‘William C. Durant? Never heard of Billy Durant?’
Give me a break. ‘No, not until now, anyway.’
‘Well, Billy Durant put General Motors together. Built it all from the ground up, then lost it.’ He went on speaking of Durant familiarly as Billy as we entered downtown Flint. ‘And there’s the bowling alley he ended up managing after he lost G.M. Quite a drop isn’t it? From GM to that scuzzy bowling alley?’ He said taking obvious pleasure in Durant’s drop. The Duke had had no success in life at all, unless you wanted to call the Patricians successes, but he laughed and chuckled over Durant’s fall as though he himself had gone on to greater success.
The bowling alley really was a scuzzy old affair. Warden said the bankers sold Durant out at ten cents on the dollar which still left him with twenty million in 1920. Hard to believe a guy could go through twenty million to end up running a measly bowling alley answering question like: ‘How’s it going auto magnate?’ Warden merely showed me how small he really was.
The Valley if flatter than a board while Flint is situated among pleasant rolling hills. Warden’s relatives lived out on the South-west edge of town in a house with the steepest pitched roof I’ve ever seen. The thing had the angle of a church steeple. the back yard had a gigantic weeping willow. Two blocks down the street was a corner grocery store.
I had been there two days when I was asked to go down to the store to pick up a loaf of bread. Did Michael have nothing better to do than watch my movements? Did he just know that I would be getting a loaf of bread at that time? When I walked in he and a few of his young female relatives were waiting for me.
We must have been poor in the Valley because the store in Flint was bigger, cleaner and better maintained than the ones in the Valley although it was still surrounded by huge trees with a bare yard.
When I walked into the store all I could see was the area behind the counter. As I stood looking for the bread bins Michael Hirsh strolled out from the far aisle while the girls moved into view. My mind was rigidly divided into the conscious and subconscious. Thus it was as though there was a veil before my eyes preventing me from recognizing Michael while the image registered in my subconscious. While I didn’t know who he was I could make responses from my subconscious bypassing my conscious that betrayed knowledge of his identity.
He strolled out in an intimidating manner which I noted but ignored. He gave a sardonic smile and snort which I also ignored. He quite obviously thought I was intentionally rejecting him as well he should. I spotted the bread and went to get a loaf. I was conscious of the girls crowding around me but thought little of it and was actually pleased by the frotage.
Michael had learned something from out previous encounter, but not enough. While the girls had crowded around me one had slipped a Baby ruth into my right back pocket. As I emerged from the stacks, Michael moved up, this time he didn’t take the candy bar from my pocket but merely pointed saying: ‘What’s that in Gresham’s back pocket? Hey, look, he’s stealing a Baby Ruth.’ The girls giggled and made Shame Shame gestures with their fingers.
‘I didn’t put the candy bar in my pocket.’ I said. ‘I wouldn’t be stupid to leave it half hanging out.’
‘Oh, so then you do steal. You know all about how to do it?’ Michael said interpreting my rather too casual denial against me.
‘No. I don’t Hirsh, you pulled this same trick at the Children’s Home. It didn’t work then, it won’t work now.’
Calling him by his name afater ignoring him when I entered convinced Hirsh that I had arrogantly ignored him when I entered which increased his frustration. I was completely unaware I had used his name and would have denied it if he had accused me of using it.
I flipped the bread and change up on the counter.
‘You buying the candy bar?’ The grocer asked.
‘No. You can get Hirsh here to pay for it.’
‘Then give it to me.’
‘Have Hirsh give it to you. I didn’t put it in my pocket and I’m not taking it out.’
The Grocer sighed, reached around and removed the Baby Ruth. I didn’t even like Baby Ruths. I liked Mounds.
I took my bread and left. Michael failed again; but far from the Valley he felt more secure in harassing me. He had a tighter control of opinion whereas I had none. During the rest of the stay whenever I went to the store I was assaulted by Hirsh and several of his pals. The first couple times I was able to fight my way through but then they made it so difficult I had to give up going to the store.
At the beginning of my story my father had flattened David Hirsh as a Sunday ice cream social in the park in the Valley before his betrothed, Beverly. David Hirsh had deserved it for an unwarranted meddling in my father’s relationship with his future wife, my mother. As he lay on the ground, David had muttered: The sins of the father…’ Michael had been thwarted at the grocery store yet once again, but the following Sunday presented an opportunity for David to settle old scores and new.
Perhaps David organized the social, perhaps he merely took advantage of an existing situation, I don’t know. Word was gotten to the Wardens that the social would be taking place. They were urged to come and especially to bring their youngest boy. Geli coolly explained that I was no relation to them. The faux pas almost cost Hirsh his opportunity. The Wardens reacted to the seeming preference to me by dropping me off while explaining they had a prior engagement.
The contrast between the grim and grimy affairs at the Children’s Home was startling. Everyone was dressed so nicely and shone so brightly that I was as entranced as though I had been deposited for a gala with the wee folk. All my resistance melted as my heart danced. I was especially invited. Everyone was smiling at me, I was welcomed with open arms. A little girl was enthroned as the little queen of the social. I was urged to go up to her to do obeisance and present myself. How could I refuse? I was delighted to offer my fealty.
As I approached her to introduce myself Michael Hirsh darted from the crowd gave me a cold look, whispered something in the girl’s ear, then disappeared once again into the crowd.
‘Him again.’ I thought. ‘Why does he always show up?’
As I approached the girl, she looked away from me refusing to acknowledge me. There were a few laughs from the crowd; the parents gathered their young and all departed leaving me alone in the park to socialize with myself.
The little play was over. David Hirsh had revenged himself on me for my father’s act. Hirsh’s evil mind which had given the first offence to my father had visited his vengeance on the father’s son. Michael had acted his part. the revenge betrayed a weakness in conception, a misunderstand of what had happened so long ago. David had observed from the slope across the way. He was satisfied in a grudging way but Michael had not yet been clearly vindicated.
The part was a lovely park. I returned to it the next day. There were some boys there with whom I struck up an acquaintance and we began to play. Word was carried to David Hirsh that I was in the park. David and Michael thought this was an ideal time to bring me to heel. Michael and a few friends and relatives entered the park. I was brought to stand before him. In Michael’s mind he had suffered so many defeats from me, so many well thought plans had gone agley, he had broken his lance on my shield without unhorsing me, that his confidence now wavered. He stood before me as a half broken warrior.
Michael had every reason to believe I knew who he was; I had used his name thrice in the grocery store. If I had recognized him I would never have associated him with any of the scenes from the past. His memory existed only in my subconscious. In my conscious mind he was only a mysterious stranger who interfered in my affairs for no good reason. His repeated appearance strangely excited no interest in me to learn who he was.
We stood looking at each other.
‘Well!’ He said.
‘Well?’ I said.
He had no choice but to interpret the confrontation as a contest of wills. We stood looking at each other for several moments. Michael’s brow furrowed, his lips quivered as they moved in response to his minds grasping to find words to express his meaning. He couldn’t. He raised his right his right arm and slapped at the air in frustration; a sob emerged from his throat that almost sounded like ‘You’re…’; he turned on his heel followed by his friends out of the park. As he reached the sidewalk he turned through tear blinded eyes with large sobs coming from his heart to shake his impostent fist at me.
For my part I had no idea what was happening. I suppressed the momory os this incident into my subconscious atop the other memories of Michael Hirsh which were too terrible for me to face. For the rest of my stay no one would play with me. Indeed, when I showed up the park emptied. Even the adults whomanned the office by the tennis courts were exceptionally rude to me. I was a twelve year old boy. What could I possible have done to warrant such treatment? I could understand kids but I couldn’t understand the adults.
The incident was a greater victory for David Hirsh than he realized. For at that time I lost a great treasure. My male force was taken from me. The virility required to make your way among men was hidden behind the altar of David’s hate. I became almost feminine in my desires to please. In the eyes of others I was willing to be their doormat. The only that saved me was the duality of my mind. My mind converted everything into symbols that allowed me to survive yet in no way affected my rationality. I led two lives. One daytime reality, the other a dream life at night that was no less real to me. I lived both lives at all times; my real me entering my dreams’ my dream me directing my daytime life. Yet both lives remained separated and compartmentalized.
David and Michael Hirsh’s victory had, however, been a pyhrric victory. What to them was my stubborn resistance cost Michael his self-respect. He had been unable to defeat me in direct confrontation. He had repeatedly humiliated himself before his friends. His and his father’s dreams of dominion in the Valley had been dashed to the ground. My mental condition had my real status from me; Michael had nothing to protect him. His self-image crumbled to dust. He gained nothing by emasculating me as, in the process, he had emasculated himself.
Had David and Michael had powers of reflection, had they been able to rise above the primal state, their lives would have continued to shine. But like the savage of ten thousand years ago who set a whole forest ablaze to avenge himself on a root over which he had stumbled, the Hirshes destroyed their lives to avenge imaginary or self-caused wrongs. I was not the only grudge David was pursuing. His mind had the capacity to identify and catalog tens, hundreds, even thousands of so-called injuries. He was capable of following each case in his case book daily, devoting his life, as it were, to indulging his passions. The juice of the poison red berries worked on his mind constantly. He led his boy deep into the berry patch.
The primitive mentality lay exposed in Dvid. Ten thousand years of subsequent experience and development left no mark on him. Judaeo-Christian beliefs could not affect his mind. Reason left him unmoved. David had a primitive belief in his rights. He was one of the elect of Judaeo-Christian theology; he was nature’s nobleman before whom all should bow. I envied David and Michael’s conception of reality which was seemingly so much better than my own.
Yet, my heart was pure. The agonies I endured were the agonies of an unjust persecution. Their agonies for different reasons were no less than my own. The story has hnot yet been told, the depths to which I had yet to descend were too much for a knowing mind to bear. Like the cat in the trap I complacently preened myself looking back from time to time to see if the trap still gripped my ankle. Worse agonies were in store for David and Michael Hirsh.
End Vol. I