Three Mile Island, by Wolf DeVoon
Three Mile Island
A hard steely glint nailed the statement home. It was not a request. It was a
"I need help, Lou."
Louis R. Abruzzi stared intently at the poorly-dressed, underweight tyrant
who had issued that decree, unable to merge what he heard with what he saw.
Here, if anywhere, was someone who clearly needed nothing from his fellow man.
The boy's eyes were penetrating and liquid. His posture was alert and
Abruzzi frowned and suddenly, involuntarily thought of the moment when, three
weeks ago, he had been introduced to the President of the United States. A soft
delirium of twinkling chandeliers blended with muffled footsteps and hushed
voices. The President's eyes wandered aimlessly and swept across his own as if
by accident. The great man's handshake was limp and worn out, proclaiming that
it had grown soft with ritualistic abuse. Three years ago, the President had
been defeated in his campaign for a second term. His presidential leadership, no
longer amplified by the pageantry of White House spectacles, was now confined to
the pallid dream-state of accepting gilded trophies and making weary speeches
about the future of American business. On that particular day, it was Lou
Abruzzi's turn to hand over another gilded trophy, with maximum aplomb and
Abruzzi blinked, erasing the memory, too forthright to be sustained as
conscious understanding. But as his eyes evaded one flash of knowledge, they
fell upon another—indeed, another kind of trophy, a disturbing one that he had
no power to sweep away from the center of his desk. He admired it. He hated it.
He could neither destroy nor cherish it, for it held out to Abruzzi a challenge
he had no right to refuse or accept.
The trophy was a simple plastic tube, sealed at both ends, containing a
miniature boxcar that bore the markings of the bankrupt Pennsylvania Railroad.
The miniature boxcar had been meticulously glued to a miniature track. A
miniature track laborer was walking in front of the boxcar, pulling it forward
by means of a miniature rope attached to the car's coupling—just as Egyptian
slaves once towed massive stone blocks to the construction site of the Pyramids.
The boy whose eyes were commanding him today to take action had, eight months
ago, seen nothing but blank emptiness when he put the miniature boxcar into
Abruzzi's hand. It was a gift the boy had designed to promote a documentary film
project on the subject of the railroad's bankruptcy and subsequent takeover by
the Federal Government. Abruzzi had done nothing to help him push the project,
knowing that such a film would upset too many people and change nothing. But the
trophy remained on his desk. He wished he could calmly throw it into the
comforting hollowness of his heavy deskside wastebasket. But some simple
eloquence, something vivid and real in the miniature scene of a man pulling a
boxcar had forced him to keep it. He could not throw away a work of art.
As the years gently slipped from the summit of his youth to a vaguely
prestigious seniority, with a maturing sadness that echoed the world's
suffering, Louis R. Abruzzi gave up his life to beauty, like others devoted
their emptiness to money or power. "Only art," he sometimes said in mysteriously
gentle tones, "will survive us all." He never married, nor wondered why not.
68 years old, still vigorous and now supremely dignified, Abruzzi was
incapable of indiscretion or the slightest hint of censure. He was calm, erudite
and aristocratic, an ordinary man with uncommon wisdom and scholarly charm. He
spoke lovingly and automatically to all of the grandeur of art. This arrangement
pleased his Board of Directors, his network of academic advisors, and the public
officials whose support tentatively sustained the under-financed charity of
which Lou Abruzzi was executive director. Abruzzi's expert devotion to things
artistic made it easier for businessmen and captains of industry to disguise the
purpose of their grudging contributions; it saved them from discussing what they
were funding and whether Abruzzi's foundation was fulfilling its mission. For in
the year 1979, no other group, movement, or political ideal was less popular
than the National Council of Americans for Free Enterprise. Most of Abruzzi's
donors supported his annual award banquet because it gave them a thinly-veiled
excuse to chum around with Republican heavyweights who were routinely honored as
"friends of enterprise". Abruzzi himself had designed the gilded American
Enterprise trophy, an 18-inch sculpture of an eagle in flight, which he accused
the Post Office of plagiarizing in television commercials.
"Lou—" the boy said quietly, "if there was ever a time to do something, it's
Abruzzi looked up into the boy's clear blue eyes. He realized what it was
that had always disturbed him about this young man. Those eyes were too large,
too intense, and perfectly devoid of feeling.
"I have the support of Senator Litchfield's office, ABC, NBC, Westinghouse,
Kagawa at the Hoover Institution, and two dozen nuclear scientists," the boy
reminded him with increasing firmness. "If I can get the Department of Energy to
go along with it, the utility will have to say yes."
Abruzzi nodded. But the more he tried to consider what the boy was saying,
the less real it became. Things like this shouldn't be allowed to happen. Four
days ago, the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island, near Harrisburg, spewed
a cloud of radioactive gas into the tranquil Pennsylvania skies. The city of
Philadelphia, ordinarily quiet and dignified, had been plunged into a boiling
panic. This morning the Governor announced contingency plans to evacuate the
city; newspapers and TV stations carried hysterical pleas for public calm,
side-by-side with wild speculations as to the scope of the disaster. They had no
choice about printing speculations. Not one of the 2,000 newsmen who rushed to
Three Mile Island had been allowed to visit the crippled reactor or its control
room. Vaguely-worded, nervous statements were issued periodically by government
spokesmen, repeating a decidedly un-reassuring claim: "We're doing the best we
can." Abruzzi came to his office this morning with the intention of doing
exactly what thousands of wealthy Philadelphians were planning on doing today—to
quickly wrap up their business affairs and leave town, even though the freeways
were already jammed with lower-class refugees.
The boy had burst into his office at 9 o'clock, saying that he had devised a
plan to quell the growing public hysteria. It was a simple plan: put a TV camera
inside Three Mile Island and show people what was happening. "All we're getting
is a long shot of the cooling towers—which is an icon of death—" the boy had
urged, "and a bunch of half-assed bureaucrats who couldn't answer a straight
question if their lives depended on it." His solution to the problem was
damnably straightforward and almost unarguable: put the scientists in front of a
camera and show the public what was going on inside the TMI control room. He had
a yellow legal pad covered with names of famous physicists and senior managers
at the scene who were backing his proposal. The network news directors at ABC
and NBC had already agreed to the concept of a "pool" camera that would feed
pictures to all three networks. He was still waiting for a decision at CBS, but
he expected to get it later today. Never had Abruzzi seen such a complete
presentation of such compelling logic.
Abruzzi glanced again at the miniature boxcar on his desk. Perhaps the kid
was right. "Mary Ann," the silver-haired executive quietly called, "—bring me
the checkbook for Educational Activities and Special Programming."
Across the open-plan office, at the opposite shore of an expansive gold
carpet with silvery flecks of foam, the timid ghost of a spinsteresque
schoolmarm in tortoiseshell glasses quietly slipped to a filing cabinet and
humbly brought forward a great black binder. Abruzzi's decision became real to
all of them with a clanking bite, signifying the heavy file drawer snapped shut.
The boy froze, as if an arctic chill had taken his breath away. He had been
prepared to go on pitching his idea, come hell or high water. He had not been
prepared to win. His face fell a little, as though he had been hurt, not by
victory, but by the accumulated strain of fighting an uphill battle across four
days and four sleepless nights. The days had been filled with long-distance
calls to total strangers in positions of authority, reaching dead ends and
impasses, playing one name against the next, lying and deceiving and pleading
until someone agreed to help. The pacing, restless nights were horsewhipped by a
single headline, repeated endlessly and stupidly.
The boy sank back in his chair and allowed himself to feel the hard support
of its cool leather upholstery. It was a much-needed rest between battles past
and the battles yet to come. He closed his eyes, refusing them to show emotion.
Abruzzi withdrew a solid gold pen from a solid gold desk holder and thanked
his secretary for bringing the business-style checkbook which she carefully laid
open in front of him, like the menu of an expensive restaurant. Abruzzi wrinkled
his brow, momentarily pausing to wonder whether he was helping a scholar or
abetting a maniacal renegade. And then his carefully manicured fingers deftly
tore the check from its stub, determined to avoid embarrassment of any kind,
because a decision had been reached. He proffered the alms to his guest.
The boy rose with stiff dignity and muttered his thanks, tainted and confused
by the fact that he was taking another man's money. He glanced involuntarily at
the amount of the check. It said "Pay to the order of Robert Whitney, the sum of
Two Hundred Dollars and No Cents."
Abruzzi watched him slip the check into a worn folder along with his notes.
The boy shook Abruzzi's hand and repeated his thanks, this time with certainty
of purpose and no hint of regret. It was a firm, honorable, unsullied grip that
made Abruzzi think of clear-eyed cadets.
"God damn it, stop shaking," Whitney said to himself in the empty elevator as
a row of lamps winked in succession, carrying him from Abruzzi's 9th floor
office to the familiar grit of the streets. By speaking aloud to the noisy
emptiness of a baroque brass cage, he was declaring a source of strength. He
could still think and act and speak.
He hated himself for trembling. There was no time for any physical weakness
or inconvenience. He had a very long road yet to travel.
The gnawing reminder of hunger shook his intestines. His head throbbed inside
a thickening block of stupidity. Beads of perspiration wrinkled the $200 piece
of paper pressed tight against his palm.
At the Commerce Bank, where he cashed Abruzzi's check, his fingers refused to
act in concert, the pen slipping away and clattering to the floor in a
humiliating comedy of tiny clips and feeble clacks that made Whitney feel as
small and fragile as a plastic ballpoint novelty. Robert D. Whitney, age 28, had
nothing except a $200 check to justify his existence. No job, no car, no
future—except a future he imagined to be much like his past. It was a past he
could not bear to remember without feeling shame.
The ten crisp $20 bills in his pocket propelled Whitney through Center City
and pushed him against the grain of pedestrian traffic, six long blocks to the
gleaming steel tower which housed the executive offices of Philadelphia Edison,
the state's largest power utility. In addition to giving him money, Abruzzi had
promised to phone Mr. Donald MacAllister, the utility's president and chief
executive officer, to request that he give Whitney a similar five-minute
interview in which to discuss Three Mile Island. Although Philadelphia Edison
itself had no connection with the owners or operators of Three Mile Island, a
huge crowd of angry protesters were gathered in front of their offices,
hysterically denouncing the nuclear power industry. An overweight woman bellowed
at the assembled mob with the aid of a crackling bullhorn. If her words were
somewhat unclear, the emotional vibration of her message was plain enough: "We
demghd ntzdmedite enp, nuclear poww!" she rasped—and the frightened throng over
whom she pretended authority yelled their answer in waves of obedient cheering.
Through this, Whitney could only squeeze unobtrusively, ingeniously evading a
thousand elbows and 33 tons of human meat, two-thirds civilian and unemployed,
one-third uniformed police in riot gear. His skinny frame seemed to vanish in
one part of the crowd, only to reappear seconds later on the crest of another
deafening wave of screams and slogans. Somehow, in less than 40 seconds, he
slipped past the length and breadth of a restless, angry mob, just as they began
to jeer in unison at a menacing police order to disperse.
With faultless timing, he passed unnoticed behind swirling clusters of lawmen
and arrived unchallenged at the front door of Philadelphia Edison. Tracking the
moment of entry like radar, a uniformed guard at the massive reception desk
regarded Whitney's form with a mixture of suspicion and disgust. "I'm here to
see Donald MacAllister," the intruder softly explained. It was an opening
statement which the seasoned watchdog found patently ridiculous.
Seeing another hurdle in his path and nothing else, Whitney drilled nine
words deep into his opponent's eyes. "I have an appointment," he said firmly.
"My name is Robert Whitney." The guard blinked, his 12 years of training
suspended by the magic of an authentic command. Perhaps this odd-looking shrimp
really did have an appointment to see the president of Philadelphia Edison.
A month earlier, Whitney's attractive young wife, Carla, had secretly
arranged a party to celebrate Robert's 28th birthday. It was to be attended by
Linda and Phil Dozer, the couple's best friends, and by George Turner, an
acquaintance of four months. Whitney had cultivated no other friendships during
the past year, except for Harry Wald, who was out of town at the time, and Ricky
Coronado, whom Carla fervently wished Robert had never met. Coronado controlled
99 percent of the cocaine traffic in the city's Puerto Rican neighborhoods, and
she shuddered every time her husband said that he was going to visit him.
Harry Wald was less intimidating; he owned an appliance store in North
Philadelphia. But Carla was relieved when she learned that Harry and his
peculiar wife, Donna, couldn't come to the party. Donna Wald and Carla Whitney
had often made the day-long trip by car to visit their husbands at the Allenwood
Federal Prison Camp, near Williamsport. Seeing Donna always reminded her of
those trips, and she did not want to be reminded on Robert's birthday. The party
was intended to mark the beginning of a new chapter in her life with Whitney. He
had faithfully promised to turn over a new leaf.
He has, she told herself again on the day of the party. He really has. No
more talk about making movies. No more big phone bills. No more wild ideas.
Robert had gone back to the typesetting job, just like he said he would, even if
it was humiliating to beg for forgiveness and a second chance. Carla had
insisted on it. They couldn't live on her salary alone, that was for sure. And
when Robert wasn't working full-time, he spent all of his time dreaming about
movies and wasting their money like a compulsive gambler. The phone bill
skyrocketed to hundreds of dollars a month. It was insane. He called Hollywood,
New York, even London—anywhere he had some no-account buddy or wanted to talk to
a total stranger whose name had appeared in Variety. It had to be stopped, and
Carla knew how to stop it. She refused to sleep with him until he went back to
the typesetting job. Four weeks later, with everything back on track again, she
could relax, and give him a surprise birthday party. After their guests went
home that evening, she would put on the slinky black nightgown and the black
high heels he liked. He deserved a reward. He had been very well behaved for a
While the Philadelphia Edison guard telephoned the top floor of their
besieged institution, Whitney remembered her, an overwhelming flash of weakness
and despair. Suddenly, he longed for his wife, for her comfort and approval, for
some scrap of knowledge that he was doing the right thing.
And then it was blasted from his mind by necessity. A cadre of executives and
managers marched toward him from the carefully guarded elevators. They wore
expensive wool suits and tailored shirts. Their shoes were brightly polished and
coordinated with matching socks and ties. Whitney's face burned with
embarrassment, knowing that his own clothes were hastily chosen, wrinkled and
cheap. His shoes were scuffed to pieces.
If Carla saw him here she would laugh with haughty disdain, or worse, he
realized. She would loathe and disown him. Any thought of her now could cripple
him—and so, by summoning an unplanned and desperate willfulness, he tore the
deepest longing and most painful personal sorrow from his heart, leaving nothing
but a pure blank coolness where it once held a love.
"This is it," he murmured to himself, ignoring the fact that he had just
chosen to honor Philadelphia Edison over everything else in his life—including
The guard loudly cleared his throat and handed Whitney a plastic visitor's
badge, instructing him to take the last elevator at the end of a wide marble
lobby. Whitney pinned the badge to his wrinkled sport coat and tried to hide his
lingering sense of nervousness as he disappeared into a shiny black car destined
for the 18th floor. Fortunately, no one else boarded the elevator. He was spared
another few minutes in which to quiet his emotions and focus on the purpose of
When the elevator door opened, he was greeted by a stunning older woman who
smiled and smoothly ushered him into a mammoth suite of walnut and glass,
erected at soft angles to the deep blue Karastan featherbed that canceled his
footsteps. It was like walking on cheese. Whitney awkwardly declined the offer
of a seat in one of Philadelphia Edison's finest antique armchairs, saying that
he preferred to stand. It was suddenly hot in that office. He found it difficult
to breathe. He forgot what he had planned to say, and he hurriedly scanned his
recollection of yesterday, this morning, the distant voices in New York and
Washington and Harrisburg. A few moments later, he was politely guided into the
forbidden cathedral of the president's private office.
As Whitney crossed the invisible threshold of MacAllister's doorway, he
registered a strikingly fresh visual sense-impression that was involuntarily
photographed by his filmmaker's eye. A broad expanse of city skyline projected
two walls into infinity. The man in the foreground sat behind a block of solid
black marble. The man was in shirtsleeves, bent over a sheaf of papers that
controlled a million manhours. Whitney felt a tremendous rush of pride for all
such men, for the work they do and the burdens they carry. In the remaining
split-second before MacAllister looked up at him, Whitney saw in the man's face
that his rewards were small and his burdens very heavy indeed. Whitney smiled,
immediately offering his admiration and friendship. "I'm Robert Whitney," he
said with pleasure.
MacAllister blasted the goodwill into oblivion. "You media guys are all
alike!" he roared. "I let those bastards from Channel 8 in here last year
and they cut us to pieces! Gave them a tour of our L.N.G. facilities, showed 'em
the specs for Trenton Number Two, and they didn't use one goddamn foot of it!
Don't try to tell me you're different. You people are a bunch of liars and scum.
You don't deserve the time of day around here! Whatever you came to say, forget
it! I'm not talking to anyone. Whatever I say is going to be misquoted and
twisted all out of context—and don't try to deny it! We have nothing to do with
Three Mile Island and I have no comment about it. And if you had any
self-respect you'd know the difference between working for a living and feeding
people a bunch of crap on the news! You understand me?"
It took Whitney a moment to regain his balance—then, firmly, he said: "I
MacAllister blinked. He took a moment to actually look at the slim young man
who stood exactly one step inside his office. Apparently, this kid was able to
withstand the hurricane force of his wrath better than most Edison managers
could. MacAllister frowned with taut indifference, slammed his pencil down, and
abruptly asked what the young man wanted.
They talked for an hour. A minute or so after Whitney left his office, the
chief executive officer of Philadelphia Edison found himself gazing out the
window at a confused city of four million. Turning in his chair to face the
layered mosaic of reports on his desk, he wondered where the years had gone. It
had been a long time since he felt the strange happiness of an innocent purpose.
It made his desk unfamiliar, his flesh heavy and unwelcome. Why did he suddenly
feel like he was imprisoned here?
On the pavement outside, Whitney glanced at his watch—11:15—and hoped that
CBS hadn't called while he was away from home. He hustled over to Suburban
Station and caught the next local train for Narberth. Most of the trip was spent
trying to figure out how to make Abruzzi's $200 do the work of $2,000. No, not
$200, he ruefully remembered—it was now $199.40. Eventually, the plodding
commuter train squealed to a halt at the run-down station in Narberth. Whitney
was the first to jump onto the platform. He hurried home without looking up, and
once again his neighbors felt deliberately snubbed. Whitney never snubbed
anyone, of course. What they mistook for rudeness was simply the absence of a
man absorbed in purposeful thought. He never saw them nor heard them say hello.
In fact, he never realized he had neighbors.
He glanced at the mailbox, saw no letters, and sprang up two short flights of
stairs to his apartment. He switched on the TV set. Nothing had changed. Indeed,
it was getting worse. Unable to get the hard facts of what was happening at
Three Mile Island, the media were reporting how people felt about it. It was a
monochrome chorus of outrage on every channel. Whitney threw his jacket into a
chair and began dialing. By noon he reached the PR chief at Babcock &
Wilcox, the company that had designed and built the reactor at TMI. They, too,
would endorse the idea of a "pool" camera to show the world what was going on at
Three Mile Island. He checked off another name on his list of backers and kept
His desk occupied two-thirds of the living room, leaving just enough space to
squeeze two vinyl armchairs in one corner and Carla's old dining table near the
kitchen. The TV and news radio blared constantly, to keep abreast of
developments. Between phone calls he mentally noted that, so far, no one from
the utility had issued a public statement beyond the stiff rubbish of "doing
their best". Another day of silence, Whitney grumbled, and they'll have buried
the entire industry. He flipped through his Rolodex to locate a number in
Colorado, dialed again, and spoke for 40 minutes to the nation's leading
advocate of nuclear power. The Colorado physicist could not help him. No one in
government was willing to be the first to get involved. Whitney copied down
names and numbers. They agreed to stay in touch for the next 72 hours, because
Whitney decided he was going to Washington.
He got up to pack. A clean shirt, which Carla had ironed. His brown suit. A
tie. Socks!—I must have socks, he realized. Legal pads. Pens. The master list of
Carla arrived as usual at 5:45 and found him on the phone, surrounded by a
litter of newspapers, totally absorbed in a conversation. He was standing in the
middle of his two battered desks, facing the dreadful broken bookcase that
contained a collection of used history books, old law books and novels. Under
his hand, a square mass of brown file folders leaned heavily against the drafty
window, threatening to someday burst the brick exterior and shower the sidewalk
with the unreadable essays and scripts he had written.
She quietly closed the door and went into the bedroom. She couldn't stand it.
He was on the phone to somebody in New York. It didn't matter that the somebody
was an executive vice-president of CBS News.
"I understand that," Whitney found himself arguing with shaky confidence,
"—but this is a matter of the public's right to know. What I'm proposing isn't
any different than taking a feed from the pool camera that flew on Apollo 11
when they landed on the moon. It's manifestly in the public interest. Are you
with me or not?"
The line to New York went silent for a moment and then CBS said: "We want an
Whitney's chest was flung forward on the crest of a furious wave, for this
was the last thing in the world he expected to hear and he knew that it meant
losing the other networks. "I can't give you an exclusive!" he raged with tight
control. "If I did that, ABC and NBC would scream bloody murder and nobody'll
get in there. That's why it has to be a pool camera. One cameraman for all three
networks. You can use as much or as little as you want, and run your own
commentators over it." The voice in New York hesitated for a fraction of a
second, tempted—then: "No deal."
Words exploded in space before Whitney had a chance to hear what his own
voice was saying: "You goddamn IDIOT! Who do you think you are? Four million
people in this city are starving for information, and you're ready to sabotage
their only chance of getting it! Are you insane?!"
And then it sank in. He had just lost his temper with a Pulitzer
Prize-winning television executive. Self-doubt and fear suddenly crashed through
the front door of his fragile defenses, engulfing him in an avalanche of hot
embarrassment. Carla was home and must have heard him shouting.
The long distance voice on the telephone was equable, but acknowledged
Whitney's insult. "Well—where do we go from there?" the newsman politely
His battle lost, the momentum of his courage spent in an outburst he could
not now retract, Whitney's shoulders slumped in defeat. "Nowhere," he answered,
"—thank you for taking my call." He hung up the phone with great weariness, as
if the handset were a leaden weight too burdensome for an ordinary mortal. For
the first time in four days, the possibility of failure became real to him.
Like many of Washington's newer office buildings, the Department of Energy
was a gigantic concrete box ringed with identical windows. The entrance was a
dark glass cage designed to repel protesters. A cluster of noisy blue elevators
conveyed authorized visitors from the lobby and a subterranean parking lot into
the unfeeling bowels of an airless gray block-long cube filled with paper.
Movement to and from the streets was carefully controlled by four armed guards.
Tour guides never mentioned this sickly square monument, and the public saw no
reason to waste film on it, either.
On a cool day in April 1979, a thin young man in a brown suit angrily
strutted into the D.O.E. lobby with a leather briefcase under his arm. He
flashed some kind of photo I.D. at the guards—too quickly to be seen—and
snarled: "NSA bag for Schlesinger." Without pausing he marched toward the
elevators, scowling at his wristwatch.
The senior guard, thick-necked and lazy, wrinkled his lip with disgust. "Damn
White House punks," he grumbled to a spit-and-polish youngster at his side. The
trainee nodded obediently, mentally filing this additional explanation of
The young man with the briefcase did his best to hide the fact that he was
trembling and perspiring. He had no secret papers and no appointment to see the
Secretary of Energy. It would have been futile to try to arrange one by
telephone. The only possible course of action was to bluff his way in. And here
he was—his neck already more than halfway in the noose of a criminal fraud. He
furtively glanced at the building directory, desperately seeking the office of
the Secretary. When a nearby elevator door opened, chiming a brass bell for
"up", he got in and punched the 9th floor button like a target. Robert Whitney
had managed, just in time, to glimpse the right information on the directory.
Fighting down another impulse to run away, he rehearsed his tough-guy act by
sneering at his fellow passengers, while they rattled and squeaked through a
shaft of stale, dank air.
On the 9th floor, an efficient receptionist looked up and greeted Whitney as
he marched into the grandiose foyer belonging to America's energy czar. He
flashed his phony I.D. and speedily delivered the speech he had rehearsed a
hundred times for this situation.
"Bob Whitney, Newsweek," he scowled with an air of accusation, barely above a
whisper. "I need to see the Secretary's press aide. A source at Justice told us
that the F.B.I. has evidence of sabotage at Three Mile Island."
The startled receptionist bought it. She stammered the name and office number
of the department's press officer, one floor below. Whitney nodded and thanked
her with an edge of impatience in his voice, returning to the elevator amazed
that he had survived this second skirmish with the outer defenses.
Unfortunately, he had not rehearsed anything beyond that—mainly because he could
not imagine penetrating the enemy fortress so quickly and deeply. All of his
scenarios ended in failure at some previous checkpoint. Too late to turn back,
his nimble brain feverishly tussled with a new assortment of plausible lies.
In Room 866 he again assumed a mask of perpetual indignation and announced
that he had just come from the Secretary's Office and was to see Jacobsen, the
press officer—now—about Three Mile Island. A nervous typist nodded, rose from
her desk, and disappeared into a maze of partitioned cubicles. A moment later,
she returned and asked Whitney to please follow her.
She led him to a private corner office that looked like a tomb sealed off
from the rest of the floor. It had no windows to oversee the chaotic hive of
glass-partitioned workers and their jangling telephones. The door was ajar, but
no light came from within. And when Whitney's escort pushed it open with a
tentative knock of introduction, there was no reply. Instead, Whitney saw a
frightened, mute, middle-aged man slumped behind a desk. Beads of sweat trickled
down from his brow to his glasses and then dropped into the mouthpiece of a
telephone handset that was crushed against his cheek. He was neither listening
nor speaking, but fantastically resembled a condemned murderer whose pardon had
just been denied.
Whitney threw a business card at him across the desk. The official picked it
up and read: Whitney Media, Robert D. Whitney, President, Bala Cynwyd, PA. The
address was a post office box, but it was an address in Philadelphia's richest
suburb and the raised gold lettering looked like money. He nervously waived his
visitor into a chair.
Whitney's forehead furrowed with concern as he watched the man chain-smoke,
occasionally ejaculating terse replies into the phone. Every time the telephone
conversation startled or angered the Press Officer, the distraught official
slammed something on his desk—a letter opener, a briefing book, a desk drawer.
Whitney guessed that he was being pummelled by every news correspondent in
Washington and New York, and that he had no satisfactory answers to give them.
At one point, the Press Officer pleaded: "We're doing the best we can!"—and
Whitney morbidly wondered if that self- impeaching slogan had been coined in
this office for others to mutter as gospel.
The phone was finally slammed back onto its hook and Whitney dared not let
this man speak first. He charged into his presentation, skipping over the
question of who he was or how he got here. The pertinent facts: public hysteria
in Philadelphia, the terrifying pictures of the TMI cooling towers, the lack of
factual information. What people needed to see: a capable team of scientists and
engineers at work.
As Whitney spoke, the Press Officer paced the darkened room, banging his hand
against the walls, his desk, a small closet door. He was about a quarter of an
inch from a nervous breakdown, Whitney realized. He instinctively lowered his
voice and quietly emphasized the fact that he could help. He outlined the "pool"
camera concept and showed his list of backers, claiming all three networks were
willing to air it. He made a point of saying that everyone at TMI was indeed
doing a good job of managing the emergency situation, that they deserved public
credit for their dedication and skill. There was no immediate or long-term
danger to anyone in Pennsylvania. But the nation looked to Washington for
leadership. The inside story must be told—now—on national television.
The man crashed into his swivel chair, threw his elbows down on the desk and,
unbelievably, pulled his hair with both hands. Whitney's opinion of the
government had never been optimistic, but he was shocked to see such
incompetence laid bare. He suddenly knew it was true—everything he had suspected
about "democracy" and "consensus", everything hollow and frightening about a
public parade, all the lies and the vanity that made him ashamed to be
American—here it was, physically embodied in the quivering, disabled remnant of
an overwrought bureaucrat who held a pivotal position of media power. Until
Three Mile Island exploded, that power lay comfortably buried under a mountain
of routine. But now, when it counted—now that it sizzled across every front page
and television set in America—the first victim of "the public good" was a fat,
lonely, former journalist who knew everything about Washington and nothing about
Whitney saw he could not allow this man to collapse. When it rang, he quickly
clapped his hand over the telephone, refusing to let the Press Officer answer
it. The big man trembled and then silently sobbed and gulped for air. Shaking
his head, he admitted that he had eaten no breakfast or lunch. Whitney opened
the office door and told a secretary to bring coffee and sandwiches,
immediately. He went to the office window and threw the curtain open, flooding
the Department of Energy with raw sunlight.
"There's no reason to hide," he said. "You haven't done anything wrong."
After a long, halting start, they called Whitney's network of scientists and
munched on cardboard sandwiches. At 4 o'clock, the Press Officer felt strong
enough to push Whitney's idea through D.O.E., N.R.C., and the White House, if
necessary. The Assistant Undersecretary gave him a provisional go-ahead by
phone. The Washington Post raised no objection, provided that a photographer
could be "pooled" for print media. NBC had the television equipment standing by,
ready to go.
Whitney agreed to handle one final remaining obstacle: the owners of Three
Mile Island. They had refused to make any public statement, and the government
could not force them to allow TV cameras inside a privately-owned power plant,
national emergency or no national emergency.
The following morning, Whitney bullied his way into the utility's office—and
found that they could do nothing. Any decision would have to be made by the
holding company in New Jersey. From a pay phone in the Harrisburg air terminal
he tracked down the chairman of Northeastern Public Utilities, summarized what
he wanted, and claimed to represent D.O.E. as well as the networks, the TMI
management, and a score of scientists.
The chairman balked. Whitney offered to fly to New Jersey—now—he had a
helicopter standing by. The chairman abruptly refused to see him and hung up.
Dial tone. There was nothing else to try or cajole or fabricate. No tricks left
in his arsenal of intimidation. No money to hire a helicopter and no reason to
think it would work. He had hit an impenetrable stone wall.
"Robert, I think we'd better have a talk."
It was 12:20 on Saturday afternoon. Whitney was still in bed. He hadn't
shaved or dressed for three days. Carla had been up since 7 a.m., her usual
time, and spent the morning cleaning house.
Whitney knew perfectly well what Carla wanted to talk about, even though he
sarcastically grumbled: "About what?"
"About you and me, Bob. I want you to get up and come in the living room."
Then he sensed her turn and walk away.
Whitney's eyes remained stubbornly asleep, unwilling to face the daylight.
His bones were useless and heavy. His flesh was sore from lack of movement. His
fingers clenched the pillow, and they ached a little too much to feel familiar
or right. He groaned in slow motion and tried to find a comfortable position,
the damp smell of sweat filling his nostrils. He knew he needed a shower—needed
something. Need everything. Aw, fuck, what's the use?
Carla was sitting at the dining table when he finally ambled past her in his
torn bathrobe, on route to the kitchen for coffee. "It's on the stove," she said
without feeling and without looking at him.
Whitney tried to pour a cup from the pot, fighting off the feeling of despair
that had flattened him since Harrisburg. "You're mad about the phone calls,
right?" he volunteered from the kitchen.
"No," Carla quietly replied in the other room. "I don't even want to think
about the phone bill."
He joined her at the table, a little encouraged. "What do you want to talk
That was infinitely worse, Whitney sensed.
"I tried to get you to go to a counselor—no, don't interrupt," Carla said
firmly. "I know you don't want to. I'm not trying to change your mind." She
paused to summon her courage. If it kills me, she thought, I have to say this.
"I don't think it's a good idea for us to go on living together anymore."
Silence. He felt a fool for not knowing that this was coming — a fool dressed
in a fool's tattered robe. He waited for the next blow.
"I know you don't have any money right now..." That was the blow he had been
expecting. "...and I don't expect you to go tonight or anything like that..."
No, he thought dully—just go, that's all. "...but I'm not willing to live like
He couldn't hear the rest of what she said. His eyes were fixed on a thin
brown crack that divided the table in half, although he was dimly aware of her
words. She was going to stay overnight at Linda Dozer's house in Cherry Hill.
She said goodbye on the way out.
The rest of the day he listened to music—Frank Zappa, Janis Ian,
Rachmaninoff. At sunset he finally showered and scraped the growth of hard,
bristly beard from his boyish face. It was an old face, he thought bitterly.
Deep lines grooved his high forehead and seemed to pull his mouth down in tight
folds against his jaw. What have I done—he silently moaned. What goddamn good
have I ever done?
The following day he telephoned his friend Richard Patton in Long Beach,
California, and explained what had happened.
"No problem, Whit," Richard laughed without hesitation. "You just get your
ass out here. You belong in L.A., man—I told you you did, didn't I?"
Whitney thanked him and waited to see his parole officer the following
morning, a Monday. After four years of imprisonment, he still had to serve a
four-year special parole term, which if violated, would send Bob Whitney back to
jail again for another four years. In theory, a man could serve a perpetual jail
sentence, because special parole was reimposed every time the drug offender was
The parole authorities completed the paperwork after several unnecessary
delays. Whitney made no mention of the fact that his host in Long Beach was a
fellow ex-convict whom he had met at Allenwood. He was duly ordered to report to
the Long Beach Federal Probation Office upon his arrival in California, and if
he couldn't make a go of it—job, housing, mandatory monthly urine tests—he was
to return to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Whitney's parole officer
sympathized with his client's problem. He, too, was having marital problems. His
wife, a social worker, had gone home to live with her mother.
On several warm spring nights before he left, Whitney tried to approach Carla
and plead his love for her. She looked away, disputed whatever facts he tried to
recite, and expressed no interest in a possible future reconciliation.
A few days after all the paperwork had been assembled, authorized, reviewed,
distributed and filed, Carla drove him downtown to the Greyhound Bus Depot on
Market Street and handed him a shoebox containing six sandwiches. She also gave
him $150 in cash, paying him to leave.
Whitney pulled his suitcase and two heavy boxes of books and papers from the
trunk, setting them in a neat row on the curb. He went to kiss her goodbye, but
could only say it. She drove away and did not stop or return. Why did he think
she would? Their white Monte Carlo disappeared in the traffic, and Whitney
thought of the day they ordered it from the factory. He insisted that she buy
it, because it suited her perfectly. It was high enough off the ground to
accommodate her long legs in comfort. She could afford the payments and still
have the pleasure of driving a nice automobile. It was odd and chilling to think
that she would drive it now without him.
He looked up at City Hall and the sharp, square peaks of Penn Center, taking
a last look at Philadelphia and all that it meant to him. The Rodin Museum and
Independence Hall. The starving painter he discovered on Sansom Street, whose
canvasses echoed Vermeer. Lou Abruzzi calling him "Dr .Whitney" and making a
fuss over him, because he assumed that Whitney had a PhD. The stinking halfway
house in Camden. The typesetting job in North Philly. The day he found an
envelope on the train, containing a fortune in bearer bonds. His reward for
tracking down their rightful owner and delivering the package intact: six $1
bills, grudgingly given.
And then he remembered where he was and what must happen next. Two boxes and
an old suitcase stared up at him from the pavement, awaiting instructions. He
stared back at them with sudden desperation. It was impossible to guard all
three simultaneously—he would have to wrestle them into the bus terminal one at
a time, and he feared that either inside or out, some derelict would run off
with one of his treasures. It did not occur to him that no one on earth except
Robert Whitney perceived any value in two cardboard boxes filled with yellowed
Racing three times to the ticket counter, he bought a 7-day "See America"
pass that would take him anywhere in the United States for $99. His luggage was
checked in by an old black man who couldn't read and didn't care. Convinced that
he would never see those boxes again, Whitney sat down in a blue plastic chair
A man can live and dream in many places. Born rich, he can visit a poor
neighborhood and see the struggle for life in clearer, sharper terms. Born poor,
he can ride the subway to better neighborhoods, libraries, galleries—and get a
sense of where he wants to go in life. But there is one place where no man can
dream: a bus depot. Ticket in hand, stripped of his belongings and forced to
leave town, Whitney's dreams had been extinguished. The green glare of
florescent light permitted no escape. The ringing clatter of pinball machines
permitted no thought. The aimless crowd of blacks and Hispanics permitted no
misunderstanding. He was at the bottom of society, a forgotten member of the
underclass symbolized by Greyhound terminals from coast to coast.
As he waited, he cried. Hot tears streamed down his cheeks, though he uttered
no sound. He cried like this before, in prison. There is a way to lean on one's
arm, so as to appear to be resting.
He cried for the only woman he had ever loved or tried to love. He cried
again when the damning thought of his first marriage, at 18, came back to haunt
him. It was a more painful failure than losing Carla, because his first wife had
given him a son—a beautiful little boy who looked just like him; a son he
cherished for three years before she took him away and never saw again.
He cried for all this—and for the half-baked, unfinished dream of film and
television that had brought him, finally, to a Greyhound bus terminal filled
with the refuse of a great city.
When the Chicago express roared away from its dark, damp underground
terminal, Robert Whitney had no way of knowing what might be in store for him in
Long Beach. It was vaguely part of Los Angeles, he knew, but his only experience
in L.A. was a single day some six years ago. He and two teenage friends drove
nonstop from Milwaukee to pick up 10 lbs. of marijuana—another deal that went
sour, because the dope was of such poor quality it had to be sold at a loss.
Whatever else Whitney had learned in his 28 years, it was clear that he was an
incompetent dope dealer—and he dared not think of it as a possible source of
income. If caught he would be sent to face the horror of prison again.
Prison…a lost love…a lost son…an idiotic pipedream instead of a "career".
These were real crimes in Whitney's mind, condemning him to a lifetime of
punishment. The layers of disinfectant and stale perfume on his headrest
confirmed it. He deserved nothing better than the last row of a foul-smelling
bus to Harrisburg, the first stop in a 3,000 mile journey to nowhere.
In time with the monotonous rubbing of an ill-fitting wheel, as his Greyhound
bus roared across the Susquehanna River and Robert Whitney lay exhausted and
senseless in the fitful torment of humiliation, a nationally-televised event was
taking place a few miles away. The President of the United States of America was
touring the control room of Three Mile Island, conferring with the scientists
and engineers in charge of rescuing its crippled reactor.
A "pool" camera provided pictures for a curious and worried nation. All three
networks carried it live, and CBS did not get an exclusive.
A Coward's Lot
"No, you're dead!"
"I shot you first!"
"I shot you first!"
"Hey, if you're not going to play fair and be dead when you're shot, then you
can't play anymore."
"Oh, okay. How long do I have to be dead?"
"Just for a while. Count to a hundred, and then you can be somebody else."
Bobby Whitney was good at playing war, because he was fair. Whenever somebody
shot him, he fell down completely dead and stayed dead for a long time, without
even blinking or anything, because that's what being dead was like. But this
time he had shot Tommy Lewis fair and square, and Tommy was dead, whether he
liked it or not. Tommy was always complaining about being dead, since he was a
lousy army guy. He couldn't sneak up on anybody hardly. Not even on 'Tootie'
Wallace, who was really lousy at playing war because he was so tall. Tootie
couldn't hide anywhere and he couldn't run, either, because he had a hernia,
whatever that was. That's why Tootie was a private.
"Should I throw a couple grenades in the bushes, Sarge?" Tootie whispered.
"Just wait and be quiet. If you hear 'em moving around, then we'll throw one
grenade and say everybody's dead."
Grenades were big clumps of brown earth that had been dried by the sun; they
exploded in a cloud of dust on impact. Tommy Lewis' gang knew about grenades,
too. Any minute a clump of dirt might come flying down on them and they'd
When Bobby Whitney was 8 years old he somehow contracted scarlet fever. For
six days his parents paced and fretted and held damp cloths to his burning
forehead every fifteen minutes. Bobby's three younger brothers were hastily
isolated and watched for the dreaded symptoms that could result in death,
deafness or kidney disease. The doctor paid a daily visit and performed two
duties—reassuring Bobby's parents that their other children had been spared the
raging fever, and injecting massive doses of penicillin deeply into the
delirious patient's buttocks. In 1958, there was no other treatment, except the
excruciating pain of repeated injections, deep into the muscle, with a wide-bore
stainless steel needle. Little Bobby was too weak to scream, but his heart
remembered every time the needle scratched a bone.
After a week, the worst was over. His life and his hearing had been spared.
In the fourth week, the doctor concluded that there would be no permanent damage
to the boy's kidneys. Two months after he had been singled out and struck down
by a random bacillus, little Robert made a complete recovery in every respect
but one: an unreasoning fear of injections.
At the time, no one paid much attention to the boy's weeping trepidation
whenever the doctor came to call. "No, no—there aren't any more shots for you,
young man," the kindly old country doctor assured him. "All I want to do is look
into your mouth. You can let me do that, now, can't you?"
In response to his father's concern that a healthy young boy shouldn't quake
with fear, now that he was obviously improving, the doctor was quick to point
out that he had lost a considerable amount of weight and needed time to regain
his emotional, as well as physical, balance. "A couple more weeks and he'll be
as good as new," the physician predicted.
The following year it was discovered that Robert was not as good as new. On a
Monday afternoon when the four Whitney boys were scheduled to receive their
polio-diphtheria-whooping cough shots, only three of them were successfully
injected and sent home with lollipops. Robert trembled, cried, pleaded,
screamed, fought off two nurses who tried to hold him, and then smashed the
hypodermic on the floor, defying every appeal to his bravery and manhood.
That evening before supper, when Robert's father returned from an especially
embarrassing interview with a local shop owner who possessed the power to grant
or withhold a minuscule sum of money in exchange for Mr. Whitney's bookkeeping
services, the news of young Robert's cowardice uncorked a year's worth of
frustration, acquired in the course of soliciting favors from smalltown shop
"Afraid of pain, are you?" the elder Whitney roared, "I'll show you
what pain REALLY feels like, you son of a bitch!"
For three unrelenting minutes, he beat the boy with the leg of a broken
chair—on his rump, his arms, his back, and his legs—as the terrorized child
cowered and twisted on the floor of a tile bathroom, screaming to be spared.
"No goddamn kid of mine is going to humiliate me around this town, God
damn it, you little son of a bitching coward!"
His wife's hysterical pleas went unheard and unheeded, until the force
of Mr. Whitney's rage had been spent. By then, it was too late. All of their
happiness and trust had been sunk with grief and horror, never again to be found
In the 6th grade, Bobby was transferred to a school that adjoined the public
library. He was exposed to 15,000 volumes, all nicely arranged on shelves with
numbers and card indexes, tempting him to investigate the universe at large. One
day he came home with Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness, a thick
treatise that was interestingly incomprehensible to his 11-year-old mind. His
father saw the book and forbade him to read it. Baffled, the boy asked the
"Never mind why!" his father roared. But 11-year-olds are not always
so easily intimidated. The child stood his ground and insisted that he had
withdrawn the book fair and square from the library, which every other kid was
allowed and encouraged to do.
"I said no!—just take it back, that's all."
"But why, Dad?"
His father refused to say anything else. Bobby repeated the question to his
mother, even though she was sitting next to her husband in the family TV room
and was thus constrained from contradicting him, on pain of enduring an outburst
of his rage. She looked away, let the space of a few seconds intervene, and then
mumbled quietly: "Because it preaches free love."
Bobby Whitney had no idea what free love was, but he suspected that it was
freer than compulsory love, and different than free hate.
"Excuse me… do you have movie film?"
A thin lady with apple cheeks and oversized bifocals nodded without looking
up. She was busy with the photo finishing packets, flipping them slowly one at a
time to find a name. "Yes-s," she politely replied. "We have regular 8, super 8,
and 16. Regular 8 is on spools, double-perforated. You put it in the camera, use
it, and then turn it around and use the other side. Super 8 comes in 50-foot
cartridges and 200-foot magazines, 25 or 64 ASA. Do you know what kind you
She looked up and saw two teenage boys with shoulder-length hair. One was
carefully wandering toward the professional equipment displayed in a long row
through the length of the shop. His companion held a Kodak Cine Special of
uncertain vintage. "It's a 16, I think," he said brightly.
Having found the packet of snapshots she needed, the lady picked up the
telephone and said, "Yes, they're ready. We're open until 9 o'clock. You're
welcome." She put the heavy black handset on an ancient metal cradle, and walked
away from the counter, disappearing through an open archway into the back of the
Whitney screwed up his face like a clown, accusing her of ignoring him. His
buddy called his attention to the collection of movie cameras, safely enclosed
in a section of gleaming display cases. Whitney nodded "uh-huh", and grimaced
again, this time raking his eyes through an elaborate honeycomb of bright yellow
and blue boxes behind the counter. A gruff, hard voice griped, "Whaddya need
here?" Whitney turned and saw that the voice belonged to the kind of person who
automatically suspects every long-haired kid of larceny. From a previous visit
to the shop, he knew the man's name was Charlie Dodds.
"Some film," Whitney replied, not disrespectfully.
"Black-and-white or color?"
"Reversal or negative?"
As his sister quietly sat down in her chair at the table, Charlie Dodds
involuntarily thought about the hypo tank again. Two layers of waterproof tape
were beaded with a crusty ooze that pointed heavily to a discolored Kerr jar on
the floor. He emptied the jar once a day, and each day the drip filled the jar a
little closer to the brim.
The knarled knuckles against his cheek had to be moved, reluctantly, because
Alice had unwrapped the heavy butcher paper and put his sandwich neatly on a
plate for him. The soup would go cold unless he ate it now, and he knew that she
would be hurt without saying so, if he didn't eat it while it was hot. There
wasn't any point in thinking about the hypo tank, anyway. It would be a long
time before he could buy a new one.
Eating together in silence, as they did every night in the long, dark
laboratory, Charlie listened to the monotonous squeak of a thousand plastic
reels on metal, waiting for the groan of a snag. Now that Channel 4 and Channel
6 had their own Houston Fearless processors, he had to be damn careful about
damaging a customer's original. When he opened, in 1955, his lab was the only
one in Wisconsin, and customers had nowhere else to go. Arriflex ran an ad with
his picture on it, because Charles Dodds, A.S.C., had proven that TV stations
could have newsfilm on the air in less than an hour.
"Um… Mr. Dodds?"
Goddamn kid. What did he screw up this time?
His sister did not smile, but Charlie angrily exhaled, in case she might
have. I'm a goddamn idiot, that's what I am, he decided, as he pushed himself up
from the table and sauntered over to the editing bench. The electric clock on
the shelf above the boy's head clicked 10:16 p.m.
"Is this okay?"
The boy held up a gray plastic reel of film for inspection. Charlie Dodds
took it and whipped the white leader in a long, straight pull, unraveling a coil
of tiny black 16mm rectangles. When he found a section that had two splices
close together, he suddenly grabbed the film with both hands and jerked it as
hard as he could, twice. The spliced film did not break.
Charlie Dodds frowned, carefully examining each splice, but he could find
nothing wrong with the boy's work. The emulsion was scraped just right, the glue
was just right, and the job had been completed on time.
"Yeah," he finally muttered, "It's okay." He ignored the boy's face and
rewound his film on the reel, placing it gently on the bench. "You got any money
yet?" he demanded.
The boy's smile did not vanish, but he answered with a flush of
embarrassment. On Monday, he would have $200, as promised.
"Alright, come on," the old cameraman grumbled, leading him to the back of
the laboratory. Cartons were shoved aside, a heavy tripod unstrapped, and then
with backbreaking effort Charlie Dodds jerked a massive brown cast iron movie
camera on top of the tripod head, and quickly fumbled with the retaining screw.
"It's an Auricon. Don't think they make 'em any more. Completely silent. That's
why it's so goddamn heavy. Got an optical sound module built-in. Single claw,
but it's got a nice long pressure plate, so it's pretty steady. Takes 200-foot
daylight spools. I've got a bunch you can have. You'll have to buy 400 feet on a
core and wind it on in the darkroom, with a twist, and then back again. I'll
show you how to do it. 6-to-1 Angenieux zoom. It's a C-mount, so you can use the
fixed lenses off your Cine Special, too. Here's the sound kit. Mic in, line in,
this goes to the camera. Tube amplifier. Takes a 24-volt A battery, a 45-volt B
battery, and a 6-volt C battery, I think. You'll have to hook it up, to see if
it still works. And you can have the tripod, too. Everything for $200—cash. No
"Look, Whitney, you're an okay kid, but I'm sick o' seeing you around here.
Ain't you got no home to go to? It's goddamn 1 o'clock in the morning, and I'm
locking up for the night. You can come back tomorrow—make it after five,
huh?—and I'll show you how the printer works. Just leave all this shit where it
is. Don't worry, nobody's gonna touch it! It'll all be there tomorrow, right
where you left it—AND STOP THANKING ME, GOD DAMN IT!..."
"Fine. Good. Now, pay attention. The Eclair NPR is made to sit on your
shoulder. This is a $30,000 camera, so for Christ's sakes, whatever you do,
don't drop it! The 'run' switch is right here, above the motor. Move
your hand down a little and turn the knob. That rotates the shutter, so you can
see through the lens. Give me your glasses. Now, turn the eyepiece until it's in
focus. Got it? Okay. The magazine release is here. I'll show you how to load
'em. You have to match up the number on the lid with the number on the side,
because every magazine is hand-fitted and no two are exactly the same."
"I need to rent a camera."
"For a music show, up at the Metro. It's called Summer Session."
"You gonna pay your bill?"
"I can pay a couple hundred now and—"
"They got plenty o' cameras at PhotoMart, or are you in hock to them, too?"
"I need the Eclair, Charlie."
"I sold it. Couldn't give it to you if I wanted to—and by the way, I
don't want to, unless you pay your bill down. You owe me more than
Marquette and Nicolet put together. You're not even legally an adult, for
Christ's sakes! Look at these invoices! Robert Whitney: $245.50 Robert Whitney:
$110.75 Robert Whitney: $600. If I wanted a kid named Robert Whitney, I coulda
got married and saved myself a lot of trouble!"
"I know. I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry—just pay your goddamn account down, so we can get back on a
"And if you want to use a DR for a couple days, alright... What's the
"Charlie, I gotta have a sound camera that'll sync up with a 16-track tape
"I told you—I sold the Eclair."
"I know. But how about this one?"
"It's only for two days."
"That is a goddamn demo on loan from Bolex. There are only FIVE of
them in the entire world. It's a prototype. Don't even think about it!"
"If I pay down $500 on my bill—"
"—and $500 on deposit—"
"—and you show me exactly how to handle it—"
"—I can field test it for you. That's why they gave it to you, right? You
don't have time to go out shooting. Let me do it. Then you can say, look at all
these great rushes! Terrific camera. Recommended by Charlie Dodds. Right?"
"Whitney—God damn it, if anything happens to this camera, I'll kill you. I
mean it. I'll hunt you down and kill you with my bare hands. And I don't mean
"What's the problem, officer?"
"Sorry, sir—may I see your tickets, please?—thank you—just pull your car in
over there, sir. When we have a few more, we'll escort another group over to the
"Well, w-what the hell's goin' on here?!"
"Hippie demonstration, sir—you can park right over there, on the other side
of the command post."
4,000 hippies had barricaded the entrance to the new Performing Arts Center,
minutes after Albert the Alley Cat correctly predicted rain on Channel 6, and
Milwaukee's wealthiest burghers donned gold cufflinks and grumbled inaudible
threats against their wives, en route to the PAC's black-tie opening.
Riot-helmeted policemen shoved back a teeming throng of their unwanted
children—each of whom held a balloon and loudly squeaked it with both hands,
jeering "OINK, OINK, OINK" at the ruling class—as the overweight proprietors of
Milwaukee's factories and breweries waddled angrily through a flurry of big
raindrops, into a sandy-colored concrete blockhouse, to hear a trio of
badly-sung arias and a barbershop quartet.
"Higher, John!—and to the left when I pan!—Keep your eye on the camera, so
you know where to shine it!"
Whitney had to shout over the din of squeaking balloons. Nodding
'okay', his partner dutifully pointed the battery-powered Sun Gun as instructed,
despite a rising premonition of being trampled to death. Any minute now, the
police would charge into the crowd, as they did at every other anti-war or
civil-rights demonstration. Whitney knew it was coming. But he was getting
terrific pictures. It made the prospect of a physical beating worthwhile.
Street Fighting Man
It came with the unexpected force of a whirlwind. On a cool, crisp day in
April 1970, the streets of Madison exploded in a sudden clash between 200
policemen and 20,000 university students. Day passed into night with greater
violence and greater passion. The burning wreck of a police car blocked one of
the city's main thoroughfares. In every house and every alley along the
student-held university district, children were preparing for battle. A
21-year-old radical was desperately wiring a time-delay onto six barrels of fuel
oil and fertilizer—enough explosive power to demolish the campus Army Math
Research Center. A 19-year-old street fighter was coaching the members of his
'cell' on how to pick up boiling hot canisters of CS gas and hurl them back at
the police. A 17-year-old freshman from New York was furiously turning the
crankhandle of an old mimeograph, spitting out a hastily-edited broadside that
proclaimed open rebellion against the Nixon government. A 15-year-old runaway
from Barneveld was wrapping bandages and breathing masks for those who would be
charging the streets later that night. By any standard, this was war.
All day long, Carla Daniels tried to keep her mind on her classes and her
work schedule at the university cafeteria, with little success. At noon, the
rumor of a major 'confrontation with the pigs' emptied most of the lecture
halls. At 2 o'clock, the fighting raged through the university's fountain
landmark near the Student Union, and the ringing explosion of breaking glass and
police sirens filled the campus. At six, the cafeteria was deserted—and Carla
stood behind a long steam table filled with hot food, serving no one, frantic
with curiosity and youthful excitement. At 8:15 her work was finished. She
pulled on a heavy knit sweater, gathered up her books, and raced outside to see
what she had missed.
There was nothing to see except the remnants of some gigantic, irresistible
maelstrom that had demolished the middle-class tranquillity of her hometown and
littered its streets with broken glass, torn banners, blood stains, and the
peppery, acid stink of tear gas. Black, oily smoke rose in the night sky near
the Square. Carla's five senses leaped at the danger and chaos of it all.
Something big was happening—to her, to everyone. In the distance she
could hear the wail of another siren, then several.
As children are drawn to a house fire or a broken water main, she was drawn
to State Street. A ragged cheer went up, perhaps a hundred voices. She hurried
toward it. Then the pop-pop-pop of tear gas—another cry—a deafening clash that
echoed through the empty street.
She turned a corner and suddenly she was in the middle of a riot, with
hundreds of students and policemen racing in her direction. She froze, unable to
move. A paving stone shattered the plate glass window at her shoulder, and she
ducked involuntarily, spilling her books on the sidewalk. The roar of batons and
helmets and sirens crushed her awareness, reducing her to one primal urge and
one physical sensation—get out of here; this is living. She clawed at the
brickwork, until she found a doorway with an open passage. She tripped on the
first step and screamed, scrambling to the top of a long line of stairs, worn
with abuse. In the half-light from below, a wrinkled brown banister beckoned her
"YOU THERE!" came a shout from below—the voice of a stormtrooper, bellowing
venom at something unseen. Carla blundered headlong toward a door in the dark,
terrified that she was the one he had called to stop. Her wrist crashed against
a doorknob; her hand twisted it mightily.
A man was framed against the smoky light of three broad windows—thin, small,
intently watching the scene below. He turned to look at her. His face was
Carla stood stone still, unable to think or move.
He spoke to her gently and clearly. "Come in and close the door," he said.
She obeyed him and soundlessly shut the noise away—then faced him again.
He was looking through the wavy glass of an ancient window, calmly observing
the last choking moments of a futile contest. She walked toward the farthest
window, not wishing to approach him, yet eager to see what he saw. In deepening
darkness, all she could see was the terrible sweep of red flashing lights from
either end of the street. The clash had moved two blocks away in as many
minutes. At her elbow, an old radio played a soothing melody by Pink Floyd.
He spoke to her again. "It's over," he said flatly. "It'll be too cold
tonight for another action." His voice conveyed no regret, and Carla suddenly
felt that this slender, bearded boy was somehow in charge of what happened on
the streets tonight. She watched him turn away from the window
and—painfully—ease his body to the bare floor. Then she noticed a knapsack at
his feet and a dangerous-looking metal thing with shiny pieces. Her jaw trembled
as she spoke.
"Is that... a gun?" she whispered.
He looked up, puzzled, then followed her eyes to the blob of metal braced
against the wall. "It's a movie camera," he said with laughter in his voice. "It
shoots people but can't kill anybody, I don't think."
But the laughter died when he tried to remove his weathered pea jacket.
Beyond the young man's gold-rimmed glasses, she could see that he was wincing
"What's wrong?" she asked, "—are you hurt?"
He didn't answer her. She stepped toward him and bent down to look. A neat
red gash had been torn through his coat and his sleeve, gouging the meat of his
right shoulder. Carla's training at her mother's side came sprinting to the
"It's deep," she said. "We have to take you to a doctor." Her handkerchief
pried the wound gently, and then closed and wrapped the flesh in snug comfort.
She glanced at his face and saw a tear in his eye.
"Thank you," he said, with unabashed feeling. His eyes sought hers and made
sure she knew he meant it.
Carla blushed and wanted to look away.
"What's your name?" he asked.
He nodded to her, as if they had just been formally introduced. "How do you
do," he said. "My name is Whitney."
She wasn't shy. She wanted him to do it.
But not right away.
He took her hand and led her to the attic, up a winding narrow stairway that
had records and books piled along one side, step after step, like an obstacle
course. Everyone else in the house was asleep. They had talked for hours. It was
his eyes that she talked to and fell in love with. He had beautiful eyes.
They found a little room at the top of the stairs. He gently felt for the
light switch and, finding it, quietly turned it on. There was a mattress on the
"Okay?" he asked her.
She knelt down and straightened out an old woolen blanket. The pillow had no
coverslip, but it was soft and firm. "Okay," she whispered. He switched off the
light. The room plunged into darkness for a moment—and then Carla could see a
thin shaft of moonlight outside the room, framing his shoulders in the doorway
as he took off his shirt. She wondered if he would undress her, too, and
wondered how he would do it in the dark. But he laid down next to her without
touching her. His chest gently rose and fell, as in sleep.
She turned on her side to face him, her long chestnut brown hair mixing with
His hand touched the warm hollow at the side of her neck, lightly reaching
inside the collar of her shirt and lifting it away from her skin. Her back was
damp and hot, she realized, and his hand made a gap that pleasantly cooled her
skin. She wanted to be naked with him.
He kissed her very, very gently. It did not seem like a kiss. It did not seem
like anything at all. And then she realized that she did not know how to kiss.
He was teaching her.
"I'm hot," she said, and sat up to take off her sweater. She wanted him to
unbutton her shirt, but didn't know how to ask him, didn't want to ask him, and
couldn't wait. She began to undo the top button. She felt like she had never
undressed before and did not know how to do it.
He sat up at her side, not interfering, but being there with her. She was
glad to feel the cool air all over her skin, but she turned a little to hide her
breasts from him. He waited, then leaned back on one elbow, watching her. The
shaft of moonlight now seemed as bright as day. His voice was gentle. He told
her to lay down.
She suddenly felt strong and impish—she laid on top of him, holding her head
too far away to kiss, but crushing her tits against his chest and holding him
down. She was taller and a little heavier than he was, and suddenly her
awkwardness vanished. Her physical advantage was comical. She wanted to tease
He lifted his head to kiss her. She jerked away, her hand slipping off the
pillow and pinching the wound on his shoulder. He yelped, and she apologized,
lowering herself to kiss it. He let her do it, and let her find his mouth for a
long light kiss that he did not control. And then it started…
She did not know how to yield. They struggled for almost an hour before he
quit trying. The tussle left her panting with desire, her pussy wet with
anticipation. She had to ask him to fuck her. She promised not to fight anymore.
Against her father's wishes, Carla moved into a tiny flat near the
University. She did not tell him why, saying only that it was time for her to
leave the nest. Her mother neither endorsed nor opposed her daughter's decision,
but was less gullible about the likely reason for Carla's sudden change in
spirit. "Whatever you're doing, honey, remember to be careful," she warned.
He didn't come to her often, but when he did, Carla was swept higher and
higher into the clouds of romance. Whitney represented everything that was
brave, strong and wise beyond their years. What she learned about him could have
been transcribed on a matchbook. He lived in Milwaukee. He was a filmmaker. For
six months this was all she needed or cared to know about him.
Then he came to her one night—a sudden surprise, like all his visits—and sat
her down on a prickly stuffed couch that was softened by a shawl Carla knitted
in his absence. He told her that he was married to someone else and he had a
little boy, almost 3 years old. His wife wanted to leave him because they were
having trouble—financially and personally. Carla listened carefully and weighed
what she heard. But her heart was deaf to these new revelations; he could have
been an axe-murderer and it wouldn't have mattered to her beyond the momentary
pain of knowing that her man had done wrong. For in Carla Daniels' mind, Robert
Whitney was hers, now and forever.
He went away, saying that he was going to New York and that he would call
her. For five weeks she waited by the telephone. Then he called, saying little
about where he was or what he had been doing. He gave her no indication of when
she might see him again.
Eight weeks later, they spoke again. He asked her to send him a plane ticket
home. With blue, round tears of relief in her eyes, she agreed to do so at once,
drawing the money from her college savings. When he landed at Madison's little
airstrip on the outskirts of the city, she was there to greet him. Nothing would
ever separate them again, he said with a smile.
A Little Knowledge is Dangerous
She hurried through the aisles, picking up whole wheat flour, cranberry juice
and eggs. The cases were bright and clean, like her fuzzy brown hair, fresh from
the shower. Her skin felt lively and soft, gently caressed by a gay spring
breeze that danced through the sunlit streets and made tall leafy trees wave
hello on Johnson Street. 1973 was going to be a beautiful year. Her grades were
good, she had moved into a nice new apartment, and she had been promoted at
work, with more money and responsibility. He loved her, he was home again, and
it made her sing, very quietly, almost secretly, with a broad smile that people
saw when she passed them on the sidewalk, giving each of them a reason to smile
She carefully bounded up the stairs, her leather sandals slipping snug on
each step, bringing her to the warm brown door where she had hung a notepad and
a pencil on a string. Two days ago, he had written "Hi, I'm home" and drew a
smile-face instead of signing his name. The note was safely pressed in a
notebook at the back of her sweater drawer, where she kept her special
treasures. The peace medallion he had given her. A tablet of LSD, saved from
last summer. Her savings passbook and a check for $50.
She had gone out to buy eggs for breakfast, leaving him in bed, half-asleep
with a coffee cup on the nightstand. He was still there when she returned,
propped up against the wall on two pillows, reading a paperback. "Hungry?" she
chirped. He nodded and glanced up to say he was happy to be with her again.
Carla smiled and went to the kitchen to make breakfast, singing quietly and
teasing her cat with rhetorical, grown-up human questions. When the eggs were
ready and the plates were filled, she called to him and asked if he wanted to
eat in bed. When they finished, she kissed his bare shoulder and took the dishes
About an hour later, there was nothing else to do. She came to the bedroom
door and teased him about being a Lazy Good For Nothing. He nodded in agreement
and continued to read.
All day and most of the evening, Carla brought him coffee and juice, lunch
and supper, cigarettes and marijuana, tempting him in every conceivable way to
put down the book and play with her. She tried his favorite music. His favorite
blouse. The rattle and clatter of opening and shutting the bedroom window and
the closet doors in the hallway.
He embraced her when she came to bed, kissed her forehead with tenderness,
and continued to read. It was a very thick book, she placidly observed. The next
morning when she awoke, he was still reading it. "Didn't you sleep, honey?" she
yawned with amusement, since he was such a silly, disorganized boy who forgot to
do the normal things, like eat and sleep.
Another day was absorbed by the book. When she kicked him out of bed at noon,
he took up residence on the back porch, tipping an old chair against the window
and stretching his legs over a metal table in the sun. "I'm not the maid, you
know," she chided him, and he agreed to get his own lunch. An hour later he
slapped two slices of cheese and a blanket of ham on a roll, one-handed, while
he calmly turned a page and continued reading. "Is it good?" she asked, trying
to be included. He mumbled 'uh-huh' and went back outside.
On the third day, she made his favorite dinner. He was on page 1011, very
near the end. He came to the table with tension and excitement written all over
his face. She had never seen him read a book before.
At midnight, she watched him stand suddenly, turn the last two pages, lift
his head and then forcefully plunk the finished book on a table at his side,
like a spear thrown in the dirt. He looked straight ahead, seeing something
distant and elevated, high above the world in which they lived. Tears streaked
his cheeks, and he was strong and proud. He turned toward her, sensing her need
to understand what had happened. "I never knew," he said with candor, his eyes
ringed with fatigue and with fresh powers. "No one could have known," he added,
saying it as a personal message to her that felt like forgiveness and
He wouldn't explain or discuss what he had read. They slept together, briefly
and passionately embracing before he fell asleep in her arms, head buried
between the weight of her breasts, Carla's long slender fingers gently stroking
his hair and caressing his neck. Whatever he had found in that book, it
dramatically changed who he was. He was heavier, more solid in her arms—a male
animal, who smelled like a man.
She glanced at the book's cover. It told her nothing, except the weight of
its pages. And she wondered what would happen next, because he had changed his
Mitchell swept the seeds aside into one corner of the box and deftly rolled a
nice fat joint, his wavy red mane cooled by a pleasant breeze that blew in from
the alley, four floors below the office windows. Yep, '73 was gonna be a good
year. Plenty o' work for everybody, and his studio was the best in downtown
Milwaukee. A little toke or two, he thought, and I'll rig up the seamless
backdrop, just in case Whitney shows up and wants to finish the pack shots for
KVPD tonight. In fact, that might be him now. The distinctive rattle of the
elevator cage said someone was headed this way, and the heavy stomping along the
corridor sounded like Whitney's cowboy boots.
"Hi, 'dere," Mitchell said with a smile, "—you is back."
"Wanna little perspiration?"
Mitchell shrugged and lit the joint, allowing Whitney to duck under his long
legs and sit at the crowded desk. Holding his breath with habitual good
government, to get the most bang for his buck, Mitchell peeped the news without
exhaling. He sounded like a man who was simultaneously choking and gulping for
air: "Urf… Stuart called… urf… Pound 'o hash for eight hunnerd… urf… bucks…
Gotta drive to—" Mitchell finally exhaled: "PFOOOOO-ooooo... fuckin' Duluth to
pick it up."
Whitney nodded. "We got 800 bucks?" he asked.
Mitchell shook his head. "560 or thereabouts."
"Okay, I'll bum a couple hundred from Tom."
"You still wanna shoot this weekend?"
"How come?—You goin' back to yer honey up in Madison?"
Whitney shook his head gravely, to say 'no', while he dialed the telephone.
"Reference desk, please." Mitchell took another toke and watched a pigeon glide
to a halt on the roof. Whitney just didn't know how to relax, that was his
problem. Good day to be at the beach, sittin' under a tree, listening to music
and watching the chicks go by.
"Yes—can you tell me please, who is Ayn Rand?"
Always busy doin' somethin' instead of just hangin' out, that's his problem.
"Where was she born?"
You get old that way, always rushin' around doin' shit.
"What has she written besides Atlas Shrugged?
Even drivin' to Duluth is a big pain in the ass.
Well, maybe not—
—take a coupla bottles o' wine in a cooler—
—a coupla Thai sticks—
Mitchell smiled a goofy grin at him. Whitney looked at his friend and saw an
affable hippie with a box of marijuana on his lap. Of all the people in the
world, he liked this man best. They had been partners for two years and had gone
through hell to turn a 19th-century garret into a clean, well-equipped movie
studio. But he looked like an idiot because he was stoned.
"I want you to read something."
"As soon as you can."
Mitchell stared at the heavy paperback and peered at page after page of tiny
type. "Jesus Christ!—what is this, Whit, the fuckin' Bible?"
"I'll be back."
"Hey!—Whitney!—are we goin' to Duluth, or what?—What do I tell Stu if he
calls?" From the elevator, maybe he heard him say they'd go tomorrow morning.
Typical Whitney. Runnin' around like a maniac, leavin' me to answer the phone. I
should kick him out, that's what I oughta do. Everything's in my name, anyway,
since he fucked up his credit—first in Milwaukee, then in Madison with some
stupid ad agency that went bust a year after he started it.
Mitchell opened the first page of Whitney's book and listlessly read the
first paragraph, twice, until it came into focus and he thought he understood
what it said. Then he read the second paragraph, and the third, and turned the
page. It had been years since Marv Mitchell had voluntarily read a book. It was
kinda intrustin', too, when yer stoned.
The library had been closed for three hours, but there was a light to read by
in the stacks. Whitney rolled on the metal catwalk, level with the bottom shelf,
and pulled out another bound volume. It was the last in the collection. He blew
the dust from its spine and scanned the contents of each magazine folio. A movie
review. An essay on psychology. Something called "The Analytic-Synthetic
Dichotomy" by Leonard Peikoff.
But he was too tired to read anymore. The book slumped to the floor. He took
off his glasses and parked them on the shelf, out of harm's way, and eased his
head a little lower on a bulging knapsack that was full of books that no one
else in Milwaukee had borrowed since 1966.
An elderly janitor woke him up at 9:30 a.m. and warned him not to do it
again. It was against the law.
"Yeah—but what about starving babies in Africa?"
"You think it's okay just to let 'em starve, huh?"
He looked over at Mitchell, who was obviously getting upset about it. Mitch
was clenching the wheel tightly and fussing with the rear-view mirror, revealing
a deep discomfort with the notion of anybody starving to death. Maybe that's why
Mitchell was 30 lbs overweight.
"What about starving babies in Africa?"
"Do you know any starving babies in Africa?"
"Don't be silly."
"If you don't know any, how do you know what's best for them?—or for anybody,
other than yourself?"
"What do you mean?"
"For instance, we're gonna give Stuart $800, and he's gonna give us a pound
of hash, right?"
"How do you know if that's what's 'best' for him? —You don't. Stuart has to
decide if it's worth his while to off a pound of hash for $800, instead of $900,
"Yeah—well, Stuart ain't gonna starve to death, either."
"How do you know?—I hardly know the guy. I don't know what's going to happen
"Whitney, get real, for Christ's sake. Nobody fucking starves to death
in the U.S.A."
"No—but they get shot, they kill themselves, they drink themselves to death,
they marry the wrong people, they beat their kids, they fucking kill Vietcong—"
"What's your point?"
"Simply that it's wrong to tell somebody else what to do, no matter
how fucked up you think they are. That's what Vietnam is all about—trying to
tell other people what to do. That's what the draft is about—marching people
into goddamn armies to force other people to do something we have no business
telling them to do, 'cause it's their lives, not ours; their
problem; their country."
"I thought you said communism was bad."
"Bad, because it robs people of their freedom—but it's their freedom.
We've got enough problems of our own. Like, where I can get ten grand to finish
Mitchell snorted, disgusted. So that's why Whitney's on a capitalist jag. He
wants to finish his stupid movie.
The cherry picker bounced a bit, then settled into a nice long, straight,
downward arc, carrying Mitchell slowly toward a dozen Harley Davidsons and two
dozen beer-bellied Outlaws in front of a lakefront refreshment stand. The
whispering precision of the Arri motor hummed with confidence, as a flickering
cascade of images framed the shot exactly the way they wanted it. When he saw
the summer sun explode brilliantly on the chrome-plated gas tank of Ogre's bike,
his finger gently released the trigger and the rush of film ceased. It had been
a perfect take. "Great," the cameraman whispered, "—fuckin' great!"
At his side, Whitney nodded. He knew, by watching the lens and feeling the
motion of the bucket's descent, that it would be usable footage. He also knew
that he was half an hour behind schedule. He cupped his hands and bellowed:
"OKAY, THANKS EVERYBODY — HALF AN HOUR FOR LUNCH!"
A line of young assistants were waiting on the ground. "Greg says if you want
the convertible, you gotta do it right after lunch, 'cause he has to split
"I called 'TOS and they said they would announce it on the air that anybody
with a Harley would get free beer if they showed up."
"What's the next set-up?"
"Uh — gimme just a minute, will ya? I want to check with Randi Sue."
"Robert, this is so exciting!"
Big smile. "Yeah, you're right—it is."
He had somehow persuaded the County Parks Commission to give him unlimited
access to a three-mile stretch of Milwaukee's busiest beachfront, to shoot the
motorcycle sequence for ZOOTY BRISKO. With $200 in cash and two fresh pads of
personal checks, a gang of hairy bikers, their women, two stuntmen, a 50-ft
crane and a production crew had materialized at 9 a.m. and agreed to do whatever
Whitney wanted for the rest of the day. Except Tom.
"Jesus Christ, Whitney," he moaned, "—you don't need me here. Can't
you use somebody else?"
Tom didn't like the idea of playing a hard-ass biker who falls in love with a
goddamn faggot ballet dancer.
Whitney implored. "Just two more shots, honest. Have some lunch, okay?—and
then we'll do your close-ups, I promise."
"I am not going to kiss him!"
"No—absolutely not. You don't have to kiss anybody."
"Well… alright. But hurry it up, huh?"
Mitch was at his shoulder with the Outlaw boss. "When are we doin' the chase
"Uh—okay, let's do it while everybody else is eating. Have what's-his-name
take the crane down the road to the bath house and park it on the sidewalk, real
tight against the arch that goes over the road, okay? The action goes like this:
car, Biker #1, Biker #2, Biker #3, doin' about 40 mph. #1 races up, swings a
chain at Greg, he swerves, runs up the sidewalk, stops on a dime in front of the
camera. Crane shot, starting high, ending an inch in front of Greg's windshield
when he stops."
"Are you nuts?!"
"Because somebody's gonna get fuckin' killed doin' that, ya goddamn
idiot!—and it's probably gonna be me!"
"Okay—I'll run the camera; you run the crane."
"Aw, fuck… Jees, Whitney, you come up with some beautes, you really do. I'll
run the fucking camera. Just make sure Greg knows where to stop, okay?!"
Tom Brock shook his head, disgusted by the headline in the Bugle-American.
The East Side food co-op went bust and closed up for good. How the heck was
anybody supposed to get tofu, now? The whole golldang generation of beaded,
braided, leather-fringed Flower Children were disappearing, one by one—into
straight society, damn it!
Oh, not really—not deep down in their hearts and minds—Brock assured himself.
Anyway, I'm certainly not gonna run off and suddenly turn into a
capitalist pig or anything like that. Sure, there were a few rip-off artists and
"hip" capitalists that were trying to cash-in on The Movement—but they were just
jerks. Besides, what was really important right now was the Women's Movement, to
make up for all that sexist Free Love stuff we inflicted on our Revolutionary
Sisters. That's what matters. Everybody knows that capitalism is evil and it
robs the working class in order to prop up the ruling class. But if we all work
for Women's Liberation, and our Sisters become militantly organized...!
"Hi, Tom," Whitney muttered as he entered, heading straight for the kitchen.
"I gotta hit you up for a sandwich or somethin'. I'm totally broke."
Brock sighed and closed the door. Oh, God, why did you appoint me to look
after this goddamn idiot?
"Is this the last of your O.J., Tom?"
"No. There's more in the freezer. Just make a new pitcher and rinse out the
Brock decided to join his friend in the kitchen, to make sure that everything
ended up where it belonged. The last time Whitney was here, he left a frying pan
on the stove, and Jill went on a rampage about Sexist Assholes who didn't do
their own dishes.
So far, so good. Whitney had neatly stacked his peanut butter knife, clean
and dry, in the dish drainer, and the empty orange juice container was sitting
in the trash can. At the far side of the kitchen table, two bright blue eyes
were looking up at him across two slices of whole wheat bread that were glued
together with peanut butter and grape jelly. Brock frowned and folded his arms.
"So how come you're broke again?" he inquired.
Whitney swallowed and took a sip of orange juice to wash it down. He began to
blush—and Brock realized that it wasn't really fair to embarrass a guy like
"I gave my last $100 to Mitchell for my share of the studio rent."
"Hah—some 'capitalist' you turned out to be!"
Strangely, this insult seemed to ease Whitney's discomfort. He smiled at
Brock with renewed confidence.
"That's true," he acknowledged. "You're twice the capitalist pig that I am."
"Sure—I'll bet you even have a savings account."
It was Tom Brock's turn to blush.
"Well—well, what's that got to do with anything?"
Whitney smiled and chewed a mouthful of his sandwich. "Plenty," he eventually
explained. "When you keep your money instead of giving it away, you're making a
statement about the future. You're betting that the bank is going to pay
interest on it, that other men will continue to accept dollar bills in trade for
the things they make and sell, and that by saving you'll be in a position to buy
some of those things that can't be had for the price of a peanut butter
Brock frowned and waved his hand, dismissing Whitney's crackpot theories.
"The only reason I have a bank account is that the capitalist System forces
everybody to think in terms of money all the time, instead of sharing what
Society produces collectively."
"I'd like to meet him sometime," Whitney grinned.
"Society .The guy who collectively makes everything."
Tom Brock shook his head in frustration. It was impossible trying to talk
sense to Bob Whitney, no matter who started the conversation or what the topic
was. He always ended up saying something totally ridiculous like that.
Whitney cleared his throat. "Speaking of being a good capitalist, I wanted to
ask you something—can you front me an ounce of coke?"
"An ounce?! What the hell are you going to do with an ounce of
cocaine?—throw a party?"
"No, 'course not. Don't be silly. Who would I invite to a party? I think I
can off it to a guy who wants to invest in ZOOTY BRISKO."
Brock became suspicious. Whitney had begged and pleaded him to act in his
stupid movie, until Brock finally agreed to do it, just to shut Whitney up and
get it over with. It was pretty implausible that anybody was dopey enough to
invest in such a ridiculous venture. On top of it being a weird story about a
gay ballet dancer who fantasizes the seduction of a biker, Bob was shooting an
equally weird infra-red film stock that he had somehow hornswoggled Eastman
Kodak into custom-perforating for him, and everything was coming out in goofy
color: red trees, green water, yellow skies. Who in his right mind would invest
"If you found somebody dumb enough to invest in ZOOTY BRISKO, I'd like to
meet him. Maybe he'll go for a hundred shares of the Brooklyn Bridge."
Whitney got serious and businesslike. "What do you say, Tom? Can you front me
"Hell! I don't know if I can even get an ounce. The most I've ever
bought is a quarter—and that lasts me six months, unless Jay shows up."
Whitney wiped his mouth with a paper napkin and began to clean up the
remaining dishes. "Well, try, anyway—will ya? I gotta do something in a hurry or
Windemeyer is going to put all my shit on the sidewalk at the corner of Water
and Wisconsin, and I'll be up here asking you to stash all my lighting
Brock grimaced profound warnings against any such request.
Whitney grinned in reply. "Just kidding, Tom," he averred.
Brave Bear's face was agitated and drawn. "I don't like it, Bob—that D'Angelo
guy is trouble."
"I dunno, I just feel it in my bones. I think he's the 'heat', man."
Mitchell dourly prized at his molars with a toothpick, silent and worried.
Whitney paced the studio a couple times, a long walk that took him the length
of the massive skylights. Aloud, he recited the reasons for going ahead. "It's
only an ounce. Who cares about a goddamn ounce? Cops have more important shit to
do than worry about a couple broke hippies. D'Angelo's okay. He took the grass,
no problem. He was on the set with me and kicked in money for beer. Vern did
business with him in Madison—"
"Yeah," Mitch interjected darkly, "—and Vern had to cop a plea in Federal
Whitney turned to face his partner, slightly exasperated. "Vernon wouldn't
set us up, Mitch—he's reading Rand, for Christ's sake—he's one of us!"
He instinctively thrust his hand into his pocket, to throw the plastic baggie
away—WHACK—a sledgehammer caught his shoulder, knocking him over, harder than
anything he'd ever felt in 23 years of life, shaking him to the teeth and
tossing him forward, to hit the pavement and bounce, blacking out.
They put him in an ambulance. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't move.
D'Angelo's face. Black-out.
His neck was stretched backward. He couldn't move it. A white blur and voices
Aaron Weinberg, the attorney. I don't know what you're saying, Aaron, but
help me. Help me.
And then fully conscious. In a hospital. No one else in the ward. Nice nurse.
Hard to swallow. Hard to move. Doctors. I don't want to move. Searing, crushing
pain across my shoulder and down deep in the chest. I've been fucking
shot! They didn't have to shoot me, for Christ's sake!
"Case number 74-CR-24, United States versus Robert Whitney and Marvin
"George Caplan for the Government, Your Honor."
"Aaron Weinberg appearing for the defendant Mitchell, your honor."
"Defendant Whitney appearing in propria persona, Your Honor."
The judge scowled at him. "This court did not give you permission to talk,
Mr. Whitney. Sit down and be quiet, or I'll have you removed from the
"Objection, Your Honor —"
"Your Honor, the Government opposes granting the defendant leave to proceed
"Your Honor, as defense counsel I feel that I cannot fairly represent both
defendants in this case, and I move for severance and separate trial—"
"Your Honor, the Government opposes severance."
"—in the interests of justice, Your Honor."
The judge exhaled and sat back in his chair, painfully aware of the problems
ahead. Whoever this Whitney kid was, he had screwed up an open-and-shut case, by
pleading 'not guilty' and refusing counsel. In the entire history of the 7th
Circuit, there had been only two pro se defendants. Both of those cases
had gone to the Supreme Court, not on substantive grounds, but because pro
se defendants screwed up the trial procedure. Even the goddamn D.E.A.
screwed up, by shooting him in the back. Why in God's name did I have to get
saddled with this?
"Yes, Your Honor."
"You have been charged with two counts of distributing cocaine, a Schedule II
narcotic, and one count of distributing marijuana, a Schedule I substance. If
convicted on all three counts, you can be confined for a period of up to 35
years in Federal prison. I urge you to reconsider this idea of conducting your
own case before this court. Mr. Weinberg is a very competent attorney. You
should be glad that he's willing to handle your case."
"He advised me to plead guilty."
"Well, maybe you should listen to his advice."
"Thank you, Your Honor, but my mind is made up."
Goddamn idiot! — what does it take to get your stupid fucking
attention? "What's your theory of law in this case, Mr. Whitney—or don't you
"You think you can just come in here and blaze new law, Mr. Whitney?"
"Your Honor, I..."
"You think it's smart to buck the system?"
"No, Your Honor—"
"Do you intend to call witnesses?"
"To being bullied, Your 'Honor'. Being cross-examined from the bench.
Being interrupted before I can answer. I move for a change of venue on the
grounds of prejudice."
"I move for severance."
"For production of evidence fav—"
"Mr .Whitney?—I'm Jeff Adler. My office is down the hall. Can I help you,
"No thanks. It's easier if I get up by myself."
"Okay—Right this way… I'll get the door for you… Would you like some coffee?"
"Right. Okay. My secretary said you have a criminal case pending in Federal
"21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1)."
"Oh—a large quantity?"
"Oh, well—that's not so bad. Your first offense?"
"Well then, you might get off with probation."
"I don't want to get off with probation."
"What do you mean?"
"I came here because I pled not guilty."
"Well—that's entirely up to you, but our office doesn't handle criminal
defense cases, you realize. The ACLU only works on matters involving
constitutional rights—the 1st Amendment, free speech, that sort of thing."
"Do you think possession of marijuana should be a Federal crime?"
"Hell, no!—of course not."
"Mm—well—I don't know, to be honest with you. I certainly wouldn't want to
argue that one in court. A little old grandmother caught smoking a joint in her
bathtub—that we could probably win as an invasion of privacy. But cocaine? Too
'heavy'. A whole ounce sounds like it wasn't just for your own private
consumption, you know."
"Mr .Adler—a 'victimless' crime is a contradiction in terms."
"A contradiction in terms. A non sequitur. If there's no victim, how can
there be a crime?"
"And in my case, the Feds misrepresented their identity, sought me out,
offered me money, stole my property, put a bullet through my shoulder, blew my
collarbone to dust so it'll never fucking heal, and now they're trying to put me
in jail because I wouldn't turn in my friends and because I might maybe
someday sell dope to a hypothetical third party who doesn't exist!"
"I-I know that doesn't… seem right..."
"Right?—Doesn't seem right?—"
"I can understand why you feel upset about—"
"Help me fight this—please, Mr. Adler! I've been to two dozen attorneys, all
over town. They all said 'plead guilty'. It's a cop-out. I'm not guilty of
anything except trying to live and trade with other people by mutual consent. If
anything, the fucking D.E.A. is guilty—of lying, extortion, robbery and
attempted goddamn murder!"
...Oh, how to tell him—how to say it?
"Do you need another pain pill?"
"No, I'm fine."
"It's almost midnight, you know."
She sat down next him on the couch, hoping he'd see that she needed him. He
was reading another law book. When he looked up, he was angry. She was
disturbing his concentration.
"What do you want, Carla?"
She looked down and touched his hand.
"Bob, I know you think you're doing the right thing, but—well… couldn't you
just plead guilty and get it over with?"
"What would happen if everybody did that?"
"I know. I know. But why does it have to be you?"
"I'm the one they shot, Carla!"
"I know. I just don't want you to have to go to prison or something—"
"Nobody's going to send me to prison, honey."
"They might, Bob. That's why Vern set you up—because he made a deal with the
D.E.A., so they wouldn't put him in jail."
Whitney slammed his pencil down and looked deep into her eyes with unexpected
"Who do you want me to 'set up', Carla?" he barked at her. "—Pete?
Charlie? Sally and Burt?—Tell me which one of our friends I should put in jail
instead of me, God damn it!"
"Just sh—Just go to bed, honey, and forget about it. I'm sorry I yelled at
you. I don't know exactly what I'm doing, or why — but they're not going to put
me in jail. The fucking bastards shot me; I didn't shoot them. They came
to me to buy dope; I didn't go looking for them. Vern said he'll testify.
Asshole is going to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth—or I'll kill him and he knows it. I'm going to win, Carla. And if I
can't, then fuck it—I'm doing something for my country, like the Boston Tea
Party. Where would we be, if nobody had the guts to fight back, 200 years ago?"
"Robert Dennis Whitney. You have been tried and found guilty of three counts
of distribution with intent to sell dangerous drugs. Do you have anything to say
before this court pronounces sentence?"
"Very well. You refused to cooperate with the Probation Department and told
your caseworker that you do not recognize his authority to supervise you if
placed on probation. You leave this court no alternative but to sentence you to
be imprisoned—for a term of four years, plus a four-year Special Parole term.
Bail is granted pending appeal, which I gather you intend to file. Hearing
adjourned. Call the next case..."
"Hello, Mr. Whitney?"
"Mr .Whitney, this is Professor Greenwood at Notre Dame. I understand that
you've petitioned the Circuit Court for leave to proceed pro se on
appeal, and you more or less contradicted the brief we filed on your behalf."
"Well!—my dear boy, you can't possibly expect to argue your own case before
the Court of Appeals, and certainly not on the sort of constitutional grounds
you're asserting. Off the record, of course, I am personally extremely
sympathetic to your argument. I have no doubt that the D.E.A. used excessive
force to apprehend you, and perhaps we can assist you in filing a civil case for
damages if you drop this other matter. But really, Mr. Whitney, it's quite
hopeless to assert that the government has no constitutional authority to ban
dangerous drugs. You understand our position on this, don't you, Mr.
Whitney?—Hello?—Mr. Whitney—are you there?..."
"Be seated. Whitney against the United States. Direct appeal from the Eastern
District of Wisconsin. May we have the appearances, please?"
"Professor Gregory Greenwood, Miss June Riddick, Mr. Harold Jackson, and Mr.
Wallace Hirschbaum, Notre Dame Graduate School of Law, appointed by the court
and representing the appellant, Your Honor."
"Arnold Young for the government, Your Honor."
"Robert Whitney, appearing in propria persona."
"Yes… Mr. Whitney, the court understands that you filed a motion to set aside
the Notre Dame brief that was filed on your behalf."
"That's correct, Your Honor."
"Ah… you realize… that, ah, Professor Greenwood and his law students have
presented a very compelling case for a new trial, since you clearly did not
understand that your 5th Amendment right to remain silent was effectively waived
by taking the stand in your own defense?"
"May it please the court. I did not raise that issue. I repudiated Notre
Dame's brief as soon as I received a copy of it, which was less than a week ago.
I hereby petition the court to remove Professor Greenwood as appointed counsel,
because no one at Notre Dame told me when oral argument was scheduled—I had to
find out by calling the clerk's office myself—and Notre Dame has refused to help
me argue the issue I raised on appeal. I am preparing a pro se brief on
the constitutionality of 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), which is the only issue lawfully
raised on appeal and currently before this court."
"I see… ah… you want to file a brief."
"Yes, Your Honor."
"And when can you have this brief ready?"
"Does the government object?"
"Uh… no, Your Honor. This is his day in court, I suppose. It could be a
denial of due process otherwise."
"Hmm… Very well. Mr. Whitney is granted leave to proceed pro se for
the purpose of filing a supplementary memorandum of law, within 90 days. You may
proceed, Professor Greenwood."
"Thank you, Your Honor. Our basic contention is that the defendant-appellant,
Robert Whitney, was incompetent to conduct his own defense at trial, thus
denying himself the 6th Amendment right to competent counsel."
Macken kept his eyes open. That was the way to spot trouble before it got out
of hand. 20 years of experience as a prison officer had taught him that much,
anyway. And he sure as shit had to keep his eyes open at Oxford F.C.I. Damn
stupid idea, building a joint for serious offenders aged 21 to 28. All the worst
cases—mostly murder and bank robbery—and no older cons to enforce any kind of
Oh, brother… this kid. What the fuck was he doing here, anyway?
"Get in here. Close the door... Did you talk to your caseworker yet, about
"Yeah. There's a waiting list."
"Look—Whitney—I know what's goin' on, see?—If you're gonna make it in this
joint, you gotta get loose from that nigger. You understand? It's for your own
good. I don't give a fuck what happens. You can do it. See that steel bar over
there? When Reynolds ain't looking, you come up behind him and hit him as hard
as you fucking can, right square on the back of his head. Kill him if you want
to—I don't give a fuck. But that's the only way you're ever gonna get free of
that motherfucker, and get a reputation, so the rest of them leave you alone.
The Supreme Court didn't even bother to send him a letter. He found it one
day in the prison law library:
Whitney v United States, cert. denied, 23 U.S. 522.