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Columns / Short Stories
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July 1960

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Where Do You Enlist?



How the hell does a guy grow up to be a Believer? I mean to really believe, not just make the proper sounds and motions. AII around me there are these guys who sincerely dig Ike, or Adlai, or Tennessee Williams, or Mickey Mantle, or Mammoth Cave, guys who seem to have something that makes it for them all the way, with no strings. No ifs or buts or howevers. Some guys and chicks believe in their own talent. But completely - whether they have it or not. And in our showbiz world that belief is enough to convince the other clowns (who are also believers) that they actually are talented. The thi11g is to believe. A sort of blind faith that brooks no questioning. How do you start believing? Where do you enlist!' I am ready to sign up. I am ready to quietly slip into my place in the jostling throng that merrily chuckles its way toward whatever the hell we're all heading for I realize that I'll get there too. but I'd enjoy the trip more if r could join the party in the club car and swap drinks with the rest of the slobs as the train heads for the cliff. Sometimes I dream of going to an American Legion Convention wearing a hat with badges on it. These guys are running around sticking shock-sticks into fat old ladies and dropping beer cans out of hotel windows and above all, cheering each other's speeches like mad. In this dream I am right there in the mob, mv white shirt sweaty, my eyes bulging, my voice hoarse from hollering every time the flag shows up. I wake up happy. This dream has many variations, some of which I am too shy to mention here. It would be nice if I could believe that my dreams had deep significance. For example, there is the one where I'm in this joint. The joint is full of hippies of all known sexes, including several not yet classified by science. It is dark and the hippies are huddled together listening to this cat wearing a lumber jacket and jeans. Back of this cat is this combo working over the Blues while he reads this stuff from some yellow second sheets. He reads in a flat voice about how he loves the whole world and America is rotten, the bastards. Well, all these swinging types are sitting around digging this stuff and believing. Right there in the middle of the crowd, my shaggy black sweater hanging limp, eyes enigmatic behind my shades, a battered Evergreen Review on my hip, I am digging for real. Swinging, man, all the way out. I am truly believing that this clown has the Word. At this point, I usually wake up with a grin on my face that lasts well into my second cup of coffee. In another dream, I am in the audience at a Broadway opening night. I am surrounded by a sea of well-fed, pleasant, blandly-intelligent faces. The curtain goes up. The play begins. A middle aged actress with a shrill voice comes out dressed up as a peasant girl. She sings a song about how she is nineteen and in love. A lump rises in my throat. I fight back the tears. My neighbors are openly weeping. Shortly thereafter, I am transported by the sight of the kindly mother superior of a local convent who arrives on the scene with ten cute children in tow. This is the most fantastic dream of all, for I am having an "engrossing, enchanted evening" just the way the theatre critics said I had. After this one I usually awake humming a medley from The King and I. Now, the great thing about dreams is that they are dreams. Anything is possible in them and truth is right there. However, they have a built-in mousetrap that convinces me from time to time that I have almost found the formula. Think how great it would be to be able to really worry about The Complex Middle East Problem. I mean not just make noises about it, but really worry the way guys like Edward R. Murrow seem to be able to. I usually sit in front of the TV waiting for it to happen, but actually worrying more about the White Sox than about Nasser or Mister K. One day a guy told me he would give me the key, so he sends me a copy of a book by that amazing character who tells all about how if you Believe in Positive Thinking you will make Big Dough and wind up voting a Straight Ticket for life. Well, I figured I'd give it a whirl. After all, there were all those testimonials in the book from guys who were vice presidents and board chairmen. They claimed absolutely that it worked. So I went around following all the Rules for Peace of Mind like mad for maybe three months until one day I came in to work and the boss told me that since business had dropped off he was forced to can me and a couple of other guys. I immediately called the clown who had palmed this book off on me and told him what had happened. He says, "You have not believed correctly. You have done some second-rate believing." Since this guy is a VP, I could not argue with him. I just asked "How do you mean, correctly? I have followed all the rules." He comes back with: "You have to believe," and from the way he says it I know that he does and that I never could. I know, now, that it is impossible to get away with hamming it up. There is something in the eye. You either have it or you don't. I can come into a room full of guys who are dressed exactly alike, drinking the same drinks, making the same passes at the same chicks, saying the same things, but within ten minutes I have spotted two or three who are just going through the motions and are sweating it out, hoping that none of the other guys will spot them for what they are - Non-Believers. It is in the eye. You either believe or you don't. No half way. Where can I sign up for a course in learning how to laugh at TV comics? Why can't I? Other clucks no dumber than I am seem to be able to bust their gut every Sunday night right on schedule. I am not kidding around. This has worried me for years, ever since the time I discovered as a kid of ten I found nothing happening at the big Patrol Boys Picnic even though I hollered "Woweee!" like all the rest of the clowns. There is a vital mysterious ingredient that these Believers have which I will never have. How come I was shortchanged? Only Believers become stars or third basemen, while we are doomed to roam the outfield shagging batting practice flies. Never allowed to hit. To believe is to know. Which brings us right back to the beginning again. You can hear them whooping it up in the club car now and the old train is roaring along in the night, heading for that big hole in the ground. Where the devil do they sell the tickets? Where do you enlist! Is it possible my invitation to the Belief Club was mailed to my last pad and no one forwarded it to me? If you will stop looking into my eyes that way I will gladly buy you a drink in the club car. I will try to laugh at your gags.


Copyright: 1960 Metronome Magazine

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