As you may have guessed neither Warbaby for I exist. The struggle for existence became too intense for me to survive. Warbaby took over for me for a while but I, the substratum, was too crushed to be revived. Warbaby and I disappeared and He took over the wreckage and guided it beyond the limits of this story.
He was given a formidable task but He successfully brought us all through. It was up to Him to unite the two spheres of consciousness and connect the series of dissociated memories into a replica of the events as they happened. Having succeeded in placing the memories in chronological order He then reconstituted the relationship of each memory to the others. He obliterated the line between the conscious and subconscious to give Himself free access to our entire mind thus retrieving the memories of the Hirshes and Eloy which had been hidden. Thus the Hirsh Constellation was reconstituted.
The division in our mind between the conscious and subconscious had been so extreme that He was forced to live with two realities. The daytime world and night time dream world. Both were equally real but He was able to keep their realms separate while merging both realities into one whole. Thus His mind remembered the details of boths realities. He could recall events from life and remember dreams that had been dreamt while I was still at the Children’s Home. Indeed, let me stress, the dreams formed a parallel existence beside his waking life.
In addition to keeping the two realms separate there were a number of false memories which had to be recognized as such and unraveled. The trauma of the false memores had not been such as to be received into the subconscious but had been transformed into metaphors of the group of incidents they represented. Having mastered these His brain became united and His, our, personality coalesced. It was integrated once again.
The integration took place in both the day world and the dream world. Compulsive behavior disappeared from our psychological makeup. He was able to deal with others without guilt, shame or obsequiousness.
As in the real world his behavior changed, so in the dream world the images of psychic reality adjusted to the new conditions. The elements of our life were arranged to permit a wholesome approach to living. Permit me to digress for a moment to portray the dream landscape in the few months before, during and after the integration.
The dreamscape took the form of a plain coterminous with the shape of the brain. The plain represented the plane of the lines separating the conscious from the subconscious. The plain was a vast desert, sere and brown; dotted here and there with oases meager enough to support only minimal life. In the middle of this vast plain, when it first entered my brain, was a thin stream of water representing the ‘living’ water of life. In the center of the plain it began a descent beneath the surface of the plain. I followed it down between banks of rock salt. I wondered how the water stayed fresh. The cave was sterile; no life existed.
After some distance the stream disappeared beneath immense steel structures. The only way further was to enter a chute which plunged one at a ferocious speed into the bowels of the inferno. I was deposited in a room which represented the furnace room of Longfellow. A shadowy figure tricked me into entering a room from which there was no exit other than the steel door which slammed behind me with a laugh. I did not despair. I escaped this room of which the exits were locked by pissing into the ventilation ducts which created an offensive odor in the rest of the building. The attendants of this structure were compelled to locate the source of the odor. Their search eventually brought them to the room where I had been completely forgotten. Unaware that I was still there they opened the door and I slipped out unobserved.
I now found myself at the very bottom of the structure from which it was not possible to retrace my steps. I now faced a bank of elevators. The elevators were dilapidated and functioned imperfectly. If I could get an elevator to stop where I was the doors wouldn’t remain open long enough for me to enter. If the doors stayed open I couldn’t get them closed.
If I could get them to close they rose and fell in an erratic manner, nor could I get them to stop at the desired floor, I couldn’t get out. When or if they stopped I entered deserted floors from which I could find no exit. When I returned to the elevators they continued their erratic behavior. But then He succeeded in organizing our past into a coherent history which released me from the elevators. At the same time the plain ceased being a plane and became terra firma. Our subconscious was united with our conscious. We now had free access to our whole brain. The psychic reality then gave birth to a new form transforming the dream elements into their actual realities.
After traversing the desert of reality, which can never be changed, instead of approaching the desert cavern with the thin stream of ‘living’ water, I now approached a mountain range of moderate height. The foothills rose where formerly the entrance to the cave had been. The mountain range rose and stretched for some distance to the West. As I approached this yet barren slope an immense snowfall began which descended to the base of the foothills. The snow fall on the mountain was tremendous, perhaps hundreds of feet deep. The snow at the base of the foothills was melting as I began my ascent. I had to splash through water and slush as grass already showed through the snow. As I climbed, the snow supported my weight; nor did I slip. The air was crisp and wonderful as at that height I seemed to be standing on the top of the world. I could see forever in the distance.
Unlike the cavern where I ws alone, there were other people walking around me although I didn’t know them and we didn’t speak. We crossed the length of the range to a high bluff at which the range terminated. Looking down, perhaps thousands of feet, I saw a myriad of people, ant sized, cavorting in front of the bluff. As I looked down the sheer cliff of snow I divined that they had carved the face of their god in the skirting of snow which they were worshipping from the desert floor. I smiled to myself: ‘How silly.’ Didn’t they realize that when it warmed up their god would melt away? I laughed malevolently to myself. Then, although I was afraid of the consequences I leaped from that fearful height and landed atop their god. The snow gave way beneath the shock of my fall. The image of their god disappeared as the snow cascaded into the plain. I sat unhurt, still high in the sky, atop their demolished god while the snow which had cascaded down into the desert plain began to melt. A myriad number of streams of ‘living’ water flowed out in all directions while magifnicent greenery sprang into life and joy pervaded my universe, my psychic reality.
But this anticipates that which you will not be shown at this time; although in true Hollywood fashtion there is a happy ending shimmering on the far distant horizon that is no longer visible at this reduced altitude.
For the story’s present only the main structure of the cavern has been constructed. The finishing touches follow. the torment of my psychic reality filled my subconscious. As I walked down Nelson toward Main and downtown my physical reality surrounded me.
I was young and did not realize the damage that had been done me. While I knew that I looked funny I was unaware that I had been given an education that ill-suited me to ‘polite’ society. Perhaps a more accurate word for that society might be ‘normalcy.’
I put the Orphanage at my back as I stared straight ahead at what I hoped would be a future. Words cannot describe my anxiety or my hope. I wore fear as a robe, or perhaps a mask.
The previous ten years, my life, contained no memories I wished to sustain me; the Children’s Home had no memories I wanted to cherish. I had already suppressed the most painful memories of my childhood; I now attempted to forget the rest. My life had been a series of episodes. Once past, the people of the episode had disappeared from my life, or at least I thought they had. I had forgotten them as I would now forget everyone I had ever known. My mind sealed them off. Names and faces were already beyond recall.
Between school and the Children’s Home I had known hundreds of children. I forgot them all. They did not necessarily forget me. Many of them, such as the Eloy and Michael Hirsh, had formed rather intimate connections with me. They, in future, would recognize me. They would be offended because I was unable to recognize them. They all interpreted my inattention as arrogance. On the other hand they apparently believed me to be of inferior social caste which required me to speak to them first. As I didn’t this angered them and they treated me spitefully.
I imagine that I perceived myself as an invisible man, somewhat like the Negro. If I had to identify a nationality for myself in this Melting Pot, other than the label American, I would say I belonged to the Orphan nationality. This may sound risible, nevertheless being in the Orphange had severed my connections with society. I was pushed out of the mainstream. My characteristics were not German, Scotch, English, Jewish, Italian or whatever. My education was as an outsider. If we at the Home shared characteristics with any element of the Melting Pot it was the Negro element. We were, in fact, White Niggers. Don’t be offended by the word ‘nigger’, it has valid functions in American society. There is a reality behind it that cannot be denied. We ‘niggers’ have our rights to our identity also that we cannot allow anyone to deny. The name can also be borne with pride; beware in your bigotry. Normal middle class family life was as foreign to us as it was to the Negro. We perceived it through the same mystified eyes.
I was now on my way to join that middle class family as a White Nigger. Like a Negro from rural Mississippi set down in a Middle Class family up North I would be nearly as unfamiliar with its mores and customs as he would be. We both would require a period of adjustment and acculturation. In such a situation the color of the Negro’s skin would save him. His difference would be recognized. Concessions would be made to him as a member of a different race and he would be given both instructions and time to learn and adjust.
Because I was White the Wardens would not perceive the cultural differentiation I had undergone. I would be given no instruction or time to adjust to what was, really, a quite foreign environment. I would be condemned out of hand. Then, too, because I was White a certain servitude could be imposed on me that they would not have dared to impose on a Black.
For my part, I had been outside all groups and observed and studied them dispassionately. I was Orphan, not Black, not Polish, not Jewish. I had no sympathy for any group. I saw through all pretensions. They were all equal in my eyes.
When David Hirsh had walked away from the well on Kishinev he had quoted John 4:22: ‘You do not know what you believe, but we do; salvation is with the Jews.’ It didn’t register with my conscious mind but it slipped into my subconscious mind. Among the many reactions to that terrible incident was that a lesson which I took away was that I knew what I believed but no one else knew what they believed. Salvation lay with me. Like the Jews I was the sole possessor of the only truth; also like the Jews I was despised and rejected by the rest of mankind. I, then, placed myself above all other groups and subordinated them to my ego as did the Jews. Thus all the characteristics of all the groups in America merged in me. Whether Black, Jewish, Greek and all the rest their cultures became mine. I incorporated the picaninny, the Hasid, the Sicilian as my own to have and criticized as I chose. All the groups abandoned their cultures to me to shape and mold as I chose. Rather than incorporating a nationality into an assumed name like Joe Italy or Susie American or Yehuda Yisraeli as had been done so frequently and so ludicrously I became in my mind not consciously but certainly Far World. I assumed the attitude that all culture met in me. As with the Jews this attitude created certain problems with the rest of the world which did not necessarily concur in my evaluation of myself. I make no apologies; the combinations possible in the Melting Pot are multifarious and surprising. I did not create the world, the world created me.
All this was gestating in me unknown to and unexplained by myself. My past was an undifferentiated load that I took with my dime to the West Side. I was unaware of the traits and attitudes my education had given me. I was unaware of the very great and fundamental difference between one of my background and one of a person from a conventional family background. I was not intrinsically me anymore than they were intrinsically them. We were both products of our environments. Under different circumstances we would both have manifested different personnae. I had not been taught their outlook which tends to create the world in its image. It is an image which is a mirage, even false. My outlook acquired as an outcast gave me a different and much more accurate view of society. The very accuracy of my view excluded me from the advantages as well as the disadvantages of society. The hypocrisy of society’s viewpoint was blatantly apparent. It could not be ignored by me. I acquired no advantage from it.
Now, as I turned off Nelson onto Main past Hershey’s Dept. Store, I could see the bump of the Main St. Bridge spanning the River before me. I was on my way to the Wardens and what I hoped would be a better life. Horatio Alger like, I hoped they would like my pluck and fortitude and reward my good qualities with the sunshine of their countenance. My life was in their hands. I wanted their approval and their respect. Love was not the question; love was not the answer. For love is irrational and founded on nothing but personal taste. People can be injured as easily as helped by love. Love, hate and indifference are all the same. I wanted recognition.
As I approached the Bridge I had covered half the distance. My mind had been wholly optimistic when I left the Home. It was a beautiful bright June day. The air was warm. The birds were singing; the trees were in full leaf. The sky was blue with flirtatious rows of puffy white clouds as big as breadbaskets stretching endlessly in all four directions.
But at the Bridge my optimism was being steadily eroded by anxiety. As I had walked down Nelson and Main I had been greeted by the hoots and jeers of passing motorists. My mind came down from Olympus as my eyes fastened on my great shoes flashing in and out of my vision. My mental vision and my physical reality clashed.
The Bridge was before me. The transition was immanent. The Valley River was the dividing line between the East and West sides. The East side was inferior to the West side. The East side had the Blacks and the wastrels, the improvident. The West side was affluent and contained the White collar and more provident workers. The exodus of the affluent classes before the invading Blacks was from East to West.
I had wandered all over the East Side while at the Home. I was not able to enter the First Ward of course but I had been everywhere else. The Main St. Bridge had always amazed me. I could not imagine the intelligence of the man or men who engineered it. It was suitable for neither horse and buggy nor automobile. It was impassable in winter months. The Valley River was perhaps a hundred feet across. The river was navigable for small craft so an attempt had been made to accomodate them. The embankment was at the river’s edge. The bridge rose abruptly to an apex twenty feet in the air. Atop the structure sat a little bridge tender’s cabin which was occupied. The bridge tender supervised the raising of the center vanes to allow larger vessels through. This was totally unnecessary as there were no commercial or pleasure craft on the river.
I doubt that a laden horse and wagon could have surmounted the obstacle of the bridge. I often wondered if Model Ts could have negotiated it. The rise was so steep that drivers had to very nearly stop before ascending to avoid damaging their cars; they really had to gun it to get over. The bridge tender sat watching all day.
As I puffed to the top I watched him sitting on his stool reading his newspaper. He must have been a slow reader because he never finished the paper. I stood in front of his cabin for a few minutes looking back over the East Side. I was very grateful to be leaving Emerson and Longfellow behind. They had left their mark on my manners and demeanor. Like Cain I wore what they had thought of me on my forehead. My manner of presenting myself was one of supplication for approval.
Turning I descended the Bridge into the West Side. I had never crossed the Bridge before. I was less certain of my direction.
I was standing on the corner at the Big Intersection where Melmoth turns South along the river and Main and Thelema make a Y. I was busy divining the way to Court St. and thence Cathar when a kindly looking fellow of about thirty-five pulled over and asked if I needed a ride.
He recalled me from my reverie. I was enjoying my freedom. A weight was off my shoulders. The thought of that fence around the orphanage playground had gnawed at me for two years. I reveled at the thought of having left that prison like fence behind. I gave him a glance which showed no interest. I told him I didn’t want a ride.
Well, he was ready to take me anywhere I wanted to go. No trouble. I still declined.
His face flushed with anger and self-reproach as he shouted at me: ‘You’re wrong as hell, kid. I’m no homosexual you goddamned ungrateful little bastard.’
He slammed the door and peeled out. I didn’t care I was still having a nice day.
I crossed the intersection walking tentatively, trying to find my way. I came out on Court St. I had lost my sense of direction. I stopped a man to ask him which way to go to Cathar St. He stood eyeing me up and down for a long time until I began to be uncomforable at his rudeness; then with a loud guffaw he jeered: ‘Where’d you come from? There’s no circus around here.’ He walked away still laughing at his rude humor. I kicked at his departing figure with my oversized clown shoes.
I chanced a right turn up Court St. and continued walking. Much to my relief Cathar deadended into Court only two blocks further West. I descended Cathar for five blocks until I spotted Desade crossing Cathar. The Warden’s house was on the corner of Froide and Desade in the rigid grid of streets behind the Lutheran Seminary.
FORTY MILES OF BAD ROAD
June 1948-August 1950
The golden sun on high streamed down through the leafy green of the overshadowing boughs of creation. A few great billows of clouds had replaced the little fluffy breadbaskets serenely sailing through the cerulean blue of the overtopping sky. The birds twittered and glided among and above the trees. Flowers bloomed in banks about the houses while bees busied themselves among the blossoms.
The wives sat on their porches in swings or rocking chairs while their children moved about their yards. There was a merry air as the women chatted among themselves while the children played. As I paced the two blocks converstation ceased before me and resumed in hushed tones as I passed. The faces of the children assumed expressions of disdain as they ceased playing to watch me pass. I kept my eyes forward. I felt, tried to ignore, their wide open amazement.
I had been insulated from the contempt of others in the area of the Children’s Home by our numbers and the familiarity of the residents with us. In this neighborhood they had never seen my like, except on postcards of street urchins. Those two blocks began to seem an eternity as I walked between overwhelming natural beauty and defiling human hostility.
My fears rose within me as I began to fearfully ponder my reception at the Wardens. If these people reacted to me this way, what might the Wardens’ reaction be. Perhaps they would take one look and send me back to the orphanage and the hell of Longfellow and Mr. Oager, who they said would tear me limb from limb with the help of my unknown antagonists, the Hirshes. I began to shake involuntarily while I stifled a sob. The fear of being returned overwhelmed me. I was now in a limbo into which I could disappear without a trace. I could walk on by into an untroubled oblivion.
The house was a corner house. It had been built around 1910 in the purely functional style of the Valley. Racked by my indecision I stood on the corner of Froide and Desade for a moment to study it. The house was simply a rectangle of twenty-five by sixty feet with an attached screened in front porch. The basement rose four feet from the ground topped by the main floor. A second story extended two thirds the length of the house stopping abruptly twenty feet from the back of the house. Apparently the builders thought that was all the room they needed and so stopped building. The house had the characteristic high pitched roof to shed the winter snows. The Wardens had the good sense to paint it white and not some bizarre color. The building was placed on a superb large lot, perhaps a double lot as the lot was very deep while the area beside the house was very large and contained various fruit trees including an old apple of considerable size. Garden areas and flower beds were everywhere. I received a good impression of the owners.
The neighborhood was respectable; the houses and yards were maintained, in the neat, not manicured, sense. The only exception was the house opposite me facing Desade. I hesitated, then crossed the street and walked on by. I determined to take my chances. Before I had reached the end of the block the awesome odds against success on my own convinced me to give the Wardens a try. I could always walk away later.
I circled the block arriving once again at the corner of Froide and Desade. As I passed the length of the lot I thought that this would still be a major improvement over the Children’s Home. I looked down at my shoes remembering that man’s comment about the circus, examined my clothes, swallowed hard, and turned the corner. A row of trees on both sides of the street stretched as far as the eye could see. I uttered a little prayer as I turned up the front walk and mounted the four steps of the porch. The screen door opened to my hand so, after hesitating a moment to consider whether the act of just walking in might be presumptuous, I decided to use the bell by the front door.
After a brief pause a boy two years older than I appeared. He looked at me for a long moment, then shouted back into the house: ‘Hey Mom, this must be him. I think he’s here.’
Mrs. Warden appeared wiping her hands on a towel. She was an attractive woman of thirty-five; fine-nine, about one hundred thirty pounds. She was wearing heels, a maroon sheath skirt topped by an apron and a tan blouse, no belt. The Wardens considered themselves not only quality, but noble. She always dressed.
‘You’re Farley Gresham?’ She said in a slightly deprecatory manner, eyeing me coldly. ‘the Municipal Orphanage released you to us?’
‘Yes. Far. I’m called Far Gresham.’ I replied, trying to establish my identity.
‘Well, come in Farley.’ She said ignoring my attempt. ‘Did you bring anything with you?’
‘I’ve got the the dime.’ I replied, not wishing to withhold anything, yet fearing she might confiscate my pittance. Now I wished I had spent it on the way. I was suddenly intimidated by the process. My stomach began to churn at the fear of rejection; I thought I might throw up.
Upon entering however, I was taken back and absorbed by the decor. As I was to learn the Wardens took their ancestry seriously. The Wardens were not rich, yet the overall impression was one of luxury. Coats of arms and insignia of heraldry bedecked the walls. In the corner to my left stood a suit of armor. A real suit of armor, one that had been actually used. I don’t know whether it had been worn in combat but it had actually been used at least for ceremonial purposes. The old guy had been short and had had a bit of a paunch but he had really strutted around in the thing.
The Wardens had two or three remarkable pieces of furniture that they had inherited but which expressed their personalities. They were of a curious mixture of Christianity and Paganism not unlike the times of King Arthur. They had a magnificent etagere that was elaborately carved in nature motifs. Central to it was a door to a cabinet in which a face was carved with vines growing out of its head and surrounding its face. I used to sit and study it by the hour.
I was still lost in amazement, at what to me was incredible splendor, when the voice of Mrs. Warden in a tone that implied ‘Yes, we are that wonderful.’ called me back to reality. She told me to follow her to ‘my’ place.
I was standing in the living room, which was thirty feet long and half the width of the house. To the right the space was divided into two bedrooms of equal size. Mrs. Warden occupied the front one and Mr. Warden the back one. They no longer slept together.
From thence we entered the dining room which was a large room, twenty feet long by twenty wide. On the right side was the sole bathroom: five by twenty feet. Mrs. Warden turned up a stairwell at the back of the dining room. Through the open door leading out of the dining room I could see the pantry and kitchen that completed the ground floor.
I followed her upstairs, three steps to a little landing, then we took a hard right up eight steps to the second floor. To my left was an unfinished storage area full of boxes, neatly stacked. To my right the wall extended for six feet flollowed by another long unfinished storage area. The forward half was filled with stacks of boxes and unpacked things- lamps, chairs, that sort of thing. The part nearest me was an open space. An old door lay across the exposed beams. The pitch of the room descended to meet the floor on this side.
On the other side, directly opposite the space with the door was a bedroom. It wa full-sized with windows facing West and North; altogether it was a most pleasant room. My heart leapt at the thought that it might be mine.
I was led down the hall to the front room. It was a magnificent room; a boy’s dream. There was a bank of windows facing South into the gorgeous foliage of the trees overhanging the sundappled street. It was only a step out one of the windows to be standing on the porch roof. There was a drainpipe on either side to climb down. The room extended the full width of the house; it was fifteen feet deep. Model airplanes hung from the ceiling in profusion. I knew that room wasn’t to be mine. No matter, I would be happy with the little room.
Mrs. Warden allowed me to examine that room with an air of self-satisfaction at my apparent pleasure. Now she spoke:
‘You are to be useful here Farley; this is not to be a free ride for you.’ Mrs. Warden began. ‘We have agreed to provide you with a suitable home environment here for a purpose; one which will benefit you and benefit us. It is only right that you should give something for that which you recieve. To be fair it should be of equal value. There is no way you can give us equal value so that you will always be in debt to us.
You will owe.
We have two boys, Jack and I, Skippy who is fourteen and who has built all those wonderfully constructed airplane models you see, and my young ‘un Cappy here, who is twelve. She affectionately put her arm around her ‘young ‘un’ who had followed us upstairs as she spoke. ‘Our boys are patricians.’ She said firmly and reprovingly at me. I guessed that she meant I wasn’t a patrician.
‘They can’t be expected to do a lot of menial things.’ She meant picking up after themselves. ‘Which is the reason we had you delivered.’ Delivered? ‘In exchange for better victualling, housing and…dressing, than you might possibly have anticipated or had a right to expect you will be expected to keep things neat and tidy for them. This is Skippy’s room. As you can see it needs tidying now.’
Moving out of the room she stationed herself in front of the other room. ‘This is Cappy’s room.’ My heart sank. ‘Over here.’ She said, indicating the door over the beams. ‘Is your place. We’ll have a mattress, a pillow and some blankets for you.’ I looked back and forth between her and the door in utter disbelief.
She had placed her left hand in front of her, waist high, placing her right hand in it. She stood gazing down reflectively for a moment.
‘It’s probably better than you’re used to, but it can’t be helped. It’s the least we have to offer you. Darling.’ She said to Cappy. ‘Have Farley change into better clothes and bring him downstairs.’ To herself she said: ‘We’ll have to do something about that hair immediately.’ Addressing me she said: ‘By the way, I’m Geli Warden. Geli is short for Angelica; I tell you this so that if I am mentioned to you by either name you will know to whom they refer. You are to call me Mrs. Warden and answer ‘Yes, ma’am.’ to my requests.’
I listened in quiet amazement. As obsequious as I appeared my critical faculties knew no restraint. At the Home I gave full vent to my opinions. I didn’t know now whether I might not have done better to have kept walking. Still, new clothes and a decent haircut were not to be despised. I might at least look decent; no comments like: ‘Is the circus in town?’
Cappy, the Patrician, kept eyeing me sort of sideways. He made repeated little snorting laughter sounds. He flicked his finger in the direction of Skippy’s room and followed me into it. Saying nothing he pointed imperiously to a pile of old clothes and shoes heaped in a corner. Still snorting, but saying nothing, he put his thumbs through his back belt loops, shifted his weight to his left foot while his right knee popped up. He tilted his head back, looking down his nose at me, still snorting.
I went through the shoes first. They were a combination of Skippy’s and Cappy’s old shoes. None fit and they were all more worn than I was used to; nevertheless I found a pair that were closer to the size of my feet than the shoes I had on. The clothes of the Patricians were actually of inferior quality to those donated to the Children’s Home.
The Patricians were both taller than I was. I was slender and skinny to the point of emaciation, while they were stocky and big boned. I selected as best I could which left me nearly as ludicrous and markedly more impoverished looking.
When I had nearly finished Cappy began talking. At first he addressed a great unknown but gradually directed his conversation at me.
‘Yeah, we’re Patricians. Our whole family is of noble lineage. My father knows about these things. He reads books on them. We go back to the Norman conquest and are descendants of Richard The Lion Hearted. That’s why my Christian name is William, after William the Conqueror, the Norman duke who was the only one ever to able to vanquish the unconquerable English. My father, who knows a whole lot, named Skippy, my brother, after William’s adversary, Alfred the Great. Alfred and William united the English into one great noble people in 1066, thus we symbolize that union. That goes back a whole long way, very far. We’re reckoned Skippy and Cappy because it’s our destiny to be in charge of things. We call our Dad, Duke, kinda after Duke William the Conqueror, because he’s actually a great man whose talents have gone unrecognized in this town that wouldn’t know greatness if it was thrust upon them. He wants you to call him Duke too, see, but only around the house, not in public. See?’
I saw. I mentally shrugged and decided to go along. What else could I do? I had finished changing clothes. Cappy, holding up his index and middle fingers imperiously beckoned me to follow him downstairs. Mrs. Warden was seated at a roll top desk as we emerged from the staircase. The dining room was rather cluttered. A sideboard sat against the bathroom wall, a large round table occupied the middle, while the arch into the living room was flanked by another sideboard on the left with the desk to the right of the arch- actually a proscenium arch. In the opposite corner of the room from the desk was a large steam mangle iron. The iron was the pride and joy of Mrs. Warden; with it she could iron a half dozen sheets in just a few minutes. She loved to use it so much she even ironed our undershorts. A darn good job of it too.
Looking up from her work, she eyed me approvingly. ‘There, that’s better!’ Beauty must indeed be in the eye of the beholder, for I was not quite as impressed as she. But what mattered to her was more pride of possession than aesthetics; I now bore the imprint of her household rather than someone elses.
I took the opportunity of her approval to venture the question as to whether I would be getting new clothes that fit properly from the money paid them by the city for my upkeep.
She replied: ‘Oh, no, no. That’s our money. The city pays us to look after you; like baby sitting. Oh no, I think the hand me downs of Skippy and Cappy will do just fine. Fortunately they’re both older than you so you’ll grow into their clothes.’ Turning to Cappy she said: ‘I think he looks just fine. Don’t you, Dear?’
He of course assented; I was not asked my opinion, but no, I didn’t think I looked just fine.
About that time Jack Warden emerged from the kitchen. He had been out gardening. As he finished removing his gloves he had an air of supreme self-satisfaction, even of a universal benevolent good will. It was the air of a man well satisfied with life. Unfortunately it was an air acquired only while gardening. After he had finished a perceptive person could watch the attitude evaporate as he put on his mental coat of worldly care.
He was five nine, one sixty or seventy, edging out to eighty. He was not so stocky as his sons but he had never been slender either. Apparently the sons had inherited the big bone genes of both parents. He had a hatchet face which was acquiring flanges of flesh in the jowls with a prominent long straight, what he called, noble nose. While his features were proportional they looked pinched because of his preoccupation with insults to his dignity. He tended to draw his facial muscles forward and up which gave a slight purse to his mouth.
He was employed as an accountant at the Boyse Machine Works, a big employer in a town of big employers. Boyse was smaller than these others. Jack Warden took size seriously. He had a nagging sense of inferiority for not being employed by the big General Motors plants that dominated the life of the Valley.
Mr. Warden, who in many ways, was an admirable man was not a clear thinker nor was he in command of his subconscious. Accounting had taught him orderly mental traits but had not unmuddled his thought processes. He lacked logic, he submitted to the demand of his subconscious without reservation. He always put the cart before the horse. He wanted to be somebody so he put more effort into Burke’s Peerage, of which he actually owned a copy, trying to prove he was somebody by ancentry than he put into developing his work habits and skills.
It was his ardent wish to connect his ancestry to Richard Coeur de Lion. There was no connection but this did not deter his researches through Burke’s and diverse genealogies. In the process of study he had acquired an extensive but useless knowledge of the British peerage.
I never knew what he thought about chivalry as he refused to talk about it to me. He did not read extensively but intensively. He had a good collection of books centering around the Arthurian legends. There was a magnificent leather bound Arthur by Mallory. None of us was allowed to touch it although he had an additional cheap set which we were required to read in from time to time. Beowulf, Gawaine and the Green Knight, the Mabinogian, the Norse Myths and some few others formed his library. Beyond those and a truly ardent love of gardening he had no interests.
Naturally he equated his sons with Lancelot and Percival, in fact he might have so named them but from fear of public ridicule. Before he despaired of me he thought I might make a Sir Gareth to his sons. As he explained even though Gareth spent a year in the kitchen he was a full noble knight who, as I would have to do, had to overexert himself to prove his worthiness because of having slept in the kitchen. At the time all I could do was nod dumbly.
This day when he should have been at work, he had phoned in sick. In a futile effort to prove his indispensibility he thought to punish Boyse by withholding his services. In his inner heart he actually believed the company might collapse in his absence.
His confidence had been flagging of late. He, like his wife, was thirty-five. He was reluctantly realizing, but not acknowledging to himself, that his career had progressed as far as it was going to go. He had been passed over for promotions enough so that he feared, if he did not know, that he was never to be promoted.
In the months succeeding my entry into the household, the knowledge that his future no longer existed sank into Warden’s mind embittering and perverting him. He became desperate for the feeling of personal power which he believed he had lost. I saw him downtown on more than one occasion performing the same rite. He would stand aside from the throng preferably in a place where he could put his foot on a ledge or something, then he would wait to catch a passerby by surprise. His fingers were thick; he would hold up his first two fingers and beckon imperiously to the passerby. If the passerby responded to his beckon he would then utter a few insulting words of rejection. As the passerby stalked off in indignation Warden enjoyed a brief glow of satisfaction as for that moment he had slipped the monkey of failure onto someone else’s back.
People will respond even to such an insulting gesture; not only the repressed but men of good standing. It is a relatively easy thing to trade on another’s good will at least once. When Warden had bagged a man he thought greater than himself he experienced a double glow of pleasure that was actually sexual. At that moment he believed his penis was larger than the other man’s.
At the same time his two Patricians were not openly acknowledged as such by their fellows. Their friends refused to accept them at their own valuation. Their exalted lineage was not only not accepted but openly jeered at. The immigrant boys amongst their acquaintance further attributed their attitude to Anglo-American arrogance which they deeply resented.
Jack and Geli thought that I would make their sons lives shine in comparison. On the one hand the community would accord them respect for the good work of taking in an orphan while on the other the Patricians would have someone who would be totally dependent and hence beneath them.
As Kaiser Bill had his batman, I was to be batman to Skippy and Cappy. I had to accept or leave, resistance was out of the question. But as regards Jack Warden I was unable to acknowledge his sagacity. I had been on my own, in my mind, for two years at the orphanage. I had learned truths that Warden would never know. I had developed independently of familial insitutions. The lines of authority accepted by fathers and sons on which society is built were foreign to me. Many truths that Warden took for granted were unknown to me, even though, as he thought, quite correctly, they were things every normal boy should know. I did not have a normal background. I had never been taught what every normal boy knew. I was now beyond learning what ever normal boy should know.
Quite frankly, I found Jack Warden naive, misguided and wrongheaded. Not surprisingly he characterized me in the same way, consequently neither of us had any use for the other. I was never able to acknowledge his authority; although I was compelled to call him Duke, I did it with a smirk. thus, consciously or unconsciously, probably the latter, he set about to break my will. I thought that if he did break my will I would make sure it broke off in a tender part of his anatomy.
Things were not ideal with the Wardens. For beople who were used to better things they were not good. I had suffered the abominable, the situation was a massive improvement over what I had known. The minuses were many, but comparatively there were plusses. The Wardens had many habits and traits I valued. They were not illiterate. They subscribed to magazines of the Reader’s Digest, Saturday Evening Post, Look, Life variety. Warden’s pride was the National Geographic. As he explained you couldn’t get a subscription by merely sending them money, you had to have a personal recommendation before they would take your money. All were popular magazines and they did represent the mainstream of American life. Plus Skippy and Cappy bought magazines of their own such as Argosy and True, The Man’s Magazine.
My physical environment couldn’t have been better. Both Jack and Geli were terrific gardeners. The gardens were always a delight. Terrific fruits, vegetables and berries through the spring and summer, and a gorgeous array of blossoms all summer long. Jack Warden tended the vegetables and Geli the flowers. Given my alternatives, and they could have been much, much worse for foster children, I was thankful for my surroundings.
Skippy was four years older than I. He had no use for a younger boy like myself; he had very little use for Cappy. He had wanted to be an only child. He had resented the birth of Cappy deeply; he now tried to act as though Cappy didn’t exist. Cappy, two years older than I, almost a teenager, had no use for me either. He couldn’t be bothered by one so young. In truth, the distance between the tenth and eleventh years and the twelfth and thirteenth is immense both physically and mentally.
So long as I did my chores and stayed out from underfoot none of the Wardens took furthur notice of me. Remarkably Jack and Geli didn’t seem to care where I was or what I was doing. I thought they secretly hoped I would get into some kind of trouble by which their sons would look that much better.
I had to go out into the neighborhood in search of companions. In the orphanage I imagined that members of a neighborhood mixed with each other and were friends. This was not true. Everyone seemed to keep to themselves. The Wardens knew no one except in the most casual manner. All the other adults seemed to keep to themselves also. No one was on speaking terms with anyone with the possible exception of their next door neighbors; even then they weren’t what I would call friends.
As it turned out there were many kids around my age in all directions; yet the Warden’s house, two houses across Froide and Desade, one house across the street were the only kids in the area I was able to associate with. The kids on the other side of the Costellos never attempted to associate with us nor we with them. It’s probably normal but I thought it strange.
The only acquaintance I had that approached friendship were the Sondermans who lived kitty corner across the intersection in the only house that looked rundown. Two brothers lived there, Ward, the elder was my age while his brother, Dwayne, was two years youngers. Dwayne was always tall for his age; he had a way of acting older so he was included in our doings. I say ‘our’, rather say I was included in their doings. I don’t know whether the Sondermans associated with me out of pity or whether I forced myself on them.
I know that I was considered as something of a ‘phenom’ by them because I was a foster child. Hence I didn’t really belong in their neighborhood. They probably allowed me to play with them. At any rate I always called on them, they never called on me. I guess that’s pretty clear.
The period after the Wars was one of great flux. The social organization whose maturity had coincided with the beginning of the Wars had spent its momentum. The Wars had broken continuity. The society that might have evolved was stillborn; consequently after 1945 nearly a whole new society had to be organized.
Not only had the interwar society matured but at the same time the immigrants of the 1870-1920 period overwhelmed the Anglo-American society that had preceded the immigration. The American ‘natives’ lost control of the country. Ancestry therefore had become a great preoccupation with the natives.
The Wardens of course dated their American ancestry back to the 1670s; fictitiously they dated it back to 1066 and god knows how much earlier. The Sondermans dated their ancestry back to 1730. They compensated by thinking anything previous to that was unimportant.
Both Geli Warden and Betty Sonderman belonged to the Daughters Of The American Revolution- the DAR. Both thought that this fact put them into some sort of atristocracy. Ancestry was an important matter; I knew little of my ancestors, but my mother was known to be Polish, possibly of Jewish extraction, I was thought not to have American antecedents. Actually, as I have subsequetly learned the Greshams preceded the Wardens as founders of the New Secular Order.
When the Wars destroyed the continuity of social development it left a void in post-war society. American culture, in other words, baseball and movies, were left in a shambles. Lou Gehrig was gone; Babe Ruth was dying; the rest were either dead or ageing rapidly. Ted Williams and Bob Feller’s momentum had been destroyed by their terms in the service. Williams went twice, WWII and the Korean war. One legged pitchers could still find a place on the Cleveland roster. The Negroes found an advantgeous moment to fill the talent void. Jackie Robinson was brought up to the Brooklyn Dodgers, thus the color line was breached.
The movies too had broken stride. More than television or anything else they had lost their sense of direction. The decay of the studio system had been obvious in prewar years. The actors were all old. At that time it wasn’t credible for a fifty year old man to successfully chase a twenty-five year old man a mile and a half without losing his breath or to make twenty year old woman breathless. Only the movies would be able to make such a thing possible. The Wars had interrupted the development of young talent. The movies didn’t know what to make movies about. The Stars, producers and directors were all old, it wouldn’t be fair to call them stale for an entirely new situation had arisen to which they could not possibly have adjusted.
America needed heroes, new heroes, young ones. Since the Wars had aborted the development of younger performers, new stars had to be created out of whole cloth. The age of ‘hype’ began as the magnates in charge of baseball and the movies tried to hype young performers into stardom rather than wait for new stars to emerge from the ruck. Actors like Robert Wagner and Tab Hunter had impossible demands placed on them.
In baseball Clint Hartung, ‘the triple threat Hondo Hurricane’ from Hondo, Texas had his career destroyed as he was touted to break every batting, pitching and base running record in existence. Even Mickey Mantle was unable to live up to his advance notices. Those were the pehnomenons or ‘phenoms’ of the time. They just had be too spectacular to be real.
The Sondermans considered me a ‘phenom’ in the negative sense. I’m sure there was a joke in there somewhere. Possibly it had to with their name: Sonderman. Ward and Dwayne never tired of telling me Sonderman meant ‘special man’ in German. Gresham according to them meant nothing. I found this an irritant as I didn’t think badly of myself; I found nothing special about the Sondermans. I chafed under their banter until one day I was complaining in the presence of Jack Warden when he said: ‘Um, really? ‘Special man.’ Well, they might find it interesting to know that sonder also has the meaning of peculiar. In fact, I think Sonderman is a peculiar fellow.’
I picked up the hint. The first opportunity I had I called Ward Peculiarman. It chilled our relationship thereafter. Ward and Dwayne had created a class situation into which they had fit me; they superior, me inferior. In their scheme it was illegal, even criminal, for me to fight back. Once again I had refused to accept my place.
I could never understand the Sondermans’ airs. They acted as though they were better than us all yet their house was the most rundown house on the street. Neither they nor their father did a lick of work around the house. Their garage doors hung unfunctionally on their hinges. Their yard was unkept although it looked like someone, possibly the previous owner had made a pretense of an English Garden in the backyard sometime in the century. Their front lawn was barer than a corner grocery store’s.
Not only was no effort put into the exterior of the house but the interior showed a complete lack of attention. Mrs. Sonderman could call herself neither a housekeeper nor homemaker. Although she didn’t work, she was never home. Perhaps she spent her time at DAR meetings.
The house was furnished, if one might call it furnished, with oddments of oddments of threadbare furniture. It was almost as though someone had moved out and left their old useless pieces behind. The dining room table had no chairs; obviously it was never used for dining. A small table in the narrow little kitchen was used for dining, yet all four of them could not sit at the table at one time. Mrs. Sonderman didn’t cook either.
Neither the parents nor the sons thought to clean the place. The grit was so thinck on the floors that you could bend down and pick it up between your fingers. I can take no credit for Geli Warden’s housekeeping as she was no relation to me yet though her house was very superior to the Sondermans in cleanliness the Sondermans through some persersely developed neurotic distortion took pity on me because they believed the Wardens inferior to them. During their periods of condescension to me I used to stare at them in utter disbelief.
I pointed out the grit on the floor which they were somehow able to dismiss in their minds as unimportant. Still I wanted them for friends, they were all I had. We were not to remain friends. My mention to them that sonder also meant peculiar had driven a wedge between us. Pointing out the obvious shortcomings of their house maintenance widened it. The final rift occurred over a minor incident when Ward and I were twelve.
The elder Sondermans were never at home which left time heavy on the hands of the boys. One day they thought up a game, one which they played often. Mrs. Sonderman had an old threadbare oriental rug on the living room floor. The game was that one person drove across the rug while the other two tried to stop him. Dwayne and I, Ward and I and the Sondermans versus me. To drive one had to dig into the rug for leverage. Holding the driver back was done in reverse. The rug took a terrific beating.
As impossible as it may seem Mrs. Sonderman valued this rag of a rug.
When the boys explained why it was ruined they told her that I had done it. Mrs. Sonderman would hear no explanations from me. She banned me from the house. Thus as we entered Junior High our relationship was deteriorating to the point that we no longer associated w ith each other except on the occasion.
Next door to the Sondermans were the Costellos. They too believed themselves a cut above the best, although with few credentials. As they were Irish, Mrs. Costello could not be a DAR. Not because they were Irish, but because the Irish came over after the Revolution. The Costellos arrived in 1853. As may be imagined Mrs. Costello disparaged the whole notion of the DAR. Immigrants after 1776 couldn’t belong. Mrs. Costello was the neatest housekeeper of the three women; she also had the most conventional taste.
Their eldest son was nicknamed Wink. If I ever learned his real name I’ve forgotten it. As he attended the Catholic school, Lacramae Sacrae, we had very few contacts. He was a year younger than Ward and I. Given my background I was willing to be friends with anyone, but Wink took a dislike to me so that we despised each other. Ward not only liked him but reverenced him. Why, I don’t know. When President, Nixon would put it: He was as thin as piss on a rock.
Mrs. Otto and her daughter Greta lived across from the Costellos.
None of these adults talked to any of the others. I never saw any of them have visitors. Certainly the Wardens never did. These people may as well have been isolated in a vast wilderness for all they knew of each other. I found it curious.
I spent the first summer making the very difficult adjustment into the Warden household and the neighborhood. The emotional distance between the Children’s Home and familial society went unrecognized by both the Wardens and the neighbor kids. Indeed it was unrecognized by me. The habits and traits acquired in the Home had little utility in the outside world, yet, that’s the way I ‘was.’ There was no sense of estrangement in the family structure of the neighborhood as there was in the Home.
Nor was there the clear cut social line that existed at Longfellow noticeable when I enrolled a E.A. Robinson in the fall. The normal difficulties of entering a new school were compounded by the ostracization I had experienced at Longfellow. My frame of reference was not applicable at Robinson.
Needless to say I failed the schoolyard test miserably. When the leader walked across the yard followed by his entourage for the introductory game of push and shove I failed the test. I acquired a label; I spent the fifth grade in a series of fights. I was the smallest boy in the class. My antagonists were all taller and heavier than me. The vanity of men is such that they think physical prowess transcends weight and reach. Professional boxers may be categorized by weight but the logic of the categorization doesn’t penetrate the male mind. They think that the heavyweights are heavyweights because they are the best fighters. The legend is that a scrappy midget can beat a giant. Didn’t David bring down Goliath?
Conversely a larger boy who beats a smaller boy makes no allowance for his greater height, reach and weight. His is the greater personal merit; on the other hand if he is beaten he refuses to acknowledge any inferiority. Needless to say, I lost all my fights. Needless to say it was I who obtained the reputation of the troublemaker. I not only lost the war; I lost the peace.
I also incurred contempt because I was too small to swing a baseball bat. When we played ball I still had to lay the bat on the ground and have it rolled to me. I was the last to swing from a standing position. This fact caused me more personal grief than losing all my fights.
As the year progressed the fears and anxieties acquire earlier combined with my current griefs weighed heavily on me. I became despondent and morose, often crying softly in class. The period was crucial to my existence. For reasons I cannot reconstruct, about the middle of the year a light dawned. I began to be able to deal with circumstances. I elbowed my way into the class a little.
During the winter Mr. Warden took Cappy and I sledding at Reuchlin Park. Reuchlin Park was the star spangled wonderland of my youth. Reuchlin Park was just a couple blocks to the East of Pfeffercorn Island. The park was a remnant of an old slough of the Valley River. In the logging days of the Valley it had been a swamp; a large lake at flood tide, dry or nearly dry in the summer. As the Valley developed, the entrance from the river had been dammed so that the floor was dry year round. The park was a magnificent natural amphitheatre. The banks rose from the floor forty feet at just the right angle to seat thousands for the Fourth Of July Fireworks. In the summer the floor was laid out in numerous baseball fields; in the winter it was flooded to create the most magnificent of outdoor skating rinks.
Toward the South end several ramps had been constructed for sledding and toboganning. At night the high arc lamps gave a mesmerizing illumination to what was truly a winter wonderland.
We had parked at the North end of Reuchlin and walked the length of the park. The North end was rough and unused. The ice was not groomed and lay rough, unsuitable for skating. Ahead of us the great arc lamps illuminated the groomed oval as big as a football field. A couple hundred skaters rounded the oval in happy excitement. Most wore hockey skates but some few speed skaters flashed among the ordinary skaters. On the sides the figure skaters practiced their figure eights and spins to the oohs and aahs of the spectators. As we passed the skating house where skates were rented and refreshments sold, my mind was entranced by the spectacle. There was beauty here among happy smiling people, so unlike the Children’s Home.
I was never to be allowed to make the transition from the oppressed, deranged mentality of the Home to this happy smiling type of existence. To have been able to do so would have required not only self and worldly knowledge of mine but the identification of the problem by at least the Wardens. Had they been aware of the peculiar psychological perplexities of we ex-inmates and had they been willing to minister to them, I might have been brought across the bridge from the one side to the other. As it was, I was merely thrown into the murky waters of the river without swimming lessons and expected to swim across.
Still lost in wonder at this world I would never inhabit we approached the ramps at the south end. As we approached I noticed two boys to my left snap to attention at the sight of me. They were two of the Eloy from Emerson and Longfellow. I didn’t recognize them by name on the conscious level but their appearance stirred fearful subconscious memories. As though the devil had popped up from his subterranean cavern I knew they boded me ill. I thought that Warden and Cappy might offer me some protection, some help or advice against this storm.
I had never sledded on a hill before. We had a couple sleds at the Home but on the level we only pushed or pulled each other. It seemed to me that sledding down a hill very fast was a different problem. There were some children coasting down the slope just before the ramps began. I wanted Warden to let me slide down the hill a couple times to get the hang of steering the sled with the guide bar. Warden would not hear of it. Apparently this was some test of manhood of which the purpose was to have Cappy show me up.
The ramps were fifteen feet off the ground on the uphill side. To a ten year old, one picked up a thrilling or terrifying speed, especially with your nose on the level of the snow. The excitement of it was exhilarating. A stream of boys, having completed their run, raced back up the slope to get in line again. The stair was packed as we got in line to inch up to the top. Warden accompanied us.
As I neared the head of the line I saw the two, who I had been watching apprehensively, agree on the formulation of their plan. I thought I was safe for that run as I was only two away fromthe top. But they raced up the stairs pushing and elbowing their way to the head of the line, dragging their sleds behind them, creating discord in the line.
The attendant moved toward them to admonish them and send them back to the end of the line. People are quick to recognize dress and social expectations for I noted that the attendant began to admonish them gently but firmly; had it been we of the Home with our noisy clamor and sartorial disarray he would very nearly have thrown us over the rail.
But they, with the confidence which we had had kicked out of us, (what the Cavaliers or Virginians call the quality versus the equality) motioned him to bend down while they urgently whispered a few words while gesticulating toward me. I have never known what these people whisper but it is invariably effective. The attendant straightened up, pondered for a second, then waved them ahead with one hand, while calming the dissenters in the line with the other.
The rule was that only two might descend at the same time. The attendant now waived this rule; the three us were to descend together. It’s not so much that there are rules and rules; it’s that there are people and people; the rules are applied differently depending on who you are. The attendant placed me in the middle to which I objected strenuously, asking for a flanking position. I got no help from Warden who merely belittled me as cowardly.
This was my first attempt at sledding. I was apprehensive of the slope; plus I would have no expertise with which to fend off or counter whatever tactic the two Eloy had in mind. I was in the position of the fish in the barrel, they of the fishermen with shotguns. The only recognition I had given the Eloy was my terror. Had I been able to even name them it would have been some offense, but they thought I was attempting to ignore them or expecting just retribution. As I hesitated, or waited hoping they might get down first, Mr. Warden began scoffing at me as he all uncomprehending, per his nature, thought I was only afraid. The kids on the stairway took up the same refrain. The noise level in my ears was deafening.
The technique was to place your sled against your body and then flop forward on it, or leap forward on it for the descent. I had never done this before, nor would Warden let me practice. I took the weak response of wanting to lay on the sled and push off. By now I was holding up the line; the jeers and hoots of the other boys rose higher than Warden’s scoffing.
I was in a terrific bind but compelled to go ahead. As I began my flop I made the mistake of pushing the sled up and away from my body. As I landed my groin slammed into the end of a slat causing great pain. The fall injured and weakened the muscles; thirty years later I developed a hernia in the exact spot. I was half off the sled with my right foot dragging on the ground which pulled me to the right. The Eloy on my left shot off ahead of me but as I descended the slope I cut off the Eloy on my right. He slowed to avoid me then quickly picking up speed descended on from the left. Coming abreast he got his guide bar under mine and flipped me over. This act satisfied the Eloy; I have no idea what their plan might have been if they had sandwiched me.
Warden ran up to me denouncing my ‘shameful’ performance. He was of the school that having fallen off a horse it was necessary to immediately remount or you would be horse shy forever. Thus he shouted over me, gesticulating wildly toward the ramp, ordering me to get back up there and try again. Cappy stood with his sled held before him like a knight with his shield talking to the Eloy, agreeing with them that I sure was a dink. The Eloy got what they wanted in spades.
My groin hurt. I needed practice with the sled before I could tackle the ramp. Warden would not hear of it, insisting that I go back on the ramp immediately. I refused to his jeering: ‘Some boy, some boy.’
Warden looked at me with disgust. He then resolved that I would never be a Sir Gareth to his Lancelot and Percival. My place on the door ceased in his mind to be a space by the oven. I was now merely a churl in my place.
For my part I realized that I was more alone than ever. Warden was incapable of or unwilling to give me the help and understanding that I needed to make the transition.
I can’t recall any pressure at Robinson from the Hirshes and the Eloy until after the sledding incident. My removal from the orphanage had taken them by surprise. It had taken Hirsh to the end of the summer to discover that I was not just missing but gone; the Eloy had been shocked to find me absent from Mr. Oager’s fifth grade class. Hirsh’s increasing business problems had diverted his attention from me while he and the Eloy found that out of sight, out of mind. Now, after the sledding incident the old animosity flared up; they came looking for me.
In the spring one of them, Louis Shriver, from the fourth grade, appeared in the schoolyard to say his words. I saw my classmates look back at me in disgust; I heard them say: ‘Yeah, we know, we already know.’ Hirsh and the Eloy had already done their work well. The mark of Cain was on my forehead, my posture, my speech, my manner. My attitude was such that I advertised my excommunication in the very way I approached people. Oddly enough, or perhaps normally enough, I could identify the same attitude in others but I could not perceive it in myself. I didn’t know that I projected the very image that Hirsh and the Eloy had of me. If they perceived it they were not content with mere success, they demanded more. They had no mercy.
I never made the transition to a member of the class. I had already become the quintessential outsider. It was no longer in my power to ingratiate myself. I had become a mere observor of life.
Quite obviously Hirsh and the Eloy had little or no power at Robinson. Any difficulties I had with my classmates was the result of the personality I had acquired on the East Side. But now the Eloy were as hot as the Hirshes. David’s business troubles would probably have distracted him enough for him to have lost interest in me at least temporarily. But the Eloy persisted with him until between the two of them they devised a weak plan. It was minor but in my circumstances had rather a profound effect on me. An analogy might be that the harder you pound a steak the more tender it gets.
Hirsh was acquainted with a man whose wife was the den mother of a cub scout troop. A bee was put in Geli Warden’s bonnet that being a cub scout would be a good character developer for me. Consequently I was encouraged to join this woman’s cub scout troop. She lived some little way’s distant up Cathar, East on Court and left on Caterina St. I was among an entirely new group of kids.
The mores of the Children’s Home were entirely different than those of the parented kids among whom I was now thrown. I was White; they could perceive no difference between me and themselves. Had I been Black or a greenhorn immigrant some provision could have been made to instruct me in mores and manners. There was very little difference between a Negro being transplanted from the Black First Ward and me or the other inmates; yet there was no obvious difference between me and the other cub scouts.
The middle class education was toward responsibility and cooperation. At the Home we were totally irresponsible and spent all our efforts to thwart cooperation and authority. The attitude was a sacred duty to us; a vengeance on a world that drove us off the sidewalks and made us skulk down alleyways to demonstrate the superiority of our oppressors.
Now I was expected to make a place for myself among these strangers., It would have been impossible for me without the interference of Hirsh and the Eloy. My orphanage manners and education immediately antagonized everyone. The essence of cub scouting was constructive. We were expected to develop skills. The others had eleven years head start on me; I was beginning from scratch.
I soon learned that the others had assistance from their parents or older brothers; some had their assignments done for them by their fathers because their fathers wanted them to excel. I then went to Warden and the Patricians for help. The Patricians laughed at me; Warden gave me a lecture about how I had to learn to make my way in the world.
Between a combination of my own ineptness at work that was new to me and the assistance given the others my work was consistently the poorest. While others filled up their sashes with badges, I wore a plain blue band. My reaction was to cease trying. I didn’t want to be a cub scout.
In addition to the consequences of this attitude, I was systematically denied and treated rudely. True my efforts were inadequate but I was constantly belittled and taunted not only by the others but by the den mother and occasionally her husband. This treatment ran counter to the cub scout code as it had been explained to me, it also ran counter to the cub scout oath we had all taken. I was a child; I could not make ideas clear to adults; it was their duty to come to me; it was their obligation to show me the correct path and lead me down it.
I wanted to quit; still I didn’t want to be a quitter. As I persisted I don’t know how long I would have gone on, my torment was unbearable. Then one day David Hirsh got a bright idea; one that would give him great pleasure. His idea was sort of a turkey shoot, a repeat of the fish in the barrel. He came up with the old saw of the blindfold boxing match. He apparently thought I was too ignorant to know what it was. Hadn’t I been a participant in a Battle Royal at the Home? Quite simply two people are selected and told that both will be blindfolded. Their wild swingings as they try to find each other provide merriment for the audience. You don’t to be born yesterday not to figure out the trick. One participant is blindfolded the other isn’t. The merriment comes from the discomfiture of the blindfolded boxer as he is pommeled.
I knew the game. I advised Mrs. Sokolsky, the den mother that I knew how the trick went. She gave me her solemn word that both of us would be blindfolded. One’s word is only one’s word to persons one respects, all others can be lied to with impunity. I persisted, because I knew. She swore on the her Holiest of Holies that she wouldn’t trick me; (which is what Hitler said to the Jews) we would both be blindfolded.’
My opponent was a little Irish kid- with is to say he was my size- John Cahallan. Now this fun took place in late summer of 1949. The Anglo-American influence of the Founding Fathers was being overwhelmed by the influence of the superior numbers of the immigrants of 1870-1920. These immigrants harbored a deep grudge against the Anglo-Americans. As immigrants they had been stripped of their language and national customs by America. Great benefits had been gained by them by their transfer from Europe to America. The majority had been the most degraded of their countries. Easterners had never known freedom, as the Serfs of Russia had been freed only in 1860. They had subsequently been denied even education as their nobility didn’t want former serfs and kitchen help educated beyond their station where they might rub shoulders with their august selves.
The Italian governments of the South Italians thought so little of eduction that they made no attempt to educate their peasants. A large percentage of immigrants were only one step ahead of the law; a great many were released from prison only on the condition that they emigrate to America. Malcontents and feeble minded came in droves. They found a hospitable welcome. Freed from the oppression and degradation of their native cultures they suffered in Europe a great many stunted blossoms opened into blooms. A large number were unable to make the cultural transition and remained as stunted as they had been in Europe, if materially much better off. They blamed America because there were not actually gold bricks to be picked up off the streets. All had prospered in America beyond their hopes in their native lands whose custom they now began to recall with such fondness. All of their offspring had prospects before them that they could never have enjoyed in their native cultures. There was no rising in those cultures, once in your place you stayed there.