By Jeremiah Horrigan
Gullibility Has Its Consolations, Especially for Young Writers
In the autumn of 1969, I was a 19-year-old college freshman who felt unduly burdened by my father’s insistence that I get a job as well as attend the occasional class at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dad did more than insist I work—he got me a job. Every couple of days, I’d take the D Train down to 50 Rockefeller Center, where I played statistician in the smoke-filled offices of the sports department of the Associated Press.
Sports was Dad’s game. It wasn’t mine. Nor, for that matter, were statistics. To extend the comparison even farther, work wasn’t my game either. If hippiedom hadn’t ever been invented, I’d have still found a way to while away endless hours and days doing nothing more demanding than speculating about what the “true” lyrics to “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” were. And what they meant.
It was too early in my career as a layabout-without-portfolio to be much noticed by the hard-bitten working men and women of the AP. I looked and acted pretty much like a typical college kid of the day. My hair had not yet reached girlie-boy length. I was polite. I addressed my elders as “sir” or “ma’am.” I was, after all, a product of the Catholic South—South Buffalo, New York, that is, where disrespect of elders was a crime punishable by three years in Purgatory or a week of jug in the Jesuit high school I’d recently left.
My job was the care and feeding of a double bank of about twelve clattering teletype machines—wired-up black metal typewriters out of whose shuddering maws unscrolled an unending stream of the day’s sporting news. I’d rip these paper feeds into digestible sheets, transcribe incoming final scores onto a template containing the various league’s standings, then send this out again by means of the same contraption in time for the next day’s editions.
Like the copy I produced, I went largely unnoticed in the bustling office, which was fine by me. When I got noticed at all, it might be by some fatherly old hand who would marvel approvingly that, while I was no All Star at the teletype-paper-replacement game, at least I wasn’t a long-haired peacenik destroying the country.
One such guy, an editor nicknamed “Spike,” had a long, ruddy face topped with a shock of bright white hair clipped in such a way that it stood straight up, as if each hair was at attention. When he praised me for not being a hippie, he said it as both compliment and warning. I invariably met his praise with an uneasy smile and shake of the head.
In truth, I was a peacenik in the making. I’d become more and more fascinated with and concerned about the non-sports news of the day: Vietnam. I knew Fordham was the only thing standing between me and three years of unwilling “service” to my country. Though I took full advantage of my college deferment, the trade-off didn’t sit well with me. I’d begun to Think About the War. And out of that muddled process, I resolved to Take Steps. Something Needed Doing. And I Needed—gulp—To Do It.
Which was where the Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam came in. The war’s growing number of opponents were set to gather in D.C. in mid-October. If you couldn’t attend, couldn’t leave your job, the idea was to show your opposition in your daily life.
Boldly, I decided To Act. To Take a Stand. I would…wear an armband. A black armband, in solidarity with war protesters whose ranks I couldn’t imagine joining.
Though I would have been content to wear my armband around campus, I reluctantly concluded that the only place it could have some impact was at work. I steeled myself to risk the wrath of Spike. I’ d stand revealed as a closet peacenik.
The next day, a Thursday, I stepped out of the subway’s squealing murk and into the bright sunshine of a gorgeous late-autumn afternoon. The sun charged me up, filling me full of righteous resolve. I would be…impolite in the name of peace, and let the devil take the hindmost.
Lost in thought, swollen with dreams of glory and not five steps out of the subway exit, the city exploded around me. People streamed out of buildings. Laughing, they gripped hands and skipped and danced their way along the sidewalk and into the street, where traffic had stopped.
Drivers jumped half-out of their seats, laughing and leaning on their horns. Office windows flew open. Confetti fell on the heads of the celebrants below.
My heart, already inflated like a dirigible by visions of my own imminent bravery, swelled to bursting. Confused but joyous, hardly daring to breathe, my mind seized on the only possible explanation for such craziness:
The war in Vietnam was over.
Then I caught sight of a guy waving an orange-and-blue pennant. Then I saw another. The New York Mets had just beaten the Baltimore Orioles, winning the 1969 World Series.
The Hindenburg took less time to deflate than my heart did. Immune to the surrounding jubilation, I trudged through the crowd to an office full of awestruck, frantic sportswriters. Polite to the last, I smiled and tried to look excited.
One of the writers noticed my black armband and grinned.
“Whatsa matter, kid? You an Orioles fan?”
I shrugged. “Not really.”
He persisted. “Someone die or something?”
There was no explaining how foolish I felt. I slipped into the men’s room and threw the armband in the trash.
My big brave day of self-revelation played out only in the courtroom of my wounded ego. I stood accused of being the only sports statistician on the planet who could mistake a sports miracle for a real one.
It wasn’t until later—much later—that I started telling this story for the amusement of friends and family, many of whom had firsthand experience of a bottomless gullibility that only I thought was a secret.
But gullibility has its consolations. For a few unforgettable seconds on that sunny city day, thousands of strangers and a bunch of underdog athletes allowed me to experience a glorious day that never was—but should have been.
Jeremiah Horrigan is a contributing writer at Talking Writing.
This piece first appeared, in a slightly different form, as “Teletyping the Anti-War Blues” on Open Salon.