GRISWOLD VS. SWEET, ET AL
Best of Crosscurrents 10.3/4
Is that thing on? Is it recording? Okay, so you want to know about the Griswold/Sweet thing. I mean, first you have to understand about Francis Sweet. That name alone was enough to finish him at a school like Garrison, but there was more. A lot more. I mean, just about everything about Francis Sweet was wrong for Garrison.
Like the way he looked. Scrawny, with pale skin and brown freckles, and a big nose, and ears that stuck out. Or the way he dressed. His shirts, for example, which weren't button downs. They weren't even oxford cloth. He wore these shiny white shirts with these plastic collar stays, the kind old men wear. Griswold was always grabbing Francis by the collar and bending the stays so the points stuck up in the air, and Francis was always straightening them out. He finally gave up trying to use the stays, which made his shirts look even worse.
It wasn't just the shirts. Francis didn't wear tweed jackets and flannels like everyone else. He wore these weird looking dark suits made of gabardine or sharkskin or some other old man stuff. And the suits were all from this store in Norwalk no one ever heard of.
And that was another thing. Everyone at Garrison came from places like Greenwich or Lake Forest or Grosse Pointe. Francis came from Norwalk, which a lot of kids figured was about the same as Bridgeport, or somewhere like that. He was a scholarship student. His father was a shop teacher at Norwalk high school.
Okay, what else? He was lousy at sports. He was shy. Do you see where I'm going with this? I know all this stuff may sound stupid to you, but you gotta understand. Francis was so totally wrong for a boy's boarding school like Garrison that what happened was really almost predictable. I'm not saying that made it okay or anything, but it wasn't like some big surprise.
Some people figured if Francis hadn't drawn Griswold as a roommate freshman year things might have turned out different. Bucky Griswold was everything Francis wasn't — he was tall and good looking and popular. He made varsity football and basketball in his freshman year. He came from this really rich southern family and he dressed perfectly — all Brooks Brothers and J. Press. And he just loved to rag Francis. He did it every day like a ritual. Like doing calisthenics or brushing his teeth or something.
Griswold was at Francis with little stuff like the collar stays all day, whenever he came across him. But he also ran this regular baiting session every night in their room after dinner. Everybody knew about it. Francis couldn't escape, because you had to be in your room from 7:00 to 9:00 during evening study period. Every night anywhere from two or three to a half dozen kids would sneak down to Griswold's room after the monitor's first room check and watch him give it to Francis.
And Griswold was good at it. He knew how to find an opening, you know, something that really bothered Francis, and then he'd bore in till he really had Francis going. I only attended this thing once myself. I got nothing against guys insulting each other or trading insults — there's a lot of that stuff at Garrison. Hey, I do it myself. But Barry was too easy a target, and it wasn't fun, it was just vicious. I'll give you the conversation the way I remember it. Griswold started out kind of innocent. Like he said, "Say, Francis, where are you goin' Thanksgiving?"
Francis said, "Just going home."
"Home? Oh, you mean to Norwalk. Say, Francis, do you have a girl in Norwalk? A real Norwalk kinda girl you're gonna give it to over Thanksgiving? Or are you just gonna beat the bone when you get back to Norwalk, the way you do every night across the room?"
"That isn't true. You know it."
"You think I don't hear you yankin' and groanin' over there, boy? You callin' me a liar? SPEAK UP FRANCIS."
"I didn't say that. I just said it wasn't true!"
"Why it's the same damn thing, boy! Now listen up good, Francis. I just might stop by good old Norwalk over Thanksgiving if you can get me a date with your sister, Norma. What do you think my chances are? Did you hear me, Francis? I believe I asked you WHAT ARE MY CHANCES FOR A DATE WITH NORMA?"
"Don't start with Norma, Bucky! Don't...you better..."
"Why, Francis, I was just askin' polite as can be about a date with your sister, Norma. Norma from Norwalk. But, see, Francis, what I need to know from you is what gets old Norma goin,' if you catch my meanin.' I mean, what kind of action gets her sweet juices all roiled up and flowin'? The point being that I don't want to disappoint Norma when I take her out, don't want to leave her all frustrated and horny..."
"GODDAMN YOU BUCKY YOU SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP..."
"Why, Francis, I do believe you've upset yourself."
At that point I walked out of the room, but I know that was typical of the kind of scenes Griswold would put on for his audience every night. I heard that sometimes Griswold would drag in Francis' mother, or this girl named Diane that Francis wrote letters to, or one of these homosexuals he invented named Puff and Sucky — it all depended on the questions he wanted to ask Francis that night.
Francis eventually learned to take it without shouting back too loud because a couple of times one of the monitors heard him and came to see what was up and caught the kids in Griswold's room. Then those kids got extra study halls or job duty and then they really gave Francis a world of shit.
The monitors are these twelve seniors chosen for their qualities of leadership, or whatever, and they're supposed to act like teachers when it comes to the other kids. So anyway, this one monitor, his name was Phil Taylor, he kind of figured out what was going on with Griswold and arranged for Francis to get a single room midway through his freshman year. After that the scenes didn't take place every night, but Griswold still took a bunch of kids to Francis' new room two or three times a week to rag him. Francis began to get truly weird. It got so whenever anyone came to his door, he would jump, you know, like a cornered rat or something.
A lot of kids figured Francis wouldn't last the year. He had no friends except Phil Taylor, who was more like a teacher than a friend. His only sport was fencing, which took the kids who couldn't play football or basketball. The other kids called them fairy fencers, but even the other fairy fencers wouldn't hang around with Francis. He spent a lot of time walking in the woods by himself, looking at birds with his binoculars.
So you get the idea of where Francis was at, I mean, he was definitely a spooky kid by the time Spring Prom Weekend rolled around, which was when it happened. Spring Prom is this big deal for the juniors and seniors. They have their girlfriends come up to the school for the weekend, and there are all these events, like a party Friday night, and a football game against Choate on Saturday, and this big formal dance Saturday night. The school puts the girls up four to a room at the infirmary, and also in the married teacher's houses. Some of the girls come from really far away, like Texas and California and London.
So to explain how this thing happened, I have to tell you about job duty. See, Garrison has this tradition, this character building thing where every kid has to do job duty every morning, like sweeping a corridor or working in the kitchen or waiting on table or something. Anyway, on the morning it happened, there were four of us assigned to sweep the big study hall together — me, Griswold, Francis, and this kid named Harris. That was our job duty that morning. And it happened to be the Sunday morning of Spring Prom Weekend.
The big study hall is this huge room with rows and rows of wooden desk chairs bolted to the floor. It can seat all 300 kids at the school. It's on the second floor, directly above the dining room, and there's this open landing and stairs between the two floors. So it was warm that morning, and the doors and windows were open in the study hall and the dining room. The juniors and seniors had been up late at the dance the night before. They were having breakfast with their girlfriends downstairs in the dining room as we swept the study hall above them. I could hear the high pitched girls' voices floating up from below, and all this tinkle and clatter from the silverware and china.
It takes a while to sweep the big study hall because you have to go around all these desk chairs. So we were sweeping away when Griswold started in with Francis. He started like this.
"Say, Francis, you're never gonna guess who I saw downstairs havin' breakfast with Henderson, you know, the senior who plays left tackle? Want to guess? Well sir, it was Diane, Francis! Your Diane! Diane from Norwalk! Seems after I told Henderson just how...hot you told me Diane was, he gave her a jingle and asked her on up and she accepted! Isn't that somethin'?"
Griswold was sweeping the row next to Francis. He leaned over and began to kind of prod Francis with the end of his broom as he spoke.
"So I ran into Henderson in the lavatory and I asked him how things were workin' out with Diane, and he said just fine. But it seems she told Henderson this story, Francis, which I thought I'd check out with you. Seems Diane told him she was gonna shit can you 'cause you had a tiny little dick and couldn't keep it up. Anyway, Henderson said he nailed her in his room with his roommate lookin' on. Diane didn't mind. Henderson said he had some trouble at first, said nothin' very big had ever been up Diane. Ever seen Henderson in the shower, Francis? Well sir, he's got a thrill hammer on him looks like a baby's arm holdin' an apple. I mean, he's..."
That's when Francis turned around with his broom in both hands and took a full swing with it, knocking Griswold's broom sailing from his hands. Francis swung again, catching Griswold in the ribs with the heavy wooden broom head and knocking him to his knees. I heard the broom head hit clear across the study hall. Griswold looked amazed, like he couldn't believe what was happening.
"MOTHERFUCKING COCKSUCKING FUCKHEAD!" That's what Francis screamed. It was the loudest scream I ever heard. It was one of the loudest sounds I ever heard. And it had an immediate effect on the breakfast party below. All that buzz buzz and tinkle clatter noise died away completely. From then on Francis was screaming to the whole Spring Prom party, screaming to an audience of 300 juniors and seniors and their girlfriends just below us.
"COCKSUCKING SHITHEAD!" was the next thing Francis screamed. I remember that. He was moving in on Griswold, holding his broom handle forward like a fencing saber, jabbing him sharply as he tried to stand up. Griswold staggered backward into a desk chair and fell again.
Francis kept screaming. The same kind of stuff. There was dead silence from the breakfast party below. He was jabbing Griswold in the head and chest as he tried to crawl away between the chairs. Harris and I started for them, but we had the whole study hall to cross and all those chairs to get around. I wondered what to do when we got there, if Francis would attack us too.
Griswold was lying curled up against the wall trying to protect his bleeding head. Francis was hitting him with two handed swings now, and screaming away. Harris and I finally caught up with them and jumped Francis from behind. He didn't fight us much after we pulled him off. It was kind of weird. In fact, what he did was, he started crying.
I took Francis to the infirmary. Harris stayed with Griswold. There was a lot of blood and we didn't dare move him.
Okay, so that's what happened, It was one of those deals where no one winds up happy. The juniors and seniors were extremely pissed off. The girlfriends and some of their parents were upset. So was the school. And of course Francis and Griswold were both really messed up, but in different ways.
I know they took Griswold to the hospital in Waterbury. I heard he had a broken nose, a broken wrist, three broken ribs, and lots of cuts and bruises. Then I heard his parents were talking lawsuits against Francis or maybe the school. Then you guys show up to take these statements from me and Harris. So I'm doing this statement, and I hope this will, you know, set the record straight or whatever.
I heard Francis was in the infirmary for two days and under sedation the whole time. Then he left Garrison for good. None of the kids really knew where he went, but there were rumors it was some kind of hospital or something like that.
The day after Francis left, his father showed up to clear out his room. He met with the Headmaster for a while, and then with Phil Taylor. Phil spotted me in the hall as he and Mr. Sweet were on their way to Francis' room, and he asked me to come with them to help pack Francis' stuff and carry it down. He introduced me to Mr. Sweet, who looked a lot like Francis, only shorter and broader. He was wearing a suit just like one I'd seen Francis wearing. He reached out and shook my hand.
"Pleased to meet you," he said. He smiled at me, but I felt like he didn't really see me. He looked kind of distracted or confused.
It was a shame what they did to Francis' stuff. Some kids had been in his room while he was in the infirmary. Everything seemed okay until you looked closely. Like Francis had this stuffed bird on a stand, and they squirted toothpaste on its ass and on the stand so it looked like it was taking a dump. Or his pinup of Grace Kelly on the wall. Someone had circled her chest in black pen and written 'NO TITS' across it.
They did other weird stuff. The crotches had been cut out of his underwear. His suits were stained with ink. And some other stuff.
Listen, it was the last place I wanted to be, in that room with them, packing those things. At one point, Mr. Sweet turned and looked at me and Phil Taylor. His eyes were full of tears.
"I had a beautiful son," he said. "He was thrilled to come here, to this beautiful school. They gave him a scholarship to come here. I don't...I don't understand what happened here."
As we walked down the corridor with the trunk and suitcases, the kids came out of their rooms on both sides to watch. At the end of the hall, Mr. Sweet turned and faced them. There must have been about 20 kids looking at him. He just looked at them awhile, and then he said this.
"You...boys...you wrecked my son, Francis. My beautiful son."
No one answered.
"What kind of men will you become?" Mr. Sweet asked. He turned away and started through the hall door. He had some trouble getting through because he was carrying two suitcases. Phil Taylor and I followed carrying Francis' trunk.
Well, that's about it. That's everything I know about the Griswold/Sweet thing. I hope it'll help, you know, to sort things out or whatever.
Except there's one other thing. I mean this is, like, off the record, okay? I checked around and found out who trashed Francis' room. There were three kids who did it. Then I snuck out of the chapel one evening during Vespers and I really did a number on their stuff. I slashed their jackets and pissed on their shirts. I smashed their records. I even ripped up their letters and photos.
I mean, the weird part was, it wasn't like I was some kind of friend of Francis' or anything like that.
I didn't even like Francis.