William A. Cozzano’s National Town Meeting, which took place in Chicago in August, was the equivalent of a political convention. But because it was a pure media event, with no procedural nonsense to gum up the works, it was a lot more entertaining.
The opening event was held in Grant Park, a green swath that ran between the towering center of downtown Chicago and the lake. At the cost of permanently alienating the animal-rights and anticombustion constituencies, Cozzano’s campaign managers had set up a huge Sunday evening barbecue. The ten thousand participants in the town meeting had been streaming into Chicago all weekend, checking into the big downtown hotels and getting themselves settled in the rooms where they would spend the next week. The Grant Park barbecue was an informal way for everyone to get together and goof around before the scheduled events got underway at the convention center on Monday morning.
From the balcony of her hotel suite along Congress Plaza overlooking the heart of Grant Park, Mary Catherine could see the barbecue developing through most of the day. Around five p.m., when the afternoon heat was starting to subside, the smoke rising up from all of those barbecue pits began to look appetizing, and so she put on a sundress. It was rather prim by the standards of an urban beach on a hot summer day, but racy by the standards of candidates’ wives and daughters. Furthermore, it was light and loose enough that she could play Softball in it, though sliding into base would be out of the question. Since her display of place-hitting acumen in Tuscola on the Fourth of July, being spunky and athletic had become part of her job description.
She took the elevator down to the street and strolled through the park. Mary Catherine could now stroll anywhere in Chicago, wearing any clothing she wanted, at any time of the day or night, because she was always followed by Secret Service agents. She had decided that armed guards were a great thing and that every girl should have a few.
The barbecue couldn’t just be a plain old barbecue. It had to be built around some kind of a central media concept. In this case, the concept was that all of the various regions of the United States were competing to see where the best barbecuing was done. Mary Catherine strolled among the smoking beef pits, from Texas, North Carolina, Kansas City, and decided that, beyond providing her with a quick take-out dinner, comparative barbecue was not very interesting to her.
Flocks of black birds, just like the ones Mel had raved about, swirled around the grassy areas scavenging the ends of french fries. One of Dad’s favorite sixties rock bands was playing in the bandshell to the north, but she found their songs just one step above Muzak. To the south, on Hutchinson Field, a number of impromptu games were underway: touch football, frisbee, softball, volleyball. She didn’t feel like getting sweaty just yet, and stayed close to the footpaths, which were lined with double rows of shade trees.
Across Lakeshore Drive, along the border of the yacht basin, things were much quieter and several degrees cooler. The basin was dotted with numbered white-and-blue buoys where recreational boats could tie up. There was no beach here, just a stone seawall with one or two depressed platforms where boats could take on or discharge passengers. A couple of big tour boats were circulating between these sites and the open lake, taking people on free rides so that they could appreciate the splendour of the Loop as seen from Lake Michigan. That looked cool and relaxing, so Mary Catherine climbed on board one of the boats, sat down in a deck chair, and took her freshly barbecued hamburger out of its wrapper. She and her Secret Service agents were the last persons to cross the gangplank; within a few moments the boat was motoring out through a broad avenue between the white buoys, headed for a gap in the breakwater.
As she was polishing off the last of her hamburger, a woman separated herself from the crowd of people standing along the railing of the boat and approached her. She was black, nicely dressed, probably in her forties but capable of looking younger. She ” moved with unusual confidence through the loose picket fence of Secret Service agents, giving each of the guards a knowing smile and a nod. She had a nice face and a nice smile. “Hello,” she said, gesturing to an empty deck chair next to Mary Catherine. “Is this taken?”
“Go ahead,” Mary Catherine said. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
The woman laughed. “Eleanor Richmond. It’s nice to meet you, Ms. Cozzano,” she said, extending her hand.
“Nice to meet you,” Mary Catherine said, shaking it. “I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you right away – I’ve seen you several times on TV.”
“Several times. Well, you are one attentive TV watcher. I haven’t been on that many times.”
“I watch Dr. Lawrence’s program pretty regularly,” Mary Catherine said, “and he seemed to like you.”
“He hates me,” Eleanor said, “but I do wonders for his ratings. And, I suspect, for his fantasy life.”
“I was so sorry to hear about Senator Marshall,” Mary Catherine said.
“Thank you,” Eleanor said graciously.
Caleb Roosevelt Marshall had gone back to his ranch in southeastern Colorado “to clear some brush” in the third week of July. The doctors, aides, and bodyguards who traveled with him all the time had arisen early one morning to find his bed empty. Eventually they had found him on the top of a mesa. He had ridden up there before dawn, watched the sun rise over the prairie, and then blown his heart out with a double-barrelled shotgun.
He left letters addressed to several people: his staff, various senate colleagues, old friends, old enemies, and the President. Most of the contents of these letters were never revealed, partly because they were private and partly because many of them were unprintable. The President read his letter – two lines scrawled over a piece of senate stationery – threw it into the fire, and ordered a double Scotch from the White House bar.
Eleanor’s note said, “You know what to do – Caleb. P.S. Watch your back.”
They flew his body back to the Rotunda, where it lay in state for twenty-four hours, and then they flew him back to Colorado, where he was cremated and his ashes spread over his ranch. As per Marshall’s written instructions, Eleanor ran the office for the next two weeks, while the Governor of Colorado debated whom to appoint to replace Marshall.
He ended up appointing himself. The polls indicated that many Coloradans took a dim view of this, seeing it as naked opportunism. But his first official act was to fire Eleanor Richmond. That announcement sent his approval rating sky-high.
“I hope you get a good job,” Mary Catherine said, “you deserve one.”
“Thanks,” Eleanor said. “I’ve had some feelers. Don’t worry about me.”
“You know, as a person who was raised Catholic, I have to take a dim view of suicide,” Mary Catherine said, “but I think that what the Senator did was incredibly noble. It’s hard to imagine any Washington person having that much backbone.”
Eleanor smiled. “Caleb felt the same way. And apparently he said so in some of the notes he left behind.”
Mary Catherine threw back her head and laughed. “Are you kidding? He taunted people-
“-for not having the guts to commit suicide,” Eleanor said, “which would be the only decent way out for some people in D.C.”
“Are you here as an observer,” Mary Catherine said, “or are you a participant?”
“This whole thing is so slick I’m not sure there’s a difference,” Eleanor said.
“I hear you,” Mary Catherine said.
“But to answer your question, I was invited here for the debate.”
“Yes. Thursday night. After The Simpsons and before L.A. Law. All of the potential running mates are going to fight it out.”
“He’s considering you as a running mate?” Mary Catherine asked. She was embarrassed to have been so surprised. Eleanor was looking at her knowingly and indulgently. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’d be great,” Mary Catherine said. “You’d be fantastic. But I hadn’t heard any of this.”
“Honey, remember how this works,” Eleanor said. “Neither your dad nor any other candidate is going to pick a black woman as a running mate anytime soon – and if they did, they’d never pick me. But he does get some brownie points – as it were – for putting one in the final four. And that’s why I’m invited.”
“Well, I’ll definitely look forward to the debate.”
“How about you? What’s your role in all this?” Eleanor said, sweeping her hand across the smoking panorama of the barbecue.
Mary Catherine looked at the view and considered this question. She knew now why she had chosen to go on the boat ride: to get away, to stand back from things, to look at her life from a distance. The same impulse had probably struck most of the people on the boat. This conversation with Eleanor was just what she had been looking for.
She trusted Eleanor instinctively and wanted to tell her the truth: that something was wrong with her father. That during the last couple of months she had watched his every move, listened to his every utterance, used every scrap of her neurological training to piece together the puzzle of what was happening inside his brain. That she was spending a couple of hours a day with him in intensive, private therapy, trying to bring him back. And that the further she got into this thing, the lonelier she got, the more scared she became.
But she couldn’t quite say that yet. So she had to play the airhead. “Who the hell knows?” she said.
Eleanor put one hand over her mouth, in a gesture that was incongruous and cute in a tough middle-aged woman, and laughed.
Mary Catherine continued, “My role is to be pretty, but not too pretty; smart, but not too; athletic, but not too. I think what they really wanted was a nice college girl. You know, the kind of girl who could go to college campuses in jeans and a sweater and sit cross-legged on the floor in dorm loungers and rap with her peers. They got a neurologist instead. And there’s only so many AIDS babies I can kiss before that gets kind of old. So my life is on hold for a while until things settle down.”
“Well, we all go through transitions,” Eleanor said. “This sort of thing – a big campaign – is a kind of upheaval that can be useful.”
“It shakes everything up. Everything’s in flux for a moment, you have the chance to go off in new directions, fix old problems in your life. Believe me on this.”
Mary Catherine smiled. “I believe you,” she said.
Ever since the beginning of William A. Cozzano’s National Town Meeting, the high-tech wristwatch strapped to Floyd Wayne Vishniak’s arm had been flaring into action several times a day, confronting him with live coverage of the events that were taking place only a couple of hundred miles away. He welcomed the free entertainment, which took his mind off the stupid work he was doing.
He had lived for quite some time now on a meager unemployment check, and had long since given up trying to find himself a job. But now, Floyd Wayne Vishniak, by virtue of the PIPER watch on his arm, had become, in effect, a personal adviser to Governor Cozzano. It was a weighty responsibility. He was not going to sit around in his trailer drinking beer and acting like some kind of a buffoon. He was going to educate himself. He was going to start paying attention to the presidential campaign and learn about all of the candidates and the issues.
A week or two after he had first donned the PIPER watch, back in June, Vishniak had been in downtown Davenport to take care of a bit of business, and he had seen a cluster of newspaper machines on a street corner. In addition to the Quad Cities paper and The Des Moines Register, these included the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. As it happened, his pockets were heavy with quarters, and so he brought a copy of each, blowing two and a half dollars. He took them all back to his trailer and read them. There was some interesting stuff in there.
Since then it had become a habit. Two and a half bucks a day, six days a week, added up to fifteen bucks, plus an additional five bucks on Sunday made twenty bucks a week. Eighty dollars a month. On Floyd Wayne Vishniak’s budget it was a lot of money. He had cut back on his beer consumption, and, as the summer wore on and the tassels began to sprout from the corn, he had taken a job detasseling.
Detasseling was a common practice in Iowa; it was the mass castration of corn plants by the forcible removal of their tassels. The actual yanking was done by hand, by individual detasselers walking up and down the rows, endlessly, beneath the hot August sun.
Floyd Wayne Vishniak would drive out to the fields early each morning to put in a couple of hours before the sun became hot, go back into Davenport to feed rolls of quarters into the newspaper machines, read the papers and drink Mountain Dew all day, then drive back out to the fields in the cool of the evening to continue his work. For the first couple of weeks of the detasseling season, the evening shift had been rather dull, but things perked up when Cozzano’s National Town Meeting finally got started, and he began to get coverage two or three hours a night.
The Town Meeting had seemed a little bit hokey when they announced it, but in practice it turned out to be damn impressive. Some very important people were showing up at this thing. They had a couple of so-called surprise appearances every evening, as movie stars, ex-football heroes, captains of industry, and even a few renegade politicians began to show up at the Meeting and throw their support behind Cozzano.
By the third or fourth evening, a clear pattern emerged in the coverage. At seven p.m. the PIPER watch would come on, with the familiar logo and theme music. For fifteen minutes or so it would show an edited broadcast of that day’s events at McCormick Place, Chicago’s huge lakeside convention center, the site of the National Town Meeting. Then there would be fifteen minutes of analysis from a team of pundits, some pro-Cozzano, some anti-. Then half an hour of taped stuff, like a speech by Cozzano from earlier in the day. Then the program would cut to a hotel suite somewhere, a living-room-type environment, and Cozzano would sit down with various groups of Americans who wanted to bitch about their problems: unemployment, lack of heath insurance, shitty public schools, and so on. Cozzano would sit there and listen to them ventilate, jot down the occasional note, ask the occasional question, and then he would usually deliver some kind of a little sermon that was intended to calm them down and make them believe that he cared about their problems and would certainly do something about them at the White House.
The PIPER watch beamed out these little images as he made his way across a vast flat cornfield, completely alone, the only thing moving within several miles. His hands bobbed up and down rhythmically as he shuffled down the mile-long rows, reaching out with both arms to grip and yank the tassels, and when something especially interesting came on the screen – a surprise appearance by a major star, for example – he would stop for a minute and stand motionless, staring at his wrist. At the beginning of these evening shifts, the images on the little screen were pale and washed-out, but as he inched his way across the field, and the sun sank into the flat horizon, the light from the watch became brighter, its colors purer, until finally the moon and the stars came out and Vishniak was groping his way across the field in darkness, the images of the National Town Meeting radiating in pure intense colors as though the wristwatch were a bracelet of rubies, emeralds, and sapphires.
Tonight, Governor Cozzano was meeting with a group of black persons who had organized themselves out of the undifferentiated mass of Americans gathered together for the National Town Meeting. They had got together and formed their own little organization which had then promptly splintered into little groups who all hated each other. Now, the leaders of the little factions were meeting with Governor Cozzano over a nice dinner in his hotel suite. They were eating tiny little miniature chickens and drinking wine.
One of the black people was using an analogy to explain why black people were not becoming successful executives in large enough numbers. In the game of football, he pointed out, black people were often valued as wide receivers and running backs, but coaches were resistant to making them quarterbacks. Governor William A. Cozzano listened to this analogy soberly and thoughtfully, chewing on a morsel of the miniature chicken and nodding his head from time to time, never taking his gaze off the face of the man who was speaking. When the man was done, Cozzano sat back in his chair, took a sip of wine, and went on a little stroll down memory lane.
“You know, that business about quarterbacks really hits home to me. I can remember back in about 1963 when I was on the Illinois team, and we traveled to Iowa City to play a game against the Hawkeyes. They had a starting quarterback and two others on the bench, all of them white, and they also had a few black players recruited from across the river, here in Illinois. In particular they had a young man named Lucullus Campbell, who had been the starting quarterback for his high-school team in Quincy, Illinois, a river town. He had been splendid in that role – an incredible passer who could also run the ball. Well, before the game even started, the Hawkeyes’ starting quarterback was out with the stomach flu. They started their second-string quarterback, and sometime in the second quarter of the game, he took a very serious hit and went down with a knee injury that knocked him out of the game. And so they put in their third-string quarterback.
“And let me tell you, that young man – with all due respect to him – was just no good as a quarterback. He dropped the ball. He threw interceptions. He tried to hand off the ball to people who weren’t even there.” Cozzano paused for a moment and dabbed at his mouth with his napkin while the people around the table laughed. “Now, I was an offensive player, and so, when their offense was on the field – while this poor fellow was making all of these mistakes – I was on the sidelines, looking straight across the field at poor Lucullus Campbell. He was watching this third-string quarterback in disbelief. I could clearly read the frustration on his face. Finally he got up and approached the coach and spoke to him. I couldn’t hear his words, but I knew what he was saying. It’s a universal plea: ‘Put me in, Coach. I can do it.’ And you know what? The coach didn’t even look up at him. He wouldn’t look Lucullus Campbell in the eye. He just shook his head no and kept going through his clipboard. And I remember thinking that that was just about the most unfair thing I had ever seen. I went up to him after the game and I told him so, and I’d like to think that he took a bit of comfort in my words.” Cozzano had delivered the first part of this story with kind of a wry humorous tone, then turned sad. But at this point he became angry at the memory, sat up straight in his chair, and began pounding his index finger into the dinner table. His guests sat riveted. Cozzano, pissed off, was a formidable presence. “Ever since that day, I have found it heartrending to see talented, ambitious black people, willing and able to compete in whatever field, held back by tired old white men who don’t want to give them a chance. And I vow to you that I will never become one of those tired old white men – and I won’t allow any of them to serve under me either.”
The dinner guests broke into spontaneous applause. Floyd Wayne Vishniak, standing two hundred miles away in a cornfield, who did not give a damn about black persons, got a lump in his throat.
The next day, after he had bought all of his newspapers and read them over a bottomless cup of coffee in a diner, he went to the public library and, with some assistance from a librarian, looked up the microfilms for The Des Moines Register during the fall of 1963. He searched back and forth, the photographed pages zooming across the screen of the microfilm reader, until he found the account of the Illini-Hawkeye game.
An hour later he was out on the road in his truck, headed south along the river, toward the town of Quincy.
After he returned from his night detasseling shift, he sat down at his kitchen table with a beer and a fresh white piece of paper and relayed the results of his research activities to the one man who could make the best use of the information.
Floyd Wayne Vishniak
R.R. 6 Box 895
Ogle Data Research
Dear Mr. Green:
Yesterday night your friend and mine Governor Cozzano told a very interesting dinnertime story about the 1963 Illini-Hawkeye football game and one Lucullus Campbell. This story put a lump in my throat and so I went down to the public library to read more about it, as they often encourage us to do at the end of important TV shows.
Imagine my surprise to discover that the young William A. Cozzano did not even participate in the 1963 game because he was suffering from the stomach flu. He did not even set foot in Iowa City on that day.
Perhaps he just got the year wrong. Well, I checked 1962, ’61, and ’60 also. In ’60 and ’62, the game was held in Champaign. In ’61, it was held in Iowa City. Cozzano was there all right, but according to the Des Moines Register, the starting quarterback played the whole game.
Perhaps it happened in Champaign? Well, in ’60, the starting quarterback for the Hawkeyes got hurt and the second-string quarterback played very well for the entire game. And in ’63, the starting quarterback played the entire game.
There was no Lucullus Campbell playing for Iowa ever.
I took a little drive down to Quincy and found out that there was a Lucullus Campbell who played for their high school and who was on the 1959 Illinois Ail-Star team. That was the same year Cozzano was an All-Star. He was a halfback. He never played college ball because he got killed in a car crash on the night of his graduation from high school.
So a person might think that William A. Cozzano is making up lies. That he is a dishonest politician like all the others.
But I do not agree with this idea because I believe in Cozzano and I could see the strong emotion on his face when he told that story. No doubt, he believed in the sincerity of his own words.
Then how to explain it? Is Cozzano crazy?
No, I do not think so. But it is a well-known fact that Cozzano had a stroke earlier this year and that his Jew lawyer covered it up and secretly ran the state of Illinois for some time.
Then Cozzano went and had him a special hightech operation and got better. OR SO THEY SAY. But maybe things aren’t completely fixed inside of his head. Maybe his brain’s memory banks have been scrambled. Maybe that new chip or whatever that they used to fix up his brain is actually playing tricks with his memory!
I trust that you will provide this info to Governor Cozzano as soon as possible so that he can take steps to have the problem fixed before he becomes President and begins to run the entire country with his faulty brain. This is a matter of total importance.
I cannot sleep anymore.
You will be hearing again from me soon, I am sure.
Sincerely, Floyd Wayne Vishniak