TEN THINGS NEVER TO SAY IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILDREN

Like most parents who don’t happen to be on crystal meth at the time they procreate, my wife and I promised each other we would never raise our children the way our parents raised us.

We succeeded in some ways and failed in others. There was back sliding born of unimagined frustration and there were moments of pure channeling as in: “I never planned to say that! I sounded just like my father!”

We have tried our best to stay on the straight and true course of magnificent parenting, but we have had to make all manner of amends ex post delicto.

Now that we are way way way beyond parenting anyone or anything (in our 70’s) we have collected a number of hints for those of you in medias parentis (sic) so that you lessen the number of amends you will have to make later on when your children write you letters that begin with “Dear Mom and Dad: I have been loathe to write this letter since I was 13 years old, but I can no longer hold in my feelings.”

Ten Things Never To Say In Front of Your Children—-

1) “Grandma died just like you will—old, alone and unloved.” While this may be true in far too many cases, we at the Study Center for Psychiatric Anomalies, (SCPA), have made it a truism of our profession to state unequivocally, “Ix-nay on the ooth-tray!” There is a time and place when it is best to let your children know that life is a crap shoot at best and, oh, by the way, try not to say that either…not until they are 11 or 12.

2) “Feel free to stick Q-Tips anywhere they’ll fit.” There is no need to tell children this, for, by the time you actually say it they will already have stuck Q-Tips in every conceivable anatomical location on themselves, their younger siblings or the neighbor child with the learning disability.

3) “Santa loves rich children more than you.” This is a tricky one because it is so totally and inarguably true. Santa may keep a list of who’s Naughty and Nice, but Mrs. Claus keeps a dossier on all parents’ holdings. It would be absurd for your kids to think that they were going to get a Maserati when you don’t make more than $150K a year before taxes. It is rumored that whenever Santa tries to shove a ridiculously expensive gift down a middle class chimney, Mrs. Claus slaps him red-faced. It is said by North Poleans that “…it is easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than to sneak a trust fund into an orphanage.”

4) “Insanity runs in our family.” This is a terrible thing to say aloud to any child of yours. It will make your offspring feel special when, in fact, INSANITY RUNS IN EVERY FAMILY!” There is no point in giving your entitled little kumquat a sense of importance just because his uncle Manfred was arrested for sexually assaulting a letter box.

5) “Sarcasm is the highest form of humor.” As if….

6) “There really is no animal rehab where we took all your pets.” Props for making up such a ridiculous cover story for your thoughtlessly euthanizing everyone from Binky the cat with the pancreas problems to Sam the gardener who kept stealing bottles from your wine cellar.

7) “Play Football.” This is as dumb a sentiment as you can possibly impart. It is up there with “If you wet your bed, we’ll tell all your friends” and “Poets never make any money.” If you tell your child this and he or she opts into the football program at The Montowese Island Daycare Playnasium, you may assume that he or she will emerge many years later unable to remember his/her name or where he or she banked the $1.5 M signing bonus. Even if your child avoids all concussions, and fractured collarbones, there is every likelihood that the poor dear will be using a walker by age 50.

8) “The reason all your classmates hate you is that you are so much prettier and smarter than they are.” Though this is probably true, it won’t help your beautiful and brilliant child one bit. You might suggest your child dress down, stop combing his or her hair and say things like “We should have a country without a government to stop those welfare mothers from stealing from the rest of us.” It didn’t work for us, but it might work for you—especially if, by chance, your child is really homely and not so bright after all.

9) “We should build a fence between us and Mexico and Canada that nobody can climb over or dig under.” The problem with this statement is that if your kids actually hear you say this, they will, hopefully, assume you are an idiot. That is a secret you must try to keep hidden until they leave home.

10) “And then you die.” Oh, We already said that, kinda. Try not to repeat stuff all the time. That is, you won’t wish to keep saying the same thing over and over in a different or same way.

No matter what, you are embarking on an adventure that will take more bravery than Everest and less oxygen.

HOW TO GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR INNER PRISSY

(Lest you forget, Prissy was the name of the body servant, played so supremely well by Butterfly McQueen, to Scarlett O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND.)

By this point you may be at a loss as to how an overtly racist representation of an air-headed house slave in a film made over 70 years ago has become a metaphor for an inner state of being. I know I am.

To put it in perspective: In GWTW the baby-voiced Prissy brags to Scarlett that she is a qualified mid-wife, skilled in all areas of the birthing process. Then, as the Yankees are burning Atlanta and the baby is yearning to be born, Scarlett looks to Prissy for her expertise and Prissy shrieks at the top of her vocal register: “I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies!” It was all a lie told by an insecure young girl to gain respect.

Thus it is that I am throwing up for your consideration that many of us—I cannot really speak for you, but I know that I am always working to keep my Inner Prissy from faring forth every day—are prone to inflating our skills in public only to spend the next few years terrified someone will ask us to demonstrate these imaginary talents.

In my own case, as an adult trained for many years in all areas of hyper-vigilance, my inner Prissy threatens to take over my mind in any and all situations. Off-Camera the Yankees are always torching Atlanta, all hell is breaking loose, and my subconscious is shrieking “I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies!” Or anything else for that matter.

The biggest lie my inner Prissy tells is that I am fine, competent, delightful and in touch with my faults, notwithstanding a few obvious neuroses. Some days I even believe it. Some days many of you believe it as well. Shame on you for buying my “Snake Oil”.

If you can identify with any of the above, let me share with you my daily regimen for keeping my Prissy in the closet.

1 or A) I remind myself every day that hyper-vigilance is usually the result of childhood trauma and this is not then—it is now.

B or 2) If the former is true, then I don’t have to fear everything as a possible trauma. Hell rarely breaks loose and few criticisms are terminal. Thus it is I refuse to let my Inner Prissy confuse the presence of a stranger with the arrival of Yankee firebrands.

iii) Inasmuch as I don’t like everybody, there is no reason why everybody should like me. People cutting me dead are simply exercising free speech.

4) I ask myself if I really really really need to convince everyone I meet that I am more brilliant, more amusing, more fascinating than they are. First of all it is not always true and second of all, nobody really cares except me. When I can triumph in this step, I will not have to face those painful moments when my Inner Prissy screams at the top of her lungs: “You lose! Now you’re gonna die, asshole!”

And so it goes… and sometimes not so well.

BTW: I was so so privileged to meet Ms. McQueen when she came out in support of the Writers Guild strike in 1988. As a selfless devoted Progressive she will be missed. Her magic still lives and, BTW: she was never happy playing racial stereotypes, but there was only one choice on the Hollywood menu.

WHO IN HELL INVENTED SEX?

I forget just who wrote the line about the god of love pitching his tent in the place of excrement—I could probably look it up and actually tried but all I got back from Google was a raft of Christian Websites and the names of a few tent makers. Who wrote the line is not as important as its being horrifically true.

I mean, if you give half a nanosecond’s thought to the concept of “Intelligent Design” (a misnomer inside an inanity), you must assume that the Intelligent Creator of this particular little round ball in a cosmos of ever-expanding other little round balls had either a really sick sense of humor or no concept of basic hygiene whatsoever.

It is much easier to believe that mammalian genitalia happened by an infinite number of Darwinian missteps than that a God of infinite engineering ability thought it a really swinging idea to make the vagina and anus next door neighbors.

Just imagine the discussion that this Holy and Benevolent Creator had with his design team after the Earth had been created.

G: Let’s hear from the Reproductive Sub-group. Whatcha got there, Fred?
Fred: We hit a wall, Chief. My team is split down the middle. Half wants it to be really really fun. And the other half wants it to be horrifically painful.
G: Painful?
Fred: Yeah, Chief. They call themselves Republicans.
G: Jesus.
Fred: Who?
G: Ooops. Aren’t those the same guys who wanted me to put that damned Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil right where Adam and Eve could see it but not let them anywhere near it?
Fred: They wanted it to be in a gated part of Eden.
G: Right…
Fred: So, whattya want us to do? Make it fun or make it painful to make new creatures?
G: Compromise.
Fred: Compromise?
G: Yeah. I just invented it. Each side gets a little good and each side gets a little bad.
Fred: Half fun? Half painful?
G: Nope. How about really really fun but ultimately a pretty nasty affair.
Fred: Pardon?
G: Where did you put the pooper?
Fred: Down between the legs.
G: Move it back a bit and slip the female reproductive connector in the ‘taint. Leave the other junk where it is now.
Fred: Getting tight down there. We’re running out of room.
G: If it feels really really good I figure animals will find it without a manual.
Fred: Ick. (Sketches a rough drawing) How about the male repro connector.
G: Use the pointy thing.
Fred: The urinator?
G: Yes.
Fred: I don’t see how that’s gonna work, sir.
G: Good Gracious Me, do I have to do everything myself? Figure it out. I want the first pair of humans rolled out by the end of the whatever I called it—
Fred: –Week?
G: Yes. You look dubious.
Fred: (Muttering) Urine is highly acid.
G: Solve it! Unless you want me to replace you with a Republican Archangel. They hate everything.
Fred: Not exactly, Chief.
G: Pardon?
Fred: They seem to be immensely fond of each other.
G: By the end of the week, Fred!
(Fred exits)
G: Who woulda thought making new humans would be such a bitch?

As you can see if the Divine Creator could come up with such an odd way of recreating ourselves, then he was clearly not minding the store. If he was so fond of the mammalian reproduction procedure, why didn’t he use it when creating Adam and Eve? Adam came out of the dirt and Eve came out of his rib. There was no talk at all about anuses and ureters.

Okay, you say, perhaps all the strangely naughty parts of sex came about as a result of Eve and Adam’s eating that fruit that gave them good teeth, good skin and the knowledge of Good and Evil. As punishment perhaps God took away a really poetic method of coitus, like, perhaps rubbing rib cages together breathlessly? I have not personally tried rubbing rib cages together as a means of reproduction, but that doesn’t mean it might not have been a neato idea —especially if the end result was total satisfaction, a physical high to beat all physical highs, and a cute little critter who looks like one or both of us.

If you are still not convinced just on the basis of strange biomedical design flaws, then how about the fact that ever since the first hairy male discovered his urinator could be used for all manner of amusing things, the first hairy female discovered that the urinator’s rigidity often had a disappointing shelf-life. And thus was born the oddly named design defect called “premature ejaculation”. (In truth there is no such thing as premature ejaculation. Ejaculation is ejaculation and may be way too early for some and too damned late for others.)

It seems to this A-theologian that if there were Intelligent Design, the male ejaculation would not happen until it was triggered by the female’s crying out like something from The Amityville Horror. If this had been the case, 75% of psychiatrists and psychologists would be out of work, and would have to have focused on things like bedwetting which is another less than perfect bit of anatomical design.

I can see that many of you are not convinced that Sex is really really weird in spite of the fact that everyone seems vaguely addicted to talking about it, doing it, or watching it or manically NOT DOING IT.

And some of us are not even doing it the way nature appears to have intended it.

Look at the other fallouts from these strange design choices. First there are some people who have never recovered from hearing how sex worked in the first place.

“The Mommy puts her thing in the man?”
“No, dummie. The Daddy puts his thing in the lady.”
“That’s gross! No, it is triple Gross!”

These people go on to have fabulous careers in religion and classical music while some of them just kill themselves rather than consider doing that thing with their things.

If sex had been perfectly or even Intelligently Designed, EVERYONE would love to take it as prescribed.

Good luck with that, Cowboys and Cowgirls.

Before the ink was dry on the first bit of papyrus or Dead Sea Scroll, God sent down word that some of us were not doing it right and should be stoned to death. Rather than doing that gross thing with the urinator and the lady receptacle, some of God’s Chilluns were poking sheep, having a go at horses, the same sex, and wineskins filled with lamp oil.

I postulate (which sounds dirty but isn’t…not the way I do it) that if Sex had been designed well, we would not have to keep farmboys from goats, and priests from acolytes.

Not to put too fine a point on my thesis (which really does sound dirty), consider my Mom’s telling me I was vile-gross-disgusting-and-nasty for playing doctor with the daughter of the Episcopal Priest down the street. We were both 6 years old. It would be a brief four years before she would tell me and my brother about the birds and bees as urinator and receptacle chat was once known. Suddenly I was informed that the entire universe was vile-gross-disgusting-and-nasty and adults were okay with that. I actually asked my mother, “How on earth does a man get a woman to do that?” She replied, rather unconvincingly and without affect, “Because it is the most wonderful experience a woman can have.”

Hello, COGNITIVE DISSONANCE which sounds like a Blog yet to be written.

The fact that I dived into sex head first in no way excuses the fact that Intelligent Design is yet another one of Life’s Unintended Consequences.

I rest my case.

VICTOR DYSLEXIC

I am not quite sure how to write this one.

The experience was amazing and complex but simple and, most of all, evanescent. It all happened in less than one second.

No, I did not die, see a white light at the end of a long corridor, fall in love or solve the personal and political difficulties of our world with a keen insight.

What I think I did was experience what it must be like to be dyslexic. (My apologies to those of you who are truly dyslexic, and I am not trying to diminish or discount the horrible experiences you have had with printed matter.)

5:30 this morning. I am lying in bed next to my wife of 51+ years. She is reading The New York Times and I am reading the San Francisco Chronicle sports section. My 73 year old eyeballs are focused on the part of the paper beneath the fold—some story or other which had grabbed my attention—and my complete conscious mind was focused on the meaning of the words I was reading.

Suddenly I got a message from some part of my mind (it seemed to be on auto-pilot) that the last word in the headline 8 or 9 inches northeast of where I was focused was “TASTE”. No sooner had that news been telegraphed to my Victor-Self , than I actually raised my Victor-Vision to read the entire headline only to discover that the word was not TASTE but STATS. If you had asked me a second before I would have SWORN that the word was TASTE.

By now you are either fascinated or bored senseless. Who cares what an old codger does or does not see while reading a series of things he could care less about? Well, maybe you will be vaguely intrigued when I remind both of us that what the Buddha and Plato said eons ago is true: What we think we see is not really what is there.

For the Dyslexic my experience is a walk in the park—if only misreading were so simply dealt with. But it is my impression that the dyslexic’s vision mixes up everything without regard to any known rules. And when they concentrate harder, sometimes nothing is ameliorated.

At a level more crucial to the Gen-Pop (a prison term of which I am inordinately fond), our minds should never be trusted 100%. Voices from ages ago pollute our heads (“Your Blacks don’t mind poverty all that much.” “We are being robbed by Welfare Queens”. “Gays are sick and must be cured no matter how Draconian the cure.” “You’ll never amount to anything.” “You’re just like your father who should be locked up.”)

Sometimes bored synapses collapse for the sheer joy of it and mistakenly see long lost friends in the crowd. The insecurest of all my neurons demands I be right when my wife suggests I don’t understand what she just said. Fluffy grey matter in my frontal lobe is convinced that some people are really awful and sometimes I am right, but sometimes I am tragically wrong.

None of the above is designed to suggest that I should be institutionalized, but it is in earnest of reminding me that I can have all the thoughts I want, but a percentage of them will always be verkakte! If I want to enjoy a life in what we laughingly call The Real World, I just need to verify before acting like a dick or assuming that The SF Chronicle Sports Editors are writing about TASTE.

And, I have to end by saying my heart goes out to those of you who have struggled with reading since forever. That has gotta suck and it has nothing to do with whether or not you are a genius.

Spectator Democracy

Spectator Democracy—

The Supremes are about to take up the issue of raising the amount of cash the rich and powerful can legally rain down upon their minions in D.C. and the state capitols.

WE, on the other, hand, mere mortals, can do naught but stand by and watch as our Founders’ worst nightmares are realized. We spectate as our personal liberties and our votes are bite-sized, shaved, and gerrymandered into a limbo where we whine, declare ourselves powerless and watch the passing show.

Docile, we are.

If the NSA tells us our Rights have been adjusted for our own safety, we accept this. After all, who knows better than the NSA when we are at risk?

If the NRA tells us that we must own guns to protect ourselves from everyone else who owns guns, we forget to laugh hysterically at the unmitigated gall of their assumptions.

The “Q” in John Q. Public now stands for “quiescent”.

Anyone for creative rage in lieu of Spectator Democracy?

Nite-nite.

MRS. VOORHEES UNVEILED

There is no doubt in my mind that Betsy Palmer was the best possible choice to play Jason’s jilted mother, the benighted cook for Camp Crystal Lake in the very first Friday the 13th in 1980. I have no doubt that my choice to have a mother serve as serial killer was an inspired one—inspired by historical and psychiatric events largely out of my control.

The unimaginable popularity of that original episode was due in large part to actress, script and director making myth magic. But I have, of late, come to be-lieve that the subconscious drive to choose Momma as killer is shared by millions of people just like me.

The archives of cinema horror are jam-packed with male monsters from Dr. Caligari through Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff to Michael Myers of Hal¬lo-ween. With few exceptions torture, pain and terror have been the male animal’s sanctum sanc¬torum.

As hunter-gatherers males have historically made a fairly simple transition from bringing down wildebeests to knocking other males senseless and sucking vir-gins translucent through their fangs. Males can be dangerous, inventive and horribly inverted versions of the Father of our dreams but Mrs. Voorhees brought something uniquely delicious to the banquet of skulls—something witches and vampiras are not designed to embody.

She became a transcendent Mother figure.

I was not conscious of any of this when I carved out the backstory for Betsy Palmer’s character. I was looking for an emotional and credible reason for a woman in her prime to be obsessed with slicing up young and pretty camp counselors. Simple logic was required: her son, a special needs child, was allowed to drown as a direct consequence of two young counselors’ negligence. (They were making love in the nearby forest primeval.)

It was 24 years before I was made aware of the sub-terranean demands my subconscious was making in that spring and summer of 1979. My then therapist turned to me one sunny California afternoon after a year’s worth of such chats and said, “You really don’t know why you wrote Mrs. Voorhees as a woman who did what she did for the reason she did it?”

“I was looking for a different kind of villain,” I said.

“You were looking for the mother you never had,” she said.

“Really?” I said. “I wanted a homicidal maniac for a mother?”

“You wanted one who would stand up for you and punish anyone who hurt you!”

The tears started to flood my eyes. Sixty-five years old and I learned what I had been missing since day one.

My actual mom’s childhood had been no bower of flowers and thus her chief coping skill was a marked tendency towards serious Narcissism. Thanks to that therapist I could opine with gallows humor that if camp counselors had let me drown my mother might have said over my coffin, “He only had himself to blame. I told him to wait an hour after eating before he jumped into Crystal Lake.”

That session of psychotherapy got me thinking that that is Mrs. Voorhees’ secret juju for many of her fans…and they are legion. (Betsy Palmer is one of the biggest draws in the horror convention scene.) Some of us were abused by grownups but our own moms were frozen into inaction. Some of us were abused by our own moms without any surcease. Others were bullied by nasty rotten neighborhood kids and our moms told us to run away or take karate….when all we really wanted was a screaming banshee from hell brandishing a bloody machete, saying, “You will never touch my child again, you son of a bitch!”

And so, even though that same audience may con-scious¬ly root for the sole survivor, Alice, to dispatch Pamela Voorhees to Hades, parts of part of us must mourn the vanquishing of a mythic Momma who took her job just a wee bit too seriously…whose love was darkly admirable.

Too bad my Jason was already dead when he was avenged in spades.

NEVER BET ON WHAT A MAN HAS TATTOOED ON HIS PRIVATES

It was the Summer of 1958 and my parents had finagled a job for me on the island of San Salvador. My boss was Pan American World Airways’ Guided Missile Range Division. Pan Am was the major contractor for setting up and running the chain of tracking stations from Cocoa Beach all the way down to Recife, from Canaveral South.

As a Summer Hire, I was flown MATS to Supply on San Salvador’s installation. I drove a Deuce and a Half truck to the airstrip twice a day to pick up incoming goodies and ship out the outgoing. Having just graduated from the boarding school I had nearly ruined and looking forward to starting at Yale in September, I had every reason to believe that I was “all that”.

The first thing I did was lose the girlfriend I had had at Milton by writing her a glowing letter about “San Sal” (where Columbus is said to have landed—there were several monuments representing the different theories abut exactly where he set first foot in the New World) and how booze was cheap and prostitution was legal.

I never heard from her again.

Having already developed an amateur’s taste for grain spirits, I wallowed in the cheap beer and Methusalem Rum which had a marble in the bottle’s neck to help measure (ha!) one’s pouring. After work with the rest of the guys from Supply, many of whom had well-earned reputations for drinking huge quantities of bad things, we drank at the base bar then stumbled back to our housing in Quonset Huts where you could hear the marbles rolling in the rum bottles after lights out.

When not drinking too much on base, we went a couple of miles to one of the towns on the island which consisted of two or three bars and one or two houses of sin.

The 4th of July, 1958 was one such night and Supply was well represented in the first bar on the right as you walked down San Salvador’s main and almost only street. In addition to Russ, Bill, Disoway, Red, Charlie and me, there were engineers from Burroughs, GE, RCA as well as Sailors who had come in on a supply ship and were determined to overpay for everything. No women, only men, unless you count the waitstaff which consisted of two local women.

It has been far too many years for me to recall which facility “Nightrider” was from, but he was loud, roaring drunk and keen on making a name for himself in an environment where it took a great deal to be worse than anyone else.

He homed in on me like a missile from Cocoa Beach. “Junior?” That was my nickname. Most of the personnel had been hired from a gigantic neer-do-well talent pool which flowed from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana.

“Yes?” I replied, adoring the Cuba Libre in my adolescent palm.

“I have a butterfly tattooed on the head of my dick and twin screws on my asscheeks,” he said loud enough for everyone to hear.

I laughed.

“You think I am messing with you?” Nightrider said, faux wounded.

I nodded. (Five years at very expensive Milton Academy and I couldn’t think up a classical reference with which to dispatch this huge and imposing giant.) “You don’t,” I said.

“How much you willing to put up to call my bluff?” Nightrider countered.

“Five bucks,” I said in a stentorian soused voice. I knew in my heart of hearts no man had ever had a tattoo on the end of his best friend in the world.

Nightrider whipped out….. a fiver.

I whipped out….a fiver.

Nightrider whipped out half a foot of male appendage on which in awesome detail was tattooed as glorious a butterfly as you have ever seen…in five colors.

I gasped.

Nightrider dropped trou and wheeled about to show me and 26 other patrons two of the most amazing 3-bladed propellers as have ever used up all the real estate on a pair of giant buttocks. In five colors.

He covered himself again and removed both fivers from the bar and bought me a Cuba Libre out of the kindness of his heart.

Every one of us has a story like that…an end to innocence we hope….because it is never a good idea to take a bet from a man with a butterfly on his penis and twin screws on his buttocks. You only need do it once to learn.

HOW I ALMOST RUINED AN ENTIRE SCHOOL

 

 

 

·        ONE

 

Like beads tossed from a Mardi Gras float to one and all, con­doms are now available as arugula.  There was a time, not so very long ago, (1956 to be precise), when young men were kept isolated from condoms so that the immoral youths would not rub upon their girlfriends in the backseats of family cars and embar­rass themselves and their dates by their lack of talent at this delightful activity.  It was thus ordained by the morals police that many young women wound up mothering the hell out of innum­erable infants.  Some of you reading this litany may well be the products of this condomless experiment in eugenics.  (The eu­genics in question mated the most convincing and narcissistic young males with the most vulnerable and insecure females.)

 

American swains who had not yet reached eighteen years of age were discouraged from purchasing Trojans, Ramses, Sheik and other latex items by state law and, more chilling, ancient pharm­acists who knew their parents and would rat them out.   (It is worth noting here that in the olden days condoms only came in one color—grey–and had no texture other than smooth, de­priving generations yet to come <ROTFL> of ribs and bumps and all manner of creative landscaping “For Her Pleasure”.)  

 

Those daring young men in my immediate circle who carried a wallet with an obvious circular bulge made by a condom hidden within were knights errant, the coolest of the very cool.  Those of us whose wallets lacked that telltale ring had no way of knowing that the cool guys’ rubbers had been in there for 18 months or more and were certain to be about as effective as wearing a colander into a vagina.

 

To be sure there were any number of self-selected “mentors” who encouraged us to use the rhythm method <which no one ever really understood> or withdrawal which was more of a promise than a reality and never very effective. (There were no Baggies yet and no one thought of using waxed paper or tin foil.)  And thus it was that even if one were lucky enough to find a young woman who was ready to throw caution and her virginity to the winds, one required a condom to ward off any number of nasty consequences, including the unplanned existence of some of you who are reading this. (Even though you may have been a “mistake” I am sure your folks loved you just as much as your younger siblings and don’t blame you for ruining their youth and causing their subsequent divorce.)

 

Our world in the 50’s was rife with tales of “shotgun weddings”, picturing some poor sex addict and his equally unfortunate preg­nant target of opportunity forced to flee to Elkton, Maryland where children could get married out of the limelight and the shame-scope.  Everyone knew everyone’s business in those days and even if your sister disappeared for eight months to “study” with the Sisters of Extreme Mercy in Pocatello, nobody believed it.  The only advice I ever got from my father was, “Don’t knock one up! They’ll sue us for everything we own!”  Some of our wilder cronies swore they knew somebody who knew somebody who could get an abortion on demand in a motel in Kew Gardens. “For a hunnert bucks.”

 

It was a grim and shameful time for unlicensed experimentation.

 

I was hovering between 15 and 16 years of age. Masturbation had long since taught me that coitus could only be a quantum leap beyond the solitary delights which threatened to make me go blind. Tempest Storm, Blaze Starr, and the very new Playboy Magazine had taught me serially that women were the answer to depression, loneliness, insecurity, some really strange parenting and the unwavering belief that I was an irremediable mistake.

 

Problem was, whenever I chatted with a girl, danced with a girl or was anywhere near a girl, my mind inevitably bolted onto forbid­den landscapes where she and I would get naked and do what I had only read about in the few vaguely pornographic novels which had passed my superheated view. (Most of the bodice rippers broke off the narrative when the passionate couple had shredded one another’s clothes or her bodice. [I had to look up bodice to know what one was.] That was followed by a turgid chapter break. The next chapter always began with the two of them waking up in an embrace with the sunrise, obviating the necessity for telling me exactly what they did and how they managed it that I might someday emulate.) Painfully, I was certain that every young woman I spoke to could read my mind and knew I just wanted to share a chapter break with her like the Hero and Heroine of CHERIE, a novel my 50 year-old babysitter had left by mistake (or on purpose) when I was 11.  I was convinced I was thoroughly rotten to the core. 

 

All I needed was to find a person my age, preferably female, who was as rotten at her core as I was at mine.  And thus, if I were successful in this hunt, I would require a condom—and maybe a second  to double wrap myself so that we wouldn’t be sued for everything my father owned.

 

And that is the backstory of how I almost ruined an entire school.

 

·      TWO

 

I think there were six of us in the car that night in January 1956. It was “Sheesh’s” car.  (All names are pseudonymous because, with the exception of me, none of my historical pals have any desire at all to be reminded of how they helped nearly ruin an entire school.) Sheesh had the car because he was 17, had a license and was a day student. He came by his appellation as a result of his always sighing “Sheesh” when you asked him anything he didn’t want to answer.  All of us were students at a prestigious boarding and day school in the Boston area— let’s call “Blakely Academy”—three boarders signed out for the weekend and three day students.

 

Sheesh drove his lovely Ford with Glasspacks, a sound by which I shall ever after judge cars’ exhausts’ deep-throated murmur. We cruised around and for the first hour it was just fun smoking Lucky Strikes, and L&M’s and whistling at women on sidewalks in towns from Dedham to Back Bay.  It never occurred to us that no kid has ever succeeded in picking up a date by having five goon­ey friends making hubba-hubba noises and crying “Wanta Ride?”  But it gave us, to misquote Sam Beckett, the sense that we existed.

 

We existed as men. We were no longer the well-behaved stooges of a system whose goal was to matriculate well-behaved, well-rounded, well-prepared young men for life as a Harvard or Yale graduate. (In fact my class would graduate 48 of us, 25 or so who were admitted to Harvard and nine or ten to Yale.) In Sheesh’s rod we were free of demerits, discipline, training rules and bullying by upper classmen.

 

We were living on the edge.

 

But pretending to live on the edge and really teetering on the brink are two vastly different items on anyone’s life list.

 

For reasons I shall never quite fully understand, I believe it was I who first tossed out the brilliant suggestion that we cruise around the greater Boston area until we found a drugstore where we might buy condoms.  I could have suggested we go to Cambridge and look for a bar that served Harvard freshmen and maybe us. I might have said that we should go see a movie in Roxbury. A donut Shoppe in Mattapan. Some coeds in Chestnut Hill from the ill-named Beaver School.  But, no, I said, “How about we go look for a drugstore that will sell us rubbers?” We were all way below the legal age which may even have been 21.

 

Massachusetts was famous for its restrictive Blue Laws, “Blue” being a word which may have been “disparaging” of the moral codes. Puritans and, later, Roman Catholics, felt a necessity to restrict the sale of alcohol on Sundays, as well as the sale of anything except a newspaper and a bottle of aspirin.  Condoms to minors? No freakin’ way!  It was a dead cert that Sheesh’s car contained no one that night who looked a day over seventeen.

 

I don’t believe I believed we would succeed, but at least it was a goal, however absurd.  It might even be the grist for a tall tale or two on return to the dorms Sunday night.

 

For other reasons I shall never quite fully understand, the rest of my pals gave their assent. Sheesh pulled into a spot across the street from a Rexall Drug Store and I was voted first man in, it having been my idea. I shall not lie: I was terrified I would be arrested for fraud, lascivious carriage (whatever the hell that was) or felonious depravity.

 

    THREE

 

The “safe” buying caper itself has become a cultural cliché, famed in movies and novels of adolescent agony. The squeaky-voiced teen walks boldly (or an approximation of bold as an adult might appear bold which in no way approximates a real adult male who is entitled to keep from impregnating anyone he finds) into the local Rexall, a company that once was the go-to local purveyor of everything from Trojans to a diet candy called, mirabile dictu AYDS. No CVS or Walgreens, these were local franchises and great places to hang out…wooden floors, hanging lamps, ceiling fans, a real pharmacy in the back with real empty capsules which could be filled by a male (almost always) who had mixed up various elixirs on marble tiles. He could hear you coming by the creaking of the floor.

 

Like every movie loser I cleared my throat and picked up some Mennen Spray Deodorant in the green plastic squeeze bottle, placed it before the elderly man wearing the white coat buttoned to the neck like Doctor Kildare enjoyed while curing typhoid.

 

“I’d like some condoms as well,” I intoned, looking for basso profundo but only dredging up something between a tenor and castrato.

 

I avoided his eyes at first but figured I’d look more adult if I locked eyes with him. Big mistake.

 

“How old are you, kid?”

 

When one sees the executioner’s hand start to move on the lever that opens the trap door, a wise man abandons hope. “Eighteen,” I replied, settling the question as to my wisdom.

 

“No, you’re not,” he said in a voice frozen from years of dishing out sulfa and penicillin and gentian violet for trench mouth. Our mothers told us that we had to use straws when we drank at the soda fountains or we’d get trench mouth.  “Do you still want the deodorant?”

 

And yes, just to prove I wasn’t a fraud, I bought the Mennen Spray deodorant instead of leaving it there in a huff.  My pride has always been misplaced owing to—never mind. I am tired of talking about my parents.

 

Back in Sheesh’s car I gave a report, was praised for trying and booed for buying the deodorant like a wuss.  Sheesh powered up and we trooped off to the next and the next, each time trying a different personal shopper.  When we all had failed, we switched and sent in pairs of purchasers with the same pathetic results.

 

And then, when we became really bored with this overwrought caper, I was recycled for the last attempt, this time in Dedham, a block down from the blue lamp that hung over the entrance to the Police Department.  No sooner than I saw the blue light I went back to the car and leaned in, suggesting in my sit rep that this had all the potential for a disaster involving Dedham’s finest and a Roman Catholic legal system that trumped even our Zeus-like Headmaster’s ability to inspire fear.

 

Sheesh and the rest of my bored merry band accused me of being a chicken and suggested that, inasmuch as it had been my idea in the first place, I should damn well better get my “homo” ass in there and succeed. (“Homo” was employed liberally in my era, never as a term of endearment. Gay marriage was six decades away and the only people I knew who used the term “gay” were in the theatre.)  More frightened than before I entered the Drug Store (whatever it was called) and decided against buying extra toothpaste as camouflage for my real objective. “I’d like some rubbers,” I said, devoid of all forms of subterfuge.

 

Perhaps it was my defeatist attitude—I had given up all hope—or my pathetic demeanor that made the square-shaped-middle-age-white-coated pharmacist, say, “What kind?”

 

Absolute eons passed between his question and my reply.

 

“Uh, Trojans?” I sure as hell wasn’t going to get all exotic and say, “French Ticklers?” Moreover I had no idea if he was going to sell me some or was just testing me before destroying my hopes and asking the Dedham PD to stop by and ruin my chances of getting into Harvard, Yale or Princeton.

 

“You want ‘em with the reservoir tip?” he asked, calmly, perhaps secretly enjoying his role as Charon, launch driver to Hell.

 

Inasmuch as the only reservoir tip I had ever experienced was an athletic sock, I felt I should shoot the works. I was going to go with whatever he said so as not to piss him off. “Yep,” I replied, unaware that I was now at risk of wrecking my chances of getting into any college not located on Staten Island.  I could not hear the vast karmic void opening offstage, a cavern which would forever label us as the worst malefactors our school had ever suckled at its didactic bosom in 158 years.

 

“How many?” the registered pharmacist, a man of science with diplomas on the wall behind him and the sworn duty to uphold ALL the laws of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, not just the ones he agreed with…like making you sign the drug book for Terpin Hydrate with codeine even if he suspected you were going to drink it on the rocks.

 

“Two,” I replied.

 

“They come in three or a dozen.”

 

“I meant two of the dozens,” I said, starting to feel as if I were Alan Ladd in “OSS”, putting one over on a Gestapo dummkopf.  I started looking all around now, feeling that this was a pharmacy I could be comfortable in. Next time I had pneumonia I’d swing by and make me the purchase of some Aureomycin. (They were $.50 a pill in those days. Very expensive.)

 

“You want 24 Trojans with the reservoir tip?” he inquired, startled that I was pushing the envelope. Either I was the most amazing juvenile Romeo he had ever known or I was exactly what I was—a thrill-seeking kid who didn’t know a reservoir tip from a ball-gag.

 

I nodded.

 

He went to the large chest of drawers behind him. They were polished wood with brass holders for the cards which indicated the contents written in aqua Parker ink with a wide nib pen.

 

“Brap! Brap!” went the drawer out and then back in. He slapped the two white and red boxes on the counter, asked me if that would be all.

 

“I’m good,” I said, getting cocky, not believing my incredible good fortune and totally unable to consider this could be anything but wonderful for my future.

 

I paid.

 

I smiled.

 

I left.

 

I leaped and skipped my victory dance back to the car. “No way!” my peers cried aloud. I felt like I was on the first step to be­com­ing a legend. After all, I had 24 rubbers! Two dozen’s worth of inarguable coolth! “How many?”

 

“Two Goddamn dozen?! That is fucking amazing!” As boarding school boys born to privilege, we tended to curse more than absolutely necessary to assert our desire to be, above all fucking else, COOL. My real chances of being cool at that or any other time in my life registered someplace between James Dean and Pinky Lee. (You’ll have to look that one up on Bing or Google.)

 

My best friend, Mark, demanded a visual on the items in question. I tossed him the brown paper sack as Porthos would have tossed a coin to a lad holding his horse. “Holy sheep shit,” he said, amazed and at the same time laughing outrageously at the idea of a reservoir tip. “Do they all have these?” he asked.

 

“Just the Trojans,” Clayton Torrance IV said with the complete assurance of a florid-faced 17 year old who didn’t know a thing about reservoir tips. Clayton had a loud voice and huge biceps which made us believe most of whatever he said. “It gives a place for the jizz, so it doesn’t migrate anywhere,” he added, gaining confidence in his ability to make up knowledge on the fly.

 

“I gotta get me some,” “Fusser” said from his corner of the back seat.  He was smaller than everyone else, way cooler, and fairly secretive. He had been caught smoking a Chesterfield behind the chapel in his 8th grade year. One more smoking infraction and he would wind up having to go to some lesser school like Nobles and Greenough or Brown & Nichols.  Two cigarettes’ worth of smoking on campus meant the end of your chances of being anyone…ever.

 

Fusser was called Fusser because he was OCD before it was in­vented.  He kept the neatest desk in study hall and occasionally rearranged the bulletin board when no one was looking. He liked the tops of all the announcements to line up even though he dressed sloppily and without regard to the dress code…tie shoes, hair above the collar, necktie neatly ironed.

 

“Lemme outa here,” Fusser mumbled from a hoarse throat. His voice was always a mix between catarrh and bronchitis.  He and Clayton IV climbed up and over and out.  They kind of ambled, with an affected casualness, into the target Drug Store only to return minutes later with four dozen Trojan Enz.

 

“Did the pharmacist think you were weird coming in right after me?” I asked, suspecting that soon we would all be busted for absurd over-consumption of age-specific latex.

 

“Nah, he was cool,” Clayton replied. “Because we were.”

 

Ten minutes later we had a car with six students and a gross of the forbidden barriers between us and disease, between us and having our fathers being sued for everything they owned. The laughter inside that car was just this side of hysterical as Sheesh accelerated past the blue-lit Dedham PD. I think Mark may have given the finger to the buttoned-up cop shop.

 

On the way back to Mark’s house, we stopped off and tossed a greasy black lighted bomb-shaped kerosene lantern into a snow­drift.  Just to underscore how totally anti-social we were. We were as close to “Blackboard Jungle” as our school was ever going to get.

 

 

. FOUR

 

Unbeknownst to us, the clock of fate had already begun to tick with an ominous tock as we boarders returned to campus that gloomy Sunday evening just in time to show up for dinner and chapel.

 

By accident or, if you are a Deist, Divine Design, The Reverend William Sloane Coffin was our guest preacher in the Memorial Chapel.  Bill Coffin was to be, at that young age, the hippest, slickest and coolest visiting speaker we would ever hear. He stared out as we sat yawning in rows, upperclassmen first and lower toward the back—watched over by our democratically elected Head Monitors, the straightest arrows on campus.  (Not a clown or anti-Christ among them.)  “You gentlemen are all members of ‘The Vegetable Bloc’,” Rev. Coffin declared with a friendly ironic grin and a strange nasal sort of Bronx accent.

 

Unused to being assaulted with irony by a man of God, we laughed. What a hoot.

 

“You are fat, dumb and, worst of all, Happy!” he continued.

 

We almost cheered.  I do not recall the rest of his diatribe against the entitled and comfortable members of our generation. To a person (the Girls’ School boarders were also present towards the back of the back) most of us believed Coffin was speaking about the other people around us or our parents.  He wound up with an exhortation to leave fat-dumb-and-happy and become involved in the vital social issues of our day—segregation, poverty, and a military industrial complex which threated to catapult us onto the rocks of history. Jesus, he insisted in other terms, had balls and we needed to grow some.

 

I thought he was delightful, but surely overstating the facts.  It would be decades before I realized Coffin may have been a man with human-type faults but being wrong was not one of them.

 

As we boarders ambled back to our dorms that Sunday evening an upperclassman came up to Mark and me and asked,  “You guys got rubbers?” The upperclassman was named Billy and had once told me and three other guys that you could make women crazy with your finger. He knew. He had done it. But he didn’t tell us how.

 

Mark and I swiveled our heads to make sure we were not being observed by faculty or finks. In retrospect, I now know we should have marched ourselves right then and there up to the Head­master’s front door and thrown ourselves on his putative mercy.  If outsiders knew the specifics of our mission in Dedham 22 hours later we were already headed to perdition.

 

Blinded by the attention we were receiving from a cool upper­classman, Mark and I replied, “Who told you?”

 

“I don’t remember,” Billy replied. “You selling?”

 

I remember shrugging.  Unbeknownst to me I was now standing on the icy precipice at the bottom of which rested a guillotine. “Maybe,” I said, only postponing the inevitable for a few nano­seconds.

 

“Five bucks,” Billy said.  “For one.”

 

I looked at Mark. Mark looked at me.  I nodded. “Sure,” I replied, computing that now I only had 23 condoms in inventory.  I had plans to use a few for “scientifically experimental purposes” so that, if and when the moment arrived, I would not be all thumbs in front of whatever woman had agreed, insanely, to lie with me as they used to say in The Bible.  Moreover, that five bucks paid most of my overhead in one fell swoop. Beyond that, Billy was an upperclassman.  We had something he wanted. Nobody had ever wanted anything we had!

 

Our stars were on the ascendant and Mark and I and the others were going to ride this newfound fame to places we had only dreamed of—and some we hadn’t thought about…ever.

 

 

. FIVE

 

The next week was like a waterspout off Key West:  a funnel-shaped cloud filled with condensation causing awe and wonder but rarely any destruction. Words cannot express the height and depth of my delight at being famous. It had always been part of my M.O. to confuse attention with love and thus I was giddy with exaltation.  From odd-ball with a sarcastic tongue and middling grades I was on my way to becoming legendary.

 

To be sure we were as careful as we knew how to be.  We had verbal assurances that everyone would keep our secret. Besides, we had the Ace in the hole: if you bought a condom from us, you were now as guilty as we were for possession. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Miserabile dictu, we were completely unaware of the fundamental truth all schoolmasters keep to themselves, to wit: A very small percentage of all children in schools find overwhelming personal validation by acting as double agents. Instead of identifying downwards with the rest of us schmucks, they identify upwards, with the power structure, with “The Man”. They eventually grow up to be life-long Repub­licans, happy to vote against their own economic interests be­cause their ersatz Father Figures claim that unregulated peons are more dangerous than an intelligent oli­gar­chy.  

 

Sunday morning, eight days after the wild night in Dedham.

 

In my dorm all was comme il faut.  The four Roman Catholic students had left earlier to attend their oddball, lower class palace of worship where they bowed down to statues of whackadoodle martyrs and obeyed all the orders of a celibate foreign potentate. (That was not intended as an insult to the RC faith, but a com­mon perception held by my peers and mostly by my father who disliked Roman Catholics more than Jews.) No­body messed with them because, being of Irish extraction, they were tougher than most of us. Mark and I were dressing to attend the Episcopal Church up the street.  Our school was non denomin­ationally Christian and there were only two identifiable Jews who usually went Unitarian. We had to go to one of the local pro­testant churches in the neighborhood each Sunday morning. (I had failed to tell anyone that my mother’s father was named Leovy which is Levy with an “O” in it. My mother told us we were a different fraction Jewish every time we kids asked. I believe it got as low as 1/32 when I last asked. No one appeared to know my secret. In those days it was typical for our students taking third class English and reading THE MERCHANT OF VENICE to do burlesque Hebrew accents all over the campus. “Oh, my ducats, Oy my daughter …oyyyy vey!” The expression “He Jewed me down” was in com­mon parlance whenever we sold things to each other.)

 

Jews were not the only minority regularly pilloried. There were no people of color of any hue on campus unless you count a few wealthy Venezuelans, a Colombian and, ultimately, an exchange student from Pakistan. 

 

(I gag as I write these bits of history, and I take no pride in my culture as it expressed its insecurities. It gets worse.)

 

A popular after lunch recess activity was called “N__G_R BABY” and nobody thought twice about its political or moral ghastliness.  It involved throwing a tennis ball to the top of the middle school roof and calling out the number of another player. If he dropped the ball as it came down, he was an “N” and then an “I” and so on. When a player had “earned” all the letters, he had to stand there while we chucked the tennis ball at his butt.  It didn’t really hurt except for the fact it normalized racism in the most cavalier fashion. (I don’t recall any faculty member ever coming out and telling us we were horrible little racist shits.)  I guess racism wasn’t supposed to count until you did something really mean to a person of color’s face.  (William Sloane Coffin’s sermon had not sunk in yet. His bus rides to Selma were still ahead of him and us.)

 

Mark and I “two-blocked” our neckties and headed into the hall, only to be stopped by the presence of our housemaster, a portly bachelor in his 40’s who had been nicknamed “El Tigre Gordo” by some of the Spanish speaking students.  His face was unreadable. That was odd.

 

“We’ll be late to church,” Mark opined.

 

“You won’t be going to church today,” El Tigre replied with a dark strength just above a whisper.

 

“What will we be doing?” I asked, sensing instantly that we

 were not about to be inducted into a highly secret honor society.

 

“Come with me,” he replied, turning on the heels of his well polished, resoled shoes.  Years after I would recall that all of his actions that morning were standard CIA/MI5/FBI/Military Police procedure for treating suspected terrorists. Give nothing away, start no discus­sions of guilt or innocence, raise the anxiety levels through silence and unaccustomed behavior.

 

We followed El Tigre down the stairs and out the front of our dorm.  We followed him across the quad towards the Main School Building where lay study hall, most of our classrooms and the… administration offices.  I looked at Mark who did not look back. By this time I imagine neither of us had any fantasies about our destination or the reason for this deviation from Holy Communion which we desperately needed at St. John’s.

 

Oddly, I did not pray on that awful walk. I barely breathed. I was terrified and ashamed. I don’t know which was worse, but the concoction was toxic. My face was hot, my fingers were cold. The only comfort I might have taken from this fate was that it was deserved. Many times in my early childhood I had been cruelly blamed for things I never did, so I was really screwed up on the subject of shame.  Shame was the monster under my bed at night, the alien in my closet, the ghost in the outhouse, my closest companion in all manner of guises. Embarrassment was her cousin and one of my worst fears.

 

This was gonna be good. The tears were filling up my reservoirs, just screaming for release behind my exhausted duct muscles.

 

El Tigre Gordo walked into Meade Hall with unwonted efficiency. His shirt cuffs were showing three quarters of an inch both left and right.  I let Mark go inside first, wishing I had the resources—no, the balls—to slam the door and run as fast as I could to Route 128 and hitchhike to Iceland.

 

I followed them in.

 

The marble floors and wainscoting echoed our footsteps like the sounds they used on my favorite radio program, DRAGNET, when Sgt. Joe Friday was returning from hours on the streets of LA obsessively doing the kind of detective work that caused him to live, unmarried, with his mother, in what was clearly an uncool lifestyle.

 

But I was not Joe Friday.

 

“Wait here,” El Tigre intoned, pointing to several chairs in the hallway outside The Headmaster’s Office.

 

Mark and I sat, at attention, hands under our armpits, arms across our chests. My eyelids were hot.

 

“Miller,” El Tigre said from just inside the outer office of the inner office of The Headmaster of Blakely Academy, Franklin Seymour Lloyd.

 

I looked at Mark who shot me the briefest of looks. I stood and entered the outer office of the inner office. El Tigre turned and entered the inner office. I could still bolt for freedom. Hell, I was only 15 and a half. I had my whole life in front of me. I could lie about my age, join the Marines and start all over again after my hitch.

 

I entered The Headmaster’s Office.

 

Franklin Seymour Lloyd was the son of Professor Seymour Alton Lloyd, the grandson of Professor Franklin Bigelow Lloyd, all renowned as educators—men who had spent their lives in the oxygen-free atmosphere of Cambridge, Harvard, Groton, Phillips Exeter, Phillips Andover.

 

Franklin Seymour Lloyd was the kind of aged that comes with the word “dry” attached. His skin was dry and creased, his sense of humor was dry and elegant.  His features were like the north face of some bit of granite shipped from Vermont.  His eyes were blue and bordered by laugh lines which made him beloved. His wire rimmed spectacles were perfectly round. His laugh was dry, his voice was parched. Upon entering any room he could light up the place. His presence was electric. His sense of himself had long since been decided by the gods on Olympus and his nickname on campus was, obviously, “Zeus”.

 

On this notable Sunday morning, he was not in his pew at The Congo Church up the lane and he was not happy about that or anything else. He did not speak until I had taken the chair provided for me in front of his immense mahogany desk.  The extra skin on his cheeks and throat vibrated with barely re­pres­sed rage.

 

His words were chosen with disdain as if he would rather bathe in hot tar than speak them to me.  “Mr. Miller, you and your confreres have brought the worst disgrace to this Academy in its entire history.”  We both knew that the school was established in 1798. I noted that he did not ask me if I were guilty of anything.

 

“Not satisfied to keep certain latex items to yourselves, you and the others of your despicable group…” He paused, I guess, un­wil­ling to get to the retail phase. “…marketed these banned items throughout the Academy. A vile and disgusting lack of morals and an unforgiveable violation of the student code at Blakely.”

 

I assumed that Constitutional guarantees did not apply here. Acting in loco parentis, Franklin Seymour Lloyd could be as unreasonable as my birth parents. Thus he never had to ask why I might have done what we both knew I had done.

 

When I first entered his office, I believed that I felt as ashamed as I could ever feel. By this point in his screed my shame had broken all records for self-loathing and terror. Tears had begun to release themselves unbidden from my eyes. I dried them from my cheeks with my woolen sleeves. It never occurred to me that in 60 years condoms would be doled out freely everywhere but in Roman Catholic Men’s Rooms.  If only I could have known then that 50+ years later I would think this was the most wonderfully absurdist moment in my entire life and not care who knew what I had done.

 

As in any good absurdist work, whatever the author says is crucial is crucial, even if it seems absurd, that being the point. In today’s society, I am guessing that this generation’s Headmaster would chat about “teachable moments” in lieu of making each of us feel like the loathsome little scumbags we were.  In fact I was at an alumni schmoozing cocktail party for my wife’s prep school in the mid 60’s when the school guidance counselor told the group that the second time a student is caught smoking, he or she gets the choice between a suspension or an addiction work­shop. An elderly alum cried out, “..the student gets the CHOICE!?”  That was the adult version of WTF back then.

 

As I write for readers in the 21st Century I am well aware that it takes serious imagination to see our misdeeds as repulsive as the Faculty saw them in 1956. (Our acceptable level of racism was much worse seen from 60 years later.)

 

Making buying a gross of Trojans a “teachable moment” in the ‘50’s would have been impossible anywhere but at The Putney School in Vermont where children were encouraged to be them­selves. Like many of its epigoni our academy was based on the classic Brit model, replete with irrational bachelor floor masters, excellent classics, modern languages, English, sciences and Sports. Nowhere in our upraising did it say that we should each try to uncover our authentic selves.  We were taught to stand whenever an adult entered the room, open doors for upperclas­smen and women, sign out whenever we set foot off campus, not own radios until we were 17 or thereabouts, wear bathrobes in the corridors. The school did everything our parents would be hard pressed to accomplish on their own but with much more whining. 

 

We could pass for gentlemen even if some of us were not.

 

Teachable Moment? We were being taught to stifle it, Edith. We were the lumps of clay. They were the sculptors. Years later I learned from the staff of the Education Department at UMASS that children who had discipline problems were less able to pro­ject themselves forward in time. They were not necessarily mor­ally bankrupt. Had my friends and I had any sense at all we might have projected ourselves forward into the austere offices of Franklin Seymour Lloyd. With tears rolling down our collective cheeks.

 

I did not look up at Zeus when I asked, nigh breathless, “Should I …go back to my room… and pack… my things?”  I was anxious to end this torture. I knew I was guilty. Evidently he knew I was guil­ty and I had no excuse except for youthful ex­uberance. (To the best of my knowledge “youthful exuberance” has never worked as a legitimate defense anywhere at any time.  It was almost always used as in one of The Goon Shows when a character was asked why he had murdered so many people? He replied, “I guess I’ll have to put it down to ‘Youthful Exuber­ance.”)

 

I was terrified at the thought that I would have to call my parents and tell them on this Sunday morning I would be coming back to Long Island for good. “Mom? Dad?  I have been busted for selling rubbers to all the kids at my boarding school.” (Did I mention that my parents were in The New York Social Register?) But I had been a disappointment to my parents before and I figured I would be the identified shit as usual. My older brother and sister were measurably more brilliant and my younger brother was a great kid whom everyone loved.

 

“No,” the Headmaster said. “Your case is of such a nature that it will take time to uncover its ramifications and measure its impact. Your actions have cast an immense stain on an institution which has been 158 years in achieving a reputation for excellence. You are to return to your room. You are ‘on bounds’ until further notice. You will meet all the other obligations of your program, classes, sports, etc. “

 

“When will we know…uh…your decision?” I asked, much prefer­ring the thought of immediate firing to the agony of waiting days and days in shame and ridicule for the final spiked shoe to drop.

 

“When we tell you,” Franklin Seymour Lloyd replied, totally de­void of any joy in making me squirm.

 

I left his office, tears puffing my eyes and cheeks, unable to look Mark in the face for fear of showing just how scared I was. I was not at all cool.

 

The walk back to my dorm was cold, lonely, and colored by inverse ratiocination. My limited ability to think rationally was turned on its head as I prophesied doom of the worst sorts, leaving no room for any kind of future. In one swoop I had destroyed my life whatever that was. I would never be able to hold my head up and look anyone in the eye again. My reputation was sealed. People at The Cold Spring Harbor Beach Club or The Lloyd Neck Bath Club would wince and turn away whenever I showed up.  I might as well join the Marines and try to win the Medal of Honor by killing myself to save my platoon.  Nothing short of that would cleanse my future or obliterate my past. “Victor Miller? You mean the dirty guy who sold rubbers at prep school and then saved all the guys in his platoon?”

 

At lunch that afternoon I was aware that all the faculty heads of table were giving us the evil eye. Some of the upperclassmen were in on the scoop and shook their heads as we passed by.  Mark and I tried to make jokes about it quietly between ourselves but we were each aware that the jokes were lame, thready, lacking our usual jazz. “Gallows Humor” is only funny to the hang­man.

 

“Jesus, are you guys in trouble,” my roommate said. “What the fuck did you think you were doing?” He was a dorm monitor and received the jungle telegraphy earlier than most. He failed to mention that I had gifted him with two condoms for free a week earlier.

 

“You think they will kick us out?” I asked, pretty sure he was in the know.

 

“They have to,” he replied. “What kind of message would it send if they let you birds go free? The Board of Trustees aren’t about to pretend it didn’t happen. You might as well have raped the Headmaster’s wife.”

 

“Jesus,” I said. The fact that he was equating selling condoms with rape did not seem all that absurd to me at the time. That’s how upside down 1956 could be.

 

I did not sleep well that night or any other night that week.

 

The regular school week was punctuated by whispers, strange looks and the occasional pointed remarks by one or more of our classroom teachers—especially our English teacher, Frederick Eaton, an aging wisenheimer who asked a question on “The Scarlet Letter” by saying, “Perhaps one of The Dirty Boys would care to answer that?”

 

Titters and giggles. Nervous laughter at us from the students who were not in trouble, preternaturally happy that those weren’t their necks on the chopping block.

 

“What are you going to do when you get home?” Sheesh asked me Wednesday morning. I was sitting at my desk in study hall before school so that no one would talk to me. I knew what the “conversation” would sound like, always ending up with us being stupid dumbasses who shoulda known better. Some of the day students asked us which pharmacy we went to after telling us we were dumbasses.

 

I shrugged, half afraid to be seen speaking with him. “I dunno. Maybe go talk to the people at Huntington High School. I wanted to go there in the first place. Maybe I am finally getting my wish. It’ll kill my parents, but fuck it.”  I was trying to speak as if things would work out. It didn’t feel real, but it kind of helped. “You?”

 

“Join the Navy,” Sheesh said, knowing that his eyesight wasn’t good enough to get into any branch of the armed forces. “Be­come a bookie.” He shrugged.

 

We were called back to Franklin Seymour Lloyd’s office the following Sunday morning.

 

 

 

. SIX

 

There were six armchairs lined up against the far wall of the Headmaster’s Office. That was different. The Dirty Boys entered in single file and took seats there. We wore dark suits, white Oxford shirts, subdued ties, tie shoes and muted socks.  Not one of us crossed his legs. 

 

Against the far wall our housemasters or advisers sat staring at us with expressions you would never want to see on your own returning jury’s faces. We were written off as being beneath contempt.

 

Zeus cleared his throat as he stared at each of us in turn. He tapped a file folder in front of him, betraying not the least jot or tittle of sympathy for our feelings. He was not a sociopath, but the feelings and opinions of students were rarely of paramount importance at this rarified level in the “sleepaway school” edu­cational model. We knew that we were not to speak unless spo­ken to and so we sat there looking neither left nor right, avoiding as many eyes as possible.

 

“I have had extensive meetings and conversations with the Academy’s Board of Trustees concerning the repulsive situation which your lack of judgment has caused”, Zeus proclaimed.  “As a direct result of your gross indif­fer­ence to common decency you have brought shame to the school, its faculty and to each and every student who lives by its code of ‘Truth and Honor’.

 

 

“The universal reaction to your egregious behavior which, besides being a willful violation of Commonwealth statutes that could result in your being arrested, has been to terminate your mem­bership in our community.”  He paused and we assumed that the pause meant we were dead meat.  I cleared my throat and leaned forward to exit asap.

 

“However, certain members of the Board of Trustees, after study­ing each of your cumulative records, argued for allowing you to remain under the strictest and most stringent conditions in order to discover if, indeed, your lives and reputations can be salvaged.” He looked at each of us in turn.  “I must ask you boys two questions and I want you to consider them carefully before you reply. First, Do you believe that you are worth keeping here at Blakely Academy and second, Do you truly wish to be allowed to remain?”

 

I could hear the sound of ten other lungs refilling with oxygen. The fucking school was going to be magnanimous? We were going to be allowed to stay? They were going to be Christian? No fucking way!  

 

Zeus asked each of us the two questions and noted our replies in his file folder. To a man we answered “Yes” to both questions to stave off the worst kind of public humiliation.

 

“’Yes’ is an easy word to say,” Zeus continued, “but now I shall specify under what conditions you will be allowed remain here. First, you shall all be on final probation until the end of the current school year. Any further infraction of Academy rules will be met with immediate expulsion. Second, a report of these events will be included in your cumulative records and will be relayed to the colleges of your choice—-“

 

Sharp intake of breath by all 12 of our lungs. Holy Jumping Judas Priest.  We were only here to get into the college of our choice. What college in its right mind would accept six students who would probably grow up to be pimps?

 

Headmaster Lloyd continued: “—UNLESS your records from here until your graduation are unblemished.”

 

Twelve lungs released air.

 

“Further, for the next six weekends the six of you will be required to work for the Grounds Crew, shoveling snow off the walks, the hockey rink, and any other manual labor required. This is intend­ed to act as a reminder of your incredible lack of judgment and in its public aspects as a signal to the rest of the student community that we hold ourselves to a higher standard than that to which you corporately descended.”

 

That’s bullshit, I thought.

 

“And further”, Franklin Seymour Lloyd intoned, “each and every one of you will be required to hand in to your housemaster or your Day School Advisor the entirety of your collection of these certain latex products.”

 

Ooops. Alan Farley, our straightest arrow, our best-behaved Dirty Boy, our least likely to show up in a Boston suburb with condoms, cleared his throat and raised his hand.

 

“Farley?” Zeus said.

 

“Sir, what if…some of these…uh…obj—items—have…uh, been—disposed of?”

 

Zeus looked as if Farley had just cut a wet fart in front of the entire group. He quickly replied: “Provide a list accounting for each and every one of these…” he winced…”items.”

 

“Shall I just write down—“ Farley started.

 

“DISPOSED!” Zeus said with his voice almost cracking.  He rushed to his last announcement. “I have called each of your parents and asked them to come to the Academy this week so that I might explain to them the severity of your infraction and the steps the school has taken to insure it will not happen ever again.”

 

Holy shit, I thought, safe inside my head with my own vile and disgusting verbiage. My parents would have to drive five hours from Long Island. This was not going to be cute.  Maybe I should have taken the choice of Huntington High School instead.

 

“Dismissed,” the exhausted Headmaster said.

 

In our minds we bolted out the door. In reality we marched solemnly into the outer office, the corridor past the black and white photographs of the graduates who had died in World War II, and, finally, outdoors.

 

“Holy shit,” Sheesh whispered.

 

“Amen,” Farley muttered.

 

“Infuckingcredible,” I said.

 

“That was mighty white of the Board of Trustees,” Clayton urged.

 

Fusser said nothing until he added, “I hate all those bastards.”

 

“Shovel snow off the hockey rink?” Mark asked.

 

“While being watched by the rest of the student body going ‘Tsk-tsk’,” I added.

 

“I still say it was mighty white of the school not to throw us upon the dustbin of history,” Clayton opined lifting the discus­sion to an opaque level.

 

We shut up, aware that we were being followed by our dorm masters and advisors. It would not do to appear relieved and it is very difficult to show gratitude on one’s face, especially from behind.

 

El Tigre Gordo caught up to us and stopped us, backed up by his cohorts on the faculty. “I hope you are all grateful that The H.M. fought for you out of the kindness of his heart. Otherwise you would all be packing your suitcases at this very minute.”

 

“Yessir,” we choraled, trying to appear more grateful than re­lieved. As a member of the Dramatic Society I had acted in all the plays, but I was not a good enough actor to “play” gratitude on my face.

 

The housemasters and Advisers strode manfully off leaving us in the middle of the giant quad to explore our feelings.

 

“Fuck them all,” Fusser said. “I wanted to be kicked out.”

 

“What about our parents?” Farley asked, very tentative.

 

“Why couldn’t they just make a phone call?” I asked. “My Mother and Father have got to drive up here and back just to hear that I am a fucked up little shitbag?”

 

“Ya’ think Zeus couldn’t use the word Trojan over the phone to your father at his office?” Sheesh said.  “What’s that all about?”

 

“I hate them all,” Fusser mumbled. “Fucking lying hypocrites and douchebags.”  To the best of my knowledge, at least in our circle of conversational acquaintances, the word “douchebag” as an epithet was a relatively new word choice.  (It had come into use circa 1950 and has since been used to the point where it has lost all flavor and punch.)  Fusser was, of course, in the vanguard of linguistic opprobrium. And that made him very cool.

 

OK, here’s the thing:  I have been holding this back since the very beginning of this history. It might have ruined the surprise, but I can’t keep it to myself.

 

FRANKLIN SEYMOUR LLOYD NEVER INTENDED TO KICK US OUT!

 

True.

 

 

 . SEVEN

 

Here is my proof.

 

In 1960 my sister was married to a successful Boston Attorney. She had actually been married to him since 1954. They lived in Chestnut Hill with their delightful daughters (eventually 5 in number) and played host to me whenever I hitchhiked up to Massachusetts from New Haven.

 

On one of those truly wonderful weekends (my sister and her husband were terrific entertainers and included me as if I were important and that was the nicest gift anyone could ever give me) my brother-in-law confided to me that he had just had lunch that day with Judge Grantholm, the Head of the Barkley Academy Board of Trustees, a scion of Boston’s aristocracy, jurisprudential as well as cultural. My brother-in-law, let’s call him Bill, happened to men­tion that he and my sister were hosting me for the week­end and mentioned I was a graduate, class of 1958, named Victor Miller. The Judge, as Bill reported it to me, nearly gagged on his watercress as my name recalled for him one of the worst times he had ever experienced as the spiritual and moral and financial guide of Barkley.

 

To the avid listener, my brother-in-law, the Judge was visibly exercised as he recalled how everyone on the Board of Trustees and the Administration and the faculty of Barkley wanted us tossed onto Clayton’s “dustbin of history” or, more better, buried under tons of loam for the new football field.  To a man they were revolted. The Dirty Boys represented everything in the universe that was NOT Barkley Academy.  We were toxic. There was no antibiotic that could ever expunge our spreading stain.

 

“But you didn’t expel them,” Bill said, himself a graduate of Groton, much chic-er than Barkley.

 

The Judge paled. His wattles vibrated. “We knuckled under to fear,“  he said quietly.

 

“Of my brother-in-law and five idiots?” Bill inquired.

 

The Judge paused. “Of scandal,” he replied. “Pure and simple.” He took three quick sips of water. “We had no doubt that the negative publicity would find itself featured on the lower right-hand corner of the front page of The New York Times, just as that mess at St. Simon’s did ten years ago.” He reminded Bill that Barkley was a school which features “parallel education”, a girls’ school on one side of the street and a boys’ school on the other. Between them lies a massive wooded cemetery where males, females and those goddamned latex things could congregate if not in reality at least in the minds of the public. Who would send his daughter to our sister school if he felt we were providing every little weasel with the means to liberate his precious little girl from her virginity?”

 

I was goggle-eyed as Bill unraveled the story of how a school’s duplicity had us totally buffaloed. We believed every word they said about how kind and generous they were being to us…except, perhaps, for Fusser. We truly believed we had ruined the school in one embarrassing swoop.

 

Liars! Menteurs! (I took French all five years at Barkley.)  Hypocritical prigs.

 

And then it struck me. Judge Grantholm had told my brother-in-law the truth a mere four years after the event, knowing that Bill would undoubtedly spill the spoiled beans to me. I could puzzle for decades over his motives. Did he want Bill to tell me that they won, making us actually believe they were being Christian and not weasels? Or did he want me to know how really disgusting they thought us to be?

 

Regardless of his motives, the six of us had to spend the oncom­ing week in a newer but more awful dread—our parents being let in on our shame.

 

. EIGHT

 

I was told that my parents had arrived on campus the next Saturday morning. I was not invited to see or speak to them until the following day when my father came to pick me up and drive me to where he and my mother were staying in Cohasset.  He said nothing as I got into his car, signed out by special arrange­ment with my housemaster. I was not cool. My father and I had not been close since 1948 when he found it increasingly difficult to relate to me or my siblings. I was afraid. I was ashamed. He didn’t need to say a word.

 

Ten minutes later he offered, after clearing his throat, “Your mother was afraid you had knocked up some poor girl.”

 

I didn’t know if I should have been relieved. Was selling condoms worse than not using one and sleeping with some girl whose lack of virtue approximated mine?

 

I think I said, “Unh-hunh.”  All I knew was that any pride my father had ever had in me was gone.  Even though I hated the way he slurped his grapefruit at breakfast, I still had wanted him to be proud of me.

 

“Whose idea was this little escapade?” my father asked eleven miles later. Commander John D. Miller, Jr. had been in the U.S. Naval Reserves when Pearl Harbor happened and the next thing he knew he was commanding a Destroyer Escort in the North Atlantic, dodging German torpedoes. Later he was shifted to the Pacific Theatre fighting off Japanese Zeroes who tried to fly down his smokestack. I did not know it at the time, but I don’t think he was ever the same afterwards. He was never comfortable with us if we ventured anywhere into the land of odd. It made him an­x­ious and then angry. After the war he had a nervous tic while driving that would have been a parody of Parkinson’s if it hadn’t been so sad. He never sought help for it. He and my mother be­lieved psychotherapy was a ridiculous invention which invari­ably made everything the mother or father’s fault. That didn’t stop our mother from telling us that almost all our complaints were psychosomatic.

 

I lied to my father.

 

“I don’t know, Dad,” I said. “It was just kind of all of us. It kind of just happened.”  I was, at that time at least 92% certain that it was I who had steered our adolescent craft between the Scylla of Lust and Charybdis of Risk. Unlike Odysseus my pals had not filled their ears with beeswax so as not to hear my siren call.

 

“Hmm,” my father said. He twitched in his seat as if his spine needed realignment.

 

The rest of the trip to Cohasset was silent, except when he offered that he and my mother had considered punishing me further by not letting me get my driver’s license this summer after I would turn 16. But, he said, on further consideration they adjudged that the school’s punishments should suffice.

 

Thank Heaven for any mercies, I thought.  I had come down with a wicked head cold the day before they arrived on campus and this time I was convinced that my mother was probably correct. It was psychosomatic.

 

I kept waiting for my parents to come down on me hard but somehow their having been born and raised in New Orleans for all those years—in a city where every one of their fathers had mis­tres­ses or could tell you where the “Houses of Ill Repute” were—conditioned them to be more accepting of men’s fascination with genitalia, theirs and those of whatever sex they choose.

 

Jack and Barbara had drunk their fill during Prohibition and beyond. The Depression had given them a good scare but not enough to send them to Cali­for­nia to become migrant farmers.  My father had tried the broker­age business in stocks and then cotton and never starved. My mother’s father was a well-to-do maritime lawyer in New Orleans who had married the slightly whacked out daughter of the Episco­pal Bishop of Louisiana who may or may not have been over fond of laudanum. She wrote poetry and hung out on the ledges of hotel rooms from which my mom had to drag her back to keep her from offing herself.

 

Somehow I believe their backgrounds in The City That Care Forgot made them partially immune to the severity of The New England sense of propriety and extreme version of sin. Hester Prynne had never fully paid for her unwise desire to find comfort in the arms of a lying sack of shit man of the cloth.  Many of my father’s gen­er­a­tion had inherited a distinct aversion to Yankees with differing ideas about what legally constituted a citizen, dating back to The War of Northern Aggression.

 

After all, my mother had first attracted my father’s attention at a debut ball by mixing a drink in her mouth…ice cube, followed by scotch and then a splash from a soda water siphon, swallowing, spitting the ice cube into a nearby spittoon.  That would hardly have passed for proper behavior from a socialite on Beacon Hill in Boston.

 

“Don’t do it again,” Commander Miller said as we arrived in Cohasset.

 

(My mother, God bless her, confided in me years later that she was shocked that the school felt they had to deliver the news in person…that neither mail nor telephone would have sufficed.  And, years later she thought the whole affair was blown “..way the hell out of proportion.”)

 

For the next six weeks The Dirty Boys travailed as members of the grounds crew. The actual grounds crew found us mildly amusing.  One of them told me any time I wanted a rubber, just to ask him. He had a supply.

 

The rest of the student body quickly tired of finding us amusing and we were stuck actually doing the work together. Like so much of my life, the law of inverse consequences took over and we enjoyed ourselves for four of those weeks, bonding even closer than before.  Having slipped past the ultimate fate, we could now joke about it as if we had never quailed at the sight of Franklin Seymour Lloyd. 

 

That June as we passed to the next level we were also passing the test to which the school had put us. Not one of us had gotten into more trouble necessitating our expulsion. If any of us had to confess, I suspect we all would answer that we were happy for the way things worked out. During our reign as Condom Salesmen to the masses there was always the terror that we would be caught. Our punishment actually released us from that fear, though it was always uncomfortable when one of the faculty members would make a point of slipping our evil into a casual chat, as in, “So, Miller, what’s your next crime spree going to be?”

 

Smile.

 

It’s all you got.

 

Would I do it again if I had the chance?

 

Just who would give me that chance?

 

And yes.  We all got into Harvard and Yale and other Boutique Universities because our cumulative records were clean as the driven snow.

 

And yes because I loved being that guy. After the shame passed a dozen or so years later, I dined out on my tale. People loved hearing about that crazy car full of kids on a quest to be cool. Eventually I wrote a screenplay about it that never sold because nobody gave a damn about condoms which, by that time, had become as common as arugula. 

 

My adventure in retail has become an amusing oddity, like books on eugenics and texts on why masturbation causes psychosis, premature ejaculation and hair loss.

 

Times have changed drastically.

 

But I was famous then.

 

And isn’t that the same thing as love?

 

Fin.

 

 

 

The Great Bamboozling Continues

{The following essay was inspired by the book, CONFEDERATE RECKONING by Stephanie McCurry, Harvard University Press, 2010. I am grateful to her for helping me see today’s insanity in light of America’s 19th Century madness, otherwise known as The Civil War.}

The Fattest of today’s Fat Cat Republicans (who used to be called Democrats in the 1850’s) have always excelled at bamboozling white and blue collar white males—-the so-called “yeoman class” who spend their lifetimes believing they have a chance at The American Dream. Unfortunately, all the working class ever gets is spider bites while their “Betters” on their lush tuffets get the curds and whey in a cruel sleight of hand by some very talented and nasty folks. I ought to know. My ancestors were on the wrong side of what they preferred to call “The War of Northern Aggression”. My progenitors in the 19th Century helped give the working class in the South a monumental screwing and 150 years later the 1% is still doing it as we speak.

Consider a new perspective on the war among the United States that always seemed so romantic—a dashing and heroic lost cause against a wise and empathetic Honest Abe. Southern war deaths were an estimated quarter of a million and “change”. Valiant slaveowners fighting for a way of life in which no white man would ever be made to work as a valet or bootblack, a field hand chopping cotton or cane… And yet the actual numbers are staggering: Only an estimated 7% of those valiant Sons of the South owned black men.

Ponder that box score: Of the estimated 258,000 young Southern men who died only 18,060 actually had an actual economic “dog in the fight”, a good old Dixie expression. Pray ask yourself: How on earth did the 7% convince the 93% to lose arms, legs, brothers, fathers, sons and lives in a doomed cause to support a Slave-ocracy? Were the poor and middle class whites on the sidelines praying that some fine day they could own a slave or three?

I asked some young men the same sort of question back in 1990’s Chicago. Good staunch and white, these kids were firemen, cops and office workers on the first three or four rungs of their careers. Our modern yeomen. “You all going to vote for Al Gore?” I asked, assuming far too much.

They laughed as if I had just stepped out from an alternate universe. “Bush?” I asked, really puzzled. They nodded. “But,” I continued in my foolishness, “not one of you makes over $100,000 a year. Why on earth would you vote against your own economic interests?”

Rather than engage in an argument with an out-of it Left Winger from the East, they went back to their chat about The Bulls, the Bears and hunting—Basketball, Football and Deer. I am guessing that their choice of a Republican President netted them very little in the way of cash.

That same election cycle I was astounded by a good motorcycle buddy, a retired firefighter who was as ardent a Republican as one could be. Over the course of several hundred miles’ worth of trips around California, Nevada, Arizona and farther east, my pal, whom I’ll call Dave, laid out his belief structure: You make your own bed and you lie in it and nobody gets to have a government bed maker. He quoted the old Ronald Reagan meadow muffin about the Cadillac Welfare Mother (code for “Negress”, as my late parents would have said) and the Food Stamp Abomination and Gays and Lesbians wrecking marriage between normal folks and this intolerable living in a deficit which FDR invented and Social Security which will be gone by the time anyone’s grand children or great grandchildren reach 65 or 70 if they jigger the deal or 75 or God knows what-all if all the babies aren’t aborted by then. And where in The Constitution does it say that OSHA can come in and make American factories so “safe” that we have to export them to Bangladesh? Costing us jobs?

I gave up. I was too weak, too confused, and too blown away by how beautifully was Dave’s constructed defense of the very people who had made and would continue to make a bloody mess of the United States for the rest of us.

In 1859-1860 I would not have been alone in the South. There were Unionists as they were called and they tried to point out the insanity of and the treason of seceding from the United States over an issue as abominable as defining personhood and citizenship by one’s color (and gender for that matter). The Unionists were more successful in the Upper South than the Lower South, but, after President Lincoln called for an army to deal with South Carolina and other yahoos who might decide to follow that treasonous path, Southern Unionists were tarred and feathered, murdered, or forced to run North if they didn’t change their beliefs with celerity. (Some stayed, at risk of life and limb, and worked as spies for the North, forever ostracizing themselves from the core of Loyal Southerners.)

The question remains: How did the outrageously entitled wealthy 7% convince the social and economic middle and lower classes to have their limbs blown off to preserve “Our peculiar institution” as planters liked to call owning people of color…well, not people actually. Property, more like.

It kind of makes you ask, why did the planters have to convince anyone of anything? Weren’t they numerous enough to fight their war for their slaves all by their entitled white selves?

No.

First and foremost, they had to get scads of warm bodies to fight their war, warm bodies who would choose “patriotism” over common sense and self preservation. The planters would all be officers, especially cavalry officers with swords and sashes like my relative, General Earl Van Dorn, but full-scale war on the 19th Century Napoleonic model needed bullet-catchers, waves of grape-shot absorbers and an infinite number of color bearers. And thus was trotted out the favorite word of the 1% when they are really up to something tricky: DEMOCRACY! They had to convince the yeomen that it wasn’t about slavery, it was about human rights. (I am puzzled that no one broke into gales of sarcastic laughter whenever planters spoke of human rights as owners, who traded, killed, raped and branded live humans.) (I do recall my father explaining to me in the 1940’s that “…slaves had a much better time of it than the poor whites who had to eke out a hardscrabble living.” I believe my father had been told this by his father and his father’s father. Thus it was traditional that I imbibe at the same font. A few years later my older brother came home with Josh White’s recording of “Strange Fruit”—“…hanging from Southern trees”, a song about lynching Black people, my father confiscated it because it was repulsive. Inherited Southern guilt took many odd forms.) I do not doubt that my father (born in 1906 New Orleans) had witnessed a lynching or knew people who had. I do remember his telling us that Blacks were happier among their own kind.

[Democracy is that word that the 1% (or, in this case, the 7%) uses to imply that we are all equals, all in this together with equal rights and equal stakes.]

The 7% of the South began the great bamboozling of the 93% by painting a picture of terror if the horrible abolitionists laid waste to the slave states. The dialogue changed from owning slaves to core values of the unique South. Picture this! All of a sudden Negroes would be free to wander around loose with the same rights as Whites who were evolutionarily and scientifically and socially and geopolitically superior. The agitprop of the Deep South made it clear that white jobs would be at risk if slaves were free to compete for the same jobs as their betters. More importantly, however, white jobs took a back seat to the much-bruited fear of freed slaves taking white women—wives and daughters and sisters and mothers—willy and nilly, by force or choice. (Holy Smoke! What if it were true that white women might prefer the stronger, more “primitive” black males?)

It hardly needs elaborating here that the newspapers and the prime media outlets of the day were owned then as now by the folks with the most to lose if the status quo were tossed into the trash. Handbills, posters, papers, travelling lecturers, all combined to create a fearful future for poor whites. That soon morphed into a nobly romantic struggle to protect white women (who were not citizens and required paternal protection) against hordes of marauding Yankees and the over-sexed rampaging former slaves.

This brings to mind the brilliant but not by any means new “Southern Strategy” the Republicans employed to gull erstwhile Southern Democrats into following Reagan and Nixon and a bunch of Bushes. (Hell, young Bush even used it against his own party hopeful, John McCain, by alleging he had fathered a black child out of wedlock.) And Reagan had that Welfare Momma laughing all the way to the bank fleecing the poor but honest white kids who actually worked for a living. (It is interesting that one minute Blacks are shiftless lazy parasites and the next they are job thieves depending upon whom you are trying to terrify. Affirmative Action anyone?)

If being terrified of slaves raping everyone’s mother weren’t enough, how about them voting? Democracy as understood by the elite involves any number of hypocritical contortions. Democracy is fine so long as the poor don’t get a hold and try to steer the damn thing. Lately we have seen a few Republicans building all manner of restrictions and barriers designed to keep the really really poor from voting for their own interests. The same thing happened in the run-up to the very Un-Civil War as anti-secessionist votes were “lost” or destroyed. Unionists were threatened with arrest for treason in their refusal to allow the States to commit their own version of treason. Oddly enough, the Northwestern chunk of Virginia pulled back so hard that it seceded from the secession and became that little bit of Heaven called West Virginia.

Reagan’s famous quote about the most dangerous words in the lexicon were “I’m from the government and I’m here to help…” is not all that far from the Slaveocracy’s claim that Abolitionist Yankee Black Republicans were going to wreck the South’s unique and wonderful way of life with their interventionist government regulations. The phrase “Black Republican” was enough to send shivers down the spines of any poorly educated dependent Freemen (not Black and not female) and those shivers motivated them to enlist in the local militia. In fact, the Planters used them as Political Gangs to help convince treasonous doubters about the wisdom of secession.

The 7% didn’t stop there. They played another Ace, an inverted sense of fatherland worship. The concept of patriotism became distorted into a unique fantasy of the Cavalier South, that place where family values and a “sensible” patriarchy fought daily against the grinding mercantile grasping of the industrial north. Today’s Republicans are frequently guilty of painting a picture of an America before Big Government and the Nanny State where freedom ruled and anyone could grow up to be President, a millionaire or both.

The fact that the picture was a gaudy fabrication worthy of the “Painter of Light”, Thomas Kincade, doesn’t seem to bother anyone but co-dependent Liberals. (If you want to see a horrible example of that lie on film, check out Disney’s SONG OF THE SOUTH where the happy slaves and their kids [otherwise known as property] are having a fine time singing, dancing and loving their “protective” environment and benign Massa’s.)

The malady lingers. Confederate Battle Flags still fly on staffs, in decals, on stickers, on the hearts of folks who would never dream of walking shoulder to shoulder onto a hillside blanketed with Union artillery. The romance of The Lost Cause is infectious and keeps Cain from sitting down with Abel because Abel is better off, more gifted, dad’s favorite. Instead we have created a parody in which there is more truth than humor—“You might be a redneck if you have at least one relative named ‘Gator.” The modern Republican strategy demands there MUST BE A THEM. The Southern voters must be reminded that the Democrats think they are stupid and need to be kept down, that their religion is dismissed as crazy fable, their mores outmoded and primitive, that they eat too much fat, weigh too much, drive gas guzzlers which must be taken away along with their guns and personal freedoms.

And the Blacks…well…

And so… “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”