This is a continuation of a story that began at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/teaser-to-a-novel/
Part 2 can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/novels-teaser-part-2/
Part 3 can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/novels-teaser-part-3/
Part 4 can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/novels-teaser-part-4/
Part 5 can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/novels-teaser-part-5/
Part 6 can be found at https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/novels-teaser-part-6/
Part 7 can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/03/07/novels-teaser-part-7/
Part 8 can be found at https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/novels-teaser-part-8/
The American “Nig” has returned after a year abroad at a strict school in Scotland, and is writing the South African “Kaff”, using a shorthand the two teenagers devised which allows them to write with the speed of their frenetic thoughts.
Nig has been dismayed by changes that have occurred in the USA while he was away, and at this point is telling Kaff he has decided to make a lot of money selling lyrics for hit songs, and to buy a plot of land he calls “The Party Woods.” He plans to form a commune of his boyhood friends, but needs to convince his friends the scheme is possible.
Nig his faced with the fact his friends disagree about politics and the gang has fragmented. He has just talked with two ardent communists, “Ham and Franks”, out in the “Party Woods” (where he plans to locate his commune), and now is faced with the arrival of his boyhood buddy “Durf”, who intensely dislikes communists, and who practices a sort of epicureanism, or perhaps anarchy.
What Nig is attempting to do is to figure out how to “get the gang together”.
I’m back. Where was I? O yeah: Ham and Durf are going at it, at the Party Wood’s Campfire.
Durf’s never been a fan of communists. I think it is cos one of his grandfathers was the police chief of a big city out west, and big-city-police-chiefs know a heck of a lot about criminals and corruption and politics, and the old man said communists were a whole lot worse even than Prohibition gangsters, cos they did stuff that made gangsters look soft-hearted.
Durf’s grandfather told Durf that only a gangster hit-man could come close to matching a communist, when it came to killing people you didn’t know and weren’t even angry with. He told Durf communists were worse, cos hit men would usually only kill men, while communists didn’t care a hoot about women and kids or even their own mothers. He said their eyes were empty, and that dealing with them gave him the creeps, but he’d had to deal with them a lot due to fracases at union halls, and the old man had tales to tell of plots and espionage and letters from Moscow. Hearing all this stuff made Durf be dead set against communists to begin with, the same way I was, (cos I eavesdropped back when I was a little kid, and heard our Hungarian refugee cleaning lady tell my parents what Stalinists did to her husband). I reckon that if you hear stuff like that when you’re small then you are harder to convert.
Not that Durf didn’t let himself dragged off to some communist meetings with Ham and Franks, but Durf saw through the sweet talk to the murder pretty fast, and anyway, he was only going cos Ham said the girls at the meetings were easy, but Durf found out they were ugly as well. Even before I’d left for Scotland Ham had pretty much given up trying to convert Durf, and Durf had pretty much given up on Ham being anything but a bummer. Not that they didn’t still like to argue, but you just knew it was a yammering that would never end.
It’s funny; I hated their arguing before I left, but now that I’m back I feel happy as a clam to hear it. I just lit a cigarette and stretched out my legs and locked my hands behind my neck and looked up at the sun on the leafy ceiling, and felt gladder than glad. It was like I’d been away a hundred years, or else I died and came back to life. It sounds corny, but there was a chuckle in me pretty close to sobbing.
Some things never change. Either that, or they are so slow to change you hardly notice the change, like a mountain being worn away. You can count on them always being there. And I could count on Durf and Ham hammering away at each other the same way I could count on that landscape having College Hill to the east. Maybe I used to want that mountain moved, so I could see the sunrise better, but now I was glad it just was sitting where it always sat.
Now they were going at it about schools and teachers, and which ones you could trust and which you couldn’t. Ham was stressing how wicked important reeducation was, and Durf was countering with stories about what hypocrites the commie teachers were. Ham was saying that if commies were hypocrites then they were actually counter-revolutionary and needed to be purged and reeducated, and Durf was saying all teachers were bound to go bad, cos all teachers were losers to begin with, but once they could lord it up over students, they got too tempted. To have power was such a step up from being a loser that teachers couldn’t help but go all power-mad.
I was hardly listening to their points, cos I was feeling pretty high. The soil is poor at that campsite, all ledge and sand, and the oaks grow sort of leggy there: Those oaks are so busy trying to get taller than each other they can’t send out side branches, and they’ve grown into a sort of cathedral of very tall and slender trunks, right up to a canopy that is flat and thin, but not so sparse that you see more than a dot of blue sky here and there. There’s not much undergrowth except clumps of moose maple, and the trunks are widely spaced, so the place is glade-like. The leaves up high were all sunlit, a beautiful golden green that stirred with a light summer breeze. I felt both above it all and also down under a golden-green sea, and felt like I was hearing stuff the fellows didn’t know they were saying. The light was shining down on me, and I had extra senses.
As Durf gave examples of teacher’s hypocrisy I listened real hard, cos Durf was actually telling me something about what he went through last winter that he doesn’t talk about, to my face.
I had to fill in some blanks, cos Durf wasn’t delving into how he’d been hurt; going through what he went through. However I know him so well that I know some of the stuff would have made him rage and weep. But Durf was talking as if it was all factual stuff and he never lost sleep.
As best I could tell, Durf pretty much dropped out from college on Day One in September, when it came to going to the classes he was suppose to go to, and getting the college-credits he was suppose to gather. Instead Durf did what he always does, if he can get away with it, which is to head straight to what fascinates him. At college that was publishing a newspaper, especially a paper that had lots of art and poetry in it. Lucky for Durf it turned out he could get a lot of substitute-credits for the English classes he was skipping, by working his balls off putting together a newspaper, which some teacher was planning to start, with money some rich former-student had donated.
Not only could Durf get credit for the classes he was skipping, but there seemed a fairly good chance he could also get a scholarship, cos the former student hadn’t just donated money for the paper; also there was money for the two students who did the best job, working on the paper. The problem was that there were two other kids working really hard, besides Durf. But they had a friendly rivalry going, and were always joshing each other about which one of them was going to be the loser, and not get the scholarship.
To cut a long story short, Durf and two other guys worked pretty much non-stop, as autumn past. The teacher who was suppose to be in charge only showed up at the start, to flirt with the girls; when it came to putting together a newspaper that teacher didn’t have a clue and just threw up his hands and stopped showing up, but Durf learned all sorts of stuff all on his own. He was so busy he didn’t even notice the days getting shorter and darker. He learned how to sell ads, and how to take pictures and mask photos and get them on the pages, and how set type, and how to pick and chose between submitted stuff, and how to handle kids who were all bummed-out about having poems rejected, and all sorts of other interesting stuff. Durf was having a blast, and was wicked happy when the paper finally came together and he could see it in print and hold it in his hands, even before he found out people actually liked it, and even before it won a couple of little awards.
It was when the paper won awards that the teacher bothered to show up again: To collect the little awards. He strutted about and hardly mentioned the three guys who did all the work, and then, when it came time to hand out the scholarships, he didn’t have to decide which two of the three hard-working guys would get the money, cos he gave one scholarship to some son of a rich alumnus who never even worked at the paper at all, and gave the other scholarship to a girl with big boobs who he slept with, who did hang around the paper sometimes, but only filed her nails and blabbed in a nasal Boston-accent and never worked. This made the three hard-working guys so mad they ratted on the teacher, and that made the teacher so mad he flunked all three, which meant they got none of the substitute-credits they thought they’d get, and basically got flunked out of college for running a paper that won prizes.
You don’t treat Durf like that without getting that glare of his. He’s got the most accusing eyes you can imagine. He doesn’t need to say a word. And even though Durf wasn’t really a student at the college any more, he was still hanging around and sort of a big-man-on-campus, and the teacher couldn’t get away from those eyes. To make matters all the rougher for that teacher, he had gotten bored with the girl with big boobs, and she got furious about getting ditched, and went over to Durf’s side. All in all it sounded like a pretty dark and stormy winter, and like no one was getting much scholarship done.
The thing about Durf’s accusing eyes is that they can get to you even if you haven’t done anything wrong: If I buy a box of caramel popcorn he just looks at me, and the eyes are so deep with reproach I share half the box with him. He eats his half in one gulp, as I eat a single puffed kernel, and then he’s looking at my half with that same deep reproach. So I give him half of my half, and he gulps that, and looks at my remaining quarter. I wind up getting around five kernels of the box, but it’s better than looking at him looking back, with those eyes accusing me of being selfish.
Of course, if you actually have done something wrong to Durf, it’s all the worse.
We were boyhood buddies, a sort of duo, “Sticky and Durf”. For a long time we had fun without ever needing to hang out with the cool kids or to impress teachers, until I got tired of us always being losers and always hanging out with the hack-offs. I decided to give being cool a try, and I had my reasons: There was a really pretty cheerleader who always seemed happy, and I wanted to be happy too, so I left the hack-off table in the cafeteria and sat down at the cool-kid table where all the football players sat, cos she sat there. I didn’t tell Durf what I was up to; I just ditched him.
For some reason the cool kids didn’t tell me to just buzz off, and for a couple of weeks I sat with them, and not Durf. It turned out to be bloody awkward. I could never think of anything to say, and the really pretty cheerleader looked less cheerful when she always had to put up with me being so awkward near to her, so I took pity on her and eventually went back across the cafeteria back to the hack-offs, where I could just joke and goof around and be myself, but Durf would never let me forget the fact I had deserted him. The whole time I sat with the cool kids I could see his eyes glaring reproach across the cafeteria, and afterwards I don’t think he really trusted me, or that was the feeling I got from his eyes. That got me mad at him. After all, he just as well could have come and sat beside me at the cool-kids table, and helped me think of what to say to the cheerleader.
We got into some dumb quarrel I don’t remember too well. I told him I was tired of never feeling like I was a cool kid. That was sort of like saying he wasn’t cool either. He felt like I was betraying him, and treating him badly like the cool kids did, and in a way I suppose I was, but I was just plain tired of always being a sort of outlaw. I tried to explain I didn’t want to betray him; I just wanted to grow up. He felt cornered by stuff I was saying, and if you do that to Durf you get worse than his glare. You get his mental-case voice. It is sort of shrill and so full of hurt you back up. But I didn’t want to back up; I wanted to grow up, and the only thing I could ever think of doing was to stop talking.
In the end I got so fed up with Durf I started sitting alone. I’d rather think about the light shining down, and write songs, than have to bother with Durf, or anyone else, for that matter.
By the time 1969 got close I had given up on trying to be either cool or a hack-off. Maybe I was resigned to being a loner, but I thought I had just given up on all the idiotic people in Weston.
I just decided I liked not-bothering. I didn’t want to bother anyone, but the funny thing about not-bothering was that it bothered people. Not-bothering even got me in trouble, cos I’d rather not-bother with the blackboard, and instead looked out the window at the light shining down, and that got me bad grades. Also I couldn’t bother with the school dress-code and wound up in trouble for being lazy and wearing grubby jeans and not having the money to cut my hair every two weeks.(That was before my mother married the Fossil, when we were poor.)
But then 1969 came and something weird happened: It was cool, all of a sudden, to have long hair and wear grubby jeans, and it wasn’t cool to be a jock football-player at the cool-kids table. Also I started getting good grades in English, cos the Fussybus liked my songs. Weirdest was the fact that I was sitting all by myself in the cafeteria one day, and the next day kids started to come over and sit at my table, cos it suddenly was the cool table. I didn’t do a thing to earn all the status; I just woke up one day with the Midas touch.
Durf was about the first to come and sit at my table, which was in a really dim, inconvenient place in the cafeteria, away from the windows and the doors and even the ceiling lights, and smaller than most tables, so no one wanted to sit there and no one would bother me. I was working on some song for the Fussybus, and I look up and there’s my old buddy, sort of scowling at me. He’s got a piece of paper, and he shoves it across the table at me, and I look at it and see it is a poem, real short, so I read it.
Durf was in the same Fussybus class, so I figured he was working on the same assignment and wanted my opinion. I couldn’t see why. After all, the assignment was to write a poem about where your head was at, and as far as the Fussybus was concerned you could use the paper to blow your nose and then hand in snot, and you’d pass, cos it showed where your head was at.
Durf’s poem didn’t make a lick of sense, but there’s a part of it that is this outlandish way of looking at some ordinary thing like a saltshaker. It just cracks me up, like a really good cartoon, so I point at that line and look at Durf. His scowl had turned into a puzzled look, but when he sees how I’m shaking with silent laughter merriment creeps into his eyes.
Then it occurs to me I’ve got a similar outlandish way of looking at something in one of my songs. It barely relates to his poem, (whatever the heck his poem was about,) and it has nothing to do with a saltshaker, (or even with expressing where I was at,) but I flip through my folder, find it, point at a stanza of a song, and flip the page upside down so he can see it. Durf reads the line I’m pointing at without reading anything that came above it on the page, and his eyebrows spring up, because he sees the similarity.
Then he sits back and does this sort of silent guffaw. His hair wasn’t long yet, but in the front it was a couple inches longer than was legal, and he sort of shrugged it out of his face, and flashes an enormous smile with teeth so white you practically have to put on sunglasses, and the merriment in his eyes is just dancing.
I sure was happy. For one thing, that look is about as opposite Durf’s accusing look as you can get. For another thing, it sure did seem I was forgiven for ditching a best buddy to go sit with a cheerleader. And that was 1969 for you: folk dropped their grudges and forgave.
You can probably tell from my shorthand that I’m wicked wired on speed right now. That explains why I’m back in 1969 and all distracted from where I should be, (describing 1971.) (Also I keep running off to work on sections of “The Party Woods,” which are strewn around this house in heaps. If Millie was pissed off about me leaving coffee cups around, she’ll hit the roof when she sees the disaster I’ve made of this place, with my mother due back in five days.)
But there is something I feel frantic about saying, before my mother gets back and makes it impossible. So I really need to show how Durf and I talk.
I haven’t been able to get Durf at all interested in learning how you and me talk in short-hand; he says it isn’t short, and that even Haiku is too long for him these days. But he liked our word, “Stinedu.” I forget how Stinedu came up, but soon as he heard the word, and I explained it, he lurched forward to grasp it the same way he grabs my granola. It’s one of the few times I got that smile of his, since I’ve been back.
Anyway, I think he liked it cos Durf and I have always talked in Stinedues, one way or another.
Just look at how Durf and I communicated, when he came back to sit at my table in 1969. We were in complete agreement about something, but what was it? Just look at what had happened:
I didn’t have a clue what Durf’s poem was about, and he can’t have known what my song was about, cos he was only looking at the seventeenth line of it, but there we were, in total agreement. About what? Hell if I know. It had something to do with outlandish comparisons. Also it was 1969, and Understanding was easy.
It was like we both got tired of trying to be grown-up. We went back to the way we were when we were boys. Boys don’t talk about grown-up stuff. The closest boys get to talking about grown-up stuff is batting averages in baseball, or maybe which trout are in what Weston brook.
(When Durf and I were in grade school, a rich guy had an amazing trout collection in a backyard pond, and the entire collection got washed into Cherry Brook by a spring freshet, and those fish were the talk of the town. Fishing got real interesting, and folk you didn’t usually see were casting flies. Some of those rare trout made it down to Stony Brook, and then went up Hobb’s Brook, and some say a few rare Golden Trout even made it by the Massachusetts Broken Stone, and got up into Three Mile Brook. Most didn’t last long, but even years later folk were talking about alien lunkers the size of Salmon lurking beneath undercut banks. Boys could talk to grown-ups about such trout, but with grown-ups it was just facts, like the economics I learned for my Oxford A-levels. But with us boys it was a wonder, like the Loch Ness Monster.)
Speed has me going way, way back now, to boyhood, when Durf and I always got in trouble for getting good clothes muddy, exploring Weston brooks. Grown-ups made a big deal about keeping mud from good clothes, but we couldn’t give a shit about that. We were in a world of our own, and talked in Stinedues.
I know my writing holds a good Stinedu when a grown-up says to me, “I always thought that, but never said it.” But I always ask myself, “Why don’t they speak the Stinedu?” And the answer always comes back to me it is because they are so busy being grown-up, and that involves being brainwashed. People get stuff scrubbed right out of their skulls, and Ham’s reeducation bullshit is just more scrubbing, until the common sense grown-ups already know is just the dimmest of dim memories, until I come along with the Stinedu, and it blows the nearly dead embers in their dark minds back to flame.
Back when we were kids Durf and me talked Stinedues all the time. We could hardly wait for the bell to ring and to get out school and away from all the drill about Grammar and Math, and to talk about stuff that was attractive. We talked about stuff even schoolboys don’t say to schoolboys, in school. For example, back then the other boys always said girls were disgusting, but outside of school Durf and I would secretly confess girls were damn interesting. Now it has gotten out of hand, and Durf’s a bit berserk: Girls are all Durf wants to talk about these days, but we talked about all sorts of other stuff besides girls, back when we were boys.
Even when we talked about girls, it wasn’t like grown-ups do. With grown-ups it is all economics, all facts and figures. It is measurements of breast and waist and hips, but little girls are all pretty flat, but we still found lots to discuss. Back when girls were flat they still were girls, so, what were we discussing? It was Stinedu.
It’s a whole world of emotions and personality and stuff we call poetry. Not that we could write a poem back then. (Or maybe we could, but it was rude, crude, lewd doggerel, comparing a teacher to a pig or a donkey.) But we were very high all the same. We could just sit and look at clouds and argue for hours about what they looked like. And what did clouds look like? Mostly it was stuff grown-ups forget, cos they are so busy trying to be grown-up. It was Stinedu.
When a grown-up sees a poem, they want to know what it is “about.” They want the measurements. They want the breast, the waist, the hips. They want the GNP, the gross profit and the net profit, the imports versus the exports. They want to know if it is Capitalistic or Communistic. Does it side with the Mom divorcing the Dad? Does it side with the Dad divorcing the Mom?
That is not what Stinedu is about.
Grown-ups are brainwashed into seeing the wind as jostling particles of Oxygen and Nitrogen. They are blind to the Zephyr dancing right before their eyes, as a little tornado of leaves, as they rake the lawn. The Zephyr is gorgeous, but they can’t tape measure her breast, hips and waist, or grab her with grubby paws and tumble her in the leaf pile, so she has no use. She’s relegated to the rubbish tip of Stinedu, along with countless other beautiful things. And then the grown-ups wonder why life gets so unlovely.
When Fred and I were kids there were times we got so lost in Stinedu it was like we were drunk. The light was shining down all around us, and strange stuff happened. (I told you at Dunrobin about those premonitions we got, that saved us from scary situations.) It was like, if you pay attention to Zephyrs and other little angels, they attend to you. Or maybe they don’t give a hoot about you, but if you attend to the light shining down, the light lets you see, and you aren’t in the dark so much, and stumble less.
And that is why, when Fred showed me his poem and I showed him mine, back in 1969, it didn’t matter that I didn’t understand his, and it didn’t matter that he only looked at the seventeenth line of mine. We were interested in non-grown-up stinedu, just like we were as boys. That is why we got such a laugh about a comparison in his poem, and a comparison in mine.
It had nothing to do with drugs. We hadn’t even smoked together at that point. (Anyway, the marijuana you could get in Weston back then was so weak I think it was actually parsley. Folk only thought they were high, because they held the smoke in for two minutes, trying to get a real hit, and if you hold your breath for two minutes you enter an altered state. The joints were as skinny as toothpicks, and you turned purple just trying to suck air through the damn things. And it was likely it would be a month before you found anyone else who actually had the “evil weed.”) When Fred came to my table at the cafeteria it had been over a month since either of us smoked, and we had never smoked together. So it had nothing to do with drugs.
The reason I think marijuana should be legal is because it lets Grown-ups see what Fred and I could already see: Stinedu.
When Fred and I talk, no one has a clue what we are talking about. That is why he means so much to me. Eve can’t understand why I need him, cos he tends to make trouble. But I need him, cos he has a free mind.
There. I’ve made it back to 1971, describing sitting out on the Party Woods, listening to Fred argue with Ham, as Franks gnaws his knuckles, worried about the heat of the debate. I’d go on, but the horses are screaming at me from across the street again, so I have to quit writing for a while.
I’m so lost in thought I could hardly remember which end of the horses to feed. They were laughing at me. Horses know when your brains are in the clouds.
Talk about opposites! What could be more opposite to Stinedu than Ham ‘n’ Frank’s communism? Communism tries to be more grown-up than even grown-ups, while Stinedu tries to remind us of childhood, of “I always thought that, but it was not grown-up to say it, so I washed my brain out with soap.”
As I sat there watching Durf and Ham debate, in some ways it seemed Durf was nuts to debate Ham, cos in some ways it is impossible to prove Stinedu even exists. If you ask some people, “What is more real: A rock or a kiss?” They will always chose the rock, cos a rock is something they can curl their fingers around, and also you can’t stuff a kiss in your wallet unless you‘re a whore, (in which case it isn‘t really a kiss.) Or, if you ask them, “What is a song?” they will just say, “Noise of different frequencies.” They miss the heart of the matter, cos they stick to the facts.
But Durf seems to think he is now grown-up, and can stick to facts. He can’t. When Durf tries to stick to facts he loses about 95% of what makes Durf be Durf. Ham can just adjust his hat, and factoid Durf half to death. Then Durf can only look reproachful or glare, but none of Durf‘s looks work on Ham the way they work on me. Durf can glare or pout or look reproachful with those big eyes, and Ham just curls his tongue in his cheek and looks cheerfully snide. Ham would have Durf reduced to being a puppy, like Franks, in half a minute, but Durf won‘t stand for that. Durf’s voice gets all asthmatic and wheedling and shrill, and he leaps to a topic so far from what Ham’s talking about that it just, plain crosses your eyes.
I know it is Durf’s mental-case voice because we’ve been hanging out together since grade school, so I know it is time to shift gears. It is time to leave the world of facts and go into the world of Stinidu. But Ham ‘n’ Franks don’t know the landscape they are heading into.
You would say there’s no way that the new subject that Durf jumped to connects to what Ham was talking about, but some sort of Stinedu is involved, so there is a sort of faint, vague and dim correlation. It is just enough to set you back on your heels. You lose your place, in the debate. The logical sequence gets all confused.
Anyway, I’m just sitting back, looking up at the golden-green oak leaves, listening to Ham trash Durf, when it comes to all this grown-up talk about the Haves, Have-lesses, and Have-nots, (Bourgeois, Petty-bourgeois, and Proletariat,) and all of a sudden Durf is talking about Wrenchheads getting fired over at Raytheon cos of Ham‘s meddling.
I fill in the blanks. All of a sudden I think I see there must be a political, anti-war demonstration, which Ham wants us to go to. Likely it is to be outside Raytheon. Probably he followed me into the woods to get me to join it, but he hasn’t gotten around to mentioning it yet.
Raytheon is a big factory across the Stony Brook Reservoir from Weston, on the Waltham side. They make electronic gizmos. They don’t make bazookas or tanks, so you’d think there would be no reason to have an anti-war demonstration over there. But I guess tanks have gas gauges, which need Raytheon gizmos, so Ham found a reason. But Ham isn’t mentioning communism, as he exhorts us to end war and make peace. He’s talking about Henry Thoreau and Martin Luther King and Gandhi, as he says we can end war by protesting Raytheon for making gizmos for gas gauges.
Lots of Wrenchheads work over at Raytheon, cos there’s no work in Weston, and Fred jumps to the subject of Ham getting them in trouble. He says if Ham really cared for workers he’d care for what they care for. All a Wrenchhead wants to do is work eight hours, drink beer eight hours, and sleep eight hours, and Fred says a fellow ought to be able to do what a fellow wants to do. But Ham wants to get them all riled up, and in trouble with their bosses.
Ham’s eyes are getting real narrow, and he’s honing in for the kill. You can just tell he’s about to get going on reeducation, cos he’s starting to go on about how Wrenchheads shouldn’t be pawns, and how pawns wouldn’t be pawns if they saw how they were being used as pawns, but then Durf butts in, saying Ham is just a pawn of the Communist Central Committee.
Saying that seems real paranoid and totally off the topic, and Ham just shakes his head and rolls his eyes, but Durf bulges his eyes and demands to know just who it was that organized the anti-war demonstration. Ham tosses his hair and looks real proud and says he himself did it, but I notice Franks is looking like he’s backing out of a room.
Durf looks real doubtful and scornful, partly because you could give a surprise party for Ham and Ham would still make it sound like he organized it, and partly because Durf knows Ham’s been bragging about getting money from anti-war people in Stockholm. But Durf doesn’t bring up Stockholm, like he should, cos his brains are sort of short circuiting, and instead he just wheels and pounces on Franks, who sort of looks like he’s trying to tiptoe away, and Durf says, in a really wheedling, complaining tone, “Who put the idea in your brother’s head?”
Franks looks like a raccoon does when you turn on the back porch light, and catch it just lifting the lid of the garbage pail. He made funny gestures with his hands, looked at Ham a couple of times, and didn’t say a thing, but it was enough for Durf. Durf glared back at Ham, who was looking pretty exasperated towards Franks. Poor Franks! He gets in trouble even when he doesn’t say anything.
I think Durf was furious that Ham was mentioning Gandhi and not communism. To Durf it was just another case of grown-ups not talking about what really is going on. But Durf didn’t say that. Instead he said what Ham was really doing was helping the Viet Cong, cos we can bomb Hanoi but the Viet Cong can’t bomb Raytheon. Durf said Ham isn’t helping the Viet Cong for the right reason, which would be cos they are patriots who want outsiders to leave them alone; Ham only help’s cos they are Communists, and to Ham that makes the Viet Cong the good guys. But the best the Central Committee can do to help the Viet Cong, around here, is to organize all sorts of trouble for Raytheon.
It turns out Ham has sure been over there a lot. If he isn’t organizing an anti-war rally to cause trouble, he’s over there handing out pamphlets and invitation-cards to Wrenchheads, when they come out after work, to get them all radical and unionized and to urge them to take over the offices and kick out the bosses, cos bosses are Capitalists and evil, and workers are the Proletariat and good. Durf concluded that makes Ham an outsider who won’t leave Raytheon alone, just like the USA is an outsider who won’t leave the Viet Cong alone. Durf says that an outside-agitator’s not the same as a peace-maker, and Ham’s like Stalin and not Ghandi.
Actually this all comes out of Durf as a sort of babble. I can see it as coherent but Ham says it is incoherent cos the anti-war thing is a different thing from the unionizing thing, and anyway, Gandhi would approve of both. Durf said it was all to help the Viet Cong, and they are fighters and not pacifists, and Gandhi wouldn’t approve of fighters.
So I’m just sitting there, looking up at the sunlit oak leaves overhead stirring in the wind, listening to those two guys go at it, and I notice I’m chuckling, and making all these little oil-on-the-water comments. I’m being the little peacemaker, cos when Durf’s voice gets all asthmatic his eyes bug out, and you get just the slightest bit nervous he might lose it and strangle somebody. So I’m joking, and jollying them, and nudging them back to civility, cos I’m brimming with benevolence, cos the light is shining down on me.
Also I have all sorts of facts at my fingertips. I hate to admit Dunrobin was good for anything, but I always used to feel inferior to Ham and Durf, cos they had read stuff I hadn’t, but Dunrobin hammered so much reading into me it’s like I passed Fred and Ham in the fast lane, last winter. What’s more, it’s like they were in reverse. They seem to know less than they did last year. Maybe I just thought they knew more than they really knew, last year, but I don’t think so. I think they really went backwards. I’m not sure what the bloody hell goes on in colleges, but Ham and Fred just don’t respect other thinkers the way they used to. They hardly mention what other thinkers thought at all any more. I can’t quite lay my finger on what it is, but it’s like the word Gandhi got turned into a verb.
Anyway, I can say stuff I couldn’t say, last year. I might have had first-hand experience of the light shining down, last year, but I didn’t know how to talk about Stinedu to grown-ups. Now I seem better at it. Anyway, when Ham was getting Durf all shrieky-mad by talking about Gandhi, I sort of joked, “So what would the Communist Central Committee do about Gandhi?” Ham looked askance at me, so I added, “Do you know what Stalin said about Gandhi to Churchhill?” It got silent, so I continued, “Stalin asked Churchill, ‘Why don’t you have Gandhi shot?’”
Durf looked grateful, and Franks seemed to stop and think, but Ham bristled and said, “That’s a lie!” I could only shrug and say. “Churchill said it happened.” Ham then said, “Oh? And what did the lordly Mr. Churchill say he said back?” I said Churchill said something along the lines of, (and I put on my Churchill voice,) “That is not the way the British Empire conducts business.”
Ham just got snide and said, “And where is that almighty British Empire today?” I shrugged and said, “Gone, evolved into the British Commonwealth, but the Commonwealth’s still bigger than the Soviet Union’s empire.” Ham said, “Pishtush!” (I kid you not, he really said that.) Then he said, “In twenty years London will be a suburb of Moscow.” I laughed and said, “If I should live so long, but all I am saying is that Ghandi wasn’t the same as Stalin or Lenin.”
And that was my little peacemaker nudge. It got them back on topic, after Durf got everything scattered all over the place. Not that Ham seemed to appreciate it much. He was starting to glance at his huge watch, probably figuring he wasn’t going to recruit me for the anti-war rally he never asked me to go to. Durf had moved on to teasing him, saying Ham better be careful about mentioning Gandhi too much, or the Central Committee might have him purged. Franks looked alarmed, but Ham curled his tongue in his cheek, and said the ends justified the means, like it was a big joke. Fred blurted he’d never be the pawn of some dumb committee, and he doubted the Wrenchheads would either. Then a thought occurred to me, and I said I was the pawn of a central committee.
All three looked really surprised, and stared at me like a trio of owls, and I said there is actually only one central committee which is fair to the poor as well as the rich. Then I pointed up at the sun, and I said, “It pours the light equally on all.”
I wish I could take credit for thinking that up, but I read it somewhere, but I was glad I remembered it, cos all three of them looked up, as if they were remembering something they’d forgotten about. It was neat, cos all three had really softened expressions, like they’d forgotten all about arguing politics and philosophy, and then it got even neater, cos a big gust came cruising up from the southwest, and went over us as a big, slow sigh. It got all the slender oak trunks rocking slowly back and forth, but they didn’t rock at the same rate, and as the gust faded away to the northeast the tree to our right was swaying left as the tree to our left was swaying right, and at first their tops came together as a soft crush of deepening-green rustling, and then they both swayed the other way and a crevice of blue sky opened overhead, and the sun came streaming down on us.
You couldn’t ask for better timing, and that’s just the sort of Stinedu-event that would get Durf all crazy with enthusiasm when we were boys, so I look over at him and say, “Stinadu,” and he beams back and says, “Coincidence.” (“Coincidence” is a sort of magic word, the way Durf says it, and doesn’t mean what “coincidence” means when others say it.) Ham is looking at us with a really odd expression, almost scared, and Franks is still smiling up at the sun. Then I notice the trees have come back together, and we’re back in the underwater green of the shade, but Franks is in a little patch of sun that is sneaking through.
That makes me laugh, and I say, “Of course, sometimes the Central Committee chooses to shine more on some than on others.” For a moment Franks doesn’t get it, and just keeps smiling up at the sun, and then he wakes up and sees us looking at him, with his blond sheep-dog hair all lit up by the sun. At first it is like he enjoys being singled out for a sunbeam, but then he sees Ham pouting at him, and he sort of jumps with guilt, like he’s hogging the spotlight, and he hurries to step back out of the warm sunshine.
It was really funny how Franks jumped out of the sunbeam, so I joked, “No Franks, you can’t duck your duty. Once the Central Committee appoints you, yours is not to reason why. Yours is just to do or die.” Then I got up and stretched and walked over to the little patch of gold he had vacated, and added, “Also, if you don’t want the light, someone else will stroll up who does.” That made Franks grin, and he gave me a friendly shove and stepped back into the light.
I was feeling really high, like I was in some movie or something. Usually I feel like the wind is against me, but the way that gust came over us and the sun came down had me feeling the wind was with me. But when I looked over at Ham I saw he didn’t feel the same. He didn’t seem to like how things were going, and was glancing at his watch again. Then he looked at Franks with a crabby face, like he was annoyed at his little brother for goofing around in a sunbeam.
I had this surge of feeling sorry for Ham well up in me, cos it seemed Ham was missing the fun, but it didn’t seem I could find any words. I just joked a sort of lame-seeming joke, telling him to lighten up, cos that’s what light does when it comes down on you, cos it lightens everything. Ham looked at me with a real cold expression. I could see he didn’t get the joke, and for some reason that got me hot. I told him something like, “OK, be all serious if you want, but I tell you I spent all winter thinking about this, and if you’re so all-fired, bent-out-of-shape to be a leader, you’d better understand Americans don’t follow leaders like they do over there in Europe.”
Ham’s face changed just a little. I think that word “leader” got to him. Anything to do with being bossy gets him intrigued. So I did my best to explain something to Ham even though it feels just a bit past the tip of my tongue, even now.
I tried to tell him how different Dunrobin was from Weston High School, and how rough the boys were, when it came to teasing and baiting and challenging anything that seemed like a holy cow. You’d better not brag about anything you couldn’t stand up for and defend, at Dunrobin, and you’d better have a thick skin. I told him how your nickname got to be Kaffir, and mine got to be Nigger, and how they wouldn’t lay off, even when I slammed poor Pest in the wastepaper basket, with his knees stuck by his ears. So I learned I’d better either shut up about being an American, or defend it with all my cannons.
I told Ham that my best defence was a good offence, and how I’d rip into those guys for being part of a dieing empire, and how they’d come right back at me, defending the empire, and how I got a feel for the pride they had, and the loyalty, and the sense of duty. Americans seem wicked disloyal, in comparison. In some ways it is like the English haven’t gotten over our disloyalty to King George, even after nearly two hundred years. So I got to wondering what the heck it is Americans are loyal to.
I told Ham how I got a real Stinedu from the older teachers, about what it felt like to be part of an empire, and how I could see they actually once believed their empire was something good, and that people all over the earth were better off when led by English royalty than when led by their own bosses. It was really foreign to think that way for me, cos I got brought up believing all people should be independent like Americans were, but they really were loyal to their empire when they were young. It was a sort of sorrowful faith to hear, “redolent with melancholic nostalgia,” but I really did hear an echo of something great in their loyalty, in all their talk about Nelson putting up the signal, “England expects every man will do his duty,” and of all the sailors on the English ships cheering. Or Tennyson’s poem about the charge of the light brigade, “Theirs is not to reason why; Theirs is but to do and die.”
Of course, some poked fun at it all and said Monty Python stuff like, “Into the valley of bad breath rode the six hundred,” or “England expects every man to shake his booty,” but they didn’t like it if an American like me made up doggerel like that. So of course that’s exactly what I did. I’d call Queen Elisabeth, “Queeny baby,” and I could see they didn’t like that one bit. But if they were going to be disrespectful of America I’d dish it out right back.
One thing that I saw really clearly at Dunrobin was how badly World War One mangled British loyalty. In the Battle of the Somme it wasn’t six hundred charging to their deaths, it was sixty-thousand charging German machine guns and all getting mowed down. Even after fifty years it is like Dunrobin’s still in shock, especially on Remembrance Day. That day’s just so sad, and nothing like Memorial Day in the States. There was this sort of sting of sorrow in the silence, and all these ghosts tapping the older people’s shoulders, and I got the feeling this sadness must be what my Grandfather was trying to describe, one time, when he described what Memorial Day used to be like, when there were still Civil War soldiers alive.
Another amazing thing I never knew before is that the German Kaiser was the cousin of the English King. The wife of the Russian Czar was another cousin. They were all grandchildren of Queen Victoria. You talk about a great Central Committee! If they’d used their brains and had gotten along, they could have run the world as a family business, but instead millions and millions died.
Of course you know all this, Kaf. The Goat really drummed it into our heads how bad the slaughter was, making us read the war poets like Wilfred Owens and Seigfried Sassoon, but at Weston High School we never studied that stuff. I don’t think the Fussybus ever heard of Wilfred Owens, and Ham doesn’t know a single person who has died in Vietnam, nor do I. Rich, Weston-kids don’t go to Vietnam, so its hard to imagine what it was like to be in England back then and to have so many guys in your Senior class dead or missing legs, in every town in Great Britain. The Goat was doing his part to make sure no one ever forgot World War One, but the worst part was realizing all the death was all about nothing. The royal Central Committee just lost their minds. And maybe that is what makes America different. We never want to be loyal to a Central Committee, whether it be Kings and Kaisers, or Stalin and Lenin, because they might lose their minds.
So what are we loyal to instead? We are loyal to the light shining down, and also to the fact it shines differently on every farm. Maybe my farm gets sunshine while yours gets rain. Only the farmer on the farm can know how to manage the farm, not some Central Committee far away, cos they don’t know how differently the sun and rain falls, on every farm and on every person. So that’s what we are loyal to: Letting a man be free to manage his own life, and mind his own business, without a whole lot of outside interference and a whole lot of outside agitation.
Ham looked at me real thoughtful for a while, and then curled his tongue in his cheek and said, “We don’t live on farms any more.” Then he looked at his watch and told Franks they’d better hurry or they’d be late, and started walking off through the trees.
Right when he got to the edge of the clearing Ham stopped, like he remembered something, and then he turned with his winning smile shining, and said, “I have some really good dollar-joints, if you guys’re interested.”
I put my hands on my hips and said, “You’ve had joints this whole time and didn’t even get us high?” Ham curled his tongue and said, “I’m broke. Have to make some dough.”
Durf sort of blurted, all resentful, “I’m broke too. I can get you a pound for three hundred. You want one? I’ll bet it’s better than yours, and I’ll let you try the stuff for free.”
Durf said this in a really shrill, mental-case way. I think he was trying to one-upsman Ham, by being a big league pusher, and through comparison to make Ham look bush league, but his voice was too whiney. He sort of said, “And I’ll let you try it for free” in just the wrong way, if you want to inspire awe. But Ham really did look a little wide-eyed, and Franks looked downright frightened, because a good judge won’t jail you for a joint around here these days, but jail-time is pretty bad for selling pounds.
I just ignored Durf and laughed and told Ham, “I don’t even have a dollar, until I get paid for feeding horses.” Ham shrugged and started to turn away, and I added, “Huh! You’re selling and won’t share. Maybe there’s hope for Capitalism, after all.” Ham stopped dead in his tracks, and was turning back and starting to lift an index finger in his didn‘t-get-the-joke manner, but I stopped him by saying, “I know. I know. The ends justify the means, right?” He nodded, caught my smile, and flashed one back, and then all I could see was his peacock plume, bobbing away over the Moose Maple shrubs, as Franks went hurrying after.