Category Archives: Count

Colonel Nishi – Background for COUNT

Chapter 10 of Max Blue’s first novel, For Those In Peril On the Sea, tells the story of Booker T. McCan’s experience with Japanese Colonel Nishi after the young black American is captured on the Island of Iwo Jima, in February, 1945. Max was venting some outrages he had experienced growing up in America. Again, this is background for the soon to be published novel COUNT.

COLONEL NISHI AND THE BbROWNS

Mac was led stumbling in the darkness blindfolded, his arms arrested tightly at his sides, through a narrow winding passageway, up two flights of wooden steps, and finally into a small room carved out of the earth and lighted only by a bare electric bulb hanging from a slim cord. When his blindfold was removed Mac saw a sparely furnished room; a table, a chair, a low stool.  He heard the melancholy sounds of Duke Ellington’s  Mood Indigo. A large, detailed map of the island was secured to one wall. On the table were a field telephone, a bottle of brandy, and two glasses. Sitting behind the table, facing away from Mac, was a Japanese officer. Other than movies, it was the first Japanese Mac had ever seen. It was the Baron: Colonel Nishi.

The colonel sat quietly, smoking a cigarette, listening to the music.  At length he stood and turned to face the wide-eyed young American. He smiled in satisfaction at the look of astonishment on Mac’s face. Mac, with his Hollywood-inspired knowledge of what all Japanese looked like, was totally unprepared for Colonel Nishi. First, the colonel did not look at all like a monkey, in fact, Mac was struck by how much he looked like Count, his old mentor in Peoria. Secondly, although Mac had grown to an imposing six feet two inches, the Baron was an inch taller. Third, the colonel did not wear thick glasses, and finally, to Mac’s utter confusion, the Baron was wearing a St. Louis Browns baseball cap.

Colonel Nishi stood directly in front of Mac, grasped the chain of his dog tags for a close look, and said, in a basso profundo voice that also caught Mac by surprise, “So you are Booker T. McCan? Welcome to Iwo Jima.”

Mac was stunned. Here, standing before him was a man who must be his enemy, who surely intended to kill him, and yet was speaking to him in unaccented English. To top it off, the man appeared to be friendly. It made no sense. It must be a dream.

“Why did you kill my brother?” Mac blurted.

Colonel Nishi blinked, shook his head slightly, stepped back, shook his head again, then turned and poured himself a glass of brandy. He took a large draught, swallowed it slowly, then lighted a cigarette with a small pocket lighter, all the while never taking his eyes off Mac who stood defiantly before him.

“Why did I kill your brother . . .” The question was repeated as a statement. The colonel stared at Mac in surprise . . .what was this all about? The colonel circled behind Mac regarding him with some interest . . . was it possible that he had at long last come across a thoughtful American? One capable of an abstract question? Very well, he would give him an answer.

“It goes back a long way, Mr. McCan,” said the Baron. “Before you were born. It goes back forty years.” The colonel circled behind Mac once again, his mind rewinding to recall long suppressed memories. He stopped, and spoke to the back of Mac’s head. “My family came to America because we were told it was the land of opportunity. My father and mother settled in California; they sent my sister and me to school. We learned. It was a happy time. I became a teacher. A teacher of mathematics.”

Colonel Nishi walked in circles around Mac as he spoke. He no longer looked at Mac, but seemed to be gazing into the distance beyond the confining walls of the dismal cell that contained them. Mood Indigo continued to play. Mac thought of Flapper Jackson, also a teacher of mathematics.

Colonel Nishi continued. “Your name is Booker T. . . . I wonder if you know anything about the man you are named for?”

Mac was startled. He had never thought much about his name.

“In nineteen fifteen, the year Booker T. Washington died, I came to Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to teach mathematics. Booker T. Washington founded that school. He knew that education was important, and he built a fine institution at Tuskegee. I was proud to be part of it.”

Mac listened in gathering amazement; why was this man telling him this story?

The colonel continued. “I was educated in California, but when I came to Alabama I received a different kind of education. I saw a different side of America. I saw meanness. I saw ignorance. I saw hate. I saw hypocrisy. I saw uneducated white people trying to prove their own worthiness by degrading intelligent and sensitive black professors. I experienced the same degrading practices because, even though I wasn’t black, I was different. I was yellow, and I had slanty eyes.”

The colonel stopped pacing, and stood facing Mac, looking into his eyes. Mac, his upper body still roped, returned the gaze, never blinking. “Do you know what I’m talking about . . . NIGGER?”  The last word was a shout. Mac blinked. He was confused. This man was the enemy he had sworn to kill. He thought about Bucks Fulton. He thought about his billet as a mess attendant. He thought about his brother Davey as a mess attendant. Colonel Nishi, looking deep into Mac’s eyes, found a flicker of understanding.

“Listen carefully, young man,” he said, and resumed pacing.  He spoke as he paced. “I thought it would be different in the north, so I moved to St. Louis, and began teaching at SoldanHigh   School. In the summer I played baseball.” The colonel stopped in front of Mac to see his reaction to this news. Mac was puzzled.

“Yes, baseball,” said the colonel.  “Does that surprise you? Did you know that baseball is the national game of Japan? You see our countries are not as different as you might think.”

This piece of news hit Mac hard. It did not seem right. His anger at the Japanese flared again . . . another treacherous act; baseball was America’s game.

“I was a very good baseball player,” the colonel mused, again seeing beyond the walls, talking aloud to himself. “I was a pitcher.” He smiled as he recalled desperate lunges at his deliveries.

But now his smile disappeared, and he turned back to Mac. “Our team was called ‘the All Nations’. Listen carefully McCan, this is important. On that team were three white men: a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Jew. There were also five negroes, two Cubans, a Hawaiian, an American Indian, and me, a Japanese. If baseball is a metaphor for life, and it is, this team proved to all who could see, that people of different races can get along with each other and work together for the benefit of all.”

Mac knew little of metaphor; he had once played basketball in Metamora, a hamlet near Peoria, but he too had teamed with players of mixed and wildly diverse backgrounds, origins, and beliefs. He was unmoved by the colonel’s words. What was there to prove? He remained defiant.

“That team was good enough to compete with the best teams in the country, and we proved it on the field many times. We beat teams with Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth on them.” The colonel said it with pride in his voice, and paused to savor the thought. Like all former ball players, when he jogged his memory he could recall singular pitches and plays years after the event. He remembered the sound, and his disgust, when Ruth’s bat crashed against what he thought was one of his better pitches.

“Two of the white men on ‘the All Nations’, went on to play in the Major Leagues, but the rest of us were not allowed, and believe me it wasn’t because we weren’t good enough.”

The colonel stopped for a moment, as a different thought crossed his mind. He turned again to Mac and said, “Some people blamed your namesake, Booker T. Washington. He once made an important speech in which he said that negroes and whites should be separated. The powerful white community loved that, and it became the law.” He paused. “ . . . In nineteen twenty the Negro National Baseball League was formed, and I got a job playing for the St. Louis Giants. Those were exciting times.” Colonel Nishi’s eyes shone. “Think of it, Booker T. I was paid to play baseball! Not a pittance either, five dollars a game, and sometimes a bonus for a good performance. Oh, yes. Exciting times. What did we care if the white leagues wouldn’t let us in? We had our own league, and we felt good about it. The league had a motto: ‘We are the ship, all else the sea.’” The colonel smiled sadly.  “Brave words. Defiant words, and yet sorrowful. A ship is always at the mercy of the sea.”

As he talked, the colonel paced back and forth, smoking one cigarette after another. He walked to the corner of the room and changed the record that had been turning for some time with no music coming out. He carefully lifted the needle and placed the arm in its cradle. He looked through a stack of black 78 rpm records until he found the one he wanted. He placed it on the rotating turntable and set the needle. The haunting sounds of Billie Holiday singing Melancholy Baby filled the room. Momentarily the colonel stood quietly, thinking about the ship, the sea, and the melancholy. Then he resumed pacing.

“The nineteen twenties were good years for me. In the winter I taught mathematics at SoldanHigh School, and in the summer I played baseball for the St. Louis Stars who replaced the Giants in nineteen twenty two. That was the year the St. Louis Browns almost won the white American League pennant. George Sisler hit four twenty, but they still lost to the Yankees . . . by just one game. That loss took on great meaning for me as the years passed. I began to see the Yankees as white America and the Browns as brown America. Another metaphor, Booker T.”

Another metaphor. Mac’s mind was racing. He was listening carefully, as instructed. White America. Brown America. Metaphor. He thought of the glorious sunset on the broad Pacific that night on the troop transport out of San   Francisco. He thought of Holy Communion. Metaphor. White America. Brown america. Yankees-browns.

The colonel continued. “Beginning with that heart-wrenching loss in nineteen twenty two, I saw the competition deteriorate, and the Bbrowns took some fearsome beatings over the years.” The Colonel turned suddenly to look at Mac and asked, “What year were you born?”

“Nineteen twenty eight,” answered Booker T.

The colonel thought for a moment, looked at Mac sadly, and placed his open palm gently on Mac’s cheek. “So young,” he said.

Mac flushed in embarrassment. His anger was slipping into curiosity. Did this man really care about him? Or was it just another deception?

“Nineteen twenty eight,” said the colonel. “Yes. The Browns finished third with their new first baseman, Lu Blue. The Yankees ruled. They swept the Cardinals in the World Series. Gehrig homered once in game two, twice in game three, and once in game four. Ruth homered three times in game four. It was brutal. In nineteen thirty nine the Bbrowns hit bottom: one hundred eleven losses. I too hit bottom: too old to play baseball, battered by the Depression. The Browns were me. I was the browns.”

Colonel Nishi stopped pacing long enough to change the record. This time it was Lena Horne singing Stormy Weather. He walked back to the desk, took a handful of steel-tipped darts out of a drawer, and began slinging them in an underhand motion at a corkboard attached to a far wall. The circular board was painted into pie-shaped sections lettered with baseball symbols: 3B, FO, KO, SAC, etc.  In the center was a small circle with the symbol HR.

“I always went to SportsmansPark when the Yankees came to town. Hoping. Hoping this would be the day things would change. It was cruel. The Yankees were so powerful, the Browns were so helpless. Few could stand to watch the ridicule. One day I counted fifty four people in the grandstand and ten in the bleachers; the park could hold thirty six thousand. It was nineteen thirty nine; hope had yielded to despair. Do you understand despair, Booker T.?”

Mac had seen despair in the eyes of men sitting on the back steps of his Peoria home, eating the food his mother had prepared. But a new thought boiled to the surface of his understanding. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, despair had given way to exhilaration. The U.S. was alive and full of purpose. Should we thank the Japanese? Mac did not feel despair at this moment, but he sensed that the colonel did.

“The Browns had an unexcelled ability to break their fans’ hearts. How can I forget the day they led the Yankees by two runs with nobody on base and two men out in the top of the ninth? Then, with the suddenness of doom the Yankees loaded the bases on an error and two walks, and brought Gehrig to the plate. In nineteen thirty nine Gehrig was a dying man, but with a bat in his hand he was still dangerous, and God knows, a man who had punished the Browns unmercifully over the years.” The colonel paused as he remembered.

“There was an irony here. Gehrig was a fine man, unthreatened by, and unafraid to speak out for the browns. He saw no reason why they should be prevented from playing in the Major Leagues, and he said so. He, like all the others, played against  browns in exhibition games. He saw the absurdity when brown Cubans like Roberto Estalella were not considered negroes because they could speak Spanish and so were allowed to play. Your country, Booker T., is riddled with paradox: massive and senseless ill treatment of minorities; beacons of outrage like Gehrig.” Once again the colonel paused to reflect.

“Your country is riddled with paradox . . . AND SO IS MINE!” He threw a handful of darts at the board in an outburst of fury and frustration.

The colonel stalked back and forth, wanting his boiling rage to subside. Only slowly did it do so. He would speak again. He wanted to make his point. Like all the best teachers, he became so lost in his logical thought train that he forgot his audience. Mac was but an onlooker. An onlooker taking furious mental notes. With the last outburst, a new parameter had been introduced into the equation. Mac was beginning to see. Captured by the colonel’s intensity, no longer being lectured, he waited for the next point in the lesson. He imagined Gehrig, the good-hearted Yankee, husbanding his energy with slow and menacing bat strokes, glaring with murderous, but not evil, intent at the reluctant pitcher. He imagined the besieged Brownie hurler, the brown, grinding the ball into his hip, walking off the mound to pick up the rosin bag, avoiding the confrontation, seeing the dancing base runners, wishing he did not have to deliver the ball … hoping for a miracle.

“I was afraid to look,” the colonel continued. “What I heard made me wince. The crack of ball meeting solid wood. When I looked up I saw the runners circling the bases at the top of their speed. But I also saw, to my amazement, the first baseman camping under a ball hit so high it was almost out of sight. Gehrig had hit it up the elevator shaft, home run distance, but straight up. So high that all three runners, almost as if they knew something, had crossed the plate when the ball finally came down as it had to do . . . even the Yankees were powerless before the laws of Physics. But there is no law that an infield pop up will be caught, and as the ball descended I knew with sickening certainty that it was another cruel joke, and of course, the ball was dropped.”

Colonel Nishi slammed a dart with overhand fury into the board.

“I stayed in America one more painful year before returning to Japan. What decided me finally to leave the land of opportunity after thirty years, was a symbolic act that demonstrated to me with great clarity that it was not only the browns in America who were downtrodden, mistreated, and exploited, but in fact, all the people were victims, all the people were browns, with the notable exceptions of the wealthy few. Victims of an ethic that exalts only gluttonous and insatiable commerce.”

Colonel Nishi slammed a dart into the very center of the board, marked HR, placed Franz Liszt’s Le Prelude on the turntable, and turned up the volume.

“It was the exiling of a popular hero because he had the temerity to demand payment equal to his worth. Joe Medwick traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers for Ernie Koy and a hundred thousand dollars. Like the Japanese army trading General Kuribayashi to the U.S. Marines for Booker T. McCan and a bag of gold.”

A symphony of violins and trumpets swelled to majestic crescendo as the sounds of Liszt’s great tone poem flowed over the room.

“Medwick was a St. Louis Cardinal. The fans called him “Ducky Joe” and “Muscles”. They loved him, and for good reason. The year before he was traded he had seventy extra base hits, twice as many singles, drove in a hundred seventeen runs, and that was an off year for him. The Cardinals refused to pay him the eighteen thousand dollars he thought he was worth. The St. Louis fans were shocked by the trade, nobody in management asked them what they thought. Nobody in management cared. But the fans cared. Young boys cried, and tried to understand. Old men swore, and tried to understand. Ducky Joe was just reaching his prime. He was twenty eight years old. For me it was the final blow; I returned to Japan looking for something better.”

Colonel Nishi hung his head sadly, gently laid his darts on the table, and once more changed the phonograph record. Mac heard the mournful sounds of Billie Holiday singing St. Louis Blues.

“And so at last, my adolescent antagonist, we come to the point . . . why did I kill your brother? I killed him because I, like all of us, am a victim. Foolish and helpless before the crushing power of people and events. In the name of duty required to act on the whims of anonymous brokers. I expected something different when I returned to my native land, but it was a childish and naive expectation. And so I killed your brother and many others, and saw my brothers killed in return. And for what? None of us knew why we were killing except that it was our patriotic duty. What price glory? Indeed.”

Colonel Nishi stopped to face Mac. “Go home, Booker T. McCan,” he said. “This is not your war. Stop killing. Take what you have learned back to those you love. Try to make them understand.”

The last thing Mac remembered was the soaring clarinet of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

The Education of Max Blue

It began in East Peoria, Illinois, sometime around the time the U.S. went to war in 1941. Max Blue would not be born for another 40 years or so, but his progenitor, Paul Fritz, full of piss and vinegar, praying to grow up tall, was learning how to play baseball, and marveling at East Peoria High School halfback Charlie Gilkerson and his ability to run over and around outmatched defenders. Charlie Gilkerson was the only black student attending East Peoria High School at that time, and indeed his family was the only black family living in East Peoria. They lived on a hill near the edge of town; it was called Nigger Hill.

Ten years later, young Fritz was learning how to handle the duties of a U.S. Destroyer at sea Officer of the Deck. And learning the legend of Boats.

BOATS

Silent as death was the room. Only the occasional rattle of the window and moan of the wind broke the monotony. The old man slowly got up from his chair by the window, rearranged the shabby blanket over his shoulders, and moved with short, halting steps to a small table where he bent to turn on a battered radio.

. . . clouds thickening late in the afternoon. Blizzard conditions are expected with accumulations up to eight inches. Temperatures will fall to zero degrees or below. Wind chill factor of forty below. You are advised to stay inside if at all possible . . .

The old man returned to his chair, where he watched the wind-blown snow rise in great clouds, blocking the sun and causing oddly shaped shadows to be cast on the frozen ground. At intervals the gusts subsided, and the bright sun reflected with dazzling brilliance on the freshly fallen snow. Each flake, it seemed, caught the rays, bounced them around, and discarded them to be seen as sparkling gems to the attentive eye.

. . . and now, live from the Chapel of King’s College in Cambridge,England, we present a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The program combines the readings of Biblical Christmas lessons with performances of traditional hymns and carols . . .

The old man was alone with his memories, but they were rich, and he reviewed them often. These days his needs were few, which matched his resources. He wanted to get through another winter. He looked forward to spring, and to sitting on a bench in RiverfrontPark with his friend Sparks. They liked to watch the boats on the river and swap sea stories; both had served many years in the Navy, mostly at sea.

. . . with righteousness He shall judge the poor . . .

As the snow swirled before his eyes, it was transformed into salt spray . . .

. . . He struggled to keep his balance on the wildly gyrating, ice-slick deck of a U.S. Navy World War II Geary class Destroyer. The admirals and politicians liked to call these ships the greyhounds of the fleet. The men who made them go called them tin cans and rust buckets.

A crew of three men in life jackets huddled close to the bulkhead, port side, just forward of the amidships passageway. He saw the fear in their eyes, and measured it against his own. As Boatswain’s Mate First Class, he had been in charge of more fueling details than he could count, but he had never seen one like this. The sea was the enemy, and it was attacking from all sides with battleship force. He could see waves crashing over the bridge, 50 feet above him.

“Okay, you shit-birds, let’s get some fuckin’ lifelines rigged here, whaddaya think this is, a fuckin’ picnic?” He shouted above the roar of the sea.

“What the fuck’s goin’ on, Boats? The Old Man tryin’ get us all killed?” It was Vink; Boatswain’s Mate Third Class, arms like 16-inch shells, the strongest man on the ship, and probably in the whole 7th Fleet.

“Never mind about the Old Man, he wouldn’t have us out here if he didn’t think we could handle it.”

Boats was not as confident as he sounded. He knew the Captain was fueling out of desperation. Normally they fueled at sea every six or seven days, but the weather had been so rotten the Old Man had put it off for four extra days hoping for a break; instead, it got worse. Boats also knew that running out of fuel was of less concern than restoring ballast. In a sea like this, with fuel tanks depleted, the Captain was worried about capsizing.

Boats trusted the Captain; had trusted him since the first day he came aboard in Nagoya. The Captain was a redheaded Irishman, rough as a barnacle, and fearless as a hammerhead shark. Boats remembered the first time the Skipper took the con leaving Nagoya. They were tied up alongside a dock, and no sooner had the All lines clear call gone to the bridge, than he heard a quiet but firm voice of authority say, “All back full.” The ship had shot backwards from the dock and into the channel in an instant. The Captain knew the crew was watching him, and the cheer from the fantail let him know they liked his style.

Boats also remembered how the Old Man had backed him the last time Vink got in trouble on liberty in Sasebo. He had simply told the Captain, I need Vink. Now the Captain needed him, and he didn’t have to be reminded.

The ship was maneuvering to come alongside an aircraft carrier they could barely make out, laboring in the heavy seas several thousand yards ahead. Just our luck, he thought, to get mixed up with a bunch of flyboys instead of some real Navy tanker-men who know what they’re doing. This would not be easy, but he knew the Captain had the con, and Chief Petzhold had the helm, and this comforted him. It was no time for amateurs.

. . . and the Angel of the Lord seduced the Virgin Mary . . .

“You got everything under control, Boats?” The high-pitched voice from behind jarred him. It was Ensign Craig, an Engineering Division Officer.

Boats thought Why can’t this little shit just go away and leave us alone? All he can do is get in the way. He threw a half-salute at the Ensign and shouted, “Yes, sir.”

Ensign Craig was a hopeless case. Out of some ROT corps school in Texas. A pharmacist, for Christ’s sake, and the Navy wanted to make an Engineering officer out of him. The Ensign had been aboard for eight months, and still didn’t know his ass from the after fan room.

“Look, Mr. Craig . . .” The words were half out of his mouth when the deck dropped like a falling roller coaster, and a monster wave slammed him against the bulkhead. He managed to stay on his feet, and immediately saw that his men, hooked to the lifeline, were safe.

Ensign Craig was not. The wave caught the young officer off balance and folded his back around a life raft stanchion like a gymnast on a high bar. He crumpled to the deck, and floated quietly off into the wildly tossing sea.

“MAN OVERBOARD!” Boats bellowed.

Seaman Faust on the sound-powered phones relayed the message to the bridge. “Man overboard, port side amidships, this is not a drill.”

. . . go and search diligently for the young child . . .

Boats riveted his eyes to Ensign Craig in the bright orange life jacket growing smaller and smaller in the foaming, swirling sea. The Ensign was either paralyzed or unconscious because there was no sign of him struggling.

The ship heeled sharply to port, and rolled at a perilous 45-degree angle as the Captain did not hesitate to attempt rescue of the stricken man. The sound from the ship’s loudspeakers filled the air, the voice sounding almost nonchalant. “Now hear this. Now hear this. Man overboard, port side. Man overboard, port side. All hands, man your man-overboard stations. This is not a drill. This is not a drill.”

They had practiced this procedure until they were sick of it, but always in fair weather. The drill called for putting a whaleboat in the water, but today, Boats thought, if we try that we might have the whole boat crew in the water. He knew what he had to do. “Vink,” he shouted, “secure this line to the winch, I’m goin’ after him.” He tied one end of an inch-thick hawser around his waist.

“You’re crazy, Boats. You can’t swim in that sea.”

“When I reach him, I’ll signal with the Very Pistol.” He patted the holster on his belt, and dived into the water.

Boats was a strong swimmer, but more than strength was needed here. He had gauged the direction and flow of the waves, and as the ship came around, judged the moment to jump that would carry him as close as possible to the man in the water. The surge of the slate-gray sea carried him to within 20 yards of the crippled Ensign, and he began to swim towards him with all the strength he could muster. Instantly he sensed that he could make headway, and the feeling exhilarated him because he knew that the rescue would be successful. In ten minutes that seemed like hours, he was alongside the helpless officer, who looked at him with grateful eyes. “What took you so long, Boats?” he asked.

Boats secured the line around the Ensign’s waist and said, “Navy red tape, sir. I had to apply for hazardous duty pay.” He fired the Very Pistol.

. . . when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy . . .

Later, in a Yokosuka bar, one of his drinking buddies asked him a question. “Boats, how come you risk yo black ass to save that pimp Ensign’s white ass?”

. . . he came unto his own and his own received him not . . .

Boats didn’t know the answer then, and after all these years, he still didn’t know the answer. One thing he did know though; whatever the answer was, it had nothing to do with skin color.

. . . full of grace and truth .

Liddy’s Progress

Yesterday (9/9/13)they moved her to the 5th floor Transitional Care Unit; here is the plan: she will undergo occupational and physical therapy daily for a week and will come home next Monday (9/16/13). At home she will receive visits from the OT and PT people for an undefined period of time. This was serious back surgery and Doctor O’Brien will see that she is rehabilitated in the best way that 21st century medicine can provide – Liddy as always worries about cost, but to our good fortune, we are covered by the best system the U.S. has to offer: Medicare and Medicare supplement.

She continues to smile a lot, confirming what the Doc said -“this looks like a winner,” or something about feeling like $1 million.

Back to blogging- I started back on China but that will have to wait – more pressing is the novel COUNT, now in final edits by Tate Publishing.

Dear readers (you know who you are) – the problem for me is I don’t know who you are, and I don’t know how to find out. I was merrily posting blogs with response only from daughter Katie until I posted one about Liddy’s surgery – to my great surprise, I received several comments from old friends who must have been reading my blogs – or not? Can somebody help me here?

 

 

 

Dixie Sue

They bumped across the dusty railroad tracks in the oven-hot August air on North Gay Street in sweet Auburn, and headed up the hill toward Toomer’s Corner in the center of town. Halfway up the hill Susan put her hand on Flapper’s leg, and for reasons she did not try to understand picked this time to tell him something she had known since before they left St. Louis. “I’m pregnant,” she said.

Flapper, intent on his driving, still not convinced the other drivers in this curious land were entirely reliable, heard the words, and was instantly overwhelmed by a torrent of thoughts that threatened to drown him in hot, bubbling emotion. To his great surprise he said, while keeping his eyes on the street, “Our children will be born in Alabama.”

Susan, struggling with her own emotions, and looking out at a store window sign that read EAGLE HARDWARE, to her great surprise found herself repeating Flapper’s words, “Our children will be born in Alabama.”

Flapper eased the car into an angled parking space at the top of the hill and cut the engine. He turned to look at Susan, and found her looking at him with wide, and he thought, perhaps a little frightened, eyes. They stepped from the car, and walking hand in hand, soon found themselves on the Alabama Polytechnic Institute campus, where they sat on a shaded bench and began to unravel their tangled thoughts. The sudden realization of impending parenthood caught them both by surprise. They knew they should be happy at the prospect, but they were faintly uneasy and strangely apprehensive.

Flapper thought, but hesitated to say it, I’m not sure I’m ready to share Susan.

Susan thought, I’m going to be a mother.

Flapper turned his head slightly to look closer at Susan. She was dressed for travel in shorts, sandals, and T- shirt, her dark brown hair pulled back in a ponytail against the heat. Small beads of perspiration formed above her upper lip. She didn’t look any different. “How do you feel?”

“Hot,” she answered, then added, “A little stiff from the driving . . . maybe we could find a court and shoot a few hoops.”

Flapper shifted to face her and said quickly, “No hoops for you Doctor Jackson.”

“Ping pong?” she offered. “I really could use some exercise.”

“I don’t think so.”

They sat quietly for a while before Susan said, “It must have been the champagne.”

“If it’s a girl we’ll call her Dixie . . . what do you think?”

Susan nodded. “DixieJackson . . . Good. I like it. If it’s a boy, how about Homer Junior?”

Flapper shook his head vigorously from side to side. “Oh no, not in a thousand years. Why don’t we name him after you. What do you think of Sue?”

Susan looked at him in astonishment. “A boy named Sue?”

“Why not? Anything is better than Homer.”

Susan looked at Flapper, but he avoided her eyes. She knew he wasn’t serious. She looked closer. She was pretty sure he wasn’t serious. She changed the subject. “So. Here we are in the heart of Dixie. It does feel . . . ” she paused, considering how it felt. “ . . . Hot.”

In the mid-August heat, the early afternoon sun blazing, the campus was empty except for a few maintenance men drowsily working around shrubs and flower gardens, and cleaning up around the messy magnolia trees. They sat near a fountain in front of the Ross Chemistry Laboratory, a stately three-story brick building with four tall Greek-style columns spread across its wide portico.

Susan sniffed the air, trying to place the faint odor. “Do you smell anything, Flapper?”

He nodded. “It smells like goats.”

Susan agreed. “Yes, goats.  . . . It’s caproic acid.  That must be the chemistry building . . . unless there are some Gingko trees around here.” She looked but saw only magnolia trees framing the square.

Susan had more than a passing interest in that chemistry building because in a little over a month she would be teaching biochemistry there. It had happened as suddenly and as unexpectedly as Flapper finding the notice about the Presidential Academy in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  It was a six-line ad in the Job Opportunities section at the back of SCIENCE magazine.

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF BIOCHEMISTRYTenure track position. Nine month appointment.               Successful applicant will teach undergraduate and graduate biochemistry to pre-med and chemistry      majors, and will be expected to initiate a research program. Salary commensurate with experience.             Send curriculum vita and three letters of reference to Professor Achilles Demimelius, School of                 Chemistry, Alabama Polytechnic Institute, Auburn, Alabama.

Susan was surprised to receive a job offer less than a month after submitting her application. So there it was. She would teach at API, and Flapper would teach at Tuskegee. They would live in Auburn; Flapper would commute to Tuskegee, only 20 miles away.

Susan stood up and said, “Flapper, let’s go take a look.”

Flapper was uncertain. He looked at Susan in a funny way and asked, “Is caproic acid good for Dixie Sue?”

Sweet Auburn

The background for Blue’s new novel COUNT was unfolded more than 10 years ago when the novel FOR THOSE IN PERIL ON THE SEA was published by Publish America. Here in 2013, Max can’t resist the opportunity to recall some of that background, given the invention of the Blog. Inevitably, Max himself is gaining some insight from this exercise – in many ways that novel is almost a diary of what Max and Liddy experienced in the first years of their now 57 year marriage. Attention Max and Liddy’s children and grandchildren: if you have interest in the circumstances of your being here, read FOR THOSE IN PERIL ON THE SEA, which will also help you  understand the new novel COUNT.

 

SWEET AUBURN

Heading south from St. Louis in their two-toned green Chevrolet Powerglide, Susan and Flapper, flushed with a sense of adventure, picked up state route three in Red Bud, Illinois, and nosed along the eastern edge of the Mississippi River to Cairo, where they stopped for lunch at the KIM Cafe. Everything they owned was piled into the trunk and back seat of the sturdy Chevvy. They learned from the waitress that KIM stood for Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri, three states that touched here at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. They also learned it’s not a good idea to order lobster in a river town where all they know how to cook is catfish, 1,500 miles from the nearest ocean. When they crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky, Flapper had the odd feeling they had just leaped from the safety and comfort of a cozy airplane cabin into the uncertain and turbulent air of a strange and unfamiliar land, where water fountains and public restrooms were labeled WHITE or COLORED. When Susan reached for his hand he knew she too was feeling strangely disconnected.

Five hundred miles to go, through Jackson, Tennessee; nicking the northeast corner of Mississippi at Corinth, and into Alabama where they wondered at the oversize billboard greeting from the large smiling face, vaguely reminiscent of a horse.

WELCOME TO ALABAMA

JAMES E. (BIG JIM) FOLSOM, GOVERNOR

Y’ALL COME

They moved on through Birmingham and down to Auburn . . .  “Auburn, sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plains” straight into the heart of Dixie, and a new life. Flapper and Susan squeezed each other’s hands, took deep breaths, checked their parachutes, and did not look back.

The Butler

The Butler is the name of a currently popular movie; Liddy and I went to see it yesterday, expecting, on the basis of newspaper and TV reports, to see a story about a black man serving as a White House butler, and wondering at the reports that President Obama shed some tears while watching the movie. Full disclosure here: Max had trouble controlling tears through most of the movie. Liddy and I were not prepared to see virtually all of our married life unfold in two and a half hours through a series of short sketches depicting many of the outrageous attacks on Civil Rights marchers that for us were background as we struggled to complete graduate school in the heart of Dixie from 1956 to 1962.

It’s a perfect blog-in to Max’s novel COUNT. The novel, disguised though it is, tells how Max and Liddy, in all their innocence, followed Max’s brother Jaybird’s lead and left Peoria, the heart of Illinois, to pursue higher education in the heart of Dixie at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (API) in Auburn; it was 1956. They scoffed at the idea that a segregated society could be a dangerous place for a young married couple, especially when the wife was half Chinese.

Shifting Gears

Max is ready to move on – not that he has said all he has to say about World War One and the Guilt of it – to say nothing of the impact of the times on the future of Europe, the U.S, and the World – what happened to the League of Nations? Etc., etc., etc.

Two topics are next up – First, Max’s next novel, COUNT, currently in the final stages of production at Tate Publishing. It is timely because the topic of civil rights is always timely, but also because  the country is currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.

The second topic is China, also much in the 2013 news – Max has traced the origin of the Chinese Communist takeover in earlier blogs which he is thinking of reposting. Current developments in the great Middle Kingdom are so different from what anyone expected when Mao Tse Tung triumphed in 1949 that it is time to take another look and see if any of it makes any sense.