Moving on  

By David Erlewine  

Many attacked Milgram's methods as unethical given the psychological damage inflicted upon the teachers. The experiment is no longer allowed. Before barred, it was replicated 12 times, some in other countries. Those experiments reached the same 2/3 ratio, including a 1985 Netherlands study where all the teachers were female nurses.

Given the passive verbs and "eerie, dead silence" (sure to be stricken, "The Horror! The Horror!" next to it), I'm glad I haven't shown it to Martin. Why had I felt compelled to do it instead of just talking to him or starting the fourth draft I had mulled (about a Milgram-obsessed frat president who conducted Milgram's experiment on pledges during hell week)? Had I hoped stripping away the fiction would reveal what had me entranced?

Alec, Billy, Stephen? Basinger allegedly left Alec because of his temper. And his "Coffee is for Closers" performance still scared the hell out of me. He could tell Milgram to fuck off, or he could get pissed that the fucking imbecile couldn't repeat a few words and push to go to 465 volts. Billy looked natural in "Internal Affairs" letting Gere slap him around and screw his wife. Stephen showed balls in "Crossing the Bridge" but did a Pauly Shore movie and got photographed in racing jackets at the ESPN Zone. Billy and Stephen.

I drop the narrative summary next to the three drafts on the desk, the last 100 days of my life spread out before me. I shake my head at the image of the Intro to Psych class when Levine moved past the assigned reading and into Milgram's experiment. As he did, I watched the other students pass notes, stare at the clock, read newspapers. If one had stared back at me, shrugged the shoulders, after class told me "better not to dwell," maybe I'd have left it in the fading textbook, not started the first draft that night.

I flip the pages of the first draft, "Grandma's Secret," about a boy at his grandpa's house who stumbled across Milgram's "Obedience to Authority," and then learned from his grandpa that grandma taught and murdered the learner, and after that night didn't talk about it until two days before she died. That day, as she watched kids play in the street, she said, "They think I'm some doddering old lady, they don't know I'm a murderer." After he saw her buried, he found it in the back of her closet, and read it all. The grandpa then sent the boy to bed. The boy tried to sleep but kept seeing himself as the teacher, murdering every time. He pictured the My Lai massacre and joined in each time. He flipped the light back on and fell asleep.

I revisit Martin's comments. "A felt piece of fiction. Beef up the boy-grandpa dialogue after grandpa explains about 'Grandma the Terrible.' My Lai references are forced. It's at least your fourth story mentioning it, including the understated beauty about the sheriff who atones for it with another massacre. My Lai is an interesting concept but fictionally difficult. See Tim O'Brien's 'In the Lake of the Woods,' about running for senator and from My Lai."

The night I first read those comments, I went to the library and studied books, newspaper articles on microfiche, essays and web sites. I learned that in the My Lai massacre, Lieutenant Calley's platoon murdered about 500 civilians, many old women and babies. Soldiers crept up on kneeling, praying old women and shot each in the head. "Lai" is pronounced "Lie," "My" is "Me." One researcher described Calley as a "bland young man burdened with as much ordinariness as any single individual could bear." A soldier described him as "a kid trying to play war." His commanding officer openly referred to him as "Lieutenant Shithead" and began every answer to his questions with "Listen, sweetheart." Court-martialed, Calley served less than five months of his life sentence, most under house arrest, before Nixon pardoned him. Of US citizens polled, 7% agreed with the life sentence, 78% disagreed, and 15% lacked an opinion and cerebrum. No other soldier served any time for the massacre. Calley returned to Columbus, Georgia, a hero and now lives there, managing his father-in-law's jewelry store, anonymous.

The library didn't have O'Brien's book so I left with my notes and holed up in my room to pound out the second draft. It took a week of skipped classes and take-out to finish, mainly due to the game.

While flipping channels at the end of a writing break, I stopped at "The Three Stooges." Moe ordered Larry and Curly into a dark building, gouging and poking both to hurry them up. Within minutes I had a game for breaks: examine, in threes, linked famous athletes and entertainers, based on behavior on and off the field, stage or set, to determine which two Milgram's experiment would expose as murderers. At the next break, taken a bit earlier than usual, I settled on Crosby and Nash over Stills. Towards the end of that week, I couldn't finish a paragraph without stopping to play.

Somehow I finished the second draft, "Me Lie," about a private hiding behind a shed during the massacre, listening to Calley scream at soldiers to shoot anything moving in the pit. While hiding, the private figured out what had set Calley off. That morning, the commanding officer ridiculed Calley's new ring and made him admit that it was not from his fiancÚ but from her father and that Calley couldn't wait to get home to suck the old man's shriveled dick. The private peered around the shed and saw another soldier shoot into the pit and then throw his gun down and bawl, putting his hands over his ears as Calley screamed at him. The private resumed hiding and smiled at his circumstances, how after Milgram's experiment exposed him as a murderer he joined the military to strengthen his will and resolve. That got him laughing. Soon he couldn't stop. Calley dragged him out and ordered him to shoot a girl soldiers dangled over the pit. Blood spewed from her ears, mouth, crotch and anus. The private sprayed four bullets, blasting her eyes and ears.

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October 30, 2002
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