Episode 36: Festival Of Life

BLACK COMEDY

By Michael G. Glab

© 2013

BC Archives Link IV 20130607

Thirty-six —

Late Wednesday afternoon.

Al Dudek holds his daughter by the elbow and leads her down the front steps. She takes them one at a time, looking as if the giant anvil in her abdomen might soon cause her to topple face-forward onto the concrete walkway leading to the sidewalk. Al applies a vice grip on Anna’s arm.

“Daddy?” Anna says in a small voice.

“Yeah, hon?”

“It hurts.”

“Oh, sure,” Al says, the comforting, wise, almost-gramps. “It’s gonna hurt. That’s the way it is.”

“No, no,” Anna says. “You’re hurting me. It’s alright. I won’t fall down.”

“Oh…, oh! Aw, honey, I’m sorry.”

He helps her into the back seat of the Deuce and a Quarter where she can lay back for the ride to St. Anne’s. Satisfied that she’s comfortably settled in — as comfortable as can be under the circumstances — Al calmly walks around to the drivers side and gets in. Under normal conditions, Al is perhaps the slowest driver in the city of Chicago. His turtle pace behind the wheel has been an endless source of derision among Anna and Joey and Tree for years.

Today is no different. Especially today. Al wants nothing to go wrong as he drives his daughter to the St. Anne’s Hospital Emergency Room for the birth of his first grandchild. In fact, his pre-drive ritual is even more drawn out than usual as he slues his torso to lock his door, adjusts his rearview mirror, checks the proper position of his seat, and gives the pedal a tap to hear the little roar of his 360-horsepower, 430 cubic-inch V8 engine, an automotive power plant that 99.9 percent of all Galewood fathers would utilize to the limit of its capability were they rushing their pregnant daughters to the hospital. But not Al, for he’s never been a man to let events cause him to veer from his plodding path.

“Daddy?” Anna says again in a small voice.

“Yeah, hon?”

“Please let’s go.”

“Okay, okay, hon. We’re goin’.”

With that, Al shifts into drive and proceeds south on Natchez Avenue at a pace far more fitting for a Sunday drive than any kind of obstetric urgency. But Anna does not protest. She knows Al is racing — for him at least: He hasn’t even lit up a Tareyton for the drive.

Traffic is fairly heavy as Al turns right on Austin Boulevard from North Avenue, it being nearly rush hour. Al’s got the AM tuned to WGN so he can hear Flying Officer Irv Hayden’s reports. But the traffic copter is hovering not over the intersection of North and Austin or even the Spaghetti Bowl interchange west of the Loop but over the Grant Park Bandshell. That’s where some twelve thousand protesters have gathered to hear speakers call for peace, call for revolution, call for calm, and call for action.

WGN Traffic Copter

Hundreds upon hundreds of cops are massed in formation to the west of the bandshell, along Columbus Drive. Each holds his billy club with two hands, some of them twisting their sticks, much as they’d love to twist the necks of the long-haired pukes gathered before them.

Chicago Police captains and commanders have been having a hell of a time holding the line back. But now that Jimmie The Jungle Man Finnin, playing his role to a tee, has strung the Vietcong flag up on a flagpole that moments before had sported Old Glory, the brass is no longer in charge of this blue-shirted army.

The captains and the commanders now can do nothing to restrain their men. A line has been crossed. The line between good and evil. The line between the freedom of America and the commie tyranny of Ho Chi MInh. The line between forgiveness and God’s terrible retribution. Hundreds upon hundreds of sky-blue Chicago cops become a wave, a rolling instrument of divine justice. These sinners can only be redeemed in their own blood.

The skirmish line moves eastward toward the twelve thousand as if controlled by one mind. The twelve thousand freeze and stare at the oddly creeping onrush. They are as rabbits, perhaps hoping their immobility will make them invisible or maybe they’re made immobile by pure terror. In either case, no makes a move to flee or even assumes a defensive position in the face of the blitz to come. Now, as one, the cops begin to run, first with tentative pitty-pat steps, then with long loping strides as their prey of twelve thousand, also as one and just as suddenly, turns to escape. Now, beefy, paunchy, big-bellied and trim alike, uniformed instruments of Mayor Daley, LBJ, and God himself, rain blows, countless blows, loud, bone-cracking, flesh-ripping blows upon anyone occupying this land of biblical wrath.

Anthony, wiry, fit, and as scared as any of the surrounding twelve thousand rabbits, ought to make good his escape from the dogs of law but as the wave of cops nearly overtakes him, Anthony trips over an upended bandshell bench, pitching headfirst just as a cop’s billy club whizzes within a centimeter of his scalp. The cop, hurdling Anthony, takes another swat for a swinging strike two. The cop doesn’t linger for his third strike as he is far too eager to chase down other freaks so he might hear the satisfying crack of the bat against another hard head. The chase, after all, for dogs, for hunters, for blue-clad deliverers of righteous rectitude, is as thrilling as the catch.

Bandshell

The moment Anthony realizes he’d endured the wave unscathed, he takes off toward Balbo Street where he can cross the Illinois Central overpass and perhaps join Dick Gregory’s mule train, a Poor People’s March first envisioned by the martyr Martin Luther King, just now preparing to set off toward the International Amphitheater.

As he runs, the image of Jimmie the Jungle Man Finnin shinnying back down the flagpole and disappearing safely behind the police line runs again and again through his  mind.

Now Anthony runs smack dab into a National Guard machine gun nest positioned at the crest of the overpass. “Turn around, boy,” some khakied kid yells at him from beneath his gas mask. The kid has to be Anthony’s age. Hell, the kid could have been a classmate from Fenwick High School, but more likely he was from a public school where graduates fight in Vietnam or join the Guard to avoid doing so.

But even in the unlikely event that they had been classmates, Anthony is under no illusion that the kid behind the gas mask will grant him any filial pass. His machine gun, Anthony has to assume, is loaded and ready to fire.

Michigan Avenue

So, Anthony turns around and follows the crowd to the lakefront where the savvier of the protesters have figured out all they have to do is run north a quarter mile or so, up to the Jackson and Monroe street overpasses. They lead the thousands westward over the IC tracks, passing the Art Institute and flooding onto Michigan Avenue where they turn south, trot a few blocks, and gather precisely at the spot the Great Blue-Helmeted Wall was devised to prevent them from getting to. There the protesters stand, on the east side of Michigan Avenue, across from the Conrad Hilton, the street eerily devoid of traffic, a demilitarized zone, with hundreds of Guardsmen standing at arms around the hotel. The standoff will last about two and a half hours — until prime time and the network cameras are ready to bring Chicago to the world.

A nurse prepares to tend to Anna’s nether region. She first helps Anna out of her clothes and into a hospital gown. She rubs Anna’s bulging abdominal dome and says, “It won’t be too much longer now, honey.” Then she unwraps a shaving kit and soaps up Anna’s pubic hair. Swiftly and deftly, she shaves Anna bare and wipes the remaining soap up. She paints Anna’s Mons Veneris and groin with Betadine solution. “You’re at about a half a centimeter, sweetie,” the nurse says, an estimate Anna pays no heed to for she is busy squelching a blood-curdling scream caused by a wave of pain.

Pregnant

Al at the moment is down the hall in the waiting room, at last able to light up a Tareyton. He’s lucky he brought his open pack plus another for he’ll need them both tonight. Back in the delivery room, a harried intern dashes in, bends over and peers into Anna’s birth canal. “Not yet,” he says and, like that, he’s gone.

For the next couple of hours, a pair of volcanoes rumble on opposite ends of town, one very public, in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel at the corner of Michigan and Balbo, the other supremely private some eight miles to the west in a garishly lighted delivery room of St. Anne’s Hospital. Millions watch the volcano blow in the east. Only a nurse and an obstetrician see the eruption in the west.

The protesters at Michigan and Balbo, several thousand strong, clap their hands, sing songs, and shout slogans up toward the empty rooms in the Conrad Hilton. They fail to realize the cops have shut down their egresses both north and south on Michigan Avenue. The National Guard still has its machine gun batteries on the IC overpasses behind the protesters and the ring of Guardsmen effectively prevents them from moving westward. The protesters don’t know it, but they’ve been squeezed into a noose.

Calm Before The Storm

As day turns to night, Chicago Police Deputy Superintendent James Rochford directs his men to dash into the demilitarized zone between the protesters and the Guardsmen ringing the Hilton. The Guard, in turn, withdraws to defensive positions away from the intersection of Michigan and Balbo. Television lights bathe the scene in brilliance. Rochford himself doesn’t know it but he’s suddenly become a TV director. He may as well have yelled, “Action!” with his next utterance. Instead, it was only a less dramatic order, albeit just as simple and declarative. To his assembled captains he says, “Clear the streets.” It takes only a few seconds for those captains to repeat the order into their Motorola two-way radios. When the blue-helmeted, nightstick- and Mace-armed patrolmen on the street get the word, they roar outward in flying wedges into the crowd of protesters. They interpret Rochford’s order to mean Brain every living, breathing human being you see.

Battle of Michigan Avenue

Cops beat tattoos on the skulls of protesters. They drag newsmen by their collars toward waiting meat wagons and riot vans. They drag hippie chicks by their hair. They spray Mace into crowds of terrified hotel guests who are criminally dumb enough to be present in the Hilton on this 28th day of August, 1968. They throw people bodily through huge plate glass windows along Michigan Avenue. Well-meaning but naive preachers who hold their hands up, imploring for peace, are slugged silly. The air becomes rancid with teargas.

Chicago 1968

All the while, the television cameras are rolling. A chant rises up from those protesters whose heads haven’t been bashed yet. Anthony joins them. They chant: The Whole World Is Watching.

At this moment, the delivery room nurse checks Anna’s birth canal and notes that her baby’s head is now crowning. The canal, the nurse writes in Anna’s chart, has dilated to ten centimeters. Dr. Francona picks up his forceps and places its ends carefully along the sides of the baby’s head.

“Are you ready, sweetie?” the nurse asks Anna.

“No!” Anna screams.

“Push!” Dr. Francona says.

“No!” Anna screams.

“Breathe, hon, breathe!” the nurse advises.

U-u-u-u-h-h-h-h!” Anna screams.

Now Anthony sees a blue-helmeted figure advancing toward him. The cop’s arm is raised high over his head. In his hand he holds a shiny black nightstick. Anthony holds his arms out wide. The look on his face is pathetic. Anthony’s submission only makes the cop advance quicker. The cop’s arm begins to travel forward in a sweeping arc. The cop speaks as he brings the wood down upon Anthony’s skull: “You mother fucking, cocksucking bastard!”

Duane Hall/Chicago Sun -Times

Pulling firmly yet gently, Dr. Francona guides the baby’s skull through the birth canal. Anna has never imagined such pain could exist. Her face is soaked with sweat, her skin carmine. She grips the side rails of the delivery table so tightly she fears…, no, she hopes, she’ll break them in half. Anna prepares to help the baby along with one final, mighty push. She screams: “Anthony Pontone, you mother fucking, cocksucking bastard!

At 9:17 P.M., Central Daylight Time, in the City of Chicago, County of Cook, and State of Illinois, as Anthony tumbles to the Michigan Avenue pavement, blood spurting from his scalp, reeling from the nightstick blow he’d hoped in vain would never come, he becomes a father. He’d hoped in vain that would never come either.

To be continued

 All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.

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