East on St James
by Rick Beck
Making a Comeback
"Music," Dury said, being purposely vague.
"Music?" Keith said. "What did music have to do with it?"
"It wasn't just the music. It was the package in which the music was wrapped."
"The container? I'm not following you."
"The Beatles!" Dury said. "The Beatles saved us from ourselves. They lightened the mood. We'd become morose, expecting the worst. Our beautiful president was removed."
"The Beatles," Gary said.
"The musical Beatles?" Keith asked. "Or the insect?"
"Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! The mop tops from Liverpool invaded America and we greeted them with open arms," Dury said. "It wasn't just the new style of music. It was them. They were funny, delightful. Actually, what they were was fun. They made us laugh and boy did we need a good laugh. We'd gone through Christmas and New Years in a daze. We had been heading in an exciting new direction, and then we were yanked right back into the same tired old game. We needed to smile. We needed to laugh. The Beatles gave made us smile. Hell, we'd have been tickled to watch them gargled and spit in a sink."
"I remember when they came. They sang, I want to hold your hand. Love, love me do," Gary sang. "They took our mind off what happened to Kennedy. They were entirely new."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Dury sang. "They wanted to hold our hands and we let them."
"The Beatles?" Keith asked. "It gets curiouser and curiouser, doesn't it."
"The Beatles came to America a few months after Kennedy died. There was a lot of buzz around them. The country made it through the holidays and we were facing a new year. It was bleak and then the Beatles showed up. They were refreshing. They added some pep to rock and roll. Rock and roll took off. At first the Beatles were all sunshine and lollipops. It wasn't too different, but hidden beneath the charming mop tops were some serious musicians and song writers.
"Once they wooed us, we watched the cocoon they came crumble. Instead of four lovely boys from Liverpool, they became magnificent butterflies. They did things with music no one had ever done before. Their orchestrations accompanied carefully crafted lyrics," Dury said. "I preferred Bach and Beethoven, but like everyone else, I needed a good laugh. The Beatles charmed me into listening to rock and roll. It was the one blemish on my otherwise stellar childhood."
"They made us smile, and much more importantly, they made us listen. We loved the second British invasion and by the time their first tour of America was over, everyone was talking about the Beatles. It was impossible to be depressed with the Beatles tickling our fancy. We tapped our feet and sang along."
"The Beatles?" Keith said.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah!" Gary sang. "'The Beatles are coming! The Beatles are coming,' is how our local rock and roll station advertised them. I think it was meant to be like Paul Revere's, 'The British are coming. The British are coming."
"That's cute," Keith said. "I don't remember the music you're talking about, but my father had Sgt. Pepper. It was insane. There were roasters crowing and entire orchestras playing. I love it."
"Good Morning! Good Morning! Good morning!" Gary sang.
"That's it!" Keith said. "That's how that part of the record started."
"Speaking of which, I get the Martin Luther King and civil rights connection to a legal career, and you'd have to be brain dead to miss how Kennedy's assassination figured into it, but legally speaking, what kept you on track? It's not an easy road to hoe, Dury," Gary said.
"I was born in 1968," Keith said. "I have no actual memory of the events you've discussed. You've told me more tonight than I ever knew," Keith said.
"I started law school in 1968. There were cases from 1967 and 1968 that were part of my studies, Keith. They were history making and kept me tuned in on the law as well as those times."
"Now we're getting somewhere. I remember stuff from back then. I was thirteen and I paid a little more attention, just not in school."
"We were required to read about the most notorious cases. We needed to know which cases established new law. Like after Kennedy's assassination, it became a federal crime to kill a president or other high powered politicians."
"The FBI wouldn't need to steal any more bodies?" Keith asked. "Where was Hoover when all that hanky panky with Kennedy's body was going on?"
"Bethesda Naval Hospital, where they took Kennedy's body, was a federal facility. That was FBI territory. You can bet an agent was on the phone with Hoover every step of the way."
"The FBI was there when they did the autopsy?" Keith asked.
"They were in the room during the autopsy," Dury said.
"You think one of the Hoover boys stuck Kennedy's brain in his pocket?" Gary asked.
"Took it for Hoover to bronze and use as a paperweight?" Keith asked.
"That would give them motive an opportunity," Dury said.
"I bet the conversation went something like, 'Hey, if you get a chance, snag that brain, I'll bronze it and use it for a paperweight.'"
"They never found the missing brain?" Gary asked.
"Not that I'm aware of. JFK was buried without it," Dury said.
"Weird," Gary said. "How do you loose a guys brain?"
"The guy being the president of the United States," Keith said. "It's hard to believe that kind of negligence was allowed. That's pretty sloppy."
"No love lost between the Kennedy's and J. Edgar," Dury said. "Bobby was J. Edgar's boss. He gave him orders. He should have saved his breath."
"Hoover had something on the Kennedy's?" Gary asked.
"Uh huh. J. Edgar had one of those, 'We wouldn't want this to get out' conversations with Bobby about his brother. He made himself understood."
"What wouldn't we want to get out?" Gary asked.
"Women!" Dury said.
"The Kennedy's were stallions?" Gary said.
"Uh huh," Dury said. "Big time."
"Aren't men like that expected to excel in the bedroom?" Keith asked.
"That's my impression," Gary said.
"That excellence kept J. Edgar in gossip for decades," Dury said.
"How does a guy like that become the head of a police organization," Keith asked.
"Very carefully," Dury said. "He was collecting information on powerful people to secure his place as the director. He knew how to get cooperation when he needed it. 'We wouldn't want this to get out, now would we?'" Dury said.
"He sounds scary," Keith said.
"If you were looking at pictures or listening to a tape of you making love with a woman not your wife, you were anxious to cooperate."
"What if they were gay?" Keith asked.
"In Hoover's day, just the being part was illegal. You didn't need to do anything," Dury said.
"That guy should have been in jail," Gary said.
"Some of the cases I reviewed followed a certain logic. Others were as mysterious as JFK's assassination. Long on questions, short on answers."
"The history makes no sense by design or by accident?" Gary asked. "Making sense would be nice," Keith said.
"Well, gentlemen, while I'm enjoying all aspects of our history lesson, I can't help but yield to the call of nature. I've got to pee again," Gary said. "A drink might be in order too. History dries me out."
"If you didn't drink so much, you wouldn't pee so much," Dury rationalized.
"Remind me to write that down when I come back," Gary said. "I still need a drink," Gary said. "Now that I'm on milk, I better stick with milk. It was good. No end to the vices I've been exposed to tonight?"
"Thanks for the milk, Keith, and coffee too! That's a good idea."
The three men finished stretching their legs before sitting down to see where the conversation took them. Dury had an attorney's knowledge and he lived during the events he talked about and had a memory of them."
"Did the death of Kennedy make that much difference?" Gary asked. "I only remember him from film clips I've seen. I don't remember much before I was ten or eleven."
"President Kennedy wanted a more friendly foreign affairs policy. He favored talking over bombing. He believed we needed to live together without blowing each other up. He was against nuclear war. Had he not been president during the Cuban missile crisis, we might not be here now. The generals wanted to invade Cuba and take out the nukes. Kennedy wouldn't do that. He knew an invasion of Cuba with the Russian presence there would mean all out nuclear war."
"George Bush wouldn't have given it a second thought?" Gary said.
"And we'd have been vaporized," Dury said. "Kennedy and Khrushchev began talking disarmament after coming close to war over Cuba in 1962. Neither liked having his finger on the nuclear button. Curtis Le May advised Kennedy to invade Cuba. When Kennedy said no, Le May accused him of the 'Worst appeasement since Nevilla Chamberlain.'
"There's a movie, Dr. Strangelove. They made it after the Cuban missile crisis. It shows the absurdity of nuclear war and the men who want to wage it. It was funny as long as it stayed satire."
"Have things changed that much since the 60s?" Keith asked.
"Seeing where the country has gone since the assassinations of the 60s eliminated the most progressive thinkers. Today there are no liberal ideas. The democrats are where the Republicans once were. The Republicans are so far right they scare me. Heaven help us if they get control of the entire government."
"So a lot changed after Kennedy died?" Gary asked.
"Not that we noticed. Johnson declared he'd get all of Kennedy's ideas set into law. Being a cagey politician, he merely put Kennedy's name on his own ideas and congress passed everything he sent to them. No one wanted to mess with a martyred president.
"Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and Medicare. He did it in Kennedy's name. Which means no, at first there was no apparent change, until Johnson started the Vietnam war, during his reelection campaign."
"Vietnam sunk him," Gary said. "'I shall not seek, nor will I accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.'"
"Very good, Gary. I didn't think you followed politics," Dury said.
"I wasn't a dummy. I was growing up. My ass was going to Vietnam if that war kept going. It was stupid poor kids that fought that war. I knew I was going."
"I don't remember the war or the troops coming home," Keith said.
"How'd Nixon get in?" Gary asked. "Johnson didn't step aside to see Nixon get elected."
"Bobby Kennedy was assassinated after winning the California primary. Nixon was a shrewd politician and his name was well known. He promised law and order and a secret plan to end the war. He said what people wanted to hear."
"So Nixon began changing things," Gary said.
"Nixon was a pretty good president. He was progressive. Change took off during Reagan's administration. He favored big business and the rich people. People like him. When he was done, the middle class was shrinking. Today the distance between the rich and everyone else is massive. People who work for a living are losing ground. The rich, benefiting from labor, are obscenely rich."
"Reaganomics," Gary said. "Trickle down and we get trickled on," Gary said.
"Pretty much," Dury said.
"How do we build a self-sustaining community people can afford?" Keith asked. "I don't see the economy improving."
"We have a big advantage over most folks who go into business," Dury said. "I want to hear about that," Keith said.
"I'll finance the project. We won't be getting robbed by banksters. The rest is up to you two," Dury said. "My brain is tired getting that far."
"Thanks, buddy," Gary said. "How do we do what you're planning?"
"One step at a time, Gary. We've got to get the property before we can do anything. Why get ahead of ourselves? When the time comes, we'll figure it out."
"You have more faith in me than I have in me," Gary said. "I never had much of an imagination."
"No matter how you build it, I can feed them," Keith said.
"I can build it as soon as I know what it is," Gary said.
"Patience! We allow it to happen, gentlemen. What we won't do is skimp. It'll be a place where people want to live."
"Everything that's bigger is better, since I began building houses in the '70s. When I began, times were good. Houses got bigger. Now with the cost of electricity, the electric bill is half the mortgage in big homes. Keep that in mind."
"We have the advantage there as well. We belong to the thinking class. It doesn't matter if climate change is real or some uncontrollable cosmic force. We'll do our part to make it safer and less expensive to live. That benefits us as well as the people living there."
"Mixing politics with preservation sounds strange," Keith said.
"I was a boy scout. We left a a place better than we found it," Dury said.
"I wonder if oil company executives were boy scouts?" Gary asked.
"If so, they failed to heed that lesson," Dury said.
"Or they're making so much money and getting so rich, destroying the earth isn't a factor in their thinking," Keith said.
"We'll change it one street at a time and maybe it'll catch on," Dury said.
"I hate to admit it, I've never been much of a thinker," Keith said. "I wouldn't want to hold you guys back."
"I wasn't the sharpest tack in class either. I was good at math," Gary said thoughtfully. "Not great. I did fine in gym. I was good in shop. I was always good with my hands. I liked music. Who didn't like 60s music? 60's rule, I should have paid more attention. I'm not sure I'll be that much help."
"You were a genius compared to me," Keith said. "Most subjects either didn't interest me or I couldn't focus. I didn't like anything, especially gym. I was embarrassed by being skinny. I rushed through the shower so fast I barely got wet, but you had to shower. One of the gym teachers made sure you showered."
"I bet he liked patting the boys on the butt when they came out of the shower," Gary said.
"He never patted my skinny ass. I'd remember something like that," Keith said. "i was more worried about getting hard. I never dared look at other boys, but knowing we were all naked was the most exciting thing in my life. I guess I was a real mess. I still don't like being naked, even when I'm alone. I thought about killing myself a few times. Then I decided to run away. One day I did."
"That's what wrong with our school system. You're an intelligent man, Keith. You should have done well in school. Possibly your trouble at home kept you from focusing on school," Dury said.
"I did hate going home," Keith said. "Then I didn't go home any more."
"I didn't have a problem in gym," Gary said. "I wanted to see who was a better man than me at thirteen. I think that's why I was checking out the other boys in the shower. I knew what most guys were sporting. I knew where I fit into the food chain where girls were concerned. Never did any good. Most girls couldn't be bothered with boys their own age. Maybe that's why we worried so much about what we had to offer. I wasn't the only one checking things out either," Gary said.
"I was a good Catholic boy in good Catholic schools. We weren't allowed to have impure thoughts, unlike the heathens our priests warned about. That would be you two. A boy who diddled another boy was going straight to hell. Don't pass go. Don't collect two hundred dollars."
"The heathens the priests were diddling between classes, didn't they count?" Gary asked. "I heard stories about those priests."
"You see! Always picking on the poor Catholics. Our priests were celibate. They told us so," Dury said. "It was their job to inspect us. We had to be clean for the Lord. You obviously mean some other priests."
"I bet that's what they told you," Gary said. "They wear dresses for Christ sake. That should give you a hint."
"They aren't dresses," Dury assured him. "When my friend Dalton turned twelve, Father Mychael began inspecting him more often. When ever the subject came up, Dalton turned red. We were all in school together and Dalton was well developed at twelve. I figured there was some hanky panky going on. My inspection took five minutes. It was embarrassing but the priests ran the show. You did what they said, no questions asked."
"Father Mychael was doing more than a superficial inspection," Keith said. "He was sweet on your friend."
"I asked Dalton once, why does Father Mychael call you out of class so often? Does he inspect you the whole time you're over there?"
"'Sure! Gets me out of class and I get a glass of wine if I don't act too eager. He doesn't rap my knuckles any more. Father Mychael said I had more to keep clean than most boys.'"
"You believe that and you ain't as smart as I thunk you was," Gary kidded. "Dalton was getting a lot more than clean."
"You ought to charge that priest with something, Dury," Keith said.
"For putting a smile on Dalton's face? We were twelve. We were told to do whatever the priests told us. We did. It didn't warp us too badly."
"Boy, those priests had a sweet racket going," Gary said.
"And Einstein's brain was better developed than his contemporaries. His had bigger blood vessels. It was no bigger than the average brain," Dury said.
"He was endowed with big blood vessels," Keith said. "You'd hardly notice."
"Size isn't everything, my man," Gary said.
"His college professors didn't want Einstein to teach. They couldn't conceive of him doing anything else. Einstein was the smartest one in class, including the professor," Dury said. "Einstein didn't want to teach. He knew things other people couldn't conceive. He did have two problems. He was the smartest man around. He knew he was the smartest man around. Most people wanted to bring him down a peg or two."
"Not much I have in common with Einstein," Keith said.
"I think both of you might have more in common with Einstein than you think. We are too busy teaching mediocrity to recognize gifted kids. The public schools have too many students in a class and the best teachers have stopped teaching. Kids are indoctrinated, regimented, and taught to obey. Great if you have the biggest war machine in the world, but not so hot exposing creativity and for kids who don't react well to teaching to the test."
"Don't they need to make schools that way to teach all the kids? There isn't enough money to do it any other way and teach so many kids," Gary said.
"Ah, money, how many wars are we running now? How much are we spending to fight those wars? The war on drugs is part of that system. Start spending that money on education, teach critical thinking, it'll improve. Let the rich folks do what my folks did, pay to get the education they want their children to have. Charter schools are about getting their hands on public school funds."
"Had Einstein been in our public schools, he is as likely to have been missed as discovered. Like you two were missed. They didn't reach you with a cookie cutter approach. What if instead of having meals prepared in a factory and trucked to the school each day, the home economics classes cooked a variety of meals, serving them to the students as part of their training. Keith, you might have found your calling.
"Lord knows if someone had come to Gary and handed him a level, and talked about how they built the pyramids, or the Capitol dome, or the Pentagon, they'd have gotten his attention. He might have been discovered, and some contractor would have bent over backwards to recruit him.
"No, we can't afford good schools with the best teachers. We need to buy bombs and don't forget the next generation of fighter jet. We haven't even used the last generation of fighter jet, but we keep building them because they make people rich. We have enough aircraft carrier battle fleets to stretch half way around the world. We keep on building aircraft carriers. You think the Chinese haven't figured out a way to destroy aircraft carriers? The Chinese build the electronics that go into them. You think they forgot to put a backdoor into that software?"
"We don't spend more on teaching and less on war, because the rich and powerful thrive during a war. As we get dumber, we become more obedient and easier to control. It won't matter how many aircraft carrier battle fleets we have."
"I'm not sure an Einstein, or people like you, super talented in one area or another, aren't brushed aside to teach to the test. It's what we can afford and the best teachers quit,
"If we run out of wars, we can declare war on pizza. I must have gained twenty pounds eating pizza alone. It's too good to be legal, don't you think?"
"You should be careful. Don't give the politicians any ideas," Dury said. "They could lock us all up for eating pizza."
"You guys like that cookie cutter food? It's all mass produced. To cook pizza you need a third grade education and two hands," Keith said.
"Spoken like a true gourmet," Dury said. "You two prove my case. People like you are exceptional in your field. Your brains are wired in a unique way. We're all different and we all learn differently. You didn't have success in school because you weren't challenged. Most kids follow along, do what they're told. Is that being educated or indoctrinated?"
"We're programmed to accept the status quo. The builder, the chef, the oil rig worker, the salesman, sit beside each other in school. If you want to be an attorney or brain surgeon, you're right on track. What if you're a genius at mechanics? Will you really do well in Latin? Me thinks not," Dury said. "Your kind of genius assures you'll succeed. What makes you good at cooking and you a good contractor is your ability to learn by seeing and doing, hands-on. One on one I'd guess in most instances."
"It took ten years before I could do carpentry half ass or lay bricks on the level. You couldn't learn that in a classroom."
"Mostly cooking is memory and judgment. When you are willing to experiment you learn the art of cooking," Keith said. "Throw away the measuring cup. You need to go by instinct. A dish should never taste exactly the same two times in a row."
"Ah, we have an Einstein among us. You color outside the lines, but you know, Keith, you must color inside the lines. What if everyone colored outside the lines? We'd have chaos. If the old masters of the Renaissance were forced to paint by the numbers, they'd have hung up their paint brushes to become plumbers," Dury said.
"In other words we lose as much as we gain by teaching everyone the same subjects at the same pace," Gary said. "So, I wasn't stupid?"
"You were a round peg they forced into a square hole, Gary."
"They can't afford to do something different for students who don't learn through regimented programs," Keith said.
"How many wars are we fighting at the moment?" Dury asked. "We should spend as much on the future of the countries as we spend on making war profiteers richer. War accomplishes nothing but make future wars necessary."
"That's the American way, Dury," Gary said. "Why talk when you can bomb the hell out of people you don't like? What did the guy in 'Apocalypse Now' say?
'I love the smell of napalm in the morning. ...Smells like victory.' A guy that loves the smell of burning human flesh is on his way to being a general. We have plenty of bombs. What we don't have are enough good schools."
"My parents were not rich," Dury said. "We had a house. I went to the best school in Washington D.C., St. Albans. I went to Columbia law. Only my father worked. This was my life. I was given every opportunity to become a big time lawyer, and I became one."
"We know that and you've said the education system was there to see that you made something of yourself. Of the three of us in the room, that makes one of us, and I consider myself a master builder."
"As you should. Today well to do families send their kids to school much like I was sent to school. Should one of their kids fail, there are endless tutors and more schooling. It's expensive, but they are the well to do. Poor kids get to go to public school. none of that and now public school money is spent on charter schools and public school money is spent on charter schools.
"The smartest man I ever met never finished eighth grade. He helped in the preparation of his case and he understood law. He should, he'd spent fifteen years in prison and he was going back for five more years. That's at a cost of over $40,000 a year. Had he been educated properly, he'd have been earning more than $40,000 a year and paying taxes, but that's not how we do it."
"That's $800,000 he'd have earned instead of costing the taxpayer that amount right off the top," Gary said.
"I'll never see half of $800,000 in my life of cooking. Why didn't he put his brain to work for him?"
"He had no shot as a kid. Once he discovered drugs, he didn't take them, he sold them. He made top dollar. He was convicted and sent to jail at fifteen. His life was over. He'd never be considered for most jobs. He educated himself in prison. That's when inmates had access to education. As smart as he was, no one would hire him. He was a convicted felon."
"So, in a manner of speaking, he never had a chance as a kid, and then no one would give him a chance?" Keith said.
"Speaking of talking, staying up all night isn't wise when you have work to do in the morning. I've got calls to make in the morning on the St. James project. I should be at my best."
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