
Koslowski smiled confidently. “I’m glad you’re going to do it,
Terry. I’m glad you’ve reached some sort of compromise with
yourself about going down to Atlanta for a few weeks.
He definitely looked like Lee. J. Cobb, Terry decided, no doubt
about it.
“It’s just a few weeks out of my life, and it’s important to
Alison,” Terry said in a very business-like voice. “But I’m going to
tell you what anybody would be able to tell you...what I see that
concerns the grant, and that’s all.”
“You’re quite clear,” Koslowski said, seemingly trying to adjust
to Terry’s candor.
“They’re good people down there, damn good people,” Terry
said, softening his voice. “But it’s always politics, fucking politics.
Good just doesn’t get rewarded that much, does it Andrew?”
Koslowski’s face became reflective. “Good? I don’t know what
good is anymore, Terry. I got a nephew who’s a basket case for
trying to fight injustice. And the daughter of a friend who’s about to
become one, and the only thing she wants to do is help humanity.”
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Terry stiffened again. “But the family and you don’t take any
responsibility, of course,” Terry said caustically. “C’mon, Andrew.
Cynthia has told me about her parents putting pressure on her from
day one to help her fellow man. Taking her to clandestine meetings
with adults screaming slogans about injustice when she should have
been home reading fairy tales. And she didn’t leave out Uncle
Andrew and his stories about busting the heads of scabs and how
the masses would eventually rise up against the parasites running
this country.”
Koslowski, without any show of emotion, cleared his voice, and
clasped his hands together like a first grader. “Cynthia was always a
free spirit, Terry. A wonderful girl who was quite uninhibited as a
child. She always had the top marks in her class and teachers just
loved her. But Cynthia always wanted more.”
“More?”
“It wasn’t enough for Cynthia to get an A, she had to seduce
the teacher as well. She began being aggressive about sex at the age
of 12. A few of her teachers complained...a few, I suspect, enjoyed
her obsession. Late in her teens, her mother got her to a therapist, it
seemed to have worked, Cynthia managed to finish college without
an incident, but then she started up again. She was discovered
giving head to a 16-year-old kid in a Rockefeller Center men’s room
and arrested...doctors have been wrestling with her problem ever
since...the unconscious demands its day in court, I suspect.”
Terry sighed suddenly knowing there was nothing he could
do; knowing that Cynthia’s moods were getting darker, despite what
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the shrinks thought. Perhaps they knew that the time ahead for her
was the last light in her life, and they wanted her to enjoy it. That
would be a damn fine way to think about it, he reasoned. Or maybe
they weren’t giving up, an even better way to think about it.
Whatever it was that was sucking her true self away from her, he
hated it and wanted to tear it apart and crush it and step on it and
he could not help think that its creation may have been caused by
her family and yes, even dear Uncle Andrew. But there was no way
to know such a thing, and all he could really do was try and be a
good friend to her and pray that she had something going for her in
the universe that would turn things around for her.
He let Koslowski put his arm around him and walked him to
the door.
“If the demands of the unconscious are not met,” Koslowski
said, “There are consequences. Not all of us need to have our inner
anger satisfied, but if you let it lie inside of you it festers. I have
seen good men consumed by hate who have not done anything
about it. Quite destructive.”
Terry just didn’t like Koslowski, he decided, there was
something slippery about him that was hard to define, something
that had once been good about him that had not been replenished
so that the good that appeared to be Koslowski was in fact the
former good, as if he had really used the real good all up, and now
there was only a facade of good to draw upon.
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“I’m having the contract for the grant drawn up as well as the
guidelines, Terry. You’ll let me know in the next week what day
you’re going to Atlanta,” He shook Terry’s hand.
“Sure,” Terry said, glad to be leaving the office, knowing he
would not be doing this if it weren’t for Alison and Cynthia. Or was
he bullshitting himself? Had the trip South gotten to him? Was the
Movement more important to him than he wanted it to be? Was it
time to move on? Certainly, the battle against racism was not
something to be thought of as this year’s cause. He would never
accept that as he would never accept that Kennedy was yesterday’s
news. It was just that he did not feel passionately about the
Movement, he told himself, it was one of many right things to do
right now in his life, where once 50-mile walks, and witty press
conferences, and hopes for joining the Peace Corps, and dreams of a
better world, and seeing the giants of literature, music and science
at the White House, and Jackie speaking French, created a sense of
self, of being, of importance, that made him want to do it, but
before he could do it and find out what doing it was, Oswald, the
little cocksucker, low-life, fired the bullet in Dallas. But he was still
going to do it, because Kennedy was still fucking alive in his body,
he told himself.
Outside, Union Square Park reeked of grayness. It seemed to
lack color, or feeling. It was an old postcard that somebody had
spilled coffee on. In the twenties and thirties, he had heard, this was
the place for mass leftist meetings. If other parks were designed to
be beautiful, Union Square Park, seemed to have been designed for
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unpopular causes. It was a graveyard of dead ideas and speeches
that no longer mattered to most Americans.
Over near the George Washington statue a great speech for
Lenin had been given. And in front of the Declaration of
Independence Memorial, Trotsky was beautified. And near the large
tree next to the Lincoln statue, a favorite of local dogs, the masses
united for a better world on a cold winter’s day in 1938.
Terry cut through the park and imagined the dead ideas
trying to come to life, swimming around him invisibly, somehow
looking for a way to get inside of him, but he would have none of
that, for these were dead ideas and belonged dead.
That evening he met Cynthia at the Staten Island Ferry. She
was wearing a fox stole, a prom-type gown, cheery colored high heel
shoes, black velvet gloves, and carrying a shopping bag with a bottle
of cheap Spanish champagne in it. As the ferry pushed off, the
sound of its foghorn was rude, yet purposeful, Cynthia handed
Terry a plastic champagne glass and deftly opened the champagne
bottle with a corkscrew.
The water of the great harbor gurgled behind her and left a
foamy V trail that widened and eventually included the entire New
York City shoreline as she poured the champagne and giggled. Then
raising her plastic glass dramatically, she said, “Here’s to my hero,”
and touched his glass. They were the only two on the windy deck.
The Staten Islanders, who had gotten up at 5:30 in the morning to
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go to work, were reading their newspapers, or dozing, leaving that
awful place called Manhattan behind. In the light of the cabin, the
men with their wide-brim hats and long overcoats, and the women
in the bright coats and deep red lipstick, looked like models for an
Edward Hopper painting. These were people who did not mind
working hard as long as they could come home at the end of the day
to Staten Island. They were one of the incomes in a two-income
family. They would complete the cycle of life without much caring
for anything but their way of life and keeping the ferry ride down to
a nickel... each way.
The light from the Edward Hopper cabin slashed across
Cynthia’s face, leaving part of it in darkness. Her smile had a jokerlike quality which bothered Terry.
“C’mon, Cynthia, all I’m doing is taking Neil down South and
then hanging around Atlanta on a made-up job--Andrew’s spy, he
thinks.”
“I love the water, Terry,” Cynthia said, playing with the rim of
the plastic glass. “Specially when it’s black and shiny and
mysterious and the skyscrapers in the background are all lit up,”
she added happily, and whirled around with her arms like a little
girl in a playground.
I love the water too, he thought.
Cynthia finished her drink and poured another one for
herself, careful, however, to put the champagne bottle back in the
shopping bag. Then with her back to Terry, she placed herself
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between him and the railing. He held her and they both looked at
the glittering skyscraper skyline that floated in the blackness.
“Don’t you feel more in control, Terry? You have so many
options now,” she said, putting her gloved hand on top of his.
“I just hope Neil’s great aunt takes him, that worries me a lot,”
he said, feeling the spray of the sea on his face.
Cynthia did not respond to his comment, but said, “In Atlanta,
Terry, you’ll be working in the heart of the Movement--god how I
envy you. Thousands of people getting together to fight racial
injustice. These are wonderful times. Terry, things are happening.”
Cynthia began to move back and forth with her lower body. The Sex
Goddess and the Negro Emancipator were getting together again, he
thought nervously.
“It’s a good way to warm up,” he said anxiously, “but if you
keep it up I’m going to come.”
She continued to move back and forth.
“Andrew is very pleased with the way you’ve come around,
Terry. He’s got big plans for you, big plans,” she said, slowing down
her movements but putting more emphasis on them.
Terry put the plastic champagne glass in his pocket. “I think
the guy’s a weirdo,” he said with an edge to his voice. “I don’t think
he gives two shits about organizations like SNCC.”
Cynthia spun around angrily. “Just wait a minute, Mr. Terry
Chandler, I won’t take that kind of remark. That man has given his
all to further the cause of the Negro, his all, do you understand?”
“I just don’t like him.”
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311
She looked at him sadly, puppydog-like. “Nothing can be
perfect, can it?” she said forlornly. “The two people I like the most,
and one doesn’t like the other...just like my parents.”
Terry looked into her eyes. They were still focused on him,
The faraway look had not made its appearance yet.
“I’ll do my best to get along with him, I promise,” Terry said,
holding her.
She turned around in his arms and faced New York harbor
again, and snuggled against him as sea gulls followed the bubbling,
churning waters of the ferry for garbage. It was a peaceful moment,
and Terry began to relax, but Cynthia suddenly slipped out of his
arms, leaned over the railing, and wiggled her fingers, seemingly
trying to see how close she could come to touching the water which
was well below her.
“Cut it out, Cynthia.”
She spun around and laughed. The light slashed across her
face so that the part of it that was in the shadow appeared not to be
there.
“C’mon, handsome, take it out.”
“Cut it out, Cynthia.”
She picked up her champagne glass, which she had placed at
her feet, poured more champagne into it, and said, “I want to play
with it until it squirts in my glass and then I’m going to drink it all
down.”
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“Your medication? Did you take it today Cynthia?” Terry
asked, feeling like an idiot, knowing that the Sex Goddess did not
take no for an answer.
“What’s that have to do with anything, handsome? C’mon, take
it out.”
“Cynthia, please,” Terry said, turning around to see if any
other passengers were on the outside deck, but there were none.
The passengers inside seemed motionless, frozen in their thoughts
of family, job security, and pay raises.
Cynthia held one hand to her breast in mock shock, and then
smiled impishly as if she had been putting him on. Raising the
plastic champagne glass high in the air, she said, “Here’s to you,
Terry.” She took a small sip and then handed the glass to Terry.
They passed the glass back and forth until the bottle of
champagne was finished.
On the return trip, Cynthia fell asleep in the cabin from all the
champagne she had drunk.
He was grateful that the Sex Goddess and the Negro
Emancipator had not insisted on ending the evening with him.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN
What was the point in telling her that Kennedy was dead? thought
Terry, looking at his mother...no, not really his mother, because the
best that medicine had to offer was not his mother as he knew her.
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313
She certainly hadn’t spent her life walking around with part of her
brain cut out, and plastic tubes protruding out of her stomach. The
AMA knew you would accept most versions of the person you loved,
as long as you had hope. So that you never really saw what was
lying in front of you at the hospital--not really. You always imagined
the original version of the person you loved, even when the AMA
version was drastically different. But hope, the AMA knew, was the
great equalizer. And when they could not offer hope, they offered
the disappearing act: “Put your loved one in a place where they can
die gracefully, and you can still be covered under Blue Cross,” they
said.
The disappearing act was the logical follow-up to not offering
hope. Because it still allowed you to see the original version of the
person you loved by not having to see them as much. It could be
argued as well that in being told the disappearing act was the only
option you had for the AMA version of the person you loved, you
got a sense that the original version was already gone, and what was
the point, everyone had done the best they could, you thought,
while your emotions of pain and love rounded out the AMA version
nicely until deliverance day.
“You should have seen JFK last night on television, mom,”
Terry said, holding his mother’s hand, the March sunlight streaming
through the ward window warm on her face. The rattle of steam
heat on the pipes, a comforting sound.
“He was just like you like to see him...dressed in a snazzy tux,
Jackie hanging on his arm, Robert being the good brother at his
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314
side. He had an affair for Nobel prize winners in the White House
ballroom, and typically, with his great wit, Kennedy said, ‘Not since
Thomas Jefferson dined alone, has there been such an assemblage of
thinkers in this room,’ or something like that. He got a hell of a
laugh, the kind you’d hear at the Golden Orchid, deep, appreciative
of the wit. He danced with all the wives and it was a wonderful thing
to see...I’ll tell you, the whole lot of them were beaming. They even
played my ‘Wild Irish Rose.’ And, of course your favorite was there,
Arthur Godfrey. As they say, a grand time was had by all.”
Terry kissed his mother’s cheek and pulled up the covers, the
draft was back, and the sunlight felt weaker. The other visitors were
talking to their mute relatives as well, but the oxygen masks always
got in the way, and some visitors would resort to hand signals and
crazy gyrations to get their point across so that they looked like
game-show contestants while their loved ones looked at them with
blank stares in their bombing-run-over-Germany face masks.
Terry began reading the Irish Echo newspaper to his mother
but stopped when he felt a presence behind him. It was Dr. Lee. She
appeared nervous.
“We have to move your mother to another area of the hospital,
Mr. Chandler, there’s a southern exposure here and we feel the
patients who are recovering could use the sunlight.”
“You really are a piece of work,” Terry said, folding his
newspaper and sticking it under his mother’s mattress, much to the
disapproving eyes of Dr. Lee.
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“She’s not going anywhere. You’re not moving her, or doing
anything with her. In fact, I’ll sue your asses off if you even move
her bed in this room.”
“I suspected you wouldn’t be reasonable about it, Mr.
Chandler,” Dr. Lee said, looking at Terry coldly.
Still sitting, Terry looked up at her calculating eyes. “You knew
this tumor was inoperable, yet you went in anyway. The Team needs
tumors for young surgeons to practice on, don’t they? You know,
come to think of it, I haven’t seen any of your brain surgery patients
walk out of here.”
“Now it’s accusations of malpractice, is it, Mr. Chandler?”
“Look, just get the hell out of here and leave me alone. My
mother is staying right where she is.”
“Perhaps you should come in for an examination yourself, Mr.
Chandler,” Dr. Lee smiled meanly, “I mean, anyone who talks about
Kennedy as if he were still alive might have a neurological
problem.”
“Out,” Terry said pointing at the door as if Dr. Lee were a
naughty schoolgirl.
“You can not humiliate me, Mr. Chandler, I’ve dealt with worse
than you and have always managed to come out on top.”
Terry held both of his hands up and slowly curled them into a
fist, his face a study in anguish. He said slowly and softly, as if the
words were a quiet scream, “Leave...us...alone.”
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316
The other visitors stopped their hand signals for a moment
and peered at Terry, who turned away from Dr. Lee, and gently laid
his mother’s hand in his palm.
He would leave with Neil at the end of the week, he decided.
Mario had grown moody about Terry’s trip, and had been
silent most of the week. However on Thursday, Mario’s day off,
Terry came back to the apartment from the hospital and found all
his shirts ironed and folded. Mario was propped up in his regal
Castro convertible reading Playboy.
“I like to iron,” he said before Terry could say anything.
“Well, thanks asshole,” replied Terry, smiling.
Mario laid down the magazine. “Terry, I wonder why you’re
doing this thing because I don’t think you want to.”
“Mario,” Terry said, walking into the kitchen, “you’re not my
mother, how many times have I told you that?”
“Nobody’s putting the pressure on you, Terry,” replied Mario,
raising his voice. “You will take Neil down there and then dabble in
civil rights. Is that right?”
Terry took a container of orange juice out of the refrigerator,
took a swig, placed it back, and slammed the door.
“Fuck you, Mario. I mean it--fuck you. Where do you come off
with these high and mighty judgments?” Terry said, storming back
into the living room. “The SNCC people down South are laying their
lives on the line--do you know what it means to do that? Anything to
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help those people is not dabbling. You’re the fucking dabbler, you
can’t keep your cock out of any hole you see.”
Mario was a brick wall. “And this Alison, she doesn’t want to
open her legs for you?”
“You know, Mario,” Terry said, slumping into the ladies-room
chair, “it must be wonderful to see the entire world as those who
want to get laid and those who don’t.”
Without any expression on his face Mario got out of bed, and
sat on the edge of his Castro. “Does this Andrew guy really care
about you, Terry? He is just helping the girl, from what I see.”
“I don’t care what he thinks, Mario,” Terry said, taking out a
Camel. “I’ve been giving this civil rights business a lot of thought.
really, when I think about it, the only thing I’ve done for the Negro
is take. It’s great to say you loved to watch Jackie Robinson steal a
base and electrify the stands, or how much you enjoyed the amazing
ability of Sugar Ray Robinson, or how thrilled you were the first
time you heard Bird soar, but did you ever think how this race has
been treated the past 100 years? The degradation. These people are
asking to be treated like human beings, human beings, Mario.”
“And Neil?” Mario said, putting on his pants.
“I’ve got to do something for him, he’s an extraordinary kid.”
“Is he included in the civil rights category, or separate? Mario
is confused.”
Terry sprang to his feet. “Leave it alone, Mario, goddamn it,
can’t you leave it alone?”
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Mario’s smugness faded into a hurt look. “I’m sorry, my friend,
I just want to help. I guess I’m like the others, always trying to watch
out for you. It is the way you look, adults don’t look innocent like
you do. You look like you’re going to be crushed at any minute.”
“I can take care of myself,” Terry said defensively.
“Yes, I know that, my friend, but people like you, I like you,
it’s not such a bad thing to like someone, and to want to help
them...I’ve told you this before.”
“Okay, lets forget it,” Terry said. He then arranged with Mario
to call his sister, and get a daily report on his mother while he was
away.
“And how will you get here if there is a problem?” asked
Mario.
“Same as we discussed before, I’ll fly, I didn’t piss away all my
money in the Army on women like some guys I know,” Terry said,
picking up Mario’s pillow and whacking him. Mario just shook his
head and laughed. He was lucky to have such a friend, thought
Terry, but sooner or later some jealous husband would get his
friend, and the thought of that distressed Terry.
That evening, when Mario was out tomcatting, Terry lay awake
on his cheap Danish-style couch and listened to the street sounds
coming from outside. It was after four in the morning, the Hour of
the Wolf he had heard someone call it, a time when it was good to
be indoors, to be safe and protected from all that was bad and
roaming the streets. Men and woman who had too much to drink
often talked loudly and shrieked in laughter when they left the bars
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at this hour, and sometimes Terry could not tell the difference
between a laugh and a scream. He would go to the window not
knowing what to expect, hoping it was not serious enough to call the
police, and hating, in a way, having to look at the street at this hour,
which always seemed ugly, and full of predators.
At the Hour of the Wolf that’s the way it would always be, he
knew.
When Cynthia opened her door for Terry she was wearing a
sheet. She invited Terry in and sashayed into the living room, Terry
followed her reluctantly and saw that her clothes were spread all
over the floor. She settled into a large, comfortable chair, her arms
resting on the arms of the chair, her fingers curled over the edges.
She said with the same amount of emotion one might apply to
giving a recipe, “I can observe what I’m doing Terry--honest I can. I
can see myself from the outside, it’s weird, isn’t it? I mean, you
would think when a person is going off the deep end they wouldn’t
realize it, but I do...I think a couple of weeks back at the hospital is a
must, but I’ll miss you, my darling.”
Terry, who was standing and did not know what he was going
to do at first, sat at her feet and rested his head against her knee. It
was the darling remark, it had caught him off-guard. Cynthia, he
had decided, was not the mental-patient crazy portrayed in movies
and television. She couldn’t be contained in one observation. The
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320
word darling made it harder to say goodbye to her. It would have
been much easier to say goodbye to a crazy sex fiend.
“You have been wonderful to me, Terry,” she said, playing
with his hair, “I think I’m going to make it, honest I do.”
He looked around, all her clothes were strewn throughout the
apartment. The pictures, however, were still hung straight. Facing
him were beautifully framed photographs of Duke Ellington, Cab
Calloway, and a young Sammy Davis Jr. tap dancing with his uncle
and father.
“I can’t decide what to wear to the hospital,” she said. Her
voice sounded weak. “They’re sending someone to get me, Andrew
will be here as well. So many good people in this world--Andrew has
told me all about Alison, she really sounds special.”
That son of a bitch, Terry thought.
“And don’t get mad at Andrew for mentioning her, I wanted to
know everything about the grant. I’m sure both of you will just be
good friends. Fighting injustice, that’s what counts, my darling. As
Martin said, we must take power from those who misuse it--at which
point they can become human too.”
Terry stood up, leaned forward, and kissed Cynthia’s
forehead. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Terry, do you think you could bring Neil by before you
leave?” she said like a little girl asking for a fudgsicle.
“I’ll be lucky if I can get him to leave in the morning, but
you’ll see him again,” Terry said while thinking how unpredictable
she was. Crazy and sane at the same time. Able to jerk the listener
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back and forth like a yo-yo, always testing the listener in some sort
of way.
“Promise me, Terry, that you won’t sleep with her, not at least
until we know where I’m headed.”
“Right now that’s the last thing on my mind,” he said,
truthfully.
“Well that’s all I can ask, my darling...oh, I wish I were going
with you. There’s so much down there to do. So many people
depending on white people to get their act together.” She looked
around the living room. “It’s a mess, isn’t it?”
“The apartment?”
“The apartment. My life. Since I was old enough to remember
my parents instilled in me the need to help the oppressed,
especially the Negro. It was the only subject they agreed on. We
even visited prisons.They taught me to care so much for other
people, I don’t know if I care for myself anymore, Terry--you know
what I mean? I can’t get any life from myself, it has to come from
helping other people.I’m not sure that’s what Kennedy meant,
though.”
Terry wrapped his arms around his knees. Looking in the
opposite direction from Cynthia, he said, “Kennedy didn’t mean not
to take care of yourself; helping people is a good thing to do, it
makes America stronger and brings us together. I think that’s what
he meant.”
The sheet flew off Cynthia. She opened her legs and began
suggestively moving up and down. Terry stood up and looked at her
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for a long moment. She gave him a crooked smile and unzipped his
fly as if he were a little boy being undressed by his mother. He tried
to go blank as Martin Luther King stared back at him from the wall.
She thrust his prick into her mouth, darting her tongue in sensual
flicking jabs. He kept looking at the King photograph and finally
pulled away from her. “No, Cynthia, when you’re better,” he said,
not knowing how the Sex Goddess/Negro Emancipator would
respond.
But she just smiled, and said, “I can see it from the outside,
honest I can, Terry.”
He waited for the ambulance from Paine Whitney to show up
before leaving.
Neil’s mother answered the door. Her blouse and skirt were
freshly pressed and she wore a touch of makeup which highlighted
her still youthful looking face. She looked normal for the first time,
and Terry felt a great deal of sympathy for her.
“He’s packed,” she said nervously. “Upstairs with the pigeons.
Gonna have to let them go.”
“I didn’t think of that,” Terry said, feeling awkward.
“Have you thought about him leaving his mother?” she
prodded. “I know you think I’m some sort of monster, but I have
feelings for my boy, it’s because of those feelings that I’m letting
him go because lord knows I don’t have to...he’s just like those
pigeons. Flyin’ high and mighty, shittin’ when they want to.
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Hankering to get out of their cage...the police have been around,
you know, they know he’s up there...accused me of harboring a
fugitive--just get him out of here fast, Mr. Chandler,” She said,
studying Terry closely, still checking him out, seemingly.
“I ain’t so bad, you know,” she said, finally shutting her door.
No you’re not, he thought, just struggling to survive, selling
the only thing that you believe has any value. Not taking any
chances with the other parts of you that someone might find
worthwhile like your intelligence, or your resourcefulness, or your
thoughts about love and friendship that you certainly must have, or
your beautiful brown skin and good looks. And lets not forget your
fierce desire to be independent which is what the American Dream
is all about.
Terry, holding a handbag, climbed up to the roof landing. Neil
was outside, the pigeons were cooing excitedly. There was no sun,
only grayness against the sharp black line of the tar roof.
“I wish I could take him,” Neil said, holding a pigeon--his
favorite, Terry assumed. “That’s the trouble,” Neil said anxiously,
bringing the pigeon up to his cheek, “something always pulling at
you. All the times I didn’t hold him, and now that’s all I want to do.
Always figured there would be a next day, but the chaplin in
Bellevue, he said it.” Neil’s voice trailed off as he appeared to fight
back tears.
“Said what, Neil?” Terry asked while placing his handbag at his
feet, wishing the whole fucking scene was not taking place, hoping
he had made the right choice.
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“The chaplin in Bellevue said nobody owns tomorrow. He said
when he was a boy he had lied to his father about getting in trouble
in school. He said it bothered him as lot so he decided that he would
tell his father the truth the next day. He said anything was better
than living with that lie. Well, his father died the next day, so he
never had a chance to redeem himself. Tomorrow doesn’t belong to
anybody, he said, no matter how rich or powerful you are.”
Bannon’s face flashed in front of Terry. Right in the fuckin’
head,” Bannon said scratching his balls. “Right in the fuckin’ head.”
Neil kissed the pigeon’s head softly, and placed it back in the
coop as if he were putting a valuable piece of jewelry back in a safe.
Terry took a few deep breaths, and Bannon faded.
“That’s a good story, Neil. You know, maybe we could have the
pigeons shipped down south to you.”
Neil smirked. “No roofs, you need roofs, so they can fly high.
Anyway, it ain’t fun if your flock can’t steal pigeons from other
flocks.”
He looked at Neil for a moment and said, “We’ll have to be
leaving soon.” Just then an El train snaked around a long curve and
entered the canyon of five-story walkups. Its sound was ugly as it
rumbled by. Terry could feel its vibrations as the pigeons flapped
excitedly around the coop.
“Bothers the pigeons,” Neil said. “Makes then nervous.”
Pressing his lips tightly together Neil untwisted a piece of wire
wrapped around a nail and jerked open the coop door. The pigeons
streamed out and shot up into the sky until they seemed to be
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325
hanging from it like the tail end of a kite, a long ribbon that soon
broke into a regimented formation.
Neil carefully wrapped the wire from the coop door around
the nail. “Sooner they find out they can’t come back, the better,” he
said, his voice almost breaking.
Terry watched Neil’s pigeons cutting across the pale sky,
happy to be up there, and Neil up there with them, oh, you couldn’t
actually see Neil, but you could sense him up there, feel him, and
the pigeons knew it. Saying he had found a way to expand his
horizons might sound like a cliche, thought Terry, but what else was
it? The only place left for Neil was the sky. Down on earth welfare
and social service bureaucrats had slowly built a wall of
indifference around him. Where else could he go but up? And now
he didn’t have that, agonized Terry, as he watched the Neil that was
in the sky swoop, soar, and dive.
The African-American pimps who lined the walls of the Port
Authority terminal like vultures locked their eyes on Neil as he
walked with Terry to the ticket counter. Neil moved closer to Terry
as the pimps leered at him. They were predators, Terry knew,
looking for weakness: waiting for an old lady to stop and rest so
they could grab her suitcase; waiting for an executive who had too
much to drink to go into the men’s room so they could mug him;
searching, always searching for a young runaway, male or female.
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When they spotted the runaway they would offer the runaway
soothing friendly words. Then suggest a meal. And finally when the
runaway was feeling they had a friend, the pimps would lure the
runaway to a hotel room, and force the runaway to have sex, and
say that was how it was going to be, and the runaway better
understand that, and get his or her ass out there on the street and
earn some money.
Terry’s plan was to buy two tickets to Atlanta, and then rent a
car. Traveling with a young Negro boy on any kind of public
transportation down south would be trouble, he realized.
While he waited for the bus tickets, he gave Neil a reassuring
smile, which was not answered. Neil seemed withdrawn and
ashamed of the old suitcase his mother had given him. It had to be
tied with a cord to keep it closed. Neil pushed it away from him with
his foot so that it rested against the ticket counter wall.
“How long a trip?” Neil asked.
“About 19 hours. Ever been out of New York?”
“Nope,” Neil said, his face almost smirking.
Terry tried to make eye contact, but Neil would have none of
that and looked down on the floor.
“How much money did your mother give you?” asked Terry.
“Enough.”
“What’s enough?” asked Terry, trying not to sound like he was
giving Neil the third degree.
“Eighty dollars, she gave me eighty dollars.”
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“Well, that’s enough, like you said.” Terry looked up, the
pimps were still interested, wondering, Terry guessed, if they
weren’t missing an opportunity to make a deal for the boy. Terry
could see their wretched minds spinning. A white man and Negro
boy was an unnatural combination even in the North. Terry and
Neil were fair game.
The pimps continued to leer at Terry and Neil as they took the
escalator to the bus terminal located below the main floor. It was a
dungeon-type environment, filled with gas fumes, and piss puddles.
Neil lit a cigarette and tried to look tough.
There was a long line of passengers strewn along the wall at
the gate waiting for the New Orleans bus, which would stop in
Atlanta. The bus was already outside the gate spewing curly blue
disel fumes into the air.
Terry could feel Neil studying his face, and understood. Neil
was a street kid and sensitive, he lived on nuance. Every movement,
every inflection on a face told him something, gave him a warning.
Nuance was a way of life but could be hurtful as well. Neil would
know what people thought of him before they sometimes did. While
other kids his age might view different conversations like they had
just changed a TV channel, a survivor like Neil would receive
hundreds of bits of information instead of just a few bits. Life was
an infinite number of signals received every waking moment of his
life. And having to live that way, the world was always scary.
One of the pimps had followed them downstairs. He had a
beret and was leering at Neil with a twisted smile.
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“I got a blade, if he comes near me, I’m stickin’ him,” Neil said.
“He’s just trash, Neil, he’s not going to bother anyone.”
Neil smirked. Terry knew what it meant. He was white, he
didn’t understand.
“He could walk over here, grab me, tell everyone he’s my
father, that you’re trying to take me away from him. Nobody would
give a shit. They’d just look at his skin and look at mine and think
you was some sort of child molester, but I’m stickin’ him if he
comes.”
Terry tried to give Neil a reassuring smile, but knew what Neil
had said was right. In the largest bus terminal in the largest city in
the United States of America, the law of the jungle still applied. The
leering pimp was bringing down everything decent society stood for.
He was making a mockery of law and justice. Defiling the meaning of
brotherhood. Prowling the terminal for runaways, mugging old
people, at will: You creepy son-of-a-bitch, Terry wanted to say to
him. You low-life slime, get the fuck away from me. You’re a
disgrace to your people. But then a fight would start, and the other
vultures would grab Neil. Ignore the filthy son-of-a-bitch, Terry
decided as the pimp continued to leer at Neil from the steps.
They waited another 10 minutes, but finally boarding time was
announced. The pimp froze for a moment, and then darted away
much the same as a rat might have that was frightened by a sound.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
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There was a scene of excitement as the scenic cruiser lumbered out
of the Port Authority. It was going to be a long trip for most, Terry
suspected. Many of the passengers were African-American. Most
were dressed stylishly, particularly the men. The chatter began
almost immediately, but was interrupted when the Greyhound
cruiser crossed the Jersey Meadowlands. The majority of passengers
craned the necks to get a last glimpse of the Manhattan skyline, as
dusk fell.
Neil took an inside seat without a word. There was an AfricanAmerican man seated across from Terry, a man in his late forties
dressed in a spiffy yellow suit. He smiled and said, “How far you
going, son?”
“Atlanta.”
“You’re just about far enough up front to get noticed,” said the
man in the yellow suit. “When we hits Richmond, you let the boy sit
besides me, and you move down a few seats, give us folks a
breather. I don’t want anyone hurt. People are going home to see
their families.”
Terry looked at the man in the spiffy suit incredulously. “I
appreciate the offer, but this is an interstate bus, we don’t have to
worry about that stuff.”
The man looked at Terry with the wisdom that grows out of
hundreds of years of suppression. “White people down South are
real angry these days. No law is going to make them change how
they feel.”
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“Don’t I have anything to say about where I sit?” snarled Neil.
The furrows appeared on the man’s face. “You’ve got to watch
your uppity ways, young man. It’s not like the North down there.
They let you know they don’t like you. They expect you, with no
apparent reservations to give way willingly and cheerfully when you
walk on a sidewalk and see a white man coming towards you. And at
no time must you establish eye contact. That’s what they expect in
places like Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and parts of
Georgia. That’s the way it is, Martin is changing that, but right now
that’s the way it is.”
“I appreciate the advice,” Terry said. “We’ll think about it.”
“You make sure he don’t act sassy down there,” chided the
man, giving Neil a hard look with the hint of a smile behind it.
“Everything’s fucked up,” said Neil, but not loudly.
The man in the spiffy yellow suit shook his head and mumbled
“sassy” under his breath. “Going to get in trouble that way.”
The freedom rides had not freed this Negro’s way of thinking
about public transportation, thought Terry. And the sad thing was
he was probably right. God, what a feeling it must be to be made to
feel inferior because of your skin color. What could be more awful?
What could you do that was more hurtful to a human being?
As darkness came and the passengers settled into a rhythm.
The readers adjusting their lights fastidiously. The sleepers
adjusting their bodies to the right position. The talkers trying a few
words out on the passengers next to them hoping they would get a
response. Terry could feel the eyes of the Negro passengers on him.
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331
Most of whom were seated in the back of the bus. They were
wondering, he assumed, why he was traveling with Neil. Was he a
child molester? Was he a cop bringing Neil home for punishment?
He really didn’t know what they were thinking, but they let him
know they were watching. When he turned his back, their eyes
would be riveted on him, trying to discover the truth, because white
men and Negro boys did not travel together for any good reason.
In a way, Terry pondered, it was a wonderful thing. A sort of
bonding between the Negroes on the bus and Neil. Something Neil
had probably never experienced.
By Philadelphia they were passing sandwiches over to Neil and
trying to find out why he was on the bus, but Neil volunteered little
information. On his second trip from the bathroom, he turned to
Terry and asked, “Why do they keep mumbling things to me, Terry?
Saying things just like the old fart across from us? Remember, now,
don’t go and be using a white bathroom. Don’t act sassy. Don’t stare.
Why are these people so afraid, Terry?”
Terry didn’t feel qualified to answer Neil, but he did anyway.
“There are ways of doing things in the South, Neil. I guess they
wanted you to know about them. It doesn’t mean that they believe
those things to be right. That’s why there’s the Civil Rights
Movement, but they are good and decent people, Neil, probably
going back to the South for a visit, so they’re not looking to change
the world. And they figure you’re from the city, and don’t know
about the peculiar ways of the South.”
“They make me nervous,” he said, closing his eyes.
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332
By the time the scenic cruiser pulled out of Washington, D.C.,
Terry felt the sense of there being two distinct groups of people on
the bus. The whites and the Negroes. He had never felt that
distinction so clearly as on this bus, perhaps he had been a fool to
have never noticed it, he thought. But it was clearly there. The white
passengers would look straight ahead on their way to the toilet,
neither looking left or right to acknowledge the Negroes seated
before them. The Negroes preferred to wait until a rest stop to use
the toilet, afraid it seemed that they might be asked not to use the
toilet on the bus. These weren’t the Negroes Terry had seen in the
Delta working for SNCC. Not the energetic young men and women
with the fire of change in their eyes.
It was also clear that the Negro passengers were excited about
going home. In the South it was the Negro who had cleared the
swamps and tilled the land for their masters. They were part of the
soil. In the North there were no such accomplishments. He could
understand why they didn’t mind Uncle Tommin’-it just to be home
again with their families.
Between Richmond and Winston-Salem, Neil had a nightmare.
He let out a piercing scream and jumped up in his seat. Most of the
bus, startled at first, quickly settled back to dozing. When fully
awake Neil sat quietly down in his seat, and curled up again in a
sleeping position, but he still appeared to be shaken from the
nightmare.
“What happened?” asked Terry.
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333
“Don’t know, get these every once in a while, can never
remember what they’re about.”
“You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m, okay.”
“Change seats with me, Mister, for a little while,” said an
African-American woman in her early sixties. She was a large woman
with a little girl’s smile. She had been sitting two rows back of Terry.
She appeared to be a decent woman, Terry thought, and Neil didn’t
object, so he got up and exchanged seats with her.
Terry could hear her talking softly to Neil, and then he saw
Neil’s head slump in her arms as she hummed a tune under her
breath.
If only Neil could have that kind of peace the rest of his life,
Terry thought. Or for that matter, himself as well. Why were
moments like these so rare as to be remembered? A few minutes of
genuine love and caring, what every human had the capacity to do,
but shunned like the plague, afraid of vulnerability, the fear of
being exposed, of being caught naked for what they believed they
were--which was a vague thing in the back of their mind that
suggested they were less than they appeared to be. Maybe worthless,
even worse--they were nothingness. They didn’t exist, only you were
not supposed to find out. Did Kennedy make Oswald feel vulnerable
in that way? was that it? Did the nut job want to stop the world from
finding out he really didn’t exist? Okay, it sounds stupid, Terry
thought, but why does a person like Oswald do such a thing? Does
he get his validation of existence by an act of assassination? Is that
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334
it? All the pain and anger and hate directed at him for doing his
horrible act finally makes him feel like he exists. Existence by
assassination? Why not? Or did the son-of-a-bitch think he could
stop a man’s ideas by stopping him with a bullet, the common
theory ascribed to the Oswalds of the world. The assassination, of
course, allowing all the others made uncomfortable by Kennedy to
get on with their lives and their golf game, and probably the
resurrection of Richard Nixon, who fit nicely into the world of job
titles and large paychecks, and hatred for all Communists, which
was the only validation of existence those fatcats were familiar with.
Whereas Kennedy made them think--no, more importantly, made
them feel, which they had no defense against, and which in turn
made them feel like they were headed into the same nothingness
that Oswald might have felt.
Well, Terry boy, you’re not going along with it. Do you hear
me, Oswald, you slimy son-of-a-bitch, your bullet did not stop the
president’s ideas, and what he brought to people, and some
Americans may now be happy with their golf game again, but they
can go fuck themselves, do you hear me, Oswald? And whoever the
fuck else helped you.
At a rest stop in Asheville, N.C., the woman who sang Neil to
sleep told Terry her story while Neil went to a bathroom for
COLOREDS ONLY. She had insisted on Neil using the COLOREDS
ONLY TOILET, and Neil didn’t seem to mind. Her name, she said, was
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335
Seritta Jones. She was originally from South Carolina but had lived
in New York most of her adult life. Although she hadn’t lived with
her husband for 30 years, she was going back for his funeral. They
had a grandson in the Marines, she said. His father, her son, had
died of a drug overdose. She had originally come to New York for a
better life. When her boy was small, she told Terry, he had gotten a
job walking horses at Belmont Racetrack. No one in the
neighborhood had a job like that, and she was proud of her son, but
the track was an easy place to get drugs. Soon her son was shooting
up in hallways and she was calling the police to get help. She
thought about taking him down South again, but she knew he would
be considered uppity and wouldn’t last. “Junk, the Ku Klux Klan,”
she said, sorrowfully, “it’s the same to some of us.”
She peered at the African-American passengers coming out of
the COLOREDS ONLY toilet and said to Terry, “I know what you’re
thinking. Why are the Negroes on this bus acting like Martin Luther
King never existed?”
“I didn’t think that,” said Terry, surprised at being nailed.
“It’s because the only thing we want to do is get to where we’re
going because most of us don’t have a lot of time, and we got to get
back to our jobs. Believe me, Mr. Chandler, we’ll fight when we’re
ready, but there’s a lot of mean white people in these terminals just
waiting for us to get them angry...three weeks ago they cut a Negro
boy’s penis off for walking in a WHITES ONLY bathroom. The federal
marshals didn’t do him any good.”
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
336
Seritta Jones got off at the next stop, Commerce, Georgia.
Terry was sorry to see her go. While her bags were being unloaded
she looked up at the window and gave him a warm smile. It was one
of the loveliest smiles he had ever experienced, and it made him
think of his mother.
“You switch with me now,” said the man in the spiffy yellow
suit to Terry when the bus started moving.
The Negroes on the bus weren’t going to be so foolish as to
allow the white outsider to believe the new federal laws on interstate
transportation, Terry thought.
The scenic cruiser arrived in Atlanta an hour and a half later.
There were a few doubletakes by whites when Terry stopped
for a traffic light, in Birmingham, Georgia, but that was the only
moment when he thought there would be trouble. He had rented a
late-model Oldsmobile with a V8 engine. That was the only kind of
car to rent he had been told by a SNCC worker. The V8 was
powerful enough to outrun six-cylinder cars. And big enough to
sleep in when you were turned down for a motel room.
“We’re going to stop at a friend’s house first,” Terry said to a
tense-looking Neil. “It’s only a little out of the way.”
Neil did not acknowledge that he cared either way. Finally he
said, “Lots of trees down here...more trees than I’ve ever seen.”
“They look a lot better than gutted tenement buildings,
wouldn’t you say?” Terry stated, now feeling that he was doing the
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337
only thing that could be done for Neil. Hoping--no, praying it would
work out, because he didn’t want to go to the bottom again, he had
been there with Rosemary, and his mother, and Kennedy, and he
didn’t want to be there again.
“I guess so,” replied Neil, not showing any emotion, seemingly
gazing at the tranquil countryside which was always one of the
South’s great deceptions. The harmony of land and the disharmony
of man, the South’s great balancing act. Total negation of a race
done with soft words, warm sunshine, and green fertile fields.
“I want you to meet a man, Neil. His name is Johnny Light. he
owns his own farm like your aunt, but he’s also a musician, we’re
going to stop in his place first, it’s only a half hour out of the way.”
“My father played the drums,” said Neil, coming alive. “Was
the best damn drummer around. Auditioned for Dizzy Gillespie, the
blow-job artist told me.”
“You shouldn’t call your mother that,” Terry said, trying very
hard not to sound judgmental.
“That’s all she is. Men stick their prick in her mouth. That’s
how she likes it, she’s afraid of getting VD and that kind of stuff.
They come in her mouth and she spits it out.”
“Damn it, enough Neil,” Terry said, turning away from the
wheel, mad at himself for letting Cynthia do it to him.
“That John ain’t comin’ around after I stuck him,” said Neil
proudly. “No way is he comin’ around.”
Neil continued talking. Mostly about his mother being such a
miserable human being, and how much he hated her, and how
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338
much he hated the hawks who swooped down on his pigeons from
the ledges of office buildings.
It was late afternoon when they arrived at Johnny Light’s farm.
The light in the Delta was fascinating, Terry thought. It seemed to
not only come from the sun, but actually to emanate glowingly from
the land itself. He wondered what the French Impressionists might
have thought of the Delta’s peach-colored rays, and soft hues, which
gave the appearance of seeing the landscape through very fine
linen.
Johnny Light and Neil hit it off immediately. It was an instant
bonding that transcended color or poverty, Terry observed. They
were coming from the same place, it seemed, and they said very few
words to each other when first meeting, but anyone could see they
liked each other.
Terry decided to stay for the night. He had not been specific
with Neil’s great aunt in the telegram on what day he was arriving,
but only on what day they were leaving New York, stating that he
might stop on the way.
After dinner, Terry took a walk near the woods and left Neil
jabbering with Johnny on the porch. Their bodies, as seen from a
distance, were backlit from the light in the living room and had an
eerie glow. A few times during his stroll Terry though he heard
people talking in a language that sounded foreign but contained a
few English words. The voices came from a dense part of the woods
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less than a hundred yards from Johnny Light’s house. There were
still a few brick buildings in that part of the woods where slaves had
lived, Johnny had told him--left over from plantation days when
cotton was king. King Cotton, they had called it.
Later, when Neil had gone to bed, Terry sat with Johnny Light
on the porch.
“He’s a bright boy,” said Johnny. “Real bright. A boy like that
is going to have problems down here, Terry.”
“From the way I see it, he would have had worse problems if
he had stayed in New York.”
Light picked up his Gibson guitar and began strumming it.
“It’s funny, here I was trying to tell him not to be himself down
here, and what we’re fighting for is trying to be like him--the world
sure is strange sometimes.
“He’ll catch on, Johnny, don’t you think?” Terry said, leaning
forward in his chair as if that would pick up Johnny’s answer faster.
Light frowned. “Catch on to what? Kissin’ the master’s ass?
Being two people, one always smiling and deferential, the other
angry and defeated? Those young people from SNCC are how we
should be. How we should be acting. Only we can’t do it all at once,
we’re still a minority. It’s enough to tangle anybody up...take Neil
back, Terry. His mind is already free. It’s where a lot of us in the
Delta will never be.”
Terry rose quickly out of his chair and faced the darkness. He
put one foot on the porch railing. Light didn’t understand what
being institutionalized meant, he decided. Light didn’t know what
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340
they could do to a kid like Neil in one of those upstate places.
Johnny Light just didn’t understand, Terry repeated to himself.
“I can’t take him back. He’s living on a roof in New York. His
mother is a hooker...there’s a warrant out for his arrest, he attacked
one of his mother’s customers...anyway, you said the South was
changing.”
Light pursed his lips, and thought for a moment, the pause
itself had strength and purpose, because you could see Light’s
wheels turning.
“It hasn’t change fast enough for that boy. That boy’s got a lot
of backbone, anybody can see that. He’s going to have trouble down
here.”
Light doesn’t understand, Terry said to himself again, he just
doesn’t understand.
“I just wanted you to talk to him on how to get around the
bullshit down here, that’s all I wanted, Johnny,” Terry said, slightly
angry for Light not making it easy.
“That’s the old way, Terry, can’t you see that boy can’t be told
what to do by any white man. He’s too damn proud, probably
because he’s so ashamed of his mother.”
It was foolish to have expected Johnny Light to pass on some
magical formula on how to act around white bigots, Terry thought.
But Neil had to have a home, he was convinced, there was no hope
for him in the city.
Johnny Light began strumming his guitar again, and Terry
relaxed.
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341
“I usually serenade the ghosts around this time, they get antsy
if I don’t,” Johnny Light said with a slight smile of resignation.
The night began to get chilly. Terry rubbed his hands together
as Johnny Light sang softly, and sweetly, and bluesily, and the
nightly sounds of crickets and hundreds of other creatures seemed
to grow silent, and Terry could feel someone listening contently out
there in the hazily Mississippi darkness.
Neil’s great aunt, Juliet Powers, lived near Chatham, Alabama,
which was north of central Alabama’s rich swath of prairie soil
known as the Black Belt, and bordered eastern Mississippi. The final
stretch of road leading to her farmhouse was brownish red from the
clay in the ground. She and her husband stood motionless on their
porch as Terry pulled up to their modest house, red dust hanging in
the air for a moment, and then clearing in the sparkling sunlight.
Terry sweated heavily from the sun passing through the car window
as Neil slouched down slightly in his seat, not sure, Terry suspected,
what kind of reception he was going to get.
Neil stepped out of the Oldsmobile cautiously, as if he was
stepping on eggs. His great aunt suddenly opened her arms and ran
towards him excitedly, closing her arms around him just before
making contact, crushing him against her large sagging breasts. Neil
seemed to disappear in her arms and body until he stepped back.
But she held him by both arms and said, “This boy has a home as
long as he wants one.” Her husband stood motionless on the porch,
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342
but he seemed to be a gentle man, thought Terry, suddenly feeling
content about making the trip for the first time.
“They delivered the telegram yesterday,” said Neil’s great
aunt. “That place in the Bronx ain’t fit for cattle, I told his mother
that. I told her to change her ways. Thank god my sister is not alive
to see what happened to her daughter.”
Neil looked down.
“First thing we have to do is fatten this boy up,” she said,
holding Neil’s right arm in a powerful grasp.
Her husband, Lester, introduced himself, and presented Neil
with a slightly used Schwinn bicycle. The farmhouse, although
modest, was comfortable, the cramped kitchen being overwhelmed
by a freezer instead of a refrigerator, which was not uncommon in
the Delta, Terry was told. “Things couldn’t keep in a refrigerator
down here,” Neil’s great aunt said as if the land was special in lots of
ways that outsiders didn’t understand.
After a huge meal of beefribs, baked beans, and coleslaw, Neil
walked Terry to his rented car. The Alabama sun was still intense,
almost relentless, the impression of their footsteps noticeable on the
red clay.
“They’re nice,” said Neil. “It might be okay here.”
“You’re not trying to make me feel good now, are you? You
really think it might be okay here for you, then?” asked Terry,
stopping and studying Neil’s face for a clue to how he really felt.
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343
“It’s possible. With the bike I can ride into town. Haven’t seen
town yet so I don’t know what that is, but so far everything seems
pretty good.”
“Well, that’s good then,” Terry said, feeling as good as he had
felt in a long time...tell me, though, what did Johnny Light tell you?
Neil was silent for a moment, he pressed his lips together and
moved them around. “He said they call people with my
skin...niggers. He told me if anyone insults me, that I should feel
pride but not answer back. He said I should remember that things
are changing fast for Negroes, and soon no one would call us niggers
to our faces again. He said I should step off a sidewalk when a white
person is walking my way, and not look at a white woman. He said
to play a game with myself, to pretend I’m really not there in body
and mind when white people are around. He said white people down
here are real trash.”
“He said trash?” replied Terry, totally surprised at the remark.
“He said white people are also devils.”
“He didn’t say that.”
“He said all white people want to do is fuck our women and
put our men down.”
“Neil, cut it out. C’mon, everything has been going pretty good
so far.”
“He said they want to send us to jail and keep us locked up
forever,” Neil backed away from the car as if it was going to explode
then turned and ran towards the wood line at the edge of a meadow.
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344
Terry got in the car, started the engine, shut it off, and took
after Neil. As Terry crossed into the forest from the meadow, the
sun was suddenly cut off by the overhead canopy created by the
taller trees. Terry felt a deep chill. The forest was decayed, many of
the trees were covered with black moss and lifeless.
“Fuck blow-job artists,” Neil’s voice echoed off the forest
canopy.
Terry was out of breath but continued to run. Ahead of him he
could see small shacks--old slave quarters, he presumed. Johnny
Light had told him there were still many around throughout the
South.
Gasping for air, Terry shouted, “Neil, cut the shit, I’m going.”
There was no answer. Just silence and an eerie feeling. Almost
as if something was brushing up against him. One deep pit, looked
particularly ominous, and Terry stayed clear of it.
“Neil, look, I have to drive to Atlanta, it’s going to be okay.”
There was still no answer.
“Okay, suit yourself I’m going, but I suggest you walk out with
me, this place is spooky...Johnny Light said a lot of unhappy spirits
are roaming around these places.”
Neil’s answer was still silence. Maybe the slave ghosts wanted
company, maybe they wouldn’t let him go, thought Terry, but then
he criticized himself for being so morose, yet he could feel them, all
around him, unhappy souls, which depressed him...why should
people have to be unhappy after they die, too? Wasn’t once enough?
Hell, none of them had even seen the Moon is Blue, or eaten fish on
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345
Friday, and that made him laugh, and he decided to call Neil’s bluff
and started walking towards the sunlight which stayed out of the
dark forest, but could be seen through the trees: the sun glittering,
giving hints of its warmth and promise, and making the place he
was now in seem even darker, which made him anxious again.
There was a rustle of brush.
“Wait for me, Terry, it’s goddamn creepy in here,” said Neil,
getting as close to Terry as he could, and looking very vulnerable.
They had to walk on dried leaves and branches which made a
crunching sound that seemed unnatural, and in turn each new
footstep seemed to increase that unnaturalness, so that when the
meadow was finally in sight, Neil rushed to it, even scrapping one of
his arms on a tree branch, but not stopping until he was out in the
sun again.
Terry watched Neil scamper into the clearing with less finesse
than he had used jumping over roof dividers, but nonetheless with
more grace than any adult.
Neil greeted Terry with a forced smile on his face as Terry
walked into the clearing. Terry gave him a hard look and said,
“What was that all about?”
Neil scrunched his lips, and it was obvious to Terry that Neil
had just killed the first thing he was going to say and was editing his
answer.
“I thought you might stay a few days, that’s what I was
thinking,” Neil finally said, picking up a branch and throwing it
angrily.
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“I have to get to Atlanta, Neil. I have a job to do for the next
couple of weeks,” Terry replied, feeling hollow about his answer
because he wasn’t sure why he was going to Atlanta--sure, the grant
was helping SNCC but it didn’t need Terry Chandler. And he did not
go to bed every night with a burning desire to help the Negro cause
like the others, although he wished he could. He had no burning
cause, only a constant nagging desire to turn the Oswald bullet into
a blank, to somehow keep the President and his ideas alive in him,
to prevent the hat and steak boys from business as usual, realizing
of course, that he was only one person, but also hoping there had to
be others like him who were not tossing out Kennedy because of an
assassin’s bullet.
The heat in the meadow was uncomfortable, but the flat
country, hazy with green and yellow hues, was pleasant to look at.
“Maybe I’ll come to visit you,” Neil said, as they walked
towards the Oldsmobile, this time from the opposite direction.
“You just got here, didn’t you?”
“I know I just got here,” Neil replied, raising his voice slightly.
“Goodbye,” he said, walking towards the farmhouse.
“I’ll write,” Terry said, but Neil continued walking to the
farmhouse without turning around.
He had to get back to Atlanta, Terry told himself. He had the
contracts and the other legal bullshit that went along with grants.
Besides, Alison was waiting for him. Anyway, he didn’t even know if
he was going to stay. Nothing was certain really. Nothing had been
certain for him since the bad news about Kennedy.
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Alison lived in a seedy little one-story house on Violet Street in
the Southwestern section of Atlanta. It made commuting to SNCC
headquarters easier, she claimed, although she would be the first to
admit that the stares she got every morning from African-Americans
trying to figure out if she was passing for white made her feel like a
celebrity, but with just a tinge of danger.
“I had a hell of a time finding this place,” were the first words
out Terry’s mouth to Alison. It was 12 PM, and Terry had not
enjoyed riding around the streets looking for Alison’s digs. “The
police stopped me twice, almost accused me of prowling around for
a Negro prostitute. Why else would I be here? they said?”
Alison smiled innocently as women often do when the subject
of prostitution is brought up.
“And they took one look at your innocent face, and knew you
weren’t prowling around for a woman,” Alison said, beaming. She
helped Terry take his windbreaker off.
He told her about Neil over a cup of coffee.
“You did a good thing,” Alison said, looking surprisingly
worldly in her T-shirt, and overalls. No, more than that, she was
exactly where she should be. She was there for now, anyway. Her
brain, her body, the SNCC uniform, in essence an extension of her
brain and body, and her Alisoness. The Movement loved her as
much as she loved the Movement, in turn giving her a radiance that
transcended natural looks, or anything makeup could do.
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348
Had he done a good thing for Neil? Terry thought, looking
around. The house was full of old furniture that might have looked
bleak in someone else’s house but seemed to be just right for Alison.
“It’s not the Ritz, I know,” she said defensively, “but I only
make $20 a week, and with what savings I have it’s all I can do, but I
feel so alive, Terry. What an honor it is to be on the staff of SNCC.”
She got up from the decayed kitchen table, grasped Terry by the
hand, and led him to the living room where they sat down on a
once-fine couch. Still holding his hand she said, “I’ve been waiting
all week for this moment, Terry, I’m so glad to see you.”
He thought about her comment. He was glad to see her but not
in the same way as she obviously was to see him. And he wondered
if really being glad to see people was over for him. He had been glad
to see his mother but the tumor took away the real gladness. He was
glad to see Rosemary, but knowing he would probably never see her
again did not make him really glad to see her. He had always been
glad to see pictures of Kennedy, but now the same pictures hurt, so
that he was sometimes glad when he didn’t see any pictures of
Kennedy.
“We really haven’t talked about sleeping accommodations,” he
said innocently.
Alison smiled all-knowingly and picked up Terry’s hand and
placed it just under her nipple.
“We’ll just say you’re sleeping on the couch,” she said,
bringing his hand gently down and covering it with hers. “No one at
SNCC cares what we do anyway.”
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He put his face on her small breasts, and thought how glad he
was to feel them, and how glad he was to smell her, and how glad he
was knowing he was going to fuck her. But he wasn’t really glad to
see her, and that bothered him.
“I’ll help you, darling,” she said, removing her shirt and
brassiere. Her overalls, however, were still on her. He dropped to his
knees and buried his face in her crotch. She slumped back and
opened her legs. The heat from her crotch excited him and he stuck
his wet tongue between her legs, excited at the possibility of what
lay beyond the cotton material of her panties.
She removed her overalls and panties with a giggle. And the
two of them ended up in the 69 position on the couch. Alison tried
to perform fellatio but couldn’t, she didn’t know how. Her teeth kept
biting him.
“Well, I see you’ve really been a good girl,” he said as he got
up and spread her legs apart.
“Up until now,” she said softly, bringing her hand around his
neck as he entered her on his knees.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
SNCC headquarters on Raymond Street, just off busy Hunter Street,
was over a tailor shop in a worn-looking two-story brick building
that could have passed for a small Greyhound station with its deep
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green color and Bauhaus look. The rest of Raymond Street climbed
uphill, and was residental.
Terry thought Alison was a wonder. She did everything from
operating a 1250 multilith printing press to drafting press releases.
Alison’s job was to coordinate communications. Keep everyone in
touch with what was going on in the field. SNCC had voter
registration projects in a number of Mississippi towns as well as
counties in Alabama and Georgia. In addition, there were direct
action projects in Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Nashville, Baltimore, and
Gadsden, Tallas, and Huntsville, Alabama. The Watts line setup from
Koslowski’s labor pool was looked on as a godsend.
Terry knew that the SNCC staff called him “Andrew’s boy”
behind his back, but it didn’t seem malicious, and he didn’t mind.
The young African-Ameicans in the untidy headquarters seemed to
work without rest, afraid, it seemed, to even pause for a few
moments because it might set the Movement behind, but there was
also great humor too. The laughter so honest you had to smile when
you heard it. Raymond Street was a place where mainstream
America did not exist as a domineering force to influence every
action from birth to death of an entire race. It was a place of infinite
hope born from an innate sense that what was being done there was
so right that eventually the rightness would win over all wrongness.
It was a place of tremendous energy. Explosive. Rockets of free
expression aimed at the hard, dark sky of America. Full of aliveness,
the Negro as a thriving, intelligent, forceful human being--whether
you liked it or not...taking the bullshit by the horns. It was the stuff
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of history, and Terry was convinced that SNCC would be
remembered for all time, and the SNCC headquarters would
someday be visited by schoolchildren, both Negro and white, as a
place that made a difference in modern America.
Koslowski arranged for Terry to have a desk in the YMCA
regional office which was in the Exchange Place building in
southeast Atlanta. Other tenants in the building included The
American Friends Service Committee, the Society of Friends, and the
National Student Association. Koslowski called everyday and Terry
would have nothing to say to him. Koslowski didn’t seem to mind.
He mostly wanted to gossip. What did Terry do in the evenings? Was
he sleeping with Alison? What kind of area did she live in? Where
did he eat? Terry wrote the questions off as a man just trying to
keep the lines of communication open.
However, living with Alison and having daily conversations
with SNCC workers didn’t make Terry feel any better about himself.
The fervor and dedication of Alison and the SNCC staff was so great,
it bordered on being a religion. But he has no desire to join it. Not
because he didn’t believe it was right; he felt it was right, more than
right, due, but the emotional side of him would not catch on fire
when he thought of the Movement, and that depressed him along
with the other things that were keeping him at the bottom. He did
not want to fall into the trap of better grab onto it, it’s the best
option you have now that Kennedy is no longer around.
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352
Fuck that stuff. Fuck it, he told himself over and over. He
wasn’t going to be some emotional junkie like some whites when it
came to the Movement--jumping from one cause to the other.
Getting their need for love and control satisfied because of the
passions of the oppressed, feeling alive only because of reaction and
not what was going on inside of them. They could have it, he didn’t
have to shop around for the next best thing to Kennedy. He thought
of the mess hall on the USNS Geiger and acknowledged for the first
time, admitted to himself, really, that Kennedy’s picture had been
taken down on the 23rd, and Johnson’s picture moved from the Vice
President’s position to the President’s position. Lyndon Baines
Johnson, the new commander-in-chief.
What a victory for the little mind that thought of that strategic
military maneuver in the ship’s mess hall. Executed with stealth and
speed. If some fool thought that was all there was to it, so be it. Sure,
the bureaucrats who keep things running would have you believe
that government was the interchanging of pictures, and that they
were the structure that made it happen, but they were followers,
and not just any kind of followers, they were followers of something
far more important to them than an inspired leader or the
Constitution of the United States.
They were followers of the Great Bureaucratic Vision: catching
up on paperwork. At least SNCC had people who knew the difference
between a number two pencil and a human being he often thought
when he became frozen with the thought of the future.
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353
Terry managed to be comfortable in Alison’s Violet Street
house, and was sitting on the once-fine couch that must have
thrilled its former owner when it first arrived much as a new Maytag
washing machine had thrilled his mother who had used a
washboard up until the arrival of the Maytag.
He was looking at a copy of Argosy, an article about searching
for precious sapphires in the Amazon, he had just finished an article
about diving for hidden treasures off the Florida keys. No man
could read one of these articles in Argosy and not feel a pang of
jealousy. These real-life adventurers knew what they wanted and
were doing everything they could to get it. Not unlike a person
dedicated to the Movement. Only these real-life adventurers in
Argosy were dedicated to a better world for themselves. The articles,
Terry felt, never included stuff like depriving their families to
finance their trips, or being so obsessed with their desire for wealth,
they were not really human, not in the way humans that are good
and decent are known to live with each other. These were creatures
obsessed with a better world for them, not you. They must have
caused a lot of a suffering on their road to adventure and wealth,
Terry surmised, just as the phone rang.
Alison’s in the shower, you’ll have to call back, he said to
himself before picking it up--but it was Cynthia speaking very softly,
almost mysteriously.
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“Andrew says you’re living with a group down there so I
shouldn’t panic if a woman answers the phone, that’s what he said,
Terry.”
He hadn’t figured on Cynthia calling, but that was stupid
thinking to begin with. He didn’t want to lie, he hated lying, but he
knew the truth would hurt her more.
“You know how it is,” he lied, “a whole bunch of people who
don’t care if they sleep on the floor as long as they can get up and
save the world in the morning.”
“Don’t be facetious, Terry,” she said in her still mysterious
voice which did not match her words. “It must be very exciting--Oh,
I wish I could be there.”
“How do you feel, Cynthia?” he said, closing the magazine on a
Volkswagen ad.
“You’ve been down there nearly two and a half weeks, Terry,
and you haven’t called. How do you think I feel?” Now the voice was
closer to real feelings, and he much preferred the diversion.
Side-stepping her comment, he asked, “What do the doctors
say?”
“They want me to try staying out of the hospital a little longer.
Of course I have the option to stay if I insist. I’m calling from the
apartment now. I’ve been listening to old R & B records,” she said
cheerfully, which eased Terry.
“Clearly superior to the Pat Boones of the world. Clearly
superior--’Oh Gee, hear my plea, Oh, Oh, Gee,’” she sang.
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“That’s not bad, Cynthia,” he said, surprised that Cynthia had
managed to put a smile on his face.
“Think I could get on Ed Sullivan?” she giggled.
“I’ll book it myself,” he said, completely dropping his guard.
Hoping there would be no surprises. Happy just to communicate
with her.
“What R &B group do you think was the best, Terry?” she
asked, as if Mommy could substitute for Terry in her sentence.
Now she was really cooking, he thought. From mysterious lady
to almost angry, to funny in a few sentences, but her moods were
heading in the right direction. He wondered if she planned it that
way, knowing she could be difficult, and compensating for it so that
when she finally got to where she wanted to be, it was right, but it
was only right because of what preceded it. You wouldn’t appreciate
a tightrope walker if he did his best trick first. So he would stumble
on one of the easy flips, and set you up for the big flip.
“The best R & B group in New York was Frankie Lymon and the
Teenagers,” Terry said enthusiastically, the most enthusiastic
answer he had ever given to one of her questions, in fact. She had
never asked him a question that he could have answered that way
about Kennedy, he thought momentarily, and then got into it. “Dion
and the Belmonts were the best white group. I went to school with
some of the Belmonts. Named after Belmont Avenue.”
In those days groups practiced acappella everywhere, he
recalled: up on the roofs, in the hallways, down in the cellars, and
even deeper, the IND subway: Pretending it was only for fun, but
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knowing it was a way out of the neighborhood--show business.
Developing harmonies long after people who did things for fun quit.
One group from the neighborhood had even come in second at the
Apollo, which was amazing for a white group. A detective had taken
them down there.
And then he thought: Maybe they wouldn’t have robbed a
Woolworth’s and beaten the store manager senseless if they had
come in first.
“I’m impressed,” Cynthia said coyly, too coyly which bought
him down again.
“Cynthia, you sound great, look I’ll give you a call in a few
days, I promise.”
“Guess where I have my hand?” she said like a wicked little
child.
“Look, Cynthia--”
“I have my hand where you like to put it, Terry, but why don’t
you rub it a little and make my cave gushy...yes, I can feel your
hand now, oh Terry, take out your penis. Yes, I see it now, can you
feel my hand stroking your pulsating, quivering cock? I’m trying to
get my mouth down there but it’s hard, it is faraway but I can see it
and I’m making every attempt to put my soft lips on it--”
“Cynthia, cut it out, I’m living with other people here.”
“Listen, handsome, who’s your favorite lay?” asked the Sex
Goddess.
“You are.”
“Don’t I suck it like a vacuum cleaner?”
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“You do,” said Terry, getting hot, and getting disgusted with
himself.
“Then sit down on your sofa, get a Kleenx and I’m going to
make you come.”
“Cynthia, I can’t, there are other people here.”
“You want me to take your pants down and spank you?” she
said in the Lauren Bacall voice she occasionally used.
“Enough, Cynthia, I’m hanging up the phone.”
“Okay then, just tell me if it feels good.”
“It feels good,” he said hesitantly.
“Sound like you have a pair,” ordered the Sex Goddess.
He had to talk to the doctors himself, he decided, find out
what the hell was going on in her head.
“Yeah, it feels good,” he said, not hiding his annoyance.
“But does it feel great?” she shot back.
“Jesus, Cynthia, I just hope you’re taking your medication,” he
pleaded desperately.
“You just hope I’m taking my medication,” she said loudly.
“You just hope I get out of your life.”
“C’mon, Cynthia, that’s not true. I just want you to get
well...but you have to take your medication,” he said, thinking those
aren’t the right words, that much he knew, but what were the right
words?
“I didn’t forget cute Alison, you know. You’re living with her,
aren’t you?”
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“Under the same roof, that’s about it,” he tried to answer
indifferently.
He could hear the cards sliding into the slots.
“She’ll never be able to give head like I do...hand-jobs is all
those virtuous little Southern belles know how to give down there.
They can’t fuck.”
Her directness about the sexual mores of the South was stated
with a rapid-fire sureness usually associated with popular college
lecturers.
“Cynthia, why do you degrade yourself like this...why?” God,
those weren’t the right words either.
Her voice went soft and sweet again, she said, “I’ll call you
again, handsome,” and hung up the phone.
Terry held the receiver for a long time before putting it down.
He sat in the darkness and tried to get Cynthia out of his mind by
thinking if he had ever seen a performer more exciting than Frankie
Lymon at the Apollo.
Yeah, he thought, John F. Kennedy. He could see JFK giving his
inauguration speech while Frankie Lymon, in an oversized red suit
with pegged pants, stood behind JFK and directed members of
Congress in background do-wop harmonies, jumping up and down,
doing splits, his hands touching the floor, while the Chief Justice did
a half twist.
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“I’m worried about you,” Alison said, still wrapped in a towel
an hour after her shower. She was sitting alongside Terry on the
very fine old couch.
He hated openings like I’m worried about you because he had
found that woman usually meant I’m worried about us.
“I don’t know what you mean, Alison,” he said, praying for a
fresh breeze from somewhere, anywhere, and the dogs were getting
on his nerves, it seemed every scrubby yard had one. They would
wait for the slightest excuse to bark and take off. As the evening
wore on they would get even louder and bolder, until their masters
cursed at them, and soon there would be back doors slamming, and
they would be let in the house, the real purpose behind their
barking.
They were barking now as Alison became serious. “You just
don’t seem happy,” she said sullenly. “Maybe because you’re a few
years older than the rest of us, I don’t know. But I do know, you’re
not happy.”
She really didn’t want him to agree with her, he felt, but
Cynthia had exhausted his capacity to seek the right words--the
truth said diplomatically--for any more conversations that day. And
that one fucking dog that always started the others off was at it
again.
He turned to look at Alison, directly. “Well, you got your
grant. Andrew thinks he has me spying on your organization, and
what have I got? I’m hanging around here watching a lot of zealous
people do what they really want to do.Those people from SNCC
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think they’re pretty hot shit because they’re finally doing something
for their people. From what I can see, most of them, on Raymond
Street anyway, look like they come from some pretty well-do-to
families. I doubt very few of them have ever been on welfare or
stood on line for a pair of shoes like I have when I was a kid,” he
said heatedly.
“You don’t really believe, Terry, that it’s harder to be poor
than a Negro? And anyway, being Negro and being poor are
practically synonymous,” she shot back.
A few back doors slammed, and suddenly there was blissful
quietness.
“I know what I said sounds dumb, I didn’t mean it that way.”
“What bothers you, Terry, is they have something they’re
fighting for...what’s wrong with that? They have their Kennedy and
it hurts you. I see how you try to walk like him sometimes. How you
freeze when his name is mentioned on the nightly news. How you
mope when his name is said in a conversation. How you leave out
his name just as you’re going to say it when you’re talking
politics...but he’s gone, Terry...gone. Life has to move on. If this
country is going to get on the right track again it has to eliminate
racism, it must treat the Negro as a human being.”
Terry leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his head in his
hands.
Alison picked at a few strands of his hair. “Everyone likes you,
Terry, why don’t you just let yourself go?”
“Get with the program, right?”
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“I’ve never met anyone like you, what do you want, Terry?”
“I don’t know, whatever it is it doesn’t seem to be down here.”
In the distance he could hear a drunk arguing with his wife.
“I know you feel bad about not being near your mother.”
Was it that easy, he thought, to identify what was bothering
him? Mother? Kennedy? Rosemary? No goals? It used to seem that
way, but now it didn’t anymore, there was just this big hollowness
that hurt as you tried to define it so it would let up, because it
didn’t make any sense to hurt more than you had to. It was now a
hollowness that sapped strength and made you feel like you were
watching a movie instead of being a part of life. Or were you the
movie and they were watching you?
“I’m going to have to go back soon, at least for a visit.”
“I know, Terry, I know you really care about your mother...I
was thinking.”
Here comes something, he thought.
“Tomorrow I’m driving to Tirane, Alabama. There’s going to be
a march on the county courthouse. Why don’t you come along?
Being in the field might be just what you need,” she said, but she
did not sound excited about the march.
He looked at Alison closely. Her towel didn’t cover much. Right
now what he needed might not be spiritual. He put his hand on her
thigh and moved it slowly up to where men have always moved it.
Alison smiled distantly and leaned back.
“Well, what about tomorrow?” she asked while he prepared to
enter her. For a moment he thought her question insensitive,
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possibly in the same league as a housewife eating an apple while
having intercourse with her commuter husband, but he knew Alison
was just being practical. She could be very practical at times. She
had a lot of common sense, she shopped for value not for the
cheapest price, she often said. With Alison there were not many
surprises, she was steady Eddie, no shortcuts. But Alison could be
very passionate, and not just about the Movement. Alison was
passionate about folk music, basketball, and the Civil War.
“I do have other things on my mind right now,” he joked, but
the idea of his wanting sex when they had had been talking about
his problems had opened him up for her question, he supposed.
“I guess I just can’t think clearly right now,” he added,
evasively, as he held his penis and began to enter her and feel the
gooey softness of her.
“I know,” she replied, as she pulled him towards her.
After driving for an hour they crossed over the Chattahoochee
River, which forms part of the border with Georgia, and entered
Alabama’s Black Belt: the rich dark soil that had helped create King
Cotton. At Birmingham--Alabama’s Pittsburgh--Alison turned north
and drove another hour and a half, crossing over the Appalachian
Highlands, climbing nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, passing
forests of short leaf pine and lob lolly oak, passing streams full of
striped bass, and crappie, until they finally entered Bitola county,
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and shortly after, Tirane, Alabama: a town of about ll,000 residents,
3,500 of them black.
The white residents of Tirane sneered at Terry and Alison as
they drove through Tirane and crossed over the railroad tracks, a
sure sign they were going to the black section of Tirane. A sure sign
they were trouble.
Inside the New Harmony Baptist Church the minister stood
determinedly in front of his flock. All of whom were standing
nervously. The only sounds were coughs and electric fans. Some of
the women tugged at their clothing as if they were going to a church
social and fanned themselves with fans made out of palm as sweat
trickled down the nape of their necks. But the freedom songs had
been sung, the syncopated hand-clapping over.
“Now I know some of you are afraid,” boomed the minister’s
voice from the pulpit. And the fact that you are afraid is why the
Mayor and the Police Chief are afraid. They know they can’t scare us
anymore. They know we are willing to go to jail, willing to give up
our lives if need be. Because we are tired children. We are tired of
the unpaved streets, we are tired of garbage not being picked up, we
are tired of White Only signs, we are tired of having to sit in the
balcony of our movie theaters. We are tired of being charged money
for a library card. And we are certainly tired of our segregated
schools and COLORED waiting rooms. The white man treats us as if
we are some sort of sub-human--a house pet that has to jump when
he says so. But today there are no house pets...only lions.”
“Say it,” roared back the congregation.
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“I said today, in our small community, we’re marching on the
courthouse...in a way it’s a lot more difficult than marching on
Washington.”
The congregation broke into unmitigated laughter.
“We don’t have Martin, or the national press, or the
government to witness what is going to happen today. But we can’t
wait for the right time.”
“Oh yes, say it.”
“Now is the time.”
“I know.”
“Now is the time for us to stand up,” he said, raising his voice
an octave. “Today, the Mayor and the Police Chief and the other
racists are going to get the whole message. The message that starts
with garbage pickup and ends with freedom.”
“Oh yes, say it...say it,” shouted the congregation, now
swaying, their nervousness seemingly gone.
“Now, children, the time has come,” the minister said
dramatically. He then paused and cleared his throat. The
congregation sat silently and waited for his next words. He looked
around the church as if he might never see his congregation again.
They were smiling now, reassuring him that they had the will and
the guts to walk with him.
He smiled back, it was a wonderful smile, thought Terry,
beaming with hope. And then flawlessly, beautifully in fact, the
minister began singing the words to Ain’t going to let nobody turn
me around, upon which the entire congregation joined in. When the
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singing had filled them with more courage than they might have
believed of themselves they slowly filed out of the church.
Terry started for the exit, but Alison grabbed his arm.
“Remember, we can’t march with them, the local SNCC people are
doing that, we’re here to observe.
Outside the sun was fierce and shinning directly in the eyes of
the marchers. Ahead of them, less than a hundred yards away, just
past the railroad tracks that always seemed to separate the white
part of town from the African-American part in the South, crowds of
taunting whites began jeering and shouting phrases like, “Here come
the coons.”
One of the marchers wiped his brow nervously. He was dressed
in a well-tailored cream-colored suit. It was then that Terry realized
that all the marchers were in their Sunday best. It gave their
appearance great dignity, he thought, as he looked up at the
looming Bitola county antebellum courthouse about five blocks
away.
“It’s time, children,” the minister said as he stepped off and
led the singing marchers, whose arms were locked eight abreast,
towards the Bitola county courthouse.
Terry could feel the pull of the marchers and hated the idea of
staying in the security of the shadows as an observer. But it was not
a thing that he felt he absolutely had to do. That was the problem,
there was nothing he felt he absolutely had to do, yet he decided he
would march with them, it was something he wanted to do.
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As the last line of marchers, about 150, began moving towards
the Bitola County Courthouse, Terry stepped off the church steps to
walk with them. Alison grabbed his arm, but this time tighter than
inside the church.
“A white face will make it worse for them,” she said.
“What do you mean, worse?” he said, feeling foolish as the
space between him and the last line of marchers grew wider. The
first line of marchers were already crossing the railroad tracks.
“SNCC warned the minister against the march. It’s going to be
a slaughter, but he insisted. The best we can do is get some press
out of it,” Alison said in the bureaucratic tone of voice that she
could fall into without a problem, no doubt part of the training of
all future helpers of mankind, and postal workers, Terry suspected.
“God, I don’t understand any of this,” agonized Terry. “I
thought you people wanted Negroes to stand up for their rights?”
“There are places in the South where a march would be futile,”
she said. “This place is one of them. We have a photographer
covering it, we may get some good out of it--”
“Jesus, listen to you,” Terry said angrily.
Alison looked hurt. “I’m sorry I’m so business-as-usual, Terry.
My job is to get as much out of this as I can, make the most of their
suffering, if you like.”
Before he could disagree with that kind of thinking there were
screams. The fire department had turned the hoses on the marchers:
ferocious streams of water that could break bones and gouge eyes
out. Terry and Alice stood mute as the town police charged into the
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marchers with bats that didn’t know the difference between male
and female, young and old. They just struck.
“Stand up, children,” cried the minister. “Stand up because we
are tired.”
The marchers sensed that the minister was in the greatest
danger and formed a circle around him. He appeared heroic, not
unlike paintings of Custer at the Little Big Horn, but a state cop
broke through the protective circle and brought the minister down
with a kick in the groin. Meanwhile the crowd on both sides of the
street screamed curse words at the marchers. Some mothers,
holding their children on their shoulders, shook their fists at the
beaten marchers while the children on their shoulders, not knowing
what they were doing, mimicked their mothers.
Alison wrote notes on a pad like a reporter, almost as if she
wasn’t there, which bothered Terry. Finally, when he saw an old
lady kicked by a burly policeman three times her size, Terry
charged into the crowd to help.
Alison screamed after him to stop, but before he could reach
the old lady, he was punched, and then wacked across the neck with
an ax handle which brought him down.
The march was over in less than five minutes. Blood-stained
clothes were strewn all over the street. There were groans from the
fallen, as the crowd screamed vicious slurs at the marchers. The
police officers snickered and cracked jokes as the marchers were
thrown like bags of feed into the back of police vans. Terry, still
dazed from the blow, was handcuffed, taken to the side and
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surrounded by three beefy cops who propped him against a tree
with their billy clubs.
“You some sort of instigator?” asked a mean-looking, middleaged cop with a bad complexion. “Some Commie Jew,” he continued
in a heavy Southern accent, “with lawyers waiting for you to get
locked up?” He pressed his club against the side of Terry’s face.
“I saw an old lady get kicked, I wanted to help her out,” Terry
answered, barely getting the words out of his mouth because of the
pressure of the club.
“These niggers are our niggers,” replied the cop, pressing his
billy club even harder into Terry’s face. “We know how to take care
of them if they get uppity. We don’t need outside agitators to stir
them up, do you understand what I mean?”
“I get the idea,” Terry said, barely able to talk now.
“You sure you get the idea?”
He nodded his head. The pressure of the club on the side of
his face was intense.
And then blessed relief, the club was pulled off his cheek as
one of the policemen unlocked the handcuffs and said, “You get
your ass out of here with that girl from SNCC in the next minute, or
you’re going to find out what we do to nigger lovers in this part of
the country--do you get my meaning?”
“It’s clear.”
“How clear?”
“We’re leaving right now.”
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“It just doesn’t make a good impression on the community,
particularly young people, havin’ whites mixed with niggers. Now
get your ass out of here.”
Terry was still dazed from the blow to the back of the head,
but he had an odd thought that almost made him laugh. He
wondered if all conversations by white Southern policemen sounded
the same. That seemed to be the case--they all had the same script.
Where did the originality come in? The South had produced many
of the best writers in America, yet you could predict what these
assholes were going to say 10 minutes before they said it. He really
wanted to tell them that before going. He wanted to tell them they
were ignorant brutes who spoke at a third-grade level, and that
wasn’t good enough for him, that’s what he wanted to tell them. He
wanted to tell them that next to the Negroes he had spoken with,
Southern policemen sounded like idiots. He had a thought as he
looked at the movie. There was no truth behind their words, that
was the problem. They could never sound original or surprise
anyone with their words because the words weren’t really words but
extensions of aggression.
“I told you to get your white ass out of here,” said the first
beefy officer.
Terry realized that the blow to the back of his neck had dazed
him more than he had thought. Had he actually not got his white ass
out of there right away? Why was he standing there?
Alison inched her way towards Terry with her green VW.
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“Get in,” she said nervously, as the police officers peered at
Terry, their minds seemingly shuffling the cards, wondering why the
Commie from the North had not skedaddled right out of there.
Terry got in the VW cautiously. The brutes peered down at
him--the Northern pigeon--like hawks sitting on the ledge of a
skyscraper. Waiting, it seemed, for the right time to swoop down.
Alison backed up the VW, turned into a side street behind the
New Harmony Baptist Church, and gunned it.
“They didn’t let you go because they’re nice guys,” she said
looking behind her.
“What about the marchers?” Terry said, seeing them in his
mind again: surrounded like Custer, the minister in the middle
preaching from his podium, as his followers fell.
“The minister didn’t want outside people, he thought he might
stay out of jail that way. Our people were considered local enough
to take part in the protest, but we have a no-bail policy. I can’t
speak for the marchers, however,” she said as they crossed a small
bridge and headed down an old country road. “The highway’s about
half an hour away,” she said nervously.
Terry turned around. There was a red pickup truck about a
hundred feet behind them. Everything was so goddamn predictable,
he thought. Why didn’t these Southern boys have a polka-dot truck,
he would have never guessed that, but red, that was predictable just
like their sentences.
“I think they want to play with us--Terry, I’m frightened. I
should have called in, that’s what I’m trained to do.”
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Suddenly, Alison’s urgency was like ice water pouring over his
body. He turned around again to look at his pursuers and the movie
ended. Polka-dot trucks and crisp wonderful sentences, no longer
seemed important.
“Terry, I don’t know if I can drive, I’m shaking,” Alison said as
the red pickup truck pulled within inches of the VW.
“Don’t stop for any reason, Alison, is that clear?” Terry said,
trying not to sound nervous. “They’ve probably got another car
somewhere down this road.”
“What are we going to do, Terry?”
“We’ve got to get off this road, Alison, but we don’t have much
of a car to do it with.”
“My brother wouldn’t like that remark,” she scolded. “It was
his car, he was always tinkering with it, I think it’s what you call,
souped up.”
“Then why don’t you floor it, Alison?” Terry said calmly just as
the Ford pickup bumped the VW and backed off. Alison turned to
Terry. “I’m scared, I don’t want to be but I am. Everyone in
Raymond Street has been through something like this but me. I
haven’t even been to jail. I thought I would be defiant, Terry, but
I’m afraid.”
“It’s daylight, Alison, that’s in our favor,” Terry said
reassuringly.
“It doesn’t look good, Terry, this road seems to go on forever.”
“Do you see it?” said Terry calmly.
“See what?”
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“There’s a crossing up ahead. Pretend you’re going straight
because that’s what we’d normally do,” he said, trying not to sound
nervous.
The pickup truck bumped the VW hard, then smugly backed
off.
“Remember pretend you’re going to go across the
intersection--I’ll tell you when to turn,” he said, trying not to show
concern.
The pickup truck was now within inches, seemingly mounting
the VW like a wild beast.
It was a country intersection, but the signs had been removed.
Terry didn’t know what turning suddenly might accomplish, but the
crackers wouldn’t be expecting that, and that was at least a start.
“I don’t know if I can do it, Terry. It takes a lot to turn a wheel
suddenly.”
“You can do it, Alison, you can do anything.”
“I’m praying, Terry.”
Terry didn’t answer. He was studying the intersection. It was
possible they had a roadblock up ahead, away from traffic, he
guessed. Meanwhile the pickup truck was still within inches,
bumping the VW at random like a rapist touching a victim too
scared to move.
“He thinks we’re going along with him,” Terry said. “He thinks
we’re going straight ahead--now, Alison! Gun this son-of-a-bitch!”
Terry said aggressively.
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As they crossed the intersection Alison stepped on the
accelerator pulling away from the pickup, then turned her wheel
sharply to the right. The VW skidded for a moment then dug in. The
red pickup tried to turn suddenly but skidded off the road.
Terry looked back, they had bought precious time. “If you
have any connections with the man upstairs, now’s the time to use
them” he said over the din of the rattling VW. Alison seemed like
she was in a trance, but her foot was steady and her concentration
magnificent. The red pickup got back on the road, but it was no
longer a cat-and-mouse game. It was now a chase. And the VW was
kicking ass.
“I’m going to kiss your brother if I ever see him,” Terry said,
trying to figure out what was up ahead. Finally, a car appeared from
a side road. Alison hit the horn and nearly sideswiped it.
“Easy, Alison,” Terry said.
Then another car appeared as houses started to dot the bleak
landscape.
Terry looked over his shoulder, the pickup was gaining again:
a monster in mad pursuit. More houses appeared on the landscape,
and there were cars on the road in front of them. Had they entered
a populated area? he asked himself. There was a small trestle bridge
up ahead. He could barely see the sign, but when he did, he let out a
rebel yell. The sign on the bridge said Welcome to Tennessee.
As they crossed over into Tennesse Terry turned to see the red
pickup pull up to the bridge like a snarling dog jumping against a
junkyard fence.
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“Let’s get a motel, I don’t want to drive anymore,” Alison said.
Alison cried for hours on and off as Terry held her in his
arms. He couldn’t sleep either. All he could see was the minister
being kicked, and the old lady being beaten. Their Sunday clothes
torn from their bodies. Just like Fraser and Magalante at the EM club
when the Negro soldiers attacked them and disfigured both for life.
No one had written about the violence among the troops, but the
Negroes were fighting back in Germany. They weren’t being beaten
down like the marchers. They were getting even. The papers hadn’t
written about it, but it was ugly. The Negro agitators, among the
soldiers, would read about what happened today, and a white
soldier or white soldiers would be attacked in an alley in Germany
because of it. Everything was fucked up, Terry thought, and the
hollowness started again, and he tried to fight the hollowness by
filling it with hate. Hate for the police officers that had treated him
so badly that day, hate for the 4F who took Rosemary, hate for the
surgeons that couldn’t help his mother, hate for the Swede who
never understood, and hate, all the hate he could muster for
Oswald, but the hate did not last long, and the hollowness returned.
At one point, Alison spoke from the darkness. “Those people
were so brave today, I could never be that brave.”
“You were pretty brave today, Alison, the way you drove.”
“I was scared to death.”
“You didn’t rattle, that’s brave.”
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“You think so, Terry?”
“I know so.”
She sighed and said drowsily, “Thanks, Terry, for saying that,”
and drifted off to sleep.
CHAPTER NINETEEN
Neil stood on Alison’s porch limply. His face was cut and bruised. He
didn’t move or come to Terry and Alison, he was mute and
emanated a persona of cold indifference, he was more like a lifestyle cardboard cutout of himself. It was as if his cuts and bruises
were not there.
Terry got out of the VW still sore from the day before, and
walked quickly up the broken concrete path leading to the porch.
“What happened? Was it your uncle?”
“Na, they’re nice to me,” said Neil unemotionally.
“Then who?--”
“Terry, talk to him later, he’s got to have those cuts taken care
of, they look nasty,” Alison said, urgently.
She drove Neil to the neighborhood doctor who closed one cut
above his eye with three stitches, and one on his arm with five
stitches. He had also been bruised severely on his chest and legs.
The doctor, an amicable man, who was African-American and
had apparently seen every kind of knife wound imaginable had
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376
tried to get a laugh from Neil when he said, “Only see a wound like
this when a woman cuts her pimp.”
But Neil did not laugh.
When he was finally settled on the sofa back at Alison’s, Terry
spoke to him again.
“Want to tell me about it?”
Neil pursed his lips like he always did when he didn’t know
what to say, or when he thought the question stupid.
“Nothin’ to tell. Rode with my bike into town yesterday. At the
five-and-dime store a white man started calling me a New York
nigger. White customers in the store just laughed.I said something.”
Terry grimaced. “What did you say?”
“I said if I was a New York nigger they were Alabama crackers.
That’s what I said.”
“Smart, real smart,” Terry wisecracked.
“They stopped laughing. They looked like they were in shock
or something, I couldn’t figure it out. I just went about my business,
and when I came out of the store I was hit from behind and pulled
into the alley. They threatened to cut my penis off, but just wacked
me instead, then one guy told me he was still going to cut me as a
warning and he did...I don’t understand it, I just answered them
back that’s all I did.”
“Johnny Light told you about that, Neil. Damn, he told you not
to act sassy, didn’t he tell you that?”
“What was I supposed to do?”
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“You were supposed not to answer, act dumb, you know, Uncle
Tom.”
“I ain’t never done that before.”
“Then go to an upstate loony bin for the rest of your life,”
Terry said in a disgusted voice. He was pacing in front of the sofa.
Neil was lying between flowery sheets Alison had put on the sofa for
him.
Terry looked at Neil real closely. “How did you find this place
anyway?”
“I called Mario, he gave me the address. I took the bus from
the terminal, it was easy. Nobody even asked me why I was holding
a napkin to my face, not even the Negroes on the bus. I thought at
least someone would ask what happened to me, nobody did. I don’t
think they care for people much down here.”
“They don’t care for Negroes down here,” chided Terry.
“Johnny Light told you how they are down here,” he said in an
exasperated voice. “I told you you had to be careful.” It was a tone
of voice that was not unlike a frightened parent who had searched
for her lost child in a department store and then, finding the child,
immediately shouted at it for straying.
“I ain’t no New York nigger,” Neil said crying.
Terry felt like shit, but he had to act indifferently, he told
himself, he had to show Neil he would not get any sympathy from
Terry Chandler for talking back to white people in Chatham,
Alabama, it was just too dangerous.
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“The man’s disgusting for saying it, Neil, but you’re not free to
say what you want down here, don’t you understand?”
“You don’t want me here, that’s what I understand,” Neil said
getting out of bed.
Terry put his arm around Neil’s shoulder.
“Look, stay here for the night, we’ll talk about it tomorrow.
Can you do that? We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
Neil brushed Terry’s arm away with his body and got back
into bed.
He looked so damn vulnerable, thought Terry, before shutting
out the light.
Terry listened to the hard rain beating against the worn-out
wood shingles as Alison snuggled up against him. “Neil really likes
you, a woman can tell those things.”
“I’ll have to drive him back tomorrow with your car. He’s got
to learn to work things out for himself,” Terry said harshly, but not
really meaning it.
“He could stay a few days, Terry. We could be a family. I know
you like him a lot,” Alison said sweetly.
“He’s okay,” replied Terry, sighing.
“Let him stay, for at least a few days anyway, c’mon,” she
cooed.
Why not, he asked himself? And knew immediately that she
had gotten to him.
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“Then I’ll have to send his great aunt a telegram, I don’t want
her to worry, she’s a good woman,” Terry responded.
Alison rose slightly from her comfortable position and kissed
Terry on the cheek.
“He has a way of getting to you, doesn’t he?” Terry said, still
looking up at the ceiling, wondering where it was all going, and still
not feeling like he was part of anything.
“He’s a beautiful child,” she answered. “So quick.”
“I thought sending him South was the best thing to do, what
options does he have. Now I don’t know what to think,” Terry said,
looking towards the bedroom window as if the answer might be
there.
“It’s the right thing, Terry, from what you told me.”
“What if I’m wrong, though?”
“Terry, don’t say that.”
“I don’t know, I feel like I’m getting further and further away
from things around me--drifting out there with no rhyme or reason.
I watch the people at SNCC and envy their purposefulness, their
dedication. They seem so fucking alive, and I feel so...well, so
useless.”
“I know you’re going to find out what you want, Terry, and I’m
going to help you do it,” Alison said, turning sleepily towards him.
He sat up, dropped his feet over the side of the bed as
troubled people have probably done for as long as there had been
beds, picked up an unopened pack of Camels, changed his mind,
and tossed it back on the night table.
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380
“You hardly have time for yourself,” he said, laying back
down. “You work until exhaustion...your life is SNCC. It’s what you
want to do and that’s a beautiful thing for you.”
“You have so much to offer, Terry,” Alison replied in a
contended voice. “You’ve had more experience with Negroes in the
North than most whites I’ve met. It shows when you talk with them.
You’re so comfortable around them,” she said drowsily.
“Funny, all I could think of when I saw Jackie Robinson was
how electrifying he was as a ballplayer. Or what a great musician
Clifford Brown was. Or get goose bumps watching Frankie Lymon
perform blues at the Apollo. Deep down I guess I knew they were
getting a raw deal, but I was busy trying to survive, myself. I don’t
know what’s the matter with me, I just feel so out of sync with
everything, and you...you’re plugged right in.”
He looked over at Alison, she was asleep, but it was a good
sleep. It was the sleep of a farmer who had worked his land all day.
Or the sleep of a long-distance truck driver now safely in bed with
his wife. It was the sleep of a human who had worked to capacity to
help others and their body knew it-- a good tired, instead of the
restless nights that he spent thinking about Rosemary, or his
mother, or Kennedy. At first thinking about each of them without
any preconceived thoughts, and then discovering the truth again
about each all over again, and each time that happened the hurt
would push deeper into him.
The next morning, after breakfast, and after Alison had left for
SNCC, the postman delivered two letters from New York. One was a
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short note from Mario enclosing a letter from Bannon, the other was
a letter from Cynthia. It was a clear, sunny morning with a calm
breeze blowing from the west. Terry read the letters on the porch,
choosing the letter from Cynthia to look at first.
Dearest Terry,
New York is so lonely without you, but I’m comforted in the
fact that you are doing good things for our Negro brothers. Andrew
says you’ve been great with the paperwork. A real bureaucrat in the
making, he joked. I’ve been taking my medicine everyday and feel
okay. Of course I miss you very much. Maybe everything will be
okay by the summer and I can be part of the Summer Project. It
would be so wonderful to be part of it, I envy you so. This week I
start group therapy again at the hospital, which I really have no
patience for. All us sickos sitting around and feeling sorry for
ourselves. The doctor mentioned that if I get through the next
couple of months without a problem, they may include me in a new
program sponsored by IBM. They’re actually hiring fruitcakes like
me--receptionists and stuff like that. Can you imagine? New York is
so dull without you, Terry. I just want to stay in bed and pull the
covers over me and live on bon bons, but the doctors at Payne
Whitney make sure I get up everyday and go to the clinic. The
doctors are nice but they don’t seem aware of anything. I talk about
the Movement and they look at me as if I could be talking about the
my bowels. I just wish once that they would get excited about
something I said. I feel like a TV tube sometimes. They’re always
watching me. Turning me on when they want to and turning me off
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when they want to. Well, dearest, I have to go now. If I go too long
without hearing from you I may have to call, it’s so lonely without
you. I know my little friend downstairs misses you very much. She
quivers and pulsates waiting for your lips--I bet you’re getting mad
at me--but I tell her she can’t act naughty. I do miss you, darling. All
of us do.
She almost made it, he thought, and then that horny bastard
inside of her took over. What the fuck was the matter with the
doctors? Why couldn’t they figure it out? He wished she hadn’t
called, the letter was at least the Sex Goddess on her best best
behavior.
He looked at Bannon’s letter.
Dear Terry,
I’m TDY with a Special Forces outfit near the DMZ. It’s kind of
a demotion but I asked for it. I’m with other Americans most of the
time now and that’s they way I like it. I don’t care too much to be
with dinks, makes me nervous. The platoon leader is real cagey. He
pays dinks every once in a while to be our point men. At first I
couldn’t believe my eyes but it works. You see, the dink is probably
V.C. He wants to stay alive and so do we, it works out fine. All my
war talk might surprise you. There isn’t anything happening over
here, I bet, according to the papers. Shit, they’re pouring enough
men and supplies into this place to start a few wars. That’s the
cocksucking bad news. The good news is the feeling I have being
with other Americans. We really care for each other in country,
Terry. We’re always watching out for each other’s ass. It’s hard to
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383
explain the feeling, Terry, it’s almost as if the only thing that was
real was this feeling. I only knew a cracker from Louisiana three
weeks, yet I cried like a baby when he left. We had been in a firefight
together, watched out for each other’s ass. We talked for hours after
that, in fact we never stopped talking. His name was Robert Rue, he
was a fisherman. Used to tell me stories about catfish walking on the
river bank at night. Big ones, over five feet. The fisherman never
messed with them he said. I believe him. But this place does magnify
everything,Terry. It’s really weird. Speaking about weird, my mother
is still mentioning you in her letters--hmmmmmmmmm. Okay, I’m
only kidding. Anyway, I have to go now. I’m pulling guard tonight.
Your pal, J. Bannon.
What a gutsy little bastard, Terry thought. He was doing it. He
sounded so fucking alive. Maybe that was the answer, re-up. Three
hots and a flop, but all joking aside, he thought, Bannon did sound
like he truly believed in the Americans he was with, and that was a
great thing. Americans trusting each other, caring for each other,
looking out for each other. That’s how Kennedy was making it, he
reflected. And now Bannon had found a smaller world where that
was happening, and maybe it was where Terry Chandler belonged.
he didn’t want to be a grunt, be he could be a medic, with prior
service behind him he would have no problem. Why not? He didn’t
have to believe in the war, all he had to do was believe in the men
he was with, and share their comradeship.
Reenlisting was a fresh new thing on Terry’s plate and it
excited him.
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384
He looked up from Bannon’s letter. A boy without shoes or a
shirt, wearing short pants with a shoulder strap barely holding them
up, was staring at Terry. Wondering, Terry suspected, who the
strange white beast was.
Terry smiled. The boy giggled and ran into an alleyway. Terry
waited for the boy to come out of the alley but he didn’t. It was
during this time that Terry thought he heard the sound of a large
wooden wheel, like the cart of the junkman in the Bronx, coming
from the alleyway, and he became fearful at the thought of the
junkman emerging from the alleyway because if that happened he
would not believe it, and he would know his mind was playing tricks
on him. But the sound disappeared and he was only sure when that
happened that there must have been a logical explanation for the
sound of the wheel although he could not imagine what that could
be.
That afternoon Andrew Koslowski paid Terry a surprise visit at
the small office he occupied in the Exchange Place building in
southeast Atlanta. Terry reviewed all the communication invoices
from all of SNCC’s field officers: Telex charges, long distance
charges, Watts line, which only covered specific zones, printing and
paper costs, stamps, and numerous other items that fell under
Communications.
Koslowski, blowing cigar smoke on everything, seemed to get a
lot of pleasure out of looking at the paperwork.
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385
“So you’re discovering that a movement is more than
rhetoric,” he said more than once.
“All I’m doing is putting together duplicate copies. They could
mail them to you,” Terry said indifferently, wondering why he
always felt indifferent around Koslowski.
“Every penny, Terry, has to be accounted for. I don’t give
money away, everyone knows that. Besides, you were sent down
here to observe, to be part of something. Invoices are important, but
history is being made down here.” Koslowski rolled the cigar around
in his mouth, and peered at Terry.
“You haven’t been affected by any of this, have you?”
Koslowski said harshly.”Still the brooding young man from
overseas? All around me the young Negroes are alive with feelings,
with purpose, and I can’t get my new young friend to respond to
any of it.”
Koslowski, Terry decided, was like a professional billiard
player who played position with his sentences. He was always
planning his next shot after the one he was going to make.
“Well, I guess I don’t have too much in common with your
friends at SNCC,” Terry said coldly. “They’re younger, better
educated, fighting for something they believe in, willing to risk their
lives for it, and I’m not plugged in.”
“From what I hear you’re filling up a few spaces,” Koslowski
said smugly. “You and that Alison girl are into it, I heard.”
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“That’s our business,” Terry shot back, taking the SNCC
paperwork and putting it into one folder, which caused Andrew’s
eyebrows to rise.
“She lives in a Negro neighborhood, is that such a good idea?”
Koslowski asked.
Why was he having this conversation? thought Terry. Who was
this man, anyway. Who was Cynthia, or Alison, in fact? Why didn’t
he feel anything real when he was around them?
On the other hand, he felt a lot of realness around Mario, and
Neil. There was even a lot of realness around Johnny Light, too. And
Dr. Lee, of all people, was very real to him, because he could not
turn his back on her. But Andrew Koslowski? He wasn’t real to. He
was a symbol to old leftists and young world-savers, but his words
did not seem real because they came from someone else’s thinking
and were released through the symbol so that the symbol’s words
did not penetrate the place in the heart reserved for truth.
“You’re needed down here at least a few more weeks, Terry,”
said Koslowski as if he was telling Terry to eat his lunch at school.
“There’s a bunch of paperwork that has to be worked out from SCLC
as well. I can’t give money away unless it’s accounted for properly.”
“Andrew, this job is bullshit, you could have anyone do it,”
Terry said, leaning back in his ancient wooden swivel chair,
compliments of the YMCA.
As he spoke he could see the cards shuffling in Andrew’s mind.
“Maybe I thought you could grow into it, get involved, like
many of your fellow Americans, instead of brooding all the time
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387
about Kennedy and what he could have done, and worrying about
his ideas dying...oh yes, Cynthia and Alison have told me about the
sensitive young man who thinks our nation has nothing to offer
him,” Koslowski said all-knowingly. “Look around you, racism is our
enemy, Terry, it must be crushed. Why can’t you see that?”
“I can, Andrew, goddamn I can,” Terry said, putting his arms
down on his desk, “but people like you are helping to do it, and
that’s great, but you, and Cynthia, and Alison, want my fucking guts
too, and I’m not ready for that right now. And I sure as hell am not
ready to walk away from Kennedy yet, you know what I mean?”
Terry could feel his face flush with anger.
Koslowski pulled the cigar out of his mouth violently, and
moved uncomfortably in the hard straight-back wooden chair facing
Terry’s desk.
“What’s to walk away from? What is it, Terry?” Koslowski asked
heatedly. “Because if you know something the rest of the country
doesn’t know I want to know about it. I look around and I see
Lyndon Baines Johnson in the White House...that’s what I see, so
what are you walking away from?” he said facetiously.
People like Koslowski were skilled at carving the emotion away
so what was left was handy to work on, decided Terry.
“I just can’t switch over to Johnson like some of you guys,
Kennedy meant more to me than that,” Terry said, knowing
Koslowski would not be satisfied with that answer.
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388
“You’re not leaving any room for anyone else, the way I see it,
Terry.” Koslowski paused to light his cigar. “As far as most of us are
concerned the Kennedy years are only photographs now.”
“And life goes on, and hats and steaks are in, and all the other
bullshit phrases that are used to keep people from thinking,” Terry
responded angrily.
Andrew’s eyes, Terry noticed, seemed to enjoy the argument,
but only for a brief moment, then they grew hard and determined
again.
“The Movement doesn’t have a goddamn thing to do with
Kennedy, or whether Kennedy is living or dead,” he said
confidently, sitting back in the stiff chair and seemingly shuffling
the deck in his mind. “The future is with the Movement,” he added
determinedly.
“Nobody owns tomorrow, Andrew...nobody. A 14-year-old told
me that.”
“People sacrifice because they believe they can impact
tomorrow,” Koslowski said, stabbing his cigar in the air just like Lee
J. Cobb in One The Waterfront. “My nephew can’t walk.He gave up a
privileged life to sacrifice himself for the Movement. It isn’t about
just feeling good inside, Terry, life is more than that. This evil
stands in front of us and defiles other Americans. This is our
priority, Terry, equality for the Negro.”
“I agree with everything you say, Andrew, it’s just that I can’t
think it a hundred percent. I can’t eat it, and shit it, like you and
Alison, and the other civil rights people can.”
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389
“I’ll tell you why,” said Koslowski, grinding the cigar between
his teeth. “You fell for all that Camelot crap. Well it’s gone, welcome
to reality, Mr. Chandler. Welcome to the real world.”
“It’s your reality, not my reality,” Terry said sharply, as he
leaned forward and eyeballed Koslowski with eyebrows raised. Terry
had seen William Buckley do it and thought it was an effective
mannerism.
Koslowski stared at Terry coldly, then laughed. Shaking his
head he said, “Young people, so preoccupied with themselves.
Trying to actualize themselves when they should be just out there
doing it. Sometimes I’d like to...” his voice trailed off to silence.
“Like to what?” Terry asked curiously, noticing the anger in
Koslowski’s face.
“I’d like to kick some cracker ass, that’s what I’d like to do.
Show them that not all people who are against racism want to just
take a beating on the head.”
“We had that fight, it was called the Civil War,” Terry said,
getting up. He then locked a file and shut off the overhead fan
which made a wonderful cooling noise, but was ineffective for the
most part.
Koslowski stood silently and fingered his cigar. “Your mother’s
condition hasn’t changed, she’s still comatose, you should stay a few
more weeks, anyway, we need you.”
“I’ll think about it, Andrew,” Terry said, thinking how much he
disliked Koslowski and his penny-pitching grants, which weren’t
even his own money.
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“Good, that’s all I can ask, SNCC people are not as easy to talk
to about records, not like Mike King’s organization. SNCC is like a
bunch of strutting peacocks, aren’t they? So damn sure that they’re
right.”
Yes, Terry thought, SNCC people do have a certain persona
that almost reeked of elitism. He had a hard time talking to them,
but he was glad for them. They were putting their asses on the line
for something they believed in, for something that was right. It just
wasn’t his fight right now. His fight, as he saw it, was not to go along
with the hat-and-steak boys, and forget there was a Kennedy, and
that was as far as he could figure it out. Bannon was feeling what he
wanted to feel, and he was jealous of that comradeship, that sharing
together of goals, that oneness that great leaders, or big wars,
created.
Koslowski smiled as if they had had one hell of a pleasant
conversation and said he had a meeting to rush off to, and a long
drive ahead of him. He shook hands with Terry and left carrying his
suit jacket, the back of his shirt soaked, lumbering out the door, Big
Daddy as Johnny Friendly.
Outside on the street, Atlanta was steamy and full of white
men in suit pants, short sleeve shirts, and straw hats, and woman
wearing pill-box hats, colorful blazers, white pleated skirts, and
white gloves, sometimes walking with their well-groomed children in
hand, the little girls neat and proper in their starched dresses and
patent leather shoes, the little boys dressed mostly in military-type
school uniforms.
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“I ain’t going back to the farm. No damn pigeons down here,”
was the first thing Neil said to Terry as he came through the door.
Neil was watching a game show on television.
“Okay, if you think PQ5 or a hospital ward in New York State is
better than the love your aunt and uncle have for you,” Terry
replied, sitting across from Neil, “that’s okay with me.”
“Look what white people did to me already,” Neil chimed,
sticking his face closer to the TV light as if he was going for a
camera angle. “And what makes you think my aunt and uncle love
me? They’re nice to me, that’s all. In the city I’m free,” he continued.
“I don’t have to worry about white people giving me funny stares,
waiting for me to do something wrong. In the city, on the roof, it’s
just me and the pigeons. You know like the song,’Up on the roof--’”
“Cut it out, Neil. You’re a fugitive, you want to end up
depending on a pimp for food and shelter? Is that the kind of
freedom you want? Or being locked up until 21, because you can’t
stay up on the roof. Can’t you understand that? They’re looking for
you. You stabbed somebody. You’re a criminal.”
Neil jumped up and took off, slamming the creaky front door.
Terry chased him, lost him for a moment, and then saw him in a
nearby alley. He was sobbing.
Terry could feel every tear. He could remember being alone as
a child, particularly when the welfare authorities put him in a
private home because of his mother being hospitalized. He could
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only imagine the emptiness Neil was going through, no kid should
have to go through that, he thought, no kid.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to come down so heavy on you,”
Terry said, approaching Neil cautiously.
“All I got is myself,” sobbed Neil. Then he swung at Terry.
There was no strength behind the blows and Terry just stood
there. When Neil finally stopped, he cried again, and Terry put his
arms around him and hugged him for a brief moment.
Later when they were in the house, he said to Neil, “Look, you
can stay until the end of the week, then I’ll have to take you back.
Alison could get in trouble for harboring a fugitive, as funny as that
sounds. People down here don’t like white people fighting for the
rights of Negroes. You understand, don’t you, Neil?”
“Sure, you don’t like it down here either,” Neil said, filling a
glass with water and wiping his nose with the other hand.
“I have things I have to take care of in New York,” Terry said
defensively.
Neil put the glass of water down and then did something Terry
had never seen him do before. He raised both hands, palms out, and
shrugged like an old Jewish man. It broke the ice. Terry laughed.
“Where did you see that gesture?” Terry asked, still amused at
Neil’s response.
“The old Jew junkman,” Neil said, pretending he was suddenly
pushing a wagon. “He talks to the kids once in a while. He says he
lost his family in some place in Germany. There’s still a temple on
Washington Avenue, he gets together with the old Jews down there.
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They all talk like him. He looks like Santa Claus to me, only in
black.”
Terry could instantly visualize the junkman, in his tattered
black jacket, black hat, black pants, white shirt, and graceful white
beard, pushing the wooden cart under the El. How did a man like
that function in such terrible circumstances? The thought of
collecting junk under the El every day caused Terry to take an
anxious breath. When he was Neil’s age he remembered there were
many Jews in the Crotona Park section of the Bronx. He would
deliver fresh-killed chickens to them from the chicken market
located on the corner of his block. The chicken would still be hot in
the paper bag, and the hotter the chicken, the better the tip.
Because that meant not much time had passed since the chicken was
slaughtered.
On religious days he would light their candles, and on
Thanksgiving when he knocked on their doors and said “Anything
for Thanksgiving?” they would always give him a few pennies and
sometimes a bowl of chicken soup which he never refused. But then
the Jewish families started moving to Queens and Long Island, and
the neighborhood began to feel like a deserted town, like something
was gone from it that would never come back again. Now the old
junkman was out there by himself, braving the hostile environment,
a Moses wandering the emptiness of the Bronx. He had to be lonely,
Terry thought, but no more lonely than the frail 14-year-old boy
standing in front of him.
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Alison dragged Terry to a going-away party for an Atlantabased SNCC worker going into the field. The worker was going to
Jackson, Mississippi for the Summer Project which was now taking
up most of SNCC’s time. The party was being held in a low-income
housing project not far from Alison. Smokey Robinson blared from
the record player and the Chianti flowed freely. Terry tried to
appear as if he was having a good time, but the closeness of the
SNCC workers among themselves did not make it easy. And anyway
he just wasn’t into it like Alison or Cynthia, or the dozens of people
at the party. He had never felt out of it at the Volunteers for
Kennedy office, he thought, but maybe a SNCC worker might have.
SNCC, it seemed to Terry, did not encourage a lot of people to
work in their organization, and perhaps that was part of the
problem, he didn’t know. But the smiles and hugs and laughter and
communication that needed no words excluded anyone who wasn’t
a part of SNCC. The secret handshake and then some, he laughed to
himself.
Surprisingly, a young African-American woman who always
seemed to have better things to do than say hello to him or talk to
him when he was at the Raymond Street headquarters, asked him to
dance.
“All I know is the Lindy,” he said awkwardly, “you people seem
to be doing something else.”
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“Do what you feel like doing,” she replied forcefully. Her eyes
were radiant and purposeful. Alison was already dancing barefoot in
the middle of the room.
“Maybe next time,” Terry said.
“You’re always so damn serious--they call you Andrew’s boy.”
“I know,” Terry smiled.
“You don’t mind?” She seemed surprised.
“Nope.”
“Not even a little bit?” She held her thumb and forefinger
together.
“That’s right,” he replied.
“Well, nobody’s going to tell you, but Alison’s standing among
the sisters has risen considerably since you started sleeping at her
place.”
Terry blushed.
“You’re embarrassed...it’s nice to see a man embarrassed. My
name is Sandra, by the way, we see each other all the time.”
“I know.”
“The brothers think Andrew is something else...it’s hard to do
something without money, isn’t it?”
Terry agreed but couldn’t figure out why Sandra was being so
friendly all of a sudden. It just didn’t fit.
“Can we talk?” she said, smiling.
“I thought that was what we were doing.”
“In private, out in the hallway. I’ll go first then you mosey on
down.”
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“Okay, but--”
“You’ll understand,” she said, still smiling. “I’m going over to
the table for a drink, then I’ll see you at the end of the hallway, near
the steps.” She continued to smile as if she was having a great time.
Terry sipped his Chianti out of a paper cup, and wondered
what Sandra had in mind. The apartment was crowded with SNCC
volunteers and their friends. The uniform of the day being the usual
white T-shirt, Army boots, and coveralls. Any outsider might have
thought they were a bunch of field hands, instead of graduates of
some of the country’s best universities.
From what he could observe, it was hard to figure out how
SNCC operated as an organization. Sometimes, he thought, the
workers couldn’t figure it out either. Alison had said that the
system, loosely defined, was based on mutuality and shared decision
making.
Terry left the room with Gladys Knight and the Pips singing
Every Beat of My Heart.
Sandra was no longer jovial-looking as she sat on metal steps
waiting for Terry. He had seen the look she had on her face before.
People in power like detectives and school principals had it. He
instantly realized that she might be more than a SNCC volunteer.
“What’s up?” He said, trying not to sound anxious.
She still had a paper cup with wine in her hand and sipped it
slowly. Her long legs arched over the steps and touched the floor.
Terry sat on the edge of a window sill.
She looked up from her paper cup and chuckled.
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“What it is?”
“You’re a good-looking man, I wanted to say hello a lot of
times to you, but you aren’t SNCC, the sisters wouldn’t have liked
it.”
“Is that it?” Terry said skeptically, hoping that was it.
“No...that isn’t it. And you know that isn’t it,” she said,
finishing the wine. “Alison is always talking about you, god, she
thinks she has it all. A guy she’s nuts about and a cause. And if you
think I’m being a little cynical, I am. So what are we out here for?
You’re still saying to yourself.”
Terry crossed his arms.
She studied him, not sure, it seemed, whether she was going to
fully commit herself to her next comment.
Terry could not imagine what she was going to say. From the
apartment he could hear Ray Charles singing Georgia, Charles’s
sensitive phrasing went deep and gave him goose bumps.
“How much do you know about Andrew?” asked Sandra, now
all business.
“Union type...heavily committed to civil rights, that’s about it.”
Terry replied matter of factly, with a shrug or two.
“There are Negroes, Terry, who could care less about a
Freedom House, or Summer Voting Project. They have more of a
biblical point of view: an eye for an eye.”
“What’s that have to do with Andrew?” Terry asked, standing
up and putting one foot on the window sill.
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398
“Some of these characters make Malcolm X look like a choir
boy,” she answered.
“I got the picture, but what has that to do with Andrew?” Terry
asked again.
“It’s no secret that Andrew has really not been the same
person since his nephew became a basket case--he’s been seen at
meetings with radical Negroes, we wonder what he’s up to,” she said,
crossing her fine-looking legs.
“We?”
“Certain people.”
Terry was at a loss of words for a moment, then said, “Jesus,
you’re some sort of an agent, aren’t you? How the fuck could you
spy on your own people?”
She seemed unruffled by his comment. “You sound more
righteous than the brothers inside. I’m making sure no Commies or
badasses cause trouble for my people, that’s how I look at it,” she
said calmly.
“You don’t care that I know,” Terry said incredulously.
“Nobody would believe you.”
Terry laughed to himself. “Okay, but I don’t know a damn
thing about Andrew, or what he does on these trips. I don’t have a
clue, honest. There’s this girl in New York and--”
“We know about Cynthia--her father is a suspected
Communist.”
Terry stuck his hands in his pockets and paced for a moment
before saying, “You people are something. You sure you’re a
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Negro?...maybe they have some stuff in Washington that dyes whites
for undercover work.”
The pupils of her eyes grew smaller. “Maybe you’d rather have
us sing and tap-dance for you, that would be more acceptable,
wouldn’t it?”
Terry took out a Camel, the first of the day. “Look, I don’t
know anything about Andrew’s comings and goings, and I don’t
know why you think I would tell you--all this stuff is a million miles
away from me.”
“Just passing through, right?” she said cynically.
“I don’t know what it is...hey, aren’t you worried about being
out here so long with me?”
“The sisters think I have the hots for you. I’m going to make
up some story about us, they’re going to enjoy laughing behind
Alison’s back.”
Terry’s face grew hard. “Find another cover story, Sandra,
because if I hear about us fooling around, the staff is going to hear
about your asking me questions as if you were working for the
government, get my gist? Maybe somebody might believe me,” Terry
said, pointing his finger at her.
“Did anybody ever tell you you look so handsome when you
get angry?” she said, standing up.
“Cute, real cute,” Terry replied like he was annoyed, but he
wasn’t.
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400
She said, “Suppose I made everything up just to talk to you;
the part about the sisters thinking I got the hots for you, however, is
true.”
Terry studied her. She was clever alright.
She handed him a card. “That’s my number, give me a call if
you want to talk.”
“About what?”
“About what we talked about.”
“I’m not sure what we talked about.”
She kissed her finger and placed it on his lips for a moment.
Terry watched her walk back to the party, she was a looker
alright. But was she an agent? Did she make up that stuff about
Koslowski? He didn’t know, didn’t have a clue. The business of
freedom felt more like a Felini movie everyday, he was beginning to
think.
CHAPTER TWENTY
Terry drove Alison home. She was loaded.
When she got out of the VW she collapsed on the patchy lawn
in front of her house; then, rising to her knees, she threw up
violently. The sound of her retching traveled in the Atlanta
darkness, and lights went on. When she finished, Terry carried her
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401
inside the house, and made her some tea. Neil was asleep on the
sofa.
After two cups of tea with gobs of sugar Alison seemed okay,
however she looked at Terry menacingly across the kitchen table.
“What is it, Alison?”
“You know what it is,” she said in a slurred voice.
“I had a good time at the party, I don’t know what you mean.”
Terry said defensively.
Alison, still with a cockeyed look on her face, said, “You hate
us, you may not know it, but you hate us. You never sing with
us...singing freedom songs together is one of the most important
things we do as a group--anyone can join in.”
“It’s your thing, Alison,” Terry said, thinking that the screws
that kept tightening his life, making it harder for him to feel like he
existed, were never going to let up.
“And what’s your thing?” Alison said, slamming her fist on the
table, the tea cup smashed on the floor. She got up, and pirouetted
around the floor. “Camelot,” she sang over and over again.
“Camelot,” dadada da da da da, “Camelot.”
“Cut it out, Alison. Goddamn, cut it out,” Terry demanded as
he banged his fist on the table.
“Camelot,” she continued dancing around the kitchen.
Terry just looked at her and wondered why there were so
many like Alison, and Cynthia, and Koslowski, and J.W.? What had
the President Kennedy not done to make these people want to bury
him so fast?
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Or what place in their hearts had he touched that they had not
wanted touched?
Alison lurched forward and almost lost her balance. Still
cockeyed, she leaned both palms on the table. “This is the closest
thing to Kennedy you’re going to get,” she said nastily. “Negroes are
fighting for their dignity, their rights to be humans, this is the
priority, not teaching some Indians about crop diseases.”
“Leave the Peace Corps out of it,” Terry shot back angrily. “It
was and is a good idea, it makes me feel good as an American.”
“You just don’t get it,” Alison said. Her voice still slurred, her
mouth twisted opened.
“Get what?” he said, not really angry at her.
“That you’ve got to move on--God, Terry, we’re making
history, and you’re like a cold fish. We could be selling vacuum
cleaners door to door for all the emotion you have about the
Movement.”
Terry walked around Alison and turned on the stove so he
could make another cup of tea for himself. Alison swung around.
She was still high.
“You’ll be doing something like this all your life, Alison,” Terry
said. “It’s your orientation.”
Alison wobbled. “Oh, I’m doing this because it’s fashionable, is
that it? Is that what you think?”
“No, but if it weren’t civil rights, it would be an earthquake in
Chili, or whatever else was a high-profile tragedy, so you and your
missionary friends could exchange exciting letters and climb the old
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403
corporate ladder of a government-sponsored organization. Some of
you see fighting tragedy and injustice as a job...I’m not saying you
do, but I’ve met people from Yale Divinity, and those other
theological centers. I’ve heard them talk about how important it is
to have the right cause to be working for. They wouldn’t want
something as dumb as helping alcoholics on the Bowery, or working
with children in a psychiatric ward--that wouldn’t be very highprofile. And a lot of Negroes, I suspect, feel that way about whites
who are trying to help them. Eventually they know they’re going to
have to depend on themselves to fight racism , we’ve had our shot at
being decent, and we haven’t done a very good job of it.”
“Well, Mr. Conscience of the World has spoken,” Alison said,
puffing herself up. “I’ll have you know, Mr. Conscience of the World,
that I see nothing but love around me when I work at SNCC--and
how dare you imply that I’m doing this because it’s fashionable.”
Alison suddenly burst into tears.
Terry held her as she sobbed, almost as if someone had died.
He could feel her hot tears drench his shirt. And he could feel the
warmness of her. He did have empathy for the Civil Rights
Movement, so why wasn’t he more animated about it? What was
wrong with him? Why did he keep it at such a distance? And why
was he so cutting with Alison, she was the best?
The answer to his questions, however, did not conveniently
pop into his head. He looked around, the feeling that he was in a
strange place had been with him from the beginning and would not
go away; that he was in a strange house with people who were brand
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new in his life. That there was nothing to hold him down, to keep
him from floating off. He hadn’t felt alive in a long time, except
sometimes with Neil, and sometimes when Mario got him real pissed
off. But most of the time he really wasn’t there, and that’s what
Alison was responding to. He was like one of the slave ghosts in
Johnny Light’s woods, a presence more than a person. Maybe
Oswald’s bullet had gotten him too, he thought.
Meanwhile, Alison trembled in his arms like a frightened little
girl.
The next morning Alison got out of bed with missionary zeal,
and pretended she didn’t have a hangover. She made breakfast and
was as sprightly and talkative as ever, as if nothing had happened
the night before, and Terry went along with it.
Over the next week the pattern was the same: Neil stayed in
the house by himself during the day, but in the evenings they all
went out together as if they were a family. Usually, they went out
for a barbecued chicken or hamburgers and then went for a drive.
Neil seemed as happy as Terry had ever seen him, and Alison
fawned over him. But it was only temporary, Terry knew, and he
dreaded the day he would have to take Neil back.
Terry waited until the last day to tell him. He took Neil for
breakfast to a pancake house in the neighborhood . Alison would
not go.
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When their order was brought to the table, Neil, who had been
grim, asked, “You going to New York?”
“For a little while.”
“See, you don’t like the damn South either, “ Neil said,
pushing the plate of pancakes away from him.
“My mother is dying, I haven’t seen her for a few weeks,”
Terry said.
“I could stay here and wait for you,” Neil said, picking up a
pancake with his hand and eating it.
“You’re going to have to go back to the farm,” Terry forced
himself to say firmly. “Being with a responsible relative may get you
out of this mess, anyway we could be accused of kidnapping or
endangering the morals of a minor, you never know.”
Adults always have reasons for not doing something, they
think if they give the reason, that’s all they have to do,” Neil said
with a disgusted look on his face.
“You’re not going to make this easy, are you?” Terry said,
cutting his pancakes, but not eating any.
“Why did you come here in the first place?” Neil said angrily.
“To take you South, to get out of New York for a while, I don’t
really know. When you’re an adult you’ll be able to change your
mind, too.”
“All grown-ups do is hurt kids,” Neil said, standing up. “I’m
going to the bathroom.”
Terry put down his fork, which he had not used, and fought
the urge to take Neil to New York with him. Mario wouldn’t mind, he
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would tell him stories about the sea and tell him all about women.
But that would only be short-term. The authorities would get Neil.
He was a symbol now. he had told the system to stick it...God, how
he wanted to take him back, give him a chance to fly his pigeons
again, but he could not risk it. Neil might never see daylight if the
authorities grabbed him in New York.
“When?” asked Neil, coming back from the bathroom and
sitting down.
“This morning,” Terry answered without emotion.
“No warning, huh?”
“I didn’t want you running away.”
Neil crossed his arms and pressed his lips together.
“Goddamn it, you think this is easy for me?” Terry said,
clasping his hands tightly together. “You think I want to see you
unhappy? Is that what you think?...right now the fucking world
stinks, Neil, and I don’t know what to do about it.”
“What’s Alison say about the situation?” Neil asked coldly,
sounding years older, which he could do when he wanted to.
Terry almost smiled at the word situation, but forced himself
to answer as if he were not really there. “She’s got her own life to
lead, Neil.”
“But what’s she say?” he persisted.
“She knows she has to go along with it, she’ll be leaving for the
field pretty soon. What the hell is she supposed to think?”
“Freedom Summer, Freedom Schools, a bunch of crap?” Neil
said hurtfully.
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407
“You’re really not going to make this easy, are you?”
“I guess not?”
“When was the last time you were in school?”
Neil shrugged.
“Your aunt said she would tutor you, you can’t lose any more
ground, Neil, you’ve got to go to school.”
“If you saw the school down there you wouldn’t say that...just
let’s get this over with,” Neil stood up. The African-American
customers seemed amazed that a young African-American boy was
being so rude to a white man. They cast their eyes down when Terry
walked out.
The former special forces soldier nervously checked and
double-checked the gun sight on his Marlin 30/30 rifle. That
morning he had test-fired it in the piney woods, and had adjusted
the shot group. The dark alley across from the American Legion Hall
suited him just fine as he waited for the Grand Wizard to leave after
his speech. A head shot was too risky, he decided. Oswald had been
lucky. Go for the heart, a bigger target...C’mon, dandy, he whispered
to himself. He had studied photographs of the Grand Wizard. A real
smoothie: blue silk suits and blown-dried hair. So fucking sure of
himself and what he stood for. Well, he was coming down now. The
brothers had had enough.
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Neil wouldn’t talk for the entire drive to Chatham, Alabama,
no matter how much Terry prodded him. Neil just looked straight
ahead as they drove through the Cumberland Plateau region, just
skirting the Great Appalachian Valley and its forests and ridges,
until finally the land was flat and the field of cotton, soybean, and
corn stretched endlessly.
It was dark when they pulled into the yard of Neil’s great aunt.
Juliet Powers and her husband were on the porch, waiting
nervously.
“I care about you a lot, I just wanted you to know that, Neil,”
Terry said, shutting off the car engine.
“Bullshit,” Neil said, scrambling out of the car, running
towards the house.
Neil’s great aunt studied Neil’s cuts and bruises for a moment
and then let him scamper into the house.
She approached the VW. Terry got out of the car slowly.
“Thanks for bringing him back, Mr. Chandler,” she said with an
honest, genuine feeling.
“I did, because I know this is a good place for him,” Terry said,
leaning over the open door of the VW.
“He’s a good boy, Mr. Chandler, a good boy, so full of life, so
full of questions. He’s just got to watch himself.”
“He might feel better if he had some friends, I’m sure there are
boys his age around here, maybe that might help,” Terry said
wishfully.
Her face looked at Terry quizzically. “You don’t know?”
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“Know what, Mrs. Powers?”
“All that boy does is talk about you. He wanted to be with
you.”
Terry studied her kind face and bright eyes for a moment
before saying, “Those cuts and that beating were real, Mrs. Powers, I
would have run too.”
“Yes, but where did he run to? He wanted to be with you, but
we’ll do everything we can to make him love us, and want us, you
can be assured of that...he’s probably inside now pouting. Why
don’t you say goodbye to him again, Mr. Chandler, the way he shot
out of that car; that wasn’t a proper goodbye.”
Yes, she was a good woman, Terry thought, as he entered the
house, not sure what Neil was going to do.
He climbed a flight of stairs. Neil’s small room was to the right
of the steps. It was a comfortable room, one a boy his age would be
glad to have. Neil was sprawled on the bed, his face in a pillow.
“We going to say goodbye like friends, or are we going to be
hard-ass about it?” Terry exclaimed, standing in the doorway.
Neil sat up. “When you coming again?”
“A few months, I promise.”
“Amanda is getting a phone, she had someone write my aunt a
letter, I hadn’t told you that.”
“Amanda?” asked Terry, puzzled.
“The blow-job artist.”
“Oh, I see, well that’s good, isn’t it? You can call her.”
Neil rolled his eyes, and shrugged.
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“You going to be alright?”
Neil didn’t answer.
“I’ve been thinking, Neil, now that you’re with a responsible
relative, maybe I can do something about the warrant out on you.”
“That mean I could eventually go back to New York?”
“Maybe that would be possible.”
“I ain’t no New York nigger!”
“I know that, Neil,” Terry said, sitting at the edge of his bed.
Neil said, “But those bastards in town don’t know that. All they
do is watch me all the time. I tried to do what Johnny Light said, but
it ain’t easy. They call me boy and ask me where I got the bike, or
why I’m walking so sassy. One creep says he can read my mind and
knows just what I’m thinking and I better know my place. He said
the only reason they didn’t kill me was because I was from the
North, but that I had had my warning. Aunt Juliet says if I mind my
business I’ll be okay, they’re not used to Northern Negroes around
here, that’s what she said.”
“Then listen to her, Neil, she’s a wise woman.”
Neil was on his back now, looking up at the ceiling, his hands
behind his head. Terry stood in the doorway.
“It’s like being in Bellevue, though.”
Terry stiffened. “How could you say that? You’re staying with
relatives who care about you a whole lot, you’re out in the country-it’s beautiful here. All you have to do is not antagonize those white
assholes in town. Stay away from them.”
“You going now?” replied Neil, ignoring Terry’s remark.
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“I have to, Neil, it’s getting dark.”
“Next time you come bring some pigeons.”
“You got it,” Terry said, enthusiastically.
Terry said goodbye, but Neil followed him downstairs, and
then outside. Darkness had settled over the rolling countryside. An
eerie feeling came over Terry. Was it his mother? he thought, as Neil
walked alongside him to the car. There were no stars or moon. The
darkness was unsettling. It was as if they were out in space
somewhere. Was that it? Were they free-floating in another time
zone? There were no sounds as well, no crickets and other night
creatures. It was not unlike being in a padded cell.
Terry got in the VW, rolled down the window, and reached his
hand out. Neil clasped it without saying anything, and then let go of
it as if he were releasing the entire car and its occupant into space.
Terry drove for an hour and then decided to spend the night
in a motel. After showering he played with the TV dial for a few
minutes until President Kennedy’s image appeared on the screen. It
was a documentary on Kennedy including footage of the funeral. He
had not seen the funeral on TV. He had not shared his feelings with
the Family of America. Was that why the grief would not go away?
He had heard once, that you had to see someone go in the
ground to understand that they were really dead.
There were home movies of John as a child, competing against
the rest of the Kennedy clan in a swimming race. Newsreels of John
visiting England to be with his father, Ambassador Kennedy. And
more home movies of the Kennedy clan as children playing two-
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hand touch football. It was true, Terry thought, Joe Kennedy, Jr. was
even better looking than John. However, the drum cadence of the
casket rolling up Pennsylvania Avenue seemed to be in every second
of the documentary. Invisible but present in all the footage. And
always the eyes wanted to turn to the oldest Kennedy now living,
Robert. Suddenly, Robert seemed better looking, brighter more
commanding, the product of wishful thinking in a grieving America.
But the scene that would live on, Kennedy’s three-year-old son JohnJohn saluting his father’s casket, would magnify the grief of the
nation so intensely, that it would seemingly become numb after that
scene. Physically and emotionally incapable of bearing any more
grief. Expectations crushed. Life goes on, but less so.
Finally, Terry could not bear to hear the somber tones of the
narrator’s modulated voice discussing Kennedy’s near-thousand
days. He shut off the set. He lay sweating in one of the room’s twin
beds, the ceiling fan making a clucking noise every complete turn.
Did past generations feel this way when their King died? Terry asked
himself. No, with Kennedy there was hope, he decided. Hope wasn’t
for everybody, even Kennedy knew that. Fat cats didn’t hope, they
made it happen. They did things that people with hope would never
do--like kill a president.
Alison came rushing out of the house with tears in her eyes.
Before Terry could get out of his VW, four large Atlanta police
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officers appeared. They opened the door and pulled Terry out of the
car. Alison sobbed.
“What the hell’s going on here?” chided Terry.
One of the police officers grabbed Terry by the shirt collar and
said, “We’ll ask the questions, Yankee.” Then he spun Terry around,
pushed his head against the roof of the VW, and handcuffed him.
Terry could hear Alison crying and saying over and over, “What’s
this about?”
Terry was shoved into the back seat of a police car.
Immediately the sirens were turned on and the police car roared out
of the neighborhood. The officer sitting in the back seat with Terry
seemed excited, almost high--glad, in fact. He lit a cigarette
excitedly, and talked in code words with the other two officers in the
front seat, as the police car crossed over into White Atlanta.
They brought Terry into a gothic-looking police station that
reeked of musty odors and sweat. Terry was quickly shoved into a
small room, and lost his balance. A well-dressed man in his forties
looked down at Terry sternly before reaching down and hoisting
him to his feet like he was pulling a marlin into a rowboat.
“This is some kind of a mistake,” choked Terry.
“Your name is Terry Chandler and you’re living with Alison
Page at 45 Violet Street?”
“Yes.”
“Then this is no mistake, Chandler,” said a dapper-looking
man, slim in his pinstriped poplin suit. More elegant, and wellgroomed, than anyone would expect to see in a southern police
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station if you were from the North. Almost effeminate. But his eyes
were cold blue marbles that looked at you out of tiny slits.
“I’m a detective, Chandler, I’m here to ask you some
questions.”
The refined detective pointed to a chair. Terry sat down but
had trouble positioning himself because of the handcuffs. The
detective smiled, then walked behind Terry. Terry could smell his
cologne, it was sweet, yet light.
Terry could feel the key go into the cuffs, unlocking them, but
the relief that followed was short lived.
The detective stepped in front of Terry with a rifle and aimed
it at him.
Terry held up his hands. “Jesus--”
“I’m not going to pull the trigger, Chandler, I just want to
know why you bought this Marlin 30/30.”
“Me?” Terry said incredulously.
“Well, I don’t see any other nigger lover in this room.”
Terry was still confused by the statement. “I don’t know
anything about that rifle, nothing about that rifle.”
“Hold your hands out,” demanded the detective. He examined
Terry’s hands for a moment. You’re in some deep shit, Chandler,”
“Look, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
“This rifle was used to take a shot at the Grand Wizard of the
Ku Klux Klan, Chandler. It was found in an alleyway in Tuscaloosa.
And guess who it was sold to?”
“I don’t have the slightest idea.”
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“Your name is on the sales slip, Chandler, and your signature.”
Terry was stunned, nearly speechless as he reviewed the
events of the past few days in his mind. Certainly he knew he was
not insane, he was sure of that, and he knew he hadn’t taken a shot
at the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
“Me, shoot the Ku Klux Klan leader...never--that’s
unbelievable,” Terry said forcefully.
The detective put the safety on the 30/30, and placed it on the
floor in front of him. There was only a small stool in the room
besides the chair Terry was sitting on. The detective took out a
folded piece of paper from one of his suit-jacket pockets, and a
ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket.
“Want to write your name down for me?”
“Sure, I got nothing to hide.”
The detective handed Terry the paper and pen. Terry
awkwardly used the arm of the chair to sign the paper, and then
handed it back. The detective compared it with a sales slip he took
out of his pants pocket. Everything was so causal, thought Terry,
looking at the blue marble dots of the detective eyes.
“The Alison girl told us about your trip, why don’t you run it
by me again,” the detective said.
Terry went over the entire trip.
The detective smiled, and put his right foot on the stool.
“What’s so funny?”
“I’m tempted, Chandler...especially with a nigger lover, hate
them worse than criminals.”
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“Tempted?”
“Sure, would look good for my record, which is what they
probably figured.”
“They?”
“The people that framed you. That signature’s near perfect--a
beautiful forgery.
“Then you do believe me?”
“I suppose they got a white person similar to your height and
weight to buy that rifle. Probably did it just to buy some time. It was
a coincidence that you don’t have an alibi for yesterday--Chatham is
only 20 minutes off the highway to Tuscaloosa.”
“Then why drag me in here like this?”
“Don’t get on your high horse with me, Chandler. Especially
when you’re living in a nigger neighborhood, and helping coons
cause anarchy...fortunately the sniper missed, the bullet grazed the
Grand Wizard’s arm, damn near turned the last minute or he’d be
maggot pie...sniper ran like a scared rabbit. Left the rifle where he
stood. And now we have you.”
Terry could sense that the detective was fastidious about his
job as well as his appearance. He obviously resented the loose ends
of the case.
“Tell you the truth,” he said, brushing a strand of hair away
from his face, “the FBI called, someone vouched for you when your
name was mentioned, said you probably were a patsy and to
approach the investigation that way. The trouble is, there’s a
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417
hundred people going inside and outside that SNCC office that could
have gotten your signature.”
Terry felt an overwhelming sense of relief.
“It’s weird, but I think the government’s got someone planted
in the SNCC office,” Terry said nervously.
“You don’t know nothing, Chandler,” the detective retorted
sharply. “You’re one lucky nigger lover, that’s all I can say. One
lucky nigger lover.”
“Then I’m not arrested?”
The detective ignored Terry’s question, still with one foot on
the stool, he said, “They’re operating in cells. Going to get whitey,
going to have a revolution, probably laughing right now with us
talking to you--How does it feel to be a joke, son?”
It didn’t feel good, Terry thought. The idea of being implicated
in an assassination attempt sickened him, and for no reason he
could understand, he imagined that he he was floating above the
earth looking down at creatures devouring each other, chewing each
other, and on a closer look those creatures turned out to be humans
with wide-brim hats and long overcoats, and while they chewed
each other, babies cried, and he suddenly felt like crying, but he
fought the urge. Nevertheless, the feeling of not being entirely in the
room, not being as human as he could be, would not go away.
The dapper detective peered at Terry, his eyes revealing little,
but Terry could feel him shuffling his thoughts like a card player,
going over each thought like a skilled professional, not wanting to
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418
give away too much, but knowing he had to give something to get
something.
“Of course, what the FBI thinks is reasonable behavior doesn’t
mean very much to us, it’s hard to believe any white person would
want to live in a coon neighborhood...unless they were passing for
white--are you a white nigger, Chandler?”
“No...I’m not Negro.”
“You sure?”
“Yes I’m sure.”
The cards were being shuffled again, but Terry did not care.
“It’s a goddam good thing that you’re a veteran, son, or you’d
be spending a few days here just for what you’re doing.”
Terry did not care now what the dapper detective said, he felt
he had hit bottom again. The only thing that could save him from
nothingness was to be himself, he decided.
“We’re losing it?” Terry blurted out.
“You’re what?”
“We’re fucking losing it, it’s going,” Terry said, shaking his
head side to side.
“What in hell are you talking about, Chandler?”
“The whole fucking thing. Do you hear me?” Terry said, his
voice getting louder.
The detective appeared confused. He put out his hands and
held them up so that his palms showed. “Easy now,” he said like he
was a wrangler handling a jittery horse. The slits in his eyes closed
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419
even tighter, but were still open enough to reveal his cold blue
marble eyes.
Terry looked back at the detective and said softly, “I mean it,
we’re losing it...it’s like someone has come and invaded our bodies,
we’re not ourselves, not our real selves...do you know what I mean?”
Terry’s last comment seemed to catch up with the detective as
a culmination of good, sharp punches catches up with a boxer about
to be knocked out. Terry’s utterances were not that of a person
anxious to get away, or that of a frightened man, but those of a
person espousing something that touched on humanity and perhaps
morality. Not so much in the words said, but in the times that they
were being said. America desired to be on a higher plane, while dogs
attacked Negro school children.
“Go on, get the hell out of here,” said the detective looking at
Terry in disgust.
“We really are fucking losing it,” Terry repeated as he got up
and walked out without looking at the detective again.
Outside the station house, the warm Atlanta sun and fragrance
of dogwood revived him, and pulled him up a notch as he thought
about the frame-up. It had to be Koslowski, he reasoned. The son-ofa-bitch hated the KKK, but that wasn’t enough motive, Koslowski
wanted revenge for his nephew, that’s what must have made him go
off the deep end, Terry reasoned.
He fished in his pants pocket for the card that Sandra had
given him at the party. She had probably saved his ass and he was
thankful. But why the hell him? He had to find out, he had to make
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420
sure there would be no more surprises in his life. And in thinking
this way he knew that he was still able to think for himself, that they
had not gotten him with Oswald’s bullet yet, although he knew it
was moving around sure enough, going through the bodies of good
Americans, taking them out one by one, only they didn’t know it.
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE
Sandra Robinson met Terry in Chick’s funeral parlor in
Southwestern Atlanta. A funeral parlor was one of the few Negro
places that white people could visit without being looked on
suspiciously by other whites. While the grieving friends and
relatives of a local minister, retired schoolteacher, and wife beater,
chatted in the lobby of Chick’s Funeral Parlor, Terry and Sandra
bumped into each other and acted like they knew each other a long
time. Sandra looked solemn in her black outfit and said that she was
indeed a friend of one of the deceased, and tried to put Terry at
ease by reassuring him that they were safe.
Terry told her about his arrest. She seemed nonplussed about
it and said it didn’t surprise her.
He said how thankful he was for her calling on his behalf. She
looked at him as if he was deranged. He was not deterred. He had
decided that she really was working for the government in some
sought of undercover capacity. She had as much as admitted it, it
seemed to him, in their last conversation.
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“Why? Why was I framed?” he asked forcefully.
“If I had to guess, it would be Andrew,” she said. Her eyes
danced with cleverness.
“But why?” he persisted, as a grieving relative of one of the
deceased eyed him suspiciously.
“I told you he’s playing with some pretty rough boys since his
nephew became a vegetable. They tolerate him, I believe, because he
is so well connected. I was trying to warn you the other night.”
“You were trying to get another snitch the other night.”
She turned and started to walk away. “Okay, okay, you’re not
who we both know you are.”
She turned and faced him again. “What do you want, Terry?”
she asked indifferently.
He paused for a long moment before saying, “I want to know
why the fuck everyone is losing it?”
She smiled nervously. “Losing it?”
“Going fuckin’ crazy...assassinations, dogs set on people,
putting children in mental hospitals because they don’t have room
for them, pretending Kennedy was never even here...not looking
human, really, almost as if that movie Invasion of the Body
Snatchers had actually happened.
“Kennedy was your man, not mine, as for the rest,” she said
deliberately, “I haven’t noticed, this Movement is taking up all my
time.”
“Okay, but you get the idea?” Terry said, taking out a loose
Camel from his shirt pocket. “Goddam things, just when I think I
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have them beat, I want one,” he said, looking at the Camel
disdainfully.
“The best they could do,” she said, pontificately, “was have the
investigation stop at you.” She smiled momentarily at someone
passing through the parlor. “I suspect they knew they couldn’t
actually frame you--too difficult. Of course, you cooperated by not
having much of an alibi on the day of the shooting. Andrew is too
well insulated to have anything point at him. fact is, I’m not sure he
knows entirely what’s going on.”
“Do you?” asked Terry sarcastically.
“I know the Negro is going to fight back, Terry, I just want to
see it done the right way. Ballots, not bullets, you know.”
“The right way,” Terry said skeptically. “I’ve been thinking
about your Freedom Summer. On paper it looks great, only I’ve been
to Mississippi. Don’t tell me the SNCC leadership doesn’t know that
the first white students in there are going to get it...some nice kids
from up North with influential parents--now that’s moral, sure that’s
moral.”
“You know whoever goes into there is going to get hurt, Negro
or white,” she said defensively.
“Look, I appreciate your helping me, I do. I don’t know why
you did it, but I’m grateful.”
“You could still help, Terry.”
He looked at her coldly.
“You don’t approve of a Negro working in the system, is that
it?”
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“SNCC is in the system, Sandra!”
“And I want it to stay honest.”
“I’m no snitch, I told you that.”
“Andrew used you, Terry, used you.”
“And you’re not trying to do that, I see.”
“We know he’s a Communist. We’d like to know his
connections to the militants--he’s got carte blanche to them.”
Terry stood up. All around him people were chatting, some
crying.
“Like I said, we’re losing it. I don’t know what’s going on, lady,
but I don’t want anything to do with it.”
He knew now that he was going back. Was it always like this?
People using little pieces of each other to advance control over
them? Was that how Kennedy got to the top? Was that what you had
to do even if your motives were honest? Certainly every time you
corrupted your own ideals to advance your noble aims, something
had to become tarnished.
He said goodbye to Sandra, and left the funeral parlor.
Outside, the April night was mild. In the darkness, he knew,
living things were eating and being eaten, yet the sound of crickets
and other night creatures sounded reassuring.
“Damn it, there’s no reason to go now,” Alison said furiously.
“I’ll be back,” Terry said, throwing his shirts, underwear and
socks into a small leather bag that Bannon’s mother had given him.
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“It was just a mix-up, that’s all, you don’t think anyone at
SNCC would have forged your name on a sales slip, do you, Terry?”
He looked at her slim body, at her vibrant red hair, at her
crinkly hazel eyes that seemed to always be smiling, at her white
cotton blouse hanging over her blue jeans like a teenager, and at her
bare feet. He didn’t know when he was going to see her again and he
would miss her. Although sex with her had not been entirely
comfortable: Most of the time she seemed to require a superficial
conversation followed by heavy petting. She would always be the
girl in the back seat of the Chevy as far as sex was concerned.
“Your name didn’t even get in the papers, forging your
signature was a vicious prank--nothing more. Certainly nothing to
go packing for,” she said anxiously.
“I have to see my mother, you know that.”
“Then what?”
“I don’t know...probably back here in a couple of weeks or so.”
“Probably?” she said, throwing one of his shirts at him.
“History is going to be made this summer, and you’re going to be
bullshitting with Mario about life and pussy and a bunch of other
crap that doesn’t mean a damn.” She started sobbing.
Terry stopped packing and walked towards her.
“Stop, none of your Irish charm today, or should I say
bullshit,” she said clenching her teeth and hands.
“C’mon, Alison, you’re going to the field in a few weeks
anyway.”
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“Jesus, you don’t get it, do you? “We...we are going to be in the
field. I’ve been wrangling all week for a spot in Jackson for you.”
“I’ll have to think about it,” he said, zipping up his hand bag.
Alison went to the window and sulked. “It’s not fair. Students
would kill for the opportunity you’re getting,” she said, with her
back to him.
Terry remained silent.
She turned and said, “Hello in there.”
Terry smiled and Alison ran into his arms. He could feel her
tears as they held each other tightly. The Movement was like a brass
ring that he could not grab on to. Lately, he had been thinking a lot
about Martin Luther King. He didn’t know much about King and had
been in the Army during the years that King came into fruition as a
leader. Many of the SNCC people pretended King didn’t exist. It was
their democratic ideals that were going to spearhead the Movement,
they believed. But more and more Terry sensed the leadership of
King impacting on SNCC, and all Negroes. It gave him a warm
feeling, the first since Kennedy, but he did not feel a part of it.
Maybe, it was because he was around SNCC people all day. They
were bold, and pure, and headstrong, and brave, and mostly
Negroes...they had a cutting edge to them that seemed to block
deeper feelings in him.
Alison, and Cynthia, and the hundreds of students who would
initiate Freedom Summer believed in what they were doing, and he
believed in what they were doing. Objectively it was everything that
Kennedy believed in, yet he could not feel it in a great way and it
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made him ashamed. There was no fire burning inside, only embers
smoldering. He did not have Alison’s passion for the Movement and
he felt like a charlatan every time he visited SNCC headquarters.
“I’ll call.”
“Promise?”
“Yes.”
“Oh Terry, please come back,” she said, holding him tighter.
He could feel her trembling, the same as Rosemary used to do under
the bridge. He would have done anything to feel the same way about
her, and the way she felt about the Movement.
The dogs started up again as he left.
Terry said a prayer for his mother. It was her birthday, she
was 54. He stood over her as if she might break if he moved too
suddenly. He slowly untied the bandage that kept her hand bound
to the metal railing of the bed, and held her hand.
She didn’t drink, he thought. She didn’t smoke. She cared
deeply for people, yet she never had anything. He thought about the
Swede, and what his sister had told him about the Swede flying into
a temper tantrum when he had heard his mother had to have a
brain scan. How the Swede fumed for days about the extra cost.
Terry looked at his mother’s gentle face and thought how
much both of them had gone through, the misery of being on
welfare in the Forties and early Fifties.
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427
“Mr. Chandler, time for your free dental work,” his third grade
teacher would say while he was in class. And he would have to leave
the classroom while the other children snickered. He would never
forget how they made welfare families stand in line for shoes at
selected public schools. The other children would look at him like
he was some sort of refugee, while he prayed that he would get
black shoes instead of brown ones. His mother never seemed to
mind, though. Not even when the welfare inspectors would barge
into the house looking for luxury items like a television set, which
welfare families were forbidden then to have.
His sixth grade teacher would ask the classroom questions
about a popular television show at the time called The Goldbergs
and he would cringe every time she looked around the room for the
answers. But she never called on him, perhaps she knew he didn’t
have a TV set. He was grateful to her for that. There were other
unpleasant memories as well: climbing down the fire escape with his
mother while his alcoholic father pounded furiously on the front
door. His father, a Southerner with grace and charm when he was
sober, could not stop drinking and was often gone for months, then
years, at a time. Terry remembered his mother saying she could not
live with him, but he also remembered her only saying good things
about him.
Terry looked at the silent human lying before him and began
discussing Kennedy’s trip to Ireland, wondering whether he had
discussed the trip with her before but not being able to remember.
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428
He squeezed her hand and felt a sudden coldness. That
fucking draft, he thought, and turned to look at the windows. They
were closed.
He took the extra blanket that was on each bed and covered
his mother up to her chin. She was still silent, and not unlike a
mummy with her bandaged head.
“Mr. Chandler, I insist we talk,” said a voice in a staccato
delivery. He turned. It was Dr. Lee holding a clipboard. He placed
his mother’s unbandaged hand near her side and said, “Outside.”
“She can’t hear us, Mr. Chandler, I’ve told you that.”
“Outside, or forget it.”
“Very well,” she replied in an annoyed tone.
Dr. Lee followed him outside into the hallway.
“What is it?” he asked firmly.
“You have not been here for a while, Mr. Chandler.”
“I was out of town on business.”
“I’ve never seen a chart like your mother’s, she should have
been dead months ago.”
“Is that what you dragged me out here for?”
“No, Mr. Chandler, it’s not...the hospital doesn’t understand
why you want to keep your mother here. I have been asked to get a
written statement from you giving the reasons why you won’t move
her.”
“I’ve told you, Doctor Lee. I’ve told you over and over. The
location you want to move her to is in the East Village, it’s a bad
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location, my sister would have a hard time getting there, and it’s not
safe.”
“Then you’ll put that in writing.”
“When I get to it,” he replied. He could see her composure
starting to break. Her hand squeezed the clipboard so that her
knuckles were white.
“When you get to it?”
“That’s right, when I get to it.”
“With no thought that you are being totally unreasonable.”
“From my point of view, totally reasonable.”
She looked down and then swung her head up in an arc.
“Unreasonable...damn unreasonable,” she said, her eyes filled
with contempt.
Terry left her standing in the hallway and went back into his
mother’s room. It was hard to tell whether there were any new
patients in the beds, the patients were always wearing oxygen
masks, and their visitors always looked the same in their charade
positions.
His mother looked peaceful, though, except for the hand,
which kept touching her head. He couldn’t get himself to tie her
hand down, but he put the bandage back, kissed her goodbye, and
began walking towards the door. It was then that he heard a loud
shout from his mother’s bed. It seemed to penetrate every part of
him. He turned around quickly, his mother looked the same,
however.
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430
A male visitor on the other end of the room heard the shriek
as well and looked in the direction of Terry’s mother.
“Damn draft,” he said.
Andrew Koslowski’s secretary looked up in shock as Terry
barged past her. Koslowski pushed back his chair and squeezed a
pencil as Terry burst into his office.
“I already know the nonsense that’s on your mind,” Koslowski
said. His voice was thin and defensive.
“Do you know what happened?” Terry said, standing in front
of Koslowski’s huge desk, which Terry now noticed was too big for
his office.
“The FBI paid a courtesy call. I told them I know nothing, and
they believe me, because I don’t know anything--honest, kid.”
“You’ve been seen with Negro militants--that’s a fact,” Terry
said furiously.
“Militants...what’s a militant? A man speaks out against
injustice and he’s a militant.”
Terry paced for a moment and then he pounded Koslowski’s
desk and looked directly at him.
“You son-of-a-bitch, you set me up.”
Koslowski confidently took out a cigar and removed the
wrapper. There was no expression on his face. No hate. No anger. It
was as if he could have been discussing the latest baseball scores.
“They were fools who did this thing...fools.”
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“Well, that’s noncommittal of you,” Terry said, squeezing his
fist and looking up at the ceiling in frustration.
Koslowski calmly wet the tip of his cigar with his tongue, then
lit the cigar slowly, being ever so careful to have the flame of his
match lick every micrometer of the tip. “I’ve been seeing some
crazies, I admit it, but when I heard about this thing it sickened me,
young man, sickened me. But your actions here sicken me just as
much.”
“You’re so full of shit, Andrew,” Terry said, stepping closer to
the desk. “Everyone knows about your nephew and how you feel
about what happened to him. You didn’t have to tell your newfound
militant buddies to do it, you could have made them think they had
the idea. You’re a cutie, Andrew.”
“I have responsibility, a reputation, I wouldn’t throw it away
on a harebrained scheme to assassinate the Grand Wizard,” he said,
waving the cigar like Johnny Friendly did in On the Waterfront.
“The FBI and anyone else can investigate as much as they want, I’m
clean, but you, young man, are going down the shit shoot for
barging into my office and accusing me of such things. I’m doing
nothing for you--nothing! Do you understand, Terry? You’ll be back
in the Bronx working as a packer for the A & P while others your age
will be shaping the destiny of this country--you lost it, buddy. Blew
the big one...anonymousville for you. And I thought you had such
potential,” Koslowski’s face was red and bulging.
He’s just finished kicking the shit out of Terry Malloy and he’s
telling the crowd of longshoremen on the dock that they can have
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him if they want him, Terry thought, amusedly, but also feeling that
he was on the bottom again. Zipping up his fatigue jacket he said,
“The trouble with you, Andrew, is you think the Movement is a hot
new act for the Ed Sullivan Show, and you’re the producer who
decides whether it goes on or not. Let me tell you, Martin Luther
King and SNCC and CORE, and all the others are moving ahead quiet
nicely without your generous help. In short, they don’t need you,
but you need them so you can feel so fucking important.”
Koslowski looked at Terry angrily. But there was no one to
write him out of what he had become, like there was no one who
could change Johnny Friendly in On the Waterfront.
“See you around, Andrew,” Terry said, slamming the office
door.
Outside on Union Square there was an April shower which
depressed Terry further. Rain in New York wasn’t the same as in
Paris. There was hope in Paris, dreams, fantasies, if you like. Gene
Kelly came with the rain in Paris. Count Basie came with the rain in
Paris. It was lovely romantic bullshit and it made him feel good.
Particularly with the extra added attraction of being an American
and having Kennedy as President.
That was a lot going for him without doing too much, he
thought, as the the din of the New York City streets seemed to grind
down, seemingly sanding away any romantic gloss he might have
picked up as the billionth romantic to have experienced Paris. But
he forced himself to hold onto his memories of Paris while he
walked across town as if the memories could guard him against his
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increasingly difficult reality. The grimy-looking stores on 14th Street
became memories of the Champs Elysee. The woman drunk became
Janine having lunch with him at Versailles. The staid-looking
woman, probably on her lunch hour from Metropolitan Life, was the
Spanish prostitute from Pigalle who had stood him next to a
steaming radiator when he had had too much to drink and couldn’t
get it up-- which had worked. But the Paris memories would not
hang in there and the colors around him seemed to fade as the
traffic noise got louder, and the intensity of the rain increased
Mario informed him that Cynthia had called a number of
times. and there was also a letter from Bannon.
Dear Terry, it said. Yours truly got plenty of boom-boom
(pussy) on R&R in Bangkok. Women are made to please men in this
part of the world. I sat on this round hole like a potty and some
young girl licked my balls and ass. I mean she got right in there. I’m
so fucked out the VC could blow me over. Speaking of Charlie we
ran into boo-koo of them just before my five days R&R. After a mean
fire fight we didi-mowed our asses out of there. Some FUCKING NEW
GUY set off one of our own trip flares. The fucking dinks didn’t even
know we were there until then. This fucking war is getting more
confusing every day, Terry. It’s hard to get any sleep at all. Noise all
the fucking time. It’s so fucking hot the heat gets inside of you and
actually hurts you. Anyway, Bangkok made up for everything. Your
buddy, Joyce.
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It was the first time Bannon had put his first name down and
Terry liked that.
“You haven’t seen Cynthia yet?” asked Mario while ironing a
shirt.
“No, I’ll take a walk over there later.”
“Then she doesn’t know what happened?”
“Koslowski might have called her and told her some story to
cover his conspiratal ass.”
“It makes me nervous, Terry, to think what would happened if
that Grand Wizard would have been murdered...it’s a good think
that Negro woman was attracted to you.”
Terry stood up from the table and looked at Mario who was
wearing his tuxedo waiter pants but was bare-chested. There was a
tattoo of an angel over his left breast.
“Jesus, Mario, you equate everything with sex. I told you she
was probably working for the government, she had a responsibility
to tell the truth.”
Mario chuckled to himself--the all-knowing Calabrian sense of
being right permeated from his entire body, which always angered
Terry.
Mario said, “You’re a good-looking man, my friend. Women
are always trying to help you. She would not have attempted
blowing her cover to recruit you without talking to you a few times,
she had to have the hots for you.”
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“No cracks, Mario, this whole undercover shit sickens
me...where the fuck is it, anyway, Mario?” Terry said disgustedly
while sitting down on Mario’s ladies room chair.
“Where is what, my friend?”
“The country we left two and a half years ago.”
“I don’t see any change, Terry.”
Terry ran his hands through his hair in frustration. “What do
you mean, you don’t see any change? How the fuck can you say
that?”
Mario shrugged in embarrassment. “I’m sorry, Terry, for me
it’s the same.”
Terry stood up and took a few steps so that he was on the
other side of the ironing board.
“Be calm, Terry,” Mario said, his eyes revealing that he had
done it this time. He had really gotten Terry pissed off.
Terry shoved Mario. “Don’t you fucking say it’s the same.
Everything is different.”
“Terry, please, be calm, my friend.”
“What did those newspapers say that your cousin saved? You
want me to show you the headlines again--wait, I’ll get them.”
“Terry...”
Terry charged into the kitchen, opened the cupboard and took
out the newspapers Mario had given him. He held the papers in his
hand like a newsboy as he rushed back into the living room, and
shoved the headlines into Mario’s face.
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“Does it say America stays the same after the President’s
death?” Terry asked. “C’mon, what does it fucking say?”
“Perhaps you are transferring the grief of your mother dying
to the death of the President,” Mario said calmly, still ironing.
“Oh, that’s what I’m doing? Well thank you, Mario, for the
insight. I can now make my life in a new wonderful America again.”
Mario continued ironing. “The system that confines boys like
Neil until they are adults existed when we went away, Terry. So did
the men who beat Neil.
“You son-of-a-bitch, you really know how to dwell on the
underbelly, don’t you?”
“I don’t understand that word underbelly--what does it
mean?” Mario asked, looking up from the ironing board with a
concerned face.
“Don’t you understand? There was unity. Not like now, even
the Negroes are fighting among themselves. King’s organization,
SCLC, is called slick. CORE doesn’t trust SNCC. SNCC doesn’t trust
anyone. Unity, goddam it, it’s gone.You think you’re going to see a
picture of Johnson in a hut in India? Is that what you think, Mario?”
“I don’t know what to think about assassination, my friend. I
know this, though. You should go back to work, earn a real living
again, meet a good woman, have a family and complete the cycle of
life.”
“You just don’t understand, Mario. You just don’t fucking
understand,” Terry said, picking up his fatigue jacket. “There are
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437
more important things in life than just screwing and pumping out
kids you know.”
“When I was a cabin boy, fresh from the Calabrian
countryside, I had dreams, Terry, but they were about myself. But
you,” he said raising his hands, “you have dreams about your
country...this is not logical.”
Terry put his jacket on. “I’ve got to see Cynthia.See you later.”
“I would finger-fuck the rich old ladies on the ships and they
would talk about the dreams their husbands once had as they
wiggled around my finger,” Mario said harshly. And then he added,
“Whatever you’re searching for is not worth it, my friend.”
Terry slammed the door. But he could hear Mario still
lecturing, making sure every micrometer of space was taken up with
his words.
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
Cynthia almost knocked over Terry with her greeting. She looked
rested and she had a springiness to her that he hadn’t seen in a long
time. Inside the apartment they settled into their usual places, he in
the comfortable armchair, she on the couch. He could not help
noticing that the photographs of famous Negroes were still hanging
on the wall.
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Where the hell was it all going? he said to himself as she
chatted on about his being away until he finally asked, “Did Andrew
talk to you?”
“He said there was a misunderstanding,” she said, touching
the couch with both hands like a little girl, “but nothing serious.”
Terry told her what happened.
“Andrew wouldn’t act that irrational,” she said, smiling.
“He’s having a lot of contact with Negro militants.That’s a fact.
I’m not making it up, Cynthia.”
“You’re acting spoily, spoiled, spoil,” she said. Her smile was
not unlike Stan Laurel’s all of a sudden.
Terry cringed. There had been no progress, he thought.
“Spoily, spoiled, spoiled--motherfucker!”
“C’mon, Cynthia,” he said, lighting a Camel. “That kind of talk
makes me nervous. And it’s not really you.”
Who the fuck are you, he thought. It certainly wasn’t the Sex
Goddess and the Negro Emancipator. Maybe they were some of you,
but who was really you? Maybe you got left behind at the Dodger
games. Maybe you were alright until that guy in the bleachers had
you play with his dong. But you aren’t alright now. Whatever you
were was being absorbed by the Negro Emancipator, and the Sex
Goddess. Each wanted the whole piece of the pie, and each was
becoming you, not unlike the invasion of the body snatchers.
“Then get off my fucking back,” she replied. “I don’t want any
more tension in my life, the physicians say it’s no good for me.”
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439
The sudden change in her voice startled him. She had gone
from little girl to grown-up victim in one sentence. It was probably a
move by the Sex Goddess, he figured.
“Okay, let’s just try and make an evening of it,” he said,
sounding like he didn’t believe it.
“Like a little suck, suck suckie,” she smiled. The Stan Laurel
smile.
Terry stood up angrily. “Okay, what the hell is going on...you
must not be taking the medication because there’s no way any
responsible doctor would let you be out on your own.”
She put her hands in her palms and sobbed.
Well maybe that was progress, he thought nervously-beginning to feel like a shit--he had penetrated the facade of the Sex
Goddess.
“Look I’m sorry, Cynthia,” he said, sitting next to her and
cradling her. “Look...we’ll go out. Maybe the Kettle of Fish for a few
brews, then we’ll walk over to Mercer Street and catch some folkies
at Folk City. And that’s just the beginning of our terrific evening.
After Folk City we’ll go to the Village Vanguard for some jazz. And
then breakfast at the Hip Bagel. It’ll be great,” he smiled as he got to
his feet.
Cynthia smiled too although the tears continued to roll down
her face.
“If only we could do it,” she said sadly.
“Of course we can. I got the moolah.”
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440
“Tell me about the Movement first, Terry. Tell me what you
saw and what you did. Tell me how wonderful it is to march with
your Negro brothers against the yoke of oppression. Tell me what
it’s like in the Delta,” said the Negro Emancipator.
Cynthia, you did something much braver than I ever did. You
were on the Freedom Rides,” he said softly, as if the slightest raising
of his voice might break her in pieces. He now stood awkwardly over
her.
There was no response, just a silly smile.
He dropped his head down. She had him baffled and confused,
but mostly sad.
“Oh Terry, I don’t know who I am anymore. I just know I miss
you so,” she said, rising to her feet and gliding into his arms. “Stick
with me please, darling. I know we can fight the demons together,”
she said sobbing softly, womanly, humanly.
He held her in his arms thinking it was this Cynthia that he
cared about: Brave, yet so vulnerable. Yes it was moments like this
that made knowing her so worthwhile, but there would be no more
sex with her. Not until she was well again, no matter what she did or
said to him.
She stayed in his arms a long time, and he felt for a moment
that maybe they could lick this thing together whatever the fuck it
was, this bullet to the brain that nobody could see. But he could also
feel the emptiness in him, his bottom, so that if he were to let her go
suddenly, he felt he would slip into nothingness. A nothingness that
would thrive on silence.
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He began talking to her softly and convinced her to get
dressed and go out, which seemed to please her. The Sex Goddess
and the Negro Emancipator cooperated as well, and did not interfere
with this tender moment. He watched her get dressed and put on
her makeup, which seemed to relax her even more. He was glad to
be with her again.
When they left her apartment building she was in a good
mood and energetic. She stepped off sprightly to begin their walk
towards the West Village. After a few steps she held Terry’s arm like
they had known each other a long time. When they reached the
other side of 14th Street, she gave Terry a reassuring smile and
asked, “Terry, you were in the service?”
“Yes.”
“Then tell me something,” she said smiling and bright-eyed,
“Do Negroes really have bigger cocks than white guys?”
This remark, like all the others she had said that had caught
him off-guard, and were vulgar, immediately depressed him and
sent him plunging to the bottom. He could not see in front of him
for a moment, and his throat became thick.
“I was only joking,” she laughed. “Honest I was,” she said,
jiggling his arm.
She seemed clear-eyed and he could not tell which one of her
had made the remark, all he could do was something that was not
recommended by the best that medicine had to offer.
He said a silent prayer for her as they continued to walk west.
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442
Three days later Terry spoke to Cynthia’s physicians at Payne
Whitney. She had to stay out of the hospital, they insisted, it was
her best chance for recovery, she had grown too dependent on the
hospital, they emphasized.
He told them about her sudden changes of personality, and
they acted like indulgent parents forced to hear the same story over
and over. He then, not without some embarrassment, mentioned her
sexual desires and they said that was a very healthy thing for her to
do particularly is she was aggressive about her needs. She was
meeting herself they mumbled, and then they tossed off a few big
words.
Terry said that he suspected her problem might have
something to do with her father, he thought he had heard her
mumble his name during sex.” Jason,” she had said. It didn’t seem
right.
The psychiatrists scoffed at Terry’s speculation, and said her
father had nothing to do with it. Terry then mentioned her
obsession with Negroes, and they smiled in a bemused sort of way.
He then said there were constant indications that she didn’t care
about herself, only what was happening in the Civil Rights
Movement. One of the psychiatrists replied smugly, “Isn’t that what
every good, healthy liberal is doing these days?”
He left the meeting feeling helpless.
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443
Terry wasn’t sure anymore about returning to Bellevue, he felt
he didn’t have much left to give the boys, but he missed them, and
he decided as a compromise to cut his volunteer time down to once
a week.
Craig and the boys were out in the recreation yard when he
caught up to them. The recreation yard, he knew, was a chance for
the patients in the mental wards, both adults and children to get
outside and get some air. He had been out in the yard a few times
and was not sure he like it. For practical reasons it didn’t seem very
safe. There would be more than one softball game going on at once.
Softballs would fly in every direction. Severely handicapped adults
and children would often have a hard time getting out of the way or
not see the softballs coming. It was really a circus. The atmosphere
was almost desperate. Many patients would also overdo it. Just the
excitement of being in the yard would cause them to jump rope,
play basketball, or run until they dropped from exhaustion.
Craig spotted Terry as soon as he entered the playground,
which faced the East River Drive.
Terry noticed immediately that there was something on Craig’s
mind. After a big welcome back Graig turned serious as patients
screamed in delight at their newfound freedom.
“Those detectives have been around again, Terry. They’re
creating a lot of problems. The staff doesn’t like it,” he said, tossing
a football back and forth in his hand.
“Then I suppose I should stop coming around,” Terry said
curtly.
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They both jumped out of the way of a softball.
“I don’t want to see that happen, Terry, you’re the best
volunteer we’ve ever had...it’s just that these guys are relentless. I
told them you were down South helping out in the Civil Rights
Movement. They didn’t seem to like that.”
“Neil took off without any help, you know that, Graig.”
“That guy he stabbed has apparently made trouble. Buster
thinks he may have been a snitch for the police department, that’s
why they’re so hot about apprehending Neil--they need their snitch
nice and happy. Buster says detectives don’t work this hard on
Negro cases.
“Neil’s mother has also called a few times when she’s been
drunk. She says Neil won’t call her, she wants him back. Fortunately,
the aides are the only ones she’s talked to so far.”
“Fortunately?” questioned Terry, revealing some apprehension
in his short one-word question.
“She’s told the aides, Buster particularly, that you helped take
Neil down South. That’s not a good thing, Terry. They could try and
pin aiding and abetting a fugitive on you...maybe even kidnapping.”
Another turn of the screw, thought Terry, as a little girl tugged
his pants leg. It was the little ones who needed the most love, he
thought. They would never get it in a place like Bellevue. They
would never get it in temporary shelters either. They would grow up
not having an adult ever hug them or kiss them. In turn, they would
begin to hate other people.
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“Look, let’s forget about Neil right now,” Craig said
enthusiastically. “I’m glad he’s in good hands. How about a game of
ring-a-levio?--the boys are excited about you being back.”
The Game, thought Terry. Serious business where he came
from. He looked around. A playground, no matter how huge--and
the Bellevue playground was huge--was not the place for The Game.
No roofs to jump across. No cellars to hide in. No parked cars to
slide under. No secret places to hide in before you charged the jail
and either by cunning or brute force, got past the guards, stepped
inside the jail and shouted “Free all.” He thought of the time when
the big guys on his block played the Harlem Redwings--the fiercest
gang in fifties Harlem. They played on a neutral block. The bets
were big. Some said no game ever had more money going on it. The
Redwings played with cunning and speed while the guys from his
block, as brave as they were, with a lot of Italian money behind
them, were no match for the Redwings. They played near the old
repair yard for the IRT on 180th Street. Vinnie Rizzo died making
the wrong jump. Frankie Tannelli broke his two arms trying to free
his teammates. One Wing played holding his eye in his hand, such
was the seriousness of The Game. No, the schoolyard wasn’t right,
but he would play anyway. Because once you played The Game, you
were a better man for it. It required skill, deftness, cunning, speed
and guts. You would try and escape capture. You would fight like
hell to prevent someone grabbing you around the waist and holding
you while he said, Ring-a-levio ...One...Two...Three which meant you
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446
were captured. And you would have to stay in jail until you were
freed, or until your entire team was caught this way.
The Game that evening lasted two hours. Graig dropped out
from exhaustion after an hour. Terry laughed to himself when that
happened. Craig was lucky he had never played The Game for real
on the streets. Damn lucky, Terry thought. Because The Game was
anything but a game in the streets of the east Bronx and Harlem. It
was life and death.
There wasn’t much that daylight could do to make Third
Avenue and 171st Street look good even on a sunny day. The iron
girders distributed the sun in odd shapes and patterns on the dirty
concrete as Terry walked towards Neil’s building. Strangely, he
thought, the junkman he had seen on his first visit to Neil’s
building, and who Neil had talked about, and whom he had thought
about, was pushing his wooden wheelbarrow junk cart under the El
girders. This time the junkman was coming from downtown so Terry
could see his face better. Oddly, he seemed to be pushing the cart in
slow motion. Or was time slowing down? Terry couldn’t tell. He only
knew that the kindly face of the junkman seemed to freeze, and
become magnified, his long white hair--almost to his shoulders--gave
him a mystical persona. Terry at once felt his blood flowing and a
deep sense of relief while he watched the old man, who was large in
frame as well, push his cart. On a closer look, the junkman seemed
to emanate a radiance of light separate from daylight. Possibly the
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447
shifting light caused by passing trains overhead Terry speculated,
except that the light had a fluorescent bulb quality to it. He watched
the old junkman disappear under the light and darkness of the El
girders and he felt a certain sadness at seeing him go. For that brief
moment, when the junkman had passed, he had felt that Kennedy
and all that he had dreamed was still alive.
Terry continued to stare at the El Girders a few more seconds,
hoping perhaps to see the junkman again, hoping to hold onto the
feeling that had been so promising just seconds before, but the
junkman was gone, and so was the feeling.
It took Terry just a few more steps to be in front of Neil’s
building. A drunken man, who looked Puerto Rican, was rising from
the ground, but still on his hands and knees. When he saw Terry, he
turned his body completely around so that he faced Terry and
blocked the entrance of the building. Still on his hands and knees he
began barking like a dog.
Terry took out a dollar, and the man’s paw took a few swiping
movements at it, and then lifted it gently out of Terry’s hand.
Keeping in character, the drunk moved aside on all fours, as if it
would be wrong to break the illusion of his being a dog, as opposed
to a man who would do anything to get another drink.
Terry climbed the steps slowly. The smell of olive oil from the
Puerto Rican families, and crispy chicken from the Negro families,
mingled together, but remained distinctive. He was back where he
started, he thought. He still was climbing steps in a grungy tenement
building. But he also was still hanging onto dreams. Somehow
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448
Kennedy had been able to create in himself and others, he
suspected, a realization that the next moment of a person’s life and
nation’s life was the beginning of change if you believed in that
change. The thought, however, that the people behind the
apartment doors had little to hope for depressed him, and he fought
the urge to just say the hell with everything.
After reaching the top landing he knocked on 5B for about a
minute before Neil’s mother came to the door. When she opened it
the front of her housedress was unbuttoned but she quickly covered
herself. She didn’t have any makeup on and almost looked pretty.
“Can I come in?” he said meekly.
“What for?” she said, holding the front of her housedress
tightly together with one hand, the other was on the doorknob.
“Are you going to tell me how many times my boy is going to
call me?” she said cynically. “Before we didn’t talk, but at least I
knew where to find him--now I don’t.”
The if-I-can’t-have-him/her, then-no-one-can syndrome. The
fine line between love and hate. He had seen it and heard it often on
Saturday nights when the booze turned simple men into
complicated hate machines and the fights with their wives would
happen. And blood would spill. And no one wanted that, really. The
two parties involved just wanted to hurt each other until one of
them sank on their knees and asked forgiveness. Control by default.
“He’s getting adjusted,” Terry replied, a half truth, but not the
reason, he suspected, why Neil, who now had the opportunity to call
his mother, didn’t.
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449
“I don’t like phones, Mr. Chandler, I got one just for my boy,
but he doesn’t call. Now I’m getting calls at all hours of the night
from johns, my business has always been keep them guessing, now I
think my boy might be on the other end of the ring and I pick it up
to hear some drunk ask me if I’m available to suck his cock--I know
that’s my business, but it don’t make it any better.” Her eyes grew
watery as she opened the front door wider and then walked away
from it. Terry followed her through the dimly lit hallway to the
kitchen. She sat on the hard kitchen chair and began sobbing.
He assumed full responsibility and felt this was really the
bottom now. He was fucking up people’s lives, that’s what he was
doing. He was disunity instead of unity. He wasn’t helping people,
he was helping them be more miserable. He was shit. And if she
doesn’t stop sobbing I’m going to self-destruct, I’m going to
evaporate into nothingness, his brain told his heart.
“You could go down there and see him, that would be a great
idea, it’s a hell of a bus ride but you could do it,” he said, grasping
at straws.
She looked up at him, the tears had turned her a human he
hadn’t seen before. She could never have the label prostitute in his
mind anymore, she wasn’t a label anymore, labels don’t cry for their
loved ones, and he felt the bottom open up again and make room
for whatever it was that was sucking him dry, so that he could
barely stand himself. He put his hands in his pockets and took them
out, and put them back again, he tried breathing deeply, but that
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450
didn’t work either, he was just a piece of shit, that’s all. He had
finally been exposed...but then came some relief.
“I got a little money saved, I could do that,” she said, wiping
the tears with her housedress.
A surge of enthusiasm shot through Terry. “We could send a
telegram and say you’re coming, we could have your Aunt Juliet call
you and arrange the whole thing.”
She looked up slowly, as if she was looking up from the place
where her being was at, a place that had once been a fertile field but
was now a scarred battleground, rutted from too many hurts.
“The boy is ashamed of his momma, you know that, Mr.
Chandler, he might bolt for the door as soon as he finds out I’m
coming.”
Here it was, he thought. Two rights, nobody wrong, how do
you make that kind of decision? How did you get yourself mixed up
into this kind of thing in the first place? You were supposed to save
the fucked-up world with Kennedy. Now come up with a brilliant
answer, Mr. Solomon Chandler. I know, you can cut her in half. One
part can go to visit Neil, the other can stay home and give head...the
goddam bottom keeps getting deeper...maybe you have to throw in
the towel, then you stop going downward, was that it? Was that what
she had found out?
“I don’t have the answers, Mrs. Lawrence,” he said without any
energy seemingly left in him. “You’ll have to just take the chance,
see what develops.”
Now he sounded like a fucking bureaucrat. Goddam it!
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
451
She looked at him in a very noncommittal way, but you could
see the clearness in her eyes, they weren’t muddled or confused,
they were full, and bright, ignited by the wisdom of the thought she
was about to release in the air, which would move at him like a
sidewinder missile.
“See what happens when you meddle in people’s lives, Mr.
Chandler? He’s pulling at you from one end, and I’m pulling at you
from the other, and somebody else is pulling at you from another
place, until each piece of you that’s exposed, has got somebody
tugging on it, pulling it, putting their teeth into it.”
Raw Meat, Terry said to himself. That’s what the sergeant in
Basic Training would say, and you would have to growl. And he
would say raw meat again and you would have to growl louder and
he would say it again until you sounded like you had a pair, and he
looked at Neil’s mother, who was much smarter and wiser than he
would ever be, and there was nothing also he could say to her.
He could feel the pull when he walked out of the building. The
Block wasn’t that far away. Walk up to the Golden Orchid, turn right
on Tremont, walk past Monterey, then make a left on Fontaine
Avenue, where the Swede still lived. On the other side of Tremont
was Crotona Park, but somehow it was a park you never noticed
anymore. It had once had fine benches, and gardens, and fountains.
And people, he had heard, used to sit in the park in the evening or
take walks, but that was in the Thirties, and there were lots of
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Jewish people then living in the neighborhood and they were
different from those that lived their now... they had dreams.
The decay of Fontaine was immediate. Stores boarded up,
some buildings--burned-out shells. The smell of a recent fire still
hanging in the air, cats meowing from dark cellars laced with
garbage. Across the street from the row of five-story tenement
homes were deserted private homes with small fires going on inside
of them--junkies, figured Terry--Mr. Abrahamson looked at him
wild-eyed.
“Terry, it’s Mr. Abrahamson, remember me?” said a man in his
Seventies, sitting on a sofa in the middle of the slanted, cracked
sidewalk, bundled up in a parker and hat with ear flaps that looked
like the kind worn by the Chinese in the Korean War. On each side
of the sofa were pieces of furniture including two very fine lounge
chairs, a kitchen table, a l0-inch Dumont TV set, a box with dishes,
and other items from a lifetime of living.
“They put me out, can you imagine, the legal aide is working
on it now. No heat, no rent I say.”
Terry couldn’t see them, or feel them, but there were people
still living in the tenement buildings, although you wouldn’t know it
by the silence and the destruction. The Swede was just up the block,
in fact.
Mr. Abrahamson. Sweet Mr. Abrahamson who slaved in the
garment industry for 30 years and got a box seat to Old Timers Day
at Yankee Stadium for his going-away gift. His wife must be dead,
suspected Terry, he would never be on the street if she were alive.
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“The junkies are waiting until nightfall to get at the stuff, but I
got a surprise for them, Terry,” Mr. Abrahamson said. His eyes were
really wild now. He pulled out a hooked knife, the kind used to cut
garment material. “They think they’re getting this, but never,”
Abrahamson said, reaching under his bulky coat and pulling out the
framed photograph he had always been so proud of: A smiling Hank
Greenberg. The Jewish baseball hero who had led the majors in
1938 with 58 home runs. Written in faded blue ink were the words,
“To Sid, best wishes, Sincerely, Hank Greenberg.” Abrahamson must
have shown that photograph to every kid in the neighborhood
dozens of times, recalled Terry. They had had many friendly
arguments together when Terry was a boy. Sid Abrahamson had
been a New York Giant fan, and had taken Terry to the Polo Grounds
to see twilight doubleheaders between the Giants and the Dodgers.
“Who do you have on the bums like Mays? This is who you got like
Mays,” Abrahamson would say jokingly, holding up his fingers to
create a zero.
“They got a few pieces already,” Abrahamson said defiantly.
“But now they know I have this,” he said brandishing his knife.
“What about your friends?” Terry asked, beginning to feel as
bad as he had ever felt. Abrahamson would bring a glove with him
to the bleachers and sit on the left side near the shortest foul line in
baseball. He was a big kid and Terry loved him for it. Once he
razzed Duke Snider so badly the Duke gave him the finger.
Abrahamson adored that and couldn’t stop talking about it for
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weeks. Somehow, although they rooted for opposing teams, Terry
could never get mad at him.
“My friends,” he said dejectedly. “Most are dead or gone. My
wife died while you were in the service, Terry,” he said lowering his
voice as if to soften the reality of the words.
“When is the legal aide coming back?”
Abrahamson smiled sardonically, it was a face that had never
seen a Giants game, and said, “I don’t care, I’m not paying for a flea
trap.”
Oceanside, that was it, he had a son in Oceanside, Terry
remembered.
“The lawyer went to get my son, but I’m not going back with
him. Remember, Terry?” Abrahamson said gleefully as he reached
under the sofa pillow and pulled out a baseball glove. He clinched
his fist and hit the pocket of the glove a few times. “Here, I want you
to have it, Terry,” he said sullenly. “I bet it’s one of the few Honus
Wagner models left.”
“I couldn’t do that, Mr. Abrahamson,” Terry said, shaken by
the gesture.
Sid Abrahamson twisted his head to the side as the fire in the
private house behind him on the other side of the street burned
brighter, and said, “They made life for my wife miserable, robbed
her pocketbook three times, threw her to the sidewalk twice, but I
got something for them tonight--here, take the mitt, Terry, I insist.”
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Terry looked into the former garment cutter’s eyes. They were
not the kind of eyes that wanted to see a great catch in centerfield
anymore. Terry reluctantly took the glove.
“It wasn’t such a bad place to live,” said the old garment cutter
scanning the tops of the tenement houses with his eyes. “With
Estelle I could have lived anywhere,” he said, steely-eyed.
Terry could see the shadows on the junkies moving inside the
wooden-framed house across the street, probably excited by the
challenge of Mr. Abrahamson. When he got to the El, he would call
the 48th Precinct, Terry decided. They would take Abrahamson in,
after that it was anybody’s guess.
Terry shook hands with the old Giants fan and continued
walking up the street to within a few feet of the stoop building
where he had spent most of his life, and where the Swede lived now.
With the Honus Wagner glove in his hand, Terry walked into the
vestibule of 2057 Fontaine Avenue and looked at the mailboxes, the
names he knew as a child were no longer there except one, Chico
Rodriquez. He had grown up with Chico’s sons but had lost touch
with them. He knew their mother had gone back to Puerto Rico and
left Chico by himself to get drunk every night, but all Terry could
think about now were the parties Chico would take him to with his
sons. The cramped apartments in the projects would be hot with
bodies that had to follow orders all week, but were now free to move
any way they wanted to move to the explosive trumpets and mambo
rhythms of Latin bands like Tito Puente and Johnny Pacheco. The
small windows of the project apartment would be open to try and
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catch a breeze blowing in from the East River, but often there would
be none, and he would dance with the pretty Puerto Rican girls with
sweaty underarms, and become drenched in sweat himself and
drink beer, and sweat even more, while the music-heated bodies of
the Puerto Rican girls moved suggestively towards him and then
backed off, and then moved towards him again, the sounds of their
feet clopping rhythmically on the wooden floor, their hips swaying.
Their lips red with lipstick. And always a few Cubans would show up
at the party and there would be private discussions on how the
Cubans were always stuck up, and there would be more drinking
and dancing, and he would get high, and closer to the Puerto Rican
girls, and no one would care and he would try to move like them,
and try to get lost in the music like them, as their bodies gyrated
excitedly to the merengue, their feet with spiky high heels in one
place only a fraction of a second, their hips, seemingly ready to
explode out of their tight red and orange colored dresses, moving
side to side, their elbows swaying back and forth, their faces smiling
joyously, and it would be good to be high like them, and not to
think of tomorrow.
Terry looked at the Swede’s mailbox and became angry: to hell
with him, and to hell with this awful street, and to hell with people
who had already forgotten Kennedy, he said to himself. He turned
and left the building and didn’t look up until he got to the El station
and called the 48th Precinct and asked them to help a great Giant
fan.
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457
Terry stopped at his Bleecker Street building to see if there
was any mail. There was a letter from Bannon. Terry stuck it in his
pocket and headed for the Kiwi. It was getting harder to look at the
letters. The little fucker sounded like he was having the time of his
life, the Army in Vietnam seemed tight, the grunts really depended
on each other, not like here, Terry thought sullenly.
He didn’t open Bannon’s letter until he had a buzz on.
Dear Terry, the fuckin’ new guys are getting it faster now. I
hear they’ll be sending regular divisions over here pretty soon. The
guys I’m with are real crazy, they took a dead VC woman dink
wrapped her in ribbon and gave her to some of the platoon going on
pass in Saigon. Well these guys take her around with them to the
bars and then decided to drop her off at the barracks of the Marines
guarding the American Embassy. If that ain’t weird enough, they pin
a note on her which said, ‘Why don’t you boys come out in the bush
and fight a real war?’ Well the Marines did not think that was funny
and sent out a patrol to find our guys who managed to always stay
one bar ahead of them. To change the subject, I better thank you for
your letter now or I’ll forget. If you don’t mind me saying, you don’t
sound too happy about things. Here the only thing you worry about
is your ass and your buddy’s ass. I’ve never seen guys so tight with
each other as they are here. There’s a real feeling here that we need
each other--of course I’m not talking about the guards and clerks in
Saigon, but I think you know that. If I sound a bit gung ho, I guess I
am. Some grunts are already on their second tour here. They feel
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guilty about leaving their buddies up on some hill with some cherry
replacement although we are only supposed to be advising the
South Vietnamese Army (sic). The rest of what’s going on here goes
beyond my ability to put it down, but the Army’s got a real hard-on
for this place so I don’t see us pulling out of here in the near future.
Well I have to go now, gonna write a hot letter to Gloria. She told me
she squatted down on the last letter she sent me with her pussy.
When I told the guys about it, they offered to pay a dollar apiece to
sniff the letter, I’ll tell you I almost did it, but I didn’t. Thinking
about Gloria and what I’m going to do to her when we’re married is
my favorite pastime. Anyway I’m doing okay and thanks again for
the letter. Your Pal, Joyce Bannon.
Terry stuck Bannon’s letter in his pocket and looked around
the Kiwi. This wasn’t reality, he thought. The Kiwi was strictly a
creation manufactured by drunks who wanted a different world
than the one they lived in. They were more educated that the boyos
at the Golden Orchid, but their goals were the same, each night they
would drink until they saw reality the way they wanted it to be.
He ordered another beer and felt the jealously wheal up in
him. He had to admit it, Bannon sounded like he was having a hell
of a time--re-upping had never been an option, but now he didn’t
know. He didn’t have to carry a gun, he could be a medic, he could
be a damn good medic, then he wouldn’t have to be around all these
well-adjusted Americans who could change a president as fast as
changing a photograph. Shit, now he was really feeling sorry for
himself, he laughed, or maybe feeling angrily jealous of Bannon who
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sounded so fucking alive. Why not? Three hots and a flop as J.W.
used to say.
He drank fast now, and the Kiwi became a Brugel painting
again, only this time he did not enjoy it, it was not his reality, he
thought, as he looked at the smoke and frivolity, and wondered if
the Army would let him back in with the same rank or would he
have to start over again?
He had half-a-dozen conversations before he closed the Kiwi,
none of them satisfying in his estimation, but what could you expect
from a bunch of drunks who liked to hear themselves talk? They
didn’t talk about things that made your heart pound, exactly. Sorry,
he just couldn’t get excited about Charlie Chaplin’s huge
vocabulary, or how often Van Gogh and Gaugin fought. He felt the
same way about John Wayne-was-an-underrated-actor
conversations as well. The truth was the Kiwi just didn’t turn him on
anymore. It didn’t feel like it was a place of hope anymore. It didn’t
feel like it was special. Maybe he didn’t feel special anymore. What
was special was what Bannon was writing about. Americans sticking
together, trying to make a better world, trying to make it better for
the Vietnamese, futile really, but purposeful in intent and integrity.
He ordered an onion and tea at the Hip Bagel. The Hour of the
Wolf was nearly upon him and it always made him uncomfortable. A
very high young lady was cockteasing a horny out-of-town
businessman type who was trying to get her to go to his hotel, but
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460
she kept telling him she wasn’t that kind of a girl, but why didn’t
they talk about it in the park, she suggested. He kept lobbying for
the hotel, and she kept suggesting a walk in Washington Square
Park. Finally she took her shoe off and began rubbing his crotch
with her foot--they left soon after. The businessman hadn’t wanted
to, but he was probably settling for a hand job. The girl probably
had a husband or boy friend waiting up for her and she knew she
had to get home before light, because light meant you passed the
threshold, baby. Light magnified the indiscretion, light said you
were a crud and made you feel dirty. Light said you were a useless
human being. So the businessman and the girl would dry hump and
feel each other’s bodies, and she would give him a hand job or suck
him off, and after it was over he would be glad to be back in his
hotel without her, and she would be glad she was home before light.
Mario was just getting ready for bed when Terry got home. He
had a big smile.
Terry took a long piss, but Mario was still smiling when Terry
walked out of the bathroom.
“Okay, let’s hear it,” Terry said, taking his clothes off, but
leaving his dog tags on. He had not gotten used to sleeping without
them.
“I had both of them tonight,” Mario said beaming, looking as if
he had just won the Irish Sweepstakes.
Terry sat on his not-so-comfortable Danish-styled couch which
he covered at night with a sheet and blanket and slept on, and said,
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461
“Are you nuts? Those are Italian women you’re fooling around
with.”
“I got the wife before work and the daughter during a break,”
Mario said, smelling his fingers. He was a man obviously pleased
with his conquest.
“You crazy bastard,” Terry said, waving his hand at Mario in
disgust. “If the husband finds out you’re a dead man. You know
what they do with guys like you?”
“I couldn’t resist.” Mario said, covering himself carefully,
“They both urinated on my chest,” he added proudly.
“They cut your prick off and stuff it in your mouth, that’s
what they do, Mario.”
Mario gave Terry a patient but indifferent look. It was an allknowing look. A look that said Terry didn’t know what it was to be
Italian. It was a look that was impenetrable, a look that was
thousands of years old.
Terry shut out the light. Mario said, “Each is jealous of the
other, I can’t ask for more than that, Terry.”
“I can’t talk with a dead man. Do you hear me, Mario? I can’t
talk with a dead man.”
“They love me, they will never tell,” Mario said contentedly.
“They brush next to me, and hold my balls when the owner is not
looking or one of them is not looking. I love them both, Terry, of
course I know that’s unrealistic.”
“Just one would be fine then?” Terry asked facetiously.
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462
“If I could get both in bed at the same time my prayers would
be answered,” Mario said in a voice that penetrated the darkness
with urgency, yet sounded strangely unreal. Almost as if it did not
come from a human but from a machine that announced floors and
departments at Macy’s or Gimbel’s.
Terry rolled over, he had had enough of Mario’s womanizing,
he had had enough of the stories and the sexual aberrations that
Mario somehow managed to make sound innocent.
“You’re a dead man,” Terry said, rolling over, hoping the
statement sounded as awful to Mario as it did to him, but knowing
that Mario did not scare easily, particularly when it came to having
an affair. He seemed to thrive on complicated sexual situations the
way other men enjoyed a good boxing match.
“I can’t help myself,” Mario said drowsily. “I love both of
them, each for different qualities, each for making me feel so alive,”
he yawned. “Do not worry about Mario, my friend,” were the last
words uttered by Mario before his voice stopped, and he was asleep.
It was in the real fear of losing Mario that Terry put his hands
together and did something he had only done briefly for Cynthia-pray. He chose to pray to the God that punished sin, and who was
not easily impressed with good intentions, the God of every Catholic
schoolboy. His prayer, however, was not a one-way conversation. In
his sudden concern for Mario his other feelings barged through like
a fireman chopping down a door to reveal that Mario was just an
opening to let God know that he, Terry Chandler, was angry at him.
Angry because of his mother, angry because of Cynthia, angry
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because of Neil, angry, very angry, because of Kennedy. The prayer
came pretty close to How could you do this to people? but didn’t,
because he believed that the God he was praying to did not have
any sympathy for whiners.
Praying relaxed Terry and he fell asleep quickly, more quickly
than he had since Germany, which now seemed so long ago.
Terry awoke at 11. Mario was already out of bed making
coffee.
“The great lover can fix me a cup too,” Terry said, slipping on
his pants.
Mario looked at him reflectively. “You are right, of course,
fooling with the both of them is dangerous, I won’t stretch it out.”
Terry washed up, shaved, and while wiping off his face, said,
“You’re a goddam fool and you know it.”
Mario, still in his jockey shorts, poured boiling water into
Terry’s cup. “I’m a fool when it comes to love, you are a fool when it
comes to your future, I guess that makes us even,” Mario countered.
Terry was going to say something about Mario’s ass being shot
off which seemed to be the bigger of the two problems until he
remembered his flirtation with the thought of re-upping. In reality it
was both of them facing the possibility of having their asses shot off;
somehow that brought a smile to Terry’s face.
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464
Mario, sipping his coffee, observed the wry smile. “And why is
my tight-assed roommate so full of smiles this morning?” he asked
suspiciously.
“Both of our asses shot off--beautiful,” Terry said, still smiling,
but this time more bitterly.
Mario gave Terry a confused look. “What is it, my friend? The
Terry I’m seeing before me is not the Terry I Know.”
“The Terry you see before you has had it with this fucking place.
I’m thinking about re-upping,” he said, gulping down his tea. “I can
become a medic, a lot of shit is happening over in Vietnam.”
Mario gasped, Terry had never stopped him like that and he
enjoyed it. Mario, his eyes looking at Terry sorrowfully, cupped both
his hands around his coffee mug and said, “You are running away,
my friend, plain and simple.”
Terry leaned back and studied Mario for a moment, he
wondered if Mario ever took off his Saint Christopher’s medal when
he had intercourse.
“I’m thinking about it, it doesn’t mean I’m going to do it,”
Terry said defensively.
Mario smiled sardonically. “We are a product of our thoughts,”
he said philosophically.
Terry groped in his pants pocket and took out a crumpled
cigarette pack with one cigarette in it. Mario, who had quit smoking
years earlier, looked at Terry disapprovingly as Terry lit a Camel.
“I told you, Mario, you’re not my fucking mother!
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“If I did not hear you say it, I would have not believed it
Terry--the Army?”
“That’s right Mario, the fucking Army, because I don’t feel
anything anymore--do you understand? I don’t feel anything.
Nobody gives a shit that this country is going to go down the tubes
now that Kennedy is not around--business as usual, that’s the only
thing we understand--I can’t stand it, honest I can’t stand it. I wish I
could but I can’t. And who the fuck wants a dead buddy on their
hands?” he added, looking hard at Mario, his voice thick with
emotion.
“Everywhere I turn there’s a problem. I never thought I’d say
it, but the Army is starting to look real good to me, grunts are tight
over there, together, not just thinking of the almighty buck.”
Mario, who was very intuitive, seemed to sense Terry’s
desperation.
“Okay, one less problem,” Mario said, raising both hands,
palms facing Terry. “I’m calling it off my friend, you’re right it’s
dumb. I’ll just be your boring waiter roommate for the next 10
years.”
Terry took a hated drag on his Camel, he was going to stop, he
told himself. Finally, he said, “You serious, you’re really going to
stop seeing them because I don’t think you should?”
Mario stood up, raised his hands out like a symphony
conductor, and ended up with a Christ-on-the-cross pose. “I bow to
the overwhelming insight and intelligence of the Great Terry.”
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“You do what you want?” Terry said meanly. “I’m still
considering re-upping no matter what happens around here.”
Mario got up, walked to the closet, took out his pants. Putting
them on,he said, “I thought you were thinking about the Peace
Corps, Terry?”
Mario’s remark infuriated Terry. “Before the assassination,
before Mario--not after! Goddam it, you know that.”
“But the Army, Terry, this is real madness, it’s everything you
wanted to get away from,” Mario said timidly.
Mario’s ability to suddenly act timid was a real gift, Terry had
noticed in the past, but he would have none of Mario’s feigning
softness now, none of it, none of it. Let him get his cock cut off, he
didn’t care.
“Anything but the Army. Terry, please, I told you there will be
no problem with me, you will not have to worry,” said the intuitive
Mario.
“Everything’s a goddam problem,” Terry said, running the
cigarette under the water.
“You’re tired, perhaps discouraged, Terry, but things will get
better, Kennedy still has a brother, there is still Martin Luther King,
there is hope, Terry, I feel it.”
“God, you’re a good bullshitter,” Terry said, feeling a hint of a
smile appearing on his face. “I’m glad you don’t like men.”
Mario nodded his head the Italian way--in appreciation of
Terry’s compliment. “I’m irresistable--what am I going to do?” Mario
shrugged.
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467
Okay, Terry said to himself, Mario is going to get out of getting
his balls cut off, that’s one less problem, but he was still on the
bottom, unable to feel alive, numb except for conversations with
Mario and Neil; and Cynthia sometimes. Conversations with J.W.
mostly felt like he was talking to the past and it was answering back.
God, he felt shitty as he watched the afternoon sun snake its way
into the apartment, and settle into a corner like a sleepy cat.
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE
Terry was getting dressed to go to the hospital when the phone
rang.
“This is Dr. Lee, Mr. Chandler, I’m afraid it looks like your
mother is not going to make it through the day. Can you come
over?”
He had told himself a hundred times that he was prepared for
this day.
“She’s still alive then?”
There was a pause. “She might not be when you get here, Mr.
Chandler, that’s all I can say on the phone.” replied Dr. Lee
dispassionately.
Well at least she wasn’t gloating, he said to himself as the
numbness set in again.
The next thing he remembered was rushing into his mother’s
room but she wasn’t there. Did that bitch Lee steal her? What was
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going on? Where was she? Hide the patient, huh? Was that it? Where
was his mother? Goddam it, where was she?”
Dr. Lee walked slowly into the room, her face was tense.
“She’s gone, Mr. Chandler,” she said softly. “She expired
sometime this morning.”
What kind of word is expired? he thought.
“Then she was dead when you called me?”
“I didn’t want to tell you over the phone,” Dr. Lee said
sympathetically. “I know how you must feel, I know you don’t
believe that, but I am truly sorry for you and your family.”
“Where is she now?” Terry demanded.
“The hospital morgue...your father and sister were called, do
you want me to tell them?”
“No, I’ll handle it,” Terry said, looking at the empty hospital
bed and imagining his mother lying in it.
He didn’t notice Dr. Lee leaving as he stared at his mother’s
bed for a long time. It was as if the bed were helping him hold back
his grief, reminding him in a nonverbal way that his mother no
longer existed on earth, but saying at the same time that she had
existed.
He sat on the small white stool next to the bed, held his hands
over the bed in a prayer position and thought of her and all the
good things she was until the bed could no longer help him hold
back the stabbing, throbbing pain that began to go on a rampage in
his body as he clutched the bed and held onto it as if it were a living
thing.
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469
When he finally raised his head again he felt better, but now
he could hear the sound of hissing snakes, and it startled him until
he realized that the hissing sounds were coming from the oxygen
tanks of the other brain-tumor patients who were wearing their
bombing-run-over-Germany oxygen masks. And he could not believe
that he had forgotten that, or how the hissing sound had once felt
like it was a living thing tightening around him, squeezing him,
trying to take his life from him.
He waited in the hospital corridor for the Swede and his sister.
When they got off the elevator he knew that they did not know yet.
For a few seconds his mother would still be alive for them. He
suddenly did not want to be there.
“Mommy’s not doing too well,” his sister said innocently.
He looked at her, his throat was thick, and he desperately
searched for the right words but there were none.
“She’s gone,” he said.
The Swede bowed his head remorsefully. His sister began to
cry. Terry held her for a long time while the Swede smoked one
cigarette after another. In the background he could hear the
loudspeaker paging the doctors, unemotionally, much in the same
way as the machine in department store elevators announced the
floor you were arriving at.
The funeral director sent Terry to the Bronx County Supreme
Court building to get permission for his mother’s body to be picked
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470
up at the hospital. Terry had often passed the building on his way to
Yankee Stadium to see exhibition games between the Yankees and
the Brooklyn Dodgers. The building’s information desk directed him
to the Public Administrator’s office.
When he located the office and opened the door he was
greeted by two buxom, middle-aged ladies sitting behind large desks
side by side.
They were a team, Terry was soon to discover.
He introduced himself and told them his problem. He was
asked by one of them to sit in front of her desk. She was wearing an
attractive blonde wig and asked questions in a self-assured voice
that indicated she was not used to being challenged.
“Does the deceased owe the state any taxes?” she ask
bureaucratically.
“My mother never worked,” Terry lied. “We were on welfare
when I was a kid, then she remarried.”
“Is she really your mother or are you adopted?” asked the
other lady suspiciously.
“She’s my real mother.”
“And the reason your stepfather is not here?” asked the
buxom bureaucrat in the blonde wig--she could be an act for
Sammy’s Bowery Follies, he thought.
“He’s not well,” he replied politely.
“Do you intend to go into the apartment?” asked Miss
Suspiciously.
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“Yes, to get a few personal things, is there something wrong
with that?”
“Well if she owes the state money, we don’t want people taking
out items that could be sold for auction,” said Miss Blonde Wig.
Terry tried to hide his anger. “As I said, she doesn’t owe the
state anything, she didn’t have anything.”
“He seems like a nice young man, doesn’t he, Grace? said Miss
Blonde Wig looking at Terry.
“Yes he does, Natalie, but you know we have to be a little
tough,” she said smiling.
“May we see your birth certificate?” asked Natalie.
Terry had been informed by the funeral directors on what was
required in New York State to pick up a body, and handed Natalie
the birth certificate.
“1940, can you imagine, Grace?” said Natalie, staring at
Terry’s birth certificate.
“The Glen Island Casino,” Grace sighed.
Terry smiled, but he wanted to tell them what he really
thought of their little act which everyone had to go along with or
the body stayed where it was until the state decided what to do with
it.
“That boy from Pelham, wasn’t it?” cooed Natalie, who threw
out her tits suggestively at Terry. At first, he thought, he might be
imagining it, but there they were beaming at him like two headlights
in the night.
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“Almost as good-looking as Terry here,” confirmed Grace,
brushing her hair with a hairbrush.
“He looks like he loved his mother, doesn’t he, Grace?”
“Very much,” replied Grace, looking Terry up and down.
Two horny old babes--unbelievable, he thought.
“Sometimes, Terry, we give people permission to go into the
apartment and they clean it out, now that isn’t fair, is it, Grace?”
“It certainly isn’t, Natalie.”
“And then we’re accused of not being sensitive, meanwhile
dead or alive you have to pay your taxes, isn’t that right, Grace?”
said Natalie, really throwing them out now.
Terry felt like he was on the ropes, but so beat he couldn’t feel
the pounding.
“But when we see a son or daughter who is really griefstricken, we go easy, don’t we, Grace?”
“We certainly do,” Grace said, suggestively crossing her legs.
“Of course it isn’t often we get someone who reminds us of the
Glenn Island Casino, is it, Grace?”
Grace sighed again.
“Your mother’s last name isn’t on your birth certificate,”
Natalie asked suddenly, coldly.
Terry forced a smile, there was no telling what these horny
bastards were up to, he thought.
“I have her marriage certificate,” he answered.
“And she’s clean, doesn’t owe the state anything?” Natalie
asked again without asking for the marriage certificate.
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473
“Yes ma’am.”
“Ma’am,” Natalie shrieked in delight. “You hear that, Grace-ma’am. Not like those PR’s who can’t speak English.”
“Not like them at all,” Grace replied parrot-like.
Natalie looked at Terry for what seemed like a long time. It
was almost as if she was eating him up with her eyes. Seemingly
trying to touch him, but knowing that would be the end of her daily
games if she did.
Terry could only feel contempt for both of them, and for the
state for having such a system.
They seemed to sense that touching was a line they did not
want to cross. Grace handed Natalie a piece of paper which Natalie
stamped and gave to Terry.
“You’ll need this to have her picked up at the hospital and
buried,” Natalie said, as if she was giving someone instructions for a
street address.
Terry took the paper without comment. What good would it do
to tell Grace and Natalie how fucked up they were, he convinced
himself. He wondered how long they had had the power to fuck
around with bodies because that was power. Real power. He was
grateful to them for one thing, however, you forgot about your grief
when you dealt with those two, forgot about it completely because
you were fighting to keep the person you loved from being taken
from you. In a way, Grace and Natalie gave the deceased new life by
forcing you to fight for their body. It was only later that you
realized that the victory was hollow. Your mother was dead, she
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474
would never talk to you again, and you would never see her again.
But it was odd, he thought. How a bureaucratic situation like
getting permission to get his mother’s body picked up had made her
feel so alive again? In dying she had become more alive to him than
he had felt at the hospital.
Death was full of tricks.
At the funeral parlor, the Swede’s friend, a man in his
Seventies, looked at Terry impassively and asked, “How is he taking
it?”
The cold son-of-a bitch, Terry thought--typically Swedish
alright. Talking to the son of the deceased and only worrying about
his friend.
“He’s doing okay.”
The old Swede walked away without saying anything further.
Terry knew it was unfair, but he considered Swedes to be morose
and cold like the land they were from. Many he knew drank heavily
and were prone to hitting their wives. The Swede’s friends had all
come from the same mold. They had jumped ship in the Twenties,
worked in the cold mines of Pennsylvania, and eventually ended up
in the Carpenters Union in New York City. Their daughters and
grandaughters were beautiful, but products of their cold parents.
You could stand in a room full of them and not feel one flicker of
life. Already he could see his mother’s replacement standing in the
wings. A handsome Swedish woman--a friend of his father’s he was
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475
told--with a perpetual smile. This was a dead giveaway that
something was wrong. In his experience, Swedes only smiled when
they were drunk. Sure, his intellect told him it wasn’t right to lump
all Swedes into the experience of his stepfather, but it was hard not
to. They were a handsome and intelligent people, he knew, but
always missed the point, whatever it was. He would never like them,
and there was nothing he could do about it. The Swede and his
drunken pals had made sure of that.
He started to feel better when some old friends from the
neighborhood showed up. They were scattered now. Mostly living
above 190th Street. Some living in New Jersey. Hard-working, decent
people who were experiencing their own inner hell with alcoholism
and trying to hold onto a job. They were a welcome contrast to the
Swede’s friends. They had known his mother and liked her. A few
had been at Patsy Goldberg’s funeral, but most hadn’t. They were
The Block, that one block concrete village of tenement houses which
its inhabitants thought so special. All other blocks might as well
have been in another country. The Block had once seemed magical
to him: playing Briche--a Sicilian card game--on summer mornings,
listening to the Mitchell family giving jazz concerts on the roof,
playing The Game on cool fall nights, sneaking into the Bronx
Winter Garden to see wrestling--Earl, a boy with one leg and two
missing arms, would get into the Garden for free then go to a back
window and drop a fire hose down to the roof of a camera store. The
Block would then scale up marble blocks like rock climbers to the
roof of the camera store, and then climb two stories up the fire hose.
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476
But later he would break away from The Block. There would be
foreign movies at the Ascot on the Grand Concourse, jazz at
Birdland, and rhythm and blues at the Apollo. There would be late
evenings drinking espresso at the Green Onion in the Village, and
finally the job at McGraw-Hill. The Block would not be a powerful
reality anymore, but the friendships forged in childhood would
never be forgotten, and he was glad that some of The Block had
come to pay respects to his mother. But the three days of mourning
and the funeral itself became a blur, nature’s way of letting you
down easy, he suspected. He vaguely remembered talking to J.W.
and a few others, but that was it. He was scattered, he reasoned, like
Kennedy’s brains. Unable to believe in the next moment, dying
suddenly to get drunk and create his own reality.
John Coltrane played These are my favorite things for the
hundredth time of the evening while Terry watched two local
lesbians celebrate their tenth year together. Everyone at the Kiwi
sang People and toasted the Fabulous Two while they made moon
eyes at each other. Then the bar turned around and the Fabulous
Two French-kissed each other. No one from the bar looked except
Terry. The butch member of the Fabulous Two, the man so to speak,
was radiant. She was wearing tight chino pants, snakeskin boots, a
white blouse buttoned at the top, Wild Bill Hickock style, and a
close-cropped haircut. The feminine member of the Fabulous Two
was timid, but sweet-looking. She was dressed very womanly in a
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477
black evening dress which she complemented nicely with a string of
pearls. She probably did the housework.
They kissed each other for a long time, while the bar finished the
champagne toast. Then instinctively the bar turned around to toast
them again, and their glasses were filled, but it was hypocritical,
Terry thought, not to observe the fabulous Two’s love for each
other. Sure, it wouldn’t play in Middle America, or Middle Queens
for that matter, but why abandon the Fabulous Two at their most
affectionate moment? Who the fuck really cared if they went down
on each other or swapped spits together? But if the Kiwi wasn’t
ready for it yet, what hope was there for the rest of the country?
Yeah, the Army was sounding better and better, he thought, as he
continued to drink.
After eight beers he could still not create his own reality. It
just wouldn’t come. He would get as far as being in a log cabin in
Montana, or living with the whores in Pigalle, and then Bannon
would intrude with his finger-and-thumb gun and the words “Right
in the fucking bean,” and the reality he was trying to carve out all
evening with alcohol would fall apart like a house of cards.
Once, he got as far as being a movie director, but suddenly
Kennedy appeared standing in the January wind, coatless and
hatless, inspiring Americans not to ask what their country could do
for them but what they could do for their country, and the movie
director’s image would not hold.
He wondered what the others in the bar were thinking. Maybe
the Fabulous Two were thinking about Kennedy? Why not? There
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478
must be people out there who felt the same as he did? He just hadn’t
met a whole lot of them. Or was he fooling himself? He hadn’t been
in the country during the funeral. He didn’t know who was sincere
and who was full of shit. And hell, he couldn’t even create his own
drunken reality anymore, and when you can’t do that, he started to
believe, you have no escape valve, no place to hide, you’re exposed,
an open wound desperately waiting for someone, or something, to
deaden the pain.
In the noisy background the mournful elegance of John
Coltrane’s spiritual emanations gave the Kiwi its center: Coltrane’s
playing evoked images of Paris nights and Paris women, of painful
rites of passage, of feeling open and openness, all of which fooled
the listener into thinking they were more worldly than they actually
were.
But Terry could not get lost in the music or the drink no
matter how hard he tried, and that made him angry.
Mario was lying on the vestibule floor like a drunk, his face
looked badly pummeled as he spited blood. His arms hung loosely
by his sides as if they were broken.
“They caught up to Mario, Terry,” he said, trying to catch his
breath.
Terry looked at his good friend and knew where the bottom
really was.
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479
“They didn’t cut my prick off, I’m grateful for that, Terry,”
Mario gasped.
Please not Mario, Terry screamed inside.
“My nose is still good, I didn’t let them get at the nose, I’m
very glad about that, Terry, I didn’t want anyone touching my
nose.”
But Mario’s nose was smashed.
Terry raced upstairs and called Bellevue. Mario was speaking,
and that was good, but Terry couldn’t get rid of the dark feeling
that he had. He brought down a pillow and a blanket and gently
placed the pillow under Mario’s head, covering him up to his chest.
Mario’s shirt collar was stained with blood.
Terry looked at Mario’s face closely. There was an Italian word
printed on Mario’s forehead with lipstick, Terry could not make out
the letters.
Mario struggled to move, but couldn’t.
“Jesus, take it easy,” Terry said, his voice shaken, his eyes near
tears. “The ambulance will be here shortly.”
“In my pocket,” Mario gasped.
“What’s in your pocket?” Terry asked desperately.
But Mario did not answer. His pummeled eyes suddenly
closed, and his half-closed fist opened to reveal a St. Christopher’s
medal in his palm. And Terry still did not know if he was alive or
dead.
“Jesus, Mario, I told you, I fucking told you,” Terry shouted,
but Mario did not answer.
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480
The ambulance arrived a minute later. Paramedics tried to
revive Mario but it was useless. He had received enough of a beating
to have killed a dozen men, they said. He should not have even been
alive when he was found, they added.
Terry reached into Mario’s pocket and fished out a slip of
paper. Printed on it was the name and address of his sister Francine
in Calabra. Yes my dear friend I will write to her Terry said to
himself as the paramedics wrapped Mario’s body in a rubber
blanket.
Mario’s funeral was held in an Italian church just off of Fort
Hamilton Parkway, Brooklyn. The church architecture inside was
inspired by the Rococo Age. Domes and arches were bathed in
brilliant light, yet mysterious looking. Painted on the ceiling was an
ornate decorative surface that depicted Christ being helped into
heaven by cherub-looking angels. An organist played a florid Bach
melody on the organ while the altar boys prepared for High Mass.
Mario was going out in style, Terry thought, as Mario’s women filled
over a dozen pews. They were women of all ages, going from
innocent young schoolgirl types to well-groomed, middle-aged
executive types.
Terry looked at Mario’s women and felt he knew many of them
personally. Mario had never hesitated to talk about his conquests.
More embarrassingly, Terry knew their secret, Mario had surely
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481
asked every one of them to urinate on his chest, and few women
could resist a Mario request according to Mario.
The fact that all these women in their mournful attire may
have squatted over Mario and peed on him gave Terry a momentary
laugh for which he was grateful, because he was on the bottom now
and laughs were hard to come by when you were on the bottom.
Why do this to yourself? Terry thought, as he waited for
Cynthia to answer the doorbell, wondering if she had even heard it,
because the sound of gospel music coming from her apartment was
so incredibly loud.
When she did open the door she was dressed in a blue robe
with yellow trim. She smiled innocently at Terry while she swayed
back and forth to the music of The Mighty Clouds of Joy.
The apartment had been cleaned up, and Terry was grateful
for that, but once he saw every inch of space on the walls covered
with new photographs of Negro ministers, politicians, labor leaders,
musicians and athletes, he knew Cynthia was not improving.
She didn’t talk to him right away but continued to sway back
and forth and clap her hands in time to the music. He wanted to tell
her about his mother, he wanted to tell her about Mario, God he
wanted to, but she was with 5,000 people in a Chicago south-side
Baptist church. And she was having a good time singing the lord’s
music.
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482
He sat silently on her--or Koslowski’s--comfortable chair, and
watched the first reel of the Cynthia movie, which ended when the
music stopped.
She dropped sweatily onto her couch to start the second reel.
“Damn, it’s only a few months to Freedom Summer,” she
gushed. “It’s just too bad that you and Andrew couldn’t work it out.”
“Right now I’m feeling real shitty about things, Cynthia,” Terry
said needfully.
“Cheer up goddam it,” she said with a Stan-Laurel smile. “One
of us has got to get there this summer, I was depending on you of
course.”
There was a hardness to her that he had never seen before.
“In fact I told the shrinks at Payne Whitney that was my goal,
they love it,” she said, coyly.
He was disappearing he feared, dissolving right before her
eyes.
“Can you see me, Cynthia?” he asked.
“Of course I can,” she said sternly.
“Am I really here? Or am I some fucking illusion?”
“No, you’re really here,” she said matter of factly.
“Then why don’t I feel like it?”
The Movie looked at him and pondered his words, this wasn’t
the Sex Goddess or the Great Negro Emancipator, he didn’t know
who it was.
“Mario is dead,” he muttered. “Killed by a jealous husband.”
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483
The Movie peered at him and did not answer for a long time.
Finally it said, “Going to miss his nice Italian ass, aren’t you?”
“Cynthia, I have to have someone to talk to, please don’t,” he
pleaded.
“You know you haven’t gone down on me in a long time,” said
the Sex Goddess.
Terry was almost relieved, for he knew this personality, but
the relief was only momentary, he now felt totally negated.
“Please, Cynthia, I need someone to talk to...please,” he
begged.
“They sell this stuff where you put a flavor in your pussy, I put
raspberry there,” said the Sex Goddess.
He studied her for a moment. Although she was in one spot
she seemed to be coming at him, flying through the air, ready to
smash into him, and break him into pieces.
He stormed across the room and lifted her off the couch.
Shaking her, he said, “Goddam it, can’t you see I need to talk to
somebody? I lost my mother too,” he raged.
The Sex Goddess pulled away from him impassively. “Your
heros wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to fuck me,” she said
violently. “Robert would have taken my asshole, John my mouth,
and Lawford looks like a cunt man.”
“Please, Cynthia, don’t say those things,” he screamed.
Cynthia backed away from him and clenched her fists, “Then
fuck me, Terry, fuck me until there isn’t an ounce of fluid in your
body, fuck me like my father--Take me out to the ballgame,” she
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484
sang gleefully. “Take me out to the crowd. Stick your big cock in this
little girl’s cunt--”
She moved her body back and forth suggestively and hummed
the tune to Take Me Out to the Ballgame until she shut down, and
became a silent, motionless movie. She appeared to be no danger to
herself; that was probably the rational for letting her be an
outpatient, he thought, as he waited for Paine Whitney to answer
the phone, but she was a danger to everyone else, they didn’t see
that, they didn’t have to be on the other end of the Sex Goddess’s
demands or witness the blinding obsessiveness of the Great Negro
Emancipator, or witness a compassionate human being one moment
become someone the next moment that you immediately hated.
The hospital said they would send an ambulance right away,
not to worry. She had a setback, that’s all, she would be fine, they
said.
He felt like telling the hospital to take a flying fuck, but he
didn’t, the anger, however, felt good, so good he did not want it to
go away.
Terry met J.W. Sawyer for dinner at the Minetta Tavern on
McDougal Street. J.W. had already had a drink in front of him and
was reading the Red Smith column in the Herald Tribune. J.W.
worshiped Smith and could not go a day in the office without
commenting on one of Smith’s insights, or talking about past
columns.
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485
Terry was grateful to J.W. for showing up at the funeral parlor
for both his mother and Mario, and he was sincerely glad to see him.
He just hoped J.W. would keep the conversation light.
During the salad J.W. was charming and gracious and kept the
conversation confined to gossip about work, but Terry could see
something was bothering J.W.
It was during the main course, over a plate of linguini and
clams, that J.W. asked about Neil.
Terry told him about the incident in Chatham.
J.W. raised his eyebrows, pursed his lips, and muttered, “I told
you, Terry, get that boy out of there, you can’t transport a Northern
Negro with uppity ways to Alabama, you just can’t, the boy is going
to get hurt...as I’ve told you.”
“If I didn’t know you better,” replied Terry in a hard manner,
“I would think you were taking this personally, J.W. That you’ve
somehow decided it’s your god-given right to keep nigger trash out
of good old ‘Bama’.”
J.W. looked stunned, at a loss for words really, which did not
happen often. He shook his head and said, “Damn, Terry, it’s just
advice.”
“It was considered and rejected,” replied Terry coldly. “What
the hell do you know about being sent to PQ5? Or living in a hallway
on Claremont Parkway?” chided Terry, but lowering his voice.
Terry knew he did not mean to come down on J.W. so hard,
but the anger felt good, and he did not apologize for it.
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486
“God, Terry...I didn’t mean anything by it,” said J.W.
apologetically, taking his tablecloth, which was stuffed in his shirt,
and placing it on the table.
Terry looked at J.W.’s dejected face, and wondered if J.W. had
fooled him, because he never would have been J.W.’s friend if he
knew he was a racist--never, he told himself.
“I just thought I knew more about the South than you do,”
J.W. said meekly, almost under his breath, still the schoolchild that
had been scolded by the cranky teacher.
“You do, goddam it,” Terry said, raising his hands
expressively, “but what the hell was I supposed to do with Neil? Let
him rot in some mental ward until he was 21? And sometimes you
do come across a little too strong for me about Negroes and what’s
good for them.”
J.W. started eating again, but Terry could see he was upset-jolted, really.
Terry did not want the conversation to end bitterly, he wanted
J.W. to know he still valued his opinion so he began talking about
Koslowski and what had happened in Atlanta.
J.W. listened intensely while picking at his meal and ordering
numerous refills of gin and tonic.
“Weird, huh?” Terry said at the end of his story about
Koslowski and the KKK assassination attempt.
J.W. looked at Terry for a long time before responding which
made Terry nervous. J.W. did not seem like he was at the table
anymore, it was more like he was being projected onto his chair
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487
from a camera. Terry had seen the Cynthia movie and did not want
to see a J.W. movie.
“Doesn’t surprise me,” J.W. finally mumbled. “The Jews are
stirring up the Negroes to do all kinds of violent acts, they ain’t
fooling anyone,” he said, gulping down his drink.
Terry stiffened. “Damn J.W., stop sounding like a fucking bigot
from the South.” Terry’s voice was loud enough to get stares from
the faces that had pasta exploding from their mouths.
“I don’t want to hear about this Jewish conspiracy shit,” Terry
continued bitterly. “I saw a lot of Jewish crosses at Normandy, and I
just don’t want to hear it.”
J.W. looked at Terry sadly, which indicated he was not drunk
yet.
“Don’t get mad at me, Terry,” he pleaded. “Half the things I
say when I drink I don’t mean, you get that way sometimes when
you’re from a small Southern community, you talk in set pieces,
whole sentences are already prepared for you and waiting for you as
they orbit around words like pussy, Nigger, Jew, and Yankee. Say the
right word and the set piece follows. Damn, I don’t mean to sound
like a bigot.”
Terry studied his Southern friend for a moment. J.W. had the
look of a man who had been passed by, who was no longer invited
to the places he had once been invited to.
“You’re right, I shouldn’t get mad, but I thought I knew you,
J.W., and I don’t. I don’t know you at all.”
J.W. was obviously hurt now--anyone could see that.
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488
“Is this where I get the Kennedy self-righteous speech?” J.W.
asked bitterly, the booze had obviously worn off and he no longer
looked like he was being projected from a movie camera.
“Kennedy was putting a lot on the balance sheet for the plus
side of humanity. He was making people who had lost hope feel
good about themselves, he was bringing people with different viewpoints together: Negroes, Chicanos, Native Americans finally had
something in common with a middle-class guy from Ohio, or a
Jewish dentist from Great Neck. Of course, the rich and powerful
don’t run on that kind of stuff, maybe that’s why he’s not here
anymore.”
J.W. shrugged.
“Hats and steaks, that’s what’s important now, isn’t it, J.W.?”
Terry asked meanly.
“It’s realistic, it’s real,” J.W. said. A hard mask had settled over
his face.
“The trouble with you, J.W.,” Terry said heatedly, “is you get
more excited over a Red Smith column than you do about life.”
“And you sound like a Hallmark card,” J.W. said, getting up
from the table.
“Go ahead, run away, you’re good at that,” Terry said, already
regretting what he said before the sentence was finished.
“When you’re ready to get off your high horse we’ll talk,” J.W.
said, throwing $20 on the table and walking away.
Terry didn’t want to see J.W. go, but he didn’t want to be
sitting with a guy who was a racist and bigot either. He didn’t know
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489
what J.W. was anymore. At McGraw-Hill they had never talked about
Negroes and Jews. But he liked J.W., and he liked the stories J.W.
told, and he still believed deep down that J.W. didn’t think badly of
anyone.
J.W. was nearly out of the door when Terry shouted
“Serphaderpus.” It was the mysterious word that J.W. had used as a
student in Alabama and meant anything you wanted it to mean. If
you were talking about someone, and they walked by you, you
would just say something like, “And about the serphaderpus.” It was
a wonderful nonsense word and Terry had used it often in the Army
to confuse people.
J.W., upon hearing the word, turned rigidly and said, “Brought
your lunch,” which was part of a routine he had developed for
talking nonsense.
“Cottage in Chinatown,” responded Terry to the bemused
looks of patrons sitting at the Minetta bar.
They met each other halfway and sat at the bar and got drunk
and Terry did not talk about civil rights or Kennedy, and J.W. did
not talk about Terry’s future, and when they got good and drunk,
they took a cab to the Guardsman on 39th and Lexington Avenue
and challenged the Englishman who drank there to a game of darts.
J.W. was one of the best dart players Terry had ever seen--drunk or
sober--and they won easily, much to the chagrin of the English team
they beat, both of whom had taken part in the famed World War II
bombing run immortalized in the movie The Damn Busters.
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490
At first, Terry had only sensed the past slightly when he
entered the Guardsman, but as the evening wore on he could feel it
sneaking up on him like a mugger. Ready to pounce on him at any
moment. There were flashes of coming to the Guardsman with the
Kennedy volunteers he had worked with after a hard day of calling
Democrats, and flashes of calling Rosemary when he was drunk, and
telling her how much he cared for her. Thinking of the past began
to overwhelm him, and he could not play darts or even stand still
for a moment. The memories of Rosemary and Kennedy were
everywhere and he could not stop the tears from coming. A crying
jag, the professional drinkers called it. But he could not stop. One
woman, a regular who had not seen Terry in two years, and had a
photographic memory, guessed the problem and tried to comfort
him but it would not work. His mother was gone, Kennedy was gone,
Mario was gone, Rosemary was gone, Neil was just making it, and he
was at the fucking bottom, and the sooner he could join the Army
the better. As soon as he thought about re-enlisting he stopped
crying, and he knew then that was probably the right way to go.
What was the Peace Corps without Kennedy anyway? The New
Frontier was over--over goddam it, and nobody was going to give a
fuck about anybody anymore. The Negroes would get a few crumbs,
but the others, the dark side of America nobody thought or cared
about, would get an Italian curse word he had learned in the Bronx-ungotz. And that’s the way it was or was going to be, to borrow
Walter Cronkite’s term.
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491
Terry was hunched over the bar. J.W. was talking to him,
asking him if he had lost his mind about joining the Army, but
Terry shut him out, because if he made room for J.W., he would
have to make room for the others, and he could not do that right
now, he would not survive if he did, he believed.
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR
Terry did not want to go home and sleep with Mario’s Castro
convertible still in the room. He had tried to do it and he could not
sleep. He layed down on the Washington Square Park bench. He
would have to get rid of the Castro, and yet he did not want to. Dear
Mario, he said to himself, dear, dear, Mario, screw champion of the
West Village. And then Terry imagined all those women in the
church pew urinating on Mario at once, and he chuckled as he stuck
his hands in his pockets and brought his feet up to his chest the way
he must have in his mother’s womb. He did not feel the rain, nor did
the sounds of two gays making love in the grass disturb him.
Eventually he feel asleep and it was blissful.
The hand pushing his shoulder was persistent.
“C’mon, soldier, off the bench, you’ll catch pneumonia, it’s
cold, and it’s raining like a bitch.
He did not want to move, but the word soldier jolted him. It
was personal, used by someone who must have known him, but
nobody knew him anymore, because he didn’t exist, he had decided.
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492
“C’mon, Terry, on your feet.”
On your feet...that was definitely a military term...did he say
Terry?
“It’s Burt...I can’t believe you’re fucking lying here, what is the
matter with you, boy?”
Burt Dale, so that’s who it is. Well, hello, Burt, and get the fuck
out of my life, he thought drowsily.
Dale’s large hands pulled Terry to his feet and shook him.
“You’re going to freeze to death, these spring storms can be
bitches...do you hear me, Terry?”
Terry’s head was now pounding, and his body felt icily wet,
there didn’t seem to be any life in it, he began to shiver violently.
“I’m freezing my balls off,” he muttered through drenched,
trembling lips.
“We’ve got to get some coffee in you real fast,” Dale said,
holding an umbrella over Terry.
“Yeah, okay,” Terry said, as Dale put Terry’s arm around his
big shoulders and half-carried Terry for the first minute as if Terry
were a drunk.
The wind was fierce now, nearly gale force, sheets of cold rain
pounded the two figures as they shouldered themselves against the
spring storm and forced their way up West Fourth towards Mercer.
The sound of flying garbage can lids clanked noisily on the
dark cobblestone streets as store signs swung furiously back and
forth, creaking like a fleet of wooden sailing ships that might have
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sailed into New York Harbor 150 years earlier, while Dale’s umbrella
took off from his grip like a rocket, and chased the garbage can lids.
In the distance they could see a reassuring beacon of light
from an all-night diner, the Lighthouse of Mercer Street, Terry
thought, as the rain continued to come down on both of them in
sheets of fury.
At the diner Terry told Dale about the recent deaths in his life
and how he just felt out of it. He confessed to not having read a
newspaper or watched television in weeks. He told Dale he didn’t
give a shit anymore. He said he was thinking about going back in the
service where men looked out for each other.
“You crazy son-of-a-bitch,” Dale said, visibly upset at the Army
remark. “They’re shooting over in Vietnam, my cousin’s already had
a foot blown off.”
Terry, who was already on his second pot of tea, looked
stoically at Dale and did not respond.
“You’re just going to give up on the Kennedy thing, is that it?”
prodded Dale. “Just walk away and pick up a gun, or die from
exposure on a park bench.”
“I don’t seem to have any choice,” mumbled Terry, “no
fucking choice. This is not my planet anymore,” he said softly,
trying to control his anger, not sure he was thankful to Dale for
getting him off the park bench.
“Ever see The Invasion of the Body Snatchers?” he asked Dale,
unsmiling.
Dale looked bemused for a moment and then answered, “Yes.”
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“Well, it seems to me,” Terry said, watching a new soaking-wet
customer come in from the rain, a folk singer with a guitar strapped
on his back, “that since Oswald pulled the trigger, a lot of Americans
have been invaded by alien beings. Not everyone, mind you, but
enough to form a majority, you can notice them everywhere, they
look like zombies, a lot of them wear hats and like steak, and they’re
just dying to kiss their bosses’ asses. Oswald was probably paid by
these alien beings to kill Kennedy, there was probably something
that Kennedy did to people that prevented these alien beings from
invading American bodies while he was alive--Nixon, for sure, is one
of them--for sure--anyway, they’re going to get all of us sooner or
later.”
Dale smiled uncomfortably, and shook his head a few times
before saying,”You just need a good rest, Terry, you’ll be alright.”
“And what do you need, Mr. Billy the Kid of the keyboards,
Mr. Great Artist without a record of his own?”
Dale smiled, but in an ironic way. “I need to stay clean and do
the best I can do,” he replied forcefully. “I need to stop being angry
with my insensitive brothers and sisters who keep telling me I’m an
Oreo--you know, brown outside, white inside. I need to stop thinking
about myself and do something for my people, that’s what I need,”
Dale said, punctuating his comment by gulping down his coffee.
“Hell, you got a lot on your plate,” Terry said, lighting a
Camel. “A lot.”
“So you ain’t going to do anything about the body snatchers,
is that what I’m hearing?” Dale said warmly, like he meant it.
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“These people act normal, and they won’t admit that they’ve
been invaded because it’s not them anymore...I don’t have a
prayer,” Terry said with a straight face.
“Maybe, if you could find a way to get the invaders to leave
the bodies of these Americans you’re talking about, things would be
the same again,” Dale said, signaling for the check.
“There is one way,” Terry said seriously.
Dale’s eyes lowered, and he showed great interest, which is
what a good straight man does.
Terry did not answer right away. The goddam diner suddenly
felt like an Edward Hopper painting with both of them in it: The
windows were steamy, the guy behind the counter was thin as a reed
and had a wino nose, the two men sitting on the stools emanated a
feeling of tragic loneliness, and outside the world was threatening, a
goddam Edward Hopper painting, Terry thought. Maybe this is how
the body snatchers worked. If they couldn’t get inside of you they
put you in a painting, or did other tricky things to you.
“Your theory, I’m still waiting for it,” Dale said, leaving a
generous tip on the table.
Funny, Terry thought as he looked at the tip, he hadn’t even
thought to pay half the bill, something he had never done before.
“Raise Kennedy from the dead,” Terry finally answered.
Dale did not respond and opened the door to the storm
outside.
The wind and rain were still furious, and Dale began to sprint
towards Sixth Avenue. Terry did not want to, but he began running
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too, until finally both of them began racing each other in the driving
rain like two kids.
It was the only time in weeks that Terry felt human.
Terry’s phone rang intermittently for nearly a week before he
picked it up. The woman on the other end said she was Cynthia’s
mother, she needed to talk to him, could he come to Cynthia’s
apartment? Of course he could, he told her, wishing he hadn’t
picked up the phone.
The body snatchers have really been busy, he thought, as he
watched the zombies at Peter Stuyvesant Town swarm out of their
brick towers and immediately break into a quick step so that they
wouldn’t be late for their very secure, very-very-very- secure jobs, at
Metropolitan Life. They wore wide-brim hats and long coats and
looked like they hadn’t even noticed that their bodies had been
taken over by aliens, Terry observed.
When he got to Cynthia’s apartment he hesitated before
ringing the buzzer, he suddenly wondered why Cynthia’s mother
wanted to see him. He hadn’t seen Cynthia since the hospital took
her back, and somehow that’s how he liked to think of Cynthia these
days, safe, being taken care of, certainly not being in the same room
with him.
When the door opened Cynthia’s mother greeted him warmly
and said her name was Carol. She looked just like she had gotten off
a private plane from Palm Springs. She was tan, shapely, actually
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sexy, and was wearing a very expensive-looking, well-tailored suit
that fit her well-modulated voice perfectly. Everything about her
seemed self-contained. The kind of person, Terry reasoned, who
looked like she never went to the bathroom, or picked her nose, or
farted.
When they reached the living room she sat on the couch
where Cynthia usually sat, and he sat in his usual place, the
armchair. Once settled, Carol looked at him nervously.
“You don’t know this, Terry, but I was ultimately responsible
for Cynthia coming out of the hospital again. I believed the doctors,
I agreed with them that it was regressive to have her go back fulltime. She was lucid and charming on the phone...I didn’t really
know until now,” Carol said, tearfully looking at the wall. Fats Waller
glared back.
“You mean she’s been out on her own?” Terry said leaning
forward.
Carol cleared her throat and crossed her shapely legs. “I
decided to spend some time with her, I dropped in two days ago...I
didn’t expect to see her dressed in a skimpy outfit. She said she
could pick up money off a table just like Negro singers in Harlem
could. And then she showed me what she meant.” There was a long
pause. Carol cleared her throat and continued. “I hadn’t even
noticed the photographs on the walls yet.” Her voice cracked.
Terry stood up and faced the bedroom. “Cynthia,” he shouted
like a parent searching for a child.
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“I want her to go back, I can’t believe the doctors didn’t try
and talk me out if it,” Carol Bradshaw sobbed.
Cynthia came out of the bathroom. She was dressed in a
stripper’s sequined costume with red pasties over her nipples.
“Your mother thinks you should go back to the hospital,
Cynthia, so do I, what do you think?” Terry asked softly.
Cynthia did a bump and a grind. “I think both of you are not
getting enough,” she answered flippantly.
Cynthia’s mother sobbed, and then blew her nose.
“I wish you would have told me that you were out of the
hospital,” Terry said.
“I called, Terry,” Cynthia replied innocently. “I called but
there was no one home...no one home!”
“Ask her to dress in regular clothes, Terry. I want to take her
back,” Carol half-sobbed.
Cynthia did another bump and added the Stan Laurel smile.
“You should let the doctors see her like this,” Terry said,
bothered that he had to say it in front of Cynthia.
“Oh, they’ll be interested in seeing me this way,” Cynthia said
with her Stan Laurel smile. “One of them loves it when I sit on his
face.”
Carol clutched her stomach and rushed into the bathroom.
Terry could hear her gagging violently. Cynthia listened for a
moment and then began to bump and grind to the most violent
parts of the gagging, a rubbing-it-in look on her face, her hand to
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her ear like a Forties broadcast announcer, the silly Stan Laurel grin
still on her face with a little Marcel Marceau thrown in.
What the fuck could he say? He was tired of giving opinions or
thinking opinions of Cynthia. He just didn’t know and that was it, it
was that simple, he told himself.
By the time Carol got out of the bathroom, Cynthia was quiet
and seemingly back to normal.
“I think you should take her down to Maryland with you,”
Terry said, looking at Cynthia, who was suddenly sitting on the
couch like a scared schoolgirl, her legs tightly closed together.
“As famous as the place is that she’s at, I think it might be
better if you were involved with her, Mrs. Bradshaw.”
“Carol,” chided Cynthia’s mother.
“I think it would be better if you took her with you...Carol,”
repeated Terry. “But find out from the doctors at the clinic, I really
don’t know.”
“Would you visit me?” Cynthia asked innocently, her knees
still together, her clasped hands resting in her lap.
“Of course I’ll visit you,” Terry said eagerly, hoping he wasn’t
going to fall into any Sex Goddess trap. “But you’ll really have to
want to get well,” he added, wishing right away that he hadn’t said
it.
“I was well enough to suck your dick until there wasn’t a
micrometer of come,” Cynthia replied angrily, her mouth twisting.
Carol Bradshaw winced in disgust.
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He had to do something, Terry decided. “C’mon, trooper,” he
said, walking over to Cynthia and putting his arm around her. “Go
back to Paine Whitney for a few days and then think about going
with your mother...I’ll be able to visit you--and shit, I thought you
wanted to be well for Freedom Summer? That’s what you told me,
didn’t you? In fact if the doctors agree, we’ll go down there together
and be observers, I promise.” It was at this moment that Terry
realized he would do anything to see Cynthia well again.
Carol Bradshaw spoke next. It startled Terry because what she
said was so distant from what was happening before her eyes.
Suddenly it was as if all of them were having brunch and discussing
the world at large.
“I’m envious, Terry,” she said enthusiastically, “an
opportunity to help the Negro break the chains of racism, how
wonderful. It is only when we battle the yoke of oppression head-on
that we begin to balance injustice. Cynthia has been so fortunate,
the Freedom Rides and now a chance to be part of Freedom
Summer...to fight for our Negro brothers and sisters.”
Terry refrained from saying Holy, Holy, Holy at the end of
Carol’s short stilted speech.
Cynthia, however, was moved and began throwing off her
clothes and shouting words that suggested she might be saying she
would tear out the eyes of the vultures that tore at the flesh of the
Negro.
“And I could make collections and send clothing to the
oppressed masses in the Delta...and books too, not one of them I bet
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has ever been able to afford membership in the Book of the Month
Club,” Carol said to her brunch partners.
Cynthia by now was like a three-year-old trying to get
attention but not knowing how to do it. She was spinning around
and doing badly executed ballet steps. Carol continued to talk about
care packages to the Delta.
Terry called Paine Whitney and screamed at the doctors.
Carol called Terry a week later and told him that Cynthia was
now attending intensive daily group sessions in a Baltimore clinic,
and would eventually “open up,” according to the therapist treating
her. She was trying to draw attention to herself, said the Baltimore
psychiatrist, because she wanted to talk about something real bad
that had happened to her, but at the moment she couldn’t decide
which of her personalities--which really weren’t distinct
personalities in the clinical sense because she was aware of them
and they had been created to deal somehow with her problem-would be able to handle the revelation.
Terry told Carol that Cynthia had implied being sexually
assaulted by her father. The line went dead.
That afternoon, Terry took the Seventh Avenue IRT to Times
Square to talk to an Army recruiter. The recruitment office stood on
a slice-of-pie-shaped island between Broadway and Seventh Avenue.
Facing the recruitment office on 43rd Street, was the Paramount
theater where Terry recalled seeing Sinatra perform in 1956. He
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paused for a moment to look at the Paramount marquee. And think
about Sinatra.
Sinatra had also starred in the movie shown between his live
performances, Terry remembered. The movie was a Western which
also featured Gloria Vanderbilt.
The live show was a lot more exciting. The Dorsey band rose
up from an elevator stage and played as if they were introducing the
second coming. Sinatra was magical, so good it was painful to see
him leave the stage, not unlike the feeling a junkie must have when
he withdrew from drugs. Sinatra’s former bobby-soxer fans, now
grown women, went crazy, some even threw their panties on the
stage.
After the show, Sinatra’s fans waited outside and squealed like
teenagers as Frank got into a sleek black limo with Gloria Vanderbilt
sitting inside. Terry remembered thinking at the time that there
wasn’t much more a mortal could ask for. Sinatra was starring on
stage, in the movie, and probably in Gloria Vanderbilt’s bedroom.
You had your choice of armed services on Times Square. All
the branches were represented there, and had trailor-type
recruitment offices squatting on the slice-of-pie island. The
recruiting sergeant for the Army was fixing a cup of coffee when
Terry walked in. He gave Terry a big smile.
“Don’t tell me,” the sergeant said, indicating that Terry should
stop in his tracks, “prior service, right?” he continued like a game
show host.
“Is it my horns?” replied Terry facetiously.
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“Nah,” replied the sergeant, not getting the remark, “it’s just
the way you look. You’re older and maybe a lot less innocentlooking than a high school graduate...your fatigue jacket helps a
little too,” he smiled.
The sergeant was in his middle thirties, and sounded like he
was a former street kid, his nose was incredibly big, Terry figured
him to be an Italian from Brooklyn.
Terry sat down in front of the sergeant’s desk and glanced at a
few posters promising job skills and early retirement. The sergeant
was intelligent and knew his market. “You just want to talk, right?”
said the sergeant, leaning back comfortably in his wooden swivel
chair. “That’s okay, I’m used to that. Guy gets drafted, leaves the
block for the first time, and finds out the world is a lot bigger than
he thought. Even if he ain’t been shot at he don’t come home exactly
the same--but most guys get used to the steady pussy again, and
forget, some don’t.”
“I heard if I went back in within six months of my E.T.S. I
could keep my rank, and not take Basic again,” Terry said.
The sergeant sipped his coffee with the cup up to his mouth,
Terry wasn’t sure the sergeant’s reply was said behind the cup or
just when it dropped below the sergeant’s mouth.
“That could be arranged,” the sergeant said.
Terry read the sergeant’s name tag, it said Belafonte.
“I want to be trained as a medic, which means changing my
MOS.” The words coming out of his mouth seemed like they were
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coming from another person, not him, Terry thought--it was a
strange feeling.
Sergeant Belafonte looked concerned for a moment but then
brightened.
“I’ll be better able to give you an answer when we get your 20l
file. If there are no problems, I don’t see a problem...however, you
might lose a stripe because of the new training and MOS change, I’m
just not sure.”
“A lot of guys are going to Vietnam, I understand,” Terry said,
knowing that using the word Vietnam was like dropping a piece of
bait into a swift-flowing stream--if he was going to catch something
it probably would be right away.
“We’re there to stop the Communists,” Sergeant Belafonte
replied in a serious tone of voice. You could see that he meant what
he said. “Sooner or later we’re gonna dump this adviser shit and
start kicking ass ourselves,” he continued. “Get sent to Vietnam and
the promotions will start rolling in. Shit, I knew an E-6 who came
back an E-9 from one tour, now that should tell you something.”
“I have a friend in Vietnam,” Terry said softly.
“Lucky bastard,” Sergeant Belafonte said enviously.
Sinatra was so fucking good, Terry thought, using his voice
like a valve trombone, a genius really.
“You okay? What’s your name, anyway?” asked Sergeant
Belafonte.
“Sure I’m okay,” Terry answered determinedly. “And the name
is Terry Chandler.”
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“Well, glad to meet you, Terry...like I said, I see a lot of you
guys, I don’t mind telling you this Kennedy thing has fucked up
some heads.”
Terry looked up on the wall. A mysterious-looking Lyndon
Johnson as Commander-in-Chief was looking down on them.
“What happened to all the Kennedy photographs?” Terry
asked.
The question seemed to stump Sergeant Belafonte. Finally
after a long silence he smiled. “You’re shitting me, you really want
to know what happened to the photographs?”
“Sure...I’m interested, all over the country there were
photographs of Kennedy, I wonder what happened to them.”
“There was an order, keep the frame, change the picture,”
Sergeant Belafonte replied. “I gave the one in this office to my sister
Rose.”
“You did, that’s good, sergeant,” Terry said cheerfully. “Your
sister Rose...huh?”
“Absolutely, I wouldn’t have thrown a picture of Kennedy out,
no way,” replied the sergeant, really getting into it. “Anyway,
Johnson was never in the military,” he added.
“Johnson once got a Silver Star for flying a mission for FDR,”
Terry said. “I read it in Argosy.”
“No shit,” replied Belafonte, seemingly waiting for the right
moment to close in for the kill. “Johnson is good, but there’ll never
be anybody like Kennedy: PT 109, the jokes--hey, the guy had
everything.”
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I bet Belafonte gets a lot of head because of the Times Square
location, Terry thought. A lot of head.
“You think people’s bodies are being taken over after the
assassination?” Terry asked, not sure if he was serious or joking
anymore, but finding himself seriously wondering if Dick Nixon
could be an alien.
Sergeant Belafonte, with all the good instincts of a great used
car salesman, pondered Terry’s question, and then replied, “Things
sure don’t seem the same anymore, do they?”
The man was a fucking genius, Terry thought. Not Sinatra
genius, but working-class genius.
“Ever see Sinatra at the Paramount?” Terry asked.
Sergeant Belafonte relaxed. Italians came to life when they
talked about Sinatra. Terry had noticed that on The Block, which
meant deep down, they had to be feeling inferior about something,
but mention Sinatra, and they lit up. Even Fingers, who was
rumored to be the local hit man for the mob, would play the
jukebox in the candy store and sing along with Sinatra.
Sergeant Belafonte began to answer Terry’s question but Terry
was already inside the candy store. It was snowing heavily, and
Frank Sinatra was singing “Young at Heart” from the movie he was
starring in with Doris Day. Everyone was there that snowy
afternoon, crowded in, chatting about school and a few upcoming
parties. The candy store window was steamed up and had
Woolworth Christmas decorations pasted on it. And then Anna came
in. He had fallen in love with Anna who lived on the block next
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door. Anna was an Italian who loved jazz, especially Chet Baker, but
she was distraught that day. her dog was missing, she told Terry
over Sinatra’s heart-shattering vocal phrasing. Could Terry help her
find him? The dog had probably run to Crotona park, she said.
They left the candy store with Sinatra still singing “Young at
Heart.” He remembered feeling like a man all of a sudden, but he
couldn’t explain why, but somehow Sinatra had a lot to do with it,
he felt.
As they walked to the park, things in his life could not be more
perfect. He would find Anna’s dog and they would go back to the
candy store and listen to Sinatra, and watch the snow fall, and talk
about Chet baker, and the Lighthouse All Stars.
Anna, of course, would fall in love with him.
The snowfall became heavier as they bent themselves against
the swirling cutting wind. But he could still hear Sinatra as Anna
screamed her dog’s name...Sandy! Oh Sandy! Sandy, where are you?
They followed a set of fresh dog tracks to the parks’s massive
rococco-style water fountain. There was a yellow stain in the snow,
but Sandy wasn’t there. They searched for hours, but Sandy was
never found.
Later Anna sobbed briefly in her hallway before saying
goodnight to Terry, and he did not know what to say to her, because
death stuck itself like glue on to every word he tried to say.
When he went back to the candy store, Sinatra was still on the
jukebox, but this time singing a song about a lost love. Fingers, the
alleged local hit man, was crooning along with Sinatra, but that
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didn’t matter, Terry thought, all that mattered was that Sinatra was
there to help him get through a kind of pain he had never felt
before.
“Where are you, Sandy?” he thought while Sergeant Belafonte
finished a sentence about all the head Sinatra must get.
The sergeant continued on about Sinatra because the uniform
could not stop Belafonte from being very human when he talked
about Sinatra, no uniform could for a Sinatra fan, and that pleased
Terry immensely.
When Belafonte finished talking about Sinatra he said he
would be in touch as soon as he had a chance to look at Terry’s 201
file, but his eyes said, We got you baby, you’re ours again.
The words to “Young at Heart” played over and over in Terry’s
head as he walked past the cheap movie houses, shooting galleries,
and souvenir stores, that formed the soul of Times Square. “I bet
you’re a baby maker,” said a beautiful six-foot Negro girl to Terry as
he waited for the light to change on 45th Street.
Terry blushed.
“Twenty bucks for an afternoon nooner,” she said
unabashedly.
She was goddam stunning, he thought, stunning, unbelievably
beautiful, more beautiful, it seemed, than any woman up on the
screen in any movie house on Times Square.
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She walked alongside of him, her pocketbook swinging loosely.
“For forty I’ll make it all afternoon,” she added.
He could feel himself plunge to the bottom as Mario read him
the Sunday comics.
“I’m looking for a man to represent me,” she said. “I like the
way you look handsome, like it a lot.”
She was human, he thought, goddam human, nobody had
invaded her body except maybe 20 guys a night.
“I’ve had a death in the family,” Terry answered honestly.
“Don’t worry, honey, I can take care of your problem, I’ll get
your thing harder than sheet rock,” she said enthusiastically.
“I’ll have to pass right now,” he said, reaching the street
corner, “but you sure are a beautiful lady.”
“Next time, okay?” she said, stopping on the corner and
putting her pocketbook over her shoulder.
He picked up his right hand and put it over his head to
acknowledge her words, but he did not look back. At 49th and
Broadway he caught the Seventh Avenue subway downtown to
Sheridan Square.
He had to see how Neil was doing, he told himself, as he
crossed Sixth Avenue. He would have to tell him that he probably
would be going away. He would have to tell him he couldn’t stand
living with people who bodies were being snatched everyday; they
were not going to replace the Kennedy in him with Johnson or
Nixon or George Hamilton. They just fucking weren’t. And if being
among Americans who cared about each other was the closet he
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could get to Kennedy, well hell, that was something....where the fuck
are you, Sandy? Where the fuck are you? Terry asked himself as he
stood in front of his apartment building on Bleecker Street and saw
two-and-a half years disappear.
Rosemary was dressed like she was ready to attend Easter
Sunday Mass. She was wearing a large, colorful straw hat, and bright
pink A-lined coat. Her shoes, gloves, and purse were the same color
blue.
He looked at her raven hair, dark olive skin, and large
expressive eyes and felt her innocence project across the distance
between them. She was still the girl who picketed newsstands for
selling Playboy, the girl who would always be innocent in his eyes.
Her smile was so warm it hurt him, and he felt himself plunge.
“Terry, I want to talk,” she said innocently, “I’ve been thinking
about you everyday.”
He lifted up her left hand, it had a wedding band on it.
“You sure didn’t wait long,” he said with a hint of resignation
in his voice.
“I wasn’t right when you saw me...look, I want to talk, explain
things, will you do that for me?”
Who the hell was she to come back in his life? He had
prepared himself to never see her again. She had made her choice.
Maybe he should just leave her standing here and walk away?
“There’s a restaurant on the corner we can go to,” he said
unemotionally, knowing that he could not allow himself to think of
her or himself as they were, knowing that he would have to be less
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than human because it hurt too much, and then as an afterthought,
he wondered if the body snatchers weren’t winning after all.
Her eyes brightened and she walked alongside him in a bubbly
manner, which was puzzling to him.
At the San Remo restaurant she ordered cappucino, and he
ordered a Jack Daniels, figuring the sooner he started to try and
carve out his own reality the better.
She opened with, “Remember when we used to go to
Donahue’s and then to the dance?”
Of course he remembered when they used to go to Donahue’s
and then to Saint Vincent’s Ferre. He remembered too much. They
had met at the dance. All the young Catholics from the other
boroughs would come pouring into the rich parish of St. Vincent’s
Ferre on 66th Street and Lexington Avenue every Saturday night.
Underneath the Gothic church, in the basement, in a room the
priests called the Club Dominicana, there would be a live band, and
beer would be served by the pitcher. The idea obviously being if you
were going to get high and horny the church wanted to make sure
there was a Catholic girl nearby.
After a few drinks, the women, usually from Queens, would
look good and you would finally have the nerve to ask one of them
for a dance, and then you would wait for a slow dance and hope you
wouldn’t get a hard-on right away, but kind of test it out on her
slowly, getting closer every dance, hoping you could at least rub it
against her once in a while, because it was a long trip to Queens,
and chances are her girlfriends would meet other guys and you
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would be stuck with escorting her home where she probably lived
with her very Catholic family.
“My mother and Stan wanted the wedding right away...they
were afraid of you, Terry. It’s been hell so far, he likes to take me
from the back, he even did it on our wedding night.”
Why didn’t you wait, goddam it? Terry said to himself.
“He’s very political, we’re always going to this function and
that function for his company--they’re waste disposal consultants
for city and state governments. He thinks I’m always thinking of
you. I have not been my old self, it’s true.”
Rosemary looked at Terry with her teddy-bear eyes. “A doctor
he sent me to recommended shock treatments, the doctor tried to
get all your old letters back, but I wouldn’t let him have them.”
Terry wanted to get his hand on the son-of-a-bitch she
married, he wanted to take the 4F and Rosemary’s mother and hurt
them like they were hurting her.
“My brother is in Arizona, he sells insurance, I’m going to stay
with him while we try to straighten things out. Stan has begged me
not to leave him. He even drove me here today.” She paused before
saying, “I’m supposed to call him when we’re finished.”
Rosemary looked at Terry with her sweet smile. It was so
disarming. There was something so good about her.
“Those times when you put my hand on it--you know--I didn’t
know you were climaxing. I wish we had done it, Terry.”
“I wish too,” Terry said, surprised that he had said it, almost
embarrassed, as he watched a couple sit down at the next table.
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“It’s why I came today, Terry. You should have been the one
on my wedding night, it isn’t right that Stan was first--Stan says we
would never do it anyway,” she challenged.
Terry didn’t know whether his head was spinning from the
Jack Daniels, or from what the-girl-who-picketed-newstands-forselling-Playboy was saying.
She delicately sipped her cappuccino and waited for him to
respond.
“You’ve only been married--how long?” he asked.
“Three months,” she answered sullenly.
Terry took a sip of Jack Daniels. Goddam it, he wasn’t
prepared for this.
He reached across the table and held her hand. She smiled at
him--just like a painting of the Madonna, he thought. It pained him
to think that her husband--the fucking beast--was fucking her in the
ass, and trying to take away her thoughts with the Frankenstein
machine. He wanted to hold her, to be close to her again, to whisper
in her ear that he was still crazy about her, but that wouldn’t be
right, would it? She was a married woman now.
“We should wait until you find out what you’re going to do,”
he said, knowing that the brothers at Catholic school had won a big
one for the moment, knowing that all the slaps in the head, all the
lectures, all the piling up of guilt upon guilt, were paying off, he
would feel too guilty if he went with her now.
She smiled, but the sweet sadness of her came through.
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“Remember when we used to stand under the Triborough
Bridge in Astoria Park and you used to hold me, Terry?” she said
reflectively. “The bridge would seem miles above us in the darkness
as we kissed, and then we would hold hands and look across at
Manhattan and you would talk about John Kennedy and other great
men like Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown...remember, Terry? The
water would be dark and shimmering, the only light from a
lamppost, and it would always seem chilly, and you would hold
me...when Kennedy was killed I cried for you, Terry, because I knew
how much you loved him, more than me, I know.”
“Please, Rosemary, don’t.”
“They had a doctor give me pills, Terry. When you were at the
door I was confused, Stan and my mother worked on me like a
brainwashing team. I didn’t have anything left when you were at the
door, you have to believe me, Terry.”
“I believe you, Rosemary,” he said, feeling the pain creep
along his shoulders, feeling the nothingness that seemed to be
overtaking his whole body.
“I barely remember writing the last letter to you. I don’t know
what I did that for,” she sobbed. “I guess I felt I would always love
you more than you would love me--I don’t know.” She said, sobbing
heavily, and he knew he could not take it much longer.
“C’mon, we’ll get out of here,” he said.
“Where? Where can we go, Terry?”
“I don’t know, we’ll just walk.”
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She reached across the table and held both his hands, her
tears still streaming down her face. “Please, Terry, take me.”
Jesus, good God. Bless me, father, for I have sinned...no, he
wasn’t going to do it, he was going to Vietnam to fix holes in
American bodies, and he would never forget how it was, and he
would never forget how it could have been, and that’s the way he
was going to see it.
He paid the bill, she was smiling again. He would say goodbye
to her on the corner and ask her to give him a call once in a while.
“Stan had it in first, Terry, it should have been you, my
darling,” she said in front of the San Remo.
It was dark now, time to put away daytime thoughts, listen to
what Rosemary the Virgin was telling you, kid. You wanted to be
first too, admit it.
“Stan thinks we won’t do it, he thinks you’ll despise me...oh,
Terry, how did things get mixed up like this?” she sobbed, putting a
tissue to her teary eyes.
He put his hands in his pockets and took a deep breath. “This
is not how it should be, Rosemary, you’re the most decent girl I ever
met, you are everything that is good about women,” he said, feeling
the hurt, the rejection, the lunacy of her offering up her body, a girl
who didn’t even know what a hand job was when he would place it
in her hand under the bridge.
“Whatever happens, I’m leaving Stan. I’m going to my brother
in Phoenix...I’ll go into group therapy there.”
Oh Jesus, I can’t do it, he cried inside, won’t do it.
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“Call me from Phoenix when you get settled, let me know how
things are working out,” he said, watching her face fall apart, and so
angry at himself, so very angry.
She smiled bravely. “I’m so sorry for what happened Terry. I
was confused. I didn’t know what you would do when you got off
the boat. I was afraid I guess.”
He could see the 4F and the bureaucrat looking over her
shoulder, standing in the doorway, calling the shots until they sent
her to the Frankenstein machine, and there was nothing he could do
about it, not now with his life so fucked up.
She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, and he closed
his eyes, and heard the far away rumble of the cars overhead on the
Triborough bridge. The two of them safe, in each other’s arms,
Manhattan glittering.
When he opened his eyes she was walking towards Sixth
Avenue, choosing her footsteps carefully like he had remembered,
but there had been more of her this time than that night in Queens,
and he was grateful for that, and he prayed she would make it to
Phoenix before the 4F and the bureaucrat snatched her body with
therapy.
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE
Mutt and Jeff were standing inside PQ5 when Buster opened the
door for Terry. He would find out that they had been coming to the
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ward regularly since the incident in front of Neil’s building. They
did not say anything to him but leered at him as Buster stepped
aside to let him in. Buster did not smile, or for that matter, look too
human in any way. Terry knew there was trouble.
Craig, trying to carve a smile on a face that was made of
frozen material, shook Terry’s hand and asked him to come into the
small office that Buster used. Terry felt like someone knowing that
he was about to be fired.
“Sit down, Terry, we have to talk,” Craig said nervously.
Terry just nodded. Robert De Niro would do the same nod
years later in movies, it said a lot with very little effort.
“So you figured out what I’m going to say,” Craig said,
relieved. “Those people,” he motioned over his shoulder at the door,
“do not like garbage thrown at them, they made a big stink, made a
big report out about you helping Neil get away, it took some time
but it finally reached the right people.”
“They’re assholes...I’m leaving,” Terry said, getting up.
“Wait, that’s not everything I want to say, Terry...they, I, the
hospital staff, would like you to go down South and bring Neil back,
and all is forgiven.”
Craig could now take his place among the other zombies and
bureaucrats, Terry thought. They had really gotten to the son-of-abitch, he had lost it somewhere, he probably was wearing a widebrim hat as well these days.
“Bring him back?” Terry said, clinching his hands. “Bring him
back to receive medicine three times a day designed to turn him
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into a zombie. Bring him back to effeminate doctors who squeal like
pigs when the boys do something wrong. Bring him back to wirecovered windows and locked doors, you got to be shittin’ me, Craig.”
“I’m just telling you this for your own good,” whispered Craig,
sneaking a look at the door opening. “Those two detectives have
been trying to talk Neil’s mother into filing a kidnapping charge--no
kidding, Terry.”
“He went with her permission, I have a witness.”
“Frankly, I didn’t think anyone cared that much around here,
but these guys are really making a stink.”
Terry walked over to the sink and gripped his hands on its
edge. He looked in the mirror. He could see Craig in the reflection, a
concerned look on his face. Of course Craig might have looked the
same way when the Germans were throwing Jews in the ovens, or
the KKK was castrating Negroes.
He turned and looked at Craig, sitting uncomfortably in
Buster’s chair.
“I don’t know where he is,” Terry lied. “He took off from his
great aunt, who the hell knows where he is?”
An indignant look appeared on Craig’s face. “Well, that’s not
much help,” he said in a tone of voice that was condemning.
Okay, I know your job is on the line, asshole, Terry thought.
But I don’t give a rat’s ass, I don’t care about this place or the way it
institutionalizes teenagers. I don’t like your doctors, I don’t like
your Muslim aides, I don’t like the drugs the boys are given, and I
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don’t like the arbitrary way the boys are selected to go home. So
fuck you.
“I can’t help you, Craig, I’m out of here.”
Craig put on a long face. “You were the best volunteer we ever
had here, Terry. Won’t you reconsider, help us get Neil back?”
“Who’s us?” asked Terry harshly.
“Us, the staff, the other boys...”
Terry looked at Craig indignantly. “You really have lost it,
Craig, where the hell are you? If a kid goes home from here, fine, but
they’re not all going home, they’re going upstate to get drugged and
butt-fucked, to be non-functioning adults all their lives because
someone in this hospital has decided they don’t stand a chance out
there in civilization, and probably because their parents show no
interest in them--Jesus.”
Craig looked at Terry stoically. “Don’t get involved, we told
you that, didn’t we tell you that, Terry? Don’t get personally
involved in a boy’s welfare, we told you, it will bring you down
everytime.”
Mutt and Jeff were talking to Buster, but Terry knew they had
one eye and one ear on the room, and so did Craig.
“We have laws, Terry, I don’t like them all the time, but they
exist for a damn good reason, I’m sorry things worked out like this.”
“I’m not,” Terry said, storming out of the room.
“Assholes,” Terry mumbled under his breath as he brushed
past Mutt and Jeff taking a statement from Buster. How many did
they need?
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“What did you say?” hollered Jeff, the tall cop.
Terry spun around, his palms open, his hands out, “Don’t let
anybody snatch your body, I said.”
Mutt and Jeff looked at Terry meanly. “You didn’t say that,
you didn’t say anything that came close to that,” Mutt said. “Don’t
worry, Chandler, we’re not through with you yet,” he added, a
sardonic smile on his face.
The boys had stopped their activities and with seemingly great
interest were looking at the adults arguing.
“Goodbye guys,” were the last words out of Terry’s mouth as
Buster let him out. He was angry now, and he was glad to be leaving
but he didn’t know about later. He liked working with the boys,
most had never gotten any personal attention, it wasn’t much, but it
was all he could do right now--well hell, he suddenly realized as he
waited for the elevator, he would have had to leave anyway.
Sergeant Belafonte was going to come up with an irresistible
reenlistment package, and the sooner the better,Terry thought.
Mario’s ex-wife was dressed in black, including her stockings,
and wore a dark veil. She sat at the kitchen table (the same place
Mario used to sit) and looked dazed. Terry placed a cup of coffee in
front of her, but she didn’t seem to notice. She was looking past the
living room window, plunging deep into the past, seeing Mario and
her during better times, Terry suspected.
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“What a son-of-a-bitch,” she finally said, coming out of her
daze.
“Yeah, he could be a devil,” Terry said positively.
“Who could live with the man?” she asked angrily. “Making
you feel on top of the world with his charm, and then doing the
same thing with twenty, thirty, god knows how many women.”
There was a long pause. “You know, Terry,” she said, obviously
trying to hold back tears her tears, “he used to cook me breakfast
every Sunday morning. I didn’t want to break up, but he was driving
me crazy with his affairs, he couldn’t stop, he needed to do it, it was
obsessive, Terry,you know you used to make me jealous even
though we had broken up.”
“Me?”
“Mario was nuts about you as a person. He always wrote
something about you in his letters. I can’t think of any other man he
thought of that way.”
“From my point of view, he was a good guy, I liked him a lot
too,” Terry said diplomatically between sips of tea.
“I hope I won’t embarrass you when I say this, Terry, but if he
had your looks there would have been no stopping him, I think he
knew that. He couldn’t have your looks, but he had you, so to
speak.”
Terry did not respond to the looks remark. As a child,
pedophiles had tried to molest him in bathroom movie theaters, and
schoolyards. He had barely managed to get out of these dangerous
situations by using his wits and street cunning, but he had had it
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easier than other men with women, and he was grateful for that,
although he had always hated sleeping with married women when
he was younger. They would offer themselves and he would do it
with them, and then he would confess it, and swear to God that he
would never do it again with a married woman, but he would always
break his promise with God because these women wanted to put out,
and neighborhood girls just wanted to get married, and anyway he
always felt that the brothers were looking over his shoulder when he
was with a neighborhood girl.
Mario’s wife tried to smile but her face was in agony. “I
wouldn’t urinate on his chest,” she said bitterly, “it’s an unnatural
act, and I was brought up to be a good Catholic. He took it
personally, can you imagine? All my life I prepare to marry the man
of my dreams, and Mario was the man of my dreams, and he asks
me to urinate on his chest--not right away, mind you, but soon after
our marriage.”
Terry blushed slightly.
“And that’s when things starting going bad.” She broke into
tears. “And if I had to do it over I would have done that ugly thing
for him...oooh, he was a charmer,” she continued, “a real goddam
charmer, I know his friends think he married me to get a green card,
but that wasn’t it, we were nuts about each other, but pissing on the
man I love, I couldn’t do it.”
Terry looked at her closely through her dark veil. She was
beautiful, almost as beautiful as the hooker he had seen on
Broadway. He could see why Mario could have been nuts about her.
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“He left me nearly half his money, his sister got the other half,
I was amaze it was so much--$20,000...who knows how he got it?”
“Hard work, I would suspect,” Terry said, disliking the last
comment by Mario’s wife very much.
“Of course, you’re right, if he was anything he was a hard
worker, and frugal as well.” She paused for a moment and then said,
as if it were very painful to say, “Now for the reason I’m here.”
The statement confused Terry, but he could see that she was
trying very hard to keep her emotions under control.
“Please understand Terry, I had no idea you were included in
his will when he left it with me a month ago. We argued about
alimony that day, I never even looked at it. I didn’t think he had
anything,” she said, the quiver in her voice indicated that she was
ready to break.
Terry did not know what to say. Mario had caught him by
surprise even in death.
“He left you $5,000 to continue you education, and the Castro
convertible--his prized possession.” She cleared her throat and blew
her nose.
Dear fucking Mario, even in death you’re going to try and get
your way, it’s painful having that Castro around, but I’ll keep it. I
don’t know when I’ll be able to use the money though, but thank
you for the thought, Mario, thank you.
Her face went down into the crook of her folded arms resting
on the table and she began sobbing softly. He reached over to her
black-gloved hands and held both of them.
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It was a long time before she picked her head up again. When
she did she threw back her veil, her eyes were red and burning.
“When I heard about the assassination, I knew I would never
forget Mario,” she said, wiping her runny nose with a Kleenex. “I
wanted to be with him. I didn’t want to be with anyone else, but he
was on a boat crossing the Atlantic--with you.”
“I hardly saw him, we were in different bays,” Terry said,
almost defensively.
“I went to the restaurant a few times, I could see that he still
thought about me, but nothing happened, we only discussed
alimony payments...he didn’t want to go back to Brooklyn, he liked
being a bachelor, he liked getting women to urinate on his chest.”
She stood up.
Terry had one important question that had been nagging him:
“What did the lipstick writing on his forehead mean?” he asked,
knowing he probably would never see her again, and there was
something sad about that.
“It said lover,” she answered. “I think his assassins knew he
couldn’t help himself, that’s why they didn’t cut his penis off and
put it in his mouth.”
She tossed a copy of the Will on the kitchen table and peered
into the living room. Mario’s Playboys were stacked alongside the
Castro convertible. His slippers were next to the magazines. Terry
had put all his clothing in a large cardboard box. He was going to
give the clothes to the Salvation Army.
“God,” she gasped, “he was such a beautiful man.”
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Terry, standing besides her, fought back the tears. Mario was
gone and there wasn’t a fucking thing he could do about it.
She turned around, looked at him for a moment, and then
went into his arms. Her name was Jeannie, but he had always
thought of her as Mario’s ex-wife. She had sent Mario sexy pictures
of herself when Mario was in Basic Training and Advance Infantry
Training, but Mario had already decided he wanted the divorce.
Mario would show Terry the pictures proudly, but he wanted a fresh
start when he got out, he said.
Once, Terry masturbated thinking about the picture Mario had
shown him of Jeannie, now she was in his arms, falling apart, and
there was nothing he could do to help her.
Later that afternoon, when she had been gone for some time,
he read a new letter from Bannon.
Dear Terry, thanks for your letter. I’m sorry to hear about you
mother, from what you told me she must have been quite a lady. As
far as this civil rights stuff, well I don’t think about it much, over
here we’re all watching out for each other’s ass. I’m writing this
letter from the DMZ where we are so close to North Vietnam you
could pee on it. There are boo-koo Mr. Charles out here so this RTO
is learning to keep his ass down real good. As I’ve mentioned bookoo times, the Special Forces unit I’m attached to is Number One.
Everybody is important in this outfit. The goal is no mistakes,
because you can’t make too many out here in the boonies. Most of
the time I’m shitting in my pants but I don’t let on. Terry, I don’t
know what’s going to happen over here in the future, but the shit is
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really hitting the fan. Most of the grunts I’m with think we can win
this one, and I agree. We have the dedication and the motive, these
guys are the best, Terry, the best. By the way could you do me a
favor, Terry? Could you send me a couple of black mechanical
grease pencils? I use them to mark the maps which are covered with
acetate. I’m more than a grunt here, Terry, I feel like somebody for
the first time in my life. Carrying the radio makes me an instant
target on patrol, so I get a lot of respect. Well, yours truly is getting
ready to go out in the bush again. Your friend, Joyce.
Terry studied the letter for a long time and wondered if he
really would go through with it and reenlist. He thought about Neil,
who was beginning to seem like everyone else around him--less
human. In Neil’s case, a face and voice living on another planet that
he could not talk to, and he suspected that the body snatchers were
winning, or whatever, whoever they were...the fat cats and zombie
makers who would benefit the most from Kennedy’s death. No
matter, he swore, he wasn’t going to forget Kennedy, he wasn’t
going to forget how human everyone was when the president was
alive. Somewhere, the Kennedy people had to be planning a
counterattack. But how? How the fuck how? he agonized.
Only Christ had been raised from the dead.
Bannon was alive though, man, that little fucker sounded like
he was living every minute...maybe it was the same for Neil? Maybe
he was really feeling alive as well, he didn’t know, there was no
contact and Neil was definitely beginning to feel less human to him,
he should have told Neil to call him and reverse the charges, why
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didn’t he do that? Why was he contributing to Neil becoming less
human too?
He began drinking, all it took the first few days to carve out a
nice reality for himself were six-pack cartons of a Norwegian beer he
bought from the deli, but then he wanted to open new worlds of
wonderful humans, and feeling human, and he started drinking Jack
Daniels, which added color to his expanding artificial reality so that
he could take the past and line it up in sync with his present reality
so that there were no dead friends, and no dead president, and no
dead mother, and a wonderfully well-balanced Cynthia, and Neil on
his way to law school.
This kind of living for the moment, with everything but the
moment, was satisfying to him until the hangovers came. They were
severe, and he had trained himself to never take a hair of the dog
before twelve because that was the quickest way to alcoholism, he
believed, so he suffered until the dial said one minute after twelve,
upon which he began drinking again. But the hangovers plunged
him into dark places that made him nervous and sometimes
desperate, so that he could not sit down for more than a minute,
and all the while he had this sense that he was disappearing, that he
wasn’t human, that he didn’t exist. And these feelings were always
strongest when he woke up in the morning, so he finally stopped
drinking.
He was on his third day of recovery from exploring new worlds
and new realities, when Alison barged in.
“My god, what is it?”
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Now he was being addressed as less than human, he thought.
Had the body snatchers gotten to Alison, too?”
“It’s a goddam human,” he said defensively. “Not a very
productive one, or friendly one, but one that still wants to change
the world.”
“Okay, so we’re not in a terrific mood,” she said charmingly,
“but we’re going to get this place and you cleaned up.”
And she did. She did the laundry, she vacuumed the floors-Mario had liked to do those things--she fixed him the first real meal
he had had in weeks. She was a human dynamo.
She had come to New York, she explained, to attend a diner
honoring Dorothy Franklin, the woman he had met in Harlem. But it
also was a great reason to see him, she added warmly.
She also informed him that it was May, and New York, she
said, was beautiful in May.
Terry suddenly wondered what he had done with the mail
during his week-and-a-half-drunk.
Alison insisted that they go up to the Plaza Fountain--she was
staying there, she bubbled--and then take a walk in Central Park.
“Help me find the mail,” he grunted.
They searched the apartment for the mail for half an hour but
they could not find it. Then Alison, being from good, practical
missionary blood, suggested that it still might be in the mailbox.
And it was. Ten days of mail cramped so tight, Terry cut his
cuticles on four fingers pulling it out.
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Sergeant Belafonte’s reply was among the letters, it was
postmarked seven days earlier which relieved Terry’s anxiousness,
he had not lost too much time.
He dumped the other mail, mostly letters from Mario’s women,
and bills, on the kitchen table and eagerly opened Belafonte’s letter.
It said he would not lose his prior rating if he was sworn in, on, or
before June 19th. It also said he would be shipped to Fort Sam
Houston in San Antonio for medic training.
Terry did not talk much during the cab ride uptown. Alison
seemed to be holding back after seeing Terry so excited about a
letter from the Department of the Army. She was not as cheerful as
she had been, but she did not ask about the contents of the letter.
They stared briefly at the Plaza Fountain and then walked to
Central Park. Alison did not pry about the letter until they reached
the artificial lake, and sat down on a bench.
“What the hell did that letter say that got you so excited?”
Alison blurted out as Terry locked onto the view before him: the
cute little bridge, the cute little ducks, the cute shape of the artificial
lake, the cute skyscrapers in the background, no wonder it was a
place where guys got cute with girls.
“It was from a recruiting sergeant, I’ve been thinking about
reenlisting.”
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530
Alison, he knew, was made of sturdy stuff and did not rattle
easily. She always had an agenda and stuck close to it. This was just
a slight detour in her mind, he suspected.
“I’m astonished, no overwhelmed,” she said in a monotone
voice. “I just never expected it. History is going to be made in a few
weeks: the beginning of Freedom Summer. You would have been one
of the few volunteers who isn’t attending college, an incredible
honor. I lobbied for weeks to get your name put down as one of the
first volunteers, but you already know that,” she said dejectedly.
“Freedom Summer is a good thing, it’s just not my thing,
Alison, frankly it’s spooky the way you sound like The Great Negro
Emancipator sometimes.”
“What’s Lincoln have to do with it?” she asked innocently.
He smiled for a moment, which broke the tension.
“Cynthia, she was always on my case about the Civil Rights
Movement...I told you that,” he said, watching a couple rolling
around inside a blanket although it was still daylight.
“Anyone would want the best for you, Terry.”
“But don’t I have to decide what’s best for me, Alison?”
Alison lowered her head, which she sometimes did when she
was about to be very serious. “You’re confused, Terry, you’ve lost
your mother, your best friend, you’re not working, you’re not going
to school--”
“A real parasite,” Terry interjected sarcastically.
“No, just a person who wants to do good but has no direction.
I’m not going to get upset about this Army thing because I know you
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haven’t thought everything out clearly. You could go to school on
the GI bill, make something of yourself, God knows you will make a
lot of contacts if you decide to be part of Freedom Summer; most
importantly I know you care about Negroes deeply, I know this by
the way you talk about your heroes.”
“But that’s just it, Alison, I didn’t enjoy their greatness because
they were Negroes, but because they were the best, can’t you
understand that?” He got up from the bench.
“You don’t care about them, is that it?”
“No, that’s not it either,” he said, sticking his hands in his
pants pockets and beginning to walk, Alison alongside of him.
“Then what is it, Terry, what makes you want to be part of a
war machine?”
He blocked the question for a moment to look at the late
afternoon sky. Dusk was coming to the park, which had to be the
most beautiful park in the world at that time, he believed--part of a
war machine? I guess that was one way to look at it, certainly a lot
different than joining the Peace Corps and then becoming a lawyer
to help the poor and the oppressed like he originally, hazily,
planned--Rosemary always being the question mark. But what was
the point anymore?
“I want to feel alive again, Alison, can’t you understand that? I
feel dead most of the time, blown apart like the president’s brains,
I’m scared--there, I said it--I’m scared because the Americans I see
everyday and the country itself seems ...I don’t know...less human--I
really can’t explain it. In Vietnam Americans are watching out for
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each other. Hell, if I can save a few lives as a medic...well, what the
hell more can a person do?”
“Don’t get mad at me, Terry,” Alison said, stopping, “but
you’re drifting.”
Terry threw a rock across the water.
Alice said, “If we share this summer together it will bond us,
give us something to draw upon. And it will look fabulous on your
resume...damn, how you make me sound like a status seeker.”
She paused, took a deep breath and continued. “Your
participation in the Movement will help you get into a good school.
After your master’s, we could work together on world projects: the
hungry in South America or India, hunger is everywhere, my father
has a lot of contacts in these areas,” she said unabashedly.
“I’m not going to be any goddam, professional do-gooder, I’ve
seen those whining bureaucrats, primping up to their superiors,
looking for the next terrible spot in the world to be transferred to,”
he said, now throwing rocks violently across the water. Watching
them skip over the surface and almost reach the other side...why
didn’t they reach the other side? he wondered.
“You can’t survive in our society without an education, Terry,
you know that, and being a part of the Movement will show you
didn’t waste your time, it’s right to be down there this summer,
students from the best Ivy League schools will be begging to be
there...what’s more, it’s right.”
She was wearing him down like Cynthia did. Both had the
same instincts for the jugular--they presented the practical side of
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things to control other people. They had you saying
yes...yes...yes...until you couldn’t stick a but in after the yes.
“And what’s going to happen to Neil?” she asked, sounding for
the first time like she was trying to put him on the spot.
What was going to happen to Neil? Neil was living with a good
woman, but the community nearby had Neil pegged as a
troublemaker, and that wasn’t good, and he, Terry Chandler, had
not wanted to face that. He had to see Neil again, talk to him, find
out if things had improved for him.
“Oh, Terry, come down with me now, spend a few weeks,
witness what is going on, at least stay until the second week of June
when the volunteers start coming through, you can visit Neil while
you’re staying with me...get some perspective, then decide about the
Army thing.”
The park was darkening, Terry did not feel like being in it
anymore.
“I’ll have to let you know,” he said, knowing she had weakened
his resolve a little. God, she was a spook.
“No calls, I’ll be down in front of your building at 5:10
tomorrow evening. I’ll blow the horn and wait a few minutes, stick
your head out the window if you’re not going.”
She still had something else on her mind, he suspected.
“We can go to my room, get room service,” she said
coquettishly. “It’s a small room but cozy.”
He was drained after the drinking, physically exhausted, but
Alison was the closest warm body he had.
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“We can just be together, that would be fine with me,” she said
in her trained understanding voice that all missionary workers
seemed to have.
Terry looked at the other couples on the benches. He used to
bring Rosemary to the park occasionally. They would just talk about
their jobs, and then they would get around to Kennedy, and it
occurred to him, although it should have been obvious, that he
would have had to choose between Rosemary and doing the
Kennedy thing. How could he have gone into the Peace Corps being
married? How could he have gone to school full-time on the GI bill?
Now it was so clear--he was a goddam fraud. He would have hated
being tied down to Rosemary: a cramped apartment in Queens, back
on the job at McGraw-Hill, perfect material for the body snatchers.
But he did not like himself for thinking this.
“I want to but I’m not going to,” he said, climbing up the park
steps to Fifth Avenue.
“A normal person might have asked me to take a horse-drawn
cab ride around the park,” Alison said, in a clearly disappointed
voice. “You know, with a cozy blanket, and crusty old driver with a
top hat. Then he would have felt me up a little in the cab, and
finally taken me back to the Plaza and fucked my brains out, but
you, Chandler, you’re a mystery, you never know what you’re going
to do next--brooding Montgomery Cliff type, that’s what makes you
so damn attractive, but I’m not taking this personally, because
you’ve done this before and we had a good time after that, and
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anyway, the long-range is what’s important to me.” Her face finally
caught up with her voice, “I just wish I could shake you, but I can’t.”
Dusk was a hazy time, Terry believed. A transition from
afternoon to evening. A time of day when he felt more in control of
the seemingly uncontrollable. He wanted to be with Alison, and he
didn’t want to be with her. There were all these deaths to consider,
their bodies would be looking over his shoulder as he pumped away.
He would feel guilty, and negated, and goddam down on the bottom
again, and he hated that place, because it kept getting deeper, he
wondered if she really understood. All decisions didn’t have a
hundred percent behind them, some could be 60/40, or 80/20.
Right now in this case it was 51/49, but how could you say that to
anyone? It was too logical even for Alison, who continued looking
extremely stoic in the best missionary tradition.
As he walked her back to the Plaza he noticed that Fifth
Avenue did not feel alive under his feet, not like the Boulevard St.
Michael in Paris.
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX
Mario’s lawyer called Terry the next day and apologized for not
calling sooner. Mario’s wife was screwing up things, he said, because
she already had a copy of the Will. Terry asked him about Mario’s
“education request,” and the lawyer assured him that it was not
binding. Terry could spend the money any way he wanted to.
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536
Most of it would go to Neil, Terry decided. He hadn’t gone to
the unemployment office in three weeks, but he still had enough in
the bank to cover his expenses until he started signing for
unemployment checks again, more than likely money would not be
a problem, he concluded.
The next thing he did was call J.W. and agree to meet him for
lunch at a show business steakhouse not far from McGraw-Hill.
Terry had never liked the place but J.W. thought it had character,
and anyway it was close to McGraw-Hill, J.W. reasoned.
Terry arrived at the restaurant before J.W. It was a few
minutes before lunch hour and there were not that many customers.
He sat at a table facing a long oak bar with a brass railing.
Terry enjoyed watching the zombies come in for their Bloody
Marys. They had managed to get through the morning, but their
hands were already trembling as they lined up at the bar,
pretending to be interested in baseball scores but secretly dying for
the bartender to get their drinks in front of them as quickly as he
could. They all had hats, and long overcoats, and ruddy
complexions, and no doubt, two kids and a mortgage to contend
with. But kissing ass was kissing ass no matter how many kids you
had, he would not want to be in a P.O.W. camp with them, he
decided. And his assessment included the familiar actors and
actresses who strutted past the long bar like they were selling the
clothes on their backs.
J.W. was twenty minutes late, and could not wait to get his
order in for a gin and tonic. After J.W. got settled, he smiled. It was
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a wonderful smile, it had layers and layers on it. It was a smile that
had a life of its own, it broke you down, relaxed you, so that you
would never be prepared for the kill should J.W. choose to do such a
thing.
“I’m not drinking,” Terry said to a disappointed J.W.
‘You sure have gotten funny since the Army,” J.W. joked.
“Maybe I’ll even be funnier after serving three more years,”
Terry countered.
J.W. had obviously been in good humor until Terry reminded
him why they were having lunch: He was going South and when he
returned he was reenlisting--most likely.
J.W., who was looking at the menu, folded it out like the
sunday papers, and grimaced. “The big Kennedy man gonna kill
some gooks, huh?” said J.W. facetiously. “Boy, that is a great way to
carry on the president’s work.”
“You, and those guys at the bar could care less about carrying
the Kennedy legacy on, but I like you just the same,” Terry said,
trying to get interested in a menu that was full of red meat, and
lately he had a hard time eating anything made from red meat.
Maybe the chicken with lemon might be a good idea.
Putting a filter on his cigarette, J.W. said, “You look terrible,
goddam awful in fact, but you know that, right?”
He then lit the cigarette and held it like FDR used to in
photographs Terry had seen.
Terry looked at J.W.’s face closely to see if J.W. was going to
crack a smile, but he didn’t.
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538
“Terry, you’ve got to pull yourself up, you’re going down,
buddy.”
“I went on a binge for the first time in my life, I’m okay now,”
Terry said, trying to relax, but now tense with the thought that J.W.
was probably right, he was not whole anymore, there were parts of
him scattered everywhere, with Neil, with Cynthia, with Alison, with
his mother, with the Kennedy, and they stayed outside of him and
would not form the whole anymore.
J.W. suddenly beamed. “I’m prepared to offer you a job back
on the magazine, the lesbo who replaced you is going to the coast.“
Hank is willing to give you a $120 a week.”
Terry froze, he had not expected this last-ditch pitch by the
magazine, he had said his goodbyes, now they were negating him by
still making him an offer. It infuriated him.
“I thought I said goodbye,” Terry said tersely.
The brightness that had been in J.W.’s eyes dulled, and his
face darkened. “Sheeet, Terry, you’re disappointing, we’re trying to
do everything to make you come to your senses, you don’t throw
away opportunities like this.”
“I don’t want my body snatched,” Terry said, looking at the
lunch-hour crowd at the bar. Smiling, joking, but the center of
attention always being the next drink.
J.W. slammed down the menu, but Terry knew J.W.
understood.
“Life is just going on, Terry, that’s all it is, it ain’t nothing
more than that,” J.W. said, sounding more Southern than he had in
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539
a long time. “The birds are in the trees, the cows are in the fields,
that’s all it is...look, I know what it is to have dreams, hundreds of us
came to this city after the war, we were going to take pictures for
Mademoiselle, and be reporters for the Tribune, and write novels
like Carson McCullers, and show the world what American designers
can do, and every night we would feel so alive we could not
sleep...most of us never got what we wanted, but we hung in there,
sweated it out so that we could have useful, functioning lives. You
still have a chance to make something of yourself, but you can’t
bring Kennedy back, and you can’t blame us for that.”
Terry leaned forward. “I’m going to spend some time with
Alison, visit Neil, and come back and be sworn in for a second hitch.
I have it all worked out.”
There was a long silence. The waiter, seeing a window of
opportunity, jumped in and took their order. J.W. looked crushed,
extremely upset, much worse than he had looked when they had
argued last time, thought Terry. The executives at the bar were now
laughing louder, and joking more.
Stop dancing on Kennedy’s grave, you bastards, Terry
thought, but they continued laughing and drinking.
J.W. mumbled something about the New York Yankees, and
then shut down. When his porterhouse steak came, he looked at it
sullenly, and cut silently into it.
Terry stood up and looked towards the bar with its rounded
oak edges, and shiny brass rail.
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540
“Why don’t you zombies shut the fuck up!” he said loud
enough for the entire room to look at him.
J.W. leaned back and grimaced.
“That’s right, shut the fuck up,” Terry repeated as the
executives looked at him quizzically, holding their drinks before
their mouths, pondering the rude intrusion by the looks of their
faces.
Terry leered at the bar. He was still wearing his fatigue jacket
with the 3rd Armored Division patch on it, he had not taken it off
because his shirt was wrinkled; Mario would never have allowed him
to wear a wrinkled shirt, but Mario wasn’t around anymore. These
guys had had their bodies and souls taken away from them but they
didn’t even know it, Terry got up and walked menacingly towards
the bar.
“Kick this guy’s ass,” said a gruff voice at the bar.
Now that was some emotion, Terry thought.
“You got a problem, son?” asked a ruddy-faced executive,
probably an ad space salesman for the New York Times, Terry
guessed. They were all gaping at him now, they had come in to get
high, and here he was giving them a taste of reality, reminding them
they weren’t safe anymore, they could get a bullet in the head just
like Kennedy.
He continued to stare at them until he could feel the heat cool.
No one made a move, they just looked at him like he was a sick
puppy.
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541
Terry scanned their faces as he said, “I just wanted to tell you
guys that your body was probably taken away from you, and you’re
probably a plant now. I just wanted you to know that.”
“Well thank you, son, for the advice,” said the ruddy-faced
executive--he could have played Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
God, what he wouldn’t have done to have Kevin McCarthy
walk in--the lead for Invasion of the Body Snatchers—-Terry
thought. This was a show business hangout next to all the theaters.
McCarthy was a stage actor, why not?
“Do you have anything else to say to us, son? We would like to
get on with our conversation.”
The other hyenas laughed.
“No, I just thought you’d like to know, if you end up voting for
Nixon you’ll know that what I told you is true.”
They smiled and continued their booze talk as Terry walked
out the door.
J.W. continued eating.
He heard Alison blowing the car horn and opened the window
facing Bleecker Street. He could see her clearly one story down. She
was wearing shades, a skimpy cotton blouse and dungarees that
looked like they were painted on--this was not the uniform of SNCC,
he laughed. She looked very tense standing next to a brand-new
Pontiac convertible.
“Okay, I’m coming,” he shouted down.
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She greeted his remark with a big expressive smile, and he
could see her body physically relax.
The proprietor of the leather goods store next to his building
smiled approvingly at Terry as he got into the convertible. Mario
and the proprietor had been good friends, both were from Calabria.
The car was a rental, Alison told him. She wanted to treat
herself. She planned to stop one night on the way to Atlanta, would
he mind?
Of course not, he told her. She suggested that he shave and
put on some clean-looking clothes when they did stop.
He agreed.
Except for the sex they had in a Virginia motel room the rest
of the trip was uneventful until they drove into Alison’s
neighborhood.
The dogs seemed to instantly know that he was back. They
barked savagely as the convertible stopped in front of Alison’s
house. She told him not to take it personally, but he did. It was one
step further towards total negation, he felt, and he would defy them
with his humanness, he told her. She thought that was funny, and
she seemed very happy to have him back.
Terry spent most of the week sleeping and cleaning himself
up. He thought about his outburst at the restaurant and couldn’t
understand why he had done it, but at the same time he was glad he
had done it, but sad that he had not said goodbye to J.W.
In ten days she was going to Oxford, Ohio, Alison told him. He
could take the VW and visit Neil, and both of them could leave for
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543
Oxford when he got back. She had arranged for him to stay in a
dormitory at Western College for Women with the first summer
volunteers. It had taken a lot of lobbying, and he had to do it, she
would not take no for an answer, she said.
He set out for Chatham, Alabama, on Thursday the 4th of
June.
In no time, it seemed to him, he was crossing the
Chattahoochee River and entering eastern Alabama, continuing on
through the Cumberland Plateau region, he drove past pecan trees,
palmetto groves, cotton lint farms and peanut farms. At Birmingham
he turned northwest towards Hamilton, skirting central Alabama’s
rich swath of prairie soil know as the Black Belt.
It took him four hours to reach Chatham, which was located in
Dorian County and bordered eastern Mississippi.
He had forgotten to bring the pigeons, he thought, as he
pulled into the driveway of Neil’s great Aunt, Juliet Powers.
Neil, his back facing Terry, was flying a blue kite in a blazing
yellow meadow, the kite had height, and plenty of wind under it.
Terry peeled off his striped Arrow shirt so that he was just in
his undershirt, the spring breeze felt cool and satisfying.
“I’m back,” he shouted out.
Neil turned, looked at Terry without showing any emotion,
and turned again towards the kite, then he looked at Terry again
and started running towards him, but not doing too good a job of it
because of the kite.
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544
Terry walked briskly to meet Neil, it was a good feeling, the
sun, the breeze, seeing Neil again, he hadn’t thought he could feel
this way again, not even for a moment.
“You forgot the pigeons,” Neil said all-knowingly, “but that’s
okay, next time, right?”
“Jesus, I did,” Terry said, apologetically.
They stopped just inches from each other, but did not show
any further feeling for each other by hugging.
“What’s up?” asked Neil, wasting no time as he gave the kite
more string.
“I may be going away for a while,” Terry said hesitantly. “I’m
setting up a fund for you. I’ll send a letter to your aunt on just how
you can get emergency money when you need it.”
Neil looked puzzled. “What are you setting up a fund for? You
ain’t rich...anyway, I can take care of myself.”
“We can still be in touch though, I can write.”
“Ah, I don’t care,” Neil said, pulling in the kite.
“Here, let me help you, Terry said, stepping in front of Neil
and picking up the extra slack.
“What did you come for anyway?” Neil asked, bringing the kite
to within a few feet of him.
“To see you, of course.”
“How long you going away anyway?” Neil asked indifferently,
squinting his eyes from the sun.
“A couple of years.”
Neil became mute for a moment, which is what he was good at.
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545
“You look like shit,” Neil finally said, “haven’t you been taking
care of yourself?”
Terry smiled, Neil could be as smart assed as any adult he had
ever met.
Terry did not stay at the farmhouse, instead he got a bareboned room in a motel halfway between the farm and the town of
Chatham. The motel got most of its business on Saturday night, the
proprietor told Terry with a sinister smile. He also mentioned that
there were a few guests from out of town who were passing through.
Terry had noticed the family on his way to the motel office.
The adults had been sitting mutely on folding chairs outside a motel
room, while their children sat near their feet. They seemed
incredibly poor, beaten down really. The license plate on their 1941
Ford station wagon indicated that they had driven from Texas. They
did not seem alive really, they did not talk in each other’s company
but just looked out at the horizon as if they were trying to pull
something into it that was not there.
When Terry left the motel office, he wanted to go over and talk
to them, because it was bad enough that the body snatchers were
working on executives, but poor people were another story. Seeing
them without hope was painful. But the salt of the earth was the real
target of the Oswald bullet Terry was convinced. There were more of
them than anyone. They would have to be controlled first. And they
did not have anything if they did not have hope: The storm surely
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ending, tomorrow being a better day, God granting them a fraction
of what they prayed for.
Terry wanted to talk to them but he did not know what to say.
Maybe what they were trying to pull into the horizon was the
answer, he didn’t know. He put his key into the motel door without
looking at them again.
Terry questioned whether he should take Neil to town to see a
movie or go bowling. Neil would have to sit in the balcony for the
movie, he knew, and the bowling lanes were only opened at certain
times for Negroes. The schedule was so complicated Neil’s great aunt
told him, that no Negro would dare try to use the lanes. In either
case he would have to be separated from Neil, so what was the
point? Neil had basically changed prisons, and this bothered Terry,
but the Alabama prison seemed like it was a better thing for Neil
than the Bellevue prison. At least Neil would have love, and space to
move around, he told himself.
There was, however, a good creek on the property, Neil’s great
aunt would fix peanut butter sandwiches and lemonade, and Terry
would take Neil fishing--something, Neil said, he had never done
before. It was during fishing that Terry met two of Neil’s new
friends, Sassy, a 12-year-old with a sharp tongue and boyish
mannerisms, and James, a shy 14-year-old, who did not talk much
because of his stuttering. At first Terry could not figure out why
Sassy and James looked so astonished when they met him, but Neil
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547
explained that his two friends had never seen a white man and a
Negro socializing together. Sassy and James appeared frightened
and curious at the same time, but soon got into the swing of things.
The following day they brought their poles, and all four of them
would sit on the shady side of the bank and Sassy would ask
thousands of questions like, “Does everyone up North have their
own flush toilet?”
Terry would try and answer like a teacher might, but Neil
would smirk, and say how dumb Sassy was for asking such a
question, but his smirk and criticism were not done in a vicious way
and Sassy seemed to be able to handle it. It was in the experience of
seeing Sassy and Neil interacting, that Terry started to feel like he
was coming up from the bottom. The sun, and breeze, and
lemonade, and peanut butter sandwiches, and trying to get James to
talk, were all part of it as well. There were no body snatchers in
Beaver Creek, just humans, and human nature.
Sometimes Neil would playfully attack the country ways of
Sassy and James, and Sassy would give it to him, and tell him that
he didn’t understand anything because everything he had eaten up
North had come in packages, and everything he had seen was inside
a building, and everything he had walked on was made of concrete.
At first Neil, with his street ways, would look out of place on
Beaver Creek every time Sassy and James came in the picture, but
he did not look out of place when they were gone, such was their
impact. By the fourth day Terry stopped putting his fishing pole
(borrowed from Neil’s uncle) in the water and he would just talk,
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548
and listen, and answer a lot of questions from Sassy, until it was
time to go.
Terry had planned to spend four days with Neil, but decided
to stretch it out a few more days. He discovered that each day spent
with Neil, Sassy and James, gave him more energy. In fact even his
movements seemed more fluid, less robotic-like.
Sometimes the four of them didn’t talk for hours, they would
just listen to the creek water rushing between the high banks. It was
during these times that Terry would think of his mother. He would
force the hospital images out of his mind--the negative--and think of
how she was as a living person--the positive. He did the same thing
with Mario, he would force the crumpled image he saw in the
hallway out of his mind, and replace it with scenes of Mario joking
and laughing. He got to the point where he could even remember
pleasant conversations and moments had had shared with Cynthia,
so that he could feel the darkness in him slowly give way to light.
Apparently, Neil did not mind sharing Terry with his new
friends, there was less of an edge to Neil when they were around,
and that pleased Terry immensely because he was now feeling very
human again. It was hard to explain to anyone, he suspected, but he
felt fuller, more anchored to the ground. And he hadn’t had a
cigarette in a week, somehow it didn’t seem right lighting cigarettes
around Sassy and James. Yes, all was fine and okay until James
brought the picture.
On the day before Terry was to leave, James startled him. He
showed Terry a four-color rotogravure picture of President Kennedy
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549
with a black border around it. He said his relatives in Newark had
sent it to his mother, they had said in the letter that no Alabama
paper would publish such a nice photograph of Kennedy. It took
James a long time to say this, and to ask Terry why someone had
shot such a nice-looking man, and why his mother cried when she
heard the news.
Sassy, who liked to answer most questions first, did not
volunteer any opinion.
Neil put his lips together and kept them there.
The three of them looked at Terry, but he did not say
anything for a long time. Finally he said,
“He believed that Americans could do anything if they wanted
to,” Terry said. “He believed in excellence...he believed in helping
people.”
The words came out of Terry as hard as it took James to ask
the question.
“He didn’t do anything for me,” smirked Neil.
“He would have,” Terry replied softly, “He would have made
you feel like doing something for yourself.”
Sassy gave Neil a so-there look.
James held the picture up for everyone to look at again.
“But he’s dead,” Neil said, trying to get an edge, any edge, it
seemed.
Terry pondered Neil’s remark for a long time, before saying,
“Not if we say he isn’t. The bullets didn’t kill his ideas.”
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
550
Sassy gave Neil another look, more like you ain’t so smart after
all.
Neil pulled the fishing line in, and smiled to himself, he was
mysterious when he did that, and Terry never tried to find out what
he was thinking when that happened, but Terry found himself
struggling with a reality that could not be distorted, or packaged, or
put a certain way, that was as real as the bullfrogs hopping around
on the riverbank, or trout swimming for their life in the water, or
horseflies that sounded like dive-bombers in the late
afternoon....Kennedy was dead.
Terry laid on his back, his hands behind his head, and looked
up at the clouds, which he had last noticed on Neil’s roof. The
clouds were puffy and seemed to have a life of their own. A group of
them began coming together to form an image of Kennedy’s profile
against the azure sky, and as they formed Kennedy’s profile, the
pain came. This time it wasn’t numbing. It was sharp and had
angles, and hurt like a son-of-a-bitch, and was real, and not trying
to go somewhere else, and hide itself, and he was grateful for that,
but he did roll over, and sob for a long time.
“You go ahead and cry, Terry, it’s good for you,” advised
Sassy.
“Just like my mother,” stuttered James.
That evening Neil’s great aunt cooked a fried chicken dinner
that included a number of vegetables Terry didn’t even know
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existed. He was stuffed as he sat on the edge of the porch steps with
Neil. It was a peaceful place, except for the wooded area where
slaves had once lived, that part gave him the creeps. Neil, he
noticed, had not said very much at the meal.
“You can phone your mother now, I heard,” Terry said,
knowing that he had avoided talking with Neil about his mother, but
since he was leaving in the morning he felt he had to bring up the
subject.
“I don’t like going into town to do it,” Neil replied moodily.
“I thought you knew how to act if you did,” Terry said,
knowing that the you knew how to act part of his statement was
what the Civil Rights Movement was all about. Why should any
human have to act in a lowly manner to survive? But knowing how
to act would soon be a thing of the past, he convinced himself, but
right now it was practical, and the only choice Neil had if he wanted
to go to town.
“My Aunt Juliet made me call my mother...it was real creepy
being in town, it was just like that place in the woods. Those men
still look at me when I come to town, they don’t like seeing me on a
bike, I don’t think.”
“Can you walk with your bike when you get to the center of
town?” Terry asked, suddenly realizing that what he really was
talking about was how to avoid looking like a human, and being
thought of as a human, and this was body-snatcher stuff, and in
turn repulsive to Terry, and he could no longer discuss it.
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Neil played with a scab on his leg for a few moments and then
asked, “You really going in the Army again?”
“I’m still giving it serious thought,” replied Terry, suddenly
uncomfortable with the subject.
“Then we won’t see each other for a long time?” Neil said.
“I’ll write, and I’ll get some leave time, we’ll see each other,”
Terry assured him.
“James’s uncle is in a place called Vietnam, they’re shooting at
each other over there, his uncle told his mother in letters...shit, that
don’t sound so good.”
“I’ll be a medic if I go, I won’t be shooting at anybody,” Terry
said defensively.
Neil jumped off the steps, and spun around as if he was trying
to shake off the thought he was thinking. He looked at Terry angrily,
“You mean you won’t even have a gun? Jesus, that’s stupid.”
He had never been put down by a 14-year-old, but Neil was
doing a pretty good job of it.
“Look, I don’t know what I’m going to do, okay, “ Terry said,
trying to hide his annoyance at Neil’s comment by not raising his
voice.
Neil sat back down on the porch steps, hunched real low,
wrapped his arms around both legs and clasped his fingers together.
Neil’s great aunt and uncle were watching The Ed Sullivan
Show. Sullivan’s voice did a good job of filling in the uncomfortable
silence that followed for a few minutes between Terry and Neil.
Sullivan was announcing the names of the acts coming up during
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the second half of his show, and Terry thought about Sullivan and
wondered if he hadn’t had his body snatched a long time ago
because of his stiff robotic movements and measured way of talking.
Terry tried to focus on the sounds of the crickets, and owls, and
other sounds of the night that were always pleasant when you were
hearing them from a safe place, but he had a bad feeling all of a
sudden, like he had to get his conversation with Neil just right-perfect. He still had the morning to say goodbye, he told himself,
but that was goodbye, this was the conversation that counted, he
suddenly believed very deeply.
“I enjoyed myself, Neil. I enjoyed being with you and I enjoyed
your news friends,” he said unabashedly.
“I like them too, but I don’t know how long I can stay, Terry,”
Neil said without putting any stuff on his words, what might be
called Neil’s version of a ball thrown right down the middle.
It was not what Terry wanted to hear, particularly with the
bad feeling he was getting in his gut. Neil was one part of his life he
wanted some control over, he was feeling human again, he wanted
things to be right, he told himself.
“You don’t have much of a choice, buddy,” Terry replied,
immediately mad at himself for saying a sentence that might have
sounded glib and unsympathetic.
Neil looked up at Terry from an angle, it was a penetrating
look, the kind of look he wouldn’t have thought any 14-year-old was
capable of.
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“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t,” Neil said, putting a curve on his
answer this time.
“Why would you want to go?” Terry said, now getting very
uncomfortable with the subject.
“My aunt and uncle are real fine people, Terry. But I get a
creepy feeling all the time, like someone is going to come up from
behind and whack me...you know...there I am sitting on the bank of
the river and POW. I’m busy looking over my shoulder all the time. I
was thinking of spending some time with Johnny Light.”
Ed Sullivan was introducing a puppeteer from Germany.
Terry’s goal of a perfect conversation with Neil, he realized, was
impossible.
“Your aunt and uncle love you, I can see that,” Terry said,
trying not to get angry.
“It ain’t enough, Terry, I don’t feel free here. When I was
around Johnny Light I felt freer, if it hadn’t been for Sassy and
James, I probably would have took off.”
Terry began to breath deeply, he could feel his throat thicken.
He got up and faced the darkness, then he turned around to face
Neil, the porch light gave Neil an eerie luminescence.
“This is the South, Neil, you could end up on a chain gang if
you run away,” Terry said with conviction. “Mississippi is even
worse for Negroes than Alabama. And what makes you think Johnny
Light would take you?”
“I know he would,” Neil said confidently.
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555
There was nothing Terry could say or do, he knew, to stop Neil
if Neil wanted to go. He had done his best, he told himself, but it was
more than that, it was losing his mother, and Mario, and seeing
Cynthia hit bottom, and thinking about Kennedy. It was all these
things that made him want to feel that Neil was safe, that he, Terry
Chandler, had done the right thing.
There was a train whistle in the distance. Neil smiled to
himself, and Terry knew that Neil was not going to allow himself to
be tucked away in a safe corner of Terry Chandler’s brain, to be
brought out from that place when Terry Chandler saw fit.
They sat silently for a long time, the sounds now coming from
the television were the voices of actors re-creating mom, pop, sis,
and brother living their normal day-to-day lives--the American
family as taken over by the body snatchers, thought Terry sullenly.
In the morning Terry drove from his motel to the farm and
had breakfast with Neil and his great aunt and uncle.
After breakfast Terry and Neil were joined by Sassy and James.
Up until their coming, Neil had been extremely moody and his great
aunt had commented on his moodiness over the breakfast table, but
Terry understood. He still felt more human than he had in a long
time, and he was grateful to the children for that, and that included
Neil, who had been okay most of the time, and that also included
Neil’s great aunt and uncle, and the land--he couldn’t forget that-and Beaver Creek which had given him so much pleasure.
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Sassy, who had a dress on, the first one Terry had seen her in,
gave him a big kiss goodbye and James proudly handed him the
color rotogravure picture of Kennedy, and said his mother wanted
him to have it, and Terry could not speak for a minute to say thank
you.
Neil saved himself for last. He stuck out of his hand and gave
Terry a hearty handshake which somehow seemed out of place. But
for what it was worth, Terry had a sense of family he had not had
since seeing newsreels of John F. Kennedy and his family, which he,
like countless other Americans, felt a part of, and which he clearly
realized was not really his family, but America’s family, America’s
real family, he believed, not those cardboard cutouts seen every
night on television speaking words written by writers who did not
like humans and had obviously lost their bodies to something alien.
Sassy, James, Neil, and his great aunt and uncle, stood in the
driveway as Terry drove off. He could see them waving in his rear
view mirror, set against the sun and blazing blue sky as if they had
sprung up from the earth itself. This gave Terry a warm feeling. The
same kind of feeling, he guessed, a farmer might get after toiling in
the fields all day.
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN
When Terry returned to Atlanta, Alison’s house was frantic with
SNCC people coming and going and the phone ringing constantly.
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557
Alison looked like she was in a daze most of the time, but anyone
could see she was having the time of her life.
The Mississippi Summer Project was extremely complicated,
she told Terry, genius really, she added. Hundreds of students-mostly white--from colleges all over America--would receive
instruction on how to take care of themselves from SNCC workers
and clergy at the Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio.
Once in Mississippi, the volunteers would open Freedom
Schools, community centers, and try to register Negro voters. Some
students would probably die, Alison added, but their deaths would
not be in vain, they were white and middle-class, and came from
influential families, and maybe America would finally waken up, she
told Terry passionately.
Terry did not respond to Alison’s comment about middle-class
student deaths until the day before they were to leave for Oxford,
Ohio. Alison had mentioned it again, and he felt compelled to
straighten her out.
“That’s a hell of a way to get attention,” he told her in front of
three stern-looking SNCC members from Mississippi who were
sleeping in her place and were on their way to Oxford, Ohio.
“They’ll be given instruction on how to protect their vital
parts, and receive extensive instructions on security precautions,”
replied a tall African-American in his twenties. He was dressed in the
typical SNCC uniform of T-shirts, coverall, and boots. His face
indicated, however, that he knew exactly what Terry meant. It was a
it’s-your-turn-to-pay-some-dues-now look and Terry did not like it,
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558
but understood the reason for it. Brave as they were, the white
middle-class student volunteers were living on Pluto compared with
the day-to-day experience of the Negro in the South. When whitey’s
blood is spilled maybe the politicians will notice seemed to be the
unspoken theme of the Mississippi Freedom Project as seen through
the eyes of hard-core SNCC field workers who were putting their
lives on the line every day. Terry had heard them joke about it.
“I just hope nobody has to get hurt,” Terry said to the SNCC
field people who looked at him skeptically.
Alison, who constantly appeared thrilled by so many SNCC
people passing through her place, and the fact that she was actually
working out of her house--conditions were so crowded at the
Raymond Street headquarters--had repeated her concerns to Terry a
number of times that week about SNCC eventually phasing out all of
their white members.
She told him that would be a tragedy, and that’s why it was so
important that Negro and white racial harmony be practiced at all
times.
“There are over 20 percent Negro volunteers, as well,” she
interjected with a smile, hoping, Terry suspected, to cut off any
further conversation about white bait in Mississippi.
But Terry knew what the SNCC field people were thinking.
They would warn the students, but the students would not really
believe it, and some would make tragic mistakes, and die.
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559
“Maybe Mr. Chandler has an alternative,” said a scholarly
looking SNCC field worker. He was small and wiry, and had a
number of scars on his arms and head.
“I don’t, and that’s a problem,” Terry responded stoically.
“Mississippi has never seen anything like it,” said the other
SNCC field worker, a woman in her early twenties with a look in her
eyes that said she would never back down. “There will be Freedom
Schools where children can learn Negro history, and the history of
the Civil Rights Movement, there will be voter registration and the
building of a grassroots political party, there will be libraries, Mr.
Chandler, there will be hope, Mr. Chandler,” and her face grew sad.
“And there will be beatings and pain, and death, Mr. Chandler, and
nobody can do anything to prevent that,” she said, near tears, and
the other two SNCC field workers moved their heads slightly as if to
say amen.
For a moment they seemed very young and innocent, but their
protective shells returned almost immediately, and he wondered if
they knew about the body snatchers, because their selfrighteousness shell could probably protect them from anything, he
was sure.
Of course they were right. What did he know about laying
your life on the line for injustice? He didn’t know diddley, and he
was sorry about that, but it would have been nice if the parents of
the volunteers were going instead of their sons and daughters, that
was the kind of thing that might have made him feel better about
the project, why did it have to be only the young putting their asses
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560
on the line? Perhaps the most disturbing thought was that the SNCC
workers and white students would not learn from each other. It just
seemed that so many elements of society were not really together
most of the time on anything, including the Movement. He had
gotten furious with Alison for calling Dr. King, De Lawd, and his
organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SLICK.
SLICK was always getting the glory, she contended, but SNCC was
the heart of the Movement. The professionals who were out there
with the people, real, and purposeful, tough, and savvy, she often
said.
SNCC, and that would always include Alison, was particularly
incensed with Dr. King for turning back on his initial march to
Montgomery. It seemed to Terry that Americans were smashing into
each other rather than working side by side. It was a feeling he first
had in Germany during the race riots on the Kaserne, and he did
not like it because it traveled to parts of him that were alive and
numbed those parts, and muted him, and, he realized now, made
him a perfect target for the body snatchers, and he was doing
everything he could now to fight them, to keep them from turning
him into someone who would forget what Kennedy stood for and
become a zombie walking the treadmill of ambition all day.
The next morning, while it was still dark, Terry, Alison, and
five field workers from SNCC packed themselves into Alison’s
Volkswagon; baggage was limited to small handbags placed on laps
and in the trunk.
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561
Scrunched against the bauxite window, Terry felt like excess
baggage. He was also uncomfortable with departing in the darkness.
The Hour of the Wolf was nearly upon them. The darkness before
dawn making him feel vulnerable and exposed.
The rest of the People’s Wagon, however, was excited and
eager to reach the Western College for Women campus. Their energy
and enthusiasm seemed to radiate beyond them, almost as if they
were giving the headlights cutting into the darkness of the night
added luminescence. There was a certain protectiveness in their
enthusiasm, and Terry finally relaxed and listened to them excitedly
chat away about their expectations of the student volunteers. They
joked about the naivete of the white students, and appeared thrilled
about being in a position of superiority over the naive students who
knew nothing, they were sure, about survival in the South. At SNCC
functions in Atlanta, Terry had seen visiting white women students
from fancy Eastern colleges fall under the influence of angry male
SNCC workers because these privileged visitors from another planet
realized how little they knew, and felt inadequate, and the noble
black knights took clear advantage of the dumb white princesses
who would try to heal hundreds of years of oppression by opening
their legs.
There was also a lot of laughter in the VW about the students
surely not being able to clap right the first time the SNCC people
and the students sang together. Clapping white the SNCC people
called it. The white students would surely clap on the first and third
beats, not knowing that African-Americans clapped on the second
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562
and fourth beats, they joked, as the Volkswagon journeyed through
an America just beginning to wake up. Rooster’s crowed. Gas station
attendants yawned. Yellow-hued lights in main street restaurants cut
the foggy darkness, and left odd shapes of light on concrete
sidewalks and tar streets as the blurred figures of American workers
moved slowly behind steamy windows, seemingly trying to save
their strength for the long hard day of labor that lay ahead of them.
Alison drove through Chattanooga, Knoxville, Lexington,
Cincinnati, and continued north to the Village of Oxford, Ohio,
arriving in the middle of the afternoon, twelve hours after leaving
Atlanta.
Terry watched the children of the middle-class pour into
Oxford with a glorious look in their eyes. They walked the streets in
their Bermuda shorts and tennis shoes like miniature Gandhis.
Sauntering like conquering heros, and the battle hadn’t even begun,
he thought.
“Sheeeet,” one of the SNCC people said, and that just about
summed it up as far as Terry was concerned. It was brave and good
what these college students were doing, but they sure were naivelooking.
Alison drove onto the vast, serenely green, Western College for
Women campus, and stopped in front of a gray-brick building, that
looked like a dormitory. The SNCC people filed out of the VW like a
bunch of midgets at the circus. Alison, her hands still on the wheel,
turned and said anxiously, “You’re not doing it, are you?”
“No, I’m not,” he said, glad that he had finally said it.
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563
“Taking a bus to New York, right?” she said, looking straight
ahead at the green campus and rolling hills, the windows in the VW
wide open, but both of them beginning to sweat heavily under the
June Ohio sun.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do, I think.”
“Look, I know we haven’t had much of a chance to be
together...”
Terry smiled. “That’s not it, Alison, I’ve made plans, this is
your thing and it’s beautiful.”
“If it’s so goddam beautiful, why can’t you be part of it?” she
said, obviously trying to control her anger.
“Because I’ve made plans.”
Alison lowered her head to the steering wheel and gently hit it
with her head a few times. Then looking up at Terry, her face
tightening, she said, “Is it too middle class for you, Terry?”
“I’ve got plans, why can’t you accept that?” he said, looking at
two students in Bermuda shorts horsing around--yes they were
going to have a hard time with the SNCC instructors.
“I just can’t believe you’re backing out of this, Terry. History is
going to be made here in the next few weeks, I just don’t understand
it...you care as much for Negroes as anyone I’ve seen...honestly, I
don’t understand it.”
Terry didn’t answer her because he had no answer. He would
have to be sworn in by June 19, or it would be pointless, anyway he
felt he did not belong with the SNCC people, and he did not belong
with the students, and he did not feel good about that. And it would
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564
be incredibly selfish of him to take the place of a student who
wanted to go to Mississippi passionately. There was also an
undercurrent of divisiveness that seemed to be everywhere in the
country now. He did not know for sure, he just felt it. Ask not what
your country can do for you, and I had a dream were on two
different planets, Martin Luther King’s planet was holding firm
though, but the Kennedy planet seemed to be harder to see
everyday, greater and greater magnification was needed now, once
it had seemed that Kennedy and King were on the same planet, and
brotherhood could be achieved, but now he did not know, bills
passed in Congress were not the feelings of flesh and blood.
“You knew my plans before coming here, Alison,” he said,
firmly.
She released her grip from the wheel, and looked at him sadly.
“You haven’t even given it a chance.”
“A person should know that he wants to commit, or he’s
wasting everyone’s time,” Terry said, his voice now set in its
determination, but he wondered why Alison was pushing so hard,
too hard, he did not understand it.
“Stay tonight, it’s important to me, Terry, stay at a motel if
you don’t want to be committed to this place, but stay until
morning...meet me in front of Peabody Hall tomorrow at 8:30.” she
said, pointing to a red-bricked building at the end of the campus
road. “Will you do that for me, Terry?”
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565
He felt so goddam out of place, it would be hard to do, but
Alison wasn’t asking a lot from her point of view, and he knew he
could not turn her down.
“I’ll be in front of Peabody Hall tomorrow morning,” he said
tonelessly.
He got out of the VW, walked around it, and leaned down and
kissed Alison. He then took his handbag out of the trunk space in
the front of the VW, and jogged to a taxi dropping off three welldressed woman college students who were giggling.
Terry got a motel room on an old country road about half-amile north of uptown Oxford. The first thing he did was turn on the
air-conditioner, and the next was to get in bed and sleep a few
hours.
Towards evening, he showered, got dressed--deciding to wear
a light Army shirt--and walked into town still wondering why Alison
had been so persistent about his staying over the night. He had left
his number at the women’s dormitory, but she had not called back,
and he understood. She was going to be very busy, and was
probably working on her lecture, Talking to the Press. Certainly not
up there with the lectures that would be given on Non-violent
Discipline, How to Protect Vital Parts, How to Act in a Jail Cell, What
to say When You Are Being Brought To Trial Without Legal Counsel,
and other lectures on survival, but public relations was extremely
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566
important to the Movement he was finally convinced after hours of
talking about the subject with Alison.
When he reached uptown Oxford, a reporter, with a gumchewing cameraman at his side, was standing in front of the water
tower excitedly asking incredulous looking townspeople how they
felt about Oxford being the launching site for the Student Invasion
of Mississippi.
“What invasion?” they answered.
There was a bar not far from the water tower. Stay out of the
bars, he told himself, as he walked into one.
He didn’t know how people in Oxford made a living, but the
bar seemed very working class. It had photographs of fish, bear, and
deer hanging on its paneled walls. The token moose was over the
bar. It was not a very impressive moose and looked like it didn’t
belong in such an honored location.
He shouldn’t have come in, he thought, but he was out of it
now, not part of anything, sharing the brotherhood of drinking pals
who understood each other the world over. Who knew what it was to
get high and change the world in your mind, and create a reality
that lasted as long as you could pay for the next drink. He had long
suspected that some drunks were true creative geniuses and could
have been great artists, but the Depression, and not believing in
themselves, had long ago taken away their chance. He imagined that
his father was like that, he could do anything, his mother had told
him, and he could remember his father drawing on the inside of
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book jackets, telling stories, and singing songs, when he wasn’t
drunk.
Most of the drinkers were looking at a Cincinnati Reds game.
The sound of air conditioning and the baseball announcer’s voice
were familiar stimuli. Terry ordered a beer, drank it quickly and
ordered another.
“You with the gladiators?” said a small, foxy-looking man
dressed in a starched white ice cream uniform, his voice was
extremely raspy, and tinged with a southern accent.
Terry debated whether to answer the ice cream man, or not.
He already knew the guy’s life as soon as he saw the uniform.
“The lion’s den, I get it,” Terry said in a way that indicated he
was not committed to having a conversation.
“If you got it you wouldn’t be taking your carpetbagging
young ass to Mississippi,” said the ice cream man violently.
The other drinkers continued to look at the Reds game, but
Terry knew they had noticed. One of their regulars was going to
have some fun, they probably didn’t like the guy, Terry guessed, but
he was their loser.
“I just drove here with a friend, I’m going back East
tomorrow,” Terry said, knowing that would not satisfy the ice cream
man, and feeling that he had hit bottom again.
The ice cream man studied Terry’s regulation Army shortsleeve shirt.”
“What’s a college boy doing with a man’s shirt on?” he said,
angrily downing the rest of his beer.
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568
This guy had to be an aberration, guessed Terry, the
townspeople had seemed friendly enough, but he didn’t want
trouble.
“Look, I just want to have a drink and think about things,”
Terry replied in a friendly manner.
But the ice cream man was closer now, threatening in every
manner of body English. In the Bronx you popped a guy at this
point or he would continue to gain momentum and make you look
bad in front of your friends. But Terry had forgotten about such
things, and it angered him to think that this was happening to him
again in his life.
He looked at the ice cream man with his starched creamy
white suit and knew that the ice cream man and Oswald were one of
a kind, each in his own way tearing at the dignity of man, each in
his own way taking everything away that Kennedy stood for,
because the ice cream man and Oswald only saw the potential of
people as victims.
Terry slowly got off his stool, he could see the others
nervously watching him, but he didn’t care, he wasn’t going to let
this little shit negate his existence, but he wasn’t going to hit him
either.
Terry dropped his arms. “Go ahead, asshole, hit me, that’s
what you want to do, that’s going to go a long way in stopping the
Negroes from righting a wrong.”
The ice cream man glanced at the others watching the baseball
game for some kind of approval but he did not get it.
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569
“C’mon, hit me, hit me, asshole!” Terry screamed as he
tightened his jaw.
He could see the confusion on the ice cream man’s face. He
could see the ice cream man trying to sort it out in his mind, trying
to figure out how he could gain control again.
“It probably would be better if you left,” said the bartender to
Terry in a friendly manner. “We call Gus here the bad humor man.
Gus is okay when he ain’t had trouble at home, aren’t you, Gus?”
The ice cream man did not say anything, he just stood there
and appeared to be still trying to sort it out. Still trying to figure out
how he was going to get the upper hand again.
“Thanks for the advice,” Terry said, looking at the ice cream
man harshly, knowing that there were millions like him who would
divide the country and tear it apart, the glib politicians would put it
back together but it would not be whole, it would not be the same,
the heart would be gone, shot out by assassins like the bad-humor
man.
The bartender switched the TV channel to The Ed Sullivan
Show as Terry walked out of the bar. Ed Sullivan was introducing a
comic from the audience “Who all the smart money in Vegas went to
see.”
The street outside the bar, which had been alive with people
just a short time before, was empty now, and it seemed unreal in its
quietness, but he knew Ed Sullivan was out there, and he listened
for him, and he could hear him coming through the cracks and
doors and opened windows, rolling down the streets into the center
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570
of town like a swift rushing stream, Sullivan was everywhere, and
every one was watching him. Suddenly, the memory of sitting on a
creek bank with Neil, Sassy, and James seemed like a long time ago,
and this feeling brought on a feeling that he was not whole again,
that he was scattered, that people were trying to cut his heart out
and he could not see them, but he was determined to fight these
body snatchers, they would not replace him with a new improved
Terry Chandler who wore hats and ate steak, and fought for the
dignity of man with good-old-boy, slap-you-on-the-back, twist-yourarm-politics. There was the sound of a car racing down the village
street and then coming to a screeching stop. He did not hear
screaming like he had when the hippty-hop puppy got its head
crushed, but the sound of the screeching had a painfulness to it,
and he suddenly knew that it concerned him.
In the hazy light of a village lamp silhouetted by darkness,
Alison came running towards him, her hair disarrayed, her face in
anguish, but he could not hear her yet, and for that moment she
was a movie, not real, but he had seen that look of fear on her face
before, it was when the good old boys had chased them in Tirane,
and he knew he was trying to desperately block the consequences of
Alison’s look by trying to shut out the sound of the movie, but it
would not work, as soon as he heard her shout Neil’s name, he
became frozen.
“It’s Neil, Terry, he’s been beaten furiously, they’ve taken him
to a county hospital, our Dorian County man phoned it in, when I
saw the name--Neil Lawrence--I thought I must see Terry, tell Terry
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571
about it, have to see Terry,” she said, putting all the words together
without any air between them.
“Our local guy doesn’t think he’s going to make it,” she said,
breaking down.
The Ed Sullivan Show was much louder now, a star of stage,
screen and records was singing a hit song from one of her movies,
and everyone in town had turned up their sets.
“We’re on this, I want you to know, Terry, EVERY INCIDENT of
racial violence is followed up immediately by SNCC...if he dies,” she
sobbed strongly, “they won’t get away with it.”
The song by the star was coming to its end, and Terry had an
immediate image of the star singing her song at Neil’s funeral, he
would invite her himself, he thought, trying to control the rage
stirring in him, trying to fight the plunge that he was taking,
breathing deeply now, aware that the Kennedy Shooting, and the
Mario Stomping, and The Team’s Bungled Brain Operation, and...and
Neil’s Dying, were recreating another version of Terry Chandler that
he would hate, and not want to live with, and the body snatchers
would win, because there would be very little of him left that had
been there before.
Alison said the drive to the Dorian County Hospital would be
at least six hours, plane connections from Cincinnati--the closest
major city--to Birmingham could not be made until the morning. He
could take her VW, she said, between hysterical sobs.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
572
Ed Sullivan was closing the show, like he did every Sunday. His
indescribable voice slowly disappeared into the darkness as viewers
turned the sound of their television sets down.
Terry was angry at God as he drove through the June night.
Enough was enough, stop messin’ with people’s lives, give somebody
a break, what did Neil ever do to you? he said to himself, but the
anger was not angry enough, and the total feeling of annihilation
that he had been fighting since Kennedy’s assassination returned
and began to suck the life out of him in the darkness of the rural
Southern roads.
The Dorian County Hospital was a modest two-story building
that had separate entrances. One for Coloreds Only and one for
Whites Only. The waiting room was separated by a glass partition
that ran to the top of the ceiling and was not unlike the partitions
used in prisons, only there were no phones to talk to the person on
the other side. There was a door in the middle of the partition that
opened to the Coloreds Only waiting room, and was used by white
nurses to talk to the “family of the colored patient.”
Terry, to avoid trouble, used the white entrance, but then
crossed over to the Colored side. Neil’s great aunt, Juliet Powers, sat
almost motionless on a long wooden bench, as if no one had spoken
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573
to her in a long time, but she looked up at Terry as if he had been
there all along.
“What can I tell his mother?” she moaned.
“How bad is it, Mrs. Powers?” he forced himself to ask.
“They beat him around the head...it’s bad, real bad, Mr.
Chandler. The boy wasn’t doing anything, he just petted a white
lady’s dog, that’s all. He stepped into the gutter to let her pass by,
he was getting real good at that, but the dog was in the gutter, and it
just jumped up on him and the cord got all tangled and his hand
touched the lady’s foot trying to untangle the cord--and the white
men saw that--oh lord, Mr. Chandler, what am I going to tell his
mother?”
Neil was going to run, goddam it, and he should have except
he got talked out of it by you, Chandler, Terry thought, wishing it
had been him instead of Neil.
“The police say he tried to molest the lady and it was a good
thing she was saved by white men who know how to protect their
women. Negro folks who saw the whole thing told me what I told
you, Mr. Chandler...they told the police too, they told them it was a
misunderstanding--that’s how they phrased it to avoid trouble
themselves.”
“Where is he now?” Terry asked, watching a muscular police
officer enter the Coloreds Only waiting room and walk towards him
like a rancher walking among cattle he was preparing for slaughter.
“He’s back in the operating room,” she sobbed violently.
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574
“This is the nigger room, sir,” said the officer politely to Terry.
“The other room is where white folks wait.”
Terry wanted to tell the officer to go fuck himself, but knew
that wouldn’t accomplish anything.
“I’ll try to find out more information,” he said to Neil’s great
aunt who now appeared zombie-like in the presence of the police
officer. There didn’t seem anything human about her as long as the
officer stood over her. Southerners like this policeman are the King
of the Body Snatchers, Terry realized as he followed the powerfullooking officer back into the Whites Only waiting room, and took a
seat on a long green metal bench that was half the length of the
waiting room.
The Whites Only room had two ceiling fans, each of which
circulated heat and cigarette smoke around a large windowless room
crowded with white people from all over the county. Terry felt weak
all of a sudden as he began to imagine Neil being beaten, and each
blow that he imagined actually felt real against his body, and
numbed him, and brought him closer to nothingness, and made his
annihilation more of a reality than it had ever been.
It was when he scanned the waiting room to look for a nurse to
ask about Neil, that he saw Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, and the
big Texas Ranger who flinched on television when Ruby fired the
pistol. Lyndon Johnson was also in the Whites Only room, so were
dozens of Kennedy aides, including Bobby...Jesus, he thought, Nixon
was looking right down at him, he looked like a doctor.
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575
“He’ll be okay, he was dehydrated,” said Nixon to Pat, dressed
in a nurse’s uniform.
Terry realized now that he had passed out and he immediately
became disgusted with himself. They sat him up on the emergency
room table (for whites) and jiggled the IV bottle full of glucose.
“You passed out in the waiting room,” said a smiling, pleasantlooking, middle-aged country doctor type. “When was the last time
you drank any liquids?”
Terry did not answer the question but explained that he was
in the hospital because of an emergency, and asked how long he had
been out.
“Ten minutes,” replied the doctor cheerfully.
Terry told him he was there to see a Negro boy who had been
savagely beaten.
The doctor, or physician as they liked to be called, did not
look at Terry in the same cheerful way as he had a moment earlier.
“The colored boy is being operated on by the best neurologist
in the state,” he said dispassionately, and walked away from Terry
without saying anything further. The nurse, who really did look like
Pat Nixon, jerked the IV out of Terry’s arm, placed a swatch of
cotton on the vein, and then mechanically placed Terry’s other
hand on the swatch. She then busied herself sterilizing instruments
as if Terry were not in the room.
Terry sat on the emergency room table for a moment and held
the cotton swatch and understood by the silence that he was not
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576
welcome and should leave, and he did without saying anything
further.
He returned to the Whites Only section and waited for the
surgeon to come down from the operating room. During this time he
tried to think positively about Neil’s chances, but the negative
would grab onto a positive thought like a vicious dog and tear it
apart so that he could not stand to think at all. He had become, he
thought in disgust, a zombie, his body had finally been snatched,
they had finally gotten him. He wanted to kill himself and at the
same time he didn’t want to kill himself, which made him angry.
Two hours went by before a lanky surgeon in operating-room
green brushed past the frozen faces in the Whites Only room, and
entered the Coloreds Only room.
“Someone here for Neil Lawrence?” Terry heard the surgeon
ask.
Neil’s great aunt looked beaten as she raised her head to get
the surgeon’s attention.
Terry, despite the earlier warning from the police officer,
crossed over to the Coloreds Only room.
“It’s 20 percent medicine and 80 percent up to him,” he heard
the surgeon say to Neil’s great aunt. “I’ve directed the staff to
segregate some space in the white section, that way he’ll get better
care,” the surgeon said sympathetically.
“Is he going to be alright?” moaned Neil’s great aunt who
looked like she was going to faint.
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577
The surgeon let out a deep sigh. “I don’t know...it’s really up
to him, he’s got to really want to make it...in most of these cases the
coloreds don’t.”
Terry, who had been standing mute, went to the side of Neil’s
great aunt and put his arms around her in a show of support. The
other Negroes in the room seemed frightened at him doing this.
The surgeon looked at Terry with bright, sharp eyes and did
not seem to respond to Terry’s gesture.
Later, Terry would find out the surgeon had been in the Navy
for 20 years, and was highly respected.
Terry looked at the surgeon apprehensively.
“Then he has a chance?” Terry asked, the inside of him letting
him know that he was still a part of the human race.
“A chance?” replied the surgeon cautiously. “I’ll let you up in
half an hour,” he added compassionately.
When the surgeon had gone, Terry wanted to stay in the
Coloreds Only room with Neil’s great aunt, but it was obvious to him
now that his presence in the room was adding tension to the
Negroes around him who were already distraught. This frustrated
and angered him, and he wondered just how many whites in the
South had gone through a similar experience, or had their bodies
been snatched a long time ago?
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578
They were taken to Neil’s bedside by an indifferent hospital
orderly who informed Neil’s great aunt that she could get in a lot of
trouble is she walked in the Whites Only section by herself.
Neil was separated from the other patients by a large foldout
partition. He looked the same as the brain tumor patients in St.
Vincent’s. The bandage and tape around the head, the IV going into
the arm, the oxygen mask. The goddam oxygen mask that always
prevented the patient from talking, even as they died with words on
their lips.
Neil’s great aunt dropped to her knees and began to pray.
Terry tried to be blank but it would not work. “Our father who
art in heaven...oh damn it, Neil, I’m so sorry....so fucking sorry....”
And it was as if all the unfinished pain that had been hiding in him
since Bannon had said “Right in the fucking bean,” suddenly shot
though him. He was spinning, he was going down like one of those
bomber pilots in World War II, and he needed oxygen, and he knew
that he had been dead himself, and that he wanted to live, and that
he desperately wanted Neil to live, and he desperately wanted
Kennedy’s dreams and hopes to live even if the man himself
couldn’t, and he dropped to his knees and fell forward so that his
face buried itself in the hospital bed sheets, and he tried to pray,
but the words the brothers had taught him would not come to his
lips, would not allow him to get off the hook so that all he had to do
was say the words of the prayer instead of what he was feeling, and
that meant he had to square things with God first, because that’s
who he was praying to, that’s who he was asking for help, and he
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579
told God that he was still angry at him, and could they leave it at
that, and to please save Neil, and he hoped that the worth of his
prayers would not be affected by whether he saw The Moon is Blue
or not, or masturbated, or was even an agnostic, which he wasn’t,
because that wasn’t God as he imagined him, that was the brothers
playing God, but in the end, he was sure, if Neil was going to be
saved, it was going to be the prayers of the woman on her knees
next to him that was going to do it.
Terry and Neil’s great aunt spent the entire day, and the day
after, visiting Neil, but there really was no response. Neil was
another bomber pilot going down, Terry agonized, and when he
thought of Neil dying, he imagined Oswald walking up to Neil,
placing a revolver to Neil’s head and pulling the trigger. And he
wondered just how final the shot was, because he had not heard the
blast, he was only witnessing the results of the Oswalds of the world,
and they had not gotten to him yet, but they were closing in on him
as they were on everybody. But they would not remove Kennedy
from his brain, he was determined, or stop him from feeling alive,
because that was the only way they could be stopped, he was sure.
Neil’s great aunt stood over the bed and prayed and wept, and
shook violently, but Neil would not stir. He was still over Germany
in his oxygen mask, and you couldn’t tell if he was going to be able
to pull out of the tailspin in time.
Terry did not understand why, but he began to make faces,
silly faces, at Neil’s mute face. The Buster Keaton deadpan and the
Stan Laurel innocent smile seemed to be favorites. Passersby peered
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
580
at Terry and grumbled, but he continued to make faces, and then he
thought of Sassy, and what kind of a face she would make if Neil
were out of line, and he did that, and then he thought, well, why not
have Sassy there to do it herself, and he went and got her by taxi.
Sassy came and talked to Neil’s mute face and without
prompting told a few jokes as Terry knew she would. Humor was
one way to keep the body snatchers away, Terry reasoned. He
hadn’t seen any humor since the assassination, and he deducted
that humor must be good. Or else you would see more of it.
Neil’s great aunt did not seem to know who was there and had
become a zombie, mumbling and praying and half out of her mind
with grief so that she did not know where she was most of the time,
another notch for the body snatchers of the world, Terry thought
disdainfully. But he was being pulled himself. He suspected that he
might have cracked. Humor was good but at the bedside of a critical
patient? Where was he, anyway? Certainly not on The Ed Sullivan
Show, certainly not in a hallway feeling up Mary Sironi. He had been
defined by Kennedy and that was what he was going to hold onto,
and no one was going to take that from him... but Neil, Neil could
take that from him. Oh God let the boy survive, let him pull out of
it...give him a goddam chance, he thought wearily.
Neil did not move, or stir, or come out of his bombing-runover-Germany tailspin. The hissing sound of the oxygen tank had a
snake-like presence as well that seemed to be wrapping itself around
him and the others, Terry thought, and this image, and the
bombing-run-over-Germany image, pulled at him so that he was
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581
drained, and when he looked at Neil’s great aunt, she seemed gone,
so that only Sassy seemed to be the human among them.
“You owe me two bucks and I want it,” Sassy said to Neil on
her third visit of the day.
“Oh Lord! He’s ready to join the angels,” gushed Neil’s great
aunt.
“You ain’t fooling me, you ain’t getting away with owing me
two dollars,” Sassy said, straight-faced.
“What am I going to tell his mama?” Neil’s great aunt moaned.
“You owe James money too, I told him not to lend it to you,”
Sassy said harshly. “I’m not kidding, Neil, you can’t leave us now, I
just won’t allow it.”
“Colored folk don’t have the will when it comes to something
like this,” Neil’s great aunt said loudly. “You heard the doctor.”
But Terry was looking at Neil slowly curling the fingers of his
hands into a fist. And then taking both fists and raising them as if he
were pulling out of a nose dive.
“You keep it up,” Sassy demanded.
“Oh Lord, he’s moving...he’s moving,” Neil’s great aunt said,
dumbfounded.
Neil took both cupped hands and placed one on top of the
other and moved them back and forth.
“What’s he trying to tell us? Lord, what is he trying to tell us?”
Neil’s great aunt shrieked.
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582
“He’s flying a flagpole to get his pigeons,” Terry said softly,
feeling life rush into his body. “He’s telling us he wants to stay with
us, and be with us, and be a part of the human race for a while.”
Neil’s great aunt staggered for a moment, and then collapsed
into Terry’s arms.
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT
Terry, Sassy, and Neil’s great aunt waited in the darkly lit second
floor hallway landing of Dorian County Hospital while the surgeon
examined Neil. This was the only place they could remain together
the head nurse had told them curtly. She was startled when Sassy
made a face. But she did not keep away. She would pop her head in
every few minutes as if she could not believe what was happening.
“Most coloreds,” she said on her second look in, “never make it
to the second floor.” On her third look in, she said, “I have never
seen a serious brain injury survive in this hospital.”
Finally, when the surgeon was ready to see Neil’s great aunt, the
head nurse said, “Don’t you think that this changes anything?” But
Terry could see the fear in her eyes, and he knew that Neil was
going to make it
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
583
The surgeon stood in front of Neil’s bed and greeted Neil’s great
aunt with a smile. Terry and Sassy stood a respectful distance away,
but close enough to hear the surgeon. He told her that Neil now had
a good chance of pulling through, and he said that Neil had said
some words, and he encouraged her to talk to Neil. He said he was
going to keep the oxygen mask off for the visit. Although he seemed
calm for a man who had just saved a life, when he walked away his
steps gave him away. They were bouncy and full of life, the
clipboard in his hand swung musically.
Terry could feel something awful leave his body as if a magnet
had pulled it out of him to be replaced by a feeling of thankfulness,
in turn giving him a sense of wholeness he had not felt since being
with Sassy, James and Neil on the river bank.
Neil looked like he had been on some strange and wonderful
journey. His battered, swollen, purplish face emanated a sapient
radiance that made him seem ageless, yet he still seemed mute, and
his battered eyes remained closed.
“How are you, trooper?” Terry asked, not expecting an answer
from the still figure.
Neil’s eyes opened just like a doll’s when it is moved from a
lying position to a standing position.
“Cut the trooper shit, Terry,” Neil replied weakly, but firmly.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
584
Terry was startled by Neil’s responsiveness.
“I thought you were going to leave us, but I should have
realized how tough you are,” Terry said, still amazed at Neil’s
reaction to his question.
Neil’s great aunt and Sassy seemed stunned at Neil’s words
and just peered at him as if he had come back from the dead.
“Had nothing to do with it,” Neil replied stoically to Terry’s
comment, his voice getting stronger on every word. “One minute I
was walking in this tunnel with a lot of light and I saw my father and
he had some drumsticks in his hand, he was dressed really sharp, he
was wearing beautiful-looking threads like you see in old
photographs of jazz musicians, and he was really happy, he said he
was playing with a guy called Clifford Brown, that Brown said he was
the best drummer he had ever seen, I told him I never heard of
Clifford Brown and he just smiled, and we talked for a while about
my mother, and he said she was just going to be fine, and then he
said he was going to be giving a concert and Jesus was coming, and
that would be a good way to meet Jesus, that he always went to
these gigs, and the next minute I’m looking at Sassy’s stupid face. I
think she even pinched me a few times, at least that’s what I
remember.”
“What do you mean, stupid face?” Sassy interjected, but Neil’s
great aunt, who was mumbling prayers of thanks and seemingly
afraid to stop, grabbed Sassy’s arm, and Sassy understood, and
stopped herself from saying anything further.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
585
Terry wondered if he had ever mentioned Clifford Brown to
Neil, and then realized how crazy it was to think like that because
Neil was alive, alive goddam it, and that’s all that mattered, but the
story could be trouble.
“Look, do me a favor, Neil, don’t talk about your father and
Jesus to anyone here, particularly if you talk to the police, you’ll do
that, won’t you?” Terry asked, feeling Neil believed every word of
his story, but fearing what the local authorities might do, or the
doctors at the hospital, if they found out about Neil having been in
Bellevue Hospital for observation.
“Well, what do you think?” Neil persisted.
“Sounds plausible to me.”
“Plausible?”
“I believe you, Neil.”
Neil pressed his lips together contentedly, there was a hint of a
smile on his swollen, purple, battered face, but it faded quickly.
“Thought you’d be in New York by now, getting ready to go in
the Army?” Neil said, sleepily.
“The 19th is next week,” Terry replied, thinking how far away
the decision to go in the Army seemed now.
“Oh,” Neil said closing his eyes.
“We can talk later, you have to get some rest.”
“Yeah,” Neil said, drifting drowsily off to sleep.
Terry studied Neil’s face for a moment. The racists had not
held back on their punches and kicks, he thought angrily, if a Negro
would not allow his body to be snatched by intimidation then
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
586
beating was obviously the next step, and if that wasn’t enough, the
ultimate control could be utilized--death.
Terry could understand better now. He could see that the
kicks and punches of racists, and an assassin’s bullet were the same
thing. Each designed to steal away any belief that inspired a human
to go beyond the boundaries others set up for them, to believe in
such a way as to make a difference. So that the suppression of
Negroes was the suppression of all of us, and the killing of Kennedy
the suppression of all of us: an attempt to kill something in us that
went beyond 9 to 5.
They drew the chalk line and they did not want us to cross it,
they wanted our bodies to do with as they pleased: to live in shacks,
to catch the 7:35 every morning, to hold back our humanness, to be
less than we are. Terry had sensed this all along, but now he was
sure, and in this sureness he began to feel solid and rooted again.
The Western College for Women loomed before him, serene,
virtuous, its pretty gray-brick dormitory buildings seemingly
translucent in the brightness of the noon sun, reposing peacefully
on a vast, beautiful, endless green lawn which was quiet to the point
of eeriness.
Alison would be in Peabody Hall, she had told him on the
phone the day before. It was the same building she had pointed out
the day they had arrived from Atlanta. And he had wondered briefly
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
587
why she had wanted him to meet her there the next day, but
dropped it, because it didn’t matter now.
He drove slowly past a sprawling three-story dormitory
building that looked like a French chateau. It had a large pine tree
in front of it, and a sign that said Clawson Hall 1946. Across the
road was another sprawling dormitory building, and in front of him,
another, which said McKee Hall when he passed it, and just beyond
McKee Hall there was a chapel covered with ivy, but it was the
expansive-looking 6-story red building just up the road from the
chapel that he was interested in: Peabody Hall. The building Alison
had pointed to at the end of the path, actually two buildings joined
together by another in the center.
As he got closer to Peabody Hall he still could not see any
summer volunteers, the campus seemed eerily quiet, but a kind of
calm before the storm quiet.
He parked Alison’s VW and followed a path to the entrance of
Peabody Hall: a wooden porch nearly a flight of stairs off the ground
which faced a rolling kelly-green lawn that sloped to a river. The
south side of the porch contained a swing wide enough for three
people. The entrance doors to Peabody Hall were open, but there
was no one on the first floor to ask where the volunteers were.
Driving in he had seen a number of summer school students on the
Miami campus, playing softball, sunbathing, certainly not getting
ready to live in Mississippi for the summer--did they know what was
happening on the western campus? Did they care? he thought,
scanning the long hallway on both sides of him, seeing only empty
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
588
offices and makeshift classrooms with the doors open, the long
hallway seemingly drawing in the sunlight from the classrooms and
bending it to its will so that pockets of sunlight emanated from
places you would expect to contain only darkness. In the center of
the long hallway was a reception desk but no one was seated at it,
but he could hear voices coming from the far corner of the hallway
where he could see a curved staircase leading to another floor. He
walked purposefully to the curved staircase with its shiny mahogany
banister and marble steps and began climbing. It was hot now but
he was not uncomfortable. And each step he took up the staircase
seemed to raise the volume of the voices he was hearing--the
sunlight and a warm breeze touching parts of him, seemingly
jabbing him with life as he smiled to himself, knowing he would be
among people that the body snatchers had so far failed to get to.
Humans who knew that tomorrow didn’t belong to them, because to
believe that was a sure way to get your body snatched.
Not far from the top of the stairs were two padded auditorium
doors held open by folding chairs. He could immediately feel the
rush of humanness pouring through the doors at him, uplifting him
really, and he knew that he had made the right decision, but
Freedom Summer would only be the beginning for him now, because
if he made it through the summer in Mississippi he was going into
the Peace Corps. He would keep the Kennedy dream alive even if he
was the only one, realizing that the shared fellowship of veterans in
combat did nothing to keep dreams and hopes alive, although it was
a good thing, possibly a great thing for a few, but racism, poverty,
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
589
assassination, had to be fought with the human spirit because they
turned people into 9 to 5 machines that just shit, pissed, fucked,
watched game shows, and got tearful when they played the Star
Spangled Banner, and who believed that they could not change
things no matter what they were, or what they became.
The auditorium floor sloped down dramatically to wide
varnished oak steps that led to the stage. On the stage the SNCC staff
was demonstrating how to fall when you were being kicked and
punched. The heads of the summer volunteers, both men and
women, did not move, or turn away from looking at the simulated
punches and kicks on stage.
Alison had said she would save a seat for him up front and
had a surprise as well. There was an empty seat about the
fourteenth row down, and he walked towards it wondering what she
meant, wondering if the surprise had anything to do with why she
had wanted to see him the next day after they drove from Atlanta.
As he walked towards the empty seat he realized that the
person seated next to it did not have Alison’s blazing red hair, but
the head nonetheless was familiar. There were shrieks now from the
audience as the instructors began cursing and hurling insults at the
curled bodies lying at their feet. The heads of the summer
volunteers leaned forward dramatically, their bodies nearly out of
their seats. It was nothing they had ever seen on The Ed Sullivan
Show, Terry thought, just as the head next to the empty seat turned
instinctively and looked up at him. Her eyes were bright, her face
wholesome without all the makeup.
Nobody Owns Tomorrow
590
“I’m just an observer, but I’ll be going,” Cynthia whispered as
he sat down. “They gave me a new drug that’s longer that the
alphabet to pronounce, and it works. My mother will get a hotel in
Greenwood, but I’ll be living with the others.”
He held Cynthia’s hand and watched Alison pick herself off the
stage floor. She immediately looked towards his seat and gave him a
thumbs up. He fought the urge to cry when she did that, because
that one gesture melded him with everyone in the auditorium, made
him one with them, and he knew, finally, knew, that he was without
Kennedy, that he was part of a world that had changed dramatically
since the assassination, and yet in this auditorium, with these brave
students who were willing to risk their lives in Mississippi, the words
of John F. Kennedy seemed particularly appropriate, and they
flowed into him and filled him up, and he could hear them as if they
were being said live.
“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and
foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of
Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a
hard and bitter piece, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling
to witness or permit the slow undoing of human rights to which this
nation has always been committed.”
And Terry Chandler realized that these words never seemed
truer than now, and that every student in the auditorium had heard
these words, and that he was not alone.