You just can't
run off a broken leg. Of course, old Lu Libble didn't know that the leg was
broken, but even so I felt he had some kind of bug against me. He was always
hinting I was a no-good and with those big legs he ought to put me in the line
and make "a watch charm guard" out of me.
That next summer
came the time when my father, who'd been working out of town as a linotypist,
sometimes at Andover, Mass., sometimes Boston, sometimes Meriden, Conn., now
had a steady job lined up at New Haven, Conn., and it was decided we move
there. My sister by now was married. As we were packing, I went about and wrote
sad songs about "picking up my stakes and rolling." But that wasn't the
One night my
cousin Blanche came to the house and sat in the kitchen talking to Ma among the
packing boxes. I sat on the porch outside and leaned way back with feet on rail
and gazed at the stars for the first time in my life. A clear August night, the
stars, the Milky Way, the whole works clear. I stared and stared till they
stared back at me. Where the hell was I and what was all this?
I went into the
parlor and sat down in my father's old deep easy chair and fell into the
wildest daydream of my life.
As Ma and Cousin
talked in the kitchen, I daydreamed that I was now going to go back to Columbia
for my sophomore year, with home in New Haven, maybe near Yale campus, with
soft light in room and rain on the sill, mist on the pane, and go all the way
in football and studies. I was going to be such a sensational runner that we'd
win every game, against Dartmouth, Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Georgia U.,
Michigan U., Cornell, the bloody lot, and wind up in the Rose Bowl. In the Rose
Bowl, worse even than Cliff Montgomery, I was going to run wild. Uncle Lu
Libble for the first time in his life would throw his arms around me and weep.
Even his wife would do so. The boys on the team would raise me up in Rose
Bowl's Pasadena stadium and march me to the showers singing. On returning to
Columbia campus in January, having passed chemistry with an A, I would then
idly turn my attention to winter indoor track and decide on the mile and run it
in under 4 flat (that was fast in those days). So fast, indeed, that I'd be in
the big meets at Madison Square Garden and beat the current great milers in
final fantastic sprints bringing my time down to 3:50 fiat. By this time
everybody in the world is crying Duluoz! Duluoz! But, unsatisfied, I idly go
out in the spring for the Columbia baseball team and bat home runs clear over
the Harlem River, one or two a game, including fast breaks from the bag to
steal from first to second, from second to third, and finally, in the climactic
game, from third to home, zip, slide, dust, boom. Now the New York Yankees are
after me. They want me to be their next Joe DiMaggio; I idly turn that down
because I want Columbia to go to the Rose Bowl again in 1943. Hah. But then I
also, in mad midnight musings over a Faustian skull, after drawing circles in
the earth, talking to God in the tower of the Gothic church steeple of
Riverside cathedral, meeting Jesus on the Brooklyn Bridge, getting friend Sabby
a part on Broadway as Hamlet (playing King Lear myself across the street), I
become the greatest writer that ever lived and write a book so golden and so
purchased with magic that everybody smacks their brows on Madison Avenue. Even
Professor Claire is chasing after me on his crutches on the Columbia campus.
Mike Hennessey, his father's hand in hand, comes screaming up the dorm steps to
find me. All the kids of HM are singing in the field. Bravo, bravo, author,
they're yelling for me in the theater where I've also presented my newest idle
work, a play rivaling Eugene O'Neill and Maxwell Anderson and making Strindberg
spin. Finally, a delegation of cigar chewing guys come and get me and want to
know if I want to train for the world heavyweight boxing championship fight
with Joe Louis. Okay, I train idly in the Catskills, come down on a June night,
face big tall Joe as the referee gives us instructions, and then, when the bell
rings, I rush out real fast and just pepper him real fast and so hard that he
actually goes back bouncing over the ropes and into the third row and lays
there knocked out.
I'm the world
heavyweight boxing champion, the greatest writer, the world's champ miler, Rose
Bowl and (pro-bound with New York Giants football nonpareil) now offered every
job on every paper in New York, and what else? Tennis anyone?
I woke up from
this daydream realizing that all I had to do was go back on the porch and look
at the stars again, which I did, and still they just stared at me blankly.
I began to see
that good old Lu Libble wasn't going to start me in the starting lineup my
sophomore year but let me sit on the bench while Liam McDiarmid and Spider
Barth, who were seniors, wore out their seniority. Now they were shifty and
nifty runners but not as fast or strong as I was. That didn't matter to Lu
Libble. He insulted me in front of everybody again by saying "You're not
such a hot runner, you can't handle the KF-79 reverse deception" (as if I'd
joined football for "deception" for God's sake), "first thing you
know, you with your big legs" (they weren't that big), "I'm going to
make you a lineman."
"Now run and
do that reverse."
With my eyes I
said "I can't run any faster these first two days, my legs are