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Location: Great Boreal Deciduous Hardwood Forest, New England, United States

old dude, all hair, swell new teeth

11 June 2005

in the Morlock-infested Tunnel deep underneath my High School

So far the officers of Woodrow Wilson's nth Reunion have not responded to my demands for specific alumnae. (Jimmy Sinclair, Conductor of Orchestra New England, already left a Hi Everyone message indicating he was already committed to being at Woodmont Country Club and looking forward to it. So I don't have to demand Jimmy (he gives me special permission to call him that, for old times' sake, and I am Bobby to very few) Or Else.

Mr. Sinclair is also the President of the Charles Ives Society. Did I turn the [sincerity ON]? [sincerity: ON]. Fifty years from now, looking back on American music, Jimmy's years as P of CIS will have been like miracle expert surgery, the finest specialist in the world, to launch the music of Charles Ives into the next burst of the Future.

More and more Americans will hear more and more Ives, and (unlike certain recent political and diplomatic developments) will make America more Spiritually Patriotic, not Jive-Ass Lying Stealing Perverting Born Again Patriotic, we are being smothered to death by giant flags, the American Heritage Girls are choking on flags, flags are everywhere, and the Patriotism that would die to make America truly stronger, wiser, more merciful, its historical generosity and good wishes for all the world, America's welcome and a little help with the luggage to the detested despised immigrant family at Ellis Island, is gone from the Land.

Ellis Island is now a nice museum: hundreds of thousands of thumbnail photos of our tired, poor, huddled great-grandparents and their badly dressed kids, you can see all their faces. You can find your great-grandmother's strange ethnic scrawl in the Entry Log. I don't know where this moment's actual tired, poor, huddled masses are in-processed and welcomed and given free coffee and doughnuts and juice for the kids today. Leave a Comment.

I guess they have transferred our traditional invitation, welcome and helping hand to some other Homeland Security facilities.

Ives would give the bitter angry Yankee finger to American Patriotism at this sad and pathetic moment in America. Thank God for the Future. Ives, with Sinclair's dedicated and brilliant creative assistance, has a chance to bring true and the best Patriotism -- Lincoln's, Jefferson's, Col. Shaw's -- back to the hearts of Americans gathered around the parlor piano. The flatscreen High Def TV will increasingly be: OFF as America learns again to sing The Songs Our Fathers Loved. I do so wish I had studied the piano. But I can sing Ives, in the Parlor, in the shower.

oh the PEOPLE! NOT!
the politicians goddam thieves

(You can buy a record, I guess by now a CD, hearing him scream that as he bangs on the piano like a musical assault [the verbal threat] and battery [the punch in the face, every Yale man -- then -- knew the distinction] on a corrupt politician who is helping factory industrialists foul and kill his (Our, my) Housatonic River.)

Nothing is copyrighted, nothing legally protected. He gave every note away to THE PEOPLE! THE PEOPLE! own all of Charles Ives' beautiful music. Some of it is beyond beautiful: If you are American, and walk or drive over Civil War blood, some of it sends you into rapture.

Nostalgia has nothing to do with it. This is not the soundtrack of a Disney movie about Simpler American Family Times Gone By, this is not a pickup tourist orchestra all wearing fake-fur coonskin caps to welcome you to Six Flags, you can buy one of those hats to the right of the bandstand.

Ives' music takes your heart, your spirit, back to the Old Camp Ground, to your grandfather's soldier buddies around the campfire -- they are far across a big meadow, you can hardly hear them singing The Songs Our Fathers Loved. But yes, that's them singing, you can just hear it now every time "Three Places in New England" is performed or broadcast.

And his music somehow radiates you with what those lost moments meant to great-grampa, the hunting trip, the Circus Coming to Town! and the amazingly still and frigid and clear Football Night (the Princeton game? Homecoming?) walking around New Haven when great-grandfather was at Yale.

And of course who could ever ever forget the most wonderful New England day of all for a 14-year-old Yankee boy: The Third of July! The Third of July! When the military bands are practicing in the town park, Charly's Dad leading one of them, and accidentally march through each other, each playing a different patriotic song in a different key, at two different tempos. Who could forget that?

Charly never could forget it. That sound of a freak accident on the Third of July seared his brain instantly and forever. In the months leading up to each summer Ives convention, the buzz question: "Will they hire the marching bands, will they march through each other at the convention?" Edison electric tingling month on the Ives List.

And then he would express his feelings about America and Patriotism and Sacrifice, and the Songs Our Fathers Loved, in his leadership of the Victory Bond Drive during World War One (I wonder if President Woodrow Wilson knew his War Bond chairman secretly wrote strange eery unique American music), and in another Symphony. His manic devotion to the hugely successful War Bond campaign gave him the stroke that ended his musical life: He never wrote another note of music. Wilson said it: We were making the world safe for Democracy; troop ships crossed the Atlantic, and half a million boots went slogging through Hell to make the world safe for Democracy in 1916.

Ives so wanted to believe it. He wanted to bet on it, even though he was a sharp Yale-trained insurance man and knew how much the giant new modern industrial war was infested with corruption and politicians goddam thieves. He thought, with the help of the Springfield Arsenal and Hiram Percy Maxim's new machine gun, America could make Europe safe for Democracy -- there would finally be regime change, the Kaiser would be no more, and American-style picnic roller-skating hot dog Democracy would blossom in Europe.

Our side won, and war is not cheap. Ives built an actually beloved and proud way for Average Joe to pay more taxes than he had to. Ives helped Americans write checks to pay for Wilson's war, and he had them grateful for the chance.

Oh, he was one of the most successful and creative insurance salesmen in America. His powerhouse insurance agency was in Manhattan. Within train commuting distance he and his wife Harmony lived on a little farm, I think New Jersey. He composed there, on a piano in a little shed.

He never went to concerts -- he could have stayed after work and heard 20 concerts a year, the best symphonies in the world playing the greatest music, old and new, straight from Europe, in the world -- but it would have blurred, interfered with the special, new American music in his mind that he was trying to write down. For as long as he lived -- into the 1950s -- no ensemble ever publicly performed a single piece he wrote.

goddam thieves

Adventure Deep Beneath Wilson

(Morlocks didn't eat me or ******!)



Bob Merkin

****** ****** and I were the only boys that period
to have successfully weaseled out of gym class and so didn't have to change out of our street clothes. We were parked in a small office off the gym in two old wood chairs side by side and told to remain there forever without ever getting up. I had a signed note from my mother that said I had the rocking pneumonia. ***** was suspected of having the boogie-woogie flu. In the head office, authorities were on the phone trying to verify these outlandish forgeries. We could hear the sounds of our classmates in their gym clothes playing basketball from far away. We were content.

At this point, please remember carefully the full length of the very long main front corridor of Woodrow Wilson High School. Close your eyes and walk it from one end to the other, as every one of us did hundreds of times, in your mind, past the offices, past the hundreds of lockers. Don't keep reading until you've walked every step in your mind.

In the chairs, we were content.

But not happy. At least ****** was not happy.

He stood up. "Wanna see something?" ****** asked.

"We have to sit in these chairs."

"Wanna see something real neat?"


He walked out of the little office and I followed him. No one challenged us. No one saw us. He walked down the hall, then turned right into a narrower hall -- already I had never been down this hall, or anywhere else we went that morning -- and then, in a darkish, dusty, deserted corner, very Absolutely No Student Access, he leaned down and pulled up a heavy square black steel manhole cover on hinges. Underneath it was a very dark square vertical hole. With a black steel maintenance ladder straight down into the darkness.

It was the Ladder Down to where the Morlocks live far below Wilson.

****** was already halfway down, he was a monkey. I was the monkey who scrambled down the ladder right after him.

Flashlights? Flashlights? We don need no steenkin Flashlights!

The corridor down there, la Bas maybe 30 rungs down, is dark, from pitch black to the occasional utility lightbulb. Have you been down there? Please leave a Message after this one.

The tunnel down there is exactly as long as the corridor above, and the tunnel below, Morlock City, follows exactly the same familiar curve as the main hall. The one with all but two students, who eventually would graduate in '65.

If the Morlocks didn't get them.

For the next 40 minutes, we explored the tunnel maze. The one with No One But Us. We never saw a single pair of burning red eyes.

We were lucky.

It's a maze down there, and ****** took every corner. Boilers. Pipes pipes. Valves, huge red valves. More pipes, above, at knee-height. Warnings of the dire consequences of turning That Valve. Never Turn This Valve.

I suspected he had been down here before. Just a feeling. He walked or crawled or ducked under or climbed over thick pipes very fast, and he never got lost. I followed him. I never lost sight of him, no matter how dark things got.

I would like to say we explored the Land Beneath Wilson Where No Student Ever Goes for two hours. But I can't. But the 40 minutes were the best day I ever had the whole three years. Who could have imagined Wilson could ever be Fun?

"I never imagined anything
could be so delicious."

-- Bertrand Russell.

One or both of us had a watch and ****** led us back to the ladder. Today's episode of Mission: Impossible was nearly over. ****** and I had not said a word the whole time. There might be a Morlock listening. Morlocks have excellent hearing.

Up the ladder, close the square manhole cover, down a few halls, the last 40 steps back to innocent purposeful student gait -- toward the bright light -- then butts back in the wood chairs.

The bell.

"Okay, I guess you can go."

We stood up and went to our next class. Never talked to ****** about it again. Never told another living human soul.

Until this moment. Until right now.

Anybody else ever been down there? Leave a Comment.

For the rest of my time at Wilson, I could not extinguish the flame of a scheme in my brain.

I would buy a human skeleton. They're for sale, if you know whom to ask. The higher up Science you get, the more the skeleton in the front of the class ceases to be plastic, and is actually, on close inspection, the McCoy. Especially for physical anthropologists. Hundreds of men and women during the Depression traded free rent and free chow for one simple thing: If you died at that free lodging house, the landlord (a doctor) got your skeleton. It is now the world's largest collection of human skeletons, fat ones, skinny ones, bent ones, straight ones, tall ones, short ones, the odd amputee, men and women. Plenty of human skeletons around if you know who to call.

I would fling it in a dry cleaning bag over my shoulder and take it to the ladder one quiet morning when I was Unsupervised (my favorite hours at Wilson, and Since).

I would carry it down the ladder to the Tunnel.

I would carry it deep, deep, dark, dark, with or without ******'s help, into a very dark very forgotten corner. And I would leave it there.

And then climb back up and go to my next class.

The Tunnel beneath Wilson is almost as much fun as the giant sewers from behind WMAL in the woods off Albermarle Street. The gate you can squeeze through is next to the pond where I put the pound of raw liver tied to a string tied to a tree for three days for my science project. I needed the flatworms. I got a blue ribbon at Wilson, but at Citywide the judges saw through my fraud. I hadn't found any flatworms on the raw liver, so I used earthworms instead. And the Citywide judges knew. They gave me a Third for pity.

Oh, about ****** ****** : A vowel will cost you $20, consonants $30. Contact We accept PayPal.

Already have put several Wilson-related posts on Vleeptron.

If Harriet ever agrees to say anything, maybe she can answer a question: Is my Toyota the only pickup truck that has EVER been in the parking lot of the Chevy Chase Women's Club?

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