Hard Coal Mine Country Election Fable
By Tom Barrett
This book is a work of fiction. Places, events, and situations in this story are purely fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright @ 2004 by Thomas L. F. Barrett, Phd. C. S.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or other wise, without the prior written permission of the author.
To: My granddaughters:
Lauren DePiero and
who continue to keep me young
thanks for giving me the genes and the desire to write.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Lost Election 1
Chapter 2 The Beginning 12
Chapter 3 A Friend is Lost 24
Chapter 4 Start the Race 32
Chapter 5 Sliding Through the Political Dirt 41
Chapter 6 The Oakville Rally 51
Chapter 7 Betrayed 59
Chapter 8 Unorthodox Election Practices 67
Chapter 9 Judas is Discovered 77
Chapter 10 The Home Stretch 86
Chapter 11 One More for the Road 96
Chapter 12 The Voice of the Working Man 107
Chapter 13 It Was Over. 117
Chapter 14 The Angel of Death 122
The Lost Election
Peter Patrick Connor was badly beaten. In the short-term span of an hour after the election polls closed I, his campaign manager, knew Pete had gone down to a massive one-sided defeat.
A few friends, and some precinct workers called at our borough headquarters, some to express sorrow and dire disappointment, some at a loss to explain the disastrous vote and some convinced there were deals and double deals. A few, found in every such group, foresaw defeat for some time but never made it known until everyone else knew it.
Connor barely carried his own precinct. He lost in every ward in the Borough and carried only a half dozen polls in the entire legislative district.
I was flabbergasted. I was keenly aware throughout the campaign that we were in a fight, but I never dreamed the results would be so one-sided.
Although numb I listened intently, at first to the returns coming in by phone to our hotel room and watched the obvious heartbreak on the ashen faces of those who came in with the tallies. The trend became apparent in a short time and I became only passively interested in what was going on about me.
My mind went back over the exciting days of the campaign.
What happened? Where did we go wrong – so wrong? We had the endorsement of the county organization and the expressed support of many labor groups. We campaigned vigorously – and I thought rather well – in practically all of the 80 precincts in the district. Our liberal platform, well prepared and presented, covered the whole sphere of political, social and economic life. From the cradle to the grave we had come all out.
We had avoided no controversial issue, taking sides on every point. We had opposed abortion and supported government aid to senior citizens. The vast majority of our constituents were not only Christians but also Roman Catholics and there were at least a half dozen organized Senior Citizen clubs active in the district.
Aware of the public consciousness of burdensome taxes we had hit hard on the new state income tax law, condemning it roundly at every rally and public statement. We had stressed the need of a new state operated hospital and outlined in detail, our planned projects for highway improvements and expansions. We had pledged to use every means within our influences to induce diversified industry into the district, to replace the lost coal market. We had suggested a variety of legislative measures that we knew would appeal to the common man.
We were proud of our platform, and every candidate on the ticket was sure we had succeeded in bringing our message to the electorate. The opposition had paid little attention to our issues and ignored our criticism of the state income tax. This issue we hammered home repeatedly, convinced it was the strongest plank in our platform.
The voting registration of both major political parties was close; so close that there was no possible explanation here for a three to one defeat. Yes, it seems undoubtedly true that job patronage was a major factor, yet certainly should not have been enough to account for the disaster.
Apparently conscious of my preoccupation – and mental anguish – most of the poll workers and visitors walked by with no more than a nod or a wave.
Yes it was certainly true that Connor’s opponent as legislator had the state highway job patronage and other commonwealth openings, such as new jobs created by the new income tax law and lottery measure. But Connor on the other hand, did have some say in filling some county jobs.
No, job patronage could not be the entire answer. It had to be more than this, much more. This calamity took a combination of many things. Who if anyone, could have an explanation, the political acumen, the knowledge to foresee such developments and possess the means of heading them off? The chairman! Who else?
Precinct workers were calling off the count across a desk nearby, giving results to Red Rafferty, who marked the figures in appropriate boxes on a master sheet. Jerry Jones implanted the Irish curse on his relatives, who betrayed a family tradition by voting against Connor and working for the opposition. Tony Morroco swore he’d never again take the word of his many Italian friends. He went so far as to question the infallibility of the Pope. Martin Moyer placed some blame on biased Protestants and declared that the Dutch in his neighborhood would not in good conscience vote for a man named Peter Patrick Connor. Stanley Puliewicz said the only Poles who voted for Connor were those who could read and write. Max Coleman said he was finally convinced there was something to the old adage that he paraphrased: “Beware of a Greek bearing ballets.”
I reached for the phone. I knew Connor was at my apartment watching returns on television on statewide races. I visioned his listening to crack commentators who always knew the outcome long before election day but did not make it known until you knew the results yourself. It was the same with many in the news media and on the radio. If their vague forecasts were wrong, they blamed them on unreliable sources, or they were simply misunderstood. They encouraged people to seek public office and when they did run, these same reporters went out of their way to run them down.
Where printed predictions were unquestionably wrong, and in this case no one saw the overwhelming vote, the published explanation was not to believe all you read.
The phone to my apartment was busy. I put back the receiver and called across the room to George Glitski, our local chairman. He pulled up a chair, quenched a cigarette and asked in desperation:
“Do we have a chance south of the mountain?”
“No way, George. We are running behind in places our party always carried. Even in Democratic strongholds we are barley holding our own.”
Glitski gulped: “Did you reach Connor?”
“Not yet. I’m not sure I want to right now, but I will try again. Let’s see if lightning will strike.”
We were distracted by Dinny Burke, who came through the open door, a picture of dejection. This was no surprise. Burke was one of those rare characters who never new anything in life but utter pain. No wonder he was called Dismal Dinny. But I did want to see this man. He had an extremely important personal message for me.
“I knew it,” he grumbled. “Yes, boys, I saw it coming. Too much money. Sure they were dumping it around by the ton. They brought over election boards and promised jobs, the kind that would attract a loafer on relief.”
Dinny wore a cap and no one ever saw him without it, except in church, and this wasn’t very often. It was said Dinny would be seen in church only three times in his entire life. The first, already taken care of without his say, was when they threw water at him; the second when they threw rice at him and the third, yet to come, when they would throw dirt at him.
Although Dinny did not go to church himself, he took sides and spoke out frankly on many church issues. One came to mind at the moment was his outspoken opposition to women being bareheaded in church. He said his position was influenced by information he read about some obscure Corinthian culture “When the ladies practiced humility by not wearing hats, but also veils. Only the whores went to church without something on their heads.”
Dismal Dinny was perpetual gloom itself. Misfortune and destruction were all about him, with the end of the world always near at hand. He trusted very few people. All public officials were crooked and grew rich on kickbacks and shady deals. Doctors, with their exorbitant fees, were legalized thieves. Teachers worked only three or four hours a day, were idle half the year with vacations, holidays, long weekends and sabbatical leaves. And naturally they were all overpaid. All labor leaders were treacherous goons and practically all clergymen hypocrites. The rich were corrupt to the core and the poor, like himself, were victims of a depraved society.
Yes, Dismal Dinny thrived on failure. A plumber by trade or accident, he was always underpaid and often not paid at all. Self employed, he worked only when he was ready, and this wasn’t very often.
Diminutive in stature, he weighed about 130 pounds, wringing wet. His dark, bushy head remained unkempt, long before long hair became a fad, simply because all barbers overcharged.
But Dinny was my friend. I trusted him implicitly and I was anxious to talk with him alone. I got up and headed for the men’s room but Dinny, not knowing my intention, stopped me in the middle of the crowded room.
“Hey there Donlin,” he called to me. “ I was right wasn’t I? What became of our candidate? Sure they’d sell their rotten souls for a couple of bucks, those scheming politicians.”
It was impossible to get him alone. This was his moment of triumph and he was making the most of it. I tried to change the subject after I got near him, by commenting on the weather. I mentioned the heavy rain we were having, adding that it should soon clear up.
“What do you mean clear up?” He said this loud enough to be heard throughout the room. “It’s the curse of Christ on us. Its coming down in buckets, and its as cold as some of our ward leaders. Even God is against us. The good people who intended to vote for Connor stayed home. The minute I saw the black clouds come up over the slush banks this morning I knew we were doomed.”
I’ve heard of many reasons for losing an election but Dinny was the first person I heard blame God. He would have gone on half the night if big Joe Stanton, the retired robust pugilist hadn’t swept into the room. As was his custom, Big Joe slapped the first man he reached, hard and heavy on the back, and the nearest one to him at the moment was Dinny.
An incurable optimist, always jolly and buoyant, with a disregard for the practical, Big Joe declared it was not all over yet. “And regardless of the outcome, Connor was dignity itself throughout the campaign and will come out of this smelling like a rose.
Dinny muttered: “Yes, a withered rose.” He pointed to Big Joe, “And you keep your punch swollen paws to yourself. You know I have a bad back.”
“Yes I know. I can see Workman’s Compensation setting in.” Joe’s contagious laughter rang through the room and I’m sure I detected the slightest grin on the otherwise blank, astute countenance of Silent Sam Bradigan, who sat in a corner without uttering a sound the entire evening.
I got through to the men’s room with three or four others right behind me. Realizing I could not reach Dinny alone, I returned to my desk.
Listening, I thought very patiently, to the personal experiences of some pool workers during the hours of voting, I watched Glitski run a comb through his black, slick hair. He put the comb in an inside coat pocket and sat back in his chair. It struck me at the time that Glitski wasn’t as disturbed as one might expect under the circumstances.
I dialed and got an immediate response:
“Hello, this is Connor.” The voice sounded remarkably calm and matter-of-fact.
“Danny Donlin at headquarters, Pete. It is bad, very bad. I guess you know.”
“Yes Dan, I know. I’m looking for the phone book to extend the customary congratulations.”
“What do you intend doing, Pete?”
“Pray for a winner, what else?”
It was all over before midnight. This in itself was a surprise as the paper ballot system was slow and results were not generally known so early. A move to install voting machines in the county had been rejected on two previous occasions.
The room quickly cleared and there I was suddenly with nothing more than a batch of ballots and tally sheets, a jumbled record of utter despair. I knew if I hadn’t taken my raincoat and hastened from the room I would have broken into tears. Connor just didn’t deserve this. He was a regular guy. I recalled one of the opposing speakers, who respected Connor, express the hope that “may the best man lose.” Without looking back, or even turning out the light, I walked briskly down the hallway and out the main door.
I paused a moment at the sound of a voice on a radio, still on in the deserted lobby. “Mr. Connor has conceded the election to his opponent. His telegram reads as follows . . . “ I walked out into the night.
Dismal Dinny was right; it was a downpour. Heavy raindrops virtually leaped a foot high on the drenched highway and sidewalk. The changing traffic light, only a half a block away, flickered indistinctly in the blinding storm.
The voice, faint yet clear, cut through the splattering sound on pavement and street. It came from the only car parked on the block: “Danny. Yo Danny!”
It was Kate. I saw her pretty face at the open car window, blurred somewhat by the rain that doused her extended countenance.
“Danny,” she called again. “Over here.” I pulled up the coat collar and raced across the street in to the car.
I was breathless and barely seated when she asked bluntly: “Where’s Pete?”
After wiping my face with a handkerchief and getting my breath, I said: “He wants to be alone.”
“He’ll be alone with me.”
Suddenly overwhelmed with a profound feeling of admiration for this girl, I said abruptly: “He’s at my apartment.”
Why hadn’t I thought of Kate Conroy? Practically always on my mind I became so engrossed in my concern for Pete, I thought of nothing else in the past hour. Subconsciously I had been wondering just how I would face Connor. What could I say? I would have to say something and no matter what it was it would be just about impossible to stem the tide of emotion bound to erupt when we get together. Connor and I had sat in the shadows and shared sorrows before, but never anything like this.
Now here sat my answer, all wrapped up in this beautiful human package. What better consolation for Connor than these big, beautiful blue eyes that haunted me with an upsetting belief that this girl betrayed her devotion to this man every time they met. This affection, pressingly clear in my mind, restrained my emotions on several occasions during the campaign.
With all my misgivings I was confident that Kate was mine until that very moment. She knew I loved her and in spite of her voicing similar sentiments toward me on occasions I felt right there in the car that she was letting me know I was not her first choice.
Kate’s beauty was by no means limited to her eyes. Her rosy, full cheeks, well shaped body and gorgeous legs, doubly attractive in high heel shoes, were indeed bestowed on Kate as one of God’s choicest physical blessings. And this wasn’t all, her eager enthusiasm, zest for life, was infectious and wholesome. Her fantastic smile made one expect keen enjoyment in her presence.
Although Kate and I became inseparable during the campaign I now realized this was all for Connor. Our intimate association had given me reason to hope. My dreams were shattered at this very moment. I had, for the past several weeks, nourished visions of a Connor victory and the end of Kate’s interest in the man, convincing myself her friendship and loyalty to Pete were personal contributions to an election victory, after which she would be all mine. I hadn’t thought of Kate’s reaction to Connor’s defeat.
Kate turned the ignition key and the motor purred. “Wait a minute,” I stammered, groping inside my raincoat. “There is a lounge here at headquarters, I can’t think of a better place to spend the rest of the night.”
I handed Kate my apartment keys.
Connor had one of the shortest political careers in history. It lasted little more than six weeks. Although elated by the proposal to run as the endorsed candidate, Connor remained indecisive for some time. Having never aspired to any public office on any level, here he was in his mid thirties, being asked to run for the State Legislature.
Having some knowledge of the game of politics and the makeup of the district, Connor was aware of the odds. His opponent was in office, usually an advantage and had the support of the Governor, the newspapers and radio. There wasn’t a television station in the district and, as Rafferty pointed out, if there had been, Connor would have come out second in a beauty contest. It wasn’t that Connor was not presentable or pleasing to the public; but he lacked the polish and refinement of his opponent. Connor was a good miner and carried himself well in public, but the man in office, an extrovert, was tall, stately, and aggressive, with apparent qualities of leadership.
When Glitski extended the invitation to Connor, my Irish friend was both pleased and proud, and even excited. This was the impression I got when he came to me with the news.
“What will I do Dan?” Glitski gave me a few days to think this over. He promised to say nothing until I reached a decision.
Connor and I grew up together. We sapped the same trees and swam in the same swimming holes. We lived in the same neighborhood and played on the same “Ned’s Nine” baseball team. It was a custom at the time to name teams after the manager and the number nine, the amount of players on a team. However this wasn’t the case with our team. A schoolteacher, Ned Noonan, long since gone to his eternal rest, gave our team this name, because 9 o’clock was the time of night we all had to go home.
In high school we were inseparable. We traveled in the same social circles, went out with the same girls, played on the varsity football team and were active in a few class clubs. During the summer vacation we picked coal together on culm banks. We played together, fought together and at times fought with each other. It was natural that Pete would come to me at a time like this.
Connor never went to college. His father, a deep shaft mine hard coal miner, was killed in a mine gas explosion, compelling him to seek gainful employment. Hired as a clerk in a grocery chain store he worked his way to the position of manager. Located a few doors from the main intersection of the community, the store was almost constantly busy, keeping Connor daily before the public.
Glitski said this was the chief reason in considering Connor as candidate. Pete was also active on church committees and in social, civic, service and fraternal clubs, all looked upon favorably by political leaders.
Connor was also in demand for his Irish tales and songs of the Emerald Isle. With a pronounced brogue, Pete made fun of the Irish and even his church, but never offensively. One of his favorite stories was about Paddy Murphy, making the Stations of the Cross in a quiet, vacant church one peaceful afternoon.
Father James Kane, the parish priest, watched Murphy through a crack in the vestibule door. Just as Paddy finished the seventh station and was crossing to the opposite side of the church, the priest stepped through the double door.
The priest whispered, “Paddy, you are making the stations?”
“Yes Fader that I am.”
The white haired priest pointed to his right: “Did you start up there?”
“Why Yes Fader, I did.”
With a thumb and two fingers the priest rubbed his chin gently and said softly: “Paddy, don’t you know you started at the fourteenth Station? You are making them backwards.”
Paddy scratched his bushy, unkempt hair and said aloud: “You know, Fader, I was wondering about that. Sure the far-der I go the stronger He gets.”
Another story Connor told at public events was about the same Paddy Murphy and his fellow mine worker, Claude Standing. In this tale Paddy loses his life in a gas explosion, off the main mine gangway ; but let Connor tell it:
“Claude was not of Paddy’s faith, but he thought so much of his mine Buddy that he attended the funeral Mass. Claude naturally did not understand the service and he left the church a little early.
A man seated in a car outside the church saw Claude and asked if the services were over. Claude said he wasn’t sure ‘but I think so. The priests are now swinging safety lamps over the corpse. I guess they are testing Murphy for gas.”
It was stories like these and songs like “The Night That Paddy Murphy Died” and “The Rocky Road to Dublin” that kept Connor in public demand. Many regarded him as a living library of Irish folklore. He owned two shillelaghs he got from his sister when she was visiting Ireland. They were two different lengths, one more like a policeman’s Billy, the other like a walking stick. He often used them as props when singing “The Same Old Shillelagh.”
One of Connor’s tales takes his audience to Ireland where Pat and Mike are drinking beer in a Pub. Mike tells Pat he believes he has the answer to the trouble in Ireland. When Mike asks what it is, Pat responds: “We declare war on the United States. You know how Uncle Sam treats his defeated enemies. He builds them schools, churches, industries and gives them money.” Mike puts down his beer and approves the idea but has one question. Pat wants to know what it is and Mike says: “What if we win?”
Connor was just after singing something about the “Irish being Egyptians long ago” at the Knights of Columbus social in St. Mikes Greek hall on West Center Street when he called me to join him at his table. This was the night after he informed me of the invitation to become a candidate. We had agreed in my apartment to “sleep on it.”
Pete came straight to the point, “Well Dan, what’s the verdict?”
“I didn’t sleep a wink all night Pete, thinking about this. I’ve studied the pros and cons and it wasn’t until the cool, clear light of dawn that I reached a decision.” I said this with emphasis, or at least I though I did, with a hope I sounded important. Actually it wasn’t a decision.
“I’ve decided Dan that we talk to some of our friends and see what they think. Lets get the reaction from people we know and trust.”
While saying this Pat and Mike Kipling entered and without waiting for Connor to answer I called to the two men. They were brothers and close friends of Pete. Pat was tall, thin and Mike was stocky and slightly bow-legged. They traveled together from bar to bar and drank beer because as Mike put it “we can’t afford anything better. I have a champagne taste but a beer purse.” To appease their appetites would require a substantial purse because they drank every day. They never missed a social where beer was on tap and never passed up any drink “that was on the house .”
Regardless of how much he drank, Pat remained without spot or blemish. A miraculous dresser he retained a stately appearance even though a slight stagger occasionally hampered him. On the other hand, Mike always looked half loaded, even when starting out the day cold sober.
The two men were well know throughout the community, particularly in barrooms and clubs.
Both men admired Pete. At banquets where Connor served as speaker or toastmaster, they led the laughter and applause. On adjournment of the formal phase of programs, they would join Connor in song, after securing a fourth voice to form a quartette. Pat was blessed with a deep, appealing bass voice, always on key, rounding out harmonious renditions with Mike contributing much as the lead singer, or second tenor.
Although not admitting it to myself I knew in my heart I wanted Pete to run. And I had no doubt about what Pat and Mike would say. Connor, running for office, would give them good reason, although they didn’t need any, to drink every night for the next month, which was typical during a coal region campaign.
Pete nodded agreement to my proposal while the two men approached the table. After accepting an invitation to have “just a beer” the two men sat down and Pete told them he was asked to run for the legislature.
There was only one question and it came from both of them simultaneously: “As a Democrat?”
“Yes, as the party endorsed candidate.”
Mike wanted to make the announcement on the spot but Pat, sensing a desire to keep it confidential, cautioned his brother to “keep your big mouth shut.”
Mike however, was carried away; “This is just what I need to make life complete before I pass on, having you Pete in the legislature.” As an after thought he observed, “You know Pete, I think I am going to die young.”
His brother replied, “ Well you better hurry, you’re 65 now.”
Actually the Kipling family was blessed with longevity. No one knew how old Mother Kipling was when she died. Pat said his mother never lost her hearing until the day of her death. He said she never missed a radio news broadcast and when the commentator ended his program by saying good night, she would answer, “Good night now, and watch yourself on the rocks in the garden.”
A variety of witty retorts went on for some time and after the fifth or sixth beer, the brothers broke into song. On this occasion I was the fourth voice for the impromptu quartette. Connor’s candidacy wasn’t mentioned for the balance of the night.
The next night Connor and I took part in the Annunciation B. V. M. sodality card party. We wanted to know how the women of the parish felt about Connor as a candidate, knowing full well that the Kipling brothers had “spread the word” throughout the day.
Serving as a tallyman for the “500” game placed me in a good spot for choice pieces of gossip. Bridget (O’Brien) Bonner, a middle-aged women with a big hat and silk gloves, sat at one of the “500” tables. She had something to say about an incident that hit the papers the previous night. Four juveniles had been apprehended by the local police and charged with possession and consumption of beer in the community park.
In the news release the names of the boys were withheld. “This is a dam shame,” she said. “Their names should be published. It would teach them and their parents a good lesson.”
Before the hand was played Bridget had good reason to change her mind. An officer came in to the hall, spotted Mrs. Bonner and went straight to her table. “Mrs. Bonner,” he said, “Your son, Tommy, was caught with beer in the park a few minutes ago.”
Bridget never missed any Euchre event in the town and was known to cheat. She played with a vengeance. Her passionate desire to win wasn’t prompted by the prizes because they were usually of little value. But winning meant prestige. Being top scorer was an honor. The game of “500” itself, a bit more complex than Euchre or other contests played at the card party, gave her the dubious distinction of being a member of some imaginary gambling elite.
The three ladies at the card table with Bridget did not hear the officer, but I did. When the patrolman whispered the news I was standing directly behind Bridget. She was remaining, what I thought was remarkably, calm; the woman finished the hand and excused herself with a remark about being away for “just a minute.” She went directly to Connor, only a few steps away. I overheard her:
“I’ve heard the good news Mr. Connor. You will make a fine legislator.” Yes the word was out; Pat and Mike had not failed us.
Bridget continued, “Pete, I know you will do me a bit of a favor. Tommy got into bad company tonight. Look into it for me. He’s a good boy, as well you know. And for God’s sake please keep it out of the paper.”
After the card party, Pete and I headed for the towns Volunteer Fire Companies Social, held monthly by the active firemen. Outside the Irish American (IA) Fire House, this month’s host company, Pete asked me to wait a few minutes.
“Where to?” I asked.
“The police station. I’ll see if the man on the desk can do something for Bridget. It’s just around the corner, so I won’t be long.”
“Pete, it’s a waist of time. Bridget’s brother Bob O’Brien has a job with the federal government. He is a Republican and she is not only a staunch Republican, but works for the GOP at her precinct.”
This didn’t stop Pete. He returned in a few minutes and we joined the firemen. Pete’s political offer had made the rounds and with little exception the men we talked with not only wanted Pete to run but promised some personal support.
Pete was at home with these men; the party was stag. He knew most of them by name; all of them by sight. Pete was an honorary life member of the IA Fire Company. We were among the last to leave the social.
Several firemen were of the impression that Pete was already a candidate, offered advice and encouragement. Some of them were rather liberal with what they considered constructive ideas and Pete proved to be a good listener. I’m sure he found some outlandish and a few outright ludicrous.
One went so far as to suggest a beauty contest of only girls left handed as a means of attracting public attention. Another urged Pete to ask residents to contribute their green stamps to charity drives. A third had a solution for street muggings at night. He said every person out at night should wear steel armor and “dress like the gladiators of old.” This gave another fireman an idea that would protect women out at night: “If every woman dresses as a man and if men let their hair grow down to their shoulders the sex maniacs will not know who to attack.” This prompted another suggestion that would discourage a thief: “Carry credit cards instead of money.”
Norman Grant, a retired railroader and senior member of the company “begged to differ.” A thoughtful man, acquainted with the Connor clan for generations, did not want Pete to run. “You are not cut out for politics, Pete. I know those pious, persuasive politicians who tell you to run that this is a distinct honor. But do they mention the money it will cost you? And I cannot see you being subject to the criticism, the vicious attacks on your reputation, assaults that will come with a complete disregard for your family, your privacy, your friends and your followers. You come from a good family, Pete, and even though you feel that you are above reproach, I know something about distortion of truth. You see, I ran for public office once and it almost broke up my family. It took a long time to live it down. I’m sincere Pete and I’m sober. I didn’t have a drink. If you do run I might be doing you a favor by voting against you.”
Grant told Pete his political foes would be like a nightclub entertainer; “The man at the microphone will use you in his filthy, belittling jokes because you have become a public figure. And you dare not answer. Keep in mind he’s got the Mike and you know what a clever master of ceremony can do to a heckler.”
On the way home we forgot most of what was said but not Grant’s warning. Pete turned to me and said: “Dan, do you think I can take it?”
“Pete, you are a man of conviction. You were never afraid to take sides in any dispute. Grant is senile; something out of the past and nothing more than a memory in today’s politics.”
No question about it, I wanted Pete to run. It certainly wouldn’t hurt my prestige to be his campaign manager. I was always an active democrat; often donating, not much but donating to campaigns. I seldom missed a Party Dinner, rally, picnic or any public event sponsored by the organization. In fact on occasions my advice was solicited in drawing up policies, platforms, and campaign strategies.
It didn’t strike me that I was being selfish. I was thinking more of myself than my friend: “Pete we both know you will be discounted and discredited, accused, judged and condemned by the opposition without a trial. I know you enough to know you can take it.”
“You mean I’m thick skinned.”
“Well, yes, but your moral principles and even your logic will be tested. But I know you have what it takes. Your jokes naturally will not sound funny to the opposition. Your rich Irish wit will be ridiculed and your brogue branded as a poor sample of the language used in the halls of the legislature.”
“Dan, I’ve been thinking about all this. And I believe I’ve hit upon something. The name Monsignor Cornelius Kelly came to mind. You know, I think, he’s living with his sister since his retirement. Nobody knows me better than this man; our parish priest practically all our lives. Why not see him before making a final decision?”
Now why hadn’t I thought of that? “Excellent, Pete. Even if you have already decided to run, we should get this priest’s advice and guidance.”
Somehow I felt certain the priest would want Pete to run. As head of a large parish and parochial school system for years, the clergyman was keenly aware of the value of friends in public office. What better person in the legislature than a boy he taught? It would be an honor, not only to Connor, the parish and the community, but to the priest himself.
Before parting that night we agreed to go to Mass on Saturday evening and leave early Sunday morning to speak to the Monsignor. This decision set my mind at ease and that night I slept soundly and I’m sure it was the same for Pete.
Before falling asleep however, I had visions of filling some important appointment on the state level, made possible through the influence of our new legislator. I saw the governor approach Pete for his support on a vital issue and heard my friend pledge his support only if Danny Donlin is appointed to fill the next opening in the cabinet.
Tomorrow would be a big day in our lives. It would mark the opening of a door into a new, grand, happy world. The priest, no doubt, would not only urge Pete to run but give him his personal blessing.
Fate intervened however, Monsignor Cornelius Kelly died through the night.
A Friend is Lost
Dorothy McGrath, with the Sunday edition of the Bulletin under one arm, rang the bell at my apartment door with the other, after attending services in the First United Methodist church. Shortly behind her was Kate Conroy.
“Pete needs me.” This was Dottie’s blunt greeting as she brushed by and sat on a sofa with the newspaper on her lap. How could she know Pete needed her? Was she psychic or something? Did she possess some kind of extra sense of perception or was it always this way with people in love?
It certainly wasn’t witchcraft or some type of sorcery. None of this with Kate. Nobody in their wildest moments pictured this comely girl, almost 30, but looking much less, as a grotesque figure on a broom, soaring skyward into some dark, foreboding atmosphere. You never experienced any depressing moments or mental misgivings with Kate. It wasn’t any mental agitation or evil apprehension you felt in Kate’s presence; the feeling was uplifting, angelic rather than satanic.
There she was a lovely feminine picture, always on hand when needed, needed by Pete that is. You couldn’t help but hope there was another woman like her out there somewhere for you.
Witchcraft! Sorcery! Nonsense. It was all very simple. She must have heard about Father Kelly. In my church the priest’s name was mentioned in the Prayers for the Faithful. By now the priests death was common knowledge and was probably mentioned by their minister. The two clergymen were friends and very responsible for instituting ecumenical services with inter-faith meetings. Yes, that was it; this is how they knew.
“Yes Dorothy. I can’t think of anyone better for Pete right now. Did you know Pete and I planned on visiting Father Kelly today?”
Kate said, “I’m not surprised.” She smiled, and her lovely dimples deepened. Her sparkling, bright blue eyes, wide apart, divulged not only an acceptance, but also an endorsement of the idea. I guess I knew any decision made by Pete would be acceptable to Kate an inward, integral manifestation of love.
I expected Pete shortly and said so. Always at home in my apartment, Kate got up and disappeared into the kitchen with an assurance that coffee would be ready in a few minutes.
In her absence, Dot and I exchanged stories about Monsignor Kelly. She knew things that happened throughout the town and I had items that were a part of our practicing faith. Dot said, “He never had a problem with a person’s religion or ethnic background unless they were obviously morally wrong. We often heard about his push and desire to have the different sects get together and exchange ideas. We might find out that we are not to far apart on what we believe.”
We three were good friends, Dorothy, Kate and I, for quiet some time. I wanted her for more than a friend but she gave me no reason to hope. Up to this time she gave me no reason to believe there was anyone in the world for her except Pete.
Connor lived with his mother in what was affectionately called “The Bloody First Ward” but for some time now she and Pete stayed at a country cottage she owned in a valley about six miles north of town. Although Pete’s legal residence was in the borough, he spent most of his time at the cottage with his mother.
Dorothy told Kate she was going to continue on her way to the drug store and pick up a few additional things, “Well, I have to run. I still need to pick up my prescription and a few things I thought of while we were talking. Dan thanks for the coffee, hope everything goes well in the campaign. If there is anything I can help with just gives me a call, okay? It was nice chatting with you Kate on our way over here, I’ll give you a call later Kate”
This explained Kate’s appearance at my apartment rather than at Pete’s home, where incidentally she was always a welcome guest. Mrs. Connor liked Kate very much. Traditionally Irish mothers are reluctant to give up a son to any woman. Not so in this case. From the first moment Mrs. Connor met Kate, the Old Irish mother knew she would one day surrender her boy to this girl. The only problem she had to work around was the fact that Kate was a Methodist and not a Catholic.
We did not see Pete that day. He called and said he was staying with his mother at the cottage. I realized the death of the priest would profoundly affect this women. Father Kelly had been her confessor from the time he came to the local parish until his retirement. The priest was her spiritual ideal.
I called Kate to the phone, knowing she would want to console Pete in the priest’s death.
Kate brought in two fresh cups of coffee but drank very little of her own, becoming preoccupied in her conversation with Pete. After a sip or two I picked up the Sunday paper, sat in a chair near a large window and leafed automatically through the pages. I stopped suddenly when a headline caught my eye: “Beloved Priest Is Dead.” An overwhelming, crushing, oppressive sadness filled my entire being.
My throat filled, my vision blurred. As I read on I could not contain my emotions. I cried quietly, but bitterly and without restraint, the stream of tears pouring downs my checks, onto the printed pages, blotching the column containing the obituary details.
Unconsciously audible, I read portions of the published account: “Monsignor Kelly died of cancer . . . the stalwart clergyman was 79 . . . one of the great moments in his holy life was the Golden Jubilee celebration of his priesthood . . . commending the priest at the time, the Bishop said ‘you have an extraordinary successful priest in every assignment given to you through five decades . . . as your Bishop I treasure particularly your spirit of loyalty and self sacrifice . . . your road has not always been easy, but sustained by the Divine Master . . . only God can reward you adequately for all this.’
The priest’s biography was depicted in beautiful detail. It reviewed his spiritual leadership, guidance and achievements, It noted his constant interest in the welfare of his church and community; how he organized a volunteer fire company; established a clinical care program and opened a convent for the Sisters of Charity.
“His benevolence will never be fully known. His compassion and charitable work were Christ-like. His personal guidance of parochial education through dark, depression days, until his death, are living and lasting memorials to his priestly and technical proficiency.”
I reached for a handkerchief. After a spasmodic cough and some nasal sniffing I looked up over the paper. Kate’s eyes were upon me, unmoving, moist. They reflected my own soul stirring sentiments. She had the mouthpiece of the phone away from her ear and I knew Pete had heard all I read.
I also knew, without uttering a word that she wanted me to continue. We always called the priest Father, although he was elevated six years ago to the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church with the conferral of the title Domestic Prelate by Pope Pius XII. He was the first clergyman to become Right Reverend Monsignor in the history of the community.
I just could not go on. I handed Kate the paper and she read the remainder of the article to Pete. It lauded the priest for his lectures to our labor college and commended his directions of St. Patrick Day minstrels. It even gave him credit when his parish high school football team won the anthracite championship. It praised him for ordering coal hauled to homes of needy families and for having food baskets delivered to the poor and for extending monetary assistance for Christmas.
During the community’s Centennial Celebration it was Monsignor Kelly who celebrated the outdoor Mass of Thanksgiving on the high school football field. In his sermon the priest paid a stirring tribute to the youth of the town; “They show the mark of training and demonstrate good citizenship.”
Listening to Kate on the phone prompted some recollections of the priest as a staunch disciplinarian. I could still see him with his cane, or stick, snipped from a tree, walk briskly through the streets of the town, sending youngsters home with some encouragement from the improvised persuader. Instead of protesting such ‘violence’ parents of all denominations not only endorsed the practice but publicly encouraged it. Their children had an impressive curfew that got them home at a decent hour every night. The Monsignor was credited with enrolling more students in seminaries than any other priest in the diocese.
The newspaper article said the priest, in his sermon on the football field, outlined well, the Christian concept of life and touched on the fallacy of the philosophy that ‘might is right.’ The priest said: “The duties of a good citizen are that in things that are necessary let us have unity; in things that are doubtful let us have liberty and in all things let us have charity.” He was quoted in the school paper for “his straightforwardness being the keystone of his personality.”
Kate was about to put aside the paper when she spotted a special column about the priest. It was written in brief, pointed paragraphs and Kate read it over the phone in its entirety. Her voice was raised slightly and I knew this was for my benefit.
“A curtain of sadness fell over Shannon today with the announcement of a great man’s death.
In the Holy Priesthood he went to God daily for over 50 years, but yesterday he went and did not come back.
He was not only a member of every family in his parish, but brought them with him, into the family of God.
He carried a big stick, but it was pointed in the right direction.
In a spiritual sense, the Monsignor was the town’s chief surgeon. He cut out the bad so the good could grow.
He was like the candle that glows during the Consecration. He consumed himself so that other might see.
He was never angry without cause. He never accepted change without progress and never preached without purpose. He had the courage, poise, enthusiasm, and the self-assurance needed with great responsibilities.
He knew how to sympathize with others in their sorrows. He knew how to be happy and high-minded amid daily drudgeries.
He helped his fellowman to grasp for the Divine and to see the majestic meaning of life.
He found the best in others by giving the best in himself.
Monsignor was delightful company. Yet in his presence, there were moments you sensed greatness. You received the impression that here was a man happy with life but not afraid to leave it.
He was never afraid to take a definite stand on any issue for fear of creating some ill will. He was a man of profound Christian principle with a high standard of excellence.
He cut his way into your heart, not with flattery, but with the sting of fire. Monsignor left this world better than he found it. He blessed many and is now himself blessed forever.”
Kate put down the receiver without another word. She got up and walked to the door, with the forgotten newspaper dangling from the edge of the coffee table.
At the door she turned and said: “tell Pete you want him to run!”
Start the Race
The colorful, expansive Mine Board banquet hall resembled a national political convention when Connor and I made our appearance.
A half dozen long rows of tables, set for a banquet, filled the dining room from the front door to the elevated stage that stretched across the opposite end of the building.
A rather noisy, yet delightful exuberant crowd of democrats occupied practically every chair. I knew that just about everybody in the hall never voted anything but the straight ticket. One member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians who sat near me and whose name escapes me, put it this way: “Sure’n it’s a mortal sin to vote any other way.”
Political banners draped the walls and dangled from the ceiling. Uplifting patriotic tunes, mingled with loud polkas and lilting Irish lyrics, came from an old Hammond organ that new better days. Even with my tone-deaf ears, I had a vague impression the playing was just a bit off key.
A variety of badges, political emblems, ribbons and other ornaments bedecked the coats of men and garnished the gowns and other garments of women.
I overheard Red Rafferty tell all within hearing distance that he got drunk one election day and voted for the split ticket. He made it known however that he made this a matter of Confession. There were nods of approval and some raucous giggling. Yes, just about everyone in the hall was an avowed, dedicated Democrat. Rallies such as this were not held for the individual vote – that was assured. The purpose was to get the independent vote, to win over as many Republicans as possible and to raise funds for the campaign. This came about through the profits from the $50 a plate dinner and from outright donations and pledges.
Looking over the throng gave me the ridiculous impression that everybody was taking at once. Nonsense! There are good listeners in every crowd; yes, and some bad listeners, like Dismal Dinny Burke, the distressing extrovert.
In all this I sensed an atmosphere of optimistic anticipation. Success, victory, good fortune emanated from every table. There was the amiable sound of laughter, in a variety of resonant tones, vibrating from wall to wall in variable volume. When explosive, convulsive laughter and delightful screams came from flushed faces, it was undoubtedly the response to a dirty joke. In bed at home later that night I knew many of the women who reddened in merriment would be telling their husbands that “I never knew that man told such filthy stories.”
Suddenly I was drawn away from the gay, festive atmosphere. A strange man grabbed be and virtually pulled me in to a nearby men’s room. First looking around to make certain we were alone than the man put out his hand.
“Shake, Dan. You don’t know me very well, but Connor does and I want to wish him the best and give him all the help I can.” He withdrew his hand, turned and walked out of the room without another word. I opened my hand, there was folded neatly, two fifty dollar bills. Needless to say I was overjoyed thinking that every bit helps.
Kate saved me a seat, up close to the stage, at a point where our backs were to the wall. Pete would have a seat on the stage at the main table. Glitski was just a few chairs away and Kate, watching him, turned to me and whispered: “There’s something about that man I just don’t like.”
The toastmaster, Ray Wishkiewicz, an elderly somewhat bulky man, was pounding the gavel and calling for attention to no avail. He was asking all to “clear the aisles” and “close the bar” and “take a seat.” This went on for some time with remarkable disregard. Finally men on the stage began tapping their glasses with table utensils and soon this became a chant throughout the hall.
The program followed the traditional pattern of a political rally. There were jokes, announcements, speeches; interspersed with song and repeated criticism of the opponents and of all Republicans in general. The response was resounding applause and hearty laughter.
Kate and I stood up and shouted when Connor was introduced. For what I thought was much too long a time, we stood alone. Kate gestured with her hands to others near us and soon there was a shuffling of chairs and the entire ensemble was on its feet. We finally got our standing ovation.
Connor extended his hands, palms down, and there was another scraping of chairs, a gradual diminishing hush, and silence.
Pete’s talk was brief, direct, and conventional. He said in an even, clear voice that carried well, that he was proud and indeed pleased to be selected as the candidate. After careful study and much consideration, I have decided to accept this challenging offer and exercise my American, patriotic privilege of seeking public office. I solicit your support and feel sure I have it. I stand alone unless you stand with me.”
This sounded too good to let go by, so I gave out with an impulsive applause. That is all you need at a political rally. Even those not listening sounded off. It quickly became a heartening confirmation of that good old tried and true law of imitation. During a momentary lull in the program, a little later, Kate observed, “We could have started a wild demonstration.”
But what I liked best about Connor’s acceptance speech was mentioning me as his campaign director. It triggered the many contributions I received throughout the evening. I learned later that some in the crowd had gone to Connor with donations, but he refused to accept money, turning these generous Democrats over to me. This money would certainly come in handy during the next few weeks.
At the close of the formal program there ensued the customary mixing and mingling of the voter with the versatile, veteran, glib politician. This is when appointments are promised, contracts assured and a wide variety of personal favors pledged. The common man is gratified to meet the statesman and is happy to hear himself called by his given name. The innocent constituent does not know that the public figure got the name a moment before from a local lackey.
I do believe that many an election is won, or lost, at such public events. This particular occasion certainly did not hurt Connor, at least not in my mind. When I left the hall my pockets were stuffed with donations. Later in my apartment I counted the money and discovered I had over a thousand dollars. Among the donations was an unsigned note: “Connor is being betrayed . . . watch Chairman Glitski.”
Surprisingly enough the note did not annoy me very much. My immediate reaction was that it came from a crank, some disappointed pervert, a degenerate. I did think of Kate but I knew her handwriting and it appeared to me that a man wrote it. I did not recall getting any donations from any women.
I could not possibly remember the names of those who made some of the contributions. In fact I was not acquainted with many who put the money in my pockets and I was sure I had never met some of them before this night. I put the anonymous note in my envelope and placed it in a desk drawer before going to bed.
I could not sleep. Stimulated and elated by the excitement of the night I was thinking that everything happens for the best. Pleased by the developments, I was especially gratified by the outburst of financial support. I was not that enthusiastic or even thoroughly satisfied with Connor’s decision to run. Regardless of the outcome I was sure of living the next few weeks without a dull moment. Not that I was worried about the outcome; not that night. I could not see anyone beat my friend, Peter Patrick Connor after that rally.
The decision to run was made at the funeral of Monsignor Kelly. It was not prompted by the impressive services in church or at the cemetery but from remarks by Mother Mary Magdalene.
This saintly woman had taught Connor and me and she retained an interest in our spiritual, and temporal welfare, down through the years. The Nun came over to the driver’s side of the car where we sat waiting for the cortege to start moving to the cemetery.
Looking over the car in the direction of the hearse, Mother Magdalene said: “He was truly a pious priest. One of his traits was his steadfast interest in the welfare and status quo of ever graduate of our school. He took personal pride in each student’s accomplishments. He shared the joys of every marriage ceremony he performed and the happiness of every baptism and even shared the pleasures of birthday parties and wedding anniversary celebrations among his parishioners. Above all he encouraged his pupils to take part in public life. He knew the value of connections with men in authority.”
These words came back to me in bed that night. The open top of the shade on the lighted bed lamp cast a large, bright circular glow directly above me on the bedroom ceiling. I saw a mental image of the dead priest’s face, with a halo overhead, smiling down upon me. A portion of the Creed came to mind: “I believe in the Holy Spirit . . . the communion of saints” and fell asleep certain I had received a supernatural sign.
Actually the Sister had offered the cue. The Monsignor would have wanted Connor to run. Didn’t she say as much? But how did she know Connor was asked to run? The mystery was solved in a telephone call from Kate the next day: “I had a talk with Mother Magdalene. Now mind you Dan I did not influence her, but I did tell her that you and Pete would appreciate her views.”
Yes Kate certainly wanted Pete to run – and win. After all there is some distinction in being the wife of a state legislator.
After Kate’s call my thoughts turned to Paul ‘Butch’ Latsow, a man I knew would play an important role in Connor’s campaign. A dark, ruggedly handsome, full faced middle-aged man he worked as a salesman, or agent for firms supplying equipment for coal companies, farmers and garment plants. Always neatly dressed, Latsow often boasted about his civic and political accomplishments. His chief claim to recognition in democratic ranks was his sales and purchases of rally tickets.
“I take dozens of tickets and never miss an affair to raise funds for the party.” I recalled his saying this at a banquet, while taking a second helping of the family style servings. Of rugged physique, with no middle bulge, he enjoyed a ravenous appetite. He drank beer with a relish, never even staggered and never gained any weight.
Latsow was not as generous as he would have his audience believe. I don’t think he actually ever bought a ticket. He sold them to clients, who returned the tickets to him as donations. These he distributed among friends, giving them the impression he bought them himself.
Nevertheless party leaders favored Latsow. Politicians were interested in results, not the methods used to attain them, as long as there was no direct connection to them personally.
He had a way with women and Kate liked the man. Referring to him at the banquet she said to me: “You know Dan, that man is easy to like.”
But it wasn’t Latsow - or me - who escorted Kate from the rally. She remained in the hall with Connor where our candidate was making new friends and getting tired shaking hands.
I drove home with Glitski. When I mentioned the voluntary contributions the chairman had said: “We will need all we can get, Dan. They will pay for posters, calling cards, advertising and what have you.” This did not disturb me, at least not at that time. I was aware of the need for funds to finance campaign.
Before leaving Glitski that night we sat in the car outside my apartment and talked for some time.
Glitski pointed out that there were three legislative districts in the county and each would conduct its own campaign with the county committee acting as a central point of operation.
“As you probably know Dan, each borough and township elects its own officers and this is done by members of committee from each precinct. This is how I became chairman in Shannon.”
I knew this. I was near enough to the political game for long enough to know that committee members were elected in the Primary Election, usually without opposition and generally handpicked by the Chairman. Some were chosen because of their generosity to the party and some because they command a big vote. Among those given priority usually were heads of large families, leaders of labor organizations and key figures in industry. Professional people were preferred but not often available for this type of political activity. When doctors, teachers, lawyers and other college degrees entered politics their aim was generally higher than the lower committeeman.
Yet is was the committeemen who secured campaign crowds, handled voting lists and manned the polls on election day.
Glitski continued: “We are organizing a committee on the legislative level covering all 80 precincts in the district and the feeling among our group is to ask Latsow to serve as treasurer for Connor’s campaign.”
I got the hint. “I will count the money I got from the rally and keep a list of all who gave me their names. Then I will turn the money over to Latsow.”
This apparently pleased Glitski and he reached for the ignition key.
Sliding Through the Political Dirt
Two days after the rally I got a jolt. One of the headlines in the local newspaper caught my eye: “Connor Condones Pornography.”
With quivering hands I read on:
“Peter P. Connor is not against the display of smut on the book stands and magazine racks in the legislative district where he is the endorsed candidate for the State House.
This was made known through a public statement made by George Glitski, chairman of the political party in Shannon. Glitski, in an interview concerning the campaign, said his political party, following the concept of law and order, approves the findings of the Congressional Commission on Obscenity and Pornography.
Chairman Glitski stated that an extensive investigation by the Commission uncovered no evidence indicating that exposure to, or use of explicit sexual material creates any social or individual harm.
Glitski said the Commission concluded that there is no social justification for enactment of legislation that would prohibit the consensual distribution of sexual material to adults. According to the Commission a majority of Americans believe that adults should be allowed to read or see any sexual material they choose.”
Unable to contain myself I leaped to my feet, crumbled the paper in clenched fist and hit the desk with such force the lamp overturned, but protected fortunately by its shade. The extension cord pulled away from the socket, plunging the room into darkness. This tempered my outburst of violent language. With the aid of a match I found the plug and inserted it into the socket and adjusted the table lamp.
I reached for the phone.
“Is this article on smut true, Glitski?”
“Why, what’s wrong with it?” The voice of George Glitski was suddenly calm, even indifferent.
“What’s wrong with it?” I was shouting. “Don’t you know? Why it is nothing less than a public endorsement of filth. You just blew an election.”
“Check your temper Dan. This sex stuff is selling big. It means votes. Haven’t you heard of the Supreme Court’s ruling on pornography?”
“To hell with the Supreme Court. This is political suicide, moral murder. You just made ever decent citizen in the district a Republican.”
“Now Dan. Keep your cool. Don’t split a gasket.”
“Never mind this gasket business, did you talk to Connor about this?”
“No I did not. You know Pete was away with his mother, some hospital test I believe. He took a leave of absence from work.” Glitski paused a moment and then continued: “Tell you what, Dan; I’m going to a wake tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow evening. Let’s meet at the Silver Duck” And with that he hung up.
I spent a sleepless night and a restless day composing an answer to this outrage. Too upset to prepare a reply that would reflect Connor’s thinking and at the same time blast Glitski, I loaded the wastepaper basket with crumpled, scribbled sheets of paper. My frustration created a mental block and my agitation remained intense until the evening newspaper arrived.
I quickly scanned the front page. Nothing. I leafed through the paper twice before I came upon it. There it was, a single column head, below the centerfold, on the Woman’s Page. “Buried, I hissed aloud. The caption “Connor Disagrees” wasn’t even printed in bold face.
I was amazed at the promptness of Connor’s reply and wondered how he even knew about the article; much less manage a public release so soon. I had no doubt of Connor’s reaction and his position on the issue. But I was deeply concerned about how he would handle it. The article carried his by-line and apparently quoted Connor verbatim:
“The published statements on pornography attributed to George Glitski were made without my sanction, knowledge or verification. I am unalterably opposed to any permissive approach to pornography. The carnal nature of every ordinary human being is aroused by such erotic material.
Such morally impure publications are utterly without any social value. Obscenity is the smog of our souls, the pollution of our hearts and minds.
I am, without reservations, opposed to the publication of books, magazines and motion pictures that depict and describe orgies, homosexuality, incest, seduction, rape, bestiality and ever-conceivable form of sexual aberration. I am also against all such advertising, including the use of our postal service to deliver such smut.”
Good, very good. I smacked my lips. My sentiments exactly, but why couldn’t I have done this? It looked and sounded simple enough. It was in essence just about what I had in mind but couldn’t put on paper. I was delighted by Pete’s directness and translucent touch. I read on:
“Whether elected or not, I pledge to help every way I can, to wipe out smut and smut peddlers. Right now I am filing a protest with the Federal Communication Commission concerning a report that X-rated movies will be shown on television.”
Good boy, Pete. I didn’t think you had it in you. This is too good for just one release. Right there and then I decided this would be used in some of our newspaper advertisements. Let the editor bury it; we’ll resurrect it.
We all meet at the Silver Duck, a saloon on the main street of Shannon. The establishment had at least three known entrances, one on Main Street, and one on the side on Floyd Street and one more in the back, for deliveries on Ferguson Street. This made everyone feel that they weren’t trapped someplace; they could always leave in an inconspicuous way.
Bill Rowland owned the Silver Duck. He was a bright guy that worked hard to be successful and built up his business from a small start in a bar at the west end of town. He planned for the many exits for those husbands that were trying to avoid their wife’s when they had stayed a little longer than expected. It also allowed people to come and go discreetly if the need were to arise. Bill was an active Democrat so he offered the back room for special meetings when asked.
Glitski kept his word. He came that evening, but not alone. A man he introduced as Gene ‘Brick’ Trusky accompanied him. A muscular, clean-shaven prissily dressed middle-aged man, I recognized him immediately as the person who had given me the hundred dollars at the rally. If first impressions are lasting, Brick would be my friend to the end. This feeling hasn’t changed. The only remark I remember him making that evening was that he came to help.
Glitski and Trusky were removing their coats when Kate came in with the retired professor, David McDonald, a prominent figure in local democratic circles. A tall, thin man of imposing appearance and manner, McDonald’s close cropped grayish hair, clear light blue eyes, straight nose, round cheeks, even jaw, made him an individual of unusual distinction.
There were a few other familiar faces at the bar, Al Matti the neighborhood barber, Silent Sam Bradigan, and Stanley Puliewicz. They were engaged in small talk about some sporting event with very little disagreement except for Silent Sam. He was taking it all in and not saying a word, just nodding his head every so often.
Kate was exquisite in a holly green; snug dress with scalloped hem an inch or two above her comely knees. An ivy green belt crossed a straight back, graceful bosom, just above broad, sturdy hips. Her wide mouth and sparkling face, framed by natural, black wavy hair, made Kate a lovable, conspicuous woman. Then there is that smile, no other like it.
Established customs or cultural refinement meant nothing to Kate. She kicked off her high-heeled slippers, glided gracefully across the floor to the bar, where she got five bottles of beer, Bill opened them for her and she served them on a tray. Yes, Kate was delicately beautiful, lovable. Connor was sure to come out all right, regardless of the ballot box. I fought back a momentary pang of jealousy.
A practical, veteran politician, Glitski said: “I hope Connor’s news release does not hurt us.” I was about to protest but Glitski held up a restraining hand: “hear me out, Dan. We are in this fight to win. You realize, I’m sure, that we must do some things that are not always to our liking.”
I managed to interrupt: “I can’t see, for the life of me, how supporting pornography will get us any votes.”
“Now Dan, that remains to be seen. We know how Connor feels about smut, but an election campaign has many phases. We will come up with many issues, good issues that will appeal to the voter. This issue will be lost in the shuffle. And, Dan, we had a good reason for this move.”
“What possible reason can you have to justify a compromise with smut?”
He ignored this: “By the way, Dan, that was a very good reply in the paper.”
Glitski thought I wrote it. I was about to say I didn’t, but wished I did, when Kate spoke up: “The professor here wrote it.”
McDonald smiled: “Pete asked me to do some writing for him during the campaign. It is the least I can do in this battle of ballots. With Pete away I took it upon myself to compose the reply. I’m pleased, Dan, to see you agree with my views.”
Glitski cut in: “No argument. Bare pictures of whores do not bother me and have not disturbed me for some time. But I am interested in the Nelson News Agency. Nelson has the franchise here, a couple dozen outlets in the district. In return for my published statement Frank Nelson donated $500 and promised another $500 before the election.
So that was it! Come hell or high water political expediency first; the almighty dollar; the God of gold.
“I don’t give a damn about Nelson. No compromise with filth, Glitski, at any price. This goes much deeper than a political campaign. Can you imagine Pete and I, active in the Knights of Columbus and the church, turning our backs on something like this?”
I was sure mentioning the Knights of Columbus would help my case, not only because of its moral principles, but the big vote in its membership.
Glitski didn’t appear a bit disturbed: “You know, Dan, that Nelson’s central point of operation is in the building owned by one of your Council officers. In fact your council rooms are there.”
I looked over my beer: “So what!”
“This K of C officer collects rent from Nelson, $300 monthly. If he’s against naked-assed women on the bookshelves why doesn’t he put Nelson out? Or are bare- breasted magazine covers all right if they help pay the rent?”
The professor spoke up before I got my breath: “You are not being fair, Glitski. Would you condemn all precinct committeemen if one gave you trouble? About this Sir Knight and his rents; don’t you feel this is a matter for the individual’s conscience?”
Glitski: “To the public these are empty words. They have another word for it, hypocrite.”
Kate broke the tension. Now standing, hands extended, she said: “Drink your beer, men, if you are having more than one.” There was unanimous approval.
Glitski: “We have Nelson’s five hundred.” I should have known a veteran politician like Glitski would not have made that statement until he had the bundle. Glitski was still talking: “We gave the money to Butch Latsow. He is setting up campaign headquarters at Oakville.”
This I could see. Oakville, next in size to Shannon in the district, was predominantly republican. This burg would require special attention. Only once in my time did Oakville go democratic and that was for John F. Kennedy. Oakville would definitely be a key in this election. Butch was chairman there with a dozen polls to manage. He would need all the help possible. Through his connections with heads in the garment industry, and other employers, he could generate support, especially among women in the factories; but it would take money.
The conversation turned to campaign plans. All public events, scheduled in the weeks ahead, were carefully checked. No rallies, workshops or meetings would be held on such occasions. Connor’s public appearances had to be systematically arranged. No duplications. If two or more events took place the same night Connor would go where it would be to his best advantage. Coming events in newspapers, on radios, in enough church bulletins, were listed in a meMcDonalddum . Some attention was given to meetings of Fraternal, Civic and Service clubs. Chiefly the professor would prepare talks, to suit each audience.
With an experienced, sagacious political leader like Glitski on hand I had the comforting feeling that not much detail was being overlooked. He was thorough. Engrossed in the work before us, we lost all track of time.
It wasn’t until one in the group drew attention to the old Kaiers’s Brewery clock on the far wall that we came out of our engaging preoccupation. The professor got up and said something about this being his hour of departure. The others followed, including Kate. Slipping into her high heels, she said in a voice not much more above a whisper: “I must go Danny. I expect a call from Pete about midnight.” For one fleeting moment, I got the fantastic impression there was disappointment in her voice. Of course this couldn’t be, so I put it promptly out of my mind.
The next day the City Editor David Zack had something to say about Connor and Glitski in a special column, published occasionally and called: “Personal Views.”
“This is the age of the voice, the day of the Big Mouth. And wouldn’t you just guess it; Peter Connor has just put his big proverbial foot in his mouth.
Pius Pete makes it crystal clear that he does go for smut. His mouthpiece, however, Chairman Glitski, does not see too much wrong in a luscious, lovable lady, without the benefit of clothes, adorning a newsstand. On the other hand Connor finds such flawless feminine physiques not only nasty, but downright loathsome.
Those breathtaking, full-length revealing photos are a delight to Glitski, but disgusting to Connor. Why is it Connor that Glitski, a much older man, finds ecstatic pleasure in gazing upon a sultry young brunette while you find it revolting?
What will Glitski do for diversion, Connor, if you wipe out these magnificently proportioned succulent bodies, these full-length pictures of pleasing pulchritude? What would you do Connor, if elected, when you confront a luscious young blonde in our legislature – clean House perhaps?
From reliable sources, to be divulged only through court order, we hear Peter Connor is not too much disturbed or disturbed by beauty in the flesh?”
Ripping the paper into shreds and throwing my hands high, I shouted: “The dirty, lousy bastard.”
The inference was clear to Dan; it meant Connor’s association with Kate.
My first thought was to boycott the paper, get Glitski to have all his committees, party workers and loyal democrats to cancel their subscriptions. Follow this by having Connor’s friends do the same thing. Cut off all advertising and use the radio to tell our story and present our issues.
I had not been listening to the radio although it was turned on all the time. Hearing the name Connor at that very moment, however, drew my attention to the broadcast. The commentator was reading the article I had just finished reading.
The Oakville Rally
Clearly designed for political expediency, the Federation of Fellows for Freedom sponsored a rally in Military Hall at Oakville about two weeks before the election. I had never heard of the group until that day – and come to think of it – haven’t heard of them since.
However, it was the right time, and the right place for Connor to be. He was to be endorsed. The rally had been arranged by Butch Latsow. All the details were in his capable hands. In fact that very morning Glitski had given me instructions concerning the rally.
Glitski was waiting for Connor at the front door of the hall and the meeting place resembled a discarded classroom. Glitski directed Connor, and me, to vacant folding chairs in the front row. They weren’t the only vacant seats in the hall. I saw many, too many, on my way up the aisle.
The Freedom chairman, Albert Stanza, had the floor. I didn’t remember his name and the only thing he said that I heard was his endorsement of Connor. He spoke in a dull monotone, lifeless and maddeningly low voice, as though he was afraid someone might hear what he had to say. He made me uneasy. And I could see that I made him nervous. He squinted every time he turned my way and this was often enough to make me think of a slow moving windshield wiper.
Connor’s response, when summoned to speak, was a pithy acceptance. He blended his expression of gratitude with a few anecdotes. I remember one well, and Connor used this a few times during the campaign.
Jokes usually have no other purpose than to arouse laughter, to create merriment, or simple nonsense. This is not always easy in politics. Every anecdote is supposed to carry a commendable message for the party or the candidate or an outright condemnation of the opposition.
Connor’s little anecdote made fun of architects and engineers, and appealed, we hoped, to the common man, the exploited mine worker or the underpaid seamstress.
In telling it Connor reached back into “the Gentile Age” when a spirit of neighborliness and brotherhood prevailed. He said: “My father, God rest his soul, was out in his garden, hammering away on slabs of timber when Phil Munley came along, I told Phil my father was putting up a building. Munley asked what kind of a building and my Dad said he was constructing ‘a picturesque, rustic summer cottage – if I can rent it out to someone – and if I can’t, than I’m building a coal shanty.”
Still following instructions I walked up to the Freedom Chairman, just after Connor stepped down. I handed the man an envelope containing three one hundred dollar bills. I had carried out my instructions. I returned to Glitski and said something about my mission being accomplished.
A moment later the Freedom Chairman walked by with Butch Latsow and I overheard the man say: “You had me worried Butch. You know, I expected that envelope before making the endorsement.”
It was time to eat. Bleenies and beer were served. Only in hard coal country can you serve Polish Pancakes with a beer wash.
Kate sat between Pete and me in the car going home. She turned her head toward Pete, in obvious wonderment when I remarked: “Pretty expensive bleenies, I’d say.”
We stopped at Pat McMaher’s bar for a drink, just one that Kate called “the drink for the bend in the road.” We sat at a table in a side room that McMaher called his Tea Shop, a beverage seldom served in the place. McMaher, an energetic, gray haired sturdy man, and Connor, were friends for many years.
Separated from the bar by a long hallway the Tea Shop provided the privacy we wanted. The sedate professor and Dismal Dinny Burke entered through an archway from the bar and pulled up two chairs; followed shortly by Glitski and Butch Latsow, who came through a door at the head of the corridor.
It was a cool, clear moonlit night that Dismal Dinny described as an “ill omen” or the calm before a political storm. All agreed, except Dinny, that the rally was a success. Dinny said it was too long and a waste of time.
Our conversation turned naturally to the campaign. Even Dismal Dinny agreed with my observation that the newspaper had inadvertently helped our cause. The publicity on pornography made Connor a popular man. Since the day of the publication Connor was a guest speaker somewhere every night. Invitations included the Women’s Club, three church sodalities, Daughters of the American Revolution, two Courts of Catholic Daughters, an exclusive Hadassah Chapter meeting and several fraternal units. Among male groups addressed, there were three Holy Name societies, a half dozen Rotary Clubs, a county general assembly of Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus, three volunteer fire companies with the rare privilege of taking part, as a Christian, in a special breakfast gathering at the Hebrew Community Center.
Connor was not only well received but in most instances was offered a campaign contribution. He insisted on these being address to the party chairman.
Our parley was interrupted by a telephone call for Connor. He had to leave to accept an invitation to meet what Dismal Dinny called “county party bigwigs at the Country Club.” Connor was barely out the door when the Dismal one spoke up: “A good man Connor and I hope he can take this slimy publicity.”
This was directed to me but Latsow answered: “You know I think some of this malicious printing stuff is libelous. Maybe it does make Connor popular, but it does expose him to public ridicule. I know some lawyers who would relish handling a libel suit.”
However on the advice of the professor we decided to ignore all published criticism and what we considered unethical outbursts of an irresponsible radio announcer.
We agreed that the radio voice came from a newcomer to the area, with no religious affiliation. We felt sure he would not long be accepted by a Christian indoctrinated society. His cackling voice; and the city editor’s wild ramblings, we concluded would not hold up because they put on trial, judged and condemned virtually every public official. Obsessed with anything of a scandalous nature, and getting little response to revolting, incendiary tripe, based on groundless charges, both men became to us, vindictive, blindly striking out viciously with venomous vengeance.
The professor was an exception. He observed: “To answer such charges is to go on the defense and this could go on throughout the campaign, diverting public attention from the real issues. Our answers could be buried and our views belittled. Why spend valuable time on things we cannot change or correct?”
“You mean,” Latsow said, “turn the other cheek and get a slap in the mouth?”
Professor McDonald came to his own defense: “We might examine this whole business before jumping to conclusions. Are any of the charges justified? Is Connor a foolish politician lackey as charged? Is the editor’s motive good government or does he just want to sell papers? If he wants to deliberately publish distorted material, we may consider him irresponsible but what can we do about it? He may have the delusion that advancement comes through crushing others. I was taught that condemning an immoral act could be enriching, but to condemn the actor is degrading. To take delight or pleasure in a form of deception makes the words meaningless.
To dwell on erotic desire does not take much literary effort and to find enjoyment in another’s distress eventually becomes self-destructive. If the moral order is rejected, with no right of appeal, the printed outbursts become corruptible. Articles based on wild imagination; instead of on cold facts, are discounted by an alert public. If the aim is only to destroy, the writer’s end is frustration and even outright despair.”
Latsow: “What you are saying, I think, is that the editor is nuts.”
The professor: “A psycho or neurotic makes a fruitless search for evil. When he does not find it, he creates it. This is irrational behavior. Remember it is not what is written, but why it is written that counts. To get satisfaction from destroying another’s character is to reject the moral order. If the writer is eccentric, mentally deranged, any endeavor to reply is foolish.”
Glitski: “Maybe that’s good, sound logic, but while we sit around waiting for this frustration and despair, we lose an election.”
The professor: “There are things in life more important than winning an election. Suppose we are dealing with a psycho; isn’t it our duty to show compassion? The sick need a physician, not an executioner. We can become as guilty as the person we denounce.”
Glitski: “What you say, professor, sound good but believe me it doesn’t get votes. What you call an alert public is actually a gullible public. People like to read trash. Our precinct workers tell us we shouldn’t take this sitting down; we should fight back, we are trying to win an election”
I cut in at this point to say we considered, but discarded, because ‘letters to the editor’ were twisted and distorted in subsequent columns. Taking things out of context that is transporting certain passages in order to create impressions that reverse the original intent do this.
Latsow: “So there’s nothing we can do?”
Dismal Dinny: “Oh yes there is one thing we can do.”
Latsow: “And what’s that?”
Dismal Dinny: “Shoot the bastard.”
After an ominous, but brief silence, Kate talked: “All this publicity is not bad. The women like Connor. I read the speech the professor prepared for the Hebrew breakfast and I think it was excellent.”
I agreed with that, as I was present because of an invitation from Rabbi Henry Littman. I had introduced Connor. The campaign was not mentioned. Pete began with a salute to the followers of the Old Testament. He talked on the recent New Year observance, followed by the commemoration of Yom Kipper. He lauded the Jewish Community for marking the occasion “on the inside rather than on the outside,” pointing out that this represented a self-evaluation rather than an outward celebration.
Connor had commended them for seeking forgiveness through prayer for wrongdoings. “The Jew who prays for this forgiveness must be willing to first forgive those who have done him wrong. In this soul-searching season you take spiritual stock of your past before expecting future goodness and blessings’”
The professor’s touch was evident in Connor’s words: “The special Mitzvah or Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the Shefar, which is a call to a reawakening, a challenge to rise to a level higher than attained in the past.
Since the spiritual evaluation must be completely honest, you call upon the Lord to help you avoid any slanted analysis. Aware you are not infallible you turn to your Creator through the Torah, called The Light. This helps you illuminate your way through life. You accept the Torah will self-surrender and without the intrusion of your intellect. In this way you become united with Divine intellect. Cognizant of your desires and strong will, you pray each morning for celestial help in overcoming temptations. I know the New Year is not merely a calendar to you. Even men of great virtue and piety must advance from strength to strength.
We must not only salute you, our Jewish fellowmen, but imitate your virtuous teachings. You are people of peace.”
Aroused abruptly from my comforting reflections by a nudge from Kate I became suddenly aware our conference was breaking up. Kate came with me, explaining that Connor was to call her at my apartment.
Later that night I reminded Kate that Connor never said he intended to return from the country club.
Leaning back on the davenport, her hands locked at the back of her neck, Kate looked up and smiled: “I said he would call for me at your apartment. I did not say when.”
Glitski offered an idea he called a good campaign gimmick that was suggested by Butch Latsow to the Democratic Chairman one night at the Elks club.
The plan, simple enough, was to pay one cent for each can or bottle picked up on the street and placed in aluminum cartons, furnished by the Connor committee.
Now here I saw constructive action on a pollution problem that would appeal directly to the youth. I liked the idea. It was unique, dramatic. It was sure to arouse public attention at all levels. This would create good publicity; clean up the town. It would make children conscious of pollution and through the child arouse parents and entire households.
It would be Connor’s plan. He would make the announcement. His picture would be published, taken with a child turning in a discarded baby bottle with parents looking on. Definitely a good gimmick.
The idea excited Connor. He was convinced it would stir a great deal of interest, not only in pollution, but in politics and help his campaign. Glitski said Latsow had suggested testing the idea in Oakville, the hometown of Connor’s opponent. No argument. Get the signs made. Set up the collecting centers. Make the announcement.
“There is one hitch,” Glitski said, “financing the project.”
Connor and I discussed it and agreed to furnish the funds. After all $50 each would pay for 10,000 bottles and cans. We also agreed to pay for posters and call the project “Pete’s Pollution Pennies.”
Glitski called my apartment: “What happens if newspapers do not go along with pictures?”
I hadn’t thought of this: “What do you suggest, George?”
“We’ll put the picture in our advertisements.”
Without giving this a second thought I agreed. I should have given it some thought. A few days after the project started I got the advertising bill.
As party chairman in Oakville, Latsow had connections with the school board and this explained the large delegation of students on hand for the Grand Opening. (Rumor had it that 75 percent of the teaching staff gave Latsow $50 each as campaign contributions every general election.)
The Pollution Penny Program surpassed our wildest dreams. In one week over 100,000 cans and bottles were collected. They came not only from Oakville and the district but from points beyond the county. This meant an investment of $500 each for Connor and me. It wasn’t the only cost. In addition to the advertisements, we had to pay to haul away the collected items, the cost of a permit and the wages of two girls hired by Latsow to handle collections and pay out the pennies.
It wasn’t until some time later we learned that some money was received for the cans and bottles. Glitski paid a compliment to Latsow for securing funds from a brewery and two soda companies for the return of unbroken bottles. Glitski explained that he told his friend to find use for this money in the campaign treasury.
In spite of the cost being far in excess of our expectations, Connor and I were convinced it was a good campaign investment.
Then came the setback. Our discerning city editor had the gall to describe it as a cheap political trick. He had the audacity – or was it courage – to charge Connor with misleading and even corrupting young minds.
Addressed directly to Connor, the editorial asked if Pete’s “Pennies from Heaven” were not in the hands of fallen angels:
“If you are such a high spirited citizen, Connor, why didn’t you collect the bottles before what was in them was consumed? And by the way Pete, no brewery or soft drink firm could do a better job in advertising their product.
And what about some other bottles collected, Connor? What was in some of those narrow-necked vessels? What happened to the pills they contained before they landed in your campaign coffers? You know what narcotics can do to the young, undeveloped mind. Take a long look at the drug counter in the grocery store you manage. Then check some of those bottles you collected. Look up the words marijuana, hallucinogens, amphetamines, barbiturates, cocaine, heroin, and morphine.
Then tell your poor misguided campaign director it might have been a feather in your cap if the money you spent was invested in teaching our youth the dangers of such bottles before they are emptied.
Yes, Connor, the beer, whiskey, wine and God only knows what else that filled those bottles pollute the mind and not the mountainside.”
The editor signed the column: “From a psycho to an empty head.”
When the professor came into my apartment a half hour later, I was still fuming: “We’ll sue the bastard, McDonald, that’s what we’ll do.”
“For what?” McDonald was maddeningly mild.
I pointed to the paper: “You didn’t read this?”
The professor calmly replied: “Yes Dan, I read it.”
“And you aren’t enraged? This stuff is libelous, Dan. It’s murder. It’s worse than the seven deadly sins.”
The professor laughed out loud at that comment. “Sit down, Dan, and relax. And keep your big Irish mouth shut for a minute.”
I sat down abruptly.
“Now in the first place Dan, when Pete entered politics he became a public figure and a newspaper can say anything it likes about a public figure.”
I interrupted: “It can lie? It can maliciously destroy a person’s reputation? With fiendish, fanatic falsehoods it can rip a man to shreds and we can’t do a thing about it. Come on McDonald.”
I swear the professor was chuckling under his breath: “Now examine this whole thing Dan. Was it a lie? After all the reason you and Connor went for this plan was to influence votes. Would you have done this if Connor was not a candidate? Be honest with yourself; it was a means to an end. It backfired, so forget it.”
“Who the hell’s side are you on?” I was sorry I said this, but it was out. I did quickly add: “Professor, I didn’t mean that. I guess I’m not thinking.”
It didn’t seem to bother the professor in the least: “Read that column again, Dan. The fact is we are being betrayed. Someone who sat with us in McMaher’s that night is feeding information to this paper, or giving it to someone who contacts the editor.”
I was dumbfounded. I did not have to read it again. The professor was right. There was a leak. Other columns came to mind and in a flash I had no doubt that there was a Judas in our midst. Too much confidential information was appearing in print. Just a fragment of truth is all that is required in the hands of a biased, imaginative journalist.
“Good God, McDonald you’re right. How can we find out? I’d like to wring his contemptible neck?”
“Simple. We set traps.”
“Recall the night at McMaher’s? Words such as psycho and neurotic, and a few others, were used that got to this newsman. We express confidence again and again in the same group, with one less person present each time. We will create sensational gossip that will appeal to this writer.”
My eyes sparkled. This was apparent from the satisfactory look I got from McDonald. I said: “Your beautiful philosophy that night was nothing more than a front.”
“No Dan, I believe in what I said but I didn’t say it all. The motive is what matters. If this editor is sincere in his view, that all politicians are crooked; if he feels Connor is a tool for those who would perpetuate power at any cost; he is justified, at least in his own mind. But bear in mind, this man and Connor were the best of friends, indeed classmates. Yet he turned on Pete. I have nothing but contempt for a man who would turn on his friend.”
I was thinking of a Biblical passage that proclaims the giving of one’s life for a friend being the world’s greatest sacrifice of love.
“Remember the radioman’s accusation of Connor being aware of some dirty deal? He said it was confirmed in a phone call the announcer made to the state capital.”
“How can I forget? I even know the date the call was made.”
“Well Dan, through a good friend I saw the radio station phone bill for that day and there was no call listed to the state capital.”
“What! Why in the name of God don’t we use this?”
“Simple. You can always compound a lie. The answer we’d likely get is that the call was made from an outside phone booth, a pay station.”
“But do you think the public would swallow this?”
“Connor and I gave this some thought. We finally agreed if this didn’t work some other reason would be given. They could hammer away on this and distract attention from real issues. And something else, Dan. Connor denied any part in a dirty deal by phone and his old newspaper pal decided the radioman and not Pete was telling the truth.”
I reached the conclusion: “Someone must be getting paid for all this.”
“I did hear a rumor, Dan, that our opponents have paid one thousand dollars to belittle and discredit Peter Connor.”
The professor left soon after this. Connor was engaged for the evening to address young students, the new voters. The professor stopped on his way out and removed folded papers from his pocket: “Here’s a copy of Connor’s talk. You might read it in bed.”
I adjusted my bed lamp, propped up a few pillows and began to read:
“My young friends. This is your time of transition from the freedom of youth to the restrictions of adulthood. You must now make decisions that will determine the course of your lives.
But you can decide to let others make the decisions. You now experience the thrill that comes with the discovery of a basic human faculty – the intellect. You now have the responsibility of being thorough, sensitive, and judgmental. Life itself is a gift but we must now develop our own power of reason. We must cultivate individual personalities in order to mature. We now adopt a rule of reason or yield to the unruly forces of the world.
The pursuit of happiness is actually a search for peace, only to be attained within yourself and not in the outside world. You are about to select a career. You may be a big success, gain power and even wealth. But careers soon become daily, monotonous routines that demand sacrifices, hardships and setbacks. This is where you develop distinctive qualities we call character. What you do in life is not as important as your attitude toward life.
Peace of mind is not found in evading responsibilities. The quiet, simple life does not always bring contentment. Like it or not, life does not allow complete relaxation. You must learn to live with tensions, confusions and uncertainties. A graceful submission to adversities produces peace of mind, at least to some degree.
Pollution, population explosion, potent pills, all becomes important words in your lives. They represent problems you will be asked to solve. Solicit divine guidance in facing these perplexities.
Sex becomes a conspicuous word in your lives. Restraint is required in dealing with the mating instinct. Falling in love brings on romantic entanglements that test your values. Love and marriage can mean a merger of strength, or a combination of weakness. Relationship between a man and woman is unhealthy, unwise, if limited to uncontrolled sexual instinct. It changes dreams into nightmares, so make reason, rather than emotion, carry you into maturity.
You will have to live with and tolerate evil. You will find much injustice suffering, confusion, prejudice, ignorance, fear and downright meanness in the world. Your measure of such ill fortune often hinges on how much you inflict on others.
Charity reduces adversity. Never find pleasure in another’s misfortune. Be faithful to your friends; share their sorrows as well as their successes. Stand with them in the sunshine and sit with them in the shadows. Never betray a friend.
And above all do not underestimate the power of prayer. This is seeking help outside of ourselves, beyond us, above us. Here is found peace of mind.”
I folded the professor’s copy and switched off the bed light. He had some special reason for giving me this copy. He was trying to tell me something. Suddenly it hit me, my relationship with Kate.
Unorthodox Election Practices
After a very restless night, a night of tossing and turning, of wracking my brain for answers, I got up and went into the bathroom. My face was in a towel when the doorbell rang. Opening a window shade on my way to the door, I was momentarily blinded by a bright morning sun.
George Glitski and Butch Latsow were at the door. Five minutes after they entered I forgot about the professor and his irritating logic.
Glitski: “We need your help Dan.”
“What’s up? You guys are really up before breakfast.”
Glitski: “We can get your priest ten grand for your old parish grounds at Oakville. The garment industry and Merchant’s Association are interested in a railroad siding and it must go through these grounds.”
The late Monsignor Kelly secured the deed on this land decades ago. He had intended using it as a parish cemetery but learned later that there were coal deposits and his deed did not include the mineral rights. Neglected for years the property was little more than a wilderness.
“We know your influence as chairman of the parish council Dan. We need a right-of-way, a lease, to run tracks across this land. Butch, through his connection with the Municipal Authority, can gain control of the land and lease it to the merchants.”
“Sounds interesting. It could help the campaign with Butch getting credit for the transaction. I’ll bring it up with council, we are meeting today.”
Glitski got up and walked to the window and turned around: “Ask your council members to keep this matter in confidence for the time being. We don’t want others to take an interest in this and outbid us. We have taken care of all preliminary legal requirements and are prepared to settle the deal on your council’s approval.”
“I see no difficulty, the land was of no use to the parish. I will recommend approval.”
Apparently pleased, Glitski bravely came up with something else: “We have another good thing working for us, Dan. But this we can handle through borough council.”
I had to ask: “What’s that?”
“Some years ago we gave a coal company permission to change the course of a road in an isolated part of the borough. You remember the Blueberry Hill mine operation.”
I nodded in agreement.
“Well the company agreed to renew the old road when the mine was worked out. The job is finished and we can now force action on this. We have been asked to set aside this order.”
This wasn’t hard to understand. Renewing the old road would be quite expensive: “You have made an offer?”
“Yes. Twenty-thousand dollars.”
“This will be money for the borough?”
Latsow jumped in: “No way! The new road is as good, if not better than the old road, and the company promised to maintain it. Council and the public will buy into that. The borough will save the maintenance costs and the road will be an extension of one of the borough’s streets.”
“You mean we take the twenty grand for the campaign?”
Glitski answered: “Well, the best part of it, Butch is taking care of the necessary papers, legal fees, and our councilmen do deserve a little gift for their support.”
“How will Connor take this?” I asked.
Glitski replied: “He doesn’t need to know about it, but you will need his support on the cemetery deal at the council meeting. You’ll be able to handle this, okay?”
And with that they were gone.
Professor McDonald arrived early that evening. He said he left Connor at the Youth Association meeting and did make it clear, and rather pointedly I felt, that Connor was using the speech David had prepared.
I avoided any mention of Kate, hoping to divert the professor’s attention by telling him about the visit of Glitski and Latsow. I concluded by telling him, “I suspect Glitski might be planning a double cross if he hasn’t started one already.”
A good listener, the professor remained quiet until I was through and then said: “You don’t know Glitski very long or very well. Down the years he’s been a loyal democrat. He’s been in power since you first voted. He has been accused of some shady deals, but never anything to hurt his party. Take this road deal and cemetery proposal, they do not help him personally but it can strengthen the political party.”
I said something about politics being a dirty game and the professor smiled, “You are new in this business, you can not afford to be sensitive about these things.”
Not wanting to appear too uninformed I told McDonald about Glitski’s practice with local candidates. Before filing their election petitions the candidates signed their names to a resignation letter. The date, of course, was left open. If an elected candidate crossed Glitski, the chairman simply dated the resignation and presented it to a meeting.
Kickbacks of two percent of wages from all non-professional borough workers and school district employees were looked upon as an accepted practice among local politicians. They were also pressed to buy tickets to political rallies and banquets.
Applications for teaching positions went through Glitski’s hands. The rumored custom was that the applicant would put a plain envelope in the chairman’s mailbox, containing sums of money that ran from $500 to $1,000. Applications that went directly to the school board were accepted and filed for future reference. Those submitted through Glitski received prompt and favorable consideration.
Convinced I was making an impression on the professor I warmed up to my subject: “I know how bids for contracts are controlled. Under Glitski’s instructions two sealed bids are submitted. One is a bid as low as Glitski wants it to be and the other is a bid prepared to be adjusted.
I paused for effect and the professor, apparently enjoying the conversation recalled some crooked practices of bygone days. One was the floating ballot. I had a vague recollection of arrests and convictions with this practice.
McDonald explained how it worked: “The party worker voted early. However he did not deposit the ballot he got. In stead he placed a blank piece of paper, the exact size of the real ballot, in the box. Outside the precinct he marked the ballot and gave it to the next voter. This man would cast this ballot and bring out the one he got. This went on all day and that was how it got the name-floating ballot. The last voter would place the ballots in the box, the one he got and the one floating all day. During the tabulation the judge of elections discarded the blank paper. Inserting a number on each ballot was adopted as a means of trying to eliminate this practice.”
“Party workers had a way of controlling voters who could not read or write. The illiterate voter would be given a sheet of paper the exact size of the official ballot. It contained holes where the workers wanted the ballot marked. Inside the election booth the voter spread his paper over the ballot and marked an X in the holes. In general elections, one mark in the straight party box usually sufficed.”
“One incriminating custom, actually a conspiracy, topped all others. After the poll closed the judge of elections would remove one ballot at a time from inside the ballot box and announce a straight party vote even though the X was actually in the box of the opposite party. At large precincts as many as 50 such votes were reversed, giving the party a hundred illegal votes.”
“After the ballot box was sealed it was carried to a hiding place and opened. Ballots were than changed to correspond with the announced count. Extra seals and a supply of sealing wax were provided to again secure the box. If the ballot box was ordered open later the count would be perfect.”
The professor, unquestionably, would make an outstanding political science teacher with all of this first hand knowledge. He must have been fascinating in his classroom.
The professor went on: “This was a very dangerous practice and I am sure has been discontinued by politicians themselves. Fear of exposure through a change in party affiliation brought this criminal custom to an end.”
There was admiration in my voice: “Professor I think you should write a book.”
Engrossed by the professor’s recollections, I was surprised by his answer: “If we did write a book Dan, especially about such deals, I am not sure Glitski would be the bad guy.”
“What do you mean? How about all this money he is collecting? Don’t you think at least some of it should go to Connor?”
“Keep two things in mind Dan. It was Glitski who picked Pete to run and it takes a lot of funds to feed a political campaign and Glitski wants Connor to win.”
In a gesture of surrender I put up my hands and said: “Okay, Okay.” I paused to drop my hands: “But Glitski gets money we hear little or nothing about. There’s the usual, substantial donation from our brewery, hush money from the Numbers Racket, fees from bingo games, tips from bankers for special parking privileges, money from taprooms that open after hours and on Sundays without that new State permit, and heaven only knows how much more.”
“Now look Dan, it is not how much he gets but where it goes that really counts. There are many donations from Democrats who sincerely want the Party to win and remain in power. This take money, not only during the campaigns but throughout the year.”
“And don’t you think he keeps any of this money?”
“He couldn’t and remain in power for so long.”
“Now, professor, give me some credit for some common sense. Every time we raise funds they go to Glitski.”
“Right, Dan. But I insist that what counts is what he does with the money.”
The professor went to the bathroom and I went to the refrigerator for more beer. On Dave’s return he asked if I had heard of the playground proposition. I knew nothing about it.
He explained that the old baseball field was on the mammoth vein of coal, the largest and richest deposit in the valley. “The borough is giving this up for ten thousand dollars. And we do not lose a baseball field. Actually it results in an improvement. The old field will be mined. This will create local employment and it will mean money for the borough.”
I said I could see nothing wrong with this.
“Our campaign treasurer, Latsow is handling the transaction,” McDonald said.
Again, I had to ask, “Why Latsow?”
“I’m told that Latsow knows the mine officials, has contact with a lawyer some might call a shyster and he manages to avoid adverse publicity in such matters. You might even say it’s in good hands.”
I changed the subject abruptly; it might have been my conscience. “About Kate, professor. You know there is no accounting for fate. Who can understand the power that determines events?” This sounded impressive to me, and perhaps acceptable to a man like the professor.
Although McDonald’s customary pleasant features wrinkled, just a bit, I did not detect any disapproval in his stern gaze. His answer did make me quake: “Connor knows all about you and Kate.”
Talk about fate! At that very moment the phone rang and I cursed it under my breath. The call was for the professor. It came from a close friend in Oakville. The man on the phone had campaign donations and wanted McDonald to call for them. The professor said he would be “right down” and he invited me to go along for the ride.
I was burning inside to hear more about Kate and Connor but the professor talked about matters dealing with the campaign without once referring to them. He got out of the car to accept his friend’s funds and was back in a few minutes.
Driving through Oakville we passed Latsow’s home, an imposing three-story dwelling, set back some distance from the main thoroughfare. McDonald was driving at a very slow pace and at the time I thought nothing of it. I glanced over his shoulder and saw Latsow on his front porch with Kate.
Standing on her toes, Kate was held in a tight grip with Latsow kissing her full on her voluptuous mouth. A moment later and overhanging limb on a giant oak tree obscured my view.
For just one fleeting moment my mind would not accept what I saw. However, a gray Plymouth coupe, parked along a hedge off the sidewalk, eliminated all doubt, it was Kate’s car.
I felt a sudden gnawing pain, followed by an overpowering weakness, emptiness. My quick, Irish temper saved me from losing consciousness. Anger gave me strength.
“The dirty rotten bastard. Dave did you see that? I’ll tear him apart, limb from limb. The chiseling creep. What do you think of the slimy skunk?”
The professor gave me another jolt: “Shouldn’t Connor feel this way about you?” The professor certainly had the knack of bringing a guy to his senses.
Before I could digest this in my jumbled, confused mind, Dave said: “Connor has no objection whatsoever with regard to you and Kate. In fact he has encouraged Kate, since he knew all the time that she had her eye on you. Pete, as you may well know, is devoted to his mother. He wouldn’t leave her for any woman, especially in his mother’s present condition. Furthermore he will not subject Kate to any adverse publicity if he can help it. Matter of fact Connor would like to see you and Kate fall in love.”
This was a tremendous relief. My conscience had been giving me a bad time. I know I wanted Kate with all my heart. But until that moment I was sure Connor was her man.
The relief however did not stay with me very long as now I had Latsow on my back. This development had never entered my mind. I knew Kate liked Latsow, but I did not dream that the feeling went this far.
The professor remained strangely quiet as I cursed Latsow all the way back to Shannon.
Judas is Discovered
The hectic days of the campaign were at hand. From early morning until long after midnight Connor was on the move, operating at a feverish pace. He met, mingled and mixed with all walks of life, distributing rain hats, matches, miniature calendars and calling cards.
At labor meetings he endorsed a thirty-six-hour workweek with starting times regulated to avoid, or at least reduce traffic congestion. With merchants and industrial leaders he favored tax breaks. Among mine workers his position was more money for all afflicted with the Black Lung disease; boosts in workmen’s compensation payments and unemployment compensation. With white-collar workers he called for more fringe benefits, pensions and longer vacations. He even pledged a fight for shorter hours on election boards with the hours of voting cut and wages increased. A top attention getter was that he favored term limits for elected officials.
He called for a priority of human values in law and order enforcement. On pollution problems he blamed irresponsible republicans for not respecting the delicate balance of God’s creation. He was convinced the answer to population explosion was distribution and not abortion. He encouraged chemical and biological warfare on hunger. To Connor all wars were evil and a curse, “and we must put an end to them – or they will put an end to us – all of us.”
Connor told me later he found all of this exciting. However the busy days did not go by without frustrations and even fears.
Connor got crank calls late at night and received some malicious mail. One night someone threw a rock at his front door, just missing a plate glass window by inches. Another night a bag of human excretion was placed on his front porch. Unmailed envelopes, containing obscene literature, were stuffed into his mailbox. He was branded a hateful hypocrite, a tool of tyrants, a cunning communist, a scornful shyster, and even a whore-meister.
He saw brother pitted against brother, neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend and in some instances husband against wife. One shrewd opportunist took money for his support and then led the cheering at his opponent’s rallies. Another obviously disturbed character swore he would pour gasoline over his clothes and set fire to himself, outside city hall, if Connor was not elected.
And there were those who were so sure of Connor’s victory that they asked favors and solicited jobs, usually in return for a vote or a block of votes. One coal miner’s widow promised a half dozen votes if Connor could get her Black Lung payments. A sickly man wanted his hospital bills “fixed” for his vote. A middle aged couple said their votes were worth a scholarship for their daughter. One elderly man borrowed $10 to get his children home to vote. They worked and boarded in the Philadelphia area but maintained residence in the district. This was checked and we found out this man was not only a registered republican but worked for the party.
While the professor was driving me back from Oakville to the apartment, Connor was filling an appointment with a Men’s Mission Society. Since it was a question and answer program Connor had no prepared speech.
However anticipating some of the questions, the professor had given Connor notes on the infallibility of the Pope, the in dissolvability of marriage, contraception’s and the nature of priesthood.
Some observations were recorded in a notebook for possible use, they included:
- diversity often serves better than uniformity since each man is different from any other man
- the world is made richer with the element of love and beauty we bring into it
- we must suppress an urge to denounce others
- truth is seldom served through false pretense
- we all have the right to a good reputation and a chance to reform
- knowledge may be power but it will not lead to a life of integrity unless it is coupled with a moral and spiritual excellence
- improved relations begin with an awareness that we are all members of one human race and
- God gave us the world; our job is to properly develop it.
The minister, a friend of Connor’s in Rotary circles, delegated to present the
guest, had accepted the professor’s suggested introductory note: “The Greeks may be thyself; the Romans say know thyself and Peter Connor says give thyself.”
I was still cursing Latsow when he pulled up outside my apartment. Here it was Thursday night, just five days before the election, and I could think of nothing but
Latsow making love to Kate. The imagination runs wild in such instances – mine did
anyway. I saw Kate’s delicate oval face pressed against Latsow’s broad, grinning
cheeks and could actually taste the moistness of her lips, the sweetness of her sensuous mouth.
The professor followed me into the apartment instead of driving off home and did something unusual for McDonald, he asked for a beer.
He said something about the night being cool and clear and something else about the few days left in the campaign while I brought out the beer. He made mention of a few other things that mattered little, at least to me, when the doorbell rang.
McDonald went to the door and Kate actually danced into the room, extended both arms to me and kissed me fully on the mouth. I didn’t move. I couldn’t. I was dumbfounded, but somehow delighted.
She turned to McDonald: “Did you tell him?”
A knowing smile: “Not yet.”
“My God, Dave, tell the man. You put me up to it.”
I looked quickly from one to the other, utterly confused, and yet sufficiently aware of my established custom of serving my guests. I mixed gin with pink grapefruit soda for Kate, knowing this was her special libation.
“This episode tonight and a few previous preliminary meetings with Latsow were planned,” the professor said. “It took some talking but I convinced Kate to go along with the idea. You see, Dan, this was our trap. I was reasonably certain Latsow was our traitor but I needed Kate for the finishing touches.”
It all came to me in a flash. He didn’t even have to explain. After all it was Latsow who was getting the bulk of the money. He handled the playground deal, the railroad transaction, and the roadway money, kickbacks from workers and contributions from applicants.
Dave spoke in a soft, even voice: “I learned from a colliery clerk that there was ten grand included in the playground deal for Latsow. Glitski knew nothing about this. Butch decided, I guess, that this was his deserving fee. I also discovered the headquarters he set up in Oakville was in the property owned by a relative who charged nothing. He got kick back from the printing firm that handled our election literature, including billboards, posters, calling cards and a variety of other items.”
The professor continued: “But what really impressed me was how he handled the empty bottles and tin cans in our ecology project. He sold the broken bottles and tin cans and got a refund for the unbroken bottles. He had them sorted and stored away for delivery trucks. On the smashed material he had a contact with some recycling outfit. He got his share of that labor endorsement money and kickbacks on every political appointment in the borough. He is a rare bird.”
I said: “Let’s expose the bastard!” It was all I could think of at the moment.
The professor stopped me: “Now wait a minute Dan. I suspected Latsow on news releases and editorial comment right from the beginning. He must have had some financial arrangement on this too. That night in McMaher’s I was sure he was our man. But I needed proof. This was when I contacted Kate. I knew how much she wanted Connor to win the election so I asked her to gain Latsow’s confidence, get into his home and look for evidence. She’s been on this ever since but we agreed not to tell a soul.”
Kate interrupted: “Professor, I have something to tell you. I found a number on a pad in his house and memorized it. Later I called the number and sure enough I found out it was the city editor’s unlisted telephone number.”
She paused and the lovely blue eyes sparkled, “And there is something else. I tore a sheet from his notebook and I have it hear in my purse.”
She handed it to me and I read it aloud:
“Dear editor. Lay off Kate. By election time I will have her on our side.”
Without a word I reached in to my desk and pulled out the note I received at the dinner program that opened the campaign. I compared the handwriting in the two notes.
“By God, I am no handwriting expert, but it is obvious that the same man wrote these notes. Imagine the detestable son-of-a-bitch warning us to watch out for Glitski.” I turned to McDonald: “We have him cold. Let’s throw the book at the bastard.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“What the hell am I forgetting?”
“Oh yeah, that’s right, the election. But what can we do? Isn’t the damage done?”
“No, I don’t think so. We have five days. We can still get this man’s support.”
“How? How in heaven’s name can you do anything with a skunk like this?”
“Easy. You tell him Kate.”
She put her head down and said in a voice not much louder than a whisper: “I promised I would marry him if Connor wins next Tuesday.”
“You what!” I did not hear the doorbell. I lost my sense of hearing. Madness had obscured all other emotions or senses. Kate, still smiling and outwardly unmoved, went to the door and Glitski entered the room.
I ignored him and went to Kate: “You can’t mean that Kate. This is too much. For Christ’s sake tell me this is all a joke. Tell me now, you don’t mean it. You just can’t marry this bastard.” I was shaking her shoulders.
It was the professor who answered: “After all Dan, all is fair in love and war, and in politics. We are now in a political war so we have two counts.”
I sat down. We all sat down. The professor motioned with his hands and called for quiet and everyone’s attention. He made it known he invited Glitski to the apartment. He spent the next half hour explaining the developments to Glitski, who said nothing but grew pale. A little white circle appeared on his two cheeks and widened as McDonald continued.
You could see his expression change from surprise to outrage as he listened to the story. When the professor finished, George said: “We will ruin him. I have enough on Latsow to put him away for a long time. The dirty fricken double-crossing louse.” And those were the strongest words in Glitski’s vocabulary.
The professor stated: “Wait until after the election George. Then do with him as you please. Right now we need him. We can use the man. As our chairman here, you do all you can to get some money from Latsow. Tell him you need so much here and so much there. See that he does not get much money from the county headquarters to work his precinct. We’ll keep him away from political activity until the election, and confine him that day to his own poll. He can be a nuisance value. And keep in mind if Kate has been convincing him, he will be with us all the way.”
“Bullshit!” I had to give vent to my mounting feelings. “He’d turn on his own mother. Why a man like this would sell his soul for a lousy buck. The loathsome, lustful, grasping miser, I say get rid of him now. Throw the bastard down a mine shaft; bury him in the slush and slime of a striping hole.”
“Wait will you, please. Wait until the vote is counted. You know much can be forgiven, if Connor wins. If any of us has the right to judge this man it is Pete.” Then the professor turned to Glitski: “One thing tough, you must assure us, regardless of the outcome Tuesday, Latsow must go.”
I couldn’t help myself: “you think I’ll work for Connor’s election if Kate marries Latsow?”
“Look Dan. Lets take one thing at a time. From now until Election Day we watch Butch like a hawk. If we can’t work with him, we’ll work around him. He is our problem and we’ll take care of it. Kate is your problem; you take care of her.”
The professor and Glitski left in the next few minutes. Kate stayed.
The Home Stretch
On my way to the “Round-Up Home-Town” rally Friday night and in fact during the actual rally, I spent much of the time meditating on our campaign work and concluded our chances of victory were good.
Connor, Glitski and the professor had spent some time that afternoon in my apartment, reviewing our political operations and setting up a schedule of activities for the “last weekend.” We carefully checked voting lists and all party workers, making sure we would have watchers and overseers at each poll. We were satisfied with our work on absentee ballots and pleased with our personal and telephone contacts. Letters and brochures containing Connor’s biography had been mailed to all voters in the district. Finial news releases and advertising copy were drawn up and approved for weekend editions.
Connor had spent much of the time reviewing notes he had received from McDonald for his talk, now being delivered at the rally. The speech was a review, at least in part, of the campaign with a repeat appeal to “get out the vote.”
I turned my attention to Connor. Watching him from my seat on the stage and glancing occasionally toward the crowd placed me in an ideal spot for some comprehensive evaluations. Admittedly biased by my personal attachment and esteem for Pete I never the less had some minor misgivings.
Was Connor getting his message across? Were his refined phrases getting through to these ordinary, common people or was his elegance too much to grasp? It brought to mind a statement I read somewhere concerning a national figure, who said he was accused of “talking over your heads, but never behind your backs.”
The audience was certainly attentive, but this could be out of respect rather than interest.
I was particularly pleased with Connor’s obvious reference to a famous presidential inaugural address when he said, “a good citizen looks beyond his personal needs to show concern for the entire community.”
I liked his view on change, he was for it, but only if it meant progress. He abhorred change “that brings about a rising distrust in constituted authority. Often the shock we experience when a custom is suddenly dislodged fills us with confusion, dismay and even heartbreak. We must distinguish between a change for good and a change for evil. Motives for change are too often selfish, and even criminal, and we become disheartened when we see so much illegal conduct meeting with apparent success.”
I wasn’t sure I liked his next remark: “Too often a crook has many friends, while a good man stands alone.” We certainly did not want him to stand alone on the following Tuesday.
Touching briefly on published criticism throughout the campaign, he asked all to look beyond newspaper columns. Here he quoted the late Adlai Stevenson who said: “publishers do their honest best according to their lights, but sometimes the lights are dim. They separate the wheat from the chaff and then print the chaff.”
Connor pointed out however “no responsible publisher sets out to deliberately produce distorted material. If he does, he will soon be discredited. A fruitless search for what is wrong, or evil, is the basis of psychoses and neuroses. If we use our natural sense of curiosity, we will digest much more than fed to us in a news column. We don’t function for a newspaper, but it should function for us.”
Connor seldom failed to add some light remark in making a point. He recalled a man telling a columnist that, “I can’t see wasting time reading such trash” and the newsman retorting: “Why complain about the little time it takes to read it. Just think of the time it takes to write it.”
Without mentioning my name, Pete referred to a radio announcer as a hypocrite who lauds atheism on the air and then prays his program will be a success. “Such men allow personal feelings to discolor their judgment. We must remain patient under pressure and bear in mind that evil is short lived.”
Good solid stuff. What they don’t understand the professor will try to explain.
“But I do not want to pass judgment,” Connor said. “I want to be like the old Indian chief who advised his tribe not to judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.”
Finally he asked all to vote conscientiously and “work for your community, with support for all needed public programs. God gave us this world to develop and divine blessings will shower on all who support constructive efforts toward good citizenship.”
My thoughts drifted to Dismal Dinny Burke, sitting directly below me in the front row, a picture of utter dejection. Hair rumpled and dangling down over his bowed forehead, he resembled a mourner at an Irish wake. Here was the person to consult for uncovering any blemish or flaw in the program, a real Devil’s Advocate. I made up my mind on the spot, that I would make it my business to get to Dismal Dinny at the end of the formal program.
I did not have to move, the last words of the national anthem, “the home of the brave,” had barley sounded when Dinny was at my side. With a glass of beer in his hand he straddled a chair that just vacated, folded his arms on the backrest in such a way as to make the beer convenient for consumption, and coughed.
Dinny was blunt: “Can you fix a parking ticket?”
I took it and placed it in a notebook I had with me.
“You know, Danny, I wouldn’t bother you about such a trivial thing on a night like this, but I’m broke.”
Dinny was always broke. And his reasons were habitually facetious. He was invariably overcharged and could always use a buck or two. Everybody was out to get him and from dawn to dusk had to remain on guard against unscrupulous merchants. In spite of his vigilance one automobile dealer charged him $40 just to replace a loose belt on the motor of his car. I often wondered how his antiquated jalopy passed inspection. But Dinny always managed somehow. He had the dubious distinction of finding success in failure.
His traffic ticket was no problem, except for some inconvenience. The usual fine was a dollar and this was a small investment for the vote. Our committee paid all such fines promptly, making an impression, we hoped, on both the police and the person “breaking the law.” Those who thought we had the whole thing quashed were impressed by our apparent influence with law enforcement officers.
Dinny was saying something about a prejudiced cop who ignored a half dozen cars, all owned by Republicans, and then stopped to tag his vehicle, when I casually opened the note book and glanced at the ticket. The violation was in a restricted zone and the fine was ten dollars.
Pretending this had no effect on me whatsoever, I asked Dinny how he managed to get to the stage so quickly, and with a glass of beer at that, since the bar was closed during the formal program.
“It is that national anthem, Dan. Sure it is nothing more than show, a front. When it was announced I headed for the bar. The guy leading the song doesn’t know the words and his voice was as flat as the highway outside. Half of those singing are off key and those not singing just can’t wait ‘til it’s over.”
A few people stopped to exchange greetings, promise support and ask favors. This interruption deprived Dinny of a five-dollar bill that he was accustomed to receive at these affairs. This was never outright charity as Dinny always came up with some reason to borrow the money. Unable to get my undivided attention, he mumbled under his breath that it was “just my luck” and “I’ll see you later” and with that he scampered off the stage into the crowd.
I never did get a chance to ask him about the program, but I was sure he did not like it. I was hoping however, that some of his gripes might give our committee ideas for the final 3 days of the campaign. Mutual admiration at such affairs might be good for the ego, but it doesn’t influence the position of the independent voter.
Our supply of beer went fast and the crowd dispersed early. I was back in my apartment and in bed before midnight. The doorbell rang at 3 o’clock in the morning. I thought, Kate! My God, Kate out with Latsow until this ungodly hour. I leaped out of bed, slipped into a pair of slippers and rushed to the door. It was Dismal Dinny Burke.
Moving stealthily toward me with pointed, accusing finger, he blubbered: “Dan, dam it all Dan, I wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for you.”
“What are you talking about? What do you mean? Just what is my fault?”
“You didn’t give me any money at the rally.”
I told him to sit down and relax and I’d get him a bottle of beer.
“Never mind the beer,” he stammered. “Just get me a couple of aspirins.”
“Aspirins for you Dinny? You can’t mean it. What you need is some grog, or a shot or two of Boilo. ”
“I know what I want and what I need. I have a dynamite headache.” I didn’t pay much attention to this, thinking he meant a splitting headache. His gaunt, drained, dirty face aroused a compassion I seldom experience.
“Didn’t you hear me Dan? I stole a case of dynamite. I had to run for it and it made me sweat like hell.” He need say no more. I knew what it was like to handle dynamite and perspire, the throbbing pain you get is enough to drive you stark mad.
After two aspirins and a glass of water Dinny filled me in on the details. Unable to get back to me in the milling rally crowd, he left and drove to Oakville. He stopped on a dirt road outside a local small bootleg colliery operation just a short distance from the rear of the Latsow property. Dynamite used at the mine was stored in a shanty just off the roadway. Dinny knew the shed was unlocked by a night watchman for the convenience of miners who reported early for work. Dinny picked up one box of dynamite and was spotted by the watchman; he called a Coal and Iron cop.
“Danny, I ran like the devil. I made my way to Latsow’s garage. It was wide open and I rushed inside. I stumbled over a box and tripped. This is where I hid the dynamite in the box. I ran down the driveway into my car and here I am. But for your information, the box is a Ballot Box.”
“Did you say a ballot box?”
“Yes, sure. I guess I know a ballot box when I see one.”
“Well, what do you know? Butch still switches the ballot box.”
“Yeah? How does it work?” My interest in the ballot box had a tendency to settle Dinny’s nerves. “You know how, Dan, I could use a shot and a beer about now.”
He swallowed the shot and while drinking the beer I explained how simple it was to switch ballot boxes. You had to have at least one member of the election board work with you, preferably the judge of election. When voting was light the judge allowed others on the board to “take a break” for a bite to eat or a trip to the restroom.
The official ballot box, containing votes already cast, is carried into another room and is replaced by the extra box. After “doctoring” the ballots the boxes are again switched. I said: “Dinny, this is really getting out the vote.”
“Pretty crooked, isn’t it?”
I could not restrain an impulsive grin and even while I laughed a diabolical scheme was taking shape in my mind. But there was something else I had to know first.
“Where was Latsow? He wasn’t at the rally.” I knew that Kate was busy all evening. She was supervising the work of a half dozen girls on phone calls at campaign headquarters, using this method to solicit votes.
Dinny answered: “Latsow is away for the weekend. He left early Friday evening and will not be back until Sunday night. He is on a religious retreat. Praying for us sinners.”
Wouldn’t you know it! That two-faced pompous ass. Well, I’ll fix him, but good.
Aloud I told Dinny we had a job to do that night and I would meet him at Wolf Run. I handed him a five-dollar bill and Dinny’s dynamite headache immediately lost much of its satanic sting.
When Dinny arrived at Wolf Run Saturday night, I had my carefully arranged systematic plans in order. With Latsow away it was simple enough. And I knew that Dinny would be a willing participant. In fact if it worked it would take him “off the hook” on the dynamite theft. Dinny turned off his motor and walked over to my car. We were sitting on top of the hill looking over Shannon.
Dinny asked how on earth I planned to manage this and I told him I would outline the scheme in my car. As we drove off in the dark I described my plan. First we were to get the dynamite left by Dinny.
We went to Latsow’s in my car because Dinny’s car was older and might be recognized if anyone was watching. The lock on a side door of the garage was broken and this explained how Dinny got inside. We removed the ballot box, with the dynamite, and put it in the trunk of my car.
Driving back home I explained the balance of my scheme. I told Dinny I would have no trouble getting sealing wax and the printed material that is placed over the opening on the top of the ballot box. Dinny would take this to the courthouse after the polls closed election night and place it with the other ballot boxes. “This box will be identified with Latsow’s precinct where he is the judge of elections.”
Dinny smiled: “I see it al now Dan. There will be two boxes from Latsow’s precinct. This means the two will be opened and one will contain the dynamite. Butch will have some job explaining two ballot boxes with one filled with explosives.”
Dinny’s job was to enter the courthouse when the workers were busy handling other returns. Dinny anticipated no trouble. “When I am finished, I will return to headquarters and join you and the boys with the final tabulation.” This is why I was so anxious to talk to Dinny when he came in that night.
Before we parted Dinny hit me up for another five spot.
This was fast becoming my lucky night. Shortly after I got back in my apartment, Kate called and said she was coming over.
One More for the Road
Whistling northwest winds stripped Shannon of much of its foliage through the night. Topcoats, gloves and other heavy garments came into common use Sunday morning as temperatures dropped considerably below the freezing mark.
A deeply religious community Shannon was always busy on Sunday mornings with people going to and from one of the many church services. Krishies Diner was also busy. There wasn’t a vacant stool at the long counter and most of the booths and tables were occupied. The other restaurant, the Tea Shop was closed on Sundays.
Most bars in Shannon were busy on this day of the week. Although operating in violation of the Liquor Control Board (LCB) regulations, an arrest for illegal Sunday sales was rare indeed. Shannon was known far and wide as a “wide open town, someone even called it the wild west of the east.”
Andy Krishie prepared breakfast. The menu included a nice choice of the most common breakfasts served in many restaurants. The favorite choice of our group was the Potato and Kielbasi omelet, a specialty of the diner. Andy was a master at making this breakfast just right and it wasn’t available anywhere else.
McDonald, Glitski and I wanted to start out this day with a hardy breakfast because we would be touring the local area taprooms. A healthy breakfast would help us when we started drinking with the electorate in the many establishments kept busy on Sundays. We would start at McMaher’s on North Main Street.
For most of the drinking establishments, regular customers carried special keys for side door entrances. In some places a light flashed in the bar when a patron presses a concealed button outside. Access was made into a few places through kitchens at the rear of the bar. Curtains were drawn over all windows and doors in every open bar room in town. This was reminiscent of the dark shades that were drawn during the air raids in World War II. In Shannon this was truly a day of rest, relaxation and even entertainment, for anyone desiring a drink.
There was no fear of a raid from the Liquor Control Board (LCB) or the State Police. If any raid was planned the word was passed to one establishment and that would allow it to spread throughout the town and outlying areas.
Joe Stanton, the retired fighter, was bragging in McMaher’s about his influence with a large Republican family at Oakville: “If only I could reach them, I know Connor would get their votes on Tuesday.”
Dismal Dinny was obliged to ask: “And why can’t you reach them?”
Stanton said: “I don’t have a car. If I did, I’d go right now.”
“Take my car, it’s parked outside, here’s the key.”
Joe reached for the keys, took them, turned to the coat rack, put on his hat and overcoat, stepped though the door and he was gone without uttering a word.
Jerry Joyce, however, got in one parting shot, “That’s the way to do it, Joe. Y’all knows the old saying about he who hesitates is lost.”
“Ridiculous, utterly ridiculous, if that’s the case, what about ‘look before you leap’?” came the comment from Al Matti. Dismal Dinny was trying to get quote some old slogan but he got cut short by Stanley Puliewicz. Stan was seating on a stool at the end of the bar and got into the conversation, “Dinny, you don’t believe them old proverbs anyway, why quote em?”
“Like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for one.” added Stan.
“Oh yeah! I did find the pot all right but there was no gold.”
Another frequent customer of McMaher’s, Martin Moyer chimed in with: “Man, what a gripe Dinny. Don’t ya think Stanton is the early bird getting the worm?”
Dinny answered with another question, “And what da hell does he want with a worm?”
As the conversation went on with a few loud exchanges, Max Coleman jumped in as mean as could be accusing Dinny Burke of having two ages, one for social security and the other for insurance purposes.
Dismal Dinny ignored the comment although he was known for his attitude to social security. He was heard to say that social security was an invasion of a man’s privacy so to confuse the government he changed his social security every few years.
A self described peacemaker, Red Rafferty, tried to calm everyone down, He urged Dinny not to be “so bitter all the time. There is some good to be found in the worst of us. Things are not always bad. After all remember that sunshine always follows after the rain.”
“What if the rain stops in the middle of the night? Where is the sunshine then?” continued Dinny.
It was as close to a New Year’s Eve celebration in McMaher’s that Sunday morning, with one exception, Connor was paying for all the drinks. This allowed everyone to join in the cordial exchange more than usual, no unexpected bar bill.
The drinks were coming pretty fast when Joe Stanton returned. He rushed his way through the crowd and threw Dinny’s car keys on the table where Dinny was seated with five other ‘straight’ democrats.
Someone hollered out, “Well, what happened Joe, give us the word on your trip?”
Stanton said he was arrested loud enough for everyone within hearing distance to hear him. Now heads turned and shot questioning stares at Stanton.
“I took the short cut down the old township dirt road where the speed limit is 25 miles per hour and I got stopped by one of the township cops, George Mays. He said I was doing 50.”
Dinny shouted out while jumping from his chair, “That wreck of mine won’t do no more than 25 on that winding dirt road.”
There were some sharp difference of opinions on this and someone offered the crowd a bet that the car could do 50 on the ‘old Indian trail.”
To everyone’s amazement, Dismal Dinny Burke slapped a five-dollar bill on the table and challenged, “The bet is covered for 5 bucks. Whoever said that, put up or shut up.”
Stanton said it wasn’t him but he felt he should take the bet to prove his point. Dinny wanted a witness to the trip and Tony Morroco agreed to go along for the ride. Dinny picked up his car keys and told the boys to “stick around.” Stanton told Dinny where the car was parked and Burke and Morroco walked out.
A skirmish broke out at the bar as tempers flared over disagreements on just how fast Burke’s car could go. McMaher quickly quashed the confusion by saying he would handle all bets. In spite of Connor “footing the tab,” McMaher volunteered a “drink on the house” and took Dinny’s seat at the table when Red Rafferty agreed to “tend bar” while Pat was taking car of the bets.
Pat McMaher, who was close to the customary retirement age. After many years of bartending he was use to breaking up skirmishes and fight so he knew the best thing to do was change the conversation. He started reminiscing about the by-gone days. He said when he first voted; the dead carried the election. Votes were cast in the names of those “buried on the hill.”
He recalled his early days in the saloon business. “During prohibition, church bells tolled and our brewery whistle blew to warn us that the Revenue men were on their way to town. When they arrived they found Shannon closed up tight.”
McMaher told this story about an elderly customer. “Long since, he's gone to his rest. He quit his job in the mines and bought a farm. He came back to town one spring and bought two rabbits. He figured on making a quick buck through abundant reproductions but when he returned that fall he was upset and disappointed. He still only had two rabbits and after he checked he discovered that both rabbits were male.”
Pat said that one-election year dozens of billboards dotted the valley with the message: “Think – And Vote Republican.” He continued: “Almost overnight other billboards appeared alongside these and they carried the message: “Think Twice – And Vote Democratic.”
His memory went back to a time when the town had the reputation of buying votes for two bucks. “One of the big city papers sent up a reporter on election day to check on this. He had the window of his car open and on getting ready to turn left at Main and Centre Street he put out his arm with open hand for the signal. When he pulled back his arm there were two brand new one-dollar bills in his palm.”
Several people were now exchanging stories and this continued until Burke and Morroco returned. Everyone in the bar was anxious to hear what happened, most of them having placed bets with McMaher. The shouting stopped when Dinny put up his hands for attention.
The silence was quickly broken with laughter that rang throughout the barroom with even the bets momentarily forgotten, when Dinny shouted out: “Damn it, I was arrested for doing 50 in a 25 mile per hour zone.
The laughter had just subsided when Chairman Glitski came through the side door and went directly to Connor.
Without any comment or explanation, (you don’t need an excuse when you are among friends) I left the table and joined Glitski and Connor. Our chairman had just returned from the county headquarters where a distribution of funds for Election Day had taken place. This money was used to operate the precincts in the district.
Connor turned to Glitski and asked: “How much did you get for Shannon?”
Glitski explained, “It amounts to about $300 a precinct, with small polls getting less than the larger polls. I have full discretion on its apportionment.”
This money, at least most of it, is paid on election day, to the party workers, committeemen, tips to election boards and to car owners where the vehicles are used for transportation. On occasions money is paid to Republicans who accept the stipend as payment for staying away from the precinct. Glitski was known to have paid his own committeemen who had “gone bad,” as much as a hundred dollars to remain out of town on Election Day. He considered it “nuisance value.” Such items as doctor bills, church dues, grocery orders and a variety of other debts are paid – all to secure votes.
Connor asked: “Are you satisfied with your share?”
“No politician is ever completely satisfied with what he gets.” Glitski initially replied. “He can always use more money and especially in this election right here in Shannon where we want an impressive vote. But to answer you directly Pete, we have enough, I think, to bring out a big vote. Rest assured that we will do the best we can with what we’ve got. I will see each committee man tomorrow.”
This seemed to satisfy Connor who was being pressed for attention by several others in the bar. Upon learning that money was received from the county headquarters many made themselves available for work on election day with one man volunteering the services of his wife at one of the polls, for a small consideration.”
About Election Day money, before the funds are distributed the county committee studies each borough, township and precinct in the district. Through years of experience these men can usually tell just where the money will do the most good. They know from past performances who can “deliver the vote” and with very few exceptions can distinguish the pretender from the producer. They can usually spot a bluff on sight and might be taken once, but never again, by a political swindler.
Yet in spite of all this exhaustive study and care occasionally someone outsmarts them.
This I had in mind when I followed Glitski to the men’s room. We were alone and I went right to the point: “You saw to it I’m sure, that Latsow did not get any money.”
Glitski answered: “He wasn’t there, and I asked about this. I found out that Latsow was there before he left for his weekend retreat. He not only talked them into his share, but made a convincing plea for extra help in his Republican district.”
“But he didn’t get the money?”
“Sure he got the money. He said he was calling a meeting of his group tomorrow.”
I was flabbergasted. After some choice spontaneous profanity I asked what we could do.
Glitski said: “We work around him. We go after as many of his committeemen we can reach and put them wise to Latsow. We get them to demand from him as much money as they can possibly get.”
I sensed something wrong with this reasoning and stated: “Latsow is their leader. They will follow his instructions. He will swear the double-cross comes from the county headquarters – a big deal. I’m afraid your strategy won’t work.”
“What else can we do?” asked Glitski. “We can’t get him away from the poll, he’s the judge of election in his precinct.”
“That’s it. We can keep him at the one poll all day. He’s not supposed to leave the voting place. We’ll make sure he stays put.”
Glitski added: “That may help. But what is to stop the committeemen, the workers, from coming to him at his poll? He can in fact use it as a convenience in keeping in constant contact with every section of Oakville.”
For one fleeting moment I was tempted to tell Glitski about the Ballot Box and the dynamite, but refrained. I wanted everybody, including Glitski, to think that Latsow actually stole that dynamite.
“Look George, we’ve just got to do something. We can’t just sit down and die.” It was then that the thought struck me and it hit me so quick I paid only a vague attention to Glitski as he walked away toward the side door with some remark about everything earthly possible will be done.
My bombshell – Kate! If any human being could do something with this vulture, it was this lovely woman. I became so obsessed with the thought I left McMaher’s without even a farewell to Connor and drove fast to my apartment. I needed time to think. Kate was definitely the answer, if there was an answer. I had no idea about just what she could do but I was sure she would think of something.
I picked up the telephone.
Before I could even say hello or make a comment, Kate was talking, “I am a booster of Pete Connor. Whoever you are and whatever you want, your vote and support is respectfully requested for Connor on Tuesday. Who’s calling?”
“You are a doll, Kate, God love you. I do.”
“Oh, hello Dan. I’m busy making phone calls as you've heard, but you have something on your mind. You wouldn’t be calling me at this stage of the game just to make love.”
I told her the story about Latsow getting the election money from the county and asked her if she had any ideas of what we could do. She reminded me that she already promised to marry the guy if Connor was elected.
“It isn’t working Kate, he still intends to pull a double cross. It is becoming very obvious in the way he is acting. Imagine a weekend in seclusion when he should be on the front of the firing line. You’ve probably been so damn convincing he thinks he can get you even if Connor does not win! Kate, you are the only one alive can reach him, I just don’t know how? What can we do? For God’s sake suggest something.”
She did. After a long silence, she knocked the wind out of and said: “I have the answer, I’ll get him to elope with me Monday night and we won’t be back on Tuesday.”
The Voice of the Working Man
In spite of the innumerable demands of the campaign, Connor spent the eve of the election in his parish church, making a perpetual novena held every Monday evening. He not only considered it more important than the election, but with his belief in the Communion of Saints , he was certain it would help his political aspirations. His faith goes beyond this. Pete believes that all sincere prayers are answered, even if at times you feel the answer is negative - you do get an answer.
Professor McDonald and I made the rounds of the bars in and about Shannon. Our last stop was Timothy Cosgrove’s Tavern in West Township. We figured if we spend a few buck on drinks in Tim’s Tavern it might help the Connor cause.
A cold mist was hovering over the length and breadth of a gray foreboding mountain ridge. It was calling attention to the fast approaching winter months. In spite of the biting chill, the side window of my car was open giving me a clear view of shadowy trees, silhouetted against a bleak sky. The fresh air was helping to keep my head clear after all the stops we made. The grass along the road was faintly green, bordering hollow dark shadowed basins now lost in the night. There was a hushed expectation in the vast silence except for the soothing purr sound of the cars motor.
The professor parked the car at the rear of the tavern and we walked to the front door that opened directly into the bar. Tim’s Tavern was enjoying a much larger crowd than customary for a Monday night, which I attributed to the night before the general election.
James Muldacious Maloney was standing at a large round table next to the bar where anyone entering would not miss him. He was holding his beer on high offering a toast to the election of Peter Connor. He had no doubt spotted us and made the toast for our benefit. He was the center of attraction in the taproom.
As luck would have it, or as previously arranged anticipating our arrival, there were two chairs available at the table. Muldacious was extending us an invitation as an appendage to his toast.
Maloney only lived a few blocks from McMaher’s bar in Shannon but word had it that his doctor advised him to walk a few miles each day for his health. This he did, by making his way on foot to Tim’s Tavern but seldom if ever making it home under his own power. The man was a very popular beer drinker and storyteller especially in a big crowd because of his boisterous voice. A workman’s compensation case, James Maloney’s disability was somewhat of a mystery. There was only a tint of gray in his bushy, dark brown, abounding head of hair. Of better than average height and weight he carried his shoulders high and walked with a slight stagger.
Possessing a quick and sharp wit, Muldacious was seldom offensive. The man was just naturally funny.
Someone shouted to him: “What will Connor do for us if he is elected?”
Maloney shouted back, “ That’s not a problem, the problem is what will we do if he is not elected.”
Somewhere in the bar, another voice asked: “How do you stand on sex in the movies Maloney?”
He shot back: “It should be taken off the screen and put back in the home where it belongs.” Bringing a howl from just about everyone in the place. James Maloney was the father of ten children.
Another question: “What about voting at the age of 18?”
Maloney said: “I’m for it. No kid should be expected to stay sober and vote for any republican candidate. I know Connor is for it and I know he has a few drinks himself.”
The entire exchange could give the impression that it was staged, which would be like Maloney, he would do almost anything for a laugh. But than the next question would not have been rigged: “Maloney, would you go to Vietnam?”
Maloney hesitated for a moment and than replied: “If I was handed a gun right now I wouldn’t know which end to fire.”
His pretty green eyed wife, Elaine, sitting at a nearby table with some of the other wives nearly brought down the house with her remark, “Either way Muldacious, you’d be doing your country a service.”
Maloney grinned condescendingly, fully aware that the joke was on him. He loved his wife “Ellie” and the feeling was mutual on the part of this affable woman, who was taller and heavier than James, but zealously devoted to her “little man around the house.”
Having ten children was no social handicap to this couple. In fact the large family provided a freedom not readily accessible to smaller families because of the availability of baby sitters right in the family itself.
Before sitting down Muldacious turned to his wife and said: “Careful now Ellie, or there’ll be no eleventh in the family.”
Mrs. Maloney turned to her female friends and said, “Muldacious thinks he is indispensable.” To this woman he was just that. She often said she didn’t mind having the ten children, “It’s the keeping up with the PTA that’s getting me down.”
Proud of his children, Maloney was among those who believe the biggest need in the modern home is a family. Although it was inconceivable that Muldacious would ever practice infidelity, he liked to say for a laugh that a pessimist thinks all women are bad and an optimist hopes so “and I’m an optimist.”
The phone rang and Maloney had a comment: “If Ellie wasn’t here I’d say that was her with a roundup of the late local news.”
Someone played the juke box and the music made conversation difficult, but Maloney’s high pitched tenor voice rose above it: “Today these half assed musicians think the louder they get the better they are. Each one has an amplifier, a device to enlarge the voice but not the tone. Their songs are sad, coming from distorted voices of lost souls. And oh, just look at them kids dance. Why you’d think someone dropped a lighted cigarette in their pants.”
When the music stopped, Maloney left for the men’s room and the professor recalled a night he spent with Muldacious. “We stopped to hear a Salvation Army band on a street corner. I had to brace Maloney to keep him afoot. The band leader noticed this and said pointedly: ‘You know where men like you go when they die?’ and Maloney retorted: ‘I already know how it will sound by your music’ but he did throw a coin in the passing tambourine.”
On Maloney’s return to the table a fountain pen, inscribed by Connor’s opponent, appeared alongside his glass of beer. He picked it up, turned it around a few times and said: “This is one of them contraptions that writes underwater but not on paper.”
James finished his beer and this was a signal for the thoughtful professor. He ordered a round of drinks, for the entire house, and said it was on Peter Patrick Connor.
Groups began to talk among themselves and Maloney’s audience was now confined to our table. When the beer was served Maloney expressed his gratitude by considering Connor one of the very few completely mentally balanced men in the world. He called him an exception “to the bribery and corruption common in politics and was convinced the next day would prove that “mud spread by Republicans would be ground gained by Democrats on Election Day.”
Maloney stood up again and managed to draw widespread attention with another toast: “Early to bed and early to rise, and miss all of this booze that Connor buys.”
He sat down and said to Dave, loud enough for me to hear: “Have you heard the latest about the parking meter scandal.”
We hadn’t heard.
“Well, Butch Latsow and his parking meter collector were driving to the religious retreat and got a flat tire. When a gas station attendant opened the trunk for the spare tire, he found several bulky bags filled with nickels and dimes. It was parking meter money.”
You never knew when Maloney was pulling your leg and everyone took what he said as a joke. Someone at the table asked Maloney to tell us about his trip to a mine union convention. I had a vague recollection from hearing many of Maloney’s stories, but he still managed to make them sound fresh and unique and always like a personal experience.
He told the story: “I was late for the opening convention session and got on a crowded bus. A guy kept bumping into me and I checked my pants for my wallet. It wasn’t there. The stranger, not as big as me and much older, got off with me and I grabbed him by the throat and ordered him to hand over my wallet. He did, and than he ran off. When I got back to Ellie later in my hotel room she asked me if I had any trouble at the convention. I asked her why? She couldn’t see how I managed at the convention without any money. ‘You forgot your wallet, it’s in there on the bureau dresser.’”
Jim paused to sip his beer and went on with another tale.
“My father had a tom-cat that kept the neighbors up all night. He decided to get rid of the animal. He tied two sticks of dynamite and an exploder around the cat’s belly and set a match to it in the woods near our home. The cat scurried back home and curled up underneath the kitchen stove. The explosion eliminated the cat, the stove and the kitchen and set the house on fire.”
We had another round of drinks on Connor, than Maloney called out, “This one is for the bend in the road,” and then we all started for home. Maloney and his wife sat in the back seat and Muldacious never stopped talking. He went on with very little interruption up to his very doorstep. I remember him telling his wife about sex taking up the least of his time, yet causing most of his troubles. Ellie turned to thank us and wish us a good night and closed with: “If this man really loved me he would have married someone else.”
Maloney picked it up and said: “Yep, probably with some Republican.”
He asked the professor if Frank McFadden would be “voting right in the morning?” An engineer and state mine inspector, McFadden lived in the district and was a man of some influence. McDonald said Frank promised to vote for Connor.”
Maloney promised to “have a word with the man” before he cast his ballot. Jim explained that he knew McFadden at the colliery. “I was on the mine committee and worked on the main gangway. There is a barrier pillar between mining operations that is not to be taken away. Mine law requires it to be left there in the interest of safety. The fire boss had us mine this, that is we were pillar robbing , but the day before McFadden’s inspection trip we’d get orders to close it. McFadden would then approve the operation. That’s when I hurt my leg. The least McFadden can do is give Connor a vote.”
We were parked right outside Maloney’s home, a plain, drab, unpretentious two-story wooden frame structure, once a “company house .” Stepping through the car door, Muldacious said: “When I hear doors rattle in the slightest breeze; hear strange sounds of rats squirming in the cellar; when I see wallpaper hang from the walls and rain drip through the roof; when I keep turning and turning the door knob and once inside hear water dripping in the kitchen sink; when I have to pull a chain just right to turn on the lights; when I see dishes, diapers and dust and smell urine all about me – gentlemen, then I knows I’m home.”
James Maloney practically threatened not to vote for Connor if we did not “come in for a night cap.” The professor said he was afraid if we did we might not get out in time to vote. It wasn’t Muldacious’s description of “his nest” that made us beg off; it was the late hour.
Jim finally bid us farewell, pointing out we wouldn’t get much to drink in his house. “You see I have a champagne taste and a beer budget. I did have some government bonds hidden away, behind a picture on the wall, but Ellie found them.”
As we drove away, the professor said Maloney had campaigned vigorously for Connor and talked little else every night he went out – and he went out every night.
He made some fantastic political proposals, some even the professor was tempted to use in his writings for Connor. There was the one night Maloney told his barroom audience that Connor was in favor of covered highways. “If they can spend millions for covering football and baseball stadiums with domes, they can invest in the public’s safety.” He also favored “heated highways” that would melt the winter snow and ice and help the coal industry.
McDonald recalled another occasion when Maloney proposed the use of passenger trains and ships as classrooms. “This way our children would not only learn from books but from actual visits to historical and geographical centers. And just think of the tax money saved by not building expensive schools.”
Jim’s plan was to have the pupils actually live on ships and trains. “There would no way to buy dope.” This would eliminate the current narcotic problem.
The professor recalled Maloney’s topic one night being the Tower of Babel. “According to Maloney’s bible this was not only a twisting of tongues but the changing of the color of a man’s skin. Maloney said the world was nuts for not adopting just one international language, so we could all talk to each other anywhere in the civilized world.”
Muldacious Maloney blamed politicians, republicans of course, for the color line. “Sure our scientists who put us on the moon have a pigment that will make the entire world one color. No more racial problems, no bigotry, no trouble.” That’s the way Maloney put it.
McDonald’s recollections made me smile and remember some of my own experiences with Maloney. I recalled that one night he complained about America having the best highways in the world with too many cars and trucks on them to be of any use. About Shannon he said: “Every time three vehicles pass through town, one of them is a truck.”
Jim said he was old enough to remember when the “bums lived in filthy shanties off the borough garbage dump. The place was called Hooversville. Goats were kept in another section of the town know as the ‘Rattling Flats.’ One night there was a bet placed in Shaky Mellon’s bar on whether Hooversville or Rattling Flats smelled the worst. A side bet was asked whether a bum from Hooversville or a goat from the “Flats” was stinkier? The whole town heard about the bet and many took sides.” According to Muldacious the bet was resolved scientifically. “A garage was secured and the school superintendent was engaged to serve as judge. The bum was in the garage only a minute when the judge fainted. When they brought the goat in, the bum was still there, and the goat fainted.”
Getting out of the car in front of my apartment I made some remark about being thankful we had a safe drive. “I see you have a St. Christopher’s medal on the dashboard.”
Dave said “I bought the medal off of Butch Latsow at a religious retreat.”
It Was Over.
It was all over. Hectic days and sleepless nights were at last at an end. Was it all a waste of time or did it have some incomprehensible meaning? Would the experience help pattern and shape the future? Would the knowledge gained in the campaign have any value in the life ahead, or in the life hereafter? How would Connor take this ignominious defeat? Would it make him bitter, despondent and lose his delightful sense of humor; would his customary social habits change?
Losing the election so overwhelmingly had to create an indelible, oppressive impression. What about his reaction now to the obvious treachery, deceit, the superficial friend, the humiliation?
Although naturally disappointed, my sharp twinges of grief were mingled with a feeling of relief. It was over at last.
Utterly exhausted, I slumped into a chair, turned it to a window overlooking the main thoroughfare outside and watched the splattering cold rain without actually seeing it. A blank stare was frozen on my face. A frightful feeling of loneliness, a tormenting, nauseating, distressing sadness, and a despondency bordering on despair churned in my stomach. My upsetting frustration was intense.
The die was cast. It now becomes a cold, heartless page or paragraph in history, used as an occasional reference for the foundations of future political dreams. But to Connor and the rest of us close to him, it becomes an overwhelming burden. It might readily alter our concept and outlook on life itself.
Perhaps in the mercy of time we will look back upon the whole venture as a holiday, a gradually facing memory with the passing of the annual observance. Hopefully, some pleasant campaign experiences will blot out, or at least blur the memory of defeat.
My thoughts, strangely enough, turned to the animal kingdom and other lower forms of life. Body structure may be evolutionary but what about man’s power to think, to hope, even to dream? I reflected on the seed that becomes a root, than a tree with leaves and fruit that ripens in time, than rots away, falls to earth and with the passing of seasons becomes seed again.
I pondered on birds and beasts that survive on instinct. They obey the laws of nature. They kill others to preserve themselves. Is this what elections do to men? Do laws of nature alone govern the politician’s conduct? Does his passionate desire for political preservation lower him to the level of the animal? What about man’s higher, nobler nature, rules of ethics and moral standards?
I was sure Connor’s actions were guided by conscience throughout the campaign. It may well have been a factor in his defeat. He would not sacrifice convictions for a vote. He had refused to take part in character assassination, although seasoned politicians insisted such tactics win elections, if this was the route to victory and power he wanted no part of it. Frankly he was of the opinion that keeping the campaign on a high moral level would help his cause.
Such profound moral conviction should now help sustain this man. Here he would find comfort and hope. I couldn’t help but think of our prayers that direct “banished children” through a “valley of tears” into a fruitful haven after a period of exile. Connor’s consolation now is in knowing he would not risk the loss of his soul to win an election. The defeat was already losing much of its significance.
My abstractions were interrupted by the telephone. Without turning I reached for the receiver. It was Dismal Dinny Burke.
“Dan, I was hoping you were still there. I wanted to tell you when I was at headquarters earlier but I was afraid someone would hear me. The ballot box is in the courtroom corridor. I had no trouble.”
“Good Dinny, very good. No one noticed you?” I asked.
“Nobody even talked to me.” A brief pause. “Now what happens, Dan?”
“First let me congratulate you on how you acted when you returned to headquarters. I’m alone now, so we can talk. Here’s what happens next; in the morning the extra ballot box will be discovered.”
“How?” asked Dinny.
I started to answer: “There will be an anonymous telephone call telling the election bureau that there is one more ballot box than there should be.”
Dinny interrupted me, “Then what?”
I finished: “Then we sit back and listen to the radio and wait for the evening newspapers.”
There was laughter on the line: “Would I like to hear Latsow talk his way out of this one.”
“Good night, Dinny. Best thing to do now is to forget all about it.”
“No trouble. I’ll sleep like a log. Good night.”
Sensing someone’s presence I looked over my shoulder. Kate was standing inside the door, staring not at me, but through me. Before she had a chance to talk I asked what she was doing here?
“I didn’t go to the apartment. I think you knew I wouldn’t. I drove around in the rain and decided you need me more than the Pete and I guess I need you. But, I have to ask you, what was that call all about?”
Not knowing how long she was there or how much she overheard, I told her everything from the time we found the box until tonight’s phone call including all the details.
She was irritated; her smile was gone, her voice had a chill, “I thought it was God who said vengeance is mine. This is the same God who wants us to turn the other cheek?”
I interrupted her, “Now hold on Kate. Just a minute. That bastard double-crossed Pete. I’m just striking back. And what about you? What was he trying to do to you?”
“Danny I guess you can’t be Irish without having a thick skull. You know very well I had no intention of eloping with Latsow. You also know there is a limit on how far a person can go, even to elect Connor. And Dan, not for one minute did this include giving you up. Paul Latsow doesn’t mean a darn thing to me and you know it. And by now you should know that I love you, no one else.”
I was stunned, “I’m not so sure why I should. What have you done lately to let me know how you felt?”
She said, “I guess I got distracted by this dumb election, I’m sorry.”
And with that said, Kate was in my arms.
- - - - -
We fell asleep in each others arms, embraced tightly so that no one would disappear in the night. We were awakened by the noise on the street below. The daylight was bright because we never pulled the shade down, we just got lost in each other.
Kate was warm up against my body and I felt like I this was the place I always wanted to stay. I imagined it felt as good as a new baby must feel in the arms of a mother, safe and cozy.
We stared at each other for a while before she said: “I guess we better get on with what has to be. We will have the rest of our lives for each other.”
My first task was to make a certain phone call, before she left Kate tried again to get me to let it alone but she was unable to convince me. I wanted to enjoy my revenge.
The Angel of Death
Much of the day was spent answering the telephone. They came, with little exception, calls from friends, calls from others that sounded sincerely sorry about Connor’s defeat.
I turned the radio on early, soon after I made the call to the election bureau. I made no mention of dynamite just that there was an extra ballot box.
There was still no word about the extra ballot box being discovered, but this did not disturb me. It takes time to count the boxes and to spot two from Latsow’s precinct. Perhaps the news would break in time to hit the evening news.
Throughout the day however, I did have some bad moments. Maybe the election bureau considered it a crank call. Or the person who got the call removed the extra box to avoid harmful publicity. No, this was not likely as it would be necessary to open the two boxes from the one precinct. This would expose the dynamite. Did the label fall from the box? No, I used three, one on top and one below each handle. Could Dinny have slipped up? Certainly not after he called to report that he had no trouble.
“Something’s wrong,” I said aloud. “Just my nerves.” Admonishing my impatience my thoughts turned to Butch Latsow. Wasn’t he in for the shock of his life? I wish I could be a fly on the wall in his room when he gets the news? Would I like to see his face?
For one fleeting moment I had a twinge of conscience but managed, through sheer force of will, to pay no attention to it.
When the newspaper arrived I deliberately ignored it for a few minutes, considering this a private demonstration of self-control. I glanced down obscurely at the folded paper. I opened it. Front page – nothing. Second page – nothing. Page three and four – nothing. Pages five and six – nothing. I turned to the first page of the second section, identified with a streamer – OAKVILLE NEWS. Then came the shock, not for Bruce Latsow, but for Daniel Aloysius Dolan!
I couldn’t believe my eyes. But there it was, a three column head at the top of the page: ‘BURGLARS GET $20,000 AT LATSOW RESIDENCE.’
The article explained that the theft had taken place over the previous weekend, when Latsow was at the retreat, but it was kept quiet until after the election. Police had special patrols on duty at every precinct in the district, watching for persons displaying large sums of money. No suspects were reported and the confidential matter was made public.
Before I finished reading the article I had the answer. Dinny Burke, it had to be Dinny. Who else? Burke knew Latsow was away over the weekend and he knew Latsow had money. Of course he did not know it would be in the house, but why not look around. Dinny knew he had all night to search the premises.
The shock that came with the news was followed by delight. Good boy Dinny. Too bad you did not find more. Isn’t this great! Better than I could possibly imagine. Latsow out twenty grand and now the ballot box and the dynamite will be discovered.
This thought turned my attention quickly back to the newspaper. What about the ballet box? I sat down, turned on the floor lamp and went through every news item in the paper. Nothing. Even while going over column after column I knew it wasn’t there. It would have been printed with the burglary story and in fact add much to it. What the devil went wrong?
A review of local and area news on the radio came to an end with nothing about the ballet box. A rendition of the national anthem followed and the broadcasting was finished for the day. I walked to a window and noticed it was snowing, the first heavy fall of the season.
Perhaps I was being too impatient, I thought. It was than I suddenly remembered the election bureau does not count the ballets or boxes the day after the election. The personnel works through the night, many return arriving late because the county had not voted for the voting machines. Tomorrow the news will break. It takes time to count boxes that cover the full length of an entire wall in the courthouse. This thought was comforting and fostering it finally put my mind at ease. I would know tomorrow. The whole district would know tomorrow.
Kate and I were together in the apartment again that night when the phone rang. Kate broke my grip. Right after saying “hello” she motioned to me. I stood over her shoulder. Other than “Oh, Ah, Ahem, Yes, Yeah and All Right” she said nothing. A strange trait in women, they assume an air of mystery on the phone, not mentioning the name of the caller.
But Kate did want me to know. She picked up a pencil and wrote on a pad, “Butch Latsow. He wants me. Urgent. Come right over.” Her last remark before hanging up was, “See you.”
My pointed finger was only a shade away from the tip of her nose: “You’re not going.” It was more of a question than an order.
“I’m a woman Dan, and I’m curious. Of course I’m going.”
I turned away abruptly, walked toward the window, turned and said: “All right, you are going. So am I.”
To my amazement, and delight, Kate offered no objections.
- - - - -
Once inside Latsow’s door I knew there was something wrong. It was there in the man’s piercing eyes, in his entire being. He made me think of a big fat Tom Cat, standing over a mouse. It was quit obvious in his mannerism; he did not shake hands or make any comment about the election. He did not appear surprised at my presence but he was probably watching our approach from the window.
It was there in the room itself, something somber, and something cold. Mind you, nothing is changed in the physical makeup of the spacious, elegant parlor. Everything is perfectly in place. Yet you know somehow that something is wrong. There is no apparent credibility for the feeling but you sense something sinister in the very atmosphere. You have a disquieting premonition that something ominous us about to take place.
Latsow retreated to the opposite wall and sat on the edge of his floor console model television set. It was than I saw the ballot box, it was right beside the TV. I fought back a sudden ghastly weakness that quickly drained the color from my cheeks and set off a spasmodic throbbing, turbulent, whirling sensation.
The box was deliberately put there to be seen and it still had the labels glued to it. Kate saw it too. She couldn’t help but see it. But she kept her head, God bless her.
“You got Connor a horrid vote Bruce,” she said with a calmness you couldn’t help but admire.
“Never mind that.” Said Latsow in a foreboding cold voice. “What about this ballot box?”
Kate asked: “What do you mean ballot box? Oh, that thing there.” She said pointing across the room, “What am I supposed to know about that?”
Amazed and profoundly confused, I was wondering how it got there and paid no attention to Latsow until he shouted: “What about it Donlin?”
My voice felt weak, trembling, but I had to bluff it out: “What are you talking about? We should be asking you about the ballot box?”
“I’ll tell you about it. I’ll do better, I’ll show you.” He turned to a closet door, turned the knob and out staggered Dismal Dinny Burke. You could see that he was brutally beaten. Cut lips, blood seeping from his mouth, his facial features swollen and distorted, the gruesome man was a wretched, miserable sight.
Staggering forward, with both hands on his stomach, he took one or two steps forward, muttered something about almost being killed before he talked; then slumped slowly to a sitting position by a bookcase.
Latsow ignored Dinny and faced us with what I was sure was murder in his eyes. “Yes I roughed him up a bit. I spotted Dinny from my car outside the courthouse election night and watched him put this box in the corridor. When I saw what it was I carried it out into my car. Now damn you Donlin, why?”
Suddenly I felt strong again. The blood rushed to my checks and I became inflamed by his Goddamn insolence, the double-crossing bastard. Who was he to question me or tell me off?
“To hell with you and your damned ballot box. Why don’t you do some answering? What about this twenty grand business?”
The son-of-a-bitch actually smiled. “A hoax, Donlin. It will be found on Dinny here when I call the police. The dynamite will be here too, put here by Burke to blow up the place. To make it more convincing I put an exploder in the box attached to a fuse.” The cord was in full view entering the ballot box through the slot cutting through the paper label.
“You’ll never get away with it. You are stark raving mad. Why would Dinny return after getting away with the money?”
“That’s easy. After he found the money he heard someone outside and hid it. He disappeared out the back door and returned for it tonight.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Dinny’s hand move upward and into a shelf on the bookcase. He pulled his hand back quickly after grabbing something. He was covering his hand when I saw the revolver.
Thank heaven; Latsow did not look over at Dinny. ““Clever Latsow, infernally clever. “But what about me; and Kate, how do you explain us? How do you plan to manage that?”
“I just told you I owed you some election money that I had left over.”
I asked again, “What about Kate?”
Latsow spoke up: “This brings me to my proposition. Donlin doctored the ballot box and with Dinny a witness, he becomes part of a conspiracy. I say nothing and forget the whole thing if Kate comes with me.”
“With you? Where are you going?”
“I’m leaving Oakville. I’m well fixed and Kate goes with me.”
Kate lost her equilibrium and took one step forward. She leaned on the sofa in the center of the room with one hand, with her other hand she spread the fingers and put the thumb to her nose and said: “Here for you. I’d sooner lay with some drunken louse than a Latsow.”
Dismal Dinny held the revolver at arms length and struggled to get to his feet. The wavering pistol was pointed in the general direction of Latsow, I pushed Kate behind the sofa and she tripped and fell.
The door that opened to the side porch and was next to the bookcase now swung wide open and Pete Connor leaped into the room. He had seen the gun through the glass door and pushed hard against Burke. I dropped full length over Kate.
There was a gunshot, followed by an ear-splitting explosion.
The sound of the gunshot was almost lost in the noise of the explosion. The awesome force of the dynamite blast dashed the sofa back against the wall, landing upside down over my back. My only recollection was a shattering, deafening roar that seemed to split my head and the whole world as I lapsed into unconsciousness.
- - - - -
Kate wore black to Connor’s funeral. Not being catholic she was unaware of the change in the rituals that now stressed the resurrection rather than the requiem with the color white. Even if she had known she would have undoubtedly appeared in black. What mind, with all our intellectual limits, can rise above the finite and rejoice when plunged into an inexorable grief? I certainly could not grasp the significance of the infinite in the ceremony, being completely absorbed by a sadness of fathomless depth.
At the grave I withdrew from the crowd and at a safe distance in the shadows of a tree cried convulsively. The mourners dispersed and finally Kate came to me, put her arm around me and guided me to a car in the funeral cortege. The professor was inside, waiting for us.
“Pull yourself together lad.” Moran said. “We must preserve our strength for Dinny’s funeral tomorrow.”
Latsow had been cremated.
The professor drove carefully over a thin coating of snow. And after moving along for a short distance Kate broke the silence, “I wonder how Connor knew we were at Latsow’s home?”
Moran answered her: “Pete and I went to Dan’s apartment and found it open. We walked in and read your note Kate. I know your handwriting,”
Kate said: “Oh yes, my note to you Dan, while I was on the phone with Latsow.”
The professor continued: “Either Connor did not know of Latsow’s duplicity or he didn’t care. He said he wanted to join you two. I didn’t have the heart to go, knowing what I did about Latsow, so Pete went alone.”
Kate said: “Or with his angel of death.”
I was sitting in the back seat with Kate and glared at the back of Moran’s head. “Why Connor? Professor, answer me that, who in hell said we’re born equal?”
Without hesitation the professor answered: “We are Dan, born with equal chance to merit eternal reward. This life is a gift. No strings attached. We can do just about what we like with it. However, we can use it to earn a scholarship, a membership into another life. This life is not the final gift we must work to gain entrance to that gift. Knowing it will not sound presumptuous to you two, I’m inclined to think Connor made it through the entrance.”
Kate wiped away a tear with her hand and smiled, “That’s a consoling thought. Professor, that’s just like you at a time like this. You know I’d like Danny here to make it too and I want to help. So professor, will you agree to be our best man?”