Little Eddie and Victor could imagine that the Babe was unwell, assurances to the contrary notwithstanding, for he no longer got down on his hands and knees to play with them and their toys. He was reluctant to haul the railroad system up from the basement and make it operational. Instead he was reminded to sing that lugubrious Depression ditty:
Once I built a railroad,
made it run,
made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad,
now it's done.
Brother, can you spare a dime?
The life-style of Bro Bus changed sharply at sixteen. Spake the Mom thus: "That's swell. That's just dandy. You're out all night. When you get up, you go to college. Then you go see your floozy. You eat everything in the house. Then you run off to your job." One could not be more succinct in reciting his diurnal cycle.
The job, which kept him occupied from nine at night until two in the morning six nights a week and took an hour to get to and an hour to return, was playing the piano with a combo in a night club on the West Side. The college was Wilson Junior College, recently put into operation by the City. "The floozie" was a prejudicial reference to the stately mannish blonde across the street, earlier mentioned. To "eat everything" meant that he would no longer sit peaceably at the family board, but would plunder the refrigerator upon returning home in the middle of the night and before leaving the apartment at midday.
Among other facets of his life: he tried out all the new popular songs on the piano as they were brought home by the Dad; he examined carefully advertisements of the latest articles of male attire; he tried to keep an auto operational, for it was no fun to ride a street-car South to the Loop then transfer to one going West to Cicero Avenue, although it could be managed with an early start. The drummer, Frank Albano, who only in extremis could get his traps to a job without a car, any car, usually one in terminal condition, lived too far off to pick him up. The third member of the combo was Carmen Guerino who played a sweet swooping sax and a somber sweating clarinet.
The Babe wished he could sit in with them, but he was non- union while they were forbidden to scab or use a scab; he was not a good enough jazzman yet; he was heavily into scholastics; and they couldn't get the bucks to pay him with.
He could handle any music written. He could get a passable horny squeeze -- I'm -- hurting -- oh -- how high -- I'm getting -- tone out of his Holden. Even though the bore of his mouthpiece wasn't small enough.
But there was a formula for jazz that he hadn't hit on. It wouldn't come for a while. It was like sex. It's simple but if you're not into it and see it from a distance, it's way out of reach. The formula is this: your piece of music -- your melody line -- is based on a progression of chords -- all too regular in jazz, but that's the basic problem of jazz -- the regular beat. And the melody line is often dull and uninspiring. So you want to fake, to jam at all cost, and you can do anything on and around and in violation of those chords provided only that you catch the accent of the chord progression -- meaning, don't stay off it for more than a couple of beats, and then catch a melodic hint, word, phrase, line. En passant, that you land on the beat at least once every couple of measures, that you give both ears to the other gates, so you don't fool them or contradict them, and actually help them if you can, a flaring crack-off, and let the drummer have it, a nice send-off and a muttered "take-it," as you suck breath, to the sax, and a relaxed, "O.K., Buzzie, it's your's," when the piano is going off by itself for a good piece and you come out of your daze and look around at what's going on out there. And maybe light up a cigarette, blow the spit out of your horn, smile at the guys in the band and some girl out there.
Fully one-third of non-black high jazz (as contrasted with low-jazz or corn) musicians of the Twenties and Thirties in Chicago were of Italian descent. Music had played a larger traditional role among them, of course. But also, anthropologically, jazz is a potential capability more of an expressive than of a repressed temperament. John's son, Alan Lomax, after examining samples of folk singing in thirty different cultures of the world, concluded that front vowel and closed throat singing, as opposed to back vowel and open throat singing, is correlated with moral restriction and being "up-tight," to use current slang, as against social permissiveness. The Babe, no anthropologist he, still was aware that not only were some people musicians while others could not be, but also that some musicians could not play jazz, no matter how hard they studied and tried.
Families gossip, amused and indulgent, about youth that "sows its wild oats," but, when their own offspring do the sowing, somehow it is always uniquely costlier, crazier and more dangerous to everyone than they had expected. The Dad looked grim on the subject of Bro Bus. He talked often about him to his wife. The Mom was petulant, "No time for the family." People talk of the loss of the eldest son to the world, but few know what's happening inside the Mother; it's like the menopause trauma. All the worse if it appears to be voluntary; the government snatches up a son for the Armed Forces and then heaps authoritative praise upon her and orders everyone else to join in the panegyric. And there was the "floozy" too. Was that really necessary? Couldn't the Bus betake himself to other parts? Not so conveniently, and what was wrong about the affair, after all? Bro Bus became more reserved and silent.
The Babe was also jealous and resentful. He was scornful of the woman: she wasn't pretty enough for his deprived imagination. He neglected to think that Bus had other girl-friends and was by no means confined; had he known, he would have been more jealous. He worked up a puritanical distaste for the life-style. He was still serious in his studies, whereas the Bus was not. He was helpful in the home, prompt at table, and convulsed by big ideas on the Governance of the World. There was no room here for the Demi- Monde in which Bro Bus was rapidly losing himself. Nor did he give the Babe a dime. A fine brother! (But then, he didn't ask.) It was the end of childhood with a brother -- a year, two years, of drifting apart, ending practically in estrangement.
But there came then the Ciceronians. They get together, hang together, then finally separate. Where do the cues originate, who reinforces them, how did the group get a structure? Where do its functions come from? What rewards does it bring? What determines its duration? Why does it break up? We take nothing for granted: nothing is for nothing.
There were five of them, sometimes six when George Steinbrecher joined them, also seven when Wally Wiejola turned up. Alphabetically they were Alfred De Grazia, Edward Dunton, Joseph Kolb, William Steinbrecher, and Aaron Zolot. They ranged in age from 13 to 16 to begin with, and finally from 15 to 18. They were all native Chicagoans save Ed Dunton who came in from Mason City, Iowa, where, he pointed out, the national Championship High School Band originated.
The Father of Al you know, of Ed and Joe was a skilled worker, of Bill and George from a family long involved in real estate management, and of Aaron a tailor. Wally's father, a jolly workingman, could mix a good holiday glok and offered a large blonde contrast to his small, dark, quieter mother. All of their households moved along under the yoke of the Great Depression. Ethnic backgrounds were Italian, British (dark Welsh or Indian might be present), German, German-Swedish, Russian-Jewish, and Finnish. All were honor students. All were healthy; they hardly tasted alcohol. Except for an occasional pipeful of Bill and Wally and cigarettes for George, they did not smoke. They did not date girls except rarely; nor did they speak of girls but of women -- the character of women, the rights of women, the role of women.
The nearest to a female member was Margery Goldman, active, brilliant, culturally au courant, cheerful, voluble, bespectacled, with glossy hair, bright grey eyes, a fine complexion, and breasts large for her slender frame; her businessman father maintained an apartment in a large building off Lake Shore Drive. No one raised the subject of Marge joining the Ciceronians; she could do whatever they were up to, and played tennis at which they were unstylishly retarded. The question was never discussed: she was female. Isn't that the way it is with most discrimination of social class, race, religion, and ethnicism as well: the quiescent wiring between thought and deed, even of the stout democrat, has to be activated, often by a knock on the head or its equivalent.
This was now the third year at Lake View High School for the basic five. The Babe knew Zolot, whom he frequently called "Zolts," from Franklin Junior High. They met Bill and Ed and Joe in classes. Bill introduced his brother George; Zolot introduced Wally. Except for Wally who was headed for technical training, they were all into the academic curriculum from which the professions were supposedly to spawn in the end. All were fairly sociable, Joe the least; they did not cling to one another out of immediate (as opposed to existential) loneliness. Each knew from several to several score classmates. Merely checking out the acquaintances of the Babe from the graduating list of June 1935 gives him 133 out of the 453 members from the Class ahead and the Class behind.
If we were to correlate traits among the six Ciceronians (leaving out George as Bill's brother) we would find low correlations in school activity groups, in music, in sports, in living close-by, in eye-color, in peer-group age, religious affiliation, and ethnic background. However we find larger similarities in their straitened family circumstances, postponement of sexual involvements, medium musculatures, and good health. Skeptical religious views characterized them all, but this was not far off the mode for Lake View High School.
Then we see that four had gold scholastic pins, and notice other indicators of high intelligence in all seven, including George and Wally. Only seven other boys received gold honor pins out of the 453 class members (and 36 girls received them). To be sure, two of them did not achieve Gold Pins, and the question of scholastic honors was actually not much of a conscious factor in their dealings. Yet a kind of negative proof can be adduced. Investigating the seven males who won the Gold Pin but were not of the group, we can exclude three because these were heavily active in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, which would point away from intellectual exploration and controversial civics. Another was taking a commercial course and therefore also off their path. One was very shy and into natural science. The final boy seemed to correlate well in all respects, and was known to the Babe at least, but he appears to have been of a practicing Catholic family; therefore an unspoken and unnoticed religious barrier may have existed. In any event, no perfect solution is to be expected.
I conclude that the Ciceronians were a practically pure distillation: an intellectual group, socially aware, secular, politically disposed, respectful of physical fitness, and of Kultur. What seemed at first to be a difficult question to answer -- why and how they came together -- now seems answered to a degree that brings one to muse over sociological determinism. In this regard, it is notable that they formed themselves into a group without any "sociological foresight." To them it seemed perfectly natural; they appeared to have wandered casually into togetherness. To the non-scientific, they would seem to have come together by "sympathetic vibrations"; whatever that might be, it was also true. But it may be another way of intuiting the laws of sociology.
What did they do, the Ciceronians? They chose the name -- it was Bill's idea -- because they had decided to form a small debating club among themselves and they had been reading Cicero in their Latin Class. So it may be understood that they debated. They also talked, at length, in a rambling, disconnected manner, but heatedly, about issues of the day, usually but not always on the national debating topics suggested by the National Organization (that they did not belong to) for each year. They also walked; and on New Year's Eve they drank wine and ambled around the neighborhood, bursting into song, "The music went round and round, whoh ho ho ho..."
They played parlor games, board games like Monopoly and some bridge and other card games and also charades: Bill was prime instigator of most of these. The Steinbrecher house was best for such games and for palavering. Once in the while Mother Steinbrecher would deal out cookies; also, Father Steinbrecher would pass through, greeting them, puffing on his pipe, a small man with an ironic contemplative eye. Fritz, Bill's Uncle, a large man, a bachelor, was busier with the realty company; he would let them use his apartment on the first floor, too, heavy-hung with dark paintings that Grandfather Steinbrecher had painted over after buying them, to improve upon them.
They divided their meetings between Bill's and Ed's place. Ed brought the Club to the basement of his family's small frame house, where a ping-pong table stood on the concrete floor. They played hard at the game. After try-outs and discussion over weeks of time, Dunton and Zolot stood fast for the pen-holder grip and the Babe decided to hold his paddle like a tennis racket. They all came out proficient and evenly in the end.
Bill and the Babe walked and moved around in similar manner, bending and relaxed, more of a baseball slouch perhaps, for Bill played hard-ball. Ed was of the same height but walked straight up as if he had stepped off the wall, an impressive posture, well- composed, well-knit. He stood still to play ping-pong. He stood straight to play his bell-tuba; he was fond of the grand silver beast and did not oomp-oomp on it like most bandsmen but tried to coax a sweetness out of it like Dick Carlucci, who made his bass horn purr and scamper like a kitten; you wouldn't believe it until you heard it.
Ed was strong and could box. The other three boys did not. The Babe brought his gloves and Zolts proved to be an easy target, awkward, with little retaliation. Ed was another type. He stood straight like a brown bear and jabbed, just as he played ping-pong. He fought patiently, he did not attack, but he countered viciously. The Babe would get a looping right going when, half-way across, paff, Ed's snaked-out fist would land flush to his face. The Babe was frustrated and thought, well, if this goes on I'll wear myself out and look a puffed-up mess. They stopped after a while. However, when they fought again, all happened as before. With his last experience joined to this one, the Babe concluded that defensive counter- punching was the most useful strategy for ordinary fighting purposes; still he was congenitally disposed to take the initiative.
Zolot grew half a foot taller than the rest; Joe, too, grew fast at one point. Zolts stood straight up but was the least athletic and couldn't take much advantage of his height and weight in sports. It didn't matter; they were not interested in ball teams. He was the calmest, the least acidulous of disposition. When he smiled his gums showed pink and his eyes, already half-shut like a Tartar's, closed to the merest merry squint. Like the others, he was honest and determined that something be done to improve the state of the world. Given that he professed to be the most radical of the group - - a communist -- he turned out at least in relation to the Babe to be less radical. Why, Aaron was asked, with a puerile insight, didn't the communists, who believed that violent revolution was necessary and inevitable, join the National Guard where they might develop the skills and obtain the weapons essential to the events of the Great Day to come? Aaron was surprised and impressed; but he was such a peaceful guy.
The group was usually in agreement, though unanimity was not sought. Given absolute power, they would have made over America in the images pursued by Upton Sinclair, Erskine Caldwell, Theodore Dreiser, Lincoln Steffans, Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Roosevelt, Stuart Chase, Woodrow Wilson, and now Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins and the other New Dealers. They would have told their fellow-Americans of the evils of the industrial age and of the greed and philistinism that steered it; they would have spoken up for the poor and ignorant, whether urban or rural, black or white; they would have liberated women and denounced hypocrisy in all of its manifestations; they would have hunted down and exposed and imprisoned corrupt politicians, and -- it goes without saying -- their underworld collaborators; they would have preserved the great outdoors and led the people to enjoy them; they would have joined the League of Nations and led it into a World Government. They would break up monopolies; they would control the banking interests more tightly; they would cultivate the arts; they would ask the Federal government to take on increased scholarship funding. While much of public opinion was distressed with the growth of Federal powers, they favored the trend. They saw Nazism and Fascism as a threat, and, except for Zolot, were skeptical of reports favorable to the Soviet system; they were sure that the communist system was not needed in America, nor could it work.
The Ciceronians put two teams into the field against other debaters. The Babe may have won for them on the subject of "The Jury System: Should it be Abolished?" It fell to him to argue against the use of juries. He was far from a skilled debater and practiced little. But he fell upon an old trick: as he climaxed his speech he asked rhetorically, "How can a jury of ordinary people be expected to understand terms like `encephalyopsychosis?'" -- although it meant merely a crazed brain. A large well-stuffed and curvaceous judge, perhaps erotically smitten by his leanness and flashing eyes, decided that this was indeed a brilliant tour de force and swung the other judge around in his favor.
Joe Kolb said afterwards that it wasn't a good argument and tactic; the Babe admitted it. They were not for winning at the cost of reason. The skeletonized substance and flim-flam of debating displeased the epigoni of Cicero; if a tactic wasn't good enough for Marcus Tullius, it wasn't good enough for them. But, then, they were hardly capable of detecting the subtle Latin ploys of the Master.
While they believed that their ideas would soon be made effective and universal, they were completely isolated -- these half- dozen boys -- without an influential or expert connection. Aaron's Communist Party youth club, the Dad's standoffish acquaintance with "pols," Fritz Steinbrecher's real estate association, Ed's membership in the Methodist Church, -- these not only contradicted each other, but they were wrong-headed, and in any event unconvertible to Ciceronian goals.
If the Ciceronians had heard anything more than a few rumors seeping through the media miasma of Chicago, they would have been greatly comforted and assisted by the social and political thought occurring among real live people a dozen miles from them on the South Side at the University of Chicago. Chicagoland's four millions, as much in need of the higher learning and of intelligence applied to social questions as the people of Peking, Bombay, Rio de Janeiro, and Warsaw, were frenzied for work and listless of mind.
The Babe visited Aaron's home. It was in the back of his father's tailor shop, actually part of it. It was the poorest home he had yet seen. It was complete with the presence of Aaron's little sweet- smiling mother, who put on the tea for the boys, with his owlish zaftig little sister, and then Aaron's father, who could have joined Maxim Gorki's collection of archetypes.
Gorki lived with the likes of him for years, the Babe for minutes and hours. Transplanted six thousand miles by the magic that was uniquely America's, Mr. Zolot would tell the boys, in strongly accented short sentences, who ran the U.S.A., why Russia was the wave of the future, and what they should believe about Paradise, speaking out from odd stacks of cloth, irregular spools of thread, pressing irons and banged-up sewing machines. The Babe was now of an age when the talking of adults drove him to distraction, testing to the utmost his politesse, which failing, provoked flight. Not so with Mr. Zolot.
It took Mr. Zolot but a few minutes to stoke up the fires; his dogmatic analysis and invective curled in sulphurous smoke from a grim poverty that pretended no slightest art, to consume the banks, the press, the capitalists, and the slavery of the workingman. The Babe swallowed the smoke and tea obligingly. Mr. Zolot, his tall Tartar frame and face sculptured from one grey granite rock, told it all, in words that bumped along like freight cars backing into their mental factories.
To each clang, bump and thud, the Babe interjected now this now that assent, question, counter-argument, surprise, respectful silence, thoughtful glance, rejection, grim mutual laugh. He should there and then have become a tailor's apprentice, but the tailor had no work for himself and had to live in part upon charity, and the boy would soon discover himself to be living in several complicated worlds, nor be willing to tear down any one, or, let us say, any two of such worlds, not yet, he told himself, unconvinced that he had a way yet. But that here was a genuine new world, he would in no wise doubt.
A writer upon the Great Depression has said of the American Dream, "A real American ought not to be an industrial worker." The Babe agreed; though he was vigorous at any kind of work, he could never have thought of himself as "industrial man." His tiny place in the vast industrialized region was psychically committed to individualism and adventurism, even ruralism. Although raised a few miles from the slaughterhouses, he could not conceive of a life bonking steers over the head; he would not laugh about it, he would anguish.
But then, he would not be a white collar worker either, though this was the preferred alternative among the blue-collar and declining old middle class: "Cooped up in an office? Never."
Too, after lately viewing "What Price, Glory?" and "All Quiet on the Western Front," he was not prepared to become cannon fodder, either. Were there a chance to become an officer of the line (only the line would do, no logistics), he would jump to it, but no familiar face or friendly word beckoned him to the military. Early on, he would have snapped at the chance to become a rancher, but gradually his fantasies of life on the ranch became remote, vague and rare.
A City Hall job held no appeal, for one had to become a wardheeler or henchman to boot; the muckrackers and cartoonists would have been delighted to see the image of the politician that he held: it was theirs to perfection: heavy slack jowls, beer-belly, greedy of expression, a know-nothing, do-nothing, with a hand fondling lecherously the Public Treasury.
He edged away from music. Among those around him, in the spirit of "eugenics," espoused by glib assenters like Justice Holmes --at least to sterilized hapless poor women -- he was believed to have inherited special talent. He did not perceive such genius, in this or other fields; he generally succeeded by assault from all sides, tourjours l'attaque, Napoleon's motto. He appreciated, too, that to live the satisfactory life that his father had once enjoyed was becoming less possible and anyhow was not appropriate for him. He wanted to deliver a message that was moral and intellective. The sound of music, however stirring, was tongue-tied when it came to commanding.
He observed the simplicity of musicians, their naivete, their pleasant and sometimes irritable childishness. Does music create psychic retardation among normal people? The retarded and apraxiacs lose their simplicity and their deficits when presented with music. Does music bring the twain to meet on common ground? He was becoming too harsh and pragmatic of mind to surrender to the muse.
Nor did the selling of products entice him. It disregarded the public interest. Hints came to him, of power in the Front Office dominating one's soul; Uncle Bill was not his own boss; he kept regular hours when he wasn't travelling. He did admire the story that Bill told, and bore it in mind, of a salesman who seemed to be unemployed, but sold river bridges, so was well set up for many months after a sale. But Bill was for money-money and gave small thought to higher aims.
The Babe felt that he had to apologize for his uncertainty. He could not distinguish the evasiveness of the indolent from that of the megalomaniac. He did not want labelling, confinement, to be known for what he was rather than for what he might be. It could be called a lack of dedication, a lack of character, but that would be to miss the point. A huge, unspoken vaulting ambition that dare not confess itself: this was his real reason for avoiding occupational prescription.
It began to appear that he was destined for that catch-all of poor and ambitious urban free spirits, the profession of law. At a point in time when a book of occupational titles in the U.S. economy could choke a python, he considered only a few general categories of work. He was thinking, "I can do any kind of work that comes along, if I like it." Which also was true.
The Babe's last summer was hot as blazes. Along the Lake at Addison Street, Howie's gang had discovered that large rocks had been recently dumped to define and protect the shoreline, and from these one could jump and swim. ("Go jump in the Lake," like "Go peddle your bananas," were phrases for breaking off negotiations in Chicago.) The Babe went along and they invented a game of water- shore tag that made great fun of a hot afternoon. "It" was rendered adult by the risk of breaking one's neck diving into the water where a rock lay shallow, by catching and cracking a leg in a crevice while leaping from one eccentric rock surface to another (all being helter- skelter), and by being crushed pulling oneself up on a rock as a heavy wave came crashing in. All to avoid being tagged by whoever was "It."
There were two variations to enhance the risk of capture: to divide into teams with one team chasing down the members of the other, and by cumulative tag so that the first "It" man could convert anyone he had tagged into an ally for tagging the others. In the course of events, you could find chances of swimming far out to where the sight of the proliferating large buildings of Lake Shore Drive rose nobly upwards, and hope to be chased out there, or you could trust to running off the rocks and around the grounds as far as the fenced duck pond.
Some seventy summer afternoons passed in this way, with burning heat and thunderstorms, felt and tasted in an isolation and stillness unbelievable for the huge noisy City. There was almost no paying work for teen-agers and these were too young for legal employment anyway. Their families had just enough money to let them go off like this while still in High School; the Babe was the only one who had graduated. The parents were pleased, moreover, that their boys each day would walk for miles, exercise themselves so well, and from week to week, appear stronger, more tanned, more agile.
The Babe would leave at around 11:00 A.M. from 1235 Addison Street, to where they had recently moved, a mere block from their old home, carrying a brown bag containing a sandwich together with any snacks to be found and an apple or banana. He would walk rapidly the two miles directly East to the Lake; he might meet a friend going the same way. By ones and twos they would arrive and hang around, testing the water, eating, until the game would start up and then they would play for hours.
It was like a base-ball game in that whoever was "It" was very busy, as was his targeted tag, like a pitcher and batter, while the others hooted and yelled to be chased, tempting and tormenting the "It" man. The Babe swam and swam until he was one of the best around, though with no particular stroke, for several strokes were adaptable to the frequently rough water. Leaping from rock to rock was an especially fine exercise, with the final elated plunge into the water from a strange rock just when about to be tagged "It."
Returning home, unless Howie or another were along, he jogged and before long was able to run the full two miles. He could measure his speed against the Addison Street bus that had to pause now and then to oblige passengers or idle its motor in the stifling growing traffic jam.
Ruth Moore, who taught English literature, and Genevieve Souther, who taught Latin, began early in the Senior year to speak in their classes of a competitive scholarship examination that was to be held city-wide among graduating seniors who wished to attend the University of Chicago. The Babe, who had not seen the University and merely acknowledged some significance in its name, was informed, along with the others, that here was a chance at an excellent education, with no explanation of what a higher education might be, how many scholarships were being offered, and how to prepare for the exam. The Ciceronians talked it over: others were signing up for the competition: Margery Goldman, Audrey Eichenbaum, Bill Butters, Jim Dunkin. Rumors of strenuous efforts at Senn and Hyde Park High School to carry off top honors in the competitions stirred up teachers and students. Dunton, Steinbrecher and the Babe decided to have a go at it. Zolot and Kolb stayed out; Wally was not ready; and George, Bill's brother, was just about to enter there as a student himself. Bill would go somehow; his uncle was an Alumnus. Ed Dunton had a mature confidence; back in Iowa, he would have done just as well as here; he knew what he was up to. The Babe was for taking up the challenge, ready or not.
In fact, he was unready. He could tell. He had his Gold Honor Pin, but so had some others throughout the City, and over the Midwest and the whole Nation, for the University was trying, he did not know yet how strongly, to become and stay a National University; it did not relish too many Chicagoans. His written recommendations were perfunctory -- but haven't I already implied that they would be? They would be a recital of the obvious, and the depth of his musical knowledge was unknown, unrespected, and unusable in the tests. Un-testable and useless were his largest achievements, his two hundred games, his unfailing imagination. Not to mention the other mental traits that I took up a chapter to describe earlier.
There was no personal interview. Meanwhile letters were coming from pastors and teachers from Minnesota to Texas, from Utah to Pennsylvania, all about the apple of their eye. "John Smith is the best student that we have ever encountered at Rapid City High School... Susan Smith is the Portia of Peoria High..."
In fact the Lake View aspirants were all admitted. Margery was offered and took up a scholarship. Ed Dunton had more than one arrow to his bow and through his Methodist sources had come upon a four-year bonanza at De Pauw College in Indiana. He accepted it. Penniless, the Babe gave up his idea of attending Chicago: there were no broken dreams; he knew too little about the place; he could not possibly come to grips with it. He believed that "they," the faceless arbiters, had made a mistake, but there was no one to hear him expostulate.
He kept the prospect of Wilson College in mind but meanwhile heard of a YMCA College, in the Loop, so, one day as the Fall drew near, took the El downtown to investigate, bringing a lean dossier along. The College of the Young Men's Christian Association was totally unglamourous, not a blade of grass, no vistas, cramped quarters, and a name that suggested a summer camp.
Still, it developed that they wanted him; that was important. They had no scholarship to offer him but they wanted him enough to give him all the work in the office and in the music activities of the school that he needed to carry him through the year. The Dean was pleased; the Babe was pleased; he sprouted a down-to-earth morale. He was ready to give his all to Dear Old YMCA College.
The Summer drew to a close. The Babe remembered the happy days of Glen Park. He told his nostalgic story to the Ciceronians. Let's go there if we can, they said. The Dad arranged a cottage. Ed borrowed the family car. Zolts and Bill could come, so there were four. They crossed the bridge over the Fox River and found their wooden house, smelling as it always had and should, of a piece with the trees and soil and rubbed-off old unpainted planks. The kerosene lamps were there, the outside pump of iron-water too. The colony was practically deserted. A young woman named Roma stayed in another cottage, alone; they smiled and exchanged greetings, that was all. They bought milk at a farm. They bought corn. They were let to pick the corn. They ate boiled corn on the cob, nothing but buttered corn and more corn. Coffee for breakfast. They walked about the woods and over the brook talking and laughing. They played bridge, laughing during the shuffles and solemn in-between. They bathed, laughing. They ate, laughing. The sublime days passed long, the nights deep in sleep. They closed up the cabin and drove back to Chicago. The epoch of the Ciceronians was ended.
It was a better Summer than Count Leo Tolstoy had enjoyed a hundred years earlier in his own sixteenth year. Tolstoy, rich and cocky, had taken it upon himself to become, as he puts it, "comme il faut," to become fluent in French, manicure his nails, bow and dance and say the proper things, to be indifferent, to pretend to a perpetual air of elegant and superficial ennui. He played bad music and read bad novels.
All the most unbelievable personages and events were as much alive to me as reality, and far from suspecting the author of untruth, I was simply oblivious of the author's existence, while real, live people and events appeared to me of their own accord from the printed page. Though I had never come across anyone like the personages I read about, I never for a moment doubted that I should.
I would estimate that the Babe had left this phase of Tolstoy behind him two years younger, when he had come to enter Lake View High School. But he had never tried to become "comme il faut." This he left to Bro Bus. He was fast developing a realistic social outlook, and he wanted now to read only good books and to know their authors well.
His classes were about to begin at the YMCA College when a letter came from the University of Chicago. "They" had a scholarship left over from the fury of competition. It was a half-tuition scholarship, worth $150 of the year's full tuition of $300. It was a Work Scholarship; he would be asked to lend himself to whatever they might ask him to do. The half-tuition for the Quarter was payable immediately; it came to $50.
The Babe was put in a bind. A moment before he had been pleased to go to the YMCA College; he had formulated a life based upon his attendance there. He was grateful to the Dean and the School: they appreciated him; they wanted him; they knew how to use him. He imagined that they must have competent instructors. Now here comes the School that had disappointed him, offering him a last chance, with unknown but considerable risks entailing. He had no $50, no part of it. He had not spoken to the Dad, but the Dad, he knew, had no $50 plus the dollars of carfare, lunches, fees, books, plus the prospect of two equal payments to come along later. Nor had he ever actually seen the University; he had seen a poster and a Bulletin.
It took him half an hour to decide that he wanted to go, longer to arrange it. He went to the Dad. The Dad supported his change of mind but had to find the money. Long gone were the days when he could reach into his pants pocket and peel off fifty dollars from his wad. He went downtown to the Musician's Club among his friends and came back with the money.
The Babe had now to withdraw from the YMCA College. It didn't occur to him to write a letter or simply to efface himself. He went the next day to see the Dean. In the close paper-filled office where the two sat eye-to-eye, he said to the Dean, taking up an interminable dreadful minute, that he had received an offer from the University of Chicago and wished to take leave of YMCA College. The Dean was disappointed and peeved. Everything had been so nicely arranged, he said. The Babe gloomily agreed; he could imagine the confusion that he was causing: maybe he should attend both Schools. "I thought that you had no money," said the Dean. "I hadn't," said the Babe.
He could by no means imagine saying, "See here, let's face facts: if I can go to the University of Chicago with some help, I'm ready to find money where a day ago there was no money in sight; I'm ready to ask my Father, even knowing what straits he is in, to help me take the chance." No, that would have been uncomplimentary to the YMCA College, and would hurt the Dean's feelings.
"My Uncle went to the University," he said, "and helped me when he learned that I could go there." The Dean had recovered his equanimity. He understood -- better than the boy -- the difference between the two Colleges. "What's your uncle's name?" he asked with a faint sardonic smile. "William Blencoe, he's a printer," said the Babe, wondering what master list of alumni the Dean would now consult: how he hated to lie!
The Dean looked at him: could a lie be floating amid the regrets in those troubled eyes? No matter. What else was there to say? "I'm sorry, I hope you do well." "I'm sorry too, and thanks very much for all of your help." "It is a good University," said the Dean, "Good-bye." "Good-bye."
He climbed the steps to the iron platform of the Elevated train. He felt giddy. As if he had returned a sensible pair of shoes to a department store in exchange for a pair of skis whose use he could hardly imagine. But that was the Babe alright: he was behaving true to form. Packing for adventure. Leaving his Chicago. Leaving himself behind. Away to derring-do.