How Dwight DeLong became Danny Dukes
JOURNAL ENTRY: 586
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 short-haired 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 is that? Just
five? I could go on, but you get the idea.
Can I fairly 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, 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 my girlfriend Sarah? 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 was 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 get to 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.
In regards to the Senator, there was one more thing: I had good reason
to believe he was a key figure in a plan to simultaneously release
poison gas at a dozen locations throughout the country, including one
an upcoming D.C. Rolling Stones concert. The idea was to create a
necessitating a declaration of martial law and a suspension of the
upcoming election. Terrorists are everywhere! And that's not all. I am
all but certain he
sent a guy to gut me. These are kind of important things, and they
probably should have topped my list of justifications for shooting the
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 am quite sure he also believed that ridding the world of
hundreds of Rolling Stone devotees 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. This very strong
suspicion (I refuse to call it a hunch) was shared by no one else. 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.
The 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 disappeared in the Afghanistan
boonies at about the same time and place where there was a fierce fire
fight in which our side came out on the short end of the stick. The opposition, the Taliban, had gotten
hold of some napalm. Good, old Made-in-Midland-Michigan napalm. The
report I heard detailed how a sizable contingent of American soldiers were made
crispy. I had been with this troop, and I assumed the authorities had no reason not to believe I was
either killed or taken captive, which, in their eyes,
would amount to pretty much the same thing. Sometimes when I lay awake
at night I realize this assumption could be just plain wrong.
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 we
felt might be associated with Taliban or who might one day become
Taliban, including young children, both boys and girls. I don't recall
anybody saying anything about hearts and minds. In one small village,
Gunthrey raped a young woman. She was young, barely in her teens. She
was naked, lying on her back in the dusty road, sobbing. Gunthrey
thrust his AK-47 into her vagina and held the trigger down until her
mid-section was ripped apart. "Fucking terrorist," Gunthrey said.
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-yar tur of duty, and this was not a good time to fuck up. But
things were getting too dicey, I just couldn't take any more. It was
time to go. I grabbed my allll-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 deeply tanned. 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 bed and breakfast 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, it would have been
impolite to inquire. 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.
My duffel bag was full of bills. I have to wonder if our encounter
would have been different had they known this. By bills I am referring
not to the kind you're supposed to pay, but the kind you can exchange
for goods and services. I hadn't come by my bagful quite legitimately,
but, in my mind, considering the circumstances, more or less okay.
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. The slowest buck private in our group could have told them this
would never work. Whatever distribution there could ever be would
ensure that the cash would flow to the upper echelons. There are basic
laws of plumbing and economics. Shit flows downward, cash upward. What
this program did do was solidify our status as laughing stock within
all segments of 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
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 duffle bag around with me
wherever I went. We were inseparable. Yin and Yang. Siamese twins. 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, back 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.
You might wonder how I ever ended up in the military. Obviously I was
utterly unfit for duty. My induction was the result of still another
example of poor impulse control. A spur-of-the-moment indiscretion—one
less serious than murder, more serious than smoking pot—had wound me up
in court. The kindly judge gave me a choice: two years behind bars
followed by six years probation or enlistment in the U.S. Army. I chose
the latter and became a "volunteer" in the most absurd sense of the
Getting back to the narrative, 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 duffle bag a hellava lot
lighter. I know deep down 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 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 agree it's hard to believe I am a Congressman. This was
after life as a juvenile delinquent, a cut-short military
career, and a stint as a professional kickboxer. Not exactly what one would call conventional preparation.
As a juvenile delinquent, it could be said I
brought new meaning to the term "habitual offender." 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 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 eighteenth 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. Always before we had met
either at a detention facility or at Social Services, and neither of
these places were inducive to grabbing people since there were always
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.
Her coming to my place cast a whole
different light on things. Granted, my place was a shit-hole, but
Amanda 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 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.
"Straight to where?" I asked Amanda. 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.
my 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 wasn't
able to ask my mother about this. She had her own problems, with
alcohol, downers, and bad boy friends.
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, I later got another birthday present: a call
from Vincent Gilbert wishing me well. Maybe I did have a couple of straight friends after all. If I could call Amanda a friend,
Mr. Gilbert might have been a second friend from the straight world. My
relationship with him went back to my high school days. He had grown up in Detroit as a lower-middle-class kid nobody
thought would amount to much. Somehow he got into Wayne State University
and took computer science. He may have been poor, but he was
bright, and he ended up writing software that enabled General Motors to
program robots for multiple purposes. Later he sold his company for $3.7 billion.
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, and Mr. Gilbert's 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 alinement, and showed me how to
delay uncocking my wrists until the last split-second before impact. By my junior
year, I was shooting in the mid-seventies.
Mr. Gilbert had used his influence to get team members unlimited access to
the Huron Dunes Golf Course for
practice rounds and for our home matches. The Dunes is a difficult,
course demanding a wide variety of shots. 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 day in and day out. I was the team's number one man,
and I got really quite good. Sometimes 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. Six U.S. Opens have been
played there, 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, but I think they took it for authenticity. At a later
member/guest, I hadn't felt at all out of place.
Oakland Hills had a rule: carts only. By and large, walking wasn'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, we waved a couple of young guys through, and it was quickly
obvious from the way they were weaving about that they were thoroughly intoxicated.
Mr. Gilbert was halfway down a steep hill, and, driving 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.
hurried 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. He stayed on the ground for a minute or so
catching his breathe, but then with a hand from me was able to get 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. Mr. Gilbert wanted to continue the round, but, ignoring his protests, I insisted
on driving him to a nearby medical center. His chest
x-ray checked out okay, and there was 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 philosophy
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 had. 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. 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.
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 to 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 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 road 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 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 a week 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 eleven or twelve years which Deegan assured me
would hold up to moderate scrutiny. My name was Danny Dukes (I was
partial to d's and liked the rhythm of my new name).
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. 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 im me a deep
respect for the legendary masters of such disciplines as Tackwondo,
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 choices.
Before Sato came along, I don't remember ever wanting to be a
professional fighter. The idea had never occurred to me. Now with kickboxing I felt
like my real life had began. This was the first pursuit 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 used to 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 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 a
kid. I still think the blame is only partially mine. The ref should
have stopped the fight. The kid was beaten. He wasn't defending
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 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 done 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
One night I was sitting my myself in a bar
nursing a draft bud when a voice just off to my right said, "Hello,
Dwight." I twisted my head around, and there was Mr. Gilbert,
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."
Gilbert nodded. "Tough break, your last fight."
"It's been a long time. You dropped clean out of sight, and I missed you. After I realized who Danny Dukes was, I
often considered contacting you, but guessed you didn't want me to. I
found other kids to lug my sticks, but it has never been the same."
For the first time, I looked him in the eye. "I am sorry," I said. "I
had no choice. 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."
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. An 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. The public exposure was making me a bit 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, collect my pay, vote along party lines, and do nothing to draw
attention to myself.
All went well until one day we were debating a Champ-backed bill that
would have all but eliminated federal controls over contaminants
allowable in municipal water supplies. Many members of my own party
agreed that this might best be left to individual states. It looked
like Champs bill would sail through until I found myself on my feet
addressing the assembly. Clear-cut case of poor impulse control. I told
it about Flint, Michigan, in a district not far from mine, where local
and state administrators dithered about for two years while poor, black
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 would have prevented the tragedy in
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 have 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.
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 changes of winning.
My friend Deegan, the computer genius, had given me a past that went
little over a decade. 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 Nadar. I got a letter
from the Sierra Club asking why I wasn't a member. 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 cautioned us against. One thing I learned in the
army 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 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 public was so pissed at politics it rewarded the novice.
It hasn'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 going east, turns west out
to Farmington Hills, then north to Pontiac. Democrats here often draw 80
percent of the vote. I couldn't see how an essentially unknown white guy
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 progressivism.
Casually dropping names like Jim Hightower and Noam Chomsky into my speeches seemed to help a lot.
I got several of my offbeat ideas from Norman Hicks, the only high school teacher I really
taught me that the United States was covered with warts. It was, he said, founded on genocide and 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. Hicks only lasted a
year, but, fortunately, I caught his 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
political speeches were often in this vein, and I relished dissing the
establishment; I insisted I was an outsider
would never become an insider. Like magic this often pleased a generous
cross-section of several communities. I snuck in with 53 percent of the
I celebrated my victory by getting a haircut and investing in a dark
blue suit and yellow power tie. At first, being a Congressman struck me
as an easy 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 began packing
heat wherever I went.
My first assignment in D.C. was to serve on a bipartisan committee to
explore more effective ways to deal with drug abuse. I wasn't sure if
I was the best or the worst person for such an assignment. I had been
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.
I 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. We could single out the
dangerous drugs, educate people on how to avoid them or use them
responsibly, distinguish them from enjoyable recreational drugs. I was
a naive babe in the woods.
Thanks to his seniority, Senator Buford Beauregard Jackson was chairman
of the committee, which consisted for three Senators and three
Representatives, three 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
sounded like my drill sargeant, but I decided to let it rest.
We met at 3 p.m. the second Friday of every month. Committees usually
meet a lot more often than ours, which I suppose was a measure of our
importance. 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.
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 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 opposed ours).
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.
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.
I 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 research
into developing them. We could recommend that the government crack down
on companies that allow easy internet access to potent opioids like
fentanyl. We could even explore the possibilities of giving addicts
free, carefully controlled quantities of heroin with clean needles,
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 from twenty years of war in
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.
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 pitcher of ice tea the staff put out helped, but not nearly
enough. The members of our group were missing more and more meetings.
Most Fridays they were far more likely to be found in Kennebunkport or
Hilton Head than Washington, D.C.
At the June meeting of the second year, Jackson and I were all alone,
and on this particular day the Senator seemed agitated. "Champ may be
in real trouble," he said. "Even Rasmussen is saying he and Stevenson
are in a dead heat."
years ago, Howard Champ ran for President—Yes, that President,
the President of the United States of America. Dismissing his
billionaire status, he ran as a populist, a genuine Man of the
People. He assured us he would follow the example set by FDR, the
president who saved capitalism by being a traitor to his class. Most
people had quit voting,
convinced elections were being rigged by opposing parties. The minority
of people who had continued to vote, thirty-two percent in this case,
had been able
to deliver to Champ nearly 400 electoral votes. His populism was
short-lived; on inauguration day, he began governing as the oligarch he
contradicting his promises, he filled his cabinet with folks from
Goldman Sachs and the Pentagon. He lowered high-income tax rates,
snatched health insurance away from millions, eliminated the federal
minimum wage, made disrespecting the flag a felony, and caused elderly
people to wish they could hurry up and die. In short, President Howard
Champ was Senator Buford Beauregard Jackson's kind of guy.
"The Post is sitting on a story about our President," Jackson said.
"Seems he knocked up an intern and insisted she get an abortion.
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.
"He could lose the Evangelical vote," Jackson continued, "which means
he just might lose the election. He could be in real trouble unless
something miraculous happens."
"Something miraculous?" I said. "Like what?"
"Oh, I don't know," Jackson said. "Maybe something like a terrorist
attack. A bad one. Really bad. One so horrendous the fate of the nation
is at stake, and the President is forced to declare martial law and
temporarily suspend the election. This could gain him six months or so
to put things back in order. He might even be able to parlay the suspension into something semi-permanent."
"What are the chances of that happening?" I said.
The Senator winked at me. "You never know," he said. "You just never know."
"I guess you never do."
"I do have a word of advice," Jackson said. "Steer clear of the concert
at 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 Mick Jagger is beyond me. They get the young bucks way
too drunk on testosterone."
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, and 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 five clean glasses. There had
been six, but one, mine, was in use. Jackson had been sipping from a
flask (Kentucky bourbon, he said), something I had never known him to
do. I took one of the empty 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 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… 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 the glass had been upside down on the tray, and I had set it
right-side-up on the table.
"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."
Jackson nodded and again looked at the glass sitting by itself on the
table. He's forgotten he told me his wife is in Virginia taking care of
her sick mother. He had told me he didn't care if she ever came back.
Said his sex life had improved tenfold during her absence. 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. If women find him as
disgusting as I do, a tenfold sex-life improvement would still work out
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.
My car was in a parking garage four or five blocks up Independence
Avenue. The day was sweltering, but I liked the heat. I meandered
along, happily taking my time. No hurry, none at all. This was a
marvelous early summer day. D.C. is awash with fine young women, and
today most were wearing shorts and halters or lightweight dresses, and
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 slum to gentrified. Rumor
has it that Starbucks is eying 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 work.
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 can spend a few
precious moments with her. 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 feel is 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 singer. 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 an eight-ounce prime sirloin (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 hadn't planned on eating, but who could resist such an offering?
Apparently my stomach was ground zero. "Gotta put some meat on those
bones of yours," she chuckled as she sought to pinch an inch. Her pinch
turned into a tickle, and I had to stifle a giggle. I
liked being there and took my time, making the second beer last as long
as possible. The place attracts an interesting clientele, but 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 where or
when she learned her trade, but she is very good at it. 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
It was after seven by the time I got back to my place. It's true, you
know, that with proper arrangement 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 six months. My
apartment combines a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, an
entertainment center, and a writing room into one not-very-crowded
package. The bedroom and bathroom are separate. The design works good
enough for me, but there wasn't space enough for anybody else.
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 always 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
Viewing my apartment building from outside offers no relief. My digs,
which occupy a floor in a three-story row house, is strictly no-frills;
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 uninteresting. The building wasn't far removed for the
of public housing. At first, I endeavored to think of it as a
no-bullshit building. When that didn't noticeably buoy my spirits, I
cultivated obliviousness. Sarah and I 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.
There is an alley out back adjoining space for parking. I pulled into
it and cut my engine. It was darker than usual; it took me a moment
to realize that the spotlight on the back of the building was out.
There were two other tenants in the house, and one of us would have to
call the rental agency. 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 was five or six feet from the back door when a large, dark figure
loomed from the shadows. A young black man, he moved with the
decisiveness of a all-star point guard. He was dressed in dark jeans,
black turtleneck, and gray hoodie. The extra-large lenses of his
dark-blue shades obscured most of his face. How he could see anything at
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 saloons; the
kick from my kickboxing days.
Both took their toll. He howled with pain and
rage as he staggered back a step or two. 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 were 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 profusely.
Using my mount and right hand, I tied the sleeves of my shirt into a
makeshift tourniquet. It wasn't as tight as I would have liked.
Ignoring my pain, I rolled my assailant over, and, reaching into the
back pocket of his jeans,
took out his wallet. A driver's license 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.
Now what? I can't call the cops and I can't leave him there. I wasn't
exactly legal since I hadn't taken time to get a concealed carry
permit. I thought I might wrap the body in something, and I remembered
I had an old Indian blanket in my trunk. It was a struggle, but I
managed to roll my assailant onto it and work the sides and ends into a neat package before heaving his body into the
trunk. The Japs may be small in stature, but they know how to make
accommodating trunks. Maybe I couldn't prove it, but knew damn well
Jackson had dispatched the bastard; he must have figured out I had used
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 week 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. A few weeks back I had registered it
in D.C. and gotten Congressional plates, but hadn't taken time
to install them. To do so I needed a large, flathead screwdriver which
I hadn't gotten around to purchasing. It had been eight damn months,
and I was ashamed to say I was still driving with those Michigan
plates. They 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 rear
plate light, not enough to black it out, but enough to dim the light. I
got another blob of mud and dirtied the front plate.
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 turn or lane change. About
halfway there, I stopped at a Giant Walmart. My arm was oozing blood
and I needed to wrap it in gauze. While I was at it, I picked up a dark
gray hoodie and checked out the Halloween masks. I found one modeled
after Edvard Munch's painting The Scream which 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 over-sized, red,
white, and blue mailbox. There would be no gate;
he often said he hadn't needed one. I found the place easily. It was
already quite dark, and I hadn't seen another car for the past twenty
minutes. I was confident I could proceed unobserved.
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 to buy replacements anyway. I
struggled into the hoodie and took off my glasses in order to slide the
mask over my face. I assumed Jackson's place would be under the
watchful eyes of surveillance cameras, but was sure I couldn't be
word in ostentatious, 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, stark red,
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, 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. 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. They must have been 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, red, 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 back to where I figured I couldn't be
seen through the door's peephole.
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.
Doing this was getting me high. I thought about Rex Gunthrey back 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. 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 famed, but 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 old gun 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. Being careful to leave no prints, I removed the revolver. Then
I ripped the flag from the wall
and tossed it into the fireplace. Later I would deposit both Jackson's
piece and mine into the Potomac. Hopefully, investigators would
conclude that Jackson was murdered by a liberal-minded gun nut. I don't
know what they'll make of the shot-by-the-same-gun-but-not-here dude at
the bottom of the stack. With luck they'll stay permanently confused.
went into his kitchen and found his catch-all drawer, and was pleased
find 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
Four 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
from the timely explosion of a Fourth of July Fourth celebratory rocket.
The Rolling Stones concert had gone off without a hitch. They say Keith Richards had never sounded better or looked more alive.
The Post ran its story about Sally Mae Hathaway, Ronald Orthello
Champ's pregnant intern, but not until after the election. The week
they did run it, there was plenty of sock-o news,
and she went largely unnoticed. Of course, the people in Champ's
rock-solid base heard about it, and their respect for the man doubled
and, in some cases, tripled. Champ had won re-election in a landslide,
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. All over
the land, YouTube pages were lighting up. Some people claimed that in
certain locales, lights actually dimmed. Chalk up a big win for Fake
News. Sally May Hathaway and her baby got excellent,
up-front seats at the inauguration. Only a few people knew about the
half million dollars President Champ had given her to hush up prior to
the election. None would ever
mention it. Publicly, they toasted her arrival into the world of young
JOURNAL ENTRY 587
I am pretty sure than shooting Senator Buford Beauregard Jackson was
the proper thing to do. Complete certainty is hard to come by.
Neighbors a mile-and-a-half down Deer Run Lane told police that an old,
Galaxy 500 convertible with the top down and a boom box blasting
metalic rock into the night filled with Negroes had gone by earlier in
the evening. It is too much to hope that the police won't find anything matching this description.
Without Senator Jackson's inspired leadership, the drug war committee
just sort of dissolved itself. 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 Big Pharm. People wuld
continue to become addicted to prescribed opioids, and many would die.
My dream of being some sort of reformer has been battered by the ram of reality.
Not long after that, I was asked to join another committee. Its role was to
determine what role, if any, government should play in American sports.
I felt more at home on this committee than I had on the drug war
fiasco. As a boxer I had engaged in professional sports and had thoughts
on how the government might help legitimatize it.
The NFL was the country's most valuable sports franchise. Teams (with
the exception of the Green Bay Packers) were owned by billionaires.
It was 1947 before Jackie Robinson wasn't permitted to play ball with
the white guys. Golfers like to think of themselves as cultured and
educated, but it was 1961 before Charlie Sifford was allowed to join
Not too many people today would refer to the Great White Hope. Is there
hope for us whites? Blacks were allowed to polay in the NBA until 1950,
and down eighty percent of the players are black. I think on some
teams, most of the offense is white, most of the defense black. There
haven't beenmany black pro quarterbacks.
I don't think too many people think about which players on the pro
football team they like are which, which black. Watcvhing on TV, it's
hard to even tell. Just about everybody welcomes whatever players might
help them win.
We have evolved to the point where most of would think twice before
saying, "Birds of a feather flock together." The slightest
suggestion of racism was avoided by nearly everybody, save a few
Neanderthals from the Deep South.
Why am I writing down these random disconnected musings?
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.
A month ago, I had met Senator Andrew McGowans at a casual dinner
party. Realizing he was a golfer by the contrast between his white left
hand and well-tanned forearm, I mentioned the upcoming U.S. Open, a
reference that quickly led to an animated discussion about Mickelson's
chances of finally winning the big one. I had pretty much forgotten
about this and was taken by complete surprise when McGowans invited me
on this Saturday outing.
My initial warning of impending trouble came when Hawkins, a
Representative from Columbus, Ohio, swaggered onto the tee box. He took
three or four vicious practice swings, then stretched by reaching as
high into the heavens as humanly possible—so high his 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 the wind
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 must have had
a 48-inch, Double X shaft, seemed to devour the entire tee box.
The world seemed to fall silent as he addressed his Titleist, 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 repress 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 220 before
plunging back to Earth and 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. 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-named basis with the great Jack Nicklaus.
"I think 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. Hawkins was a big, beefy guy whose muscles
hadn't yet turned entirely to fat. He made it a habit to let everybody
know he knew Jack Nicklaus and had played football at Ohio State. Later
on I did some research, and it turns out Woody Hayes had put Sam, an
offensive guard, into the waning moments of a 42 to 13 Rose Bowl
thrashing of Washington State.
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, Fall day, however, I felt especially
energetic. Without giving the matter much thought, I made a huge turn
and hit a bullet down the left side, fifteen or twenty yards past
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 402-yard hole, and for his second
shot, Hawkins made a huge, John Daly-type swing with his seven iron. He
caught the ball a bit thin, but it rolled onto the bottom part 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 knew that Nicklaus 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 big guy in good shape, and I could tell by everything he did that
his game had been the beneficiary of expert instruction. When we got to
the ninth hole, the senator, 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 well set up sixty yards short of the
Nine is Congressional's number one handicap hole, a so-called unreachable 636-yard par five. I
saw that McGowans was reaching for his hybrid and intended to lay up. I hesitated to say
anything, but then decided to speak up. "Hit a three wood as good as
you hit this drive, you'll be putting," I said.
"My fairway woods have been giving me fits," he said. "I can't seem to
hit through on them. You saw what happened on one." His second shot on
one, a three wood, had been a low-flying duck hook, the sort of shot
Hogan used to call 'the terror of the field mice.'
"I am in good shape to make four, or at most five," I said. "I think on
one you spotted the ball a little too far back in your stance. Get it up an inch
or two off your left heel. Open your clubface just a tad, then sweep it off the ground."
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, and
seemingly effortless. The ball took off with a "crack," and flew high
with a slight draw, coming down ten yards short of the green, bouncing
twice before rolling up onto the green, twenty feet from the hole. I
clapped my hands. "With shots like that, you could play this game for a
living," I said.
By spotting the ball back towards the middle of his stance, Mcgowans
had effectively delofted his three wood, making a decent trajectory
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.
We had won six of the first nine holes. I had played as well as I ever
had and was just one over. As we were waiting to tee off on on ten, I
felt comfortable enough to ask McGowans about his irons. "I like your
clubs, vintage MacGregor MT Tourneys. 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?"
"I knew that good players could hit them a long ways," I said. "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 an 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."
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 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.
"He certainly was. His views struck some as a bit antebellum, or
course, but he loved the country and took the constitution literally. I
believe this annoyed many of his consorts."
"Quite likely it did," I said.
"It surprises me that his case remains open," Sam continued.
"Most homicides are solved quickly. Especially the routine, hum drum
ones, but I don't see why this should be any different. The culprit
turns out to be a loved one, a member of the family, or a close
"I believe his wife was in Virginia at the time of his death," I said. "They didn't have children."
Hawkins wasn't really listening to me. He was waiting 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 friend's 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.
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 Hawkins 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 Hawkins was brought in, a big time lawyer showed up to
defend him, and Hawkins clammed up tighter than Mother Teressa's cunt.
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 nearest neighbors, a mile away, 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's invitation of this day had come as a surprise. Congressional
caters to the ultra-elite, which isn't me. I nearly turned him down. We
had never been formally introduced, and I had been prepared to dislike
the man. He was Eastern Elite, head to toe, with a big place in Hyannis
Port not far from the Kennedy compound. I had heard that his wife was a
distant Kennedy cousin. I knew he was a Democrat, and had assumed
he was a Bobby wannabe, but without the sincere passion. In the past
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
polo was his preferred game.
I accepted his invite 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.
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?"
"It's impressive," I said. "It's a beautiful course and the
accommodations are sumptuous. I appreciate your inviting me to come
along, and every so often I do enjoy hobnobbing with the well-scrubbed
rich and famous."
"But I don't know if I could ever get comfortable here. Deep down I
miss Huron Hills, the converted cow pasture back in Michigan where me and some
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, but
every once in a while I would come across a new Maxfli, 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 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 any former professional athletes
on my committee."
"You know about my kickboxing?"
"I know a lot about you, warts and all. I do thorough background
checks. I thought professionals might be blind advocates of their
gave silent thanks to Tom Deegan, my friend in Maine. I
had to assume that McGowans' vetting, thorough or not, hadn't gone
deeply enough to reveal my really cancerous warts. McGowans might be an
easy-going liberal, but he wasn't about to shrug off murder.
"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 it."
"I had also been warned that you were 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."
McGowans smiled. "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?"
"Girl watching. 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."
"So is much of America. Nothing attracts more TV viewers than the Super Bowl."
"So why don't we just declare football the winner and move on to other things?"
"Because I think we should look into the issue more deeply. We might
very well end up up endorsing football, but we should give other sports
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 a big sports fan."
"He's not. He's a big Champ fan. 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 donors.
You're 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. 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 term expires. It didn't elaborate beyond that."
"Too bad. But how could he possibly hope to retain power?
"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 sides 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. 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. I have rather finely honed instincts, and they're telling
me something huge is afoot."
"So what are the possibilities? Martial law?"
"Maybe, but I don't believe so. It would be all but impossible to turn
this into a permanent acquisition of power. So far 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 known how many
companies. Rumor has it he wants to altogether 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 million 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 588
I 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, as I
recall, were unsavory, but that's a story for another time). Often I
didn't bother voting or even knowing who was running. I thought they
were all scum suckers. I became politically aware (vaguely)
when I was seeing Janice Hooper, who brought me to a variety of
protests. We let it be known we disliked (among other things and in no
particular order) GMOs, police brutality, LGBT discrimination, capital
punishment, guns, restrictions on abortion, most military engagement, and student loan payments.
Secretly I was somewhat disinterested in much of this folderol, but I found the
scene exhilarating. I was
young, and I loved the music, the drugs, the sex, and the heady aura of
(As a former kickboxer, 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 a total, asshole idiot, I read some history. For awhile, Howard
Zinn and Noam Chomsky were my main men, and I spent a lot of time
checking out others on YouTube. Janice called herself a neo-Marxist,
although she didn't seem to have much
of an idea what that was. I know she 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 heads
with a proper mix of complete cynicism and livid rage.
Then one day I was a congressman. I wonder if she would have ditched me
had she known that would happen. (I know damn well my electoral
victory, which occurred after I filled in for a guy who died,
left her absolutely flabbergasted. Ha, ha, ha. Serves her right). Of
it wasn't just her. Nobody thought I was remotely electable, even
though I ran
as a Democrat from a district that almost always elects Democrats.
Since I had never been a party functionary, I got no automatic
Since I had no legislative experience, nobody had reason to believe I
might be good at it. I
had no important friends except for Wayne Gilbert, who
I had caddied for, but he turned out to be all I needed. He helped me
out with every phase of the campaign, backing
me financially and introducing me to several
influential acquaintances. He also taught me some tricks, one of which was to suggest that GOP stood for Grumpy Old Pissants.
About the only thing I brought to the game was a little name recognition from my stint as a fighter. I was assisted by
an electorate that was pissed at establishment politicians. I got the
backing of good folks, black and white, who were tired of listening to
the same tired, ol' bullshit. I
think they sensed I didn't much give a shit if I won or lost. I didn't
think I could do much for these people, and wasn't about to claim that I could. Somehow this endeared me to them.
They didn't expect (or even want) groundbreaking legislation and didn't want to reward another phony asshole. Their
support for me was enough to sneak me in. Having been elected as a
Democrat I guess I am one, although I don't pretend to know
what being one entails. I do know that there are Democrats I detest (many) and
Republicans I admire (damn few).
am expected to vote on bills I can't comprehend (nor have time to
read). Many bills have nice-sounding titles, but turn out to advocate
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, turned away
Jewish refugees (including the family of Anne Frank), 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 outspokenness or her questionable sexual
Roosevelt died, and his successor, Harry
Truman, surprised Japanese people by dropping atomic bombs on them. (A
failed haberdasher, 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 bomb 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 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 often turning out
to be mineral-rich.)
Once we 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 of Tiger
Woods, LeBron James, or Tina Turner.
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 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 1975 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. 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. Sixteen years later, we were still there as were at least some
terrorists. This war, the longest ever, may 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. 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). 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) doesn'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 and 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, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, and Lee
Camp were delivering aspects of news almost impossible to find
elsewhere. Then the
FCC began cooperating in the smashing this platform, muffling and
gagging people with alternative messages. We will sorely miss what's
bound to be remembered as the Golden Age of alternative news.
I have a core belief, it's that government
should do what it can to even things out. As it is, people like
you and me are completely mismatched against the rich. They will do
whatever they can to get what little money 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. 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.
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
McGowans seemed anxious to get his committee going. He called for a
meeting on January 2, our first day back from holiday break. We met in
the Congressional Office Building in a room just three doors down from
where Senator Jackson's committee had met. We were
to meet at 9
a.m. the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month or more often if McGowans finds it necessary to call for a special session.
McGowans began addressing the group at nine sharp. After welcoming us,
he got right down to business. "As you know, we are going to be
considering matters you may or may not have thought about much. Namely
sports. What do sports mean to you? What do sports mean to our
culture? Should we have a national sport?"
"What the hell is a national sport? The speaker was Peter Myers, a Republican representative from Kansas.
McGowans was ready for this one. "According to one
definition, a national sport is a sport that is considered to be an
intrinsic part of the culture of a nation. They can come in two
varieties, de facto and de jure. A de jure national sport is
established by law; a de facto not by law, but by popular acclaim. It
is our mission to nominate a sport for de jure status."
Gardner, a pretty, young, blond Senator from Montana, spoke up.
"Our culture is complex," she said. "Do we even have a single culture?
What are the qualities we should look for in a de jure national sport? Why are we even doing this?"
She was both hot and smart, and I had to wonder what she was doing in
was focused on her query. "Good questions," he said. "You're getting to
the crux of the matter. We're doing this because President Champ wants us to. Our first job will be to establish criteria for
consideration. It's up to us."
"Popularity," said Jake Morgan, a big black guy who looked like he had
probably played football at some level. "Shouldn't our national sport
be the most popular one?"
"Maybe, maybe not," McGowans said. "Part of our job is to decide that."
"Off hand, I think it should be an Olympic sport," said Peter Myers.
"It's during the Olympics that the world's eyes are upon us." A
Republican representative from New York, Myers is short and thin and
wears thick glasses and a bow tie. He looks like a guy who in high
school nobody wanted on any team except, possibly, the chess or debate
"It should be the sport with the most participants," said Winnie
Watson, a black representative from California. "More than 25 million
Americans play golf. Small children can play, as can senior citizens.
With handicaps, poor players can compete against good ones. It's a
wonderfully inclusive sport." I am guessing Winnie is pushing forty,
but she has kept herself in shape. She is long and lanky, and I had
been told she was a field and track star. I had also been told she's a
scratch golfer. Like many black women, she oozes
vitality. I would love to watch her run hurdles or swing a club.
"The Scots might have invented golf," said Mike Dunn, who hadn't
removed his Red Sox cap, "but we gave it Hogan, Snead, Nicklaus, and
Woods. These guys were everyday Joes; they brought golf to the masses."
I am wondering if Dunn, a bachelor senator from Maine, is currying
favor with Winnie.
"We've had our share of fine players," Misella said, "but Harry Vardon,
Lee Trevino, and Greg Norman, to name a few, weren't Americans. We certainly have had no monopoly on
"Don't forget the girls," Winnie said. "Nancy Lopez and Lorena Ochoa
were Mexicans, and Annika Sorenstam was a Swede. Today some of the
finest female professionals are from South Korea."
"I don't care if some of the stars are foreigners," said Troy Smith, a
Republican representative from Indiana, "but I think our national sport
should be one invented in America."
pretty much narrows it down to baseball, basketball, volleyball, skateboarding,
said Mike Dunn, the Red Sox cap wearing senator from Maine. "Unless we include tiddlywinks or dominoes."
Myers said, "They were playing dominoes in twelfth century China and tiddlywinks in England in the late 1800s."
"Baskeball then," Dunn snorted.
Myers was smiling. "Did you know that the inventor of basketball, James
Naismith, was a Canadian? A physical education instructor, he came up
with b-ball in 1891 while working at the YMCA Training School in
"I see you've done some prior research," McGowans said. "That is commendable."
"Some would call it annoying," Dunn said.
done lots more research," said Myers. "Did you know that Lacrosse and
surfing arose from Indian and Hawaiian activities that go back to the
1600s? We could honor those minorities by singling out their
Jake Morgan said, "I guess the Indians would like it if Lacrosse was
our national sport, even if most American don't know what it is."
"How about Indian giving or scalp taking?" Dunn said.
"How about treaty breaking?" said Misella Gardner.
Lucia Lopez, a Democratic representative from California, raised her hand. McGowans nodded at her. "Yes, Lucia..."
"I think it should be a sport with a fair share of both female and
minority participation," she said. "There are plenty of good female
golfers, and minority women are active in the Olympics."
"Ballroom dancing," Dunn said. "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."
Everybody else seemed eager to move on from this.
"There have been some woman NASCAR drivers," Misella said. "Danica Patrick hasn't been the only one."
Dunn said, "If being hot were a sport, I would nominate her."
"At age 16, Michelle Wie made the cut in a PGA tournament,"
Winnie pointed out. "Male pros might hit it further, but sometimes
women can make up for this in other ways."
"With their womanly wiles?" Myers said.
Winnie smiled. "We can be cunning in ways you can't begin to imagine."
"I'll bet you can be," Myers said. "Especially if you're armed with a stiff-shafted club."
could probably use one right now," Winnie laughed. "You've gotta
admit, our country has seen some fine female golfers. Patty Berg, Babe
Zaharias, Mickey Wright. Hogan said Wright had the finest swing he'd
"We don't need to rely on what some man said," Lucia Lopez in insisted.
"Juli Inkster, Kathy Whitworth, JoAnne Carner, and Michelle Wie have
enjoyed games that spoke for themselves."
"You forgot Sandra Gal and Natalie Gulbis," Dunn said. "They may not win much, but they're hotter than hell."
Lucia said, "Leave it to a man to focus on physicality. Male chauvinist p-word."
"Perceptive?" Dunn Said.
Undeterred, Dunn said, "None of those American gals would have been
able to keep pace with all the Korean gals named Kim Something or Other."
"It's Something or Other Kim," Winnie said. "In Korea, Kim is a common surname."
"If being stood corrected were a sport, I'd be a super star," Dunn said.
"Okay, you guys," McGowans said. "You'll have to learn to play nice together. Let's consider other sports."
"Time was just about everybody went hunting," Troy Smith said. "Is hunting a sport?"
"Not if you're shooting supper," Myers said. "Only if you're killing something for fun."
American swimmer Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympic athlete
of all time, with eighteen Olympic medals, twenty-three of the gold,"
said Misella Gardner. "Maybe in honor of him our national sport should
I looked around the table, and nobody seemed at all interested in this.
"It's gotta be the sport with the richest American tradition," said
Mike Dunn, evidently abandoning Winnie. "It's gotta be baseball. Babe
Ruth, Ty Cobb, Joe Dimaggio, Willie Mays.' Damn Yankees' was a popular
musical. 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.' Everybody knows about the Curse of the Bambino
and the enduring futility of the Chicago Cubs. We've all seen 'Field of
"Build it and they will come," said Peter Myers.
"My point exactly," Dunn said. "Baseball is intrinsic to our culture."
Winnie Watson spoke up next. "How about the sport with the highest
ethical standards? Golf is the only sport with a long tradition of
participants calling penalties on themselves. In most sports,
successful cheaters are idolized. Baseball players steal signs and
throw spitballs. In football, players 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."
"You really do have to hand it to golfers," I said. "Bobby Jones once lost a U.S. Open in part because he
unintentionally nudged the ball as he addressed it. Nobody 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."
Lucia Lopez was next. "How about the fastest growing sport?" she said.
"Soccer is growing more rapidly than any other, I believe. Also, lots
of girls love to play soccer. Both black and white girls."
"Lucia has a point," Misella Gardner said. "So many kids are into it.
The term 'Soccer mom' has been added to our dictionaries."
McGowans intervened. "You all have raised some excellent points here
today. Popularity, tradition, ethics, origins, inclusion, growth—all of
these things are important. Over the next couple of weeks, think
about them. What should take priority? Which sport is it we most want
to represent America?"
As the others were filing out of the room, 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. "When I find myself 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, not so many dedicated and thoughtful followers."
"There's gotta be room for a few casual, impartial observers," 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. "What did you think of the group?" he said.
"It's quite a crew. I have to wonder how you came up with them."
"President Champ strongly recommended most of them. His recommendations
were such that ignoring them would have been folly. Do you think we'll
ever be able to work together?"
"I think we'll have some spirited discussions. I've gotta say, the
proceedings today weren't as solemn as I had thought they would be."
"Chaotic is what I would call it," McGowans said. "It's gotta be part
of Champs plan. He's devious as hell. I know damn well he wants us to
engage in heated skirmishes that will engender bold headlines. To me
it's obvious he wants to keep media heat off some of his other
activities. Incidentally, Champ has suddenly become a big believer in
transparency. I've been instructed to provide the press transcripts of
"But you have no idea what lies behind all this."
"Sad, but true. All I can do now is focus on the committee. Do you think we'll ever reach a consensus?"
"Hard to say. It definitely won't be easy. Morgan is a diehard,
single-minded football devotee while Dunn probably has a huge collection of
baseball cards. Ms. Lopez is bent on representing both her gender
and her ethnicity, and Myers is a gadfly, a loose-cannon wiseass. He is well on his way to becoming a pariah. Maybe Winnie
Watson and Peter Myers could get together, since golf is in the
Olympics, but I very much doubt it. Lucia might
ultimately side with Dunn, since there are so many Latino baseball
stars, but again I doubt it. 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.
She might be a big help."
"That's a damn good wrap-up," McGowans said. "You've probably
guessed that you, Misella, and Winnie are the members I solicited
without Champ's directives. You're out-numbered. Right now I am
wondering if I should take over. Should I dictate the priority of the
"Eventually you might have to, but I wouldn't do it right away."
"That might be the only way I can get us on a single track."
"It very well might be, but wouldn't it be interesting to see how things play out without your intervention?"
"Interesting is good; fisticuffs are questionable; murder is unacceptable."
"You know I've long thought that sports exist in part to give
men something to talk about that is interesting, but not dangerously
divisive. Weather is too boring, or at least it was before global
warming became a hot-button issue. Things like gender identity,
religion, race, ethnicity, wealth distribution, and war pose problems.
Men are all too likely to become homicidal over these."
"You're right, of course," McGowans said. "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. This is largely thanks to the millions TV networks pay to
televise games. During the season, there are fifteen weekly televised
games spread across three different nights. Every team has throngs of
avid fans. They tend to be young and reasonably affluent, the
demographic most prized by so many advertisers. The Super Bowl is
always the most-watched spectacle of the year. It's serious business.
Thirty-seconds of Super Bowl time costs over half-a-million dollars."
"Big companies save their best creative efforts for the Super Bowl," I
said. "Lots of people who don't care a whit about football watch Super
Bowl ads. I'll never forget Apple's 'Big Brother' introduction of the
MacIntosh. They ran that commercial just once, but nobody who saw it
has forgotten it."
"I don't know about Big Brother," Misella Gardner said, "but I sure did like those Clydesdales."
"It's not just about advertising," McGowans said. "NFL franchises are worth billions. Every big city
wants one, and most are willing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars
to build stadiums. Plans are well under way for world-wide exposure.
Games are being played in Canada, Mexico, and England. Analysts
say that making football the official national sport could double NFL
"I guess there are plenty of motives for foul play. I suppose we are 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."
"Some people got off their butts long enough to kill the Kennedys."
McGowan doesn't reply, but the thoughtful look on his face makes me wonder if I'm 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 has committed an assault..."
"He would be suspended, maybe cut from his NFL team. 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 being brutes. Anyway, why would he 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 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 fifty 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 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."
"You brought the Mac in with you, but then you took copious notes on a legal pad."
"Old habits die hard," I said. 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
apart. The brains of over a hundred former NFL players
were dissected, and all but one had signs of CTE."
"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."
"It's only in recent years that analysts began referring to CTE. People
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. Examining retired athletes doesn't help?"
"Not definitively. Possible CTE symptoms can be related to numerous
things." 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
(Continued at chapters11-20.html)