Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
rob + = email

2010 October 06 • Wednesday

Here's one of my most recent purchases from the Park Slope Flea Market, the January 1936 issue of True Story magazine.

I was intrigued by "High School Madness—Powerful Revelation of Youth Today". It's about Don Richardson, an eighteen-year-old boy who scores the winning touchdown in the big football game and all of a sudden becomes popular. Instead of going to the movies with his mother, a widow who has raised him alone almost all his life, he goes to a party with the cool kids.

He falls in love at that party with the prettiest girl in school, sixteen-year-old Edith Boyd.

She wore a white fur coat with a big collar. Her hair was as smooth and black and shining as her rich jet bracelet. Her face was powdered a dead white, and her rouged lips and big black eyes stood out in startling contrast. Under her coat was an extremely low-cut black evening gown.

So he starts fooling around with Edith, who's fooling around with some other guys at the same time, and pretty soon Don's doing poorly in school and his mother is worried about him.

Then Edith gets pregnant, or "in trouble" as they say here. Don tells Edith's father that he might be the father but so might any number of other boys. He goes so far as to say that Edith is "as common as dirt".

Don's mother tells him that "no gentleman ever speaks of a woman that way, no matter what she is". Don and Edith get married and live miserably. Edith's father gets Don a job at a gas station and Don reminds Edith every day that he despises her and that she ruined his life.

I was too blind to see that she was in wretched health; that she was taken from a life of hectic activity to the quiet of a little country town where she didn't know a soul.

I had neither the ability nor the inclination to see things from her viewpoint; to realize that she was only a spoiled, badly trained child, and that underneath her insane desire for popularity was an intense longing for love.

Edith came to Greenwood Springs a lonely, unhappy little girl. She was soon a hardened, embittered woman.

Don falls in love with their baby, Florence, and wants to make a happy home with Edith. Too late. Eventually Edith splits, taking Florence with her, and gets a divorce. She ends up in Chicago, "furnishing material for writers in the society columns of the newspapers".

Don goes back to school to get his degree but his mother dies before she can see him graduate. He moves to Chicago and gets a job at an engineering firm.

He meets and falls in love with Claire, a nurse at the Children's Hospital—which happens to be where Edith has dumped Florence, years ago, when the child was stricken with infantile paralysis.

Don and Claire are in the middle of their courtship when Don finds out about Florence. It's to the author's credit (though this is supposedly a "true story") that Don doesn't try to hide his relationship to the child.

"Talk about your pitiful cases," [Claire] said. "They're not always in the public wards where I am. I was talking to the doctor of that child you were visiting. She's in the most expensive room in the hospital, and yet she's absolutely alone. Plenty of money, but no one who cares a whoop whether she lives or dies. Her grandmother dropped her off here and went on to Palm Beach. An aunt calls up once in a while to see how she is, but never bothers to come. Her father and mother are divorced. Her mother is cruising around somewhere with another husband. Her father—"

"I am her father."

Claire is cool about it and Don spends all of his free time for the next month at Florence's bedside.

Many times she asked, "Do you love me, Daddy?" I always assured her I did, but she would ask again, "Are you sure you love me, even though I am a cripple?" Again I would say yes, and I would feel a small hand lying in mine, or feel the childish lips against my cheek.

But Florence's health doesn't improve.

The day came when I didn't go to the office, but sat all day by her bed, listening to her scream with agony, or pacing the hall while she lay in a coma, watching the doctors working with stimulants and the oxygen tank, cursing them for bringing her back to suffer again, begging them to save her when she seemed to be sinking.

She dies.

And so everything has its price. I cannot speak for Edith, but I know I paid heavily for those few mad weeks during my senior year in high school. I paid during my warped and lonely early manhood; with a lifetime of remorse for the sorrow I caused my mother. But, saddest of all, is the realization that the person who paid the heaviest price was innocent.

Don never realizes that all of his problems were caused by football. If he had stayed away from the game, or even just failed to score that winning touchdown, everything would have been different.