9. At The Yale Harvard Game
It was a cool, damp October day in 1957, and my father was maneuvering us into the vast parking field behind the Yale Bowl. Beside him, my brother Den was crisp and clean in his Air Force uniform, trim as he would ever be, a presentable 18 year old who could help give substance to the idea of a successful family, which was what my father needed that day.
I was sulking in the back of the car. I had recently discovered Camus and Sartre, and through them the trick of framing and externalizing the anxiety that consumed me. At 17, I had developed a knack for talking about my life in retrospect. I was heavily into black turtlenecks, soiled jeans, negation. I was trying to raise a beard and mustache, but managed to look only unkempt and surly.
On this occasion, in this condition, I was wholly unsuitable for my father's purposes.
My father stepped from the car. He was wearing his Yale tie and a gray glen plaid suit that looked tight across the middle. He peered about and spotted the tent for the Class of '34. He sucked in his gut and buttoned his middle suit button.
"Well, men, I could root for either team, but I usually wind up supporting my undergraduate alma mater. Den, take the picnic basket. See the tent over there? Where it says '34? Donny, straighten up. Jesus, you look terrible! Why couldn't you wear a jacket and tie?"
"I don't care how I look."
"Well, I do."
"Fashions," I told him, "are ephemeral."
"Don't give me that crap. There are important people here, people who could be helpful to me."
"Why is it crap? Clothes create images. Images are hollow."
"Donny, Frank Pace could be here. We used to play poker at Harvard Law. Do you know who Frank Pace is?"
"Frank Pace is the Secretary of the Army."
"Did he go to Yale, too?"
"No. Princeton, I think."
"Then why would he be here?"
"He went to Harvard law! Donny, just try to act normal, like a normal happy kid at a football game, okay? Is that okay?"
My father had sunbursts of tiny purple veins etched into his cheeks and nose. He was sweating and his tone was sharp and I knew he needed a good long pull on the flask in his pocket or the bottle in the picnic basket. It had been over an hour since we stopped at a gas station on the Merritt Parkway so he could use the bathroom.
Under the tent, the Class of '34 was having lunch before the game. We found a table by ourselves, and my father had a few furtive shooters to loosen up. He was then ready to circulate among his former classmates. He stood with glass in hand.
"Den, why don't you come along with me and say hello to some people. Donny, you stay put for the moment and hold the fort. Here's your ticket, in case we get separated."
"Yes sir!" said Den, snapping to attention. I recall thinking that he was really taking this military shit seriously. He was behaving so fucking well that I was filled with contempt for him.
My father moved off with Den, looking for familiar faces. I mixed myself a stiff vodka and orange juice, finished it in four long swallows, lit a joint, and looked around for something to focus my anger on. 'Fraudulent, asshole Yalies,' I thought, 'with your goddamn plaid blankets and Harris tweeds and thermoses full of martinis, reeking of bad faith and self deceit.'
I mixed another drink to sip while I toked openly on the joint and watched my father work the crowd, with Den at his side, eager to be of service. My father was just catching up with his old college chums, you understand, but of course he wouldn't be averse to helping them with some legal work, or to an introduction to a good law firm, or to someone who might need some legal counsel, all very low key, of course, and quite secondary to the pleasure of seeing them again on this wonderful occasion. Boola Boola. Go Yale.
Simply a selective expansion, you understand, of an already highly successful private practice.