Friday, June 29, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Passage of Power, excerpt thirteen)

from Robert A. Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

The story of the presidency of Lyndon Johnson will be different in tone from the story of the transition in part because of the elements of his personality absent during the transition were shortly to reappear. Yet for a period of time, a brief by crucial moment in history, he had held these elements in check, had overcome them, had, in a way, conquered himself. And by doing so, by overcoming forces within him that were very difficult to overcome, he not only had held the country steady during a difficult time but had set it on a new course, a course toward social justice. In the life of Lyndon Baines Johnson, this period stands out as different from the rest, as perhaps that life's finest moment, as a moment not only masterful but, in its way, heroic.

If he had held in check these forces within him, had conquered himself, for a while, he wasn't going to be able to do it for very long.

But he had done it long enough.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tell Me When It's Over #17: Danny Manning

and continuing with our series of former number overall draft picks on Draft Day, current Tulsa head basketball coach and 1988 Wooden Player of the Year Danny Manning of Kansas.

the last book I ever read (The Passage of Power, excerpt twelve)

from Robert A. Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

For Lyndon Johnson to have accomplished this, he had had to overcome governmental and political obstacles that had stood in the path of social justice for a century, and that for most of the last quarter of that century--since the last great liberal tide ran out in 1937--had been obstacles that could not be overcome: the congressional resistance and the power of the South that had blocked civil rights and social welfare legislation, for instance. And in addition he had had to overcome another obstacle that had nothing to do with government or politics, but only with himself.

So potent an aspect of his character had the fear of failure been throughout his life, for example, that it had all but paralyzed him in his attempt to reach for the presidency, no matter how deep his yearning for the office. When the office was suddenly thrust upon him, however, when there was suddenly no longer room for doubts or hesitation, when he had to act--he acted. If there were fears or doubts, no one saw them.

Gone from Lyndon Johnson during the transition also are the outward manifestations of other aspects of his personality that had been prominent at every other stage of his career. The frenetic, frantic, arm-waving, almost desperate demeanor that had characterized so much of his life was, during this transition period, replaced by a disciplined calmness. As for the alarm clock "inside him" that "told him at least once an hour . . . to go chew somebody out," to "blow his top"--it went off seldom if ever during this period. During these weeks, there was usually, in fact, an underlying note of courtesy when he asked an aide to perform some chore. And, as one aide said, "I've never seen him so composed." "Composed," "calm," "self-possessed," "humility," "self-discipline"--these were the words used to describe him during those week. The boastful, gloating quality was gone, even with enemies over whom he now had power. The words he "isn't President anymore. I am": during the transition did those words slip out more than once?--more than the single time he could not resist saying them (or a close version of them) to Robert Kennedy? Other qualities that had always been prominent in him vanished, not only the bellowing, the jabbing of hands, the waving of arms and the rushing of words that had invariably alienated audiences and made the speeches ineffective, but deeper-rooted qualities as well. "Almost at once, the whining self-pitying caricature of Throttlebottom vanished," George Reedy was to write. "During this whole period, there was no trace of the ugly arrogance which had made him so disliked in many quarters. . . . The situation brought out the finest that was in him."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Passage of Power, excerpt eleven)

from Robert A. Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

And Lyndon Johnson's achievements during those seven weeks went far beyond reassurance and continuity, far beyond even what he accomplished during those weeks for his predecessor's tax cut bill and civil rights. For had he striven only for reassurance and continuity, something much more important would have been lost.

The bullets of Dallas had made John F. Kennedy a martyr--and the martyrdom of a leader lends new power to causes he had championed. Lyndon Johnson knew this. "Everything I had ever learned in the history books taught me that martyrs have to die for causes," he explained to Doris Goodwin. "John Kennedy had died. But his 'cause' was not really clear. That was my job. I had to take the dead man's program and turn it into a martyr's cause." He began to do that when, in that first address to Congress on November 27, he said he was trying to finish what Kennedy had started, "to continue the forward thrust of America that he began." He couched his support of legislation in those terms. "No memorial . . . could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long." During the transition he was constantly invoking the late President's memory. And the invocations accomplished their purpose. JFK's martyrdom had galvanized support for the causes with which he had identified himself in his eloquent speeches. "Kennedy's assassination touched many people as they had not been touched before," as an historian has written. "Could the murder of so young and promising a leader be redeemed? Must his life be wasted?" The passage of legislation he had introduced was a way of ensuring it wouldn't be wasted. His death generated behind legislation that had seemed dead in congressional waters a tremendous new momentum.

And Johnson knew something else. Momentum can be lost. "A measure must be sent to the Hill at exactly the right moment," he was to explain. "Timing is essential. Momentum is not a mysterious mistress. It is a controllable fact of political life." The time to catch a wave is at its crest. And while the wave of emotion, of affection and adoration, for the martyred young President would roll on for decades--is still rolling on today, almost half a century after Dallas--its crest, the height of the Kennedy tide, came in the weeks immediately following Dallas, in the weeks of Lyndon Johnson's transition. By rushing to push through Kennedy's bills, Johnson caught the crest. The maneuvers by which he made them begin to move through Congress were made easier--in some cases were only made possible--by that wave of emotion. Had he not caught the tide at its absolute height, he might well have lost some of its force, and as the Senate fight of 1964 was to demonstrate, every ounce of that force would be necessary to pass the civil rights bill. By moving as quickly as he did, Johnson caught a tide, seized a moment, that might not have lasted very long.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Passage of Power, excerpt ten)

from Robert A. Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

Lyndon Johnson's succession to the presidency, the transition in which he assumed the power that had once been John Kennedy's, had been so successful, gone so smoothly, that by March, as was apparent from the contemporary journalistic evaluation, it was becoming simply a fait accompli, an accepted fact of American political life. And as more time passed, that would turn out to be its fate over a longer term as well.

Some of those who witnessed the succession up close, appreciating the magnitude of his accomplishment, were certain that eventually it would be given the credit it deserved. "History will record the great contribution Lyndon Johnson made in taking us through the transition," Hugh Sidey wrote in 1969.

That has not happened, however. The success, the smoothness of Johnson's succession has come to be viewed--to the extent it is viewed at all--as simply yet another example of the efficacy of the American Constitution's provisions for the orderly transfer of presidential power in a democracy, of the efficacy, as one of the most detailed studies of vice presidential succession puts it, of the "recognized rule which made him President upon the death of the President." The "smooth manner in which presidential power changed hands upon that death of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was not entirely unlike what had happened on seven other occasions in American history," this study state. "Each time a Vice-President became President and led the country safely through the tragedy and crisis of losing its leader."

Not that history has forgotten the assassination of President Kennedy and the three subsequent days of his funeral ceremonies, of course. The very opposite is the case. Those four days have become enshrined as among the most memorable days in American history. But the achievements of Lyndon Johnson during those four days and the rest of the transition period--the period, forty-seven days, just short of seven weeks, between the moment on November 22, 1963, when Ken O'Donnell said "He's gone" and the State of the Union speech on January 8, 1964--have been afforded so little attention that his succession to the presidency has become, to considerable extent, an episode if not lost to, then overlooked by, history.

Monday, June 25, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Passage of Power, excerpt nine)

from Robert A. Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

The tone was to get meaner. "I'm just like a fox," Lyndon Johnson once boasted. "I can see the jugular in any man and go for it, but I always keep myself in rein. I keep myself on a leash, just like you would an animal." The first phrase in that boast was accurate. Lyndon Johnson had always had a gift for finding a person's "jugular," his most vulnerable spot, the one in which he could most deeply be hurt. The rest of the boast, however, was not. If he kept himself in rein, on a leash, it was a leash that, all through his life, had been frequently unfastened. His ability to hurt had always been combined with a willingness--an eagerness, in fact--to put the ability to use; with a cruelty, a viciousness, a desire to hurt for the sake of hurting. Now his unerring eye had located, beneath the pale mask of Robert Kennedy's grief, the place in which, because of his brother's assassination, Robert Kennedy was most vulnerable. And the leash came off. Johnson told Pierre Salinger, in a remark he obviously intended to get back to Kennedy, that Jack Kennedy's death might have been "divine retribution" for his "participation" in assassination plots against other heads of state. "Lyndon Johnson said to Pierre Salinger that he wasn't sure but that the assassination of President Kennedy didn't take place in retribution for his participation in the assassinations of Trujilo and President Diem," Robert Kennedy said during an oral history interview in April, 1964. "Divine retribution. He said that. Then he went on and said that when he was growing up, somebody he knew--who had misbehaved--. . . ran into a tree, hit his head, and became cross-eyed. He said that was God's retribution for people who were bad. . . . God put his mark on them. And that this [President Kennedy's assassination] might very well be God's retribution to President Kennedy for his participation in the assassination of these two people."

Although neither of the two assassinations to which Johnson referred had been authorized by the late President, Johnson didn't believe that. Pointing to the picture of President Diem in The Elms the day after Kennedy's funeral, Johnson had told Hubert Humphrey, "We had a hand in killing him. Now it's happening here." In his remark to Salinger, Johnson didn't include the assassination attempts against a third head of state, Fidel Castro, although he was aware that they had occurred, and believed that the Kennedys had had a hand in them as well. A week after the assassination, he was asking J. Edgar Hoover "whether [Oswald] was connected with the Cuban operation [Mongoose]?" His suspicions were soon to harden. By 1965, he was telling an aide, "President Kennedy tried to get Castro, but Castro got Kennedy first." During his retirement, he would tell a journalist that the Kennedys "had been operating a damn Murder, Inc. in the Caribbean." Whether or not his remark to Salinger brought the Castro attempts to Robert Kennedy's mind, the remark was made, as Evan Thomas says, "cruelly and with an unerring instinct for Kennedy's hidden vulnerabilities." And the fact that it struck home is testified to by its target. It was, Kennedy told Arthur Schlesinger, "the worst thing Johnson has said." Kennedy was to tell a friend that the new President "does not know how to use people's talents, to find the very best in them and put the best to work. But more than any other man, he knows how to ferret out and use people's weaknesses."

Friday, June 22, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Passage of Power, excerpt eight)

from Robert A. Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

On October 30, Lyndon Johnson had attended Tom Connally's funeral in Marlin, Texas, flying to Waco, the nearest city with a sizable airport, and then continuing on by a small plane to the little town.

All during Johnson's years as a congressman's secretary and a congressman--and into his first term as senator, until Connally retired in 1953, at the age of seventy-six, at the end of his fourth term in the Senate--Connally had been a great power in Washington, chairman for almost a decade of the Foreign Relations Committee, as well as an icon in Texas, his frock coat, string tie, black hat and great mane of silver-gray hair familiar in every corner of the state: a man to be courted and feared. As a newly elected senator in 1948, Johnson had made a pilgrimage to Marlin to solicit Connally's help with committee assignments, and had been careful not to take offense when Connally patronizingly refused it. John had told his staff never, under any circumstances, to antagonize him. But in 1963, Connally had been retired for ten years, and the turnout of officials at his funeral was slim. Although Presidents Kennedy and Truman had sent elaborate floral arrangements, the Presidents weren't there themselves, and neither were any senators or congressmen, not even the representative from the local district.

After the funeral ceremony in Marlin's First Methodist Church, mourners filed past the open coffin, and when it was Johnson's turn, the lined stopped as he stood looking down at Connally's face. He put on his glasses, and continued looking, for a long moment, and then walked out of the church, and the harsh Texas sun spotlit his face, on which was written a depression so deep that Posh Oltorf, who had known Johnson for many years, was shocked.

After following the coffin to the cemetery and watching it being lowered into the ground, Johnson came to Oltorf's house. "I think it's a disgrace that there was no delegation there from Congress," he said, as Oltorf recalls it. "As powerful as he was, and with all he had done, if he had died when he was in office, you wouldn't have been able to get into Waco for all the airplanes."

"I had seen him low before," Oltorf was to say, "but I had never seen him that low." And having heard Johnson tell him more than once how meaningless a job the vice presidency was--how only the presidency meant anything--Oltorf felt he understood Johnson's feeling. Tom Connally had been a powerful senator, but no one remembered him. Lyndon Johnson had been a powerful senator. He was thinking he would never be President--and no one would remember him, either.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Passage of Power, excerpt seven)

from Robert A. Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

The attention focused on fraud in the 1960 presidential campaign has during the intervening half century centered on Illinois, not Texas. The Republican allegations, not only about voting in the Valley but about the invalidating of ballots under the new state law, have never been examined in the depth necessary to ascertain their validity, much less to determine how many votes were affected if indeed the allegations were true. Nor have the many other factors--from demographic shifts in the state's population to the scene in the Adolphus Hotel--ever been examined in the necessary depth. Today, the passage of time has made it difficult--impossible, really--to ascertain, in trying to assess the election results in Texas, the weight that should be assigned, in an equation that contains so many factors, to the vote from the "ethnic bloc." Paul Kilday wrote of the 31,000-vote "reversal" in San Antonio, which of course included the 14,000-vote plurality the Kilday machine produced in that city's West Side. It would be misleading to speak of a "reversal" in the Valley, since George Parr and his allies could simply produce whatever result they wanted there. But Parr had demonstrated before that when he became angry at what he construed to be an inadequate lack of allegiance by some public official, he would retaliate in the next election by throwing the Valley's bloc vote to the official's opponent. How he might have reacted had Lyndon Johnson not assisted with his court case can be today, long after his death, a matter only for speculation, since, so far as the author can determine, no historian or journalist raised the matter with him before his death. But the point is moot in any event: Johnson produced the legal help, and Parr produced the votes--the 21,000 plurality. Thirty-one thousand and 21,000--in an election that was decided by 46,000 votes, the weight of those votes could hardly have been a minor factor. Whatever the explanation for the results from the "ethnic bloc" in Texas. John Kennedy had selected Lyndon Johnson in part to take back Texas for the Democratic presidential ticket, and Johnson had done it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Passage of Power, excerpt six)

from Robert A. Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

"And then," Connally was to say, "Bobby Kennedy showed up, and said he wanted to see Mr. Johnson"--and from that moment, and for approximately the next three hours, nothing was settled, and during those hours what had previously remained, despite all the tension, within the boundaries of normal political behavior, was transformed, with the admixture of personal hatred, into confusion and chaos, a chaos whose aftermath would, during the next eight years, affect profoundly the shape of American politics and, to a lesser but still surprisingly significant degree, the shape of American history.

No two people of the many who were involved can agree on anything that happened during those hours. Each account, and some are quite detailed and convincing, contains statements that are impossible to reconcile with, or that directly contradict, statements in other accounts--which are also quite detailed and convincing. To try to reconcile the recollections of those hours is to be reminded, again and again, of what Theodore White wrote (after trying to reconcile them): "It is a trap of history to believe that eyewitnesses remember accurately what they have lived through." Chronologies of that afternoon's events were later compiled by more than one of the participants--but no two chronologies are the same. There is no agreement, to take just a single example, about the number of meetings that Robert Kennedy held with Johnson, Rayburn and Connally--either with one of them alone or with various combinations of the three Texans. Arthur Schlesinger says there were two, Connally says there were three; hours after Robert Kennedy ran up and down those back stairs. There is no agreement on the number of telephone conversations Jack Kennedy held with Johnson and his allies. Philip Graham, who was in Johnson's suite during part of the three hours and later wrote a memorandum trying to recount what had occurred during that time, says there were four such conversations, Rowe says there were three. In the various versions of the afternoon's activities, two meetings (or three) are conflated into one, or what happened in one meeting is divided as if it occurred in two (or three). The only summary statement about the meetings that can be made without dispute is that each of them was a drama in itself, a vivid, tension-fraught drama of powerful men in confrontation.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Passage of Power, excerpt five)

from Robert A. Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

The elevator in this section of the hotel was located near the far end of the line of bedrooms at the end of the corridor farthest from the corner suite. That morning what one reporter referred to as the "pushy, sweaty mass" of the press--newspaper and magazine reporters and photographers, television cameras, cameramen and correspondents--was clustered around the elevator's doors. Kennedy had arrived at his suite very early, before any reporters had arrived, and it was assumed he was still at his apartment and would come up in the elevator, and might emerge and provide them with a clue as to the identity of the vice presidential nominee.

There was another connection between the two sets, however: a back staircase almost directly across from the 9333 door in the floor's corner, not a narrow back stairway but a broad one, with a broad open landing on each floor, as dimly lit as the corridors. If someone stepped out of the 9333 door of the Kennedy suite and walked almost straight across the hall and down the stairs, he had a good chance of avoiding the press, and that was what Jack Kennedy did, successfully, at about 10:15 that morning. Descending down the two flights of stairs, he knocked on the door of 7333.

Johnson opened it. The corridor outside was empty. Reporters and photographers had been stationed outside the rooms of the men considered likely vice presidential nominees, but Johnson was not one of them. Johnson led Kennedy into the living room, and they sat down on a couch, each at an end, half turned to face each other, two very tough, very smart men. Someone closed the door to the living room.

Monday, June 18, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Passage of Power, excerpt four)

from Robert A. Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

Other considerations, however, were much more than tactical--because they related not so much to a comparison between the Senate leadership and the vice presidency but to the great aim of his life: the job he had spent so many years scheming and sacrificing to obtain.

His chance to win his party's nomination in 1960 was gone now, and if in the general election Kennedy defeated the Republican nominee, and served his full two terms, he might not get another chance until 1968. There was of course a possibility--Kennedy might lose to the Republican--that he would get another chance at the nomination in 1964, but Kennedy, despite his loss, would be coming into that convention as the party's last standard-bearer, and would be even harder to beat than he had just been; it wasn't much of a possibility. Eight years would probably be how long Lyndon Johnson would have to wait. And in eight years Lyndon Johnson would be sixty--and that was an age that throughout his life had loomed before him with a grim, talismanic significance. All during his boyhood, he had heard relatives repeating a piece of family lore: that all Johnson men had weak hearts and died young. Then, while he was still in college and his father was barely fifty years old, Sam Ealy's heart had begun to fail, and he had died in 1937, twelve days after his sixtieth birthday. Two years later, one of his father's two younger brothers--Lyndon's uncle--had died suddenly of a massive heart attack, at the age of fifty-seven. Lyndon, always conscious of his remarkable physical resemblance to his tall, big-eared, big-nosed father, was convinced--convinced, one of his secretaries says, "to the point of obsession"--that he had inherited the Johnson legacy. "I'm not gonna live to be but sixty," he would say. "My daddy died at sixty. My uncle . . ." With attempts to argue him out of this belief he had no patience; once, when Lady Bird was trying to reassure him that he would not die young, he looked at her scornfully and said flatly: "It's a lead-pipe cinch." And then, in 1955, at the age of forty-six, he had had his own massive heart attack. Now, in 1960, with the nomination lost, he felt he couldn't wait eight years for another chance to win it. When, following Kennedy's victory on Wednesday night, Reedy and Busby had been called into his suite, they had seen how depressed he was, and Reedy had tried to console him by pointing out that he would have another chance in eight years. There was a long pause before Lyndon Johnson's reply, and when it came it came in a very low voice. "Too long," he said. "Too long."

Friday, June 15, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Passage of Power, excerpt three)

from Robert A. Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

When, in 1948, the place he had wanted so long--a seat in the United State Senate--finally opened up, Johnson had not leapt as the opportunity as his allies expected him to do, but instead had vacillated endlessly, until it was almost too late to enter the race, agonizing over the decision as to whether or not to run; his allies had finally threatened to run John Connally instead of him to nerve him up to announce his candidacy. And those men understood what was holding him back. Lyndon Johnson had long had the habit, in times of crisis, of telephoning Ed Clark, "the Secret Boss of Texas," at six o'clock in the morning to discuss the situation and ask for advice, and in 1948, in these calls, Ed Clark heard, over and over, one word. "Humiliation," Clark would recall. "That was what he kept repeating. 'I'll be humiliated. I'll be ruined. If I run, I'm going to lose--I'll be humiliated.'" Now, in 1958, a race for a much greater prize stretched before him--a race for a prize so vast that the attention not just of a state but of an entire country would be focused on it. So the possibility of defeat--of humiliation--loomed before him larger than ever, and "If he didn't try, he couldn't fail."

So he didn't try.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Passage of Power, excerpt two)

from Robert A. Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

In attempting to explain why he was torn, why he wasn't really trying--in attempting to explain why Lyndon Johnson, who had schemed and maneuvered so endlessly, worked so hard, to become President, now, when the prize was closer than ever before, when it was perhaps almost within his reach, was refusing to reach for it--the men, in both Texas and Washington, who had worked longest with Lyndon Johnson come to the same conclusion. Connally, who had once confided to a friend that "He's never had another thought, another waking thought, except to lust after the office," had been told by Johnson that he would be managing the campaign for that office, but he had still been given no campaign to manage. Asked, years later, for an explanation, Connally said that as much as "He (Johnson) wanted the nomination, he did not want to be tarred," with--did not want the stigma of--"having lost it." And, Connally says, "If he didn't try, he couldn't fail." Says Jim Rowe: "He wanted one thing. He wanted it so much his tongue was hanging out; then he had another part inside him htat said, 'Why get my hopes up? I'm not going to try. If I don't try, I won't fail.'"

And indeed, as the men who had worked with him longest knew, failure--the dread of it, the fear of losing, that is a factor in the equation that makes up the personality of many men, perhaps most men--was a factor possessed of a particularly heavy weight in the very complex equation that was the personality of Lyndon Johnson. When Bobby Baker had first been assigned the job of counting votes for Johnson in the Senate, Walter Jenkins, who, like Connally, had been working for Johnson since 1939, warned him never to overestimate the number of votes that Johnson would have if he brought a controversial bill to the floor, because then the measure might be defeated, and defeat was something the Chief wanted to avoid at all costs. "Never"--that was the operative word, and Baker learned quickly that the warning had not been overstated. Other senators might want Johnson to make a fight even on an issue on which he might lose because it would enable them to make "a fighting record in behalf of their causes," Baker says. But "Pyrrhic victories were not Lyndon Johnson's cup of tea. . . . He saw no value in glorious defeats." "Johnson feared losing," Baker was to say. He had a deep "fear of being defeated. He always was petrified by that notion." He was, Baker says, "haunted by fears of failure."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Passage of Power, excerpt one)

from Robert A. Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

Air Force One, the President's plane, is divided, behind the crew's cockpit, into three compartments. In the first of them, just behind the cockpit, women sat weeping and Secret Service agents were trying to hold back tears ("You've heard of strong men crying; well, we had it there that day," recalls a reporter) as the pilot lifted the big jet off the Dallas runway in a climb so steep that to a man standing on the ground it seemed "almost vertical," leveled off for a few minutes, and then, warned that there were tornadoes between him and Washington, put the plane into another climb to get above them. In the rear compartment the widow, her suit stained with blood, was sitting next to the coffin of the dead President. And in the center compartment was the new President.

Lyndon Johnson hadn't been aboard Air Force One in the trip down to Texas. He had long since given up asking John F. Kennedy if he could accompany him on the presidential plane when they were flying to the same destination ("You don't mean to say that Mr. Johnson is again insisting on riding with me?" Kennedy had once asked his secretary in an exasperated tone), as he had given up on all his attempts to obtain some measure of recognition, or at least dignity, as Vice President. Once, as Senate Majority Leader, he had been a mighty figure--"the second most powerful man in the country"--but that seemed a long time ago now. Although initially he had been favored to win the Democratic nomination for President, he had been outmaneuvered by the younger man, and, having accepted the vice presidency, had, in that post, become not just powerless but a figure of ridicule. The gibe ("Whatever became of Lyndon Johnson?") that had started over Georgetown dinner tables was now in headlines over articles about his predicament. He himself was worried about whether or not he would be retained on the 1964 Democratic ticket, and was convinced that whether he was or not, his dreams of becoming President one day were over. He had advised more than one aide whom he would have wanted with him were he to run for or become President to leave his staff. "My future is behind me," he told one member of his staff. "Go," he said to another. "I'm finished." But he was on Air Force One now.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

the last book I ever read (Anne Enright's The Gathering, excerpt six)

from Anne Enright's The Gathering, winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize:

I am saying that, the year you sent us away, your dead son was interfered with, when you were not there to comfort or protect him, and that interference was enough to send him on a path that ends in the box downstairs. That is what I am saying, if you want to know.

Monday, June 11, 2012

the last book I ever read (Anne Enright's The Gathering, excerpt five)

from Anne Enright's The Gathering, winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize:

Val is a bachelor farmer in his seventies, so he should, by rights, be half-mad. But he looks chipper enough. Also clever. He does one thing at a time, that is the notable thing about him. He wipes his fingers on a paper napkin and looks for a place to set it down, and when he finds non, he scrunches the tissue up and tucks it firmly under the rim of his empty plate. Then he looks at one or other of us as if guessing at our lives: the way they have gone and the way they will end up. Uncle Val loved endings. He was especially fond of suicides. He used to talk us through the neighbours' houses, and tell us who shot himself and who used the rope. He told Liam a story about a local man who, when his wife refused to have sex with him, upped and got the kitchen knife and castrated himself in front of her.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

the last book I ever read (Anne Enright's The Gathering, excerpt four)

from Anne Enright's The Gathering, winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize:

When she offers him tea, it is with a surprising wobble in the saucer, and he takes it quietly and sets it down. The biscuits are, in the circumstances, a little garish. With their fluffy white coconut sprinkled over pink marshmallow, the biscuits are a bit beside the point. Ada knows that he is sad, but she has yet to sympathise. Lamb Nugent has a wife, Kathleen, and four healthy children. He has no cause for complaint. What he asks is what Ada refuses most to give, he asks her to believe in his grief, the ordinary grief of a man with a wife he does not love overmuch and four children who he does not, for a moment, understand; the usual grief of men when they find that they have done nothing, and there is nothing left for them to do. He wants her to pity him his perfectly pleasant life, and the fact that it does not belong to him; the fact that he is a ghost in his own house, looking at his wife, who drives him up the wall, and his four children, who rob each breath as it comes out of his mouth. While he sits here with a woman too old to bed, the keeper of his treasures, the woman who will not love him, though she really knows she should.

Friday, June 8, 2012

the last book I ever read (Anne Enright's The Gathering, excerpt three)

from Anne Enright's The Gathering, winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize:

Tom had sex with me the night of the wake--as if Liam's death had blown all the cobwebs away: the fuss and the kids and the big, busy job and the late nights spent strenuously not sleeping with other women. He was getting back to basics: telling me that he loved me, telling me that my brother might be dead but that he was very much alive. Exercising his right. I love my husband, but I lay there with one leg on either side of his dancing, country-boy hips and I did not feel alive. I felt like a chicken when it is quartered.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

the last book I ever read (Anne Enright's The Gathering, excerpt two)

from Anne Enright's The Gathering, winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize:

There is something wonderful about a death, how everything shuts down, and all the ways you thought you were vital are not even vaguely important. Your husband can feed the kids, he can work the new oven, he can find the sausages in the fridge, after all. And his important meeting was not important, no in the slightest. And the girls will be picked up from school, and dropped off again in the morning. Your eldest daughter can remember her inhaler, and your youngest will take her gym kit with her, and it is just as you suspected--most of the stuff that you do is just stupid, really stupid, most of the stuff you do is just nagging and whining and picking up for people who are too lazy even to love you, even that, let alone find their own shoes under their own bed; people who turn and accuse you--scream at you sometimes--when they can only find one shoe.

And I am crying by now, heading down the airport road, I am bawling my eyes out behind the wheel of my Saab 9.3, because even the meeting your husband has, the vital meeting, was not important (how could you ever, even for a moment, think such things were important?) and he loves you completely for the half an hour, or half a week in which your brother is freshly dead.

I should probably pull over but I do not pull over: I cry-drive all the way. At Collins Avenue, a man stuck in the oncoming traffic looks across at me, sobbing and gagging in my posh tin box. He is two feet away from me. He is just there. He gives me a look of complete sympathy, and then he eases past. It has happened to us all.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

the last book I ever read (Anne Enright's The Gathering, excerpt one)

from Anne Enright's The Gathering, winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize:

There are so few people given us to love. I want to tell my daughters this, that each time you fall in love it is important, even at nineteen. Especially at nineteen. And if you can, at nineteen, count the people you love on one hand, you will not, at forty, have run out of fingers on the other. There are so few people given us to love and they all stick.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tell Me When It's Over: Baseball, #3: David Clyde

the 2012 Major League Baseball draft began last night, and the Houston Astros selected shortstop Carlos Correa with the first overall pick.

in 1973, the Texas Rangers selected Houston high school pitcher David Clyde first overall.

it could've worked out better.

Monday, June 4, 2012

the last book I ever read (Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, excerpt five)

from Jane Leavy's Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy:

He had no master plan for life after baseball except to live in the present tense. Asked once what he was doing to keep busy in retirement, Hank Aaron replied, "I'm being Hank Aaron." It is the career choice of former greats. But Koufax didn't want to grow old being Sandy Koufax. So his choices were limited.

Friday, June 1, 2012

the last book I ever read (Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, excerpt four)

from Jane Leavy's Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy:

People didn't come to see whether he won or lost but to be able to say they saw him. Every game was an event accompanied by hoopla and subtext. An arm has only so many pitches to give, and with any one of those not yet delivered, Koufax's could come unhinged. That was the irony. The more unassailable he appeared, the more vulnerable he became. As the pitch counts and the innings and the strikeouts and the victories and the accolades mounted, so did his awareness of how tenuous it all was. His elbow reminded him with every pitch. Chapter 1 of his autobiography, published that spring, ended with an intimation: "An athletic existence is a self-liquidating life."