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Authors: Bentley Little

Dispatch (18 page)

BOOK: Dispatch
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She jumped off the couch. "We can't tell anyone about this!" she cried desperately. "We'll just drop out and—"

"Hold on a minute," I said. "We can't overreact."

"They know who we are! They know where we live!"

We stayed awake the rest of the night. I talked her down and we talked it out, and we decided that the best thing to do would be to stop writing letters of any kind and just lead normal low-key lives. We told all of our friends the next day. They were outraged, they were incensed, they vowed to follow up on this, but none of them had been visited in the night by strange interviewers, and though they were sympathetic, I'm not sure they really understood how we felt.

We were both shaken, but while my anxiety was only temporary, Vicki's took. She became fearful of expressing any opinions in public, even in classes where debating issues was a requirement, and as a result her grades dropped. She stopped seeing her friends and struggled with her internship.

I had time to consider where I was and to look at myself from a distance. There was, once more, a break in my letter writing. Whether self-imposed or the result of outside circumstances, there seemed to be an ebb and flow to my output, a cycle that might not have been natural but was consistent enough to be almost predictable. Again, I had the sense of forces felt but unseen, hard at work beneath the surface of everyday reality.

Gradually the paranoia receded. In many ways, our life together was better than it ever was. The experience with the interviewers had drawn us closer, and our withdrawal from overt political activism forced us to concentrate on each other and our relationship rather than extraneous issues. They'd done us a favor, I joked. Academically, Vicki regained her footing. As she'd planned, as she'd hoped, she was offered a very good job upon graduation, and on the day of the ceremony, with her parents in attendance, I proposed to her.

She accepted tearfully, laughingly, high on emotion.

We decided on a short engagement, opting to marry in Phoenix in July, close to her family. We'd have a week for a honeymoon before she started work. I'd put out my resume and been on several promising interviews, but I wouldn't know for sure if I'd gotten hired until sometime in mid-August. Until then, I'd continue at my part-time job. So I was flexible.

Vicki wanted to invite my mom to the wedding. I tried explaining that even in our best days, when I was a little boy, my mom had not been a real mother to me, that we had never been close. When Vicki kept pressing, I decided to just state it flat out: "My mom's a bitch. I hate her."

Still, she tried to contact my mom, who was living at the old house and as cold as ever. I was not surprised when Vicki, disappointed, said that not only would my mother not attend, but she would not send a gift or a card or acknowledge the day in any way.

Actually, I was glad.

We wanted to keep the wedding small, but we invited some of our friends from college and were touched when all of them responded and said they'd come. With the help of Vicki's parents and aunt and cousin, we found a place to hold the ceremony: an old chapel in a renovated ghost town in the desert just outside the Phoenix metropolitan area. Neither of us was religious, and we found a Unitarian minister who agreed to perform the service.

The wedding took place at twilight, with the rays of the setting sun shining through beautiful stained-glass windows and turning the inside of the pioneer chapel a rainbow of colors. The reception was held in an old nightclub in downtown Scottsdale that had been converted expressly for that purpose. Everyone had a great time and told us what a wonderful ceremony it had been.

We left early from our own party and made it back to the hotel, more than a little drunk from the champagne. In our room, we undressed each other and made our way to the bathroom, where Vicki started filling the tub. It was a ritual that had become almost nightly, and when Vicki—
my wife
—looked at me, I saw what appeared to be a slight touch of sadness or disappointment in her face.

"What is it?" I asked.

"What's what?"

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"Something."

She hesitated.

"Come on," I prompted.

She looked at my partially erect penis. "We've
done
everything," she said. "We should have saved something for the wedding night, something to make it special."

She was right. We needed something to differentiate this night from any other.

"We haven't done
everything
," I reminded her.

"You mean that thing you...?"

I nodded. "Yeah."

"I don't know..."

"It's our
wedding
night," I told her.

She thought for a moment, then kissed me. "Okay, then. Let's try it."

And we did.
 

*9*

The years passed.

Like most people, I suppose, I sort of backed into my life. I never
really
intended to be a teacher. That was a fallback occupation—although I'd never bothered to figure out what I'd rather be doing instead. So I had no choice but to take a job teaching civics at a junior high school in West Covina. I hated it. Hated the work, the kids, the other teachers, the commute. After a year, though, through a series of fortunate circumstances, I got in on the ground floor of a start-up company that was creating a series of customized software packages designed to assist secretaries with writing business letters. Letters! It was my job to test the software and see how it worked from a user's point of view, and to come up with instructions that would be easy for the average high school graduate to comprehend. I was able to work from home, at my own pace, and there were no kids or administrators to deal with.

This should have been the perfect position for me. Letter writing? That was my life! How lucky could I get? Still, I found the job boring, and despite the subject matter and the relative freedom, I disliked my work: the repetitiveness of the endless line of software, the mechanical nature of my labor.

But I was with Vicki, and I was happy. We bought a house in Brea, a fixer-upper in a neighborhood that was just starting to turn around. We made friends with our neighbors, went to neighborhood barbecues, put up spooky decorations for Halloween and festive decorations for Christmas. When our son, Eric, came along, I thought my life was complete.

So, of course, I began writing letters again.

I had not forgotten our visit from those intimidating interviewers, but in my mind at least, the threat had receded. Besides, I had never had any qualms about using my abilities to help my family. And that's the way it started. I made sure Vicki got the promotions she wanted and deserved, made sure Eric got the best education possible.

Otis McKinley
643 Teasedale
Anaheim, CA 92801

October 17, 1990

Dear Sirs,

As a customer, I am used to the quality products that your company provides. Your employees are always consistently well trained and able to provide the type of fine service that is so rare these days in our industry.

But I have never been so impressed as I was recently.

Ordinarily, I'm not one to offer unsolicited praise. If I am dissatisfied, I will not hesitate to complain, but I expect quality service as a matter of course and do not think it necessary to praise people merely because they are doing their job competently. But in my recent encounter with your purchasing agent Vicki Hanford, I was enormously impressed by her willingness to go above and beyond. Not only was she extremely knowledgeable in regard to the changes in your new product line, but she was willing to rearrange her schedule in order to accommodate mine, and she exhibited a unique grasp of the intricacies of commercial financing.

You are very lucky to have such an outstanding employee working for you.

Sincerely,
Otis McKinley

* * *

Jason Hanford
762 Elm St.
Brea, CA 92821

August 1, 1995

Dear Mr. Rousch,

Let me get this straight. My son has excelled in the city of Brea's finest private preschool and has been accepted at the prestigious Emerson Academy of Music, but you are forcing him to attend Ulysses S. Grant Elementary, the school with the lowest test scores in the district, rather than the exceptional Maple Drive Elementary School, because we live one street over the boundary line?

Your hubristic dismissal of my previous plea for flexibility and understanding, and your unwillingness to even acknowledge the six examples I cited of the district's rule bending on behalf of gifted students, leads me to believe that there is nothing I could say or do that would make you treat my son fairly.

Mr. Rousch, you are completely incompetent and a disgrace to both the community and your profession. I will work very vigorously against you in the next election in an effort to ensure that your misguided policies and inability to do your job properly will not adversely affect Brea's youth in the future. You are the worst superintendent our district has ever had, and I hope that you find a job more suited to your abilities—like fry cook at Burger Chef.

Sincerely,
Jason Hanford

It was good to be writing again, and instead of the shame and remorse I'd often experienced when indulging my obsession, I felt proud and honorable. I was using my gift to help my family, and there was nothing more noble, no higher calling as far as I was concerned.

But...

But politics attracted me, and though I kept it from Vicki by using pseudonyms cribbed from the credits of old movies, I started writing letters to the editor again, letters to elected officials. It was in politics that I'd had my first taste of success, and I still craved that rush, that special indescribable feeling I got when my words, put to paper, echoed through the corridors of power and caused those in charge to change their minds.

Clifton Powers
221 Cienaga
La Habra, CA 92854

October 12, 1992

Dear Editor,

Shame on you for stooping to the level of tabloid journalism. As a longtime subscriber, I have always counted on

Time
to provide me with incisive, current and, most importantly, unbiased news. But your continued focus on Bill Clinton's personal life and your unwillingness or inability to provide in-depth coverage of George Bush's numerous policy missteps have caused me to reevaluate my opinion of your publication. When S & L failures and other issues that affect the lives of every voter and taxpayer in this country receive fewer column inches than an alleged affair, something is wrong with your priorities and journalistic judgment.

Next time, please let

People
cover the personal lives of the candidates and stick to discussions of policy, as I and a majority of your readers expect.

Yours truly,
Clifton Powers

* * *

Edwin Saldana
439 Broadway
Santa Ana, CA 92654

November 8, 1994

Dear President Clinton,

How does it feel to have lost the Congress? As a lifelong Republican, I have to say that I relish your each and every failure, from your tactical errors to your backfiring policies. Like Carter before you, you will be a one-term president, going out not with a bang but a whimper. You will have many long years of retirement in which you can contemplate how your presidency was the final death knell of liberalism.

You are the best thing to happen to the Republican Party since Ronald Reagan. Thank you.

Sincerely,
Ed Saldana

Just as I had done with my parents, I hid everything from Vicki. I was the one working at home, so I was the one who retrieved the mail each day, making it easy to hide the replies to my suggestions and complaints. Usually, I used fake names and addresses, but some of my beefs were valid, and I didn't want Vicki to see the responses and know that I was writing again.

I saved everything in a compartment hidden under the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet in the spare bedroom that I used as my office.

I sent my letters the old-fashioned way because e-mail didn't seem to work. I had e-mail, of course. I utilized it constantly, mostly as part of my job, and to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances from the past. But there was something about the alchemy of ink on paper, of placing a letter in an envelope and having it delivered by the post office, that granted it a power, a magic, that nothing else could replicate. I even tried using my company's software a couple of times, but a true letter, a real letter, could not be artificially generated by a microchip, could not be a static series of variables overlaid atop a generic template. No, letter writing was an art, a
dark
art in my case, but an art nevertheless, and there was a poetry to it that the trappings of technology could not seem to capture.

My approach was scattershot. I had no goal toward which I was working; there was no focus to my efforts. I reacted spontaneously to events as they occurred, to things I read and heard about, to things I was told. I made sure George Bush was not reelected. Vicki would have liked that. But I could not help myself, and I took down the Clintons' health care program and installed Newt Gingrich and his contractors in the Congress. Well,
I
didn't install them. But I used my abilities to influence people and sway opinions. I seemed to have this need to take down establishment authority figures. I'm sure a psychiatrist would have put it down to some sort of unresolved conflict with my parents, and indeed that was my theory, too. But I didn't care. When writing letters, I went with the flow. My approach was instinctual more than intellectual, and if my gut led me off on wild tangents, then so be it.
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself.
If it was good enough for Whitman, it should be good enough for me.

I fanned the flames of Whitewater.

On the surface, my life was going well. We were upwardly mobile; our family was happy; we were like the living embodiment of an insurance ad. Likewise, my letter writing was extremely successful. But those were not parallel tracks, and I knew that eventually they would meet. My letters were not merely harmless balls that I lobbed out into the world. They were more like bombs or grenades, with repercussions that would eventually return to bite me in the ass.

BOOK: Dispatch
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