By Michael G. Glab
— Twenty-One —
[A toast — and an indictment. Anna and Anthony’s wedding reception mirrors the madness on the streets of America’s cities.]
Anthony’s best man is named Robby Waters. He looks uncomfortable in his rented black tuxedo. He’s continually pulling at his collar as if he’s a dog straining against his leash. Before the wedding Anna had begged him not to reveal the fact that he is a division leader in the Students for a Democratic Society. She needn’t have worried — few in this banquet hall have the foggiest idea what the SDS is.
In fact, while Tony the Fist Pontone was ordering a Manhattan at the bar before dinner, he overheard Robby Waters speaking with another of the hippie guests. “We know which way the wind’s blowin, man,” Robby said. “That’s why we’re the Weathermen.” Tony the Fist thought it was nice that this strange young man wearing sandals with his tuxedo presumably was studying weather forecasting in college. Maybe, Tony the Fist thought, these hippies aren’t so hopeless after all.
Robby Waters walks up to the dais and coughs into the microphone. He wears wire-framed glasses that make him look like the intellectual heir to Einstein or James Joyce, except few people here would know this James Joyce — What was he, some kinda movie actor or somethin’? Einstein? Yeah, he was that guy with the frizzy hair, the head-shrinker guy, right?
And Robby Waters does indeed wear frizzy hair, like that head-shrinker guy. He begins his toast.
“I feel as though I’ve known Anthony all my life,” he says. “We met a couple of years ago at the first meeting of…, of….” He glances at Anna whose eyes implore him not to say it. He hesitates a moment more and finally finishes his thought. “… of a group of friends who, um, uh, like to talk about things going on in this world.
“From the minute I met him, I could tell that Anthony was a real mahatma, man.”
Rocco Bianco leans close to Mickey Finnin and asks, “What’d he say?”
“I t’ink he said he was a Momma’s boy…, or man, I dunno,” Mickey Finnin says.
Robby Waters continues. “Anthony Pontone cares about the world. He cares about his brothers in this world.”
Anna’s Uncle Louie whispers to her Uncle Frankie, “I didn’t know he had any brudders. Where d’ey sittin’?” Uncle Frankie shrugs.
“Anthony wants to make this world a better place, a place where the youth of America can grow up in peace and harmony, in health and happiness. We’re not there yet, man! It’s a sick, sick world!”
At this very moment, Charlie Solari and his wife, who are sitting toward the rear of the hall, near the restrooms, can hear Joey loudly retching in the men’s room.
“Assassination!” Robby Waters says. “War! Racism! Poverty! America is sick!”
Tony the Fist wonders why they’re teaching this kind of stuff in weather forecasting class these days
Now Robby Waters is on a roll. He doesn’t notice that Anna has closed her eyes tightly and is biting her lower lip. He can’t be stopped even if Anna would get on her knees and plead with him. He runs down a laundry list of all the evil, tyrannical, murderous, thieving, thuggish, racist, avaricious pigs who run this imperialist nation. Lyndon Johnson. Robert McNamara and Dean Rusk. J. Edgar Hoover. General Westmoreland. George Wallace and Lester Maddox. William F. Buckley. When, at last, he gets around to indicting Vince Lombardi and George Halas, Charlie Solari can take it no more.
Charlie Solari thinks: I’ll be a sunovabitch. I went into McCormick Place. I coulda been in there when the roof collapsed. I climbed those stairs at the Hilliard Homes more times’n I can count. I put out who knows how many grease fires in those shitholes the Chinamen call kitchens. I help the ambulance crews carry out the bodies of all a’them Skid Row winos. I been honest all my life except for that one time — that’s all, one time. For chrissakes, that strongbox was just sitting there staring me in the face and it was like my axe had a mind of its own, and bang — it’s open. And ain’t God generous! Twenty five goddamn thousand dollars’ worth of diamonds, and don’t I deserve it for all the filthy Chinamen and bums and shines I had to save from their own stupidity? Hey, ain’t this America, where everybody, even Abraham Lincoln, can lift himself up by his bootstraps and become a rich man? And now this no good pinko, this hippie fag, this hopped-up little prick, he’s tellin’ me what the fuck is wrong with this great country? I’ll be goddamned if I let a little cocksucker like that tell me what’s wrong with my America.
So Charlie Solari quickly drains his bourbon, neat, and stands proudly and with the conviction of the only real man in this goddamned place with balls enough to tell off this little wet behind the ears punk lecturing us like we’re all idiots or little kids. Charlie Solari takes a deep breath and yells, “Siddown, ya goddamned little pissant!”
Robby Waters freezes at the sound of Charlie’s voice. As he stands motionless at the dais of the head table, he feels a rush of adrenaline. He feels as though his sandaled feet are no longer touching the Earth, or at least the faux parquet flooring. He leaps over the head table and dashes madly between the round tables filled with paralyzed wedding guests who watch as he takes a lunge at Charlie Solari. Charlie is as tough as nails and normally would pound a pissant like this frizzy-haired little homo but the warm butterscotch bourbon has altered Charlie’s reactions just enough so that when he takes a roundhouse swing at Robby Waters, he misses grandly and the kid is thus able to wrap his arms around the fireman’s waist and tumble with him to the faux parquet flooring, a tackle that would make both Vince Lombardi and George Halas proud.
As the two wrestle, a dozen men rush in to paw at them in an effort to separate them. Anthony takes the microphone and implores, “Peace, man! Peace! Let’s not fight! Please!”
Anna now pushes her plates and silverware aside and lays her head on her arms as if she wants to take a nap. Al is pacing and muttering, “This has gotta stop! Jesus Christ, this has gotta stop!” Tree sits calmly at table number one and sips her whiskey sour, smirking. Eddie Halloran runs toward the brawl, eager to get in his licks but the sock of his shoeless foot slips on the highly polished dance floor and he slides a good ten feet before the back of his head hits the tile. He promptly begins snoring, his arms spread wide like Jesus’ on the cross. Tony the Fist’s driver reaches inside his suit jacket and fingers his holstered .38. Tony the Fist catches his eye and shakes his head. The driver withdraws his hand and resumes waiting, patiently. Joey opens the men’s room door, eyes the scrum and feels another wave of nausea wash over him. He retreats behind the men’s room door.
Rocco Bianco has run over to the pile of grapplers and stops short. Robby Waters is on all fours, his left arm around Charlie Solari in an unplanned half-Nelson. Robby’s hind end is pointed toward Rocco. Rocco appraises the tableau for the briefest of moments and concludes that Robby Waters really has a cute little ass. He exhales broadly, purging himself for the moment of this deepest secret, and steps up smartly to boot Robby Waters in that ass. Hell, he thinks, George Halas oughtta sign me up to kick field goals.
Robby Waters and Charlie Solari are successfully separated. Five men hold Charlie back, their restraining hands nearly caressing him as if they are tending to the alpha dog. The five men who hold Robby Waters back are clawing into him. Some of them are pulling his hair nearly out by the roots. The neighbor cop, Sal Sanfillipo, knees him repeatedly in the thigh. “Try sumpin’, tough guy,” Sal whispers. Oh, how he wants this hippie piece of shit to try sumpin’. He wants it so badly he begins to feel the stirrings of an erection.
Anthony is still pleading into the microphone: “This is what happens in a violent society!” he roars. “Hate’s all around us! We have to overthrow the….”
His amplified thunder is almost drowned out by catcalls from the crowd. “Shuddup!” “Sit the fuck down!” “Stick that revolution shit up yer ass!”
Anthony hollers louder into the microphone: “The forces that caused a white man to murder Martin Luther King, the forces that are responsible for the rioting, for the killing in Vietnam, for all the deaths in our inner cities, they’re right here in the banquet hall!”
Anthony points at the prone Eddie Halloran. “There’s your corrupt justice system!”
He points at Mickey Finnin. “There’s your corrupt ‘representative of the people’!”
He points his very own father. “There’s your criminal boss!”
At this, Tony the Fist smooths out his crisp Ermenegildo Zegna suit jacket, straightens the cuffs of his fresh Sulka shirt, and turns to his good friend Al Dudek. The two gaze at each other from across the hall. At last, they shake their heads in silent, simultaneous communication.
Al seems to be on the verge of tears.
Anna, of course, is not napping but actually deciding at this precise moment what the course of the rest of her life will be. She lifts her head from her arms and joins her brand new husband at the microphone. Her hand covers Anthony’s on the mike. “Mr. Brown,” she whispers. She pulls the mike down toward her mouth.
Anthony grins at her as if she’s given him the greatest gift a groom can receive from his loving, devoted bride, one who, previous to this very second he really didn’t know. And now he believes he does know who Anna Claudia Pontone, nee Dudek, truly is.
“Please,” she says, and, like that, the pandemonium ceases, such is the power of a bride on her wedding day. Some 250 guests remain in their positions as if a good witch has cast a spell on them. They gape at her, in her virginal white, her six hundred dollar Margie’s Bridal Shop dress cleverly puffed to camouflage the four and a half month-old swelling of her belly. She glows with that most fleeting combination of womanly beauty and girlish cuteness. Even Tree, who is half in the bag for the first time in her orderly life, drinks in the visage of her daughter, the same one she wrote off when she learned of the second pregnancy, and becomes misty-eyed. Al brings his hands together at his chest, almost a gesture of prayer, and thanks the God he has ignored for the past quarter of a century that his princess will bestow a redemptive coda upon this nightmare.
Anna scans the crowd. Her eyes hit upon the prone, spread-eagled figure of State’s Attorney Eddie Halloran. She glances at Tony the Fist’s driver, that fearsome block of a man with the cold stare. She sees the bouffanted wives of Galewood with their thick blue eyeshadow, their inch-long store-bought eyelashes, their dangling ear bangles, their painted nails, and their slender cigarettes. She sees her little brother Joey reemerge from the men’s room, pale as a hermit, all horked out. She notices her new husband’s best man still in the clutches of that loathsome cop Sal Sanfillipo who, believe it or not, has grasped the lump beneath Robby Waters’ trousers and has twisted it, producing the most agonizing grimace on the face of his victim. She sees Rocco Bianco, staring at Sal Sanfillipo’s hand clasping Robby Waters’ crotch and even from this distance, she can see the tip of his tongue dart over his lips. She catches the glint of the pinkie ring worn by Mickey Finnin. And finally, she locks eyes with her father.
Al Dudek’s gaze implores her to right this madness. Poor Pa. Poor Al. Helpless to stop the ball he started rolling a couple of decades ago when he accepted the aid of his brothers-in-law whose membership in the 42 Gang virtually insured the success of his new business. Poor Al. Poor Pa. Really a good guy but, man, so weak, so willing to sell his soul. Damn you, Pa!
Anna, the angel, Daddy’s little girl almost all grown up, takes a breath and with her hand still over Anthony’s as they both hold the microphone, finally speaks.
Or, more accurately, hollers. “Fuck this shit!”
With that, she and Anthony, hand in hand, run together out of the Nuovo Mondo banquet hall, adrenaline-drunk, a dead-on reprise of the couple running out of the church in Anna’s favorite movie ever, The Graduate. But rather than board a bus in the northern California sun, Anna and Anthony burst out into the chilly early April Chicago air, the sky still tinged with smoke from the smoldering West Side fires, police and fire still sirens wailing in the distance, and clamber into their honeymoon limousine.
Anthony pulls the door closed with a bang. The driver asks, “Where to?”
Anthony and Anna look at each other for an answer. Neither has one. They giggle.
“Just go,” they say in unison.
To be continued
All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.