A year after Bill quit school to work as a farm hand full time Hiram asked him to help John out in the salvage yard on Sundays. John expostulated on world affairs and the opinions of pundits on the evening news, while Bill’s mind wandered on rhyming phonemes. Occasionally, Bill would listen enough to point out an error in some historical allusion or another.
John read the Communist Manifesto (Littlefield City clerk Ellie Ann Dinztenze an ardent Trump supporter for sketchy reasons, looks at the 21 year old white male sitting in the breakroom reading the Communist Manifesto and says, “whaddaya doin’ reading that stuff for? Stuff like that doesn’t belong in our school systems, and I shouldn’t have to see you reading it in the lunch room!” She then assists a “customer” by signing off on his petition for a concealed pistol permit. He is a 50 year old family man who doesn’t take anti anxiety medication but should. “Don’t forget to sign the petition to remove the teaching of Latin from from the course offerings at the University,” she says pointing to a kiosk with a placard above it that reads, “Make Our Schools Great Again.” “No use teaching kids languages nobody speaks anymore.”)
John found the historical perspective of Marxism a handy way to order the past but the idea of a benevolent force of workers the world over was simply preposterous. That was zombie-ism to John; a world where the individual was always in the cage. The person may find a place of comfort to while away existence but was always subject to conscription into the military, prison, hospital, or school. One had to have his spirit taken from him in order to serve the group. Bill had heard Marx discussed often among Virgie’s friends. Like John, he came to the conclusion that Marx leveled the telescope at a business custodianship of society while enabling a state control under the guise of “the people.”
Communism and capitalism were both measures to control the masses for the ideological benefit of each member of the whole. Yet, the Russian premier is obviously not of equal value to a Russian farmer; the American corporate board member is not of equal value to a laborer. John said, “to sacrifice yourself to history is to sacrifice yourself to the regime; to accept that you are not the chosen one, anyone’s chosen one. It’s phony servitude to something called a “community,” which is nothing more than a cadre of plutocrats who say their rules and laws are on behalf of the “community.” Only, the “community” doesn’t have any real say. Administrative systems are designed with the ability to subvert the wills of the lesser in value to the community.”
“Sounds like the cop that beats you up then says he didn’t do it, you did it to yourself,” said Bill.
“Hah! Right man. Something like that. I was thinking about the history of the thinking of men.(It’s 1958. He means both men and women when he says “men.”) I was just thinking in the sense of belonging to a global brotherhood first, a nation second. It would be great if we could all just stop competing against each other but it’s never going to happen. “Government for a few” controls things in America as well, whether we like it or not.” Then echoing his mother, John added, “but somebody’s gotta be on top. It might as well be us,” as he yanked a fender off a 43 Chevy. Bill, who had been standing nearby with a torch in his hand, nodded and said, “sure,” then struck the torch.
John worried about entering the military. He excelled in ROTC, but that was play compared to war. He knew he would have to sacrifice himself and assist others, and if ordered to rush enemy fire there was no refusing. He didn’t think the globe was capable of being a collective of nationalities that shared their own resources benevolently and unselfishly, nor did he see any nation giving over its political authority to another nation in lasting peace. John saw the need to defend one’s own people, but war tore apart families. Allegiances were made to nation, whatever the political system. There was a social hierarchy and many layers of government asserting control over everyone until they died. He could understand loyalty to the mechanism of community that made his present condition possible but he failed to see why God would protect one community over another.
He knew he had more choices than most other nations; Stalin and Mao certainly didn’t come to mind as commanders any American would willingly make sacrifices for; communism was a cold death trap where everyone was a ward of the state. Still, the commitment of a soldier to his unit and to the hierarchy of command was a human action the world over. Armies went to battle with other groups of soldiers of other nationalities who also rallied behind a symbol of the soldier making a sacrifice for his country; and that meant that MacArthur and Eisenhower were also symbols that confronted every American soldier.
Bill confided that he was happy to have the bad foot if it got him out of the war. He wouldn’t want to defend the nation so much as his privilege to walk through the countryside and smell the weeds and catch a fish. It wasn’t people, it was the place that meant something to Bill. For some reason, he needed to be there, in Littlefield, even though he didn’t feel like he belonged there.
Rita watched through the kitchen window disapprovingly as Bill helped Hiram around the salvage yard and she became more and more insistent that John stay away from him. The gossip about the Dinklpfuss boy made it impossible for Rita to defend Hiram’s reputation to the ladies at church. She told Hiram to stop asking Bill into the house for dinner. Hiram complained that she knew him better than any of those women at church. She assured him that, yes, she did, and pointed out Bill’s standoffish look and effeminate posture. And didn’t she hear him lisp a couple times?
“Bill doesn’t lisp,” John asserted mockingly. “He’s a good guy and it isn’t fair for you to judge him.” Nonetheless, John was to stay away from him just to make sure.
“The boy works here for chrissake” said Hiram.
“He’s a big kid, Hiram. John may be strong but what if that other kid attacked him?”
“Oh, for God’s sake! Will you listen to yourself?” Hiram said incredulously. “This is about John, isn’t it? What you’re really worried about is John not liking girls.”
“Oh, shut up. A mother can love her son. And it’s her duty to look after him.” Hiram turned away and walked outside to work in the yard.
Rita turned to John and said, “I just want what’s best for you, John because I love you.” John couldn’t say anything more. His mother’s “I love you” was final.
After Bill dropped out of school he saw less of John. Kids in letter jackets and sweaters rode with John around the countryside smoking pot and drinking beer, hanging out at the Drive-In across the street, admiring John’s hot rod. Bill watched the laughing girls, the shouting boys, from a distance. One girl in particular, a wispy and quiet natural blonde, one who stayed back from the rest caught Bill’s interest. But it hurt to feel longing. Bill didn’t belong. He couldn’t play the game and make believe. He didn’t like sports, dancing, playing cat and mouse with the girls at the soda fountain. He often was at a loss to define anything he really cared to do but walk in the woods.
Hiram often caught John drinking and was concerned, but tried to downplay it with Rita. Some boys had more to get out of their system than others. John’s grades declined and he was removed from varsity football but he excelled at ROTC. Hiram was worried, Rita was elated. “Good heavens” she said to Hiram, “who cares if he is committed to football as long as he is committed to his country?”
“Football players don’t die playing king on the mountain,” said Hiram.
“No. They just die all stupid in the head with broken bodies.”
“Guess it’s the same,” said Hiram. And he kissed his wife.
Hiram employed Bill into John’s senior year in high school. John ditched Connie Van Innern and started dating Stacy Milliner, the same wispy little natural blonde with hazel eyes and a sad look of resignation whom Bill noticed. Stacy wasn’t a cheerleader, wasn’t popular, and took little to no interest in school. She just looked good in jeans. Her movements were soft and slow, as though giving the impression she was sleeping and did not want to be disturbed. She had a beautiful downy tan patina on her arms, with dimples on her elbows and wrists that mesmerized John. Bill too, from a distance.
Breaking up with Connie Van Innern drew the contempt of the jock inner circle and John wasn’t asked to parties anymore, or picked up by fellow students in muscle cars wearing lettered jackets. He spent his time swooning over Stacy at her family’s farm cleaning out the stalls and coops with her father and brothers, and helping them work on their cars. He didn’t do his school homework anymore and he didn’t have any idea what he was going to do with his future. Mr. Milliner pressed him. “oughtta join the army, son. It’ll make a man outta ya. An officer makes good money you know.”
John had already been thinking that, even though he had to commit to four years he was better off than if he were enlisted for two. So when he passed his 18th birthday he became convinced that was the way to go and enlisted in the army. The night before he was to leave for the service, Stacy broke the news to him that there was someone else; that she had been seeing the both of them and she had decided to marry the other guy.
John was stunned he could’ve dated Stacy for a year and not have considered that she would have other suitors. He felt his life force sink. He had spent so much time with her family, yet had no clue Stacy was seeing this other guy. He couldn’t believe what a fool he had been. He would have to pull it together because he was going to be a soldier. The United States of America would indeed make a man out of him, whether he wanted to be one or not.