|POOR IMPULSE CONTROL|
Why Dwight DeLong became Danny Dukes
JOURNAL ENTRY: 286
There must be at least a dozen reasons why I shot Senator Buford
Beauregard Jackson. He wore penny loafers (complete with shiny pennies) with white socks; he favored
toughening laws prohibiting many pharmaceuticals; he believed that
creation happened 6,000 years ago, that Jesus rode around on dinosaurs,
and that people who thought otherwise were headed to Hell. Deep down he
believed that white men (preferably blue-eyed, blond, Anglo Saxon, northern European,
Protestants) should rule the roost, that folks of darker-skinned
mongrel races should know their place; he believed we should follow
biblical injunctions and stone (not in the good way) adulterers,
homosexuals, and, especially, transsexuals. How many reasons is that? Just
five? I could go on, but you get the idea.
Can I really justify shooting
the honky son of a bitch? He was, of course, just responding to the
voice of his people, good Southern folk, one and all. Until he came to
Washington, thirty-five years ago, I don't think he ever got more than a hundred miles from
his home in Chattenburg, Virginia. The people from his district must
have appreciated his down-home virtues; they have elected him
overwhelmingly time and time again. Of course, the immense servings of
pork he passed on to the local infantry post helped a lot.
Did I mention that he made a clumsy pass at Sarah, who I had come to regard, tentatively, as my girlfriend? Needless to say, his
frequent pronouncements regarding the mortal sinfulness of extramarital
intercourse were less than heartfelt (at least when it came to him). Poaching on what I wanted to be mine,
however ineffectively, was hitting closer to home, but still, I
suppose, no real justification for shooting him. Truth is I have often
been told I have poor impulse control. Sooner or later, pretty much
everybody I know reminds me of this. There's no denying it, I
have a penchant for doing things that seem appropriate at the time with
complete and utter disregard for consequences. My shooting of Senator
Jackson, however, had nothing to do with out-of-control impulses. It
was cold-blooded, premeditated murder.
Still, I guess I do have poor impulse control. Case in point: I am
writing this down, but shouldn't be. I suppose someday it'll catch up
to me. I just have an irresistible urge to record things. Could be the
wannabe writer in me. Although I'll take steps to ensure that nobody but me
ever reads this, committing my transgressions to paper is chancy at
best. Believe me, none of it's intended to justify anything I've ever
done. Some of it might be in the interests of learning to curb my poor
impulse control. As I think about it, however, I can't see how giving
into it can help me curb it.
back to the Senator. There was one more thing: I had good reason
to believe he was a key figure in a plan to foster terrorism—gas
attacks, bombings, mass shootings— at dozens of locations throughout
the country. This plan was to kick off with shots fired from a speeding
car into a crowd
an upcoming D.C. Rolling Stones concert. Hopes were
to create a
necessitating a declaration of martial law and a suspension of the next
presidential election. And that's not all. I am
all but certain the Senator
sent a guy to gut me. These things are kind of important, and they
probably should have topped my list of justifications. I guess the
wannabe writer in me has decided it would be more dramatic if I started
with smallish things and let the story build to a rousing crescendo.
You're probably thinking nobody could be as bad as I've portrayed
Senator Jackson. Think what you will; I stand by my portrayal. The man
was a white supremacist. If he believed in nothing else, it was
that fascism in America must be preserved. No price was too high to
pay. I can't prove it, but I'll bet he relished the idea of ridding the world of
hundreds of Rolling Stone devotees. To him, this would be frosting on the bigotry
In a reasonable world, thwarting his plans might have earned me round
after round of heartfelt accolades. Trouble is, our world is
anything but reasonable, and,
even if it were, I couldn’t prove my contention that Jackson was committing treason. What I had might most
accurately be described as a very strong suspicion. As far as I knew, this very strong
suspicion (I refuse to call it a hunch) was shared by nobody other than the perpetrators. It
definitely wasn't something that would have automatically earned me a
get-out-of-jail-free card. No way would it have convinced a Congress
full of Republicans that all-and-all I am an outstanding citizen.
situation is even more complicated than I have let on. Officially I
am a dead man (and can't have committed this crime). Okay, I should say
presumed dead man. Two years ago, my name was Dwight DeLong, and I had
been in the Afghan boonies with a group of American soldiers which
later was made crispy
in a fierce firefight. The
opposition, the Taliban, had gotten
hold of some napalm. Good, old Made-in-Midland-Michigan napalm. The
Taliban quickly became proficient in its use. The
story, front-page news in the New York Times, stated that the
mop-up crew found no survivors. Since I had been with these guys, the
authorities believed I had been killed or, at the very least,
taken captive which, in their eyes,
would have amounted to pretty much the same
The way it happened, I was with 30 or 40 guys, and we had gotten
separated from our main unit. Made a wrong turn somewhere. I don't
remember exactly, but we might have been looking for a whore house.
Anyway, our nominal leader was a mean son of a bitch, first lieutenant
Rex Gunthrey. At the first village we came to, he set precedent by
shooting an old man he insisted was the father of a batch of Taliban.
He could tell this just by the way the old coot shuffled along. From
there things deteriorated. We went from village to village shooting
people we felt might be Taliban. Pretty soon we were shooting people at
random, including people we
felt might one day become
Taliban, young children, both boys and girls. I don't recall
anybody saying anything about hearts and minds. In one small village,
Gunthrey raped a woman. She was young, barely in her teens. When I
first saw her, Gunthrey was getting off her, leaving her naked, lying
on her back in the dusty road, sobbing. This seemed to annoy Gunthrey, so he
thrust his AK-47 into her vagina and held the trigger down until her
mid-section was ripped apart. "Fucking cunt terrorist," he
said by way of explanation.
We didn't all participate in this bloodletting. Some of the guys, me
included, had held back. Gunthrey had noticed my reticence and was
giving me the evil eye when I shot him. At the time I felt I was adding
balance to the universe, although that conviction might have been
fueled by the drugs coursing through my brain. Still, I hadn't lost
total touch with reality. I only had a few months to go to complete a
four-year tour of duty, and this had not been a good time to fuck up.
But no matter. Things were getting too dicey, and I just couldn't take
any more. It was
time to go. I grabbed my all-important duffel bag and an extra canteen
and told Larry
Knox, my best buddy, I was going hunting. He smiled and nodded like he
knew what I had in mind, which would have been miraculous since I had
nothing in mind, or, if I did, I wasn't aware of it. Some hunter. I
neglected to bring my gun.
For maybe three hours, I trudged along through the bleak,
monochromatic landscape, luxuriating in the triple-digit
temperatures. I had taken off my shirt and was thinking about how good
I look lobster red. If anybody saw me from a distance, would he wonder
how a lobster made its way to the middle of the desert? I had polished
off one canteen, and was trying to
postpone starting in on the second one. It was getting towards late
afternoon, and I was beginning to wonder where I might spend the night.
I promised myself I would stop at the first B&B I came to.
I was surprised when some guys in an old, mufflerless Toyota pickup
truck came up from behind me and stopped. There were four or five in
the back and two up front. They all had dark complexions and beards. Without a word, an upfront guy shoved over
to make room for me. It was crowded. I am a big guy and take up lots of
space. I cradled my duffel bag on my lap and held on tight. They must
have been Taliban. As a rule, regular people don't pack M16M4s. Maybe
they were; maybe they weren't. In any event, I was sure they weren't duck hunters, and it would have been
impolite to inquire into what they were doing. Neither the time nor place for politics. They were
friendly enough. We shared a couple of roaches and, unable to
understand each other's languages, still managed a few laughs before we
got to downtown Kabul where they dropped me off.
When I learned I was to be shipped off to Afghanistan, I read a few
articles about our involvement there. Back in the late seventies when
Russia had gotten frisky and invaded the
place, we assisted the Taliban. Osama Bin Laden was our good friend
The Taliban were fundamentalist Muslims into wrecking giant
Buddhist statues, prohibiting drugs, and winning few friends. By the
turn of the
century 21st century, poppy farming had been all but abolished. This
problems because poppies were the only cash crop impoverished
farmers had. I found the history confusing and always meant to get back
to it. It seems that at times the
U.S. tried to stem the tide of Afghan narcotics, but later benefited
from it. Eventually our CIA became big-time pushers, responsible for at
least 80 percent of the heroin that made it to the U.S. Anyway, at some
point a new breed of Taliban came to the fore. They built
state-of-the-art websites, published glossy magazines, performed
community services, and convinced many young Americans it would be cool
to join them. Less
doctrinaire than their fathers, the new guys found opium cash
useful. In defiance of their faith, some of the them got into drugs
themselves. Especially cannabis. Seems as though the guys who picked me
up were representatives of this hip new Taliban.
When I accepted their hospitality, my duffel bag was full of bills.
(Not the kind you're supposed to pay; the kind you can redeem for goods
and services.) This was money that was supposed to have bought the opposition
off, turned them into armed brothers or maybe corn farmers. I have to
wonder if our encounter
would have been different had they known my bag's contents. Call me
cynical, but I suspect they would have kept both the cash and their
stash. I hadn't come by my bagful altogether legitimately,
but, in my mind, considering the circumstances, more or less within the bounds of acceptable behavior.
The way I got it was one fine day a pair of trucks had pulled up to our headquarters and
dropped off 25 or 30 large cartons of what proved to be U.S. currency.
Beautiful, crisp, new, unmarked bills of denominations one to a
hundred. Some of the heavy thinkers at the Pentagon had decided that if
we made it worth their while, we could persuade young Afghans to side
with us instead of the Taliban. Yet another way of winning hearts and
minds, only with cash instead of good deeds. The slowest buck private in our group could have told them this
would never work. The distribution was bound to be upwards, towards the guys in charge. There are basic
laws of plumbing and economics. Shit flows downward, cash upward. The only
thing this program could possibly do is solidify our status as laughing stock throughout Afghan society.
Anyway, a few days later, in the wee small hours of a morning, myself
and three or four buddies were getting stoned with the fellow assigned
to guard the stash. Don't ask me for a complete list of the
pharmaceuticals we had ingested, but the combined cocktail was making
everything seem hilarious. I remember Johnny Rand laughing as he
grabbed a handful of bills and stuffed them in his pocket. This seemed
really funny. Then Joe Kirby and Roger Banks used both hands to grab
even more cash and things seemed uproariously funnier. Even stoned out
of our skulls, we knew that the accounting on base was so sketchy
nobody would ever notice that cash was missing.
This went on for awhile, I guess, and before I knew it I had filled my
duffel bag with bills. Actually it was the next morning before I knew it. I
discovered my take before I got my first cup of coffee. I later learned
we had broken up the half-dozen or so empty boxes and tossed them into
the trash pit before hot-wiring a front-end loader and burying them. We
must have made quite a racket, but nobody complained. I would like to
say a really, really good time was had by all. Pretty damn sure about
For the next week or ten days, I carried that duffel bag around with me
wherever I went. We were inseparable. Yin and Yang. Heaven and earth.
We must have looked like Siamese twins, (with one of them having failed
to develop limbs or a head) . I
thought the brass might question my attachment to it, but they never
did. Well, one day a sergeant did ask me what was in the bag. I told
him dirty laundry. He shrugged and walked away.
Anyway, after being dropped off in Kabul, I knew I had to get out of Afghanistan. For
those of you who are geographically challenged, let me remind you that
Afghanistan is landlocked. It has no access to the sea. You can't just
hop aboard a freighter and steam away. Getting to the United States
requires quite a bit of advance planning or, in my case, an ability to
lurch from one thing to another while remaining upright. It gets even
trickier if you have no passport, no ready identification, and just
might be sought as a felonious fugitive and/or military deserter.
By hook and by crook (a generous amount of both), I did make it home. The way I did it is
a long and convoluted tale of bribery, slight of hand, fornication,
outright lying, animal cruelty (I tried to get more out of a camel than
the camel had to give, may it RIP), and several near-death
experiences. Someday maybe I'll write a book about it. For now let's
just say it involved Afghan poppy farmers, shifty C.I.A. operatives,
disgruntled generals, daredevil pilots, crooked exporters, prostitutes
with hearts black as pitch, opportunistic importers, on-the-take
banksters, and a motley crew of others in both high and low places. The
entire affair took three months and made my duffel bag a hellava lot
lighter. I guess deep down I know I'll never write that book. It's a story
nobody would ever believe. Thank God for that.
I put the pen down and turned off the light. I can't remember when I've
been this tired. Over the past few months, I have run up a heavy-duty
adrenaline debt. I may never pay it off. I have to remind myself where
I am. New York City. One of the more run-down areas of New York City. I
am probably safe here for right now. If I haven't been busted yet, I
probably won't be for awhile. I could fall asleep in my chair, but somehow find
the will to stumble to my bed. I don't bother to take off my clothes.
That would take too long. I am asleep before I have time to fluff my
I know it's hard to believe I am a U.S. Congressman. My previous lives as a
juvenile delinquent, a miscast soldier, and a kickboxer obviously
hadn't done a thing to prepare me for national leadership. Most of my
cohorts are lawyers, slippery-tongued, sons-of-bitches who can argue
any side of a case without giving a single thought to what they
believe, to what they might regard as righteousness.
Before I began hobnobbing with these people, I had never realized that
notions of right and wrong could be so utterly irrelevant. As a
juvenile delinquent, between forays, I gave the matter quite a lot of
thought. If I wasn't about the let legality establish my boundaries, I
had to draw my own. Some of the guys I knew settled on what they
thought they could get away with. I don't know why, but this never
seemed right to me. I also don't know where I got the idea that there
was an abstract principle one could call right and, conversely,
I certainly had no idea how these things could have come into
existence. I had barely heard of philosophy, and certainly wasn't into
it. Still, I am strangely proud to say, I never thought I should feel
free to do whatever the fuck I wanted. Lines had to be drawn, but
where? I knew I would never squeal on a buddy or steal from somebody as
Poor as I was. Sometimes I wished I had stuck with the Boy Scouts.
They, at least, had a clear-cut code of conduct. But I had quit after
one meeting upon hearing that the Scout Master liked to have boys take
their pants down once he got them into his private office. He was an
over-weight, pompous old fart who sweated profusely and loved blowing
his whistle as often and shrilly as possible.
As a juvenile delinquent, it could be said I
brought new meaning to the term "habitual offender." There was nothing half-hearted about it. About all I can
say in my defense is that I was non-violent except when it came to bar
fights (which I don't consider part of my criminal past). Many of
my crimes had involved altering somebody else's private property. I had gone
about spray-painting acres of it. There were times when I thought of
myself as an artist, a highly unappreciated one, an artist like Vincent
Van Gogh who I'd heard had failed to sell a single painting before he died. When
I wasn't using spray paint to express my First Amendment rights, I
participated in the wonderful world of retail by liberating many
smallish items from store shelves. Storekeepers from miles around
learned to recognize me, and I
was frequently apprehended at the moment of appropriation. It's funny,
but I never thought of myself as a thief. To me shoplifting was simply
another aspect of my artistry. I was a magician, making objects vanish.
Presto disappearo. I am fortunate that the many offenses so lovingly
on my rap sheet occurred before my 18th birthday. On that day my
record was expurgated, and I was free to pursue a fresh beginning.
day I got two nice presents: a clean slate and a surprise visit from
Amanda, the social worker assigned to me. Whenever she was around, I
thought of a book title: In Praise of Older Women.
I never read this
book or even know who wrote it or anything about it really, but for
some reason the title has stuck with me. One thing I knew for sure,
Amanda, four years older than me, was certainly praiseworthy. Size and
shapewise she was perfect. I was
always afraid my poor impulse control would come to the fore, and I
would reach out and grab her. I guess sometimes circumstances do stymie
me. Always before we had met at Social Services, a place not inducive
to grabbing people. There were always
too many other
people around. Down deep I knew this might or might not deter me.
Anyway, for me these visits weren't especially enjoyable. Attending
them was just
something I had to do.
Having hit 18, the state was willing to wipe clean my slate, but it
still felt I needed watching. Where others might have gotten a
probation officer, I got Amanda. Lucky me. I had to get my own
apartment after my mother's latest boyfriend whacked me for walking
into the their bedroom and witnessing them doing the deed.
I could have retaliated. The son of a bitch was getting flabby, and I
could have taken him easily. But this would have upset Emily. He was
bringing in a few bucks, and the two of them liked drinking together.
Leaving was my only alternative.
Amanda coming to my place cast a whole
different light on things. Granted, my place was a shit-hole, but she didn't seem to mind. I was surprised she had even able
to find it. She brought a
chocolate cupcake with a single, three-inch, white candle sticking up
from the frosting. She had managed to lug it up three flights of stairs
without smudging the frosting or tilting the candle. To me that candle seemed decidedly
phallic, and, briefly, I imagined she was hinting at something. This cupcake was pretty much the first
birthday present I had ever
gotten, and the gratitude I felt was immense, way out of proportion to
the gift's monetary value. Saying "Thank you" and meaning it was a
but rather pleasant experience. Using a Bic, she lit the candle and
told me to make a wish.
I blew out the candle, I bowed my head and wished (prayed actually)
would bring me something every day for the rest of my life. Then I
quietly told God to forget it; Who was I to wish for a miracle when I
didn't even believe in them? I went to a drawer and brought out a
carving knife. I could be wrong, but I thought I saw a flash of fear in
her eyes. I used the knife to divide the cake in two, giving Amanda the
larger of the two portions. Always the gentleman, that's me. Amanda was
new at her job, and sometimes it seemed like she thought she could save
the world. Her superiors, of course, knew better and had been trying to
let her down easy. I was surprised
they allowed her to come to this part of the city alone. Maybe they
didn't. It occurred to me that
maybe she had come here on her own. Anyway, I had thought that in some
liked me, and I had considered asking her out, but never did. I just
felt up to suffering through a rejection.
me didn't stop her from being all but certain I would end up in
prison. She said, "There are two ways that you might go: straight or
off to prison. The first way would be an achievement; the second
would be a hell of a lot easier. I am betting you'll go for easy. They
call the straight way narrow for
a reason." As I understand it, social workers aren't supposed to say
this sort of thing. I guess she missed class the day they taught this.
to where?" I asked her. I had no appreciation for what
straight might entail. I did realize it didn't refer to my sexual
orientation, but that was about all. I had no sense of who or what I
wanted to be. I
only had a few friends, none of whom were at all straight. They were
people you had to watch because they were liable to pull something requiring retaliation.
my supposed friendships had ended badly. People
told me I had poor impulse control, but I really didn't give a shit.
Sometimes when they told me this I punched them. Sometimes I wondered
if I had inherited my poor impulse control from my father. I never knew
him. He took off when I was six months old. I often thought his
leaving could have been the result of poor impulse control. I grew up
hearing stories about him; He was something of a legendary badass. I
able to ask my mother about this. She had her own problems, with
alcohol, downers, and bad boyfriends.
Amanda tended to have an answer to anything I said, and this was no
exception. "Straight into the military," she said. "The army will set you straight and teach you some valuable skills."
The army didn't end up doing either of these things, but I thought it was good that Amanda had tried her best.
To my astonishment before the day was done, I later got another
birthday present: a call
from Vincent Gilbert wishing me well. He was my friend, I guess,
although he had been more than that. He had turned me onto golf, for
which I was grateful. Years ago, he had grown up in Detroit as a
lower-middle-class kid nobody
thought would amount to much. Somehow he got into Wayne State
and took computer science. He may have been poor, but he was
bright, and lo and behold he ended up writing software that enabled
General Motors to
program robots for multiple purposes. Later he sold his company for
loved golf and thought it a pity that more kids weren't exposed to
it. He thought it would teach them honesty and sportsmanship. He was
the sort of guy that, when he saw a need, he would go about
fulfilling it, so he set up junior golf programs throughout southern
Michigan. A half century ago, he had attended Huron Lake High School,
which, by chance, was
where I went (from time to time). Just inside the front door, Huron
Lake High has a bulletin board labeled Graduates of Distinction. I
guess it was meant to inspire us, but we used to joke that it posted
any graduates who had managed to stay out of jail. Of course, this
wasn't altogether true, but it wasn't altogether untrue either. There
were damn few Huron Lake graduates of any real distinction. A notable
exception was Mr. Gilbert, and his portrait occupied a prominent
position atop the board. It was he who decided Huron Lake High needed a
golf team, and
he offered to coach one for free. He enticed guys to try out with
of Izod shirts and promises of cast-off clubs and nearly-new balls. I
was one who took the bait.
I guess I had some natural ability. For me lining up putts was not much
different from lining up pool shots. You have to put your
dominant eye in charge. I stand a bit above six feet and seem to have
good hand-and-eye coordination. From the get-go I was able to hit
the ball a long ways, although not necessarily in the right direction.
Gilbert fixed my grip, taught me square alignment, and showed me how to
delay uncocking my wrists until the last split-second before impact. He
taught me not to hit at the ball, but to let the ball be in the way of
an accelerating down- and through-swinging clubhead. By
year, I was shooting in the mid-seventies.
Mr. Gilbert kept emphasizing that golf is a gentleman's game.
Again and again, he explained how it is based on an honor
system unlike any other sport. Players are expected to report their own
infractions. In the beginning, I wondered who he was trying
to shit. As time went by, however, I began to see the beauty of the
tradition. I experienced something I can only call a sense of pride in
being part of it. It might be coincidental, but at this time I stopped
shop-lifting and spray-painting vacant buildings. Somehow these things had lost their appeal. Along about this time
during a match I accidentally nudged a ball I was addressing in deep
rough. Nobody but me saw this, but I confessed to the violation and
accepted the penalty. I can't contend that the game made an honest man out of me, but it did make a difference.
Mr. Gilbert had used his influence to get team members unlimited
the Huron Dunes Golf Course. The Dunes is a difficult,
semi-private, tree-lined, converted cow-pasture demanding a wide
variety of shots. We called our sand wedges turd punchers. We practiced
and held our
home matches there, but, most importantly, could go there whenever we
wished. I spent many hours on its driving range, honing my swing into
one I could trust pretty much always. I was the team's number two man
(a highly-talented kid named Neal Knickerson kept beating me), but I
was a strong number two, and as seniors we took the Class B state
title. On occasion I caught myself
contemplating what life would be like as a touring pro.
One day Mr. Gilbert asked me if I would caddy
for him in an up-coming member/guest at Oakland Hills. I agreed to do so, and things
went wonderfully well for me when I talked him into hitting a firm nine instead of an easy
eight on 16. He caught it on the sweet spot, clearing the water fronting
the green by several feet, and he holed a ten-footer for birdie. His team took top
money, and I became his regular caddy.
Hills is a highly exclusive, private club. It's in Bloomfield Township,
home to great heaps of old auto money. It's not quite Grosse Pointe Shores, but it's close. Six U.S. Opens have been
played at Oakland Hills, including one won by Ben Hogan. Thanks to Mr. Gilbert, I
began hobnobbing with some decidedly upper-crust
dudes. I didn't want to embarrass myself or Mr. Gilbert, and I think I
acquired some of their casual yet mannerly behavior.
They knew how to be courteous without being obsequious. I may have been
crude. I know I was at first, but I think they took it for authenticity. At a later
member/guest, I hadn't felt at all out of place.
Oakland Hills has a rule: carts only. By and large, walking isn't
allowed. It was a
measure of Mr. Gilbert's influence that he was allowed to walk with me
his caddy. He had had some problems with his heart and insisted
that the exercise he got from walking was medically essential. The
truth was he felt that carts disrupted the proper pace of play. He and
alone was granted the privilege of hoofing it.
A problem was that players in carts were faster than we were, and we
frequently had to let them play through. This wasn't a major problem
since Mr. Gilbert liked setting a leisurely pace and didn't mind waiting for them. On one late September
afternoon, playing a onesome, we waved a couple of young guys through. It was
obvious from the way they were weaving about that they were thoroughly intoxicated.
Mr. Gilbert was halfway down a steep hill, and, driving much too fast, they were
headed right for him. At the last second they tried to execute a sharp
right, and the cart overturned, striking Mr. Gilbert and pinning him to the ground. The two
drunk guys were thrown clear.
I raced over to where Mr. Gilbert was struggling to breathe. The back end
of the cart laden with two sets of heavy clubs rested squarely on his
chest. Electric golf carts with batteries weigh in at around 900
pounds, and this one was crushing Mr. Gilbert. I guess I had an adrenalin
surge, because I was able to heave the cart upright, getting it back on
its wheels. I had heard tales
of small, adrenalin-drenched women lifting cars, so I guess my feat
wasn't all that impressive. Still Mr. Gilbert would have been in real
had I not been there. It sounds a bit sappy, but I actually held his hand and prayed he would be okay.
He stayed on the ground for awhile
catching his breath, but then, with a hand from me, got back
on his feet. I gave the drunk guys a tongue-lashing before
they drove off. As my downtown friends would have put it, I reamed
them new assholes. I probably should have reported them, but life
on the streets had rendered me unable to squeal on anybody for anything
ever. This just wasn't done. Besides that, I was more worried about Mr.Gilbert's
condition than whether or not justice would be served. This late in the day, the club nurse wasn't on duty. Mr.
Gilbert wanted to continue the round, but, ignoring his protests, I drove him to the Emcura Immediate Care Health Center
which was just a little ways down West Maple Road. They took him in
right away, and his chest
x-ray checked out okay, no crushed ribs, no internal bleeding. He
thanked me again and again as I drove him back to his car.
A week later I reported for duty with the U.S. Army. I hadn't told
anybody I had enlisted, and there were no tearful good-byes before I shipped out.
I realize now how rude this was, but at the time I felt like I was making a clean
break with my previous life. Amanda had suggested I needed to join the Army
to save my life (or maybe it was my soul). I guess I wondered why I had to risk my life
to save it, but decided Amanda was more solidly grounded in philosophical
and spiritual matters than I could ever hope to be, so I took her at her word. Anyway, I
I felt I had to turn my back on even the good parts of my past.
I no sooner got through basic training than they shipped me out to
Afghanistan. I had been there only a month or so before I met Thomas
Deegan, a raw recruit if ever there was one. He was from Maine, and had
no more business being a
soldier than than I did. He just didn't give a good god damn about
soldering. He was indifferent when it came to following orders and was
always on the brink of being dressed down for insubordination. He had
one saving grace: He knew computers better than anybody else around.
The thing that kept Deegan out of the brig was his ability to fix them.
In the officers' quarters, there were a couple of old IBMs that the
brass used exclusively for porn. They kept going on the blink, and
Deegan kept coaxing them back to life.
Back home, he had been a hacker. His specialty had been getting into
corporate sites and leaving the message "Pudding Head Was
Here." He never did any real damage, but when the law caught up with
him, a judge told him to enlist in the army or face several years in
prison. Hence our paths were fated to cross in Afghanistan. Eventually Deegan got
an early release from the Army although the record shows he served several
full terms, won a chestful of medals, and had been promoted to
brigadier general. His was an honorable discharge entitling him to any
and all benefits the Army had to offer. I shuddered to think what
Pentagon chieftains would have done had they gotten wind of his digital diddling.
We got zonked together often enough to become bosom buddies. One night after more than a dozen beers and something concocted
from Afghan poppies, he had told me that one day I would need
advanced computer skills, and on that day I
should come to him in Maine. Then he gave me the coordinates for his
The day came shortly after I made my way back to Detroit. I was, you
will recall, a
deserter, a killer, and the possessor of a duffel bag half full of
illicitly acquired bills. The Army thought that I, Dwight DeLong, had
been killed in the fire fight that took out the rest of my fellow
soldiers. I wanted it to keep right on thinking
that. So I rented a car and punched Deegan's coordinates into the GPS.
By the time I got to Mariaville it was obvious why he had given me
coordinates. His cabin was deep in the woods, and I doubt if it had an
address. It was way off the grid, down a dirt road that branched off
twice onto other dirt roads. The last link was less a road than a
field with a stretch of weeds and brush laid mostly flat. Thanks to GPS, I
managed to make all the correct
and kept going until the road dead-ended. Parked there was a rusting
Subaru Outback from the mid-nineties that I just knew had to be
Deegan's. From there I took a
footpath through the woods a quarter mile down to his cabin. Brushing through the bushes overlapping the path set several
bells ajingling, guaranteeing he got no surprise visitors. I hoped I wouldn't get shot.
I was later to learn he got most of his electricity from car batteries which he
kept charged by switching them into his aging Subaru. Those damn things
are heavy, and I didn't envy his having to lug them back and forth on
the path. I guess he used the wheelbarrow that was leaning against the
cabin. Behind the cabin was a jerry-rigged satellite dish which
brought him internet. I don't know what he did with his rich retirement income. Tom could have kept up with world news, but he
seldom bothered. His politics, if he had any, remained a mystery. On the back bumper of
his vehicle was a well-worn "Nuke the Gay Whales" sticker. Is there an
Don't Give a Rat's Ass political party?
left two weeks later I had a new birth certificate, social security card,
Triple A card, and Michigan driver's' license. I also had an online
history extending back to my early teens which Deegan assured me
would hold up to moderate scrutiny. My name was Danny Dukes, a name I liked. I was
partial to d's and enjoyed its rhythm.
Back in Detroit, I avoided my old associates. Detroit had plenty of bars, and I just went to different
ones. It was easy falling into a new routine. The bars were different, but much the same. They
had beer and quarter-devouring pool tables and a clientele ready to
drink beer, shoot pool, and, sometimes, exchange blows. I let my hair
go wherever it wished, grew a beard, and took to wearing shades. I had
also begun to
gain weight and with the help of days-old donuts from a friendly bakery
did what I could to encourage this. I was Danny Dukes,
a mysterious, hefty guy you really shouldn't fuck with.
This didn't stop some guys from trying. Drinking beer and shooting pool
no matter where had a way of
leading to bar fights. At this I did pretty well. One night I took on
three guys, and managed to deck them all. I punched and kicked
relentlessly and overpowered them. The last guy down had been trying to
with a beer bottle. Disabling bozos like them was as close as I ever
got to a sense of achievement. I missed playing golf, but this was out of the question. There were
only so many public courses, and somebody would be bound to recognize
Dwight DeLong. One notable things about bar brawls: Fouls put you ahead. That night I was in rare form, and it
was with a special flourish that I kicked the beer-bottle guy in the
ribs. Watching from a table was a guy who
later took me aside, told me he was a fight promoter, and asked me how
I would like to fight for money. Dumb as I was, I said, "Sure."
What he didn't tell me immediately was that he was trying to establish
a kickboxing league in Detroit. He had no money, and assured me and the
other recruits that if we would fight for peanuts initially, big bucks
were sure to follow. He was a smooth talker, and we had little to lose
by listening to him. He was known as Big Bill Burke, and while he eventually
screwed me more ways than I can count, I will give him credit for one
thing: He set me up with a fine trainer.
Akito Sato knew his stuff. He was a little, elderly, Japanese guy, but his kicks
were almost too fast for the eye to follow. He taught me the long,
convoluted history of Oriental martial arts and instilled in me a deep
respect for the legendary masters of such disciplines as Tae Kwon Do,
Muay Thai, Muay Boran, Kyokushi, and Adithada.
and Sato wanted to stage matches in Muay Thai. This
appealed to me because it permits a vast selection of mayhem. It's a
lot like bar fighting. Participants can strike their opponents with
punches, kicks, (including kicks below the waist), and flying elbows
and knees. One can work in close and grab the opponent, and one can
toss him about and sweep him, off his feet. As a brawler, my
impulse always was to pull out all the stops. I loved the vast
range of legitimate ways I could disable an opponent.
Before Sato came along, I had never considered being a
professional fighter. The idea had just never occurred to me. Now with kickboxing I felt
like my real life had began. This was the second pursuit (golf was the first) I ever
had that involved any real direction. The training was hard work, but I was sure
it was leading up to something great. Never before had I given a
thought to keeping in shape. Under Sato's watch, I quit smoking and cut
way back on alcohol. I was billed as Danny "Demon Dog" Dukes. I
thought the name was cool. Didn't people say "put up your
dukes" when they wanted to fight? In the early going, I
endeavored to be as
ferocious as the name suggests, but Sato eventually worked me out of
this. He taught me that finesse could be way more effective than brute force.
At first I sort of believed Big Bill when he assured us lucrative TV contracts were just
around the corner. His contention was that even more than salty snacks
people craved vicarious violence. He would go on about how kickboxing
popular in other parts of the world and was bound to catch on here. He
suggested we would soon be traveling to exotic lands for million-dollar
were always just a deal or two away from the big time. He kept this up
for nearly three years. Fighters came and fighters left, but I stayed
on. Eventually I had quit believing Big Bill, but I didn't have anywhere else to go.
the three years that I fought, I established a 34-7 record and was
known by a small, but slowly growing, bunch of fight fans around
Detroit. Both the Free Press and the News were giving us a few inches
on their sports pages, so people knew we existed. I won nearly all of
those fights on points. I seldom
knocked anybody out. For a long time I had misgivings about this.
demon dogs demolish the opposition? What sort of demon dog just racks
up points? Nevertheless, the press, what little we got,
liked the name and it stuck.
I had thought I might have a future as a fighter until the night I
killed Billy Brama. I still think the blame is only partially mine. The
have stopped the fight. Billy—he was just a kid— was beaten. He wasn't
himself, but he wouldn't go down. He was letting me do whatever I
wanted. I finally decided to end things with one big kick to his head.
I delivered, and he went down hard. Trouble was he never got
back up. His wife Laura and I were at his bedside when the line went
flat. Her shock
was followed immediately by rage; she threw a bedpan at me. I could
have ducked, but I let it hit me, a blow that left a scar on the bridge
of my nose, my first and only fight-related injury. No matter. My
career was over.
As a professional fighter with a bit of a reputation I had moved up a
few rungs in the social scale. I had a few bucks, and some pretty damn good-looking women were
happy to be seen with me. Now I was back where I had begun,
hanging out with some of Detroit's bottom-of-the-barrel lowlifes. I had
no money left—I had blown the remainder of my duffel bag bills, and
breaking my contract with Big Bill Burke had left me penniless. I got
pretty depressed. I missed my old cohorts, but they believed that
DeLong was long dead, and I needed for them to keep right on believing
it. I shaved my beard, but usually left two or three days of stubble.
One night I was sitting by myself in TDs, my favorite sports bar,
nursing a draft Bud and watching the Pistons get pounded by the Celtics when a voice just off to my right said, "Hello,
Dwight." I twisted my head around, and there was Mr. Gilbert,
my golf guru, smiling, carrying a walking stick now, but nattily dressed as always.
"Name's Danny," I said. "Danny Dukes."
"I've been following your career," he said. "Quite impressive. I was sorry to see it end."
"How could you tell it was me?"
"By the way you moved, the way you shifted your weight before
delivering a blow. In both golf and kickboxing, you get your power from
"You taught me how to use my lower body," I said. "The kicks were something new, but you taught me footwork basics."
Mr. Gilbert sat down at my table. "After I realized who Danny Dukes was, I
had often considered contacting you, but guessed you didn't want me to. You seemed to be doing okay. I
found other kids to lug my sticks, but it has never been the same."
"You still using that old Bull's Eye putter? I tried to straighten the shaft, but never got it perfect."
"Occasionally it works wonders," he said. "I can't bring myself to part with it."
I signed. "I haven't hit a shot in over a year. I've probably forgotten how."
Gilbert shook his head. "No way," he said. "It's like riding a bike."
"My clubs are still in the trunk of my car," I admitted. "I guess I've been too lazy to use them."
"You've been busy. It takes time to master Muay Thai."
I nodded and took a sip of beer.
"Tough break, your last fight."
I stared at the bubbles in my beer. "Yeah," I said. "Tough."
"After that fight, you dropped from sight."
I nodded. "How'd you find me?"
"Your manager told me he had no idea where you'd gone, and I figured
you would be depressed. I couldn't stop wondering and worrying about
you, so I hired an investigator. I knew you favored sports bars, and
even in a city the size of Detroit, there are only so many of them.
Pete, my investigator, took your photo around, showing it to
"Recent photo?" I asked. I could only hope Gilbert hadn't used an old
shot of Dwight DeLong. With my beard and bloat, Danny Dukes looked a
whole lot different from Dwight DeLong.
"Taken like yesterday," Gilbert said. "Your manager has a vast
assortment of your publicity shots. Several of the bartenders
Danny Dukes, but the one here said you come in two or three times a
week. I've spent most of this week waiting for you to show up. I feel I
owe you. I haven't forgotten how you hauled that golf cart off me. But
more than that, I've watched you develop. I'd like to see you fulfill
For the first time, I looked him in the eye. "I am sorry," I said. "I
should have stayed in touch. But I felt I had no choice but to lie low. I ran afoul of some pretty bad dudes. They think I am
dead, encased in cement in the Detroit River beside Hoffa. If they find out
differently, I will, as they say, be swimming with the fishes."
I hated lying to Gilbert and never had before.
"Your secret is safe with me," he said. "I won't try to unravel the rest of the story."
I think I loved this man.
Our friendship picked up pretty much where it had left off, and I was
reminded how much
I liked hobnobbing with the swells at Oakland Hills. By and by, I was
playing golf with Mr. Gilbert as often as I was caddying for him. It never
occurred to me he was grooming me for bigger things. Representative
Jimmy Johnson had dropped dead six months before the completion of his
seventh term, and somebody had to fill in. The appointment is made by
the governor, and Mr. Gilbert had his ear, so I got the gig. Mr. Gilbert said he
thought the legislature
needed fresh, young blood, and none was fresher or younger than mine. I
was twenty-five years old, the minimum age for a representative.
Mr. Gilbert kept insisting he thought I was the best man for the job, but I
suspected he was showing appreciation for my assistance freeing him from that overturned golf cart.
D.C. was a gas. I had never been in a place with so many young,
good-looking women. I guess there is a huge demand for secretarial
aides. I suspect it's young women who are really running the country.
I'll admit the public exposure was making me uneasy, but
I figured I was just one of 435 representatives, a temporary one at
that, and I was determined not to make waves. I was content to ogle the
women, vote along party lines, collect my pay, and do nothing to draw
attention to myself.
There was one thing I had promised myself I would do once I got a
steady income. I guess you could call it tithing. As I understood it,
that's when somebody gives ten percent of their income to their church.
I had no church, but I had what amounted to a profound belief: Laura
Brama, the wife of the guy I killed in the ring, had been screwed, and
it was my fault.
Word had gotten to me that following Billy's death, she had suffered a
psychological breakdown. I don't know what kind, exactly, but it must
have been traumatic. She had been hospitalized for several weeks and
lost custody of her three children. Eventually, upon her release, she
did get her kids back, but she remained fragile and has been unable to
hold a job. Billy had had no insurance, and she was destitute.
Through my office in Detroit, I arranged to have a bundle of cash equal
to ten percent of my income mailed to her every week. I insisted it
remain anonymous. I wasn't tithing for myself. I didn't want Laura to
feel bad, even for a moment, for whacking me in the head with that bed
pan. I had already made her feel bad enough. The ten percent hit in my
income might have cramped my style a bit (had I been trying to maintain
a style), but it certainly didn't conflict with my desire to keep an
All went well until one day when we were debating a Champ-backed bill
would have all but eliminated federal controls over contaminants
allowable in municipal water supplies. Many members of my own party
agreed with the opposition that this might best be left to individual
states. It looked
like Champ's bill would sail through until I found myself on my feet
addressing the assembly. Clear-cut case of poor impulse control. I told
the assembly about Flint, Michigan, in a district not far from mine,
and state administrators dithered about for two years while poor,
residents were drinking water heavily contaminated with lead and other
toxins. I argued that timely federal oversight could have prevented an
historic atrocity. Following my impassioned plea, the legislature went
into recess. Two days later, it reconvened with the House leadership
advocating strengthening federal oversight. A month later, a strong
bill passed that almost certainly could have prevented the tragedy in
Flint and might prevent it from happening elsewhere.
Both the News and the Free Press played the story up big. I was
portrayed as a hero, a fearless fighter overcoming an entrenched
establishment determined to give poor people the shaft. This was all
well and good, but I figured it would soon blow over. An election was
coming up, and I assumed they would get a real politician
to run for Johnson's seat. I thought Mr. Gilbert was out of his mind
he urged me to run. I didn't know much, but I did know one thing:
Running for a Congressional seat costs at least a
cool million-and-a-half, and I had no money. I could not imagine myself
going out begging for bucks from rich donors. There had been times
when I was
seriously down and out, but I had never resorted to panhandling. To me
politics seemed like pretty much the same thing. Oh sure, it's on a
higher level, but in spirit the two are in lockstep. The difference is
that sooner or later political recipients are expected to repay doners.
kept telling me not to worry about money. He had tons of his own and
had favors he
could call in. There would be a mailing, maybe more than one, but
nothing would go out that
hadn't been approved by me. Our slogan would be: DANNY DUKES: a TOUGH-
ENERGETIC- SMART- TENACIOUS- ENVIRONMENTALLY DEDICATED candidate.
Privately I wondered if DEBAUCHED should take the place of DEDICATED.
The acronym came out as TESTED. What could be more appropriate for a
candidate with almost no experience? The idea was that people would be
reminded that (supposedly) I had fought long and hard to assure
that people got clean water. Never mind that we're talking about a
fight in which my part lasted fewer than ten ill-advised minutes.
hesitated for a week or two before committing
myself. I feared the opposition would take a long hard look at my past,
shuddered at what it might find. I gave in when Mr. Gilbert kept assuring me
that Democrats running Michigan's 14th District faced no real
opposition. He seemed confident that once I got the nomination—something he could arrange —victory
in the general election was a gimme. I found out later he had greatly exaggerated my chances of winning.
My friend Deegan, the computer genius, had given me a past that went
back nearly a decade. Commencing in my teens, my educational background
had left nary a trace. In the fantasy he had composed, I had had my own
business creating and hosting
websites. I had been reasonably successful, paid my bills, kept out of
trouble. I hadn't set the world on fire, but I hadn't burned anything
down either. Of course, my career as a fighter was public record, but
(other than kill a kid) I hadn't done anything to be ashamed of. But
now I had made a name for myself. Me and Ralph Nader. I got a letter
from the Sierra Club asking why I wasn't a member. A better question
was why the hell hadn't
I kept my mouth shut?
When I agreed to run (a decision that might be attributed to poor
impulse control), I insisted on one condition: I didn't want to
know who contributed to the campaign. There was a lot I didn't know,
but one thing I did know was that far too many politicians had sold
their souls to the one percent. I knew too much, or thought I did,
about banksters, Wall Street, big pharm, and the military/industrial
complex Eisenhower famously cautioned us against. One thing I learned in the
army (besides never volunteer) was I didn't like being at
anybody's beck and call.
Somebody once said: "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; and
those who can't do or teach go into politics." When I decided to try
politics, having no experience worked wonders. Being a Caucasian
successful in a sport dominated by Asians also helped a lot. At first
I thought it might cause resentment, but it seemed to garner respect. I
can think of no other field in which people are sometimes chosen for their lack
of experience. Who in his right mind would want to bring aboard the
least experienced heart surgeon, plumber, or airplane pilot available?
The electorate was so pissed at politics and politicians, it rewarded the uncorrupted novice.
hadn't happened often, but in this case luck was with me. The 14th
may be the most gerrymandered district in the country. Heavily weighted
in favor of Democrats, it begins in Detroit, goes east, turns west out
to Farmington Hills, then north to Pontiac. Democrats here often draw
percent of the vote. I couldn't see how an essentially unknown white
like me could waltz right in. As it turned out, a lot of low-income
people liked the idea of a guy nicknamed Demon Dog. Or maybe it was the
sheer novelty of electing a kickboxer. A fair
high-income people and academics appreciated attitudes I had that I
later learned could be called progressive.
I wasn't a complete babe in the woods. Years earlier, I had experienced
a few notable political associations. In between forays into
delinquency, I was seeing a girl named Janice Hooper, who brought me to
a variety of protests. Her group, mostly college students, disliked
(among other things and in no
particular order) GMOs, police brutality, LGBT discrimination,
insurance companies, banks, capital
punishment, guns, restrictions on abortion and most drugs, military
engagements, genetic engineering, minimum wages, tuition, and student
Secretly I was somewhat disinterested in much of this folderol, but I
scene exhilarating. I was
young, and I loved the music, the drugs, the sex, and the heady aura of
(As a known bar brawler, I was Janice's tough-guy protector, if anybody
tried hassling her).
Because I wanted to be able to talk to her without sounding
like an asshole idiot, I read some history. For awhile, Howard
Zinn and Noam Chomsky were my main men. Often I stayed up late at night
reading the Nation and Progressive magazines, and before long I could
talk a pretty good game. Janice called herself a neo-Marxist,
although she didn't seem to have much
of an idea what that was. I didn't care. I liked being part of the
counterculture (although, unlike some of the others, I was pretty sure
we weren't up to challenging the U.S. Military). I know Janice worked
hard to instill in me
social consciousness. She had long blond hair and good-sized breasts so
I didn't mind. Accommodating as I was, her efforts weren't particularly
successful, although she did teach me how to interrupt TV's talking
with a proper mix of cynicism and rage.
fact of the matter was I had begun wandering off the mainstream
reservation before I ever met Janice Hooper. Back in high school I got
several offbeat ideas from Norman Issac, the only
teacher I really
taught me that the United States was covered with warts. It was, he
said, founded on genocide and maintained by racism. For some
reason, his version of the past stuck in my mind better than the
candy-coated history I had been taught earlier. His was a lot more fun.
Mr. Issac wore tweed jackets with leather arm patches, spectacles with
round lenses, and he sported a goatee. He only lasted a
year, but, fortunately (or not), I caught his American history course.
He pointed out that
Sam Adams was motivated more by greed than patriotism; that Ben
Franklin was a dirty old man; that Paul Revere nearly got
court-martialed; and that Thomas Jefferson knocked up one of his
slaves several times.
political speeches were often in this vein (to his credit, Mr. Gilbert
never asked me to tone it down), and I found I relished dissing the
establishment. I insisted I was an outsider
would never become an insider, valiantly running against the United
States of America. Like magic this often pleased a generous
cross-section of several communities in my district. I cruised in with
53 percent of
When I wasn't telling myself this was a
horrible mistake, I celebrated by partying. Then I got a
haircut and invested in a dark
blue suit and yellow power tie. At first, being a Congressman struck me
as an easy (if, for me, dangerous) way to make a buck. Lots easier
than knocking guys
senseless. But then I began to wonder. Polls showed that Congress was
held in ridiculously low regard. It was a good day
when any poll showed ten percent of the populace viewed Congress
favorably. We weren't just
disrespected; we were loathed. I began to suspect that being in
Congress might be more dangerous than bar fighting. I knew about D.C.'s
strict firearm regulations, but I ignored them and began packing
heat wherever I went.
My first assignment in D.C. was to serve on a sub-committee to
explore more effective ways to deal with drug abuse. The committee was
experimental in that it was both select (formed for limited duration to
deal with a specific problem) and joint (composed of both Republicans
and Democrats). I wasn't sure if
I was the best or the worst person for this particular committee. I had
smoking pot since I was 14, and back in my apartment I had a generous
stash of Pink Hawaiian Starburst. Everybody I knew in Detroit smoked
pot. I liked it and certainly never considered it a problem. I couldn't
have been more in favor of it. Non-addicting,
lots of fun. I liked most of the thoughts pot put into my head.
Granted, they seemed less profound the next day, but at the time of
their occurrence they were great. Sometimes even Cosmic. I had no doubt
that sending non-violent
possessors of pot to prison was insane.
I had been curious about the hallucinogenics. I had been told that LSD
dangerous for people who didn't have their shit together. Since I never
felt like I had my shit together, I never tried it. I had friends who
swore by various mushrooms, but I myself hadn't indulged. I believed
Graham Hancock when he said that Ayahuasca has
been successful in getting people off an assortment of painful
addictions, but I hadn't had easy access to any. In the military, I had
ingested numerous unknown concoctions with varying degrees of pleasure,
but I didn't know how to categorize these.
thought my point of view was at least somewhat sophisticated. I knew
the war on drugs had been a resounding failure, and I
entered into the fray thinking that this would be a wonderful
opportunity to bring some rationality to it. I was aware that researchers
were saying that psychedelics were effective in treating depression. We could single out the
dangerous drugs, educate people on how to avoid them or use them
responsibly, distinguish them from enjoyable recreational drugs.
out I was naive, a wishful thinker whose notions were DOA. The blame
lay largely with Senator Buford Beauregard Jackson who was able to
control the discourse with an iron hand.
Thanks to his seniority, he was the powerful chairman
of this committee, which consisted for three Senators and three
Representatives. Among us were two other Republicans and three
Democrats. Supposedly this
mixture would promote the deliverance of measures acceptable to all. It
was, I soon realized, the perfect mixture to assure that nothing
worthwhile would ever be accomplished.
I'll never forget the first thing Senator Jackson said to me. "Welcome
aboard, young man. You've made it to the big game." He made me feel
somewhat good for about a second, before he went on to say, "The first
for you to do is forget everything you learned in Civics 101. It was
all bull crap. The second thing, if you want your term to be pleasant
and rewarding, is to follow my lead. When I say 'jump,' you don't
think twice before asking, 'how high'?"
I had no problem with the first
part; I don't think I learned anything in Civics 101. The second part, I realized, could become troublesome. It
brought back poignant memories from my military days. He sounded a lot like an
officer I hadn't been able to forget, the one I shot in Afghanistan.
We were to meet at 3 p.m. the second and fourth Friday of every month. Committees usually
meet a lot more often than ours, which I suppose was a measure of our
unimportance. Our small room in
the Cannon House Office Building was dominated by a large, oak table at
which Senator Jackson assumed the head position. I was on time for
every meeting as was the Senator. The other members were hit and miss, and, as time went by, a lot more miss than hit.
I may have been a bit slow, but before long I realized our committee
had nothing to do with formulating sensible drug policies. It mostly
had to do
with keeping blacks, hippies, malcontents, and Hell's Angels in their
place, which Jackson felt should be a federal penitentiary. I had often
wondered why the government had invested so much time and energy into
incarcerating low-level peddlers and users. It was much later that I
learned it was a diversionary tactic designed to draw attention away from the
activities of the CIA. This lovable group of guys had been heavily into
trafficking as a means of acquiring tons of untraceable currency. Of
course, this was all in the interests of waging clandestine battles
against terrorists (and democratic Southern Hemisphere governments that
might have been too far to the left).
My education had come in dribs and drabs, and I shudder when I think about how naive I was. Early on I had
asked, "Why does possession of crack cocaine carry a much higher
sentence than possession of regular cocaine?" To me this just seemed unreasonable.
When I asked this, Jackson sighed, an overblown effort to look patient. "Possession
of crack cocaine is a serious felony because the people who possess
crack cocaine are likely to be serious felons," he explained. "Very
often our law enforcement friends can prove possession, even if they
have to plant it themselves. It can, at times, be hard to establish
guilt for other crimes."
Later on I had thought I might make an appeal to the conservative
members of our group. "You do realize," I said, "that it costs well
over seventy-five thousand dollars to keep nonviolent possessors of
marijuana incarcerated for a year. Kids have gotten twenty-year
sentences for having a weed that often grows wild. It
would be cheaper by far to send them to Harvard."
Jackson looked at me like I was speaking in Swahili. The others found something of compelling interest in their tea.
was oh so idealistic. I thought we were positioned to make an
important contribution to society. We could recommend increased funding
for new and better ways to treat addiction. We could encourage doctors
to prescribe non-addictive painkillers (if any existed} or encourage
federal research and funding into developing them. We could recommend
that the government crack down
on companies and physicians that allow easy access to potent and often deadly opioids
fentanyl. We could even explore the possibilities of giving addicts
free, carefully controlled quantities of drugs like heroin along with
something I had heard they did in Denmark.
I did realize that addiction can be horrific. I have had acquaintances
who succumbed to heroin and other opioids. The national opioid
kill-count, pushing 75,000, was higher than that of car wrecks. Every
year more Americans die from opioids than died during twenty years of
Vietnam. At an early meeting, I suggested addiction
should be treated as a medical problem, not a crime. My suggestion was
met with silence I can only describe as an all-consuming void. I was
aware enough to realize that whatever little idealism I might once have
had was slowly being squeezed out of me.
Our air conditioning often broke down, and the windows couldn't be
opened. Six months of the year, May thru October, the large fan the
maintenance staff provided couldn't begin to overcome the relentless
heat. The tray holding the pitcher of ice tea the staff put out (along
with six glasses in the mistaken but shakeless belief that our full
membership would show up) was welcome, but no where near sufficient.
(The glasses sat on the tray upside down although I had learned while
working as a restaurant dishwasher that it would have been more
antiseptic to leave them upright.) It hardly mattered. Since the
members of our group were missing more and more meetings, most of the
glasses went unused.
Most Fridays committee members were far more likely to be found in
Hilton Head than Washington, D.C. I sometimes wondered if all the
glasses got washed after every meeting.
My electoral victory was somewhat remarkable in that it had occurred in
an election in which President Ronald Champ was seeking re-election. Several
Congresspeople were elected by clinging tightly to his lengthy
coattails. I hadn't known it at the time, but opposing Champ was
considered hazardous duty. It was a big reason more people didn't want
to run in my stead.
years earlier, when Champ announced his candidacy, I hadn't been
paying attention. Truth is I hadn't given a good God damn who the
president was. It didn't matter since he was bound to be a shithead.
Champ's announcement was so lurid it caught even my attention. He
painted a picture of an America being devastated by foreign intruders.
I was living in Detroit, and while much of the place might rightfully
described as devastated, I couldn't see that foreign intruders were
doing the damage. I was reminded of Pogo's famous observation: "We have
seen the enemy and he is us." Detroit had never really recovered from
the riots of 1968. The decline of the auto industry played a big part.
I suppose the Japanese manufacturers of Toyotas and Honda might be
described as foreign intruders, but they were succeeding by offering
superior products. In any event, Detroit was full of people convinced
they were being
cheated of a prosperity that was rightfully theirs.
Champ promised to turn things around. He claimed to be a billionaire,
but denied he was one of "them." Instead he was one of "us." I suppose
he deserves a measure of credit for pulling this off. He ran as a
populist, a genuine
Man of the
People. He assured us he would follow the example set by FDR, the
president many say saved capitalism by being a traitor to his
Champ established a steadfast base by convincing many he was an
successful businessman siding with the working man. For some reason
nobody paid much attention
to his many entrepreneurial flops. His base didn't care that domestic
banks wouldn't lend him money. His supporters were willing to regard
his multiple-bankruptcies as brilliant business strategies.
He lost the popular vote, but by carrying
industry-damaged states like Michigan and Pennsylvania got enough electoral votes to win.
Oblivious as I was to the whole matter, I also wasn't a bit surprised. I knew enough of Michigan's so-called common
folks to realize how desperate they were. In the thirties, FDR buoyed them up; Maybe Champ could do so now, at least for awhile.
many ways, luck was with him. The opposition had put up a female
candidate a great many people simply loathed. The
previous administration had brought the economy through a deep
recession, and recovery, well under way, continued to perk along after
Champ came in. At the same time, Champ enjoyed a compliant Congress,
and he was able to engineer a big corporate tax cut. This did wonders
for the Dow, and a little of it dripped down to average Joes. It also
spiked the deficit to formerly unimaginable depths, but few people
seemed to notice or care. He was able to convince millions that the
U.S. was under siege from a multitude of dark-skinned, murderous
immigrants propped up by craven liberals interested only in welcoming
aboard future left wing-voters. Ecumenicals supported him
overwhelmingly in large part because at least he wasn't a woman.
Liberals called him narcissistic, fascistic, and oligarchical,
but these fancy words didn't influence his base. He got away with
filling his cabinet with folks from Goldman Sachs and the Pentagon. He
snatched health insurance away from millions with promises of better
things to come. He ripped apart the First Amendment by, among other
things, making disrespect for the flag felonious. He realized that gays
and transsexuals made his followers uncomfortable and took steps to
shove them back into their closets. In short, President Ronald
Champ was Senator Buford Beauregard Jackson's kind of guy.
On this late August afternoon only one other committee member, Joyce
Miler, a Republican, had shown up. Jackson gave a ten-minute spiel on
the evils of Mexicans hauling bails of marijuana across the border into
Arizona before dismissing her. On her way out, she said something about
heading for an air conditioned shopping mall. Outside temperatures had
reached triple digits, and it wasn't much cooler where we were.
Once we were alone, I said, "It's gotta be hot work lugging those bails
across the desert. What do they weigh—forty pounds each? I read where
it's been hitting 120 in Arizona."
"Spics aren't bothered by the heat," Jackson said. "They don't feel it."
"I don't know," I said. "Seems like maybe global warming is going to reach out and grab all of us."
"No such thing," Jackson said. "Summers have always been hot. Besides we have a more important heat to worry about."
"The dead heat polls are saying Champ's in with Craig Stevenson. The
election could go either way. Now I've learned that the Post is sitting
on a story about Champ knocking up an intern and insisting she get an
Somebody close to the President leaked the story. Whoever it was should
be drawn and quartered."
I tried not to let it show that I considered this good news indeed. I
assumed I could count on the Post to publish the story at an opportune
time. The election was more than three years away, and it seemed
reasonable the Post would wait until more people were thinking about it.
"What if he loses Evangelical support?" Jackson wailed. "It could be
fatal." Nobody knew how strong his grip was on this support. So far it
had held steady despite his four marriages,
numerous rather public affairs, business failures, long trail of
verifiable lies, and other unChristianlike actions. An unknown measure
of this support could be attributed to his stated opposition to
abortion under any circumstances. Testing it intrigued me.
"How do you suppose his supporters will react to the news that he coerced a subordinate into committing infanticide?" I said.
"Probably not well," Jackson said. "He could be in deep shit unless
something miraculous happens."
"Something miraculous?" I said. "Like what?"
"Oh, I don't know," Jackson said. "Maybe something like a series of
attacks. Bad ones. Really bad ones spread over many months. Attacks so
horrendous the fate of the nation hangs in the balance, and the
President is forced to declare martial law until terrorism is brought
to its knees."
"What are the chances of that happening?" I said.
The Senator shrugged. "Who knows?" he said. "Stranger things have happened."
"I guess they have," I said, returning his shrug.
do have a word of advice," Jackson said. "Steer clear of the concert on
the Mall tomorrow. Lowlife rowdies at these things often cause
trouble. Why so many prime, young twats get all twitchy over a paunchy,
old fart like Mickey what's-his-name? is beyond me. They get the young
too drunk on testosterone." I had never seen the Stones and had thought I might droop by.
It was then that Jackson's cell phone chimed in with the opening bars
of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The Senator excused himself as he
stepped into the adjoining bathroom, closing and locking the door
behind him before turning on the water.
Something was up. Something he didn't want me to know about. I have an
automatic response to a situation like that. I do what I can to find
out what's up.
On the tray with that day's ice tea were four clean glasses. There had
been six, but Ms.Stevenson and I had both used one. Jackson had been sipping from a
flask (Kentucky bourbon, he said), something I had never known him to
do. I took one of the clean glasses, pressed the rim against the
door, and brought my ear to the bottom. At first I was afraid the glass
was too thick. Thin glass, I had heard, works best. But by holding my breath and
concentrating I could hear the occasional word: Mall… Museum… Crowd…
Castle… Cross… Signal… Gardens… Station… Basin… Worry…Frisco... I thought I
might have heard the words Cross and Fire, but wasn't sure. His accent
made the word Fire sound a lot like Far.
Jackson was saying his good-byes, and I hurried to the table and got
the glass down as he was emerging from the bathroom. Too late I
realized I had set it
down right-side up on the tray.
"Sorry about the interruption," he said. "Boss woman wants me to pick
some things up on my way home." I noticed he was looking at the glass.
"Not a problem," I said. "I believe we're done here anyway."
nodded and again looked at the glass sitting right-side up. He'd
forgotten he told me his wife was in Virginia tending to
her sick mother. He had told me she could take her time coming back.
Said his sex life had never been better. He had said
this with a whisper and a wink, a one-guy-to-another, buddy-to-buddy,
elbow-nudge-to-the-ribs sort of confidence. I wondered how he could possibly think I cared.
I picked up the yellow legal pad on which I had been making doodles and
stuffed it in my briefcase. There it would languish with the papers I
had scribbled upon at all the other meetings. The case was getting
thick with paper and a bit heavy to carry. Someday I had to take time
to clean it out.
The day was still sweltering, but I liked the heat. I meandered
along, happily taking my time. No hurry, none at all. This was a
marvelous late August afternoon, and people were getting out of work
early, anticipating a fun-filled summer weekend. D.C. is awash with
fine young women, and
today they had emerged wearing shorts and halters or lightweight
I enjoyed taking in the sights. Life was good.
I had rented a modest apartment in Anacostia, a part of D.C. trying to transition from decaying to gentrified. Rumor
has it that Starbucks is eyeing a nearby location. A few weeks ago, a
grocery store with some organic fruits and vegetables opened its doors.
They tell me it hasn't been doing much business yet (its produce is
costly), but who can tell what time might bring? Yeah, yeah, I know,
the neighborhood at best is iffy (prostitutes work two or three of its corners, but it's only ten minutes from the Hill.
It was early for supper, but I decided to stop by the club to see
Sarah. Friday is a big night at Blue Indigo, and she would be working
until closing. But maybe by coming this early I could spend a few moments
with her. We seem to have reached a tacit agreement not to see others,
but I have been seeing less and less of her
since she was promoted to night manager. When I walked in, she greeted
me from across the large room with the big special smile I wanted to
believe was all
I took a seat at an empty table and waited for Sarah to make her way
over. She had come about half way before being joined by another woman,
who she introduced as Lila Springer, the club's new vocalist. Lila is
blond and bosomy, long-legged and lively. As we shook hands, she drew
dangerously close, a move the ever-observant Sarah hadn't missed.
"Okay, you guys," she said, "let's not get too chummy until at least
the second date." Lila wasn't scheduled to come on until eight, but I
had no doubt she was a fine hire.
I kept an eye on Sarah until she disappeared into the kitchen. When she
reappeared ten minutes later, she was balancing on one slim hand
a small, round tray containing a small filet mignon (I knew
would be broiled to medium-rare, pink perfection), a mid-sized Green
Mountain baked potato, a sprig of parsley, a generous side of sour
cream, a serving of baby carrots, and two, cold 12-ounce Michelob
Ultras. (Whoever it was who first said the surest way to a man's heart
is through his stomach knew what he/she was talking about.)
I guess opposites can attract. Years ago in California, Sarah studied
Feng Shui basics, learning principles of soulful decoration. My
idea of a good arrangement had been to have a cold six-pack
within easy reach. We reminded people of an old TV show, The Odd
Couple. Like Felix Unger, Sarah can tend towards the nasty neat while I
can be an Oscar-like slob. She contends that her input saved me from
turning into a crusty, sterile, old has-been (or, more likely, a
never-was). Sarah has undeniably good taste and likes going
first-class. Her family has money, and she had become accustomed to
life's niceties. She couldn't imagine living without an InSinkErator
Evolution Excel garbage disposal unit or a Rondium By Hafia infrared
All that aside, she had had a rough time of it. Shortly after earning a
Master's Degree in poly sci from Georgetown University, she got a
job as an aide to Frank Shelton, a deeply entrenched, multi-term
senator. Although Shelton and I were both from Michigan, our paths had
never crossed. Six months
into it into the job, Sarah was surprised to learn there was a button
on Shelton's desk that
would keep her locked in the office. Demonstrating this button ne fine
proceeded to lower his pants and jack off into a potted plant before
handing her a Kleenex and ordering her to wipe off his dong. Sarah
filed a complaint and found herself with the senator and his legal team
before a watchdog committee concerned with congressional morality.
Sarah testified that what she remembered most vividly was the smirk on
the senator's face. She admitted to experiencing some surprise that he
could still get it to work. And its small size. Fully erected, it
couldn't have been four inches long.
The senator's team submitted that she was
delusional, hysterical, vindictive, treasonous, and given to wishful
thinking besides being on-again, off-again psychotic and a tease. The
committee conferred for ten minutes before ordering a restraining
order against Sarah and placing her on indefinite leave. Her father, an
official mid-way up in the State Department, alienated her by
suggesting she had probably done something to lead the senator on. As
she put it later, she and Uncle Sam were no longer on speaking terms.
She settled for a job waitressing at Blue Indigo, a nice-enough
cocktail lounge on the outskirts of town.
I learned of Sarah's tale of woe during a visit to my home district. Geographically, Sarah and I had
grown up in rather close proximity. Socially, we were from different planets.
She was from Grosse Pointe Shores, a haven near Detroit for some tremendously old
auto money. Senator Shelton, a friend of her father's, was a near
neighbor, accounting for how easily she had come by her previous employment.
I decided to offer her a job. She could have her choice: Detroit or
D.C. There were openings in both of my offices. I figured with her
fancy poly sci education she could teach me much about how government
really works. I realized I was woefully unprepared to handle my new
responsibilities. So I approached her, hat in hand, and 30 seconds
later realized she wasn't at all interested. She wanted nothing to do
with the U.S. Government. She had had it with big shots and the many
wannabes prowling about D.C. She thought that everybody she had met on
the Hill was obsessed with acquiring more and more power. She suspected
that everybody there was trying to inch his way towards the presidency.
When I called on her, there was a mid-afternoon lull at the club, and
we chatted for awhile. I was surprised when out of the blue she said
she was comfortable being with me and apologized for her unwillingness
to join my team. I also was comfortable with her, and in the following
weeks made it a point to drop by the club fairly often. Things between
us remained platonic for quite awhile before developing into something
more. I guess she cared for me because I was a little shot, knew it,
and wasn't particularly interested in getting bigger.
We did have boundaries. She had no interest in working for me and never
would. The subject wasn't open to discussion. She was content with her
present circumstances. After she had been at
Blue Indigo for less than a year, the owners realized she had
managerial talent and promoted her to night manager. Apparently cream
does eventually rise, at least a bit.
Sarah could have been bitter, but she wasn't. More often that not,
she seemed rather lighthearted. She genuinely liked assisting people
and making their nights out pleasurable as possible. Best of all, she
enjoyed feeding me. I hadn't planned on
eating, but who could resist filet mignon?
Apparently my stomach was ground zero. "Gotta put some meat on those
bones of yours," she chuckled as she sought to pinch an inch. "Hard
times are a'coming." Her pinch was somehow erotic, and I wished I could
make it last forever. I
liked being there and took my time, making the second beer last as long
Blue Indigo attracts an interesting clientèle, including many bright
young men on their way up. Sarah had a gift for welcoming them without
ever getting flirtatious. The club didn't seem to interest the real
movers and shakers from Capital Hill. I never saw anybody I recognized.
I am sure that suited Sarah just fine. I believe it may have brought in
some Important lobbyists though. One night I overheard
two middle-aged men in expensive suits discuss the likely rapid rise of
a certain tech stock. One of them was telling the other about an app
the company was about to introduce, and I thought the conversation had
great potential for insider trading.
The club's patrons didn't much interest me. More than
anything else, I enjoyed watching Sarah dart about, talking to the
hostess, giving waitresses instructions, getting the lighting just
right, making sure the bar is fully stocked. She is light on her feet,
constantly in motion, making it seem effortless. I didn't know how a
rich girl would have acquired this skill, but acquired it she had. By
the time I
left, the place was filling up with students and young professionals
savoring the Early Bird Steak Special. I hoped I hadn't over-stayed my
I had to pick up some groceries, and it was after seven by the time I got back to my place. Viewed from
outside, it inspires no notions of there being no place like home. The world is awash with places like this home. The
plain, red brick
facade bears not a single decorative touch. The windows are dirty and
have no shutters. Maybe there was a time when
large expanses of unadorned brick seemed dramatic; now they just
seem blah. At first, I endeavored to think of it as a
no-bullshit building. When that didn't noticeably buoy my spirits, I
cultivated obliviousness. The building wasn't far removed from the
of public housing.
of degradation, I sometimes sent my mother money, although I knew it
would buy drugs and booze for her and her latest boyfriend. I did this
anonymously. She thought I had died in Afghanistan, and I wanted to keep it that way. Although my income
was higher than I had ever supposed possible, I was mostly living check to
check. Mr. Gilbert had helped me establish an office in Detroit, but even though I had insisted it be in a low-rent district, it
was up to me to pay for it. When I came to Washington I hadn't realized
how expensive housing would
be. Legislators are infamous for granting themselves raises, but they hadn't done so for quite some time. This was
part of the reason I was able to get in with so little competition.
Anybody with a decent education could find more lucrative employment in
the private sector.
I was lucky to find my place for a mere $2,500 a month. For such a
pittance, I got a strictly no-frills second floor of a three-story
row house. It combined a living room, dining area and kitchen into an
efficient, utilitarian, but hardly awe-inspiring
package. The bedroom (with an actual walk-in closet) and bathroom (which did have a shower along with the tub) are
separate as is a small writing room into which I have allowed nothing
more than a table, a chair, a computer (which has no internet
connection), and my big hollowed-out, journal-concealing dictionary.
The idea was to rule out distractions. So far it's done a pretty good
job of ruling out me.
All and All, however, the design works okay. Furniture arranging
goes against my nature, but it turns out that with proper placement a
small space can become a
large-enough space. The trick is to get everything fitted nicely
together and to discard anything you haven't used in the last six
months. Sarah has never been here. She probably doesn't realize that
approachable people actually occupy such spaces. From time to time, we
have talked about getting a place
together, but so far haven't taken time to coordinate searching for or
figuring out how to pay for a mutually acceptable apartment. For sure,
it wouldn't be this one.
There is an alley out back with adjoining space for parking. I pulled
it and cut my engine. The sun was going down; before long it would be
dark. Already it seemed unusually dank, and it took me a moment to
realize the spotlight on the back of the building hadn't come on. There
were two other tenants in the house, and one of us would have to
call the rental agency to replace the bulb. I hesitated before getting
out of my Honda.
right and was putting me on edge. When I did get out, I looked around
cautiously. No signs of life.
I had taken only a few steps towards door when a large, dark figure
loomed from the shadows. A young black man, he moved with the
decisiveness of an all-star point guard. He was dressed in dark jeans,
black turtleneck, and gray hoodie. Only his white, Air Jordan, high-top
sneakers reflected light. It was beginning to cool down, but the
turtleneck and hoodie constituted over-dressing. The extra-large lenses
dark-blue shades obscured most of his face. I wondered how he could see
I didn't have a whole lot of time to critique his appearance. The blade he held at hip level was directed toward my gut. He came
on quickly, expecting me to back off. I didn't. I stepped forward and
delivered two rapid, hard jabs to his face. His dark glasses
went spinning to the ground, but he held his ground, slashing upwards
with his blade, catching my left arm near my shoulder. I felt a flash
of pain, but was able to kick him in the
crotch. The jabs were from innumerable saloon fights; the
kick from my stint as a professional fighter.
Both took their toll. He howled with pain and
rage as he staggered back a step or two. I don't think he expected resistance from a congressman. He had dropped the shiv
and was fighting for balance as he groped into the pocket of his
hoodie. Hard to do when you're in pain, off-balance, and holding
onto your nuts. He had wanted to use the blade because it would have
been quieter, but his gun would also do the job. But not if mine was
quicker. I had
my glock out before he had gotten a decent grip on his. Assuming he
wasn't wearing Kevlar, I put three quick shots into his chest. He was
dead before he hit the ground. I ripped my shirt off and wrapped it
around my arm. I wasn't badly hurt, but was bleeding, not a lot, but enough to require attention.
Using my mouth and right hand, I tied the sleeves of my shirt into a
makeshift tourniquet. It wasn't as tight as I would have liked, but it
would soak up blood. There was a dirty rain jacket in the trunk, and I
put it on. I didn't look altogether respectable, but I wouldn't freak
anybody out either.
gun wasn't legal. I was pretty sure D.C. authorities, backed by the
nation's strictest gun controls, would have given me a hard
time about my weapon. Impulsively I had decided that
personal protection took precedence over strict observance of the law.
Maybe I had seen too many Hitchcock films in which run-of-the-mill guys
get dangerously involved with spies and counter-spies. No denying it,
D.C. made me nervous. Maybe in a cocky moment I had thought that being
a lawmaker should give me special
privileges. Deep down, though, I knew it didn't.
Ignoring my throbbing arm, I rolled my assailant over, and, reaching
back pocket of his jeans,
took out his wallet. Opening a car door to get light from the dome, I
slid loose a driver's license that identified him as Eric Brown, a
D.C. resident who lived several blocks deeper into the mire of
this neighborhood. He had no credit or debit cards, but did have Club
Goodwill and EBT cards. Last, but certainly not least, he had a
half-inch thick stack of fifty dollar bills, which I stuck in my front
had no use for them. This had been no mugging by a man desperate to
feed his family. My assailant was... well, nigger rich.
what? I can't call the cops and I can't leave Mr. Brown dead on the ground.
The cops might, just might, overlook my illegal weapon, but routinely
they would check me out for priors. What happens when much of my
background comes up blank? Aren't these people paid to be curious?
I felt I had to wrap the body in something, and I remembered
I had an old Indian blanket in my back seat. It was a struggle, but I
managed to roll him onto it, working the sides and ends into a somewhat
neat package before heaving him into the
trunk. The Japs may be small in stature, but they know how to make
This could not have been a routine mugging. He hadn't been at all
interested in taking my money. He had one thing in mind: Carving up my
insides. I couldn't prove it, but I knew damn well
Jackson had dispatched the bastard; the Senator must have figured out I
that glass to
eavesdrop on his bathroom conversation.
Nobody seemed to be rushing around to see what the gunfire was all
about. Since moving here, I had heard shots at least once a month and
realized that in this neighborhood they were business as usual. One
thing to be thankful for, I guess: Back here there was no surveillance
Honda still had Michigan plates. It had been eight damn months,
and I was still driving with my old Michigan
plates. A few weeks back I had registered my car
in D.C. and gotten Congressional plates, but hadn't taken time
to install them. I needed a large, flathead screwdriver which
I hadn't gotten around to acquiring. The Michigan plates had double
zeros and a one. I took a roll of electrical tape
from my glove compartment, and with a few deft cuts with my pocket
converted the zeros into rough eights and the one to a seven. The new
letters were crude, but from a few
yards away would probably pass.
I didn't think I needed
to worry about the car being identified. Most people can't tell
an older Accord
from a Toyota or a Datsun or a Nissan, or any other Asian car. They're
all shaped like big bubbles. Mine was
dark blue, but might be taken for black. I felt safe, but one can't be
too cautious. It had rained earlier in the day, and there was a puddle
in the alley. I scooped a little mud from it and smeared it on the
plate light, not to black it out, but to dim its glow. My plan was to do a pop-in at Senator Buford
Beauregard Jackson's place.
Driving to Maryland, I obeyed every traffic regulation. Not too fast,
not too slow, but Just Right. Goldilocks driving. Dim my lights for
every oncoming vehicle, signal for every lane change. About
halfway there, I stopped at a Giant Walmart. I could feel my arm was
and I needed to wrap it in gauze. While I was at it, I picked up a dark
gray hoodie and some latex gloves. I was surprised to see that a few
Halloween masks had been put out already, or maybe they're left out year round. Whatever, I found one modeled
after Edvard Munch's painting The Scream. It matched perfectly the
way I felt.
had told me all about his big house off River Road in Potomac. I knew
how to look
for Deer Run Lane, and how to identify his private road by its
white, and blue mailbox. There would be no gate;
he often said he hadn't needed one. I found the place easily. Houses
along here were spaced widely apart, and it was
already quite dark. I wasn't too concerned about the fairly heavy
traffic; I figured people were intent on getting and wouldn't pay much
attention to me. Pulling to the side of the road, I
struggled out of my jacket and pulled the knotted shirt down my arm
before using it to wipe off as much blood as possible. When I was done,
I wadded it up and shoved it into the Walmart bag. Then I taped the
gauze to my arm, and took off my glasses, enabling me to slide
the hoodie and pull the mask over my face. I assumed Jackson's
would be under the
watchful eyes of surveillance cameras, but was
confident I couldn't be
Jackson's house was at the end of a long, winding drive
edged on both sides by lush foliage. I didn't know if my badly worn
tires would leave tracks, but it was time for replacements anyway. The last
word in ostentation, the house itself
was a Fuck-You-I'm-Rich-and-You're-Not colonial. Its three stories were
fronted by a spacious porch whose roof was suspended by six thick
Roman-style columns. The house, perfectly symmetrical, was painted
stark white while its large windows all had dark shutters. The black
and white composition was broken by an imposingly large,
mahogany front door. Many times he had told me this house was a replica
of the house he grew up in, the grandest plantation house in
late-model Suburban, the only
car there, was parked to the side. My hope was that any domestic help
he had would be gone for the weekend, and it looked like I had lucked out. He had told me his
was in Tennessee tending to her sick mom, so I didn't need to worry
about her. I was quite sure the women he talked about banging were illusionary. Without hesitation, I
parked squarely in front and lugged the body out
of the trunk. I looked around for cameras, but didn't see any. If there were some, they were well-concealed. I must
have been having an adrenaline rush because I had
no problem carrying the corpse up onto the porch and dumping it in
front of that big, solid, keep-the-Indians-out front door. I pushed the
that had to be a door bell and heard chimes respond with the opening
cords of "Dixie." I stepped aside to where I figured I couldn't be
seen through the door's peephole or the beveled, lead-glass sidelights.
Fifteen or twenty seconds later, the door opened inward. A second later
Jackson stepped out, his gaze glued on the dark heap I had deposited. I
heard him mumble, "What the fuck…" He was wearing a silk robe over
pajamas decorated with Disney characters and floppy, Donald Duck
slippers over white socks. It was his last "What the fuck..." I shot him in the side
of his head just above his right ear. He crumbled soundlessly on top of
the thug he had sent my way. (Maybe, in all honesty, I should say I
hoped to Hell he had sent my way.) I put two more slugs in him just to make sure. Learned that watching The Sopranos.
Doing this was getting me high. More adrenalin I guess. I thought about
Rex Gunthrey, the guy I shot in
Afghanistan, the look of joy on his face as he annihilated
villagers. Was there any way I could regard myself as occupying a
higher order? I didn't want anybody to know about it, but I had shown
how dangerous I can be, and it was giving me pleasure. I didn't want to
leave. I knew I should get the hell out of Dodge. What if somebody
stopped by? But I felt a compulsion to see how a man of Jackson's
exulted status lived. I decided to drop in for a look-see.
I wasn't considering consequences. Maybe that's why so many murderers are easy to catch. Mostly I was
thinking about how I no longer would have to listen
to Jackson brag about being a direct descendant of General Stonewall
Jackson. Way too often the Senator had boasted about possessing the
Beaumont-Adams revolver that the lost-cause general carried
throughout what the Senator always called the War of Northern
Aggression. Evidently, the antique weapon had been handed down father
to son generation after generation and was hanging on his living room
wall. Jackson told me he had declined a seventy-five-thousand-dollar
offer for it.
No problem finding it. The problem was figuring out why I felt
compelled to take it. I think it's possible I wanted to hurt him all
more (as though that were possible) by depriving him of something he
held near and dear. That gun had been his prize possession, and I
make it mine. It was mounted in a class-fronted
above a massive stone fireplace right beside an over-sized Confederate
flag. The case wasn't locked, the glass front swung out easily on brass
hinges. I had put on the gloves so I wasn't worried about leaving
prints. I removed the revolver. Then
I ripped the flag from the wall
and tossed it into the fireplace. Hopefully, investigators would
conclude that Jackson was murdered by a liberal-minded,
Union-supporting gun nut. I thought about messing the place up a bit,
make it seem like a robbery, but was beginning to feel anxious about
getting the hell out of there. I don't
know what they'll make of the shot-by-the-same gun-but-not-here dude at
the bottom of the heap. With luck they'll stay permanently
went into his kitchen, found his catch-all drawer, and was pleased
to see a big, flathead screwdriver. The congressional plates were in my
back seat, and I would find a secluded place on the way home to mount
days later, I was asked to say a few words at Jackson's
closed-casket funeral. I declined, stating that while I deeply admired
his selfless service to the country, being a newcomer I didn't feel l
knew him well enough. They never did find a Democrat willing to
eulogize the man. Eventually Senator Jackson was cremated, his ashes,
in violation of local ordinance, spread about the city of Chattenburg
by the timely explosion of a Fourth of July Fourth celebratory rocket.
As far as I could tell, the investigation into Senator Jackson's
untimely demise wasn't gaining much traction. The papers did carry a
story alleging that neighbors a mile-and-a-half down Deer Run Lane had
told police that an old,
Galaxy 500 convertible filled with Negroes with the top down and a boom
metallic rock had gone by earlier in
the evening. The story lasted only a single day, so I am assuming
nothing came of it. I sincerely hope that the police don't find
anything matching this description, since I am sure they would like to
pin the crime on somebody.
Without Senator Jackson's inspired leadership, the drug war committee
just sort of fizzled away. No report would be forthcoming.
Nothing to recommend the continued incarceration of pot possessors.
Users of crack cocaine would continue to bear the brunt of a brutally
unjust law. There would be no hint that help for the addicted could be
merciful. It would be business as usual for law enforcement and Big
Pharm. People would
continue to become addicted to prescribed opioids, and many would die.
Any thoughts I might have had pertaining to being a real reformer have
been battered into oblivion by the unrelenting ram of reality..
The Rolling Stones concert had gone off without a hitch. They say
Keith Richards had never sounded better or looked more alive. Kind of a low bar, I realize. The teeny
boppers screamed appropriately when Mick Jagger did his patented forward
thrust of the pelvis. Sorry I missed the spectacle.
The Post ran its story about Sally Mae Hathaway, Ronald Orthello
Champ's pregnant intern, two weeks before the election. She had refused
to get an abortion, and was due to give birth any second. That week
there was plenty of sock-o news (Champ announced despite there being no
wall the southern border patrol had apprehended dozens of cocaine
smuggling, bomb-toting, South American, dark-skinned, Muslim
terrorists; spokesmen for the border patrol denied that anything of the
sort had happened (but who listens to them?); Later, Champ announced a
major shake-up of border patrol officialdom). Sally Mae went largely
unnoticed, except by Champ supporters, who fell even more deeply in
love with the man. His support doubled
and, in some cases, tripled. Champ went on to win re-election in a
taking every state except Maine and Massachusetts. He drew ninety-seven
percent of the Evangelical vote after it was alleged the woman he was
running against was a transsexual. The allegation went viral, and all
the land, YouTube pages were lighting up. Some people claimed that in
certain locales lights actually dimmed. Ratings for Fox News
skyrocketed. Only a few people knew about the
half million dollars President Champ had given Sally Mae to shut the
fuck up prior to
the election. None would ever
mention it. Publicly, they toasted her arrival into the translucent
world of young
My troubles with Big Sam Hawkins began the moment we hit our tee shots
on the first hole at the Congressional Golf Club in Bethesda, Maryland.
It was a warm, cloudless day, and I had been anticipating a
delightful outing at this beautiful, highly exclusive venue. My
defenses were down; I was unprepared for anything at all disagreeable.
I was the guest of Senator Andrew McGowans. A month earlier, I had met him at a casual dinner
party, and we happened to be seated together. Realizing he was no doubt a golfer by the contrast between his white left
hand and well-tanned forearm, I mentioned the upcoming P.G.A. Tournament, a
reference that quickly led to an animated discussion about Mickelson's
chances of winning another big one. I had pretty much forgotten
about this and was taken by complete surprise when McGowans invited me
on this Saturday outing.
For a moment I wondered if he had me confused with somebody else.
caters to the ultra-elite, which isn't me. I nearly turned him down. We
had never been formally introduced, and, despite a shared interest in
golf, I had been prepared to dislike
the man. He was Eastern Elite head to toe. Before moving to Brooklin,
Maine, to pursue an interest in boat-building, he had maintained a big
place in Hyannis
Port not far from the Kennedy compound. I had heard that his wife, now
deceased, had been a
distant Kennedy cousin. I knew that before he declared himself an
Independent, he had been a Democrat, and had assumed
he was a Bobby Kennedy wannabe, but without the sincere passion. In the
six months, I had met all the neo-liberals I ever wanted to know. I
half expected him to address me as "ol' chap," and I had to wonder if
perhaps he preferred polo to golf.
The invitation, however, was too good to turn down. I accepted it
mostly because this would probably be my one and
only chance to see the Congressional Country Club. I had been reading
about it from the day I first got interested in golf. Its Blue Course
(there are two, Blue and Gold) has hosted five major championships,
including three U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship. Winners here have
included Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Ken Venturi, and Ernie Els.
Come Saturday, I got to the course half an hour early. I wanted time to
look the place over. I ended up walking all the way around the
clubhouse, a more impressive feat than one might imagine. According to
Golf Digest, this is the country's most expansive clubhouse, and it
seems to extend forever. Half seriously I had begun to wonder if I was
going to tire myself out before we even got started. Fortunately, I did
have a few minutes to sit down, and by the time we were up, I had begun
to feel quite comfortable.
My initial warning of impending problems came when Hawkins, a
representative from Columbus, Ohio, swaggered onto the tee box. I had
to admit, he was a bit of an astounding human specimen. Taller than me
by a couple of inches (and I am six-two), he weighed in at maybe 260.
For him, the tee box served as center stage. He took
three or four vicious practice swings, then stretched by reaching as
high into the heavens as humanly possible—so high his Peter Millar golf shirt became
untucked, and his big bare belly was there for all to see. I felt the
hairs on the back of my neck begin to tingle. I half expected him to
toss a few plucked hairs from his chest into the air to see which way
was blowing. This man obviously regarded himself as a bomber, a
tightly-wrapped package of immense power, difficult to contain, anxious
to be unleashed. Sam and his thick-gripped driver, which looked
immense. For all I knew, it may have had
a 48-inch, Double X shaft. Whatever it had, he and it seemed to devour
the entire tee box.
The world seemed to fall silent as he addressed his Titleist Pro V1x which sat
high atop a four-inch tee. Was it my imagination or had the birds in
the trees paused in mid-tweet? Was everyone for miles around engaged in
a collective holding of the breath? Had the previously hefty wind
retreated on tippy toes? Entering my mind was the line from the
Bhagavad-Gita delivered by Oppenheimer at the detonation of the first
nuclear bomb: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I had
to suppress a snigger.
To his credit, Sam didn't altogether embarrass himself. He let loose
with a towering, rain-maker of a tee shot down the left-hand side,
seemingly as high as it was long. His ProV1 carried about 250 before
plunging to Earth, plugging into the freshly-watered fairway.
Obviously pleased with himself, Sam thrust his driver back into his bag
with a "take-that-you-sons-of-bitches" flourish. "Tee it high, and let
if fly," he said. "Jack always said to hit 'em high since there aren't any sand
traps in the sky."
"But there are some back on the ground,"
McGowans, said. I could tell he was a bit annoyed at Hawkins's suggestion
that he was on a first-name basis with the great Jack Nicklaus.
"I think his wife Barbara kept reminding him of that," I said, momentarily forgetting my status as a humble, first-time guest.
Hawkins grunted as he jammed himself into his cart. Andy Simmons, his
partner, a normal-sized guy, had to scooch over as far as possible to
avoid unseemly contact. No debate about it, Hawkins was a big, beefy
guy whose muscles
hadn't yet turned entirely to fat. Most annoyingly, he made it a habit
to drop names. By the end of the second hole, he had worked into the
conversation a boast that he had played football at Ohio State and was
pals with Woody Hayes. Later
on I did some research, and it turns out Hayes had put Sam, an
offensive guard, into the waning moments of a 42 to 13 Rose Bowl
thrashing of Washington State, but this was a rare occasion. For the
most part, Sam had warmed the bench.
I was up next. I suppose I was expected to hit a modest
two-hundred-yarder to the middle of the fairway. Respectable, but not
flamboyant. On this beautiful, late-summer day, however, I felt especially
energetic, and I also felt like dissing Hawkins. Don't ask me why; I
just wanted to do this. I teed it a trifle lower than usual and played
the ball back a bit. I made a huge turn
and hit a screaming bullet down the middle. It never got more than
fifteen or twenty feet off the ground, but it ended up twenty yards
Hawkins. McGowans let go with a low whistle. Hawkins had to have
noticed the discrepancy between his ball and mine, but said nothing.
We were playing from the tips on this 422-yard hole, and for his second
shot, Hawkins made a huge, John Daly-type swing with his five iron. He
caught the ball a bit thin, but a generous bounce allowed it to roll onto the fringe a few yards short of the
green. He seemed happy enough when he said, "You know, my wife
Melony discouraged me from going into law enforcement. She wanted me to
concentrate on golf. She kept saying that Jack and I were cut from the
same mold. Later, after I was elected to Congress, Jack told me that
Washington's gain was the PGA's loss."
I smiled. I had never had the pleasure of meeting Nicklaus, but I had read he could be quite the kidder. Without
replying, I played a smooth six iron fifteen feet right of the pin and,
later, when I holed the putt, it seemed to put a positive tone on our
was a well-conditioned big guy (not as big as Hawkins, but still big),
and I could tell by everything he did that
his game had benefited from expert instruction. When we got to the 9th
hole, I was pleased when we decided to forego pride and play from the
golds. Nine is Congressional's number one handicap hole, a monstrous,
unreachable 636-yard par five. From the golds, it's still a formidable
545 yards. McGowans, taking advantage of a healthy tailwind,
unleashed an incredibly long
drive, three-hundred-plus yards. When we got to his ball, I had
played my second shot, and was in the short grass sixty yards shy of
saw that McGowans, intending to lay up, was reaching for one of his
hybrids. I hesitated to say
anything, but then found my courage and said, "Hit a three wood
anywhere near as good as
you hit this drive, you'll be putting."
He wasn't convinced. "My fairway woods have been giving me fits," he pointed out. "I can't seem to
hit through them. You saw what happened on one." His second shot on
one had been a low-flying duck hook, the sort of shot
Hogan used to call 'the terror of the field mice.'
"Don't forget, we're a team," I said. "I like the way I am hitting wedges and know I can make five and maybe four. "I think on
one you spotted the ball a tad too far back in your stance. Get it up an inch
or two off your left heel. Open your clubface just a bit, then sweep it off the ground."
I knew I was right, but still felt like I had gone way out on a slender
limb. By spotting the ball back towards the middle of his stance,
had effectively delofted his three wood, making a decent trajectory
impossible. His was a problem that can feed upon itself. Fearful of not
getting the shot off the ground, the impulse can be to move the ball
further back towards the middle of the stance, compounding the problem.
Reluctantly, at first, McGowans drew his three wood from his bag and made a couple of lazy
practice swings. "Worth a try, I guess," he said. He proceeded to make
one of the prettiest swings I've ever seen. Flowing, full, seemingly effortless. The ball took off with a "crack," and flew high
with a slight draw, coming down twenty feet short of the green, bouncing
twice before rolling up onto it, fifteen feet from the hole. I
clapped my hands. "With shots like that, you could play this game for a
living," I said.
McGowans laughed appreciatively. "I think I'll stick to legislating," he said. "But thanks for the tip."
McGowans's eagle putt curled off to the right, but his was a tap-in
birdie. As we were leaving the green, he shook my hand. I felt I had
made a friend for life.
had won six of the first nine holes. I had played as well as I ever
had and was just one over. At ten, Hawkins drove his cart to the other
side of the tee box and stayed in it. I think he may have been sulking.
As we were waiting for the group ahead to get out of range, I
felt comfortable enough to ask McGowans about his irons. "I like your
clubs, vintage MacGregor MT Tourneys," I said. "They look like the
sticks I was
lusting after when I was a kid."
McGowans laughed. "I guess you're wondering when I gave up on hickory shafts."
"Not my business," I said. "But are the balls you use stuffed with goose feathers?"
McGowans laughed again. "No, but don't knock featheries. Did you know that in 1836 Samuel Messieux hit one 361 yards?"
"He had a powerful tailwind and the ground was frozen," I said, "but it's true that good players could hit them a long ways. And
with clubs that were little better than tree branches. But back to your
clubs, I am guessing they have their original True Temper steel shafts."
"That they do," McGowans said, "and I haven't found any reason to
change. It's not that I am a sentimental old fool. I just don't care
for graphite. I find it unpredictable. With it I might hit a seven
iron 140 yards or I might hit it 165."
"Hogan did pretty well with his Tourneys," I conceded.
"Indeed he did."
"But he refused to play their ball."
"True," McGowans agreed. "MacGregor was paying Hogan to endorse its
products, and he loved their clubs, but he told them he would play
their ball once they started making a good one. Back in the day, Hogan
was the one player who could have things entirely his own way."
"A perfectionist to the nth degree, he was known to reject balls
because there was a little too much paint in one of the dimples," I
We began the back nine with me feeling good about McGowans. He knew his
golf and seemed to care deeply. On top of that, we worked well
together. I birdied ten, McGowans birdied eleven, and we both parred
twelve, taking all three holes.
When we reached the 13th hole, a short par three, our match was all but
won, and I relaxed as we waited for the group ahead to chip onto the
green and hole their putts.
McGowans had stepped off into the woods to pee when Sam Hawkins sauntered
up to me. I could tell he had something on his mind, and he wasted no
time getting to it. "They tell me you worked with Senator Jackson," he
said. "Must have been quite an experience."
"The Senator was an interesting man," I said. Having shot him, I would
have preferred that he remain undiscussed, but I tried to remain
"More than just interesting," Hawkins asserted, "he was a man of principle. His views struck some as a bit antebellum, of
course, but he loved our country and took the constitution literally. I
believe this annoyed many of his colleagues."
"Quite likely it did," I agreed.
"It surprises me that his case remains open," Sam continued.
"It's been three months. Most homicides are solved quickly. Especially the routine, hum drum
ones, but I don't see why this should be any different. The culprit
nearly always turns out to be a loved one, a member of the family, or a close
"I believe his wife was in Tennessee at the time of his death," I said.
"They didn't have children. I had a sense the senator was something of
a loner. I don't believe he had many close friends." I was tempted to
point out that Jackson had spoken of having several outside women, but
I held my tongue.
Hawkins wasn't really listening to me, anyway. He wanted to continue
talking. "Unsolved cases are particularly interesting to me," he said.
"I started out in law enforcement, you know. I was the assistant
prosecuting attorney in Ohio's Franklin County. I had an instinct for
determining who the bad guys were. I thought seriously about becoming a
"What stopped you?"
"Fate, I guess. "I had been active in GOP politics, had, in fact,
been instrumental in getting several Republicans elected. Seems I was
good at digging up dirt on the opposition. I guess it was inevitable
that when a vacancy opened up, I was a natural to fill it. The rest is
"What goes around comes around," I said, not really knowing what the hell I meant by that.
"Anyway, Jackson's case is an interesting one. I am friends with the
lead investigator, and he has told me some things privately. You know,
it took them six weeks to identify the black guy they found him with.
Some sort of mix-up with the fingerprints. Guy's name was Eric Brown, a real nobody. Big rap sheet, mostly petty stuff, except
for two interesting exceptions: Years ago, he was a person of interest
in the assassination of two West Virginia state senators."
"First I ever heard of this," I said.
"No small wonder," Hawkins said. "The killings—the first a decade ago,
the second two years later— received remarkably little press coverage.
It turns out that the victims, both Democrats, were both involved in an
on-going anti-corruption investigation. The authorities were pretty
sure the same guy was responsible for both murders since both guys were
stabbed late at night at their homes as they were getting out of their
"Same M.O.," I said, knowing I sounded stupid, but hoping this would encourage Hawkins to continue.
Hawkins was eager to comply. "According to my friend, the cops were
convinced that Brown did the deed and that it was a hire, since he
had no interest in politics. My friend also said that forty-five
minutes after Brown was brought in, a big time lawyer showed up to
defend him, and Brown clammed up tighter than a duck's ass. Couldn't pry anything out of him.
He was in custody for three days, then released. Nobody was ever
brought to trial for the killings."
"What do you suppose he was doing at Jackson's place?" I said.
"Being dead," Hawkins replied. "He had been shot somewhere else and
dumped on Jackson's porch. Evidently, whoever shot him also shot the
Senator, then entered the house and messed about a bit. Nothing much
was taken, except for a rare, antique pistol."
"Any other leads?" I said.
"A lot of people didn't like the Senator, but none they know of hated
him enough to kill him. The next door neighbors reported a
big convertible car full of Negroes rolled through that night with the
radio turned up full blast. Probably stoned on crack cocaine."
"Not much to go on."
"Well, there is one more thing," Hawkins said. "I am not supposed to
talk about this, but they found blood on Brown that wasn't his or
Jackson's. AB-Positive, a rare type."
I looked down at the now-vacant thirteenth green. "I believe I am up,"
I said as I drew an eight iron from my bag. I fought to steady myself
over the ball. For sure I wasn't going to let an ass like Hawkins
unnerve me. Relax the grip. Not too much. Control the club.
Breathe deeply. Ease the tightness across the chest. Lock your head in
place. Not too tight. Chin up, lock-up, imprisonment. Go back slow and
low. No going back. Execution. No not that execution. Execute the shot.
A shot execution. Hang your shoulder beneath your chin. Strange fruit.
I swung before I was ready, catching the ball on the hosel, the
junction where the shaft meets the clubface, a cold, cruel shank.
Nobody's fault but mine. I had been off-balance and jerky. As it had
to, the ball took off low and sharp right, ending up no nearer the
green than from where it had started. McGowans gasped, breaking the
silence. Nobody said anything.
I looked over at Hawkins. A deep frown lined his face.
"I don't suppose I get a do-over," I said.
embarrassingly bad shot didn't hurt the team. McGowans chipped up close
for par and picked up another point for us. Didn't much matter. We had
won the front nine, taking six of the first seven holes, and had
taken the first three on the back. Our lead was commanding, and
anything short of total collapse would have us winning all three legs
of the Nassau. Hawkins and Simmons knew they were beaten, and weren't
pressing. They were beginning some good-humored grumbling about
McGowans having brought in a ringer.
To me my shank, however ugly, was a thing of the past, water under the
bridge, ancient history. Good players don't dwell long on mistakes.
They learn what they can from them, then let them go. Everybody hits
the occasional asshole shot, and I assumed mine would be excused as
just one of those things that go with the often aggravating territory
After putting out on 18 and shaking hands, Hawkins handed me three
hundred dollar bills. "Next time I'll bring my A game," he promised. I
was taken aback. I was used to five dollar Nassaus. Nobody had told me
the stakes of this game were considerably higher. Truth was I didn't
have three hundred dollars with me. Damn good thing we won. Later over
lunch McGowans apologized for not letting me know about the stakes and
said he had me covered in the highly unlikely event we had lost.
McGowans was beaming over our victory as he invited me
into the House Grill for a late lunch. "I like the ham and cheese
sandwiches here," he said. "They use Black Forest ham, 365 Organics
Sharp Cheddar, and fresh-baked multi-grain bread with Dijon mustard."
While we waited for our sandwiches, McGowans kept going over the
scorecard. "You know you demoralized them, don't you? Sam is used to
being the long ball knocker of any group. You kept out-driving him, and
his swing kept getting quicker and shorter and jerkier. He'll be awhile
getting over today."
The sandwiches were as good as McGowans had promised. "You know, this
is just one of half a dozen places we could have eaten here at the
club," he said. "We could have gone to The Chop House, The Founders
Pub, The Pavilion, The Main Dining Room, The Stop and Go, the Midway
House, or, if we were in a hurry, any of several Beverage Carts."
"I guess we weren't in danger of starving."
McGowans glanced about as though he thought somebody might be
eavesdropping. "Seriously," he said, "what do you think of this place?"
"Its history is impressive," I said. "It's a beautiful course and the
accommodations are certainly luxurious. I appreciate your inviting me to come
along; every so often I do enjoy hobnobbing with the well-scrubbed
rich and famous."
"But I don't know if I could ever get really comfortable here. Deep
miss Huron Dunes, the converted cow pasture back in Michigan where me
buddies learned the game. We used cast-off, mismatched clubs, played
for dimes, heckling each other all the way. Most of the balls we found
in the woods had big smiles and were Club Specials or U.S. Tigers,
although every once in a while we would come across a new Maxfli or even
a Titleist, and I still
remember those great days. We played in hundred degree heat, we played
drenched in rain, we played in thirty-degree, freezing snow when
visibility was near zero and mis-hits stung our hands something awful.
When you get addicted to the game under these circumstances, you never
McGowans grinned. "I was hoping you would say something like that.
You've confirmed my belief that you're just the sort of guy I want on a committee I am going to chair."
He had my attention. "What's it got to do with?" I said.
"Sports. It hasn't been announced yet, but next year is going to be
designated as the Year of American Sports. The mission of my committee
will be to determine the country's National Game."
"Tiddley winks with manhole covers."
"Oh....nothing, never mind. When I was a kid and somebody asked you
what you were doing, you were likely to reply 'playing tiddley winks
with manhole covers'. As I recall, we found this to be quite funny."
"Don't let the rarefied atmosphere of this place cast you back into your childhood."
"I think it's the reminiscing over early days of golf. The good ol' days. Back when the world was a simpler and better place."
"I hesitated over approaching you. You're a freshman still finding your
way about, and I wasn't sure I wanted former professional athletes
on my committee."
"You know about my kickboxing?"
"I know a lot about you, warts and all," he said, causing the hairs on
the back of my neck to begin tingling. "I like to know who I am dealing
with, so I do thorough background
checks. Still, cautious as I am, I've gotta admit I haven't been
able to learn much about your early years."
gave silent thanks to Tom Deegan, my friend in Maine. McGowans' vetting, thorough or not, evidently hadn't gone
deeply enough to reveal my really cancerous warts. McGowans might be an
easy-going, laid back liberal, but he wasn't about to shrug off murder.
"I had a sheltered and uneventful childhood," I said. "Then the court house burned down, and there went all my documentation."
McGowans was quiet for several seconds. He was definitely nobody's fool. Then he said, "Yeah, well,
whatever, there's probably more to this than you're letting on, but the
point is I was hesitant to put a former pro athlete on the committee. I
was afraid one would be inclined to promote his own sport too much."
"You needn't worry about me," I said. " I wouldn't want kickboxing or any other kind of boxing to be America's Sport."
"That and other reasons. Too many scumbag associates. I would advise
young people to steer clear of all-male gyms with rings in the middle
and people called Rocky."
stifled a smile before his expression turned serious. "Your reputation
precedes you, and some of it is worrisome," he said. "I had been warned
that you are something of a thug."
"I am from Detroit," I said. "To many I may as well be from the
unexplored jungles of deepest, darkest Africa. Who knows? I could be a
cannibal or maybe a headhunter."
This time McGowans' smile stuck. "Yet you play golf like a fine gentleman. Let's play
word association. When I say American Sport, what is the first thing
you think of?"
"Teats. Every year I look forward to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue."
"Football, I guess. I know baseball has always been called 'America's
Pastime,' but I am more into pro football. I haven't missed watching a
Super Bowl since I was a kid."
McGowans nodded. "Nothing attracts more TV viewers than the Super Bowl."
"So why don't we just declare football the winner and move on to more pressing problems?"
"Right now, for me, there is no more pressing problem. If you stick with me, you'll soon see why. As for sports, we might
very well end up up endorsing football, but in fairness we should give others
a close look-see."
"Does the country really need an officially sanctioned National Sport?"
"No it doesn't. Not at all."
"Then why establish one?"
"President Champ wants one, so there's going to be one."
"I didn't realize he's such a big sports fan."
"He's not. He's a big Champ fan. Frankly, I believe his Year of the Sport is a
diversionary tactic. He's up to something. I don't know what, exactly,
but I believe he wants to divert people's attention from something
"The plot thickens," I said.
McGowans gave me a long hard look. "I've reviewed your voting record,"
he said. "I know you aren't in bed with any big corporate donors.
You do have a mentor, a fine gentleman named Vincent Gilbert, but he
isn't lobbying for anything in particular. You seem to be your own man,
a man I believe I can trust. So I am going
to tell you something I haven't told anybody else. You will keep this
to yourself, right?"
"Six week ago, I received an anonymous letter on official White House
stationery. Barely legible, it looked like it was knocked out quickly with, I believe, a red Sharpie. I
couldn't tell if it was a man's or a woman's printing, but it warned me
that Champ has plans to retain power after his second term expires. It didn't elaborate beyond that."
"Too bad. But how could he possibly hope to do this?"
"I wish I knew. I do know I wouldn't put anything past the man."
"He's a Republican and you're an Independent who usually caucuses with the Democrats. Does this go beyond partisan politics?"
"By chairing his
committee, could you be aiding and abetting whatever he's up to?"
"Possibly, but if not me somebody else."
The nearness I was feeling towards McGowans might well have been
completely unwarranted, but still I jabbed, "That's what all the war
"Ouch, but you're right. Anyway, he told me he wants to work
closely with the committee, and I want to stay as close to him as I
can. If he learns I am spying on him, I'll be gone so quick your head
"It seems to me that here in D.C. everybody is spying on everybody else. The parties I've been to seem extremely purposeful."
"I am into my third term as a senator. Trust me, I know my way around
Washington. Over the years I've obtained rather finely honed instincts, and right now they're telling
me something huge is afoot."
"So what are the possibilities?"
McGowans sighed. "None are apparent. He shows no signs of trying to consolidate power. To the contrary, he seems to be
following through on his promises to diminish government. He has moved
to privatize health insurance, the nation's parks, a lot of defense,
postal services, and our intelligence agencies. He has signed dozens of
executive orders, knocking down regulations for God knows how many
companies. Rumor has it he would like to eliminate corporate
income taxes. The stock market loves all this. It's never been higher.
As a Libertarian, he seems to be forfeiting his power, casting it off
"So how can he be planning on retaining it?" I said.
"That's the sixty-four billion dollar question," McGowans said. "I
don't want to be overly dramatic, but I have a queasy feeling the
future of our so-called democracy just might depend on us answering it."
JOURNAL ENTRY 287
was elected to a political position, so am I a politician? You tell
me. In my defense, it's true that for most of my life I haven't been at
all political. I had my mind on other things (most of which, I've gotta
admit, were unsavory). Often I
didn't bother voting or even knowing who was running. Washingto, DC. might just as well have been in some alternate universe.
Then one day I was a congressman. I wonder if Janice Hooper would have
had she known that would happen. She would have said I was totally
unqualified to hold a seat, and she would have been right, but I'll bet
she would have been nicer to me. I
am expected to vote on bills I can't comprehend (nor have time to
read). I have staff people for that, but don't want them bored into
insentience. Many bills have nice-sounding titles, but turn out to
things quite different. Maybe I should establish a few
touchstones —stepping stones out from my gulf of uncertainty. Perhaps
composition (lone-wolf manifesto??? a howling at the moon???) will help
me know where the Hell I stand, which party I really prefer. I don't
have a lot of time or patience
to frig with it, so don't expect something at all definitive. Timewise,
there will be huge gaps, and much more will be left out than put in. I
know damn well it will often be disjointed (as am I). One might think
of this diatribe as a course titled American History .0001. The good
news is I
won't try to differentiate between Whigs and Federalists, nor will I
deal with the Know Nothings because, well, I know nothing about them. I
also promise I won't try to tell you who shot either Kennedy).
Picking a starting point is necessarily arbitrary, so I
might as will begin with 1863. This is the year that Lincoln
(reluctantly) freed the slaves. Right quick I will proclaim that this
was a good, noble, and
necessary thing to do. (Owning slaves, as did so many of our founding
fathers, including Washington and Jefferson, was a lot less laudable).
Lincoln, a Republican, oversaw a civil war that witnessed the death of
some 620,000 Americans. He is often regarded as the best president ever
(despite his suspension of habeas corpus), at least by people north of
the Mason Dixon line.
Be that as it may, his good work in no way excuses the awful things we
later did to blacks. It's
impossible to say which political party has been most egregious.
(Nowadays the cops who shoot unarmed blacks may belong to either
party, or, I guess, neither party. News reports fail to enlighten us).
For a long time in the South, politicians who wouldn't associate
themselves with Lincoln, but weren't real Democrats, came to be known
as Dixiecrats. They registered as Democrats, but only because they
loathed Lincoln, who was the first Republican president. The Ku Klux
Klan had its roots in the South, but later
did well up North. In the 1920s, Chicago had 50,000 members, more than
any other city in the country. Not that long ago lynchings were common.
but historians say more than 3,000 African Americans were put to the
noose. Photos from lynchings were popular on penny postcards. Strange
Moving on, a giant step takes us to
Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who may have had mostly good
intentions (except when he ignored Pearl Harbor warnings, did nothing to assist
Jewish refugees (including the family of Anne Frank) seeking sanctuary in the U.S., interned Japanese citizens, and
tried to pack the Supreme Court). His comforting fireside chats and innovative
social programs helped inch us through the Great Depression, and he
dreamed of developing tidal power in Maine's Passamaquoddy Bay. As was true of
many presidents, he was a lecherous old fool (despite being crippled).
His wife Eleanor was a much better person (although celebration of her
is muted, due either to her unattractiveness, her outspokenness, or her questionable sexual
Roosevelt died, and his successor, Harry
Truman, surprised Japanese people by dropping atomic bombs on them. (A
failed haberdasher and mob-connected, Truman hadn't been popular, but this encouraged
many to view him more favorably. He went on to surprise people again
by defeating Thomas E. Dewey in the 1948 presidential election). His
big bombs ended World War II and the lives of at least a quarter of a
million Japanese civilians. Truman did fire General Douglas MacArthur
(a real asshole), and later he integrated the military (although he
didn't do much to tame
it). On his watch, our military went berserk, decimating North Korea,
destroying all 67 of its cities, bombing them until there was
nothing left to bomb. Our warplanes dropped more bombs and napalm tonnage on
North Korea than they had during the entire Pacific campaign of World
War II. We killed at least a million civilians. Both
parties participated, with Republican Eisenhower impatiently
threatening to nudge things along with atomic bombs. All this helps
explain North Korean defensiveness (insanity?). To this
day, North Koreans don't like Ike (or Americans in general). The same
is true of most people in the ninety-some countries where we have a
military presence. Many historians say Rome fell because its
empire got too extended for effective management. Might this give us
Back home, insisting upon school integration was a good thing, and
initially that was done by Eisenhower. He sent troops into Little
Rock to see that black kids got into school okay. More than a decade
later, Lyndon Johnson, a
Southern Democrat, rammed through a good-intentioned Civil Rights Bill.
(It's been far from completely successful; blacks, Hispanics, gays,
transsexuals, and women—way over half of us—haven't gained
Promoting this bill took real courage, and it lost the South for
Democrats for years to come. Good as it was, the bill ignored Indians,
to whom we owe much. Way back when, we invented germ
warfare by giving them small pox-infected blankets. Concurrently, we
broke every treaty we ever made with them. In 1830, Democratic
president Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, resulting in
mass displacement and many deaths on what became known as the Trail of
Tears. Jackson may have regarded the Cherokees as savages, but they
were hardly that. Many of them were well-educated; as a tribe, they had
their own constitution, lived in wooden houses, and published their own newspaper. Still they
were displaced and forced to walk to Oklahoma. Indians have long
memories, and some still won't accept twenty-dollar bills graced with
Jackson's portrait. (Some good karma did kick
in: We put them on land thought to be worthless, but has often turned
to be mineral-and oil-rich.) So far the government has denied the
tribes access to most of these desperately needed riches.
Once we pretty much disposed of
Indians, we turned on blacks. In the South, Jim Crow laws mandated
racial separation, and things weren't better in the North. Despite the
Supreme Court edict that separate is inherently unequal, de facto
segregation persists, and our schools are less integrated than ever.
The election of
Barack Obama to the presidency came nowhere near settling the score
although, I suppose, it provided some justification for hope. There are
still plenty of White Supremacists, none of whom can explain the God-given talents (and superiority!) of Tiger
Woods, LeBron James, or Tina Turner, to name just a few.
The War in Vietnam was a terrible thing. Eisenhower kicked off U.S.
involvement, and left it simmering for JFK, who may have been
considering withdrawal. (Thoughts like that could get one killed.)
Kennedy also entertained the notion of dismantling the CIA and the
Federal Reserve (two more blasphemies that could get a man killed).
Kennedy was killed, the Vietnam War passed on to Lyndon
Johnson (having LBJ as a vice president could get a man killed). He
enlivened our involvement a hundredfold. He kept escalating matters;
eventually some two million Vietnamese civilians were dead. Richard
Nixon, a Republican, was a creep, a liar, and
nuts, but in 1973 he did call it quits. For this he doesn't
deserve much credit since for years anybody with a smidgen of
sanity had known the war was all a big mistake. He has often been accused of prolonging it unnecessarily. At home, opposition to
tearing the country apart, encouraging a lot of young people to become
forever convinced that our government is evil. From the get-go, it had
endeavor, and the old farts who continued to
send our guys off to be killed should have been castrated.
Republicans attempted to justify an
invasion of Iraq with misinformation
(lies) about weapons of mass destruction, an ill-advised move that
nevertheless attracted considerable Democratic support. Many observers
assumed that in reality our invasion was retribution for nine-eleven,
although the attack on the Twin Towers was mostly the work of men from
Saudi Arabia, not Iraq. Truth is we
were interested not in revenge, but in oil. Bush couldn't admit this,
so he insisted we were threatened by Iraq's weapons of mass
Bullshit, Iraq had no WMDs, but nobody much cared; our occupation of
permanent. Later on, Obama won a Nobel Peace
Prize (for not being a Bush?). He proceeded to drop bombs
on more than a dozen, non-threatening, mid-Eastern countries. He talked
Libya's Muammar Gaddafi into abandoning his nuclear program by
promising not to depose him. Obama had him killed anyway, creating
throughout the region. The whole thing amused Secretary of State
"We came, we saw, he died," she laughed.
The detention camp (prison) at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay has held accused terrorists
indefinitely without formal charges, trials, or legal
representation. It was started by Republicans, but continued by
Democrats. Here we commonly tortured detainees, violating
international law. Our system of justice had once been the envy of the
world, but GTMO has
besmirched it beyond repair. Obama frequently promised to close the
never did. Republicans often accused him of being a weenie, but he was
plenty militant. Determined to be a tough guy, he did little to stem a
military budget (more than the rest of the world combined), an outlandish outlay that drains billions from infrastructure repair
and benign social programs. (Both parties are oblivious to the notion
might be enough; Our nuclear warheads can destroy the world many
Bush invaded Afghanistan on the pretense that there were terrorists
there. Seventeen years later, we were still there as were at least some
terrorists. This war, the longest ever, threatens to go on forever. Every
worldwide poll identifies the United States as the gravest threat
to world peace. Let's face facts—our exuberant use of drones has made
the U.S. the world's foremost terrorist nation.
Bill Clinton (who many Republicans say is a serial rapist), manipulated
drug laws to label young black men predators. A spectre of runaway
(mostly imaginary) crime in the streets
terrified us. The hysteria got thousands of African Americans sentenced
prison terms. America, land of the free, racked up the world's highest
incarceration rate. The United States, with five percent of the world's
population, had seventy-five percent of its inmates. Later, long after
sensible people began to favor legalizing pot, Republicans continued to
on draconian penalties for possession of God's favorite weed.
Still later, when big pharm developed synthetic marijuana, Republicans
welcomed it as prescription medication, but continued to list the
real thing as a schedule I drug (same as heroin and crack cocaine).
Anybody can grow pot, and people in power don't like drugs they can't
do like wars, whether on drugs or against terrorists. We are urged to
be suspicious of strangers with accents. I think immigrants should
celebrated. Time was the U.S. attracted
healthy, intelligent, ambitious, creative, and freedom-loving people
from near and far.
They energized us, making us great, but now we are encouraged to fear
them. To discourage
their coming, we've set
up roadblocks at every turn; vetting them can take years. At times, we
have separated children from their parents. We didn't keep careful
track of where kids were being dispatched, and many will probably never
again see their parents. Our universities used to be the envy of the
world, but now not so much. No
longer do we attract the brightest of the bright science students; too
many of them are
refusing to deal with our bullshit. Republicans are leery of higher
education; they know that the higher one becomes educated, the more
likely he is to hold progressive values. Republicans often seem to be
fighting a war against science, especially when it comes to dealing
with stem cells and climate change.
In the late '80s, both parties supported bailing out the big banks
whose practices nearly brought down the world economy. (They're
take big risks: If things go right, they make billions; when things
don't, they get bailed by U.S. taxpayers ). Neither party questions a system that
aims for infinite growth. Nobody at Goldman Sachs worries about
It's insane for billionaires to struggle mightily to become
ever richer. The thugs they hire (banksters) should be shot.
Back in Detroit (my hometown) Democrats held sway for a long time. When
the crappy cars they produced got supplanted, they left the place in a
shambles. The few that stayed went on expecting working guys (who had
become non-working guys) to vote for them. What else could they do?
They had no place else to go. Surprise! They voted for Republican Howard Champ, who
convinced them he was a populist. This was a lie, but it has taken
awhile for this to sink in. To some it still hasn't.
Beginning with Republican Theodore Roosevelt, presidents have all
promised universal health insurance. None has materialized. It
shouldn't be that hard; every other developed country in the Western
Hemisphere has it. Here Medicare for all is the obvious solution, but
big pharm (and the insurance industry) don't cotton to it, and we all
know who's boss. Prescription drug prices in the U.S. are the world's
highest. Some of our less fortunate people have to choose between
eating cat food or getting the pharmaceuticals they need. Evidently that's just their tough luck.
Bigoted as they are, politicians care
mostly about money. Leaders from
both parties bow and scrape before the
Masters of petroleum, pharmaceuticals, Wall Street, and defense. This
is understandable; most of their money comes from these guys. I have to
agree with McGowans: Our system is unsustainable; collapse is
Not too long ago, I thought technology was refashioning the world more
to my liking. The internet provided a platform that gave anybody with
something to say the possibility of reaching millions. Guys like Jimmy
Dore, John Oliver, Chris Hedges, and Lee
Camp were delivering aspects of news almost impossible to find
elsewhere. Then the
FCC began cooperating in the smashing of this platform, muffling and
gagging people with alternative messages.
I have a core belief, it's that government
should do what it can to even things out. As it is, people like
me and my friends are completely mismatched against the rich. The One Percent secure behind their locked gates will do
whatever they can to get what little we have. We have numbers,
but little else. In a democracy, numbers should suffice, but our
system is rigged in favor of fat cats. Both parties are
suspicious of democracy and have never given it free reign. Our
forefathers restricted the vote to male, white, property owners.
Things haven't gotten that much better, and many minorities who would
tend to vote progressive are barred from voting at all. Their
registrations have been lost, they don't have proper IDs, or their
names, common though they may be, appear on registers somewhere else.
They're accused of trying to vote twice—this in a country where its
extremely difficult to get many people to vote once. It's no wonder
congress can't bag a double-digit positive rating. Congressmen from
both parties are obsessed with getting power, getting rich, and
getting laid. Once in a while, the latter gets them in trouble, and we
can enjoy watching them squirm, but it seldom ever comes to much.
I am sure many people would find this whirlwind tour of latter day
American history way too negative. They can all go fuck themselves.
I'll go on thinking any goddamn way I like. All
and all, I can't see how one party has earned better grades than the other. I would be overly generous if I awarded each a
D-plus. If I were to give myself a goal as a congressman, it would be to
try to edge up this grade. I realize this would be an uphill fight on a
slippery slope, and chances are I would wind up on my
am I a politician? God knows I am plenty cynical about the political
process. I would like to believe that I am well above its more tawdry
aspects, but I am probably kidding myself. I have immersed myself in
the political process and have reaped its rewards. I guess I have to
admit I am a politician. For the moment, anyway.
answered my own question, I opened the big New World dictionary I had
hollowed out and placed the journal beside Senator Jackson's antique
pistol. I had meant to toss the gun into the Potomac, but somehow couldn't
bring myself to do it. Talk about smoking gun evidence. I wondered if subconsciously I was trying to fuck myself over.
McGowans looked glum when he opened the meeting.
"We're here because our President feels the country
needs a National Sport," he said. "It's our job to decide what we should be
looking for in one and to decide which sport should be so-honored." I thought I had never heard a less
enthusiastic introduction to anything short of E coli. After a suitable
pause, McGowans continued, "We'll need to establish the criteria by
which we'll recommend a National Game."
"Popularity," blurted Rep. Jake Morgan, the beefy guy seated next to me. "Our National Sport should be the
most popular one."
course it should be," said Winnie Watson, a black congresswoman from
Michigan. "And that would be golf, not football. More than 25 million
Americans play golf." Back in Michigan, I had known who Winnie Watson
She attended Stevenson High School in Livonia, not far from my own
Huron Lake High School. The schools were in the same athletic
conference, and Winnie had played on Stevenson's otherwise all-male
golf team. She was good, and, as a senior,
nearly beat Neal Knickerson, our number one man. She went on to
Michigan State where she excelled in basketball and track as
well as golf. Winnie is
long and lanky and like many black women oozed
vitality. I would have loved watching her run hurdles or swing a
I heard, golf was losing players,"
said Morgan, a Republican representative from Green Bay, Wisconsin. He
had never played pro ball, but was known for his fixation on Vince
Lombardi, who he insisted was the finest coach any sport had ever had
or could ever hope to have.
is too expensive, too time-consuming, and too difficult to master," he
"And very addictive," I said. "Get a kid hooked on it, and he'll play for the rest of his life."
weren't five minutes into the meeting, and already I knew the sports
committee was going to provoke lively debate. This was fine with me. I
like spirited discussions
and preferred talking to people with opinions different from mine. This
has never been a problem since just about everybody has opinions
different from mine.
In some ways, the committee composition suggested balance; in other
says, not so much. Besides me, there were three Democrats—Senator
Gardner and Representatives Kamila Madera and
Winnie Watson. I suppose I didn't mind being cast in with the girls. The four men were Republicans: Senator Mike Dunn and
Representatives Jake Morgan, Peter Myers, and Troy Smith. Chairman
McGowans was an Independent who usually caucused with the Democrats.
The Republicans had been hand-picked by Champ; McGowans chose the
Democrats. He was to vote only in the event of ties.
My hopes were that politics wouldn't matter here. Not much, anyway.
Sports shouldn't be a partisan issue although I did realize that in some ways
they were. For example, the vast
majority of professional golfers are conservative. The nature of the
endeavor lends itself to conservatism. The tour is a model meritocracy.
In most tournaments, half of the field is cut after two days. Those cut
are paid nothing for their efforts. Unlike European tours, players in
PGA events aren't paid for showing up. I also knew some
progressives who were boycotting the NFL. They felt that the
billionaire owners of the clubs were keeping players on leashes much
too short. Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback good enough to have taken the 49ers
to the Super Bowl, had been blackballed for publicly protesting police
brutality during the National Anthem. It seemed as though pro
basketball players were given far
more leeway to express unpopular opinions. I couldn't see how it was up
to club owners to dole out leeway in any measure. This is still a free
I had often said that sports were invented to give men (and now women)
something reasonably interesting to talk about. Something unlikely to provoke
bloodshed. The weather was too boring (or at least it was before global
warming became a hot-button issue), and politics and religion were too
volatile. Deep down most people realized that more times than not their
allegiance to a particular sports team was based on nothing more than
proximity. Somebody once suggested that fans were cheering for uniforms
since players frequently were traded from team to team. It didn't pay for fans to get too attached to them.
I think of sports fans, I tend to think of guys. No doubt this is
sexist since intellectually I realize many women are as avid as any
men. Women fans may be fewer in number, but not in intensity. Due to
this bias, my tendency would have been to dismiss Misella Gardner
from Burbank, California, she was everything I would expect from a
California girl. A
pretty, young blond, she brought to mind the stereotypical Valley
Girl. I was a little surprised when she was among the first on the
committee to speak up. "I love
playing tennis," she said, "but I like question whether it or any other
sport should be the official National Sport." There was a slight rise
in pitch in the way she said National Sport. "Our culture is complex,"
she continued. "Do we even have a single culture? Another rise in
pitch. Good question, I thought. Maybe she wasn't as ditzy as I would
expect a Valley Girl to be.
I did figure that Mike Dunn would speak up next, and he did just that. "By
age three," he said, "I was hitting balls off a mat. My father had
taught me the Vardon overlapping grip and given me junior clubs." He
sounded like a guy who knew a little bit about golf, but wasn't really
into it. Earlier I had heard him hum the tune to California Girls
without mouthing the words "I wish they all could be California Girls."
He was from Somerville, a city northwest of Boston, and he hadn't removed his Red Sox cap, which he
wore backwards. He looked to be in his twenties, so I suppose this was okay. He seemed determined to show everybody he was a
happy-go-lucky kind of guy, but he nearly lost his cool when he pretty
much had to push Winnie Watson aside in his determination to sit next
to Misella. Misella's body English, a slight lean away from Dunn, suggested that his adoration
our National Sport be one invented in America? The popularity of pro basketball is growing by leaps and
bounds," said Rep. Troy Smith, who was from Indianapolis and claimed to be friends with
Larry Bird and Bob Knight.
Peter Myers, who I had immediately spotted as a smart-ass troublemaker,
pointed out that Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, was a
Canadian. He was working at a YMCA in Massachusetts when he came up
with the idea of shooting good-sized, round balls into bushel baskets. Myers
was short and thin, wore thick glasses and a bow tie;
He looked like a guy who in high school would have been unwelcome on
teams other than debate or chess. He suggested we focus on Olympic
sports. If points could be scored for being annoying, Myers would be a
"If we're intent on saluting American, we should
consider Nascar," Dunn said. "That's a sport with deep Southern roots.
The grand daddies of some of today's best drivers got their start
running moonshine whiskey."
"Nascar is the product of a bygone era," Myers said. "Off-road racing is
rapidly supplanting it. Hell, I can see the Indy 500 making a comeback now that Nascar's lost Danica Patrick."
mention of IndyCars got my mind drifting. I was envisioning Belle
Isle, an island in
the Detroit River between Detroit and Ontario. For a long time,
it had been home to a run-down amusement park until the city made it
state park. Then Roger Penske staged Grand Prix racing
there. Last I heard, the race was hanging on although there was quite a
lot of opposition to it. Opponents contended it dominated the island
for much of the year. Promoters, on the other hand, claimed the race
gives the city an economic boots
exceeding fifty million dollars. Opponents insisted the figure is
B.S.The race wasn't in my district, and I had stayed out of the debate.
had gotten a bit excited when I learned that Rep. Kamila Madera was on
the committee. A young freshman legislator from Queens,
had surprised everybody by beating Ted Kincaid, a nine-term
representative in last summer's primary election. The native New Yorker calls herself a
Democratic Socialist and seems determined to shake things up. The
daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, Kamila grew up in a working class
neighborhood, and she hasn't forgotten her roots. She holds
with the outrageous notion that the government exists to serve ordinary
Even before she was sworn in, Kamila had expressed her vision of a
changed country, one in which deserts would be covered with solar
collectors and drilling platforms with wind turbines.
Fossil fuels and mountaintops would be left mostly untouched. This
Green Revolution, she insisted, would create hundreds of thousands of
jobs and ultimately provide the inspiration needed to save the
world from becoming a scorched wasteland. Early on conservatives were
branding her as too young, too inexperienced, too flighty, and too
stupid, but she kept going on Twitter and showing them up.To me she was
a breath of fresh air, and I wasn't at all surprised
that McGowans had sought her out.
For days I had been wondering what she would have to say. I
half expected her to speak in behalf of baseball. I don't know
why, but I thought of baseball as being more down-to-earth, a working
man's passion. Isn't stickball, a variation of baseball, the game kids
of Queens play in the streets? Football
was for the college-educated—crisp Autumn days, comely cheerleaders
waving pom poms, bowl games— (although I doubted that Jake Morgan
boasted many academic achievements), and basketball was for the
intellectual. I didn't believe any of this with much conviction and
wouldn't mind being proven wrong.
think our National Sport should be a sport with a fair share of both
minority participants," Kamila ventured. "We have had a long and
history of mistreating gymnasts; maybe we could begin to set things
right by making gymnastics our National Sport." I noticed that
everybody except McGowans and me were looking at Winnie Watson, whose
college, Michigan State, had been in the forefront of mistreating
female gymnasts. Winnie, unperturbed, kept looking straight ahead,
pretending not to notice the unsolicited attention.
We are here to pick the most quintessential American sport, not the one
with the most abused participants," Myers said. "Let's not get diverted
into trying to pay back social inequities."
"Good idea," Dunn said. "I wouldn't want to get too touchy-feely. Woe to anyone
who lays a hand on a gymnast. And ballroom dancing. God I hope that
doesn't become our
National Sport. Or ballet. Or, God forbid, figure skating. Who would
want faggots to be our
"Amen," said Morgan. "I would much rather be represented by quarterbacks, tackles, and linebackers."
"Okay, you guys," McGowans said. "Let's play nice and
show consideration for others. What about other sports?"
"Time was just about everybody went hunting," Troy Smith said. "Is hunting a sport?"
"Not if you're shooting supper," Misella said. "Only if you're intent
on slaughtering local wildlife. It takes a sportsman to kill things for
I could see this deteriorating into a squabble over Second Amendment
rights, which, as a liberal, should place me on Misella's side, but
hypocritically since I had already replaced my Glock 19.
swimmer Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympic athlete
of all time," said Rep. Peter Myers. "Twenty-eight medals, twenty-three
of 'em gold. Maybe in honor of him our National Sport should
struck me as a guy who felt the world has been unfairly mean to him
and is out for retribution. It was a mystery to me how he ever got
elected. I looked around the table, and nobody seemed at all interested in taking swimming under consideration.
"A lot of broads do look good in bikinis," Morgan finally said.
"It's gotta be the sport with the richest American tradition," said
Mike Dunn, evidently abandoning hopes of bonding with Misella. "It's gotta be baseball. Babe
Ruth, Ty Cobb, Joe Dimaggio. Every kid has heard 'Casey at the Bat.' We all know the words
to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Mention Robert Redford and people
think of The Natural. We've all seen Field of
"Mention baseball, and I think Black Sox," said Winnie Watson. "How about the sport with the highest
ethical standards? Golf has a long tradition of
participants calling penalties on themselves. In most sports,
successful cheaters are idolized. Baseball players are celebrated for stealing signs and
throwing spitballs. In football, players openly work on techniques to keep
cheating undetected. Basketball players foul intentionally and elbow
the opposition when they think they can get away with it."
"Stolen bases," Myers said. "Don't forget them. Baseball players love to steal bases."
when a fielder make a miraculous catch, people say the batter was
robbed of a hit," Dunn added. "I would say dugouts are dens of
These exchanges got me thinking about Bobby Jones. He once lost a U.S.
Open in part because he accidentally nudged the ball as he addressed
it. Nobody had noticed his infraction, but he called a penalty on
himself. When he was commended
for this, he famously said you might as well praise a man for not
robbing a bank.
"We'll have to choose between two schools of thought," McGowans said.
"The first is perhaps best represented by Vince Lombardi, who famously
said: 'Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing.' "
"I never did understand what the hell he meant by that," I admitted.
"The second possibility," McGowans continued, "may be equally
incomprehensible to some of you. The reknowned sports writer Grantland
Rice once penned, 'It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play
the game.' "
Committee members fell silent.
Maybe they were deep in thought, or maybe they just wanted to get out
of there. Whatever, nobody had anything more to say, and the meeting
As they were leaving, McGowans asked me to stay a
moment. Once we were alone, he said, "You didn't have much to say
"It's my nature," I said. "In a new situation, I tend to hang back until I am confident I know what's up."
"I am sure that's wise," McGowans said. "In Congress we have many
would-be leaders, but few thoughtful followers."
"There's gotta be room for the occasional impartial observer," I said.
"The proverbial fly on the wall. Once we get going, you'll probably
wish I would shut the fuck up."
McGowans smiled at that. "So what is up?" he wondered. "What do you think of the group?"
"It's quite a crew. I have to wonder how you came up with them."
"As you know, President Champ picked the Republicans. Needless to say,
he went with conservative men. I wanted you and some women, so you can
see what I came up with."
"Champ's picks notwithstanding, I've gotta say the
proceedings today weren't as solemn as I had thought they would be."
"Do you think we'll ever reach a consensus?"
It certainly won't be easy. Morgan is a die hard,
single-minded football devotee. It'll take a lot to get him to budge
from that. Dunn is interested mostly in
getting laid although from what I could see he's doomed for frustration
with Misella. Ms. Madera is bent on representing both her gender
and diverse ethnicities, and Myers is a gadfly, a loose-cannon wiseass.
Misella, Winnie, and Myers could get together, since golf is in
Olympics, but I very much doubt it. Kamila might
ultimately side with Dunn, probably not in getting laid, but in
baseball since there are so many Latino
stars. Troy Smith might remain friendless since
his real love is the Massachusetts connection to basketball's origin.
On the plus side, Misella Gardner is bright, informed, and flexible,
but I sense she has a mind of her own."
"Easy on the eye, too," McGowans said.
"I noticed that," I said. She, Winnie, and Kamila can compete for
best-looking committee person. I think we can rule out us guys."
"I like your wrap-up,"
McGowans said. "There's probably no way on God's green earth that
members of this committee can come together."
"I wouldn't give up. I've seen stranger alliances take form."
"You're right, of course," McGowans said. "I would submit that sports help establish tribal
identities. In New England, a man might be a Republican, a Democrat, an
independent, a theist or an atheist, but chances are he supports
the Patriots, Celtics, and Red Sox. Maybe even the Bruins. Win or lose,
sports create a we're-all-in-this-together mentality. Of course, this
doesn't mean we can let our guards down."
"What do you mean?"
McGowans glanced about as though he thought somebody might be
listening. He was almost whispering when he said, "I got an anonymous
letter the other day. It said we damn well better choose football as
our National Sport. Any other choice could prove unhealthy for me and
"Good God," I said. "Why in the world would anybody take this so seriously?"
"Follow the money," McGowans said. "Most people don't realize how
insanely lucrative the NFL is. Annual revenues exceed ten billion
dollars, thanks in large part to TV. The Super Bowl is
always the most-watched spectacle of the year. Thirty seconds of Super Bowl time costs over half-a-million dollars."
"No small sums," I said. "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking about real money."
McGowans smiled. "You do know some history," he said, "but did you know that Dirksen never said the last part of that?"
"Actually, no," I said. "Truth is I wasn't sure who said any of it."
"Dirksen insisted a newspaper reporter mistakingly attributed the quote
to him, and he thought it sounded so good, he never corrected it. In
your study of history, if you missed out on Everett, you missed out on
a pretty interesting guy. A Republican, he was Senate Minority Leader
during the sixties. Although he was a steadfast supporter of the
Vietnam debacle, he also helped push through several Civil Rights Acts,
including the landmark ones of sixty-four and sixty-eight. Something he
actually did say has stuck in my mind: 'I am a man of fixed and
unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all
"Wise words," I said, "I know I have a lot to learn."
"Don't worry about it," McGowans said, "We all do. But getting back to
sports, choosing football as our National Sport could be a big mistake.
The prevalence of brain damage to so
many players has made many people question football's future. These
days a lot of moms aren't letting their boys join Pop Warner. Some
state legislatures are considering barring the sport altogether.
Insurance companies are becoming increasingly reluctant to insure
programs. If football were the
National Sport, it would enjoy Federal protection, which could help
explain why its proponents are getting frantic in their support of it. "
"I guess there are plenty of motives for foul play," I said. "I suppose we're on
potentially dangerous ground. Shouldn't you let the others know about
"I don't think it's necessary to alarm them. I've been threatened
before. I got some when we were working on legislation to tighten
restrictions on private sales at gun shows, and I got others when we
were overriding state restrictions on abortion clinics. I ignored the
threats, and nothing came of them. Some blow-hards just have to let off
steam. They'll never get off their butts long enough to actually do
something other than rant."
I thought about this for a minute. Then I said, "Some people got off their butts long enough to kill the Kennedys."
McGowan didn't reply, but the thoughtful look on his face made me wonder if I was hitting too close to home.
Early that evening, I was halfway through a medium-sized,
microwaved, Stouffers Lasagna with Meat Sauce, when I got an
urgent-sounding text from Sarah telling me to get my ass over to Blue
Indigo as soon as possible. Unless the place was burning down, I said
to myself, what could be so damn important? I gulped down half of the last
half of my lasagna, swished down a chunk of unbuttered, multigrain mini-boule with
some lukewarm coffee, and dutifully hit the road.
Fifteen minutes later, I walked through the front door of the club.
There wasn't much going on. This early on a Wednesday night, I would
have been surprised if there had been. A busboy motioned me to the back
office. Tapping twice on the door, I heard Sarah bark out, "It's open."
When I went in the first thing I saw was Lila Springer sitting behind
the desk holding a towel drenched from melting ice to her face. When
she let it down, I saw she had a nasty-looking bruise all around her
right eye. It didn't seem likely she would be singing for the next several nights.
"What happened?" I said.
"Brock slugged her," Sarah said. "She asked for ten dollars, and the son of a bitch belted her."
"You've called the cops?"
"No!" Lila cried out. "We can't!"
"Why the hell not? He committed an assault..."
"He would be suspended, maybe cut from the Redskins. He can't lose his
livelihood now, not when he stands to make five million dollars over
the next two years."
"That doesn't entitle him to use you as a punching bag."
course, it doesn't, but you've gotta understand, he's not a horrible
person. Really. He's always so sorry after he does something like this."
"Always?" I said. "How often has he done this?"
"Not that often. Only a few times. Really. He can be a really sweet guy."
"Why am I here?" I said.
"We want you to talk to him," Sarah said. "Tell him in no uncertain terms he can't do this sort of thing."
"Evidently he can," I said. "With Lila as an enabler, what's to stop him?
Some men get off bashing women. If this is his thing, he probably isn't about to listen to me."
"He knows about your stint as a fighter," Sarah said. "He knows you killed a man in the ring. He has enormous respect for you."
I like being respected, but not for that. "I don't think that any asshole bully
ever stopped being one because somebody told him it wasn't nice. Even
someone he respects. It just doesn't work that way."
"He also knows you're with the government," Sarah said. "You might be
able to put the fear of God in him. Or the fear of Uncle Sam."
"He thinks that since you're with the government, you must know IRS
agents," Lila said. "If he's afraid of anything, it's the IRS."
I sighed. Trying to scare Brock was itself a bit scary. A highly
regarded linebacker, Brock had four inches and seventy-five pounds on me.
Known for his hair-triggered temper, he'd been ejected from several
games for over-the-top violence. If we got into an altercation, I could
be in big trouble. Not only might I get beat up, as a former professional fighter the law has
registered my fists and my feet as deadly weapons. This was one sleeping dog I
would have preferred to let lie.
"Where is he?" I said.
Lila gave me their address. It was in Silver Spring, Maryland, a commuting suburb about
half an hour away. Reluctantly, I promised the women I would speak with
The house was in an up-scale suburb with immaculately mowed lawns and
late-model SUVs in the driveways. Brock was home. Lights were on, and a
shiny, black Lincoln Navigator sat in his driveway. The house, a white,
two-story Colonial, was less grand than Senator Jackson's, but still worth at least a million bucks. I pushed a button by the
door and was rewarded with the ringing of loud chimes from somewhere
It took a minute or two, but the door finally opened. Brock, obviously
not expecting visitors, was wearing boxer briefs, a dirty undershirt,
and flip-flops. He was clutching a half-full Budweiser as
he stared at me impassively.
"I am Danny Dukes, Sarah's friend from The Blue Indigo, and I am sorry to
bother you unannounced," I said. I extended my hand to shake his, but
he didn't move. He took up most of the doorway.
"I know who you are," he growled.
"Sarah and Lila asked me to drop by to speak with you."
Brock still didn't move.
"May I come in?"
Brock hesitated before retreating a half-step back. Taking this as a yes,
I stepped into the doorway. Brock looked annoyed, but he let me in,
leading the way to the kitchen. "Beer?" he said as he opened the
refrigerator. I don't respond, but he brought out two Buds and tossed one of the bottles
to me. I was grateful for the hint of hospitality.
"I guess you know why I'm here," I said.
"Yeah, of course I do. I whacked Lila. I lost my temper and punched her
in the face. She had it coming, but I guess that's no excuse."
me, I know what such urges are like, but giving into them can get you
into a shitload of trouble. But you already know that."
"Lila doesn't want to involve cops."
"Of course, she doesn't. This could lead to her meal ticket being
canceled. Lila doesn't know much, but she knows which side of her
bread is buttered."
I set my unopened beer down on the table. From the looks of Brock, I had to believe he already had had several.
"Lila won't call them, but I will. I won't sit around watching her get beat up."
I couldn't tell if Brock had the beginnings of a friendly smile or a
his face. "Sir Galahad, are ya?" he said. I wondered if he was
measuring the distance between his fist and my jaw. A guy like him has
a gun somewhere; I have to wonder where. But then he nods his head.
"There are times when I just don't know what gets into me. You might
not believe this, but I have always regarded myself as a gentleman. For
the past year or so, I sometimes have scared myself. I get headaches
and can't seem to concentrate. Sometimes I just want to demolish
something. I'll try to do better. I will. I really will."
Our encounter ended with a handshake. "Thanks for coming by," he said.
Driving back to my apartment, I reflected on Brock's admission as I
drank his beer. He seemed sincere, but what would account for his
sudden switch from growing aggressiveness to contrite remorse? I was
reminded of my own poor impulse
control. I have anger issues, but would I ever slug Sarah? I didn't
think so, but how could I be
When I got home, a big, C-Class, Mercedes sedan was parked in front. As
I got out of my Honda, Senator McGowans got out of it. "You left this at our
meeting place," he said. "I thought I'd drop it off." He was
holding my MacBook Air, a recent acquisition I hadn't gotten used to
"Thanks," I said. "My mother used to say I'd lose my head if it wasn't attached."
"I think every mom says that at one time or another," he laughed.
"Anyway, you brought the Mac in with you, but then you took copious
notes on a legal pad."
"Old habits die hard," I said. "Someday I'll take my place in the
twenty-first century." I hesitated for several long seconds
before adding, "Speaking of old habits and losing one's head, I have a
few questions for you. They're both personal and related to our
committee work. Can you come into my humble abode for a few minutes?"
He nodded, and when we got there, I apologized for my lack of
preparedness. "I would offer you a drink," I said, "but don't have much
on hand. I do have tea and coffee."
"Black coffee would be great."
As I was dumping Chock Full o'Nuts into a filter, I asked, "How much do you know about CTE?"
"Quite a bit, actually. I know it stands for chronic traumatic
encephalopathy. It's a degenerative brain disease that occurs in people
who get hit in the head a lot. People like football players.
Researchers at Boston University found it in over a hundred former NFL
players, some of whom committed suicide."
"Would its prevalence be a good reason for rejecting football as our national sport?"
"I think it could be a very good reason. It would certainly be something to closely consider."
"I was thinking of Aaron Hernandez, the former Patriots tight end who
was convicted of murdering his friend for no particular
reason. Hernandez later hanged himself. As I understand it, a
posthumous examination of his brain showed he had a severe form of CTE."
"Yeah, it did. There is a strong likelihood that CTE contributed to his
erratic, violent behavior. Hernandez was twenty-seven, and an
examiner said it was the most advanced case of CTE she had ever seen in
a man so young. The matter will be litigated for years to come. What
brings it up?"
"I was wondering about myself. When I was fighting, I got whacked in the
head plenty of times. Now there are times when my behavior surprises
even me. I am wondering if I should remove myself from your committee."
"Everybody does things they later wonder about," McGowans said. "If I
were you, I wouldn't worry too much about it. I haven't noticed
anything untoward in your behavior. You showed plenty of composure when you hit that
awful shank on thirteen."
"I was on my best behavior," I laughed. "There have been times when
I would have thrown that club so far into the woods we would never
have found it."
Smiling, McGowans nodded his head. "We've all had those times.
God knows I've had my share. The state of your brain might be
something that bears watching, but for now I want you on the committee."
"Can CTE be positively diagnosed?
"Not unless you're dead. To confirm CTE, they have to slice your brain
"That's not at all comforting. Can CTE be treated in some way?"
"Unfortunately, no. Not at this time. Question: Have you considered suicide?"
"No. Not lately. Why do you ask?"
"Several former NFL players besides Hernandez killed themselves. Among others, Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, Andre Waters,
and Ray Easterling. Autopsies disclosed they all had advanced CTE."
"There must be symptoms."
McGowans had switched on his cell phone and Goggled CTE. "It says here
possible signs and symptoms may include impulsive behavior, short-term
memory loss, poor impulse control, difficulty carrying out tasks, and
emotional instability. But these can be signs of problems other than
"What about boxers? They must get it."
used to call wobbly, old fighters 'punch drunk,' and Muhammad
Ali's Parkinson's was likely brought on by CTE.
Fortunately, you don't seem to be suffering from either of these
"Not yet, but it would be good to know for sure."
Reading from the cell, McGowans went on to point out that
symptoms can show up weeks,
months, or even years after a player retires. "This is good news, in a
way. Even if you have it, it might be a long time before it does
you in. So keep the faith, my friend, and I'll see ya a week from
McGowans was out the door, closing it behind him when I
noticed the coffee was done dripping and was sitting on the counter
Wednesday came on like a junkyard dog—nasty, mean, and snappish. A
brisk north wind was thrashing a cruel cold rain our way. Too damn early for a polar vortex, I grumbled. It would have
been a good day to stay in bed. I would have liked it if McGowans' committee meeting
could have been called on account of rain, but nothing was going to
forestall our get-together with Baseball Commissioner John Park.
Duty bound, I showered and shaved before pouring myself a small glass of
orange juice, toasting a cinnamon-raisin bagel, and making coffee. I could think of maybe a dozen things I'd rather be
doing. Having long been nothing more than an on-again, off-again
baseball fan, I wouldn't have recognized Park's name had I overheard it
nor his face had I met him on the street.
In my defense, there had been times when I was somewhat mindful of the
game. If the team
representing my current whereabouts was in the hunt for a pennant, I
would be at least vaguely aware of it. Probably I would learn to recognize the names of
some key players. Just don't ask me their batting
averages or how many RBI's they're responsible for.
I do recall with
some fondness my rare visits to Tiger Stadium. Still vivid in my memory
are the greenness of the grass, the contrasting white baselines,
the flagpole near dead center field. I can still hear the vendors
crying out the
availability of their over-priced hot dogs and beer. The sharp crack of
a well-hit ball will stay in my mind forever as will the "boos" from
the disgruntled crowd following a crucial, called, third strike.
At some point I got interested enough in baseball to read George Will's book, Men at Work: The Craft of
I admire his mind, its ability to explore the unending intricacies of
game. More recently I read Michael Lewis' Moneyball, which introduced a
whole new set of intricacies. Envious as I am of these writers, there
is no way will I ever wrap my mind around either of their books. It's
just not in my DNA.
About the only sports book I ever really embraced (if you don't count Hogan's Modern Fundamentals of Golf) was Jim Boulton's Ball Four.
Boulton outraged the sports world by telling some ugly truths
about major league baseball. It met with great critical acclaim. Time
magazine called it one of the 100 most important non-fiction books of
all time, and it sold millions of copies. What is it about dirt that's
so appealing? I've gotta admit I
find Mickey Mantle's excessive drinking far more interesting than how
home runs he hit.
I have to wonder if I should be on McGowans' committee.
Shouldn't my position be held by someone who truly loves sports?
Shouldn't the National Sport be declared by someone who actually gives
a rat's ass? I have
never hero-worshiped ballplayers. Truth is I find most are boring
What can draw my interest is their
shortcomings. There have been thousands of ballplayers, but Pete Rose,
Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens stand out for me. I realize all three
accumulated enviable statistics, but it's Rose's link to gambling and
Bonds' and Clemens' alleged steroid use that stick in my mind.
to be more intrigued by the agony of disgrace than
the thrill of superior performance. I followed the Oakland Raiders for
because they were known for dirty play. For the same reason, I have
kept tabs on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. I focused some on Detroit
Cleveland when it looked like they might endure winless seasons. When I
watch Olympic figure skaters, I secretly hope they'll fall on their
asses. Watching John Daly make 12 on a hole is far more entertaining
than watching Tiger make birdie. For me the New England Patriots' reign
of terror over the NFL is enhanced in part by its rules violations.
I am far from alone. A lot of folks are attracted to
people who are, at best, dubious. Genghis Khan, Billy the Kid, Jesse
and Clyde, and Lucky Luciano have all been glamorized unendingly. I am
tempted to throw President Champ into
this stew, although his story is still unfolding. In popular
entertainment, you just can't beat a good bad guy. In so many movies
the villain is far-and-away the most interesting
character. Heath Ledger in
Batman, Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Anthony Perkins in Silence of the Lambs. Why do so many of us latch onto the James Gandolfinis/Tony Sopranos of this world?
Having grown up in Detroit as something of a miscreant, I guess It's
understandable that I would be drawn to the city's social pariahs. For
me Henry Ford is notable less for the Model T than for his embrace of
Hitler and distaste for Jews. From the get-go
I rather admired Jimmy Hoffa. I think my love for Detroit's outlaw
athletes may have begun with stories I heard about Bobby Layne, the
Lion's wild-man, hard-drinking, win-at-any-price quarterback of the
early fifties. Among
players, there have been more than a few outcasts, but two stand
out—arch-villain representatives of different eras— Ty Cobb and Denny
When most of us think about Ty Cobb, we conjure up a murderous thug.
image that has been passed down may not be completely accurate—Charles
Leerhsen wrote a book that almost completely exonerates Cobb—but
the popular mind, Ty Cob was an awful person, a racist and low-down
cheat who sharpened his spikes to aide and abet ripping into opposition
players with slashing
slides. Many people have taken it as gospel that Cobb killed
at least three people, although no charges were ever leveled. Never
mind that Cobb was the first player voted into the Hall of
Fame or that his lifetime batting average, .366, has never been
duplicated. In Field of Dreams, Shoeless Joe Jackson says Cobb wasn't
invited because nobody likes him. Fair or not, we love remembering Cobb
as a Prince of Darkness.
Then there's Denny McLain. I'll never forget the night I sat down next
to him in a Detroit sports bar. It's a wonder I recognized him, but when I did
I ultimately summoned up the courage to ask him how he was doing. Maybe
not the greatest of questions to ask McLain. Few mortals have had
higher ups or lower downs than Dennis Dale McLain. For a high, how
about leading the Detroit Tigers to the 1968 World Championship,
winning 31 regular-season games—a feat last accomplished by Dizzy Dean
in the '30s dead-ball era and not once since?
For a low, how about joining forces with scumbag gamblers and Syrian mobsters (and, possibly,
murderers) and eventually serving two prison terms for offenses
that included racketeering, loan-sharking, cocaine trafficking, money
laundering, mail-fraud, conspiracy, and the embezzlement of
two-and-a-half million dollars from a company retirement fund? Somehow,
on top of all this, he found time to accept a $160,000 fee for flying a fugitive out on the country and to get
involved, allegedly, with John Gotti Jr. in a fraudulent phone card
The night we met, we had a nice chat. He seemed to be completely open
and above board. He admitted to numerous
lapses in judgment, expressed plenty of remorse, and appeared to have
acquired considerable respectability. Evidently he gets numerous
guest-speaker engagements. He may harbor hopes of making it into the
Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, but keep in mind what
springs eternal. Good advice: Don't bet
the ranch on it happening, not that I would mind if it did. For me, the
old Denny McLain is a hell of a lot more interesting than the new one.
(Continued at chapters11-20.html)