Before I revisit Martin's comments I take a break, stretch my legs. Nothing for awhile. They're coming much slower now. Then, like a rainbow, it's there, and I sit back.
Joyce Dewitt, Suzanne Somers, John Ritter? Dewitt always seemed shifty, flitty. She made snide comments about Somers during an interview. I don't think playing Chrissy was a real stretch for Somers. Though he didn't fight the writers to let Jack really give it back to Roper and Firley, after his "Slingblade" turn, I don't see Ritter going past 60 volts. Dewitt and Somers.
Unable to think of another group, I review Martin's comments to the second draft. "Aside from the 'see no evil, hear no evil' symbolism in the end (jackhammer's subtlety), this premise is interesting, delivery mediocre. You've regressed to driver's ed characters. Only the private and one other soldier questioned the slaughter? I won't talk you out of exploring the Milgram-My Lai connection, but revisit Gutman's 'Crimes of War.' Look at Rwanda where Hutus, aided by nuns, murdered 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in two months. Look at the Balkans, Milosevic's turn as the Fuhrer. Look at Cambodia, Pol Pot: four years, two million murdered. Each happened after Milgram's experiment and My Lai. To the world-weary person still reading short stories, Milgram and My Lai lack a certain gravitas. Let's chat about this."
Seeing again Martin's plea to move on to something else reminds me why I haven't yet read his comments to the third draft. I eye the third draft warily, then close my eyes until another group comes. Several times I get the feeling that someone's hovering with a pencil to stab my right eye when I open it. Finally it comes, triggered by dad's voice in the hall.
Terry Gordy, Buddy Roberts, Michael Hayes? I've resorted to the Fabulous Freebirds, "bad guy" wrestlers I liked in fifth grade until dad spotted them on a flight buying drinks for their sworn enemies, the Von Erichs. Gordy weighed over 300 pounds. His face resembled the one I pictured Charlie having at the end of "Flowers for Algernon." Roberts, the short guy, deferred to Hayes and Gordy in interviews, always dying to get a tag so he could get in an arm-bar or headlock before tagging out. Hayes led them. His Crystal Gayle-length blonde hair had to cause grief on the circuit. Gordy and Roberts.
I scan the third draft, "Unused Ticket," about a Jewish widow in New Haven whose husband killed himself years after seeing Auschwitz during his stint. She volunteered for Milgram's experiment. The story examined what she and Milgram thought and felt from her first, 15-volt to last, 450-volt shock. The story ended with him explaining the real experiment, her passing out, him throwing out his plane ticket to Germany.
No groups come to me. I peek at Martin's comments on the third draft. "Go to 'StanleyMilgram.com' and click on 'little-known facts about Milgram.' Looks like C. Kirk beat you to this approach and I think it works better in his format. On an unrelated note, you and Peter Gabriel have something in common. Come on by, seriously, let's talk."
I fire up the computer and go to the website. In 1976 CBS aired a prime-time drama of the Milgram experiment. Milgram consulted. William Shatner played him. Peter Gabriel, an "avid admirer," titled a song "We do what we're told - Milgram's 37" on "So." Before he died at 51 in 1984, Milgram moved on to other studies, establishing the "small-world method," the source of "Six Degrees of Separation," theorizing about the perceived rudeness of his native New Yorkers, and testing the effects of televised antisocial behavior.
The brunt of this new information clogs my brain, leaves my stomach gut shot. I ran "Stanley Milgram" in yahoo and didn't get "Stanleymilgram.com?" Why hadn't I tried google? Had I wanted only two sites to pop up, making my job all the more key? Shatner?
I take a break, rub knuckles into my eyes, try to decipher what Sam just yelled.
I smile at the screen, remembering the glow after completing the first draft, plotting which literary journal I'd submit it to after making Martin's sure-to-be-minor revisions, what I'd say when the editor called to thank me for sending it in, making the connection to My Lai.
It's pretty clear. Milgram published "Obedience to Authority" and then helped CBS air a drama of it, played by an acting punch line. The typical father watched with his wife, sent his daughter out at certain points, gave her a huge hug when he tucked her in. Before he went to bed, he slowly brushed and flossed, studied his face in the mirror, judged himself, his wife, his daughter, his boss, his secretary, the dry cleaner, his ex-girlfriends, the quiet widow next door, his racquetball partner, the guy he talked sports with on the train. He didn't come to bed until deciding he, his wife, and daughter were each in the 1/3 minority and, in fact, would have stopped well before 300 volts. He held his wife tight that night and within a few days he moved on. Now, 25 years later, days full of missed pars and long walks, did he want to hear that when his daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter visit he should bear in mind two are murderers? That his daughter's wedding ring may have passed through Calley's hands?
My Lai gets a sentence, maybe a short paragraph, in textbooks, a footnote to the Balkans, Rwanda, Indonesia, the Middle East, Cambodia, Liberia, many others.
After Captain Kirk played him, Milgram thrived another eight years, responsible for key studies and theories unrelated to conformity.
A bland young man burdened with as much ordinariness as any single individual could bear.
I shake my head to jar the fucked-up mass encased in my skull, wipe it clean. I gather the three drafts and the narrative summary. I yank each apart, using teeth to pry staples when fingernails fail. I destroy each page, dump them all in the trash, erase from disk and hard-drive.
A bit woozy, I head over to Martin's room, and stand outside his door. He and Sam sit in the same positions. Sweat lathers Sam's face.
"Hey Sam," I say. "You okay in here?"
"We're talking conformity," Martin says, grinning. "Care to join?"
I take a seat and stay all afternoon, only once trying to decide which two of us are murderers.
David Erlewine's short stories have appeared in
Thought Magazine, SNReview, EWGPresents, the Unknown
Writer and the Ohio Wesleyan Literary Magazine. He
received a first prize in the North Texas Professional
Writers Association 2002 Short Story Contest, a second
prize in the 2002 Quincy Writers Guild Creative
Writing Contest and an honorable mention in Thought
Magazine's Short Story Contest.
He practiced law in Baltimore, Maryland until March
2002 when he moved to Austin, Texas to write fiction
full-time. He is working on a novel and short stories
there and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
He practiced law in Baltimore, Maryland until March 2002 when he moved to Austin, Texas to write fiction full-time. He is working on a novel and short stories there and can be reached at email@example.com
"Moving On" first appeared in The Unknown Writer.
October 30, 2002