About the Author
Charles M. Fraser was born in 1957 and studied history at the University of Central Florida. A Manhattan bicycle courier for one month short of twenty-five years until this book was prepared for finishing. He lives in New York City with his wife, Gabriela.
I thank Mike Hammer who introduced me to Jay Gissen who more than fulfilled Malcolm Forbes' intention to provide an editor for this novel.
Getting out of Moscow we rode listening to where the tanks were. But as often happened on asphalt, relieving stress, I remembered my bond with rolling the dodged terrain of Manhattan. Being on the bicycle always seemed to balance burdens. We waited out a convoy in an alley, behind a big pile of garbage, and saw American television star Phil Donahue’s celebrity Soviet friend, Vladimir Pozner, and his wife Katherine pass into town. He was driving and his serious look made me think how his concern would lead to a book deal. Inspiring my documenting my hiding here in the attic of Stalin’s suburban Moscow retreat, Dalynaya. Maybe there’ll be a reason to listen to me too. Yeah making fun relaxes, but seriously, seeing Mr. Pozner was an omen in my deciding to write.
After we tied up Srilenko, the group voted me lighter but I vetoed that. I just had to examine this stack of files I stole from my interrogation. It pissed my company off that I left the obviously expensive chess set. But I was curious and lugged the box, and have since discovered Srilenko’s plan for yesterday’s coup. My dazzling file is a freakin’ script. Srilenko had produced the most magical political filibuster ever. The show would have made Jimmy Stewart’s Mr. Smith proud to be mad at me. I was scheduled to go on right after the State Committee for the State of Emergency in the U.S.S.R finished their live national television announcement. Srilenko had subtitles for under me prophetically and remorsefully apologizing for my role in promoting bad capitalism. It was unlikely everyone would listen to an American. But if everyone had seen and read yesterday about my begging the nation’s forgiveness by renouncing capitalism in favor of the New Soviet Revolution? Instead of the White House siege becoming the national stage today, I’d have competed for the public’s attention and imagination with fresh propaganda. The show was to have been a presentation in detail of how the country would be completely overhauled. Everyone, including Boris Yeltsin, might still be glued to my live broadcast marathon or at least my voice-over. The script even says I can act like a madman all I want, and the public would be told,
263by subtitles that, that’s how upset I am over having tried to deceive them.
Immediately following the Coup’s press conference, the script has me opening with my bike and I blue screened alone in Red Square looking at St. Basil’s. There were supposed to be offstage hostages so I’d do everything in the script. Still, I could have yelled whatever while everyone heard or read what I was supposed to say in Russian. I’d announce that this last year of politics cleared the air. Now it’s time for work. The script reads, if I want, I should cry in pain over my part in greed destroying Soviet culture. Through their television screens I’d plead for the nation’s behalf, how we all have an honorable obligation to the Soviet Union. Basically repeating “The Statement of the Soviet Leadership” that the Union Treaty meant politicians surviving while what really mattered was the survival of Soviet Socialism.
Ah well. Also in the box were scripts for the future TV series, The Hammer and Cycle Messenger Service. On the special I could hold my hammer and cycle as a prop while my voice-over describes how happy Hammer was decades ago that his pencil company was confiscated for the proletariat. I’d be nationwide. Srilenko clipped a note to the first page that said that if properly ad-libbed, the already finished topic-laden scripts could expand into hundreds of episodes that would cheer up the country for years. I’d have announced a national lottery for the expansion of the public services industry since everything owned by everyone, was expected to be kept clean now. Also housing would be redistributed so everyone had their own home. Then raising my arm to the blue screen, or sitting knees crossed on the floor, I’d say mansions are fortunately already available for splitting into apartments. In addition more space would be allotted for those who don’t particularly want to move. I was to ask for patience while Srilenko’s plan took effect, and it could count on a portion of the public being patriotic and staying put.
At ten minutes into the broadcast, he’d have enough tape to cut commercials from. I’d come back from the first commercial, whittling on a studio log, while their national anthem played. The TV Special’s name, Hammer and Sickle would be superimposed and cursively written across the screen over me while I spoke. Whittling, I’d have told everyone to take a deep breath and sigh of relief. Be thankful they still have their jobs. Looking at my whittlin, I’d say relax. This revolution is progressive. We won’t make fun of the rich. But
264neither will they be allowed to use this country anymore. I’d tell the nation when everything is in motion, that because of his experience, Mikhail Gorbachev’s new job would be in vacation home management as president of the General Secretary Hotels chain. I was to have said, “See? This is the whole point to socialism. Everyone pitches in now. Scientists too busy being scientists to waste time picking crops was one primitive communist excess. Now the revolution will get it right before capitalism gets it wrong.”
It’s even in the script how The White House would be focused on personal power. But if Srilenko’s communists get settled in, nothing would be about powerful friends trading favors anymore. I’d lay my knife down and look in the camera and say, “The socialist revolution is the only valid one.” Then raise the hammer and sickle figurine I just carved, that couldn’t possibly happen in that amount of time. I’d say, the private economy will be institutionalized. Everyone will become equally rich, as was the original plan. There’s a fat file of color photo print ads with my face, based around tomorrow’s issue of Pravda showing me in a full front page spread denouncing commercialism. Communism’s poster child they said couldn’t be revived, even without a mustache. Early Monday morning, from out in the hallway, in the dark, Srilenko had said it was my having sold out the hammer and sickle, that made it my obligation to pitch the idea business can’t exist without control. I thought he was crazy and I was right. But he’s almost there, there’s a coup. Lots of TV commercials were to be cut from my taped monologues and Radio was already in the can. Sentence length biographies would include each coupster’s mother telling, their specific locality, and how they just wanted them to grow up to love their country. Srilenko’s note in the margin says it’s fine if half the country cries.
How I was expected to accomplish all this, without rehearsal, leads me to believe someone else would have played the part. Even though in this English script, he underlined I was a natural to convert the country back to Socialism because capitalism is just aggressive. Whew. A Soviet Life magazine mockup centerfold, that’s not my chest, has my face between two bikinied women holding hammer and sickle sparklers. The hook under my feet reads, “Would ya want lawyers advertising on TV?” That would have gone over like a riot. Srilenko would have yanked the country’s funny bone while the democrats were portraying everything so serious from their White House bunker. It’s
265obvious the tanks on fire, and deaths were a mistake and never would have happened if we had made the theater on time.
In the Live! Hammer and Sickle sparkler segment, taped during the marathon, I’d, of course, be wearing a shirt and squeezing a toothpaste tube while the translation reads “vigilance is the only choice. Otherwise pervasive criminality festers like bacteria in decadent capitalism’s crime-ridden crevices.” A camera crew would pipe in questions from people on the street and I’d answer a visiting farmer, that yes capitalism is basically where everyone sues and how much products cost is the price of surviving being sued. Why their only solution is always for the prices to keep going up. A race. There’s videotape of me dancing happily in Red Square now that everyone would be getting equal stature. Plus I’d sing, “We’re gonna make it after all” in Red Square in my actual voice. What in politics could be referred to as my sarcasm taken out of context.
Checking up, this morning Mikhail saw Srilenko’s bandaged head finally hopping from tank to tank near The White House, but not a single closed hatch opened to his appeal. I guess since he was knocked out, the plan never happened. The coup wasn’t sufficiently threatening to ground airports either. Except that was the script’s overall intent for everything to appear so easy and smooth. Efficient and official. How Srilenko must have sold the generals on the idea, if they were reluctant. They’d comfort the country with normalcy, which is why there’s finally food on the stores’ shelves. And the public’s imagination would have been ignited by my cheerleading. Reading the script, the idea seems a stretch. But writing about it now, the idea has glamorous appeal. Apparently with a respected national newsreader giving all is well updates, I’d have held everyone’s attention for days if necessary. Now this much marching in the streets is my fault. Would I have just left Srilenko tied up if knew about this material and the coup?
I think the stuff about me is cute how Srilenko wanted me depicted. I could have looked straight in the camera, saying it’s absurd to think this is a coup against Gorbachev, our personification of civilization. I’d point to the fact, few military are being used and Gorbachev is in favor of saving the Soviet Union from his convalescent bed where doctors have kept him from speaking. My poor idol. I would have filled the days-long telethon in his honor.
But Srilenko’s production proved to be a dud early on. Instead mostly alcoholics were just prepared to sit behind a desk and nod. The
266highlight was to have been our concert, incorporated as scheduled last night, in conjunction with yesterday morning’s initial broadcast. Profit From The Experience’s new name would have been Social Identity, and Ism Spasm renamed Peace and Order. While The Communist Internationale would close the show as we’d planned to do with violins. Their early rise and shine execution needed an element of middle of the night secrecy this country’s controllers used to be famous for. Because the main performance came across as a stage reading, by men at work looking stuck trying to get something out of their way, first thing in the day, which it was.
Srilenko had been too awake and excited for 4:00 AM. Turns out it wasn’t a joke. I was expected to denunciate capitalism on every channel. Certainly I wasn’t slated to interrupt Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. I gotta hand it to the generals’ half-heartedness for the aura that brought people outside. Time was when everyone waited out the thought police to pass over their apartment. But today citizens are shopping and protesting. While the coup itself proved food was available for the right price. That begs the question, how profiteers were enlisted to repudiate capitalism? Power trumps money for a time. Also being secret they probably couldn’t trust enough people to be completely organized. So everyone, even involved, couldn’t have known Srilenko’s plan was botched. But what the leaders knew and falsely counted on is people prefer being left alone believing everything is okay.
But their Second Bolshevik Revolution is off balance. Srilenko’s retreat already covert, I think. He’s on his feet. Blatt (influence). Networking. Capitalism holds him up. He’s in, since even inside the secret police producers are dealt with as in the real world. It is all about how much influence you have. How organizations stay organized in shape so companies prosper. Encouraging earners like him. Unlike my less networked life of unrewarded choices. I always remember my older sister advising me after college to join a bigger financial team like her successful friend in the oil business. I like that she said, “Life is the company you keep.” But living isn’t always a choice.
Like blanking chess, Srilenko’s next move is thought out. But he can’t deny he’s mad. Leaving The White House he revengefully snapped and, for the heck of it, pushed a woman who tried to give him a flower of justice. Then he promptly went to The Hammer and Cycle
267in his hallucinated belief in state private property. Losing his queen, the emergency committee, may have been expendable, as I, his knight would have been replaceable in the public’s attention too if everything had rolled along fine to begin with. I’d have done a Scheduled In Advance remote from The White House and delivered lunch to the Soviet tanks and invite Yeltsin on camera. I’d sob it was wrong to give up on our sacred symbols. My directions say to use initiative and personality to get Yeltsin to cry for the party that raised him. He’d be drunk enough so, if I couldn’t accomplish that, I’d be penalized with a lost hostage from which he’d have billions to choose from when I wouldn’t want anyone to die.
Even without seeing these files this coup has Srilenko’s prints on it. My infomercial hammering home capitalism’s limits, redeeming my company’s name I’d defamed. Forty minutes in, to not bore, I’d sit back on the stool and repeatedly spin and catch a hammer in the air while public service announcements stream underneath me. Follow the speed limit. Don’t park on the lawn for humor. Instead of us becoming stars, if Srilenko finally got to the studio he probably had to defer to rank and let the cards be played as dealt by the committee. Leaders clueless as to which way the wind blew. A drinking party gone bad that scared the hell out of the dog, and now all the neighbors know something’s wrong. Russians don’t talk like that, but Broadway’d say the legs were already shot out from under this turkey. Communication shut off from Gorbachev, means whoever is in charge never tells the public the complete truth, and they’re not starting now.
A year ago was when I should have began chipping away at this plan. When Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev and I took that leak beside each other in the Kremlin. You just have that moment with bigger than life people and I wanted to talk about the public’s huge mental wall about capitalism requiring the great opportunist Trotsky’s prominence to level out how the public thought about history. I was desperate without realizing. After I said it, he just grunted rhetorically and smiled like he didn’t have time. I’d rather he pissed on me than refuse to directly attack the nostalgic mind control that has even now convinced the generals and colonel to do the right thing for communism.
Tangled in that chair when Srilenko woke, he’d want to kill me. His wanting power to not be financial is unrealistic. Did you know the answer “follow the money” about Watergate was just in the film, All
268The President’s Men, and not the book? So there’s opinion the phrase might not have really happened in that underground garage. Imagine follow and money not used in reference to Watergate in Washington, where it probably boomed out through the parking garage right past both parties’ headquarters up Pennsylvania Avenue down Main Street America. Even Deep wasn’t deep enough to talk around follow and money. Unless in that underground garage he and Woodward were Alexander Dumas and Victor Hugo paid to listen by the word. Literately capable of saving those three for last, except journalist Woodward says he only got hints from Throat. They didn’t talk that much and I refuse to believe anyone’s hearsay. Let’s see, then came Hollywood embellishment combining ambition beyond belief with closeted liberalism. In other words, throwing in a covert red diaper baby of accused relatively innocent parents. But don’t say it because it was a shaken time that was taking decades to be gotten through. I was a teenager then when what looked so very serious was really politics being required to put on a show.
Srilenko knows. His script re-glamorizes the decades-long idolization of 1917. While everyone was stunned by the committee’s announcement, I’d have everyone’s attention with an element of amusement. Srilenko wrote it was like brushing viewers with toothpaste toward what they’re told satisfies them. With subtitles in Russian, I could have screamed anything. But if I followed the TelePrompTer my career as a star was to have had some security? There’s months of material in the box. I’d open supermarkets by appointment so there’d be no waste of commercializing my time for his Socialist cause. We’d stop the New Soviet Union from becoming overweight. Late Night with Hank Greenway’s Orchestra would be chosen by lottery from musicians all across the Soviet Union. Srilenko was publishing a pseudo me. My already printed autobiography, Hammerbrain, has a picture of my Uncle Sam on the back cover with his quote, “Trust your government, I always have.” Not quite my notebook’s actual point of view. Just that the only way to be fair is do what the government demands. In the Forward he explains above my forged signature, that hiding from the police is a disease. Otherwise like The American West ruled by thieves.
Instead of closing his deal. Srilenko tore up our office because he psycho logically wanted to leave his mark. On the desk I’d left him a doodled diary about an agent trained so deceptively, he fooled himself
269into believing that saving the world was a corruption best kept all in the family. Go team. The agent’s parents were good citizens who’d never soil their morals by joining a company in a criminal capacity. And as accountants they raised their son to believe in the job God would give him, until their bright son came home from college and told them he’d been recruited into something secret they didn’t believe in. He was overwhelmed by their lack of joy in his discovery and, he felt disgust and shame at their having to tell him, even on the side of potential justice, he wouldn’t be immune from self-interest. He should continue and get a regular job as an accountant. One of integrity, distanced from corruption’s competition that was their family’s way. All well and good and well meant, but the brilliant young spy’s parents’ lack of zeal, allowed him a faith in an ideal of duty and value, a level above, with his hard ass friends. He reasoned his parents weren’t people, just hired financial guns aimed at what can be gotten away with. The idea of their existence brought down his idealism, when compared to the myth his mind followed. There was a special night on the Richmond to New York City train, when a big black man, who enjoyed talking, said he captained a Staten Island Ferry and could land the fortunate son an opportunity with any national enforcement service the accountants’ child was impressed by. The noble portrayal of spies, made him feel debonair like, the James West character, on Wild, Wild, West. So the new spy made up his mind not to lock himself in his parents’ world of a little more salary next time. But his parents even knew soldier of fortune was part-time secret work too, and quite a load for them to carry so instead of leaving the country they killed themselves. The agency was impressed, two dead in the same room and no evidence he’d ever been where he was raised. Impressive work, they sent him on assignment as soon as possible after thorough training. Right away adversaries were as confused by him as his parents. And I end with the greatest human rights trial ever, when an enlightened bourgeois thief turns evidence on his proletarian handlers, the secret police.
But there’ll be no trial in the real world. This coup looks clumsy and it’ll be buried that way. Greed’s bus only goes so far for me but who knows, tested as a national figure? Yes, that’s right. Srilenko’s campaign has hit me in the gut enough to wonder, could we have arranged a brand new start for the culture? It wasn’t money I came for, because if The Hammer and Cycle was a gimmick, backed by a pile of it, money would have formed other piles as the name sells itself. He’d---
270have had to knock me off from higher up. My directions were I wouldn’t wear a suit except for swearing-in ceremonies I might emcee. Depending on how the polls were reacting. Otherwise, always jeans and be myself, and I very well could have been confused into being made star of Spotless Town, where everyone obeyed the government. In sync with my voice-over I might have made today different doing his stunt. Then take power from him. I would have liked going up one on one against his ideology. But I’ll only be a lucky man if I never see Srilenko again.
Hank finished writing while downstairs I covered the Hammer Cyclists’ approach from the woods. At his attic door, from the floor, Hank greeted each with a speech if they didn’t immediately agree rain was beautiful. When I came in, he just grunted then said, “Water is an important part of us. From the one atom oxygen, combined with two hydrogen, to mist, dew, gentle rain and drizzle, the patter of consistent drops is as amazing as the hysterical storm’s torrential fit. Nature’s cycles provide a wonderful life, appreciate that.”
Hank’s possession pyramid was piled in the corner to his right, with the company notebook forming the top’s peak prominently displaying our logo. Except now the spokes were solidly kaleidoscopic, with an obligatory wave trail drawn behind. And Marcel Duchamp’s stool was embedded in an outline of a transparent rock with a thinking man sitting, holding his chin, while the other hand trued the sickle wheel. I’m sure we all shared a fond remembrance for our noble conspiracy’s futile goal, or was it futile conspiracy’s noble goal?
Tatyana came with Plekhanov, understanding loving the one you’re with means more than just being with who is there. Nonetheless she couldn’t conceal her worn eyes from me, probably because they hadn’t stopped for even one personal word between them. But sitting she said, “Don’t worry, there’s nothing more precious than heartfelt feelings.”
I apologize I missed their reactions, but Hank’s other rescue heroes surprisingly arrived, overwhelming the entrance in appearing as gentle giants to us from the floor. They shrank to human proportions lowering themselves to the circle’s last spaces, between Hank and
271Tatyana, across from Plekhanov and Sergei. Nikita gave Hank the eye alerting him there was an obvious bagged vodka bottle Leonid clung to under his shirt. Hank’s barely nodded head meant Nikita could do as good communists said they’d always done, keeping their already expressed opinions to themselves. Or at least we were told that’s what good communists did. Debating out the issue then going along with the vote for solidarity. I personally think mediocre novelists recorded fake transcripts while the real work was just dividing the spoils.
At the hotel before the coup’s announcement was half over, Leonid began drinking first with Stalin, then with a passion for oblivion again, like certain committee leaders to preserve the lip-service revolution. He didn’t wait to see which way it might sway, and ran from Joseph’s office believing his destiny was the worst available job. There were no nuances to generals retaking the country. So Leonid’s liquor was not brought for our party because Hank swore it off. The bottle was for an Alcohol Party member trying to forget the necessity of self-allegiance.
Hank said, “Looks like a real community function to me. Remember no noise. We’re not in the clear.” Then as if Leonid’s obsession was not an issue, Hank scanned the circle and motioned for the bag with his fingers. “Let me have it,” he said expecting Leonid’s bottle. Then said, “Leonid would think to bring it full for his best chance at getting enough. Anyway. I’ve always refused to use the word as a verb especially since it’s a popular cliché. But here between us, I’ll say it this once. Let’s party. This is one if I ever saw one. I brought glasses. I’m having a shot.”
Leonid tried believing this would draw him closer to his friends. But it was dark and he couldn’t conceal his fake smile. He wondered if it was a mistake not to hide the bottle outside more cleverly. Clearly there wasn’t enough, and as he watched the bottle, after Nikita produced it by wrenching it away with both hands and a twist, his face twitched.
Hank cracked the cap and started with himself, going clockwise one by one, leaving his at short of half and everyone else’s about three quarters. He grinned, relating that leaves flew like witches clumping on the windowsill, making the day feel more haunted by rain because there was “‘darkness at noon.’” After Tatyana, he skipped to Nikita leaving Leonid for last and breaths were collectively held wondering if he’d challenge the backsliding alcoholic that he’d had
272enough. There was a relieved communal sigh when a sizable glassful was lavished on Leonid. Then for emphasis to pacify the victim’s anxious face, he topped off Leonid’s glass to the brim, making it impossible to lift without spilling. Then firmly replanted in Leonid’s eyes, Hank spoke as seriously as his warmth allowed.
“Remember it’s because I care,” and in a flash, without a toast, Greenway was upright heaving the container in a major league baseball pitcher’s release striking the furthest wall. When Hank’s arm had cocked Leonid leapt in a pure athletic response over Plekhanov, screaming why, “Pochemoo!” Manifesting his expectation to collect the shattered entity within his outstretched arms. As if the collision with the wall wouldn’t break the bottle into hundreds of pieces and lost vodka. The defeated flight left Leonid sprawled before the largest tiny sip that included specks of dangerously tiny impossible to see glass.
Hank stopped my and Tatyana’s simultaneous move. “Nyet don’t touch. We didn’t need it. Please reseat. Keep the circle intact. That bottle is history and wrong to clean up. Let it rest and have its’ own say from the floor Malcolm’s paws won’t touch.”
Outnumbered, Leonid uselessly searched our faces, and portions, then his symbolic glass. He realized we’d shared his pain of seeing good vodka soaking into the wall and floor. But shame couldn’t change the way he sat, unable to control his brooding.
After a time of quiet, staring at our glasses, Hank said, “They’re pools we might yet swim in. Know or pretend you see a clarity envisioning utopia’s steps that are the stairs we should stop falling down.” Then he instinctively stopped our intuitive grab for our glasses. “Don’t pick up. Just look. It’s for swimming upstream against the current. If left undisturbed, the motionlessness liquid can calm us into thinking what we should really commemorate.” Then Hank blew across Leonid’s glass making ripples. “We need a good excuse to drink. Like how Marx spoke volumes for his era, or Bolsheviks were just working with a partial economic puzzle while overwhelmingly concerned with the politics of control. We should drink to history’s tragic confusion. Socialism’s failure is financial, if that’s really anyone’s goal?”
Hank raised his brows. I reached for a drink.
Hank said, “Nope. We haven’t crossed the sufficient toast line yet.”
I said, “To socialism, capitalism’s backseat.”
Hank’s face glowed. “You’re right, we should drink to that. But we’re not. Those two elements always exist. Politics’ confusion is adversaries getting their strength from disregarding the others’ truths. Stone headedness led us through the centuries. Just look and see the different eras limited ways of seeing their realities. Once my professor lamented mid-lecture, that as students they’d imagined, what if Lenin had played with the Provisional Government’s Alexander Kerensky when they grew up separately as children together down opposite ends of the same street in Odessa. What if seasoning had been applied from that relationship to Vladimir Ilyich’s boiled over revenge for his radical older brother’s execution for not wanting a czar. Heck, I don’t want a car either.”
Then he looked at our glasses, as Leonid, and his skeptical eye, wanted to know, “What is freedom?”
That Hank had his answer for. “The ability to choose your own prison.”
And Plekhanov bit. “Your confinement has strained you. You haven’t slept? More delirious than usual.”
Hank said, “Believe me. Subservience to authority isn’t freedom and controlling what we think is the marketer’s goal. The last thing the marketplace truly strives for is being completely free. But profit is reality lying concretely beyond the swirling and squirming of Ideology. Economics are nuts and bolts beyond the verbal diarrhea posing as political discourse. The question is, are we free to choose our loyalty or allowed by public opinion to have one?” Turning to look out the little window, Hank said, “Nurture vs. nature is moot when they are one and the same. And disaster when one’s without the other. No matter how much control the state claims, our first vocabularies were given to us by our parents and it’s hard for even the most patriotic to be foremost loyal to the nation state. Why spouses can’t be compelled to testify against each other in the United States. Respect for the inner reality is really what made the United States of America great. That is the image of her I’ll always cherish.”
Leonid said, “My friend, of course I don’t understand. Maybe Plekhanov is right, you need sleep.”
Hank gave Tatyana a smile. “I’m trying to be less confused by straightening myself out talking. They say the decadent west is temptations is, but I discovered more here. To answer the basic sense of what freedom is, it’s not unfettered wandering but deciding where to
274plant your roots to grow from and spread your limbs. Freedom is simply the liberty to choose your own prison, like my attic here we chose together, where I’ve learned a lot.”
Nikita interrupted with an easier to grasp topic and another of freedom’s real puzzles. “If you are free, why not Tatyana?”
Hank and Tayana looked at the floor, as smiles went round in their honor. Then when Hank opened his mouth her eyes were on him.
Hank said, “Tatyana is the only one with a right to know, and she may someday want to tell how I’m not very romantic.”
Greenway may have said that to make a point, but Tatyana’s face spoke an entirely different emotion. That romance is in the beholder’s eye. To us though Hank could be very dull, so involved in his own thought that we had to make him speak to get any sound. Clint Eastwood brainwash thing I’m sure. But I know my sister and if he’d allowed her to invest any more of herself, than she had, she’d still be fighting for the man. Even now willing to follow some truth down with the ship.
Hank said, “I was never any good with romance, and remember many weekend nights just riding around New York City. Or walking the bike to experience people beside me and not their cars. Through restaurant windows I’d watch others’ happiness, and force myself to not jealously stare at contented couples having extravagant meals. It seemed having enough money to entertain, was all that was necessary to be a man. The formula I observed, dictated that the more expensive the restaurant was, the greater the gap in each couples’ ages. But I accepted accrued wealth as the standard by which we live. I’ve come to resent less that economics trickles up, except having nothing I had no shot at the chicks when I was young.”
“Chauvinista,” my sister spoke.
Hank said, “Yes well, anyway oops. I rationalized my less stretched ambition choosing to be poor emulated the bohemians. Which was quickly becoming a less popular sport by the nineteen-eighties, unless you were going completely dropout and that wasn’t my bag. But I went subsistence and couldn’t afford a more prosperous lifestyle, sacrificing myself upon capitalism’s injustices. A way of life, once upon a time, boldly embraced in New York by the tradition of simply calling yourself, “A Villager.” Which I could not do because history’s evolution involved more than just reactionary stances. So I lived above the infamous Fourteenth Street border of The Village on East Twenty-
275nine. I thought both sides of the prosperity line required less self-deception through the generations.” Hank breathed. “I was satisfied thinking of myself as separate from the paranoid political debate. I had studied and been disillusioned by the nonsense of dramatic political philosophy that led to my finding satisfaction riding a bike all day. But materialist philosophy is best left to classes you can decide not to pay for. Wait, yes! I was trying to start my embarrassing story of the East Village romance I never quite had. You’ll all make fun of me for this, but you’ll probably not believe who I met across from the Cube sculpture on Astor Place.” Breath. “The occasion was the elongated summer hours of warm daylight to enjoy after work, and made possible by Benjamin Franklin’s Daylight Savings Time. About three years ago I came upon a pretty black woman, walking while reading, who aroused a smile from me she responded to. I remember the book was unusual. Printed entirely in cursive hand, and it turned out she began the eighties as a celebrity. But, like myself, saw herself as a social critic too. A common human condition celebrated the world over. Walking it she derided St. Marks as a tourist trap honoring a community that was barely ever there.
“She said, ‘Times come and go. I was with the next wave that nudged punk aside after the previous wave lapped up on the international stage. I owned a small club one block up on Ninth Street, and resented business drawn from my location by the shallow distractions of St. Mark’s.’
“She befriended Madonna there, before Madonna was Madonna and appears at the beginning of a Madonna biography I read after meeting her, not Madonna. She’s one of the dancers in the Like A Virgin video.”
Leonid picked up his glass. “Someone wake me if impossible becomes exciting.”
Hank said, “Paws off, not a toast” and took Leonid’s glass. “Before fame intervened, the pre-celebrity pursuing pair used their freedom to entertain themselves by turning the tables on men they came across in the discotheques throughout the city. The author of the biography, I read, said they’d dance so seductively they’d overheat the males to teach men a lesson about leading women on. When they achieved the effect they wanted, they left for the next one. The two women would create a minor hysteria on The Danceteria’s floor that was the predominate place to be seen at that time.
“She gave me her phone number, though as a messenger I was hopeless and she said so. Which I guess made it easier for me to call to ask her about their playing with men as the biography said. What I thought was, so what, an author taking liberties to devise compelling back-story. After all wasn’t the controversial celebrity Madonna just contrived by an agent and record company executives? That made sense to me until after midnight one warm August night a year later. Riding west crossing Second Avenue on East Third Street, she happened by at the corner while going to meet a better prospect at a bar named Opium, several buildings down Third. She wasn’t in a hurry as making sure the prey waits is a necessary part of seduction. It was another of those moonless nights, and without a lock for my bike my policy is to never trust it alone even within my sight. So she went ahead while I held the handlebar stem instead of laying it down as she asked me to do, but I didn’t get it. But the challenge of not putting the bike down put a sparkle in her eyes. So there together, in almost the middle of Third Street, less than a quarter block from The Salvation Army Park, she slipped between me and the handlebar and put my left arm around her rail thin tantalizing womanhood. Down she exquisitely stroked electricity within my stationary self. Then up alongside me to the point where all my thoughts were directed at how to get her to forget whatever plans she had to be with me that night. Her breath and cheek against me, made my only thought, my seldom acquaintance, desire. Of course I forgot all about what I read. I was reeling, the touching and almost touch. My thoughts orbited millions of miles around the earth, back imagining my apartment where I saw us alone on my couch. The memory isn’t complete without visualizing home and needing to feel her there while instantaneously melting and reanimizing as the seconds slipped by.
“Poof she was done. I was done, stunned watching her walk toward the bar leaving me alone in the street. Her head turned back to let me get off one more plea. That for the life of me I can’t remember except I’m sure it secured my humiliation in defeat. Her smile humbly glanced from me off the street, meaning she’d done what I’d asked her to explain on the phone. Without flashing disco lights, or charged musical atmosphere, she did what they’d done, letting a man know you can’t win a woman whose already won.” Pause. “Whew. Though I believe it’s the same for them as all of us. Sincerity isn’t conquests. But, of course people are free to say they’re sincere about debauchery.
277Absolutely thrilling though, how that event personified life’s many aspects. Good even when not the best of all possible worlds. You cannot really say Tatyana was fleeting for me either. For the brief time I could, I loved her too.”
Tatyana said, “So says the hermit.”
And Hank, “Exactly. Two women is so unreal, and unfaithful feelings don’t thrill me. So I never betrayed Terry or Tatyana.”
Sergei ribbed, “Who cares if you are good lover, eh?”
Moving on Hank said, “Let me tell you about suave Mr. Treynor and I under the Washington Square Arch. Staring up Fifth Avenue at downtown traffic in all her destructive beauty, refracting gazillions of horizontally dripping fireworks of sparkling white light under New York’s brightly lit night sky. Mr. Treynor still thinks I’m a little too libertarian, and I agreed with him that scared me too. Then looked up at the monument and described it as just a century young, having begun as a model for an exhibition a few blocks up. Becoming famous on its’ permanent spot, depending on which ideology repeats the story about when a group of nonviolent anarchists climbed the inside stairs and declared their independence. A State Of Free I think they might have said they called themselves. But there was a complaint and society’s referees arrested them for trespassing. While some eras lock up and throw away the key, others let you go if no one’s hurt. I’m almost sure the stairway door was open and the gang never broke a lock with criminal intent. After all the issue was about respect for public property, and they in their way were reverent toward the location. Having no real money per se, there was nothing to gain by holding them and they were released. But, so I don’t jump helter skelter on the bohemian bandwagon, there is logic to the fact we’re so selfish the most useful purpose for public property is keeping us off. Which also describes how the Soviet Union didn’t work.
“We’d entered from Washington Square’s southwestern corner and skipped watching the chess. I told Mr. Treynor our country is clearly documented as literally divided by those for or against the 60’s social folk musicians’ repackaging of the naïve frazzled American communist adventure. Bob Dylan’s limbs grown from Woody Guthrie’s roots and all the other seedlings.
“Mr. Treynor answered. ‘But see what we’re left with? An underclass subculture using the ideological nightmare as an excuse to not have a job and blame the man.’
“I said I followed him, but thought the less enfranchised aren’t the only ones who prefer less arduous work. Then on cue we both saw approaching a, much too hyper, poor imitation of a Rastafarian selling his wares. Because this guy’s head bobbed side to side, bouncing from clusters of people with smug taglines. Bright and sunshiny in the open night like a beautiful TV commercial come to life. His cure for us was, ‘Hashish just off the boat, are you interested?’ And there he was, Mr. Treynor’s entire world of hustling nuts in microcosm, overselling his point liberty went too far. Hovering right there with us, obnoxiously where we wouldn’t choose for him to stand, claiming his product was exotic. But bothering to fish for other suckers, he left saying, ‘Missed opportunity.’
“I said, ‘He’s doomed to a lower economic rung trolling the drug market. If that’s his role to disseminate information like that, either he’s a cop needing to drum up a tag to go off duty or this is a joke to him. Otherwise here is about luring people with the smallest product possible for the most amount of money. Crime’s impersonal economics is capitalism too, right? But criminality shouldn’t be anyone’s scene, right?’
“Anyway Mr. Treynor loved his own explanation of what the alternative lifestyle created. Derelicts and not the errant financial wizardry criminal enterprise is. We shook our heads, mine toward the ground, his behind his nose. That particular place Dr. Hammer looked at me from when he ticked me off.
“I told Mr. Treynor, ‘Hustlers are nose to the grindstone with no time to relate to being impositions. Despite the discomfort Washington Square is still cool for hanging out to hear America’s cultural revolution echo and dissipate from being rained on by the city, crying over why their place is not more normal. But come on, conform is a ridiculous battle cry. Money stackers just objectively demand a more easily programmable, strict, moral world for more expensive boxes to hold us in. A conspiracy of those who can afford to be reasonable people.’
“It was great competing with Mr. Treynor. Dropping playful but serious bombshells. Like I was jousting William F. Buckley, Jr. himself. Mr. Treynor said, ‘Defending hippies again’ and I instinctively replied, ‘No’ but mumbled ‘Yeah’ so I wouldn’t be lying.
“Then I said, ‘Maybe I am poisoned against seeing from the right angle my country leans toward? But at least I’m honest enough to
279be embarrassed by theories, such as how my country seems zealously racing with blinders on toward finishing off independence.’
“Mr. Treynor bellowed, ‘Oh ho ho,’ and slapped his knee. ‘Hear yourself? The conservative ideology is not in the Nineteenth Century, Hank. Buckley Jr.’s principles are not contesting George Bernard Shaw’s Fabian Society. Conservatism can be more progressive than liberalism is today. Look at Nixon’s environmental policies.’
“Then Mr. Treynor smiled at another, failure to be inconspicuous, criminal tradesman. So no further comment might suffice against self-righteous superiority’s blindside. Instead I used the moment for that real human need to reveal ourselves.
“I said, ‘Mr. Treynor, I want to be upfront about who I am. Full disclosure.’ I put my thumb and index finger together and said, ‘I was this close to growing up as wealthy and privileged as you. But my Uncle Kenneth, James K. Greenway, left his fortune to Cornell University where he and my Aunt Aurora’s names appear on a stone, next to Laurence Rockefeller’s, on the university’s Founder’s Wall. From there you can look out over the beautiful valley city of Ithaca, New York. I’m not my uncle, no. But we come by things from the people close to us, and I feel he was close to my parents. You’ll notice, by the years, much of my family’s history happened before I was born. My uncle’s career was made just out of school, by writing and designing the Spotless Town campaign that saturated the entire country in 1900. They were like comic strips inside all the nation’s trolley cars. They were the first national advertising recurring serials about a town that kept itself spotless with Sapolio Soap, which was later eliminated as a brand name you’d think because of the dreaded polio virus. But in 1908 the company decided not to advertise and in a year they went under. My uncle was at the top of his field, in 1922, when Proctor and Gamble executives came to him to develop advertising for the brand new medium we’re still calling radio.”
“Mr. Treynor said, ‘Your uncle spearheaded the dreaded advertising juggernaut?’
“I said, ‘Probably not because guilt by association credits Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Bernays, with the distinction of refining the psychological manipulation of the commercial masses. Coincidentally he went to Cornell too. I do know my uncle certainly climbed on board a good seat and retired to be a Trustee of his university. I came along decades after, and only picked up pieces here and there till as a young
280adult my older sister Helen tried to discourage the New York bike messenger nonsense. She told me there are more stable careers like our uncle’s and her friend’s in the established oil business. Step up the ladder she challenged me. She said I’d never be as successful as the Madison Avenue star, my Uncle Kenneth. I barely, if at all, assumed his importance till I visited the university last year by round tripping up on the bus for a weekend. When I saw his and Aunt Aurora’s names on the Founder’s Wall, commemorating their important donations, it was then I felt the importance of his career and looked up to him. My thought was big in advertising my eye, my goal was becoming an historian.’
“The look on Mr. Treynor’s face wondered what my deal was.
“I said, ‘I believe my Uncle Kenneth, James, J. K. was as pure as fresh snow. I’m not an expert, because my research was imprinted with a picture I was shown of him in his Alumni file in the Division of Rare Manuscripts Collection. Uncle Kenneth is smiling humbly looking at his left shoulder, at a small prop bird used by the humor magazine he co-founded. The Widow. Above his head is a halo so it seems he set for himself quite a formula to go out and achieve greatness in the world. But guess what? I dug deeper and found out his opportunity came in 1898, at the same time a Sapolio Soap board member, and son of the founder, Albert J. Morgan, had his name drug through the mud for having captained a libertine excursion on his yacht where a famous poisoner lured his future wife and began poisoning quite a few over his abnormal jealousy. It was the scandal of the day and made all the papers, so Spotless Town was probably just another wave of publicity an influential family needed to counteract something negative in the public’s mind.
“Mr. Treynor said, ‘You’re telling me because?’
“‘Because,’ I said, ‘nothing human is pure. Because hippies were no less and no more than an advertising campaign. The Beatles were an advertising campaign among many strung together on the fly from history’s forward progress. The result of thinkers responding to the marketplace of ideas bought and sold. Hippie became the permanent label after a San Francisco newspaperman used it to describe the freakier new hip bohemians at an early gathering. Commie, folkie, hippie was the understood way to nullify a philosophy by categorizing it immature. The cool word hip furthered the negative illustration, because hip began as fellow travelers on the opium nod. Laid out smoking dreamily on their sides, on the hip. The press and
281establishment went for it, and the hippies rode the horse they were on. Anarchic, but there was a campaign to forge.’
“I attacked Mr. Treynor’s skepticism, not him. I said, ‘Anyway, you were there, you know it was worth it. Folksingers gathered here following a simple diagram, shrouded under Elvis’ phenome-nominal commercial shadow. The Beats and creeps capitalized on the Bohemian literary tradition’s lure outside uniform society. There was even a lost generation decades before Timothy Leary’s slogan. Because all that radicalism didn’t just spontaneously combust from the minds of the naïve.’
“Mr. Treynor let out a victorious yelp, ‘Ha-haw!’
“I said, ‘Perhaps conservatives need to get over thinking resistance to your opinions is disloyal. The Beats and hippies were smart enough to know the key to what the kids would follow had to appear fun. Probably nothing less would have done.’ I said, ‘I’d never expect you to join the outsider experience.’
“He said, ‘I wasn’t.’
“But letting him off easy wasn’t my American way. I said, ‘Why refute the Hippies’ utopian expression? Remember the seventies when everyone’s hair was longer, and we only thought we knew why? Ecstasy of spirit became sharper clothes. Express yourself became commercial reality, rather than what the psychedelic feeling was sold as. Free is such a powerful word, no wonder we’re confused.’ I said, ‘Mr. Treynor I’m not. I can see The Beatles were a calculated masterpiece. Pervasive, persuasive, full penetration of society that if we’re lucky will remain forever bigger than Ogilvy and Mather, and Young and Rubicam, and any and all consumer pleasure advertising dynasties for years to come.’
“To Mr. Treynor’s credit he didn’t harumpf and walked with me to the most-of-the-time waterless fountain in the center of the park. The best unintentional round stage ever.
“When we stopped and stretched, using the ledge, Mr. Treynor said, ‘It’s not inevitable that your bubbles of belief are history’s 20/20 hindsight. Don’t allow that subculture to influence you.’ Mr. Treynor said I’m dead broke, the revolution bankrupt, maybe I should just stay and let my life work itself out far from the Soviets’ struggles that are sure to be rough for anyone. He grinned. Me too, recognizing possibilities in a truly large man passing us heading to the center of the empty fountain. The big guy looked the crowd over with the demeanor
282of one not used to being denied. His wait for silence ended when he approached an old teenager babbling three people from us. Something about some party being the monster bomb. So our MC quizzed him in a booming voice.
“‘The young today! Man! Man weren’t you here for the last show and didn’t contribute then either?’
“The kid said, ‘Yeah Daddy-o free park. Us beatniks sit where we want. Your show ain’t so cool you can care who contributes. You’re lucky I didn’t drown you out earlier.’ Then the kid stood ringside to be taller to look down, but still the big man appeared larger by returning back to the center with a glow about himself of love for his opponent. Halfway without turning he wailed a long deep, ‘Yes!’ Then raised his arms to the surrounding trees as if their inclusion in the audience was in recognition, I realized, of the bountiful inspiration from the American northwest that this comic originated from. Tall and straight and emphasizing his words, the entertainer directed himself again to the within his rights lad who’d mistakenly taken on the nemesis role in the show. Flailing his huge hands, the big man illustrated showering ungrateful attention back on his aggravation’s source. He didn’t care if aggression alienated the audience. The big man said, ‘Dig this groovy laid-back loud self-aware cat. A too heavy trip to lay, even on an adult, poor boy. They’re all over this land taking up space, getting to it when they’re ready.’
“‘No,’ the kid said. ‘I ain’t heavy or lazy, and you’re not my brother man. So don’t say nothing about me no more. No one needs your outer space dogma anymore man.’
“The big man laughed as heartedly as he had to start. Then said, “Of course, keep me up to date. Notice the women you’re with are making fun of one of us? Ha, got you to look.’ Then the comic circled the center talking all the while. ‘My regal court must beware of spies, and not trust the ritual arrogance of those housed in uptight mansions. But all are free to enjoy my entertainment from the great American enlightenment. Because most of you were born, a great age was deposited, on this beautiful blue green planet, setting a better destiny ahead that this neighborhood proclaimed already ours.’ Then the comic emulated the pre-microphone training of the master of the stage he was imitating. Where was William Shakespeare to write the review? Cause I’m telling you this show felt that inspired.
“The comedian said, ‘Welcome lords and ladies before my humble throne. The stage, or rather our church, the theatre, where I’m honored to serve humor in a knowledgeable place, church, theater and university all in one. For there’s no grander aspiration than awareness of a cosmic consciousness embracing truth. I see a smattering of longhairs among us. Even yonder louse’s head’s threads apparently break past his ears.’ Then he lit his tobacco he’d held since appearing, and said, ‘Hippies were the new ponytail tradition worn by the nation’s founders who nobly faced humanity’s headwinds purposely woven against them. The American Revolution is a proud tradition. But I, believe it or not, did not live to see this second one I refer to because I died as the new day dawned. I’m from this century, but feel I lived in between since my birth in 1908, and the previous century’s generation raised me. I didn’t follow the broad trends, living out popular messages. The advertising shorthand of our economic lives. But can you dig money pays for your attention with inexpensive newspapers, free radio and TV? Though money was never my gig, like everyone else I only had to make it. My hand to mouth children cannot be faulted for our spending it faster than it can be made. Because I realized this planet prospers as a consumer paradise. It was once, but is not all sweat anymore. This generation should feel privileged their ancestors did.’ He looked up. ‘Why oh why torment, when all that’s required is the dear, dear customer handing it out? Capitalism is like Halloween. Watch when I pass the troubadours’ hat and make my yonder jester cough up a share. His peasant Jesse James is just a ghost from feuds past. I too ran a scam or two in my day to raise revenue, or squat a house, because a slave to money is not the only way to make your own way.’
“Then he frisbeed his chapeau to the teenager and said, ‘Lad, please?’ And the kid caught it and said, ‘You trust me?’
“The comic said, ‘I trust you to do what’s best for you. Our relationship has lasted long enough for me to want to see what you’ll do.’
“Kid asked, ‘You’ll chase me?’
“The comic said, ‘Then you’ll always chase yourself. Make the circle Man, and don’t bother insisting. I may be begging, but I won’t. Now my audience, my point today is expressions of individuality are abbreviations of generations of change I your loyal servant, Lord Buckley, was privileged to have been a part of giving momentum. I talked jive long before those Beats,
284the hippies followed. I was around when jazz musicians figured out respect for each other meant calling each other Man. And while I didn’t get to make it to the Promised Land with you, my spirit lived for the modern age’s wonderful events I anticipated. I dropped out of the mainstream through jazz long before it was fashionable to stand up against the establishment’s inexcusable prejudice toward preconceived shortcomings that marginalized the lower not lesser social strata. The ruling elite ghettoized in luxury, because jealousy and power corrupt absolutely. See it everyone? Individual minds are not separate, they’re whole.’
“Then Lord Buckley’s twin said, ‘So we’re through all the background years, and I am now proud to stand here before you identifying myself as a flawed Moses leading his people toward the vicinity of The Promised Land. As I, too, did not get to come here with you. For I am, dead Lord Buckley only living with you now in the spirit of entertainment. I keeled over in 1960 after the jazz age’s enlightenment just before rock and roll’s clear wake up call. Before political power allowed our majesties the policeman to less commercially push our backgrounds around for possession for personal use. Our new people made new history your street language only hints at today. You my lords and ladies of the audience are the cumulative adventure of our lives together, truly a privilege to be among the luxuriously loitering.’
“Then the comic actor asked, ‘How hemmed in are we by dogmatic conservatives? Decades from now the Nineteenth Century’s Twentieth Century writer of literate plays, George Bernard Shaw, may be an acknowledged prophet when everyone walks the earth as privileged queens and kings. When society’s entire elitist structure, as now honored, lays down with poverty’s lamb. When the endless revenue stream of celebrity decides less distance is necessary. Yeah, exclusivity for everybody!’
“Then back in the flesh Lord Buckley declared, ‘Once there’s less nuisances for the police to concern themselves with, the public’s status as an enemy of law enforcement will end. My friends, God has long suffered long enough. Notice appearances are everything behind the establishment’s polish. Notice Nobel Peace Prizes are given out early for Middle East peace we still don’t have? Until the world really improves, I believe individuals should no longer receive the inventor of
285dynamite’s guilt assuaging prize. Every year that paper money trophy should be given to orphanages so charity really begins at home.’
“Then Buckley raised his arms again, even higher, as if from a pulpit. He said, ‘I care not about the diplomas we’re awarded. Everyone should go to university for at least one year. Everyone should enter the hallowed halls of knowledge and return to the real world with the learning tool. A world more broadly familiar with itself will grow beyond self-gratification. For we have a legacy to honor beyond this giant office world ruled by Chesters. Chesters are those who ritually parade their puffed chests around headquarters preaching the wisdom of won friends and influenced people. All acquaintances passing on their aspirations for themselves and their select other few, and damning and draining the whole clueless company with their delusions of others are to blame for false grandeur. Follow me? Dig Infinity. Ain’t it grand? At the core, our failure as a large family is our depressions strike us criminally. The evil created is stored in punishment centers called prisons, so we can feel a little bit protected. But if you’ve ever lived for even a moment on those cold hard cement floors, you know whatever luxury prisoners are provided does not change the role of the metal bars. To not be able to go where you want is punishment enough! Carpet the damned places, it’s their home! Flat Astroturf it, I don’t know. That rubberized asphalt stuff, just invented. Something. Of course they’re being punished. But why enforce being miserable that brought them there in the first place? Leadership cites recidivism as the reason it’s not worth caring for prisoners’ comfort. The problem of confused prisoners’ desire to return where they’re ritually housed, clothed, and fed three meals and a cot. Utopia in a box, if they could only go outside when they want?
“‘Fix the broken people! Don’t allow their dangerously running loose out of fear they’ll be trapped and never enjoy life again. America’s Most Wanted is our president. Elect yourselves not them. Damn the powers that form public opinion in their own image with polls not taken to see what you think, but know how to make you think what they want. Why doesn’t leadership know prison parolees just need a friend? I’ve visited a parolee reporting station. Parolees wait, separated chairs apart from each other because it’s unlawful for felons to sit next to or talk to fellow criminals. Sound logic but you see our most brilliant ideas involve half our wit. Our majesties the police should instead of working as part-time security guards when off duty,
286augment their police pay as semi-parole officers responsible for one parolee to hang out with at least a couple of times a week. Friends is what we all need, and when a crime occurs we’ll have a natural system for eliminating some suspects who are always investigated. That would make the tracking of actual suspects a little easier, benefiting both innocent parolees and the criminal justice system itself. I hear your thinking we can’t pay for it. Unaffordable? Believe me, the next war will be paid for without batting an eye. Think about it. Peace.’
“Then Lord Buckley loaded himself inside his invisible whale and just walked off knowing he’d probably not find a better punch line to exit on, while the kid ran after him with the hat.”
Then in the attic, Hank looked across the circle at me and said, “Mikhail, I still want to do the show.”
I said, “We lost the building.”
Hank said, “But in Red Square now we’ll rename it Fanfare For The Common Man.” And his thought stayed with the trail. “Oh. This is how I’d dream of getting the future off the ground. Victoria was my mother’s middle name, after the queen whose British rule spanned most of the Nineteenth Century. My mother was born in August of 1897, beating Hammer by nine months, and as a child she liked Queen Victoria just as I loved my Presidents’ coloring book. So I do respect royalty, I guess. Well not so much, but its’ the fault of history. Not mine, or theirs, particularly. Though I’ve had this dream for them they become part of us, for only God can be above. Exalted mortals was a load of crap we shouldn’t have to carry anymore. I’d like to see a petition read, ‘We the House of Windsor petition the nation. For the time has come for the divine right of kings and queens upon the entire earth to become common status. Therefore, we hereby renounce this unnatural pattern of forced celebrity for the benefit of all good people of the British Commonwealth. As well as all former victims of history’s selfish rampage through the centuries. We ask that the British public accept our petition and honor our stepping down from the British throne.
“Underneath Prince Charles’ name at the top, his sons William and Harry will appear with their mother’s name Diana with an asterisk, because that’s not her spot in the line of succession. I want everyone’s signature right down the line thereafter. Every person in the chain who could assume the throne. It could encompass the entire Commonwealth if necessary for the future to begin. I’m a descendent of Simon
287Greenway of Glascow, Scotland from the year 850 A.D. Maybe I too would get to sign if the business wasn’t too tiring. Millions more made on advertising. Imagine those that wouldn’t want to sign and try to assume the throne for themselves. Humankind is a truly greedy race. Then at the bottom below her husband Phillip’s signature, Mr. Mountbatten’s. Queen Elizabeth’s document would either be a sign the future is coming or at least the recognition the past wasn’t in everyone’s interest when the future is.”
Hank was crying while we just sat still, as Russians, not quite feeling his association with the lineage.
He coughed and said, “Wonder if we’ll really ever get the hang of equality. Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward was one of my favorite novels too before I ever knew about Tatyana’s restaurant. His utopia by the year 2000 included personal family sections along the walls behind curtains for privacy. Privacy, I know? I thought exclusivity was what the family home was for, so who were all the people mingling together in the middle cafeteria? Family-less? Schedule torn? How did they find themselves out of sync, if everything was near perfect? I think Edward was trying to tell us bright ideas would solve the future and his were only a hint. I can tell you long before 2000, people like and don’t like leaving the comfort of their own kitchens.
“Now here’s what I’ve pieced together from Tatyana’s letter. It’s personal but everyone should know what I think I’ve found out about her boyfriend, Chekhov, and Srilenko. Tatyana wrote me about what Newman said the last day of Russian and Soviet History class. I remember it was said by this person diagonally from me whose face I didn’t see but now recognize as Chekhov who must have been Srilenko’s first knight. I thought I’d never seen the guy before, but did notice more people because the class had filled up with extras who were probably former students of Dr. Evans’ sitting in on the final class of that term. Chekhov really did ask who’d the General Secretary would be who finally pulls the plug and Dr. Evans said, ‘I don’t want to jinx it.’
“It was Tatyana’s man who triggered my mind’s future identity that brought me here. What he said became real for me, seven years before it happened. Chekhov made that connection in my brain. Now I remember the back of his head and much more. The hot summer before, when I was just beginning my fall of ‘77,’ Florida
288Technological University school year. I was just driving around acquainting myself with the off campus area and past the University Boulevard light I pulled in the Pizza Hut, bar and convenience store mini-plaza parking lot. There was this guy outside the bar smoking, because he said it was too thick inside. ‘As a brick,’ he said, calling me over to where he sat on a parked car’s trunk. Didn’t seem to care rednecks or police look for people who’re where they don’t belong. To this day both groups hold the automobile in great respect.
“He repeated, ‘Too much smoke to smoke comfortably in there.’
“Like I cared and I told him, ‘You should quit’ then when he didn’t answer I went in the store. When I came out he thanked me for persuading him to do what he always knew he should, and asked if I could give him a ride.
“I said, ‘I’m just going to the next apartment complex. Highway 50’ he ‘probably’ needed was two miles past.
“He said, ‘Complex saves ten minutes. Or Highway 50 contributes to cause of workers’ rights.’
“I said, ‘Revolution is over son.’
“He said, ‘Not if money is still being fought over.’
“So I gave him the ride to 50, and in the Waffle House parking lot he sold me on seeing this new band in downtown Orlando. Of course I was afraid the hitchhiker had become accustomed to his seat. But it had always been fun watching friends give music a shot, and the establishment was still on 50 showing cause I wouldn’t be led all over the place. I went through with it, despite the hitchhiker reminding me of a late Sunday night at my drinking spot at 436 and 17-92. When this guy befriended me at the bar and embarrassed me into driving him the quarter mile to the Club Juana Strip Bar nearby, where he stayed in the phone booth while I watched a young nakedish woman dance who was introduced as coming from the town where I lived. It was eerie, like a setup. I told the guy in the phone booth, who never let go of the phone, ‘I gotta go.’ The worst scenario was he was just playing me to guarantee himself a ride. But you never know. I still fear he was a narc playing me for a sucker, but didn’t know I was a waste of time. Shrewd guy though, whatever level he was operating on, I didn’t want him working on me.
“So the car ride with Chekhov was quiet while I flashed on another incidence that might have gone more wrong. The night walking
289436, when I was picked up by two guys just discharged from the Navy for being drunk and high. They were drunk and high and weaving through traffic, thrilled with themselves, screaming in merriment. They’d been giving rides all night to everyone they saw, and were offended I wanted out of the car. I wouldn’t even ride with me driving like that.
“So when, I know it was, Chekhov and I got to the parking lot, he said, ‘They water down their liquor just right so you can’t tell. You’ll get a good enough buzz in here.’
“It was named The Hip Cat, and where 17-92 dead ends into 50, Colonial Drive. At that time even central Orlando felt like the boonies. Uncle Walt took care of that, so that anywhere leads to his virtual sunny tomb. Florida’s asphalt management policy is that maybe the shit will float when the state starts going under so let’s spread it everywhere. Sorry. I like riding my bike on smooth asphalt, but there comes a point where getting a grip is not building bigger. Babylon Towers are near there, the tallest pair in Orlando, a half-mile from that bar. Orlando’s biggest skyscrapers and to this day, they just hold those trying to survive traffic after work.
“Yep, that community hasn’t gone for the theoretical higher cost of utilitarian trains yet. Although since the toy kingdom opened a monorail freely circles one Disney lake. I’m just saying, Detroit is not in the transportation business because the consumer chose to drive. No one is innocent. We laugh at fools who don’t own their own mobile throne. How many do we kill a day in those machines? How many has it been decided we can statistically accept losing? Why? Money. Ruthless competition got us in this. It has to get us out.
“Listen. I see things and think. I have a friend who has a storefront in New York City on Houston Street where I want to franchise another Edward Bellamy’s Family’s Restaurant where bike messengers eat for free. A tourist trap because I hear the Japanese love the messengers, so the restaurant’s profit feeds them. Capitalism, socialism, same damn difference. Opportunity is hard to come by, but available now that we’re civilized, aren’t we? I guess I don’t really have much more to say other than the world will not take care of itself by my lifting my finger. So I’d like to hope what I’ve written in that notebook helps.
“Anyway in The Hip Cat parking lot I want to leave, but he won’t shut his door till I got out.
“He said, ‘Go up and down America’s highways and the future is franchising. Someone, somewhere else, owns what’s sold. Absentee landlord hell! Absentee capitalism. But package it cheaper, deliver quicker and form a cartel, well then you’re on your way too. But remember people lived well on less. Where is the working man’s place now?’
“I asked Newman, ‘You’re a Unionizer?’ And Chekhov said, ‘No, they’re big business too. I’m just a regular guy publicizing this bar to pay this semester’s booze tab.’
“Since I couldn’t shake him yet, inside I drifted in the crowd and slipped out before any band. He caught up in the parking lot, but the doors were locked and I was out a there. Whoever he was I never noticed him in class before. If he was there, he must have sat somewhere else where I didn’t notice him till that last day. Didn’t connect him to the student with the big question till now. But I’m certain it was him. Why? Because it’s funny he stole a book from my backseat. As if Abbie Hoffman told him to Steal This Book, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward.
“So I know Chekhov was the one who asked in our class who’d be the General Secretary to bring down the house of communist cards. Maybe I accidentally turned Srilenko’s perfect spy against him, long before we broke up his revolution yesterday? That’s why I’m in so much trouble with him. But he’s flexible, connected. When he’s out of the communist closet, Srilenko will be a fine citizen of the capitalist world. I’ll bet he spends his money all over the place, and not just among his friends. Which is all I ask that less than a son of a bitch.”
Then Hank smacked his tongue like his professor, and thought and said, “When I was young, unless people made it up, for a short period I was a hero for a younger boy who I never personally knew except to overhear this. Because through my perseverance and coaches’ insight, somehow in the ninth grade I became my high school swim conference’s four hundred yard freestyle champion, and he was just a kid who couldn’t know how small the pond was. Turns out his father, the state senator, sponsored the first Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in a state in the United States. His ally pulling the political strings was the brother of our ninth grade class president. Then the good doctor wasn’t reelected. Screw politics. I can already see instead of Martin’s birthday in January being a nationally recognized holiday, the day needs to be in
291the summer when people are inclined to celebrate outside with family picnics.
“In Dr. King’s honor America could use another summer Monday off in addition to that overemphasized fireworks explosion, The Fourth of July, Independence Day. Martin’s a living document who made all of us more independent than we ever were before. Removing the chains made us all freer. Maybe we should celebrate on his wife’s birthday if hers is in the summer. I don’t care if it’s July Fifth. Name it Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Or use the day his number two, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, was born. Hey, that’s my life’s proudest moment when Dr. Abernathy, after a speech at my university, on his way out stopped in front of me to shake my hand. He’d come down from the stage and I saw him talk with Oscar Willis my seventh grade basketball coach. So I’d like to think, maybe that moment was inspired by the house I grew up in being sold to become an African-American funeral home in semi-rural pre-post-liberated Florida. Who knows who I’d have tried to become without Ralph’s additional inspiration? Less ambitious? Safer? This attic might be empty now.”
Yes Hank was always sentimental. I’m glad it was off his chest. I said, “Hank, what about us?”
He went on. “I miss home. My mother didn’t leave this life until the next summer after we had to move. She was soon banished to a nursing home, but before that kept in the other house like a carrot to get me there after I finished my ninth grade school year in my hometown. It upset my mother that I cared more about swimming my one competitive high school year that I had looked forward to for years. I barely out-touched the mayor’s son, and son of my Sunday School teachers who lived in the county seat. So I was the 1972 Four Hundred Yard All-Conference freestyle champion. I love to repeat that and could have defended it four straight years if I’d had the chance. I wanted to live with the next door neighbors who were so kind to me, and I regret not showing more appreciation for their generosity.”
It was as if Hank just had to explain this to himself. “So anyway,” he said after an extended stare at the wall. “In this other town, remember the story of the high school band? In that other town my mother was kept hostage to get me there, my sophomore year, tenth grade, high school. But as a student, I’m worthless and my English teacher let me slide. I was something. In front of the class I gave a book
292report that I maybe read the first page of. Red Badge of Courage was war. I thought I could fudge. I thought my instinctive outline of history could make up something good enough. Lousy. Quite a leap to my junior year when I upset our teacher objecting to our archaic Americanism vs. Communism class. Americanism, for Pete’s sake. The class was scheduled to be discontinued the next year. Bandwagon jumper eh?
“Anyway, next year, Senior year, one highlight was when my friend Pat, who drove and I surfed with between swim practices the previous summer, planned a Spring weekend at the beach. I think we sold the idea we had someplace to stay. But we planned to sleep in the car or on the ground if we had to. In fact I don’t remember a plan except we were going and it was weird. Because a few weeks earlier Pat’s older brother invited me over my Easter week break, to stay at his University of South Florida dormitory in Tampa, as kind of a repayment for my distance abilities he’d paced against in practice to, for a while, train as the fastest high school freestyle sprinter in the state. He told me he, and his keyboardist swimming friend from Maryland, had gone to my favorite band’s concert in Lakeland. And it upset me not to know about the concert, though I was only in high school and miles in the other direction. Understandable but it upset me. He told me I should have found out about it myself and taken myself and he was right. He came up with the idea of a week in Tampa as consolation. Waving from the departing train I felt my life was about to change. Or maybe he told me it would. It’s nice, moments to tie your life to. As we grow older, stories grow hazy and maybe legends come true.
“So in Tampa I could have practiced with the university’s team and jumpstarted my chances for at least a second-year scholarship at a small university somewhere. But the idea was abandoned really by my not having swum that previous winter. It was my fault though. If I’d worked out with weights I would have accomplished much the same thing. I didn’t even get in the water that whole week. I was inspired by something we still memorialize when our company listens to music together laid out in the dark on the floor. That first night in Tampa, my favorite band’s new record had just come out, or so they said, and we borrowed a neighbor’s copy. Two years earlier, after swim practice, my friend put their music in his eight track and Yes blew my mind the first time I ever heard them. They were instantly my band and I afterwards
293ran to the nursing home to tell my mother, who was actually angered I’d let the evil rock and roll lure me in.
“But that night in Tampa made listening an event. The three of us laid out in the dark, hearing sound that reached for the heights. They took the floor, but made me take the bed after partaking the sacred weed. Whew, following music as a traveling experience as blazed in the mind of jazz musicians.
“Anyway, great week. But the beach weekend was after Tampa. Pat said, guess what, his brother is coming and we’re going in his car. It didn’t make sense to me because I’d had my college week and this was to be my big high school beach weekend. Why was he coming back to hang around with some kids? Anyway, so the first funny part that happened was when Pat and I were waiting for a borrowed surfboard in a driveway listening to Elton John. On the way I’d read the album’s liner notes and after hearing Elton sing about the things he’d do with another man, I figured out in Hicksville, Florida what wouldn’t be warmly received in the spring of 1975. I told Pat I thought Elton John was a homosexual and Bernie Taupin just outed him with some lyrics. Pat became upset and thought I brought it up out of the blue, and demanded to know if I’d propositioned him. Ick. His propriety bubble burst. He said how could I even think of saying such a thing. Was I coming on to him? I calmed him down, laughing, but that day made an impression on me. That maybe I was in the wrong place to express evolving ideas of any kind. Needless to say I’m the only one from around there who remembers excusing my lack of sexual activity because of my historical expectation a new strain of venereally transmitted disease would come about. Too logical not to be true, but I was considered loony for having theories, and it wasn’t the kind of thing you stuck your neck out for by telling everyone even with a medical degree back then. Well, maybe a degree might have made it different. Could it be I make up things about myself like Dr. Armand Hammer?”
And Hank laughed while we still hadn’t drank.
He said, “So the older brother drives us to the beach and plops us by the jetties where the surf is best, and leaves. We surfed two-foot waves all day so the spot wasn’t dominated by semipros insisting rookies get out of their way. Not big waves, but as it turned out, the best day of surfing my whole life because Jaws came out that summer
294and I felt less inclined to surf after seeing it. This rookie had other things to do, for instance university to start.
“Toward the end of the day, the older brother’s absence loomed until he arrived with a chick. Impressive. So driving back down the beach, she sees two friends who are supposed to go to a campout at the beach’s southern end, well out of town, Turtle Mound. We took them home to get the tent and went, then Pat’s older brother did it again right after we unloaded the car. Like he was the whale and we were Jonah twins plopped on the beach. They and another brother were my best friends during those uncomfortable years. Their sister my first love, but being close to the family made it confusing for me. In retrospect I wish she just punched me out and brought me to my senses. I know I wish I’d have just punched out myself.
“Instead, one August night, after coming back from a swim meet in Gainesville, her father, in front of their house, dragged me out of the backseat where we’d fallen to sleep together under a blanket. The most romantic night of my life at sixteen, and I told her father I loved his daughter and he told me to go home and tell my mother. I couldn’t go to the nursing home that late, and be considered delusional, so I ran to my prison and decided to tell my mother’s daughter who had given birth to me. I ran in the house where her important news came first. I remember her relishing looking in my eyes for a reaction. She said your grandmother is dead and I cried screaming and referring to hating her manipulations. Don’t be uncomfortable, life just is. I’m telling you this because I’m kind of okay with it, now. She gave birth to me before abortion was legal. I grew up grateful to her for my life and parents who adopted me. I’m an adult and thought it through and know better and forgive her petty jealousies. That woman always competed with me, or maybe just resented the freedoms of personal choice a later generation had. My sympathy however was never enough for her. As if she could hide my parents adoption of me. That night she yelled at me to go to my room, and my mourning separated me from exactly who I should have ran back to, my first love. Maybe I try to change the world because I can’t change mine?”
Then Hank smacked his tongue again and said, “So the older brother left Turtle Mound about three minutes before Park Rangers showed up to tell us the whole beach was closed to camping that night. Everybody split, except us with the girls and their humongous heavy tent we had to carry for miles on the beach north back to town.
“Bu-ut that night had other special highlights. On the way back walking on the beach, we stopped with a small crowd for the reason there was no camping that night. Park Rangers watched large sea turtle mothers, who’d track up to the dunes from the sea to lay their eggs, crawl back to the sea so beautifully smooth gliding across the sand. We watched them cover and crawl, then the Rangers took the eggs to incubate in a lab so more might survive against Nature. See, we’re in charge, not control. No other animal bends the elements like us so the responsibility is serious.
“So after the turtles we’re still less than halfway back to town when the girls saw the people who wouldn’t give us a ride the first time. I call the night, The Night of the O-villes because that’s why we weren’t given rides. As outsiders from the Orlando area we were from among the people not particularly well thought of as ungrateful exploiters of the beach. Now our arrival broke up the small party in the Bethune Beach parking lot. Named for Mary Bethune who founded Bethune-Cookman College further up in Daytona Beach. She was a famous New York City educator and, a decade later while messengering, I often rode the street named for her in Manhattan. I remember feeling giggly the first time I saw the Bethune Street sign. But African-Americans had long gone to that beach and racists gave it a derogatory nickname. Needless to say there was a time when it was their only portion of beach white supremacy allowed. So from the beach, the girls saw their friends in the parking lot and we stopped. My friend Pat was outraged we were designated weekend enemies from O-ville, because we of course weren’t from there but within the radius of the metropolis. Their Smyrna friends would have nothing to do with us again and took off in territorial indignation. Their women stayed with us. It was never said, but now I realize that’s why the girls weren’t given rides. They stayed with us. Their friends wouldn’t smoke their pot with us, or anything. What a night. We pitched the tent right there on the beach for a couple hours, and I restlessly meditated for a while in the large cold bathroom feeling anxious.
“Oh yeah, the really cool part. As my friends were preoccupied pitching the tent, I watched this car, the tide had taken, float out to sea. And others stopped to watch and laugh, illustrating how people don’t face the problem and avoid the truth. It’s just one car leaking oil that comes from under the ocean anyway? In the end it’s all environment, isn’t it? But then another car, that had just slowed earlier
296heading south, passed back by me and son of a bullshit artist if I’m lying, Neil Young slowly rolled down the driver’s side window to grin at me, while driving in his sunglasses and all at night. I’d heard his mother had a house in town and that he’d visit, but the really cool part was as the window dropped Lynyrd Skynyrd was blaring Sweet Home Alabama, ‘hope Neil Young remembers southern man don’t need him around anyhow’ from his radio. Neil himself listening to being told southern prejudice wasn’t his business. The song asks Neil why he feels so guilty answering for ancestors. Hearing it my friends turned to the music and said, ‘No way’ when I told them that was Neil Young listening to Sweet Home Alabama. I can still feel Neil’s face grinning at me.
“So morning came early before the sun, because the girls had to get home at a certain time or they’d be in trouble. We walked more beach miles, taking turns carrying that humongous tent. Really I was shameful because I just wanted to sit and wait to be eventually found. The young woman, who’d taken my side, did more than her share of carrying. I was disgraceful. Then when we were finally near the first of the series of beach ramps, the other brother turned up sleeping alone in his car. He’d looked for us where he left us, and probably everywhere else we missed each other in between. So that’s how the girls made it home in time, which they wouldn’t have otherwise without him. Then we went to morning Mass at the Catholic Church. I didn’t get it, and said we didn’t have to bother but they said their mother always found out so we went, though they said I didn’t have to.
“And that was it. The night of the O-villes. And ever since I associate the nonsense of unshared Palestine with that night’s territorialism. Where ownership and entitlement elitely cordon off the resentment of the less well off behind blind nationalism. The fight is over a homeland, but damn poor people can afford dynamite if pissed off enough. Instead of making some money, and better homes for everyone, the debate is like a walk over hot coals they can never get enough pleasure from. I’ll bet Yassar Arafat has a ready to spread fortune that could get us closer to reconciliation with more homes for everyone, than this continuous game of who’s the biggest martyr out for revenge now. Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd forgave each other, hung out a few times.”---
Greenway had anticipated it was the coup’s last day, and was probably still lit with hopefulness from his night’s antics when the sun broke. He must have tip toed out hoping there was nothing to be scared of. Leonid thinks his uncomfortable rolling around made Hank decide not to wake anyone going out. We all feel in some way responsible and it shouldn’t have been a problem. But people have talked themselves into some unbelievably incredible things over the centuries. Such as “Civilization sheltering itself behind armies when tragedy requires only one trigger pulled.”
Srilenko denies it, blah, blah, blah. But with the coup doomed, clearing inconvenient pawns from the board was just something the First Bolshevik Revolution had set as a precedent. Failure no doubt compelled his search for “the dirty little capitalist” that really left only one explanation for the vacuum Hank’s friends still feel in our hearts every day.
We think Hank stood for a while at the forest’s fringe, to feel closer to the woods he’d gazed at for days. Then stepping in, his neck was methodically sliced from behind, short of his goal, and the true face of ruthless competition went back between the trees and pages of history.
I thank Mike Hammer who introduced me to Jay Gissen who more than fulfilled Malcolm Forbes' intention to provide an editor for this novel.