The Observatory

The Truth Shall Set You Laughing

Jeremiah Horrigan

Jeremiah Horrigan
New Paltz, New York, USA
February 04
Working Copy
Former Knight of the Altar, St. Martin's parish in South Buffalo, NY. Old enough to remember ducking-and-covering from the nukes that Sister Jeanne assured us were coming our way, defending Santa Claus until age 10, hating playing sports, wanting to fly, escaping to Westchester County for three years, re-escaping to Buffalo for most of high school, escaping to Fordham U long enough to drop out, escaping school, getting political, getting arrested, getting tried, convicted and released for crimes against the draft. Husband to Patty, father to Grady and Annie. Housepainter, cab driver, idiot, then newspaper reporter in Poughkeepsie, years of freelancing (Sports Illustrated, New York Times, Negligent Mother Magazine) and shameful indulgence, followed finally by 18 more years of reporting, column-writing, some awards, discoveries large and small along the way, including these: Sister Jeanne was full of beans, writing is good for the soul and I'm the luckiest man alive.


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MAY 5, 2011 7:40AM

Teletyping the Anti-War Blues

Rate: 15 Flag

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 in the autumn of 1969. 

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 whiled away the hours as a 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 further, work wasn’t exactly 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 much more demanding than sitting around, listening to  and speculating 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 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 wore a sport coat and tie. I was polite. I addressed my elders as “sir” or “ma’am.” I was, after all, a product of the Catholic South – South Buffalo, NY, 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 just graduated from.

My job was the care and feeding of a double bank of about 12 clattering teletype machines, wired-up black metal typewriters out of whose maws poured an unending stream of the day’s sporting news. I would rip these paper feeds into digestible sheets, transcribe incoming final scores onto a template of the various league’s standings that I would then send out by means of the same contraption in time for the next day’s editions. I had a corner desk in front of the teletype bank. I only got noticed if something went wrong with the machinery. Otherwise, I was as nondescript as a box score, 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  one of those damned long-haired peaceniks who were 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 strand was standing at attention. When he praised me for at least not being a hippie, he may have meant it as a complement, but it sounded to me more like a warning. Hippies and their ilk did not work for the AP Sports Department.

The truth was that I was a peacenik in the making. I’d become more and more concerned about the non-sports news of the day, which was Vietnam. I was well aware that Fordham was the only thing standing between me and three years of unwilling “service” to my country. That trade-off didn’t sit well with me. It felt, in the parlance of the day, like a cop-out. So I found myself Thinking About the War. And out of that muddled process, I resolved to Take Steps. Something Needed Doing. And I needed to do it.

Which was where the Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam came in. Anti-war forces were set to gather in DC in mid-October. If you couldn’t attend, the idea was to show your opposition in some way in your daily life. Boldly, I decided to Take Action. To Take a Stand. I would  . . .  wear an armband! A black armband, in solidarity with the war protesters, whose ranks I was not yet ready to join.

Though I would have been content to wear my armband around campus, I reluctantly concluded the only place it could have some sort of impact was at work. So I decided. I would risk the wrath of Spike and stand revealed as a secret peacenik, and if that meant disillusioning Spike or anyone else in the office, then so be it. Somehow, I'd survive.

I hoped.

The next day, a Thursday, I stepped out of the subway’s squealing murk into the bright sunshine of a gorgeous New York City October afternoon. I felt as if the sun were charging me up, filling me full of righteous resolve  as I strode down Fifth Avenue. Nothing was going to stop me. I would be  . . . impolite in the name of peace, and let the devil take the hindmost.

Lost in thought, swollen with dreams of righteous glory and not a block from 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 behind and in front of me, then out onto the street, where traffic had slammed to a stop and drivers had jumped out of their seats, leaning deliriously on their car horns. Office windows flew open. Confetti fell on the heads of the sudden celebrants below.

My heart, already inflated like a dirigible by visions of my imminent bravery, swelled to bursting.  Confused but joyous, my mind reached for and seized on the only possible explanation for such delirious craziness:

The war in Vietnam was over!

 I'd never seen such prancing, dancing joy. Nor felt such unalloyed excitement. Better yet, I was off the hook, armband- and Spike-wise. Dizzy with anticipation, ready -- no, eager -- to join the street dancers, something caught my eye and froze me in my tracks.

It was a man waving a blue-and-orange blur. A pennant on a stick. Then I saw another one.

Then I put it together.

The New York Mets had just won the 1969 World Series.

My heart shrank to the size and density of a small stone. Immune to the surrounding jubilation, I trudged through the crowd to an office full of awe-struck, frantic and happy sportswriters. The teletypes were full of the news. "Miracle Mets Wallop Baltimore Orioles in Fifth Game of Series." 


One of the writers saw me sitting at my desk and read me like a headline.

“Whatsa matter kid? You an Orioles fan or what?”

“No sir.”

He persisted.

“Someone die or something?”

I looked at the armband, peeled it off and tossed it in the wastepaper basket.

“No sir.”

My big brave day of revelation played out only in the courtroom of my wounded ego, where I'd been found guilty of being the only sports statistician on the planet who could mistake a sports miracle for a real one. And a secret peacenik without the courage of his convictions.

It wasn’t until later – much later -- that I started telling this story with less shame than amusement to friends and family, many of whom recognized a bottomless gullibility that only I had believed was a deep, dark 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 mixed in a nervous 19-year-old's brainpan to produce a an intoxicating glimpse of what it felt like to witness an end to war, in the way all wars should end -- with people shouting and dancing in the streets under a sky full of confetti. 

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Down on the avenue where the sun was shining bright
thousands of people danced in the clear morning light
celebrating a great victory of courage and might
when a gang of guys won the war of justice and right.
brilliantly written, as you always do.
Surazeus: You said it.

Evan: Many thanks. Confession: I re-write alot.
I rode The Dog into DC with the demonstrators that October and then slinked off into the suburbs to smoke my bag o' weed & oregano thinking I was somebody's superfly bad boy. At least you were working.
You're in good peacenik company...Bertrand Russell, Dr. Spock, Albert name a few.

very syncronistic. we both are posting pieces about our early years integrating into the mainstream when we were hardly that. it must be the water, but those, one way or the other, were the days!

Good to see you on the cover.
Youthful hope should never be mortifying. What a brilliant glimpse into how things should have been.
this, friend, is extraordinary r.
A fine story. I wish more people told honest stories.

I did a lot of newspaper work in college. My hair was short in high school for JROTC and grown out in college just because it seemed like the thing to do. I really enjoyed newspaper work. I never really told anyone why I didn't go into journalism. I hadn't majored in it and no one had really expected me to, so it required no explanation. But it was something I contemplated. But ultimately I did not go into that field in part because I perceived that good investigative journalism really made people mad, and I wasn't sure I was up to the retaliation that could come. I had ruffled some minor feathers in my time and nothing had come of it, but it was easy to see that the same treatment applied in other areas could yield very different results. I suppose we all have our private fears we have to work through at that age. But I came gradually to see the journalists who were up to it as quite heroic, often without adequate praise. It's quite a job. But I can very much understand your dilemma about how to take a stand.

And it's an interesting perspective you had due to the misunderstanding. I think we no longer have as many wars that are as crisply drawn as the earlier wars. Perhaps it's the legacy of the Nixon-induced cynicism. No one knows if they were good and no one knows if they were real and no one knows if they're done.

Thanks for the interesting writing.
"The courtroom of my wounded ego." Sure been there!
What an effortless sounding story. The "mortifying" challenge was an interesting one. My first instinct was that it was very mean spirited. "Tell us about a time when you were stupid or embarrassed." I gave it a shot because it was an interesting challenge, and wanted to see if I could rise above the mean spirited intent and produce something that made a higher point. I couldn't do it, so I deleted it after a day.

But you nailed it. This isn't mortifying. It's wisdom. The thought behind this is exquisite. Excellent work sir!

And we can talk about why the Mets were even in that Series later!
I love this, Jeremiah! I love the timing, you summoning up your courage, and the use of words like maw. You beautifully capture what it is like to be starting out as a 19-year-old boy, trying to find himself and his convictions in a crazy world. BTW, I teased my mother a few years back, "My generation got screwed! You got the Summer of Love and hippies and fighting what was just and right; we got Reagan and leg-warmers and Flash Dance and big hair and Wall Street."
I love this, Jeremiah! I love the timing, you summoning up your courage, and the use of words like maw. You beautifully capture what it is like to be starting out as a 19-year-old boy, trying to find himself and his convictions in a crazy world. BTW, I teased my mother a few years back, "My generation got screwed! You got the Summer of Love and hippies and fighting what was just and right; we got Reagan and leg-warmers and Flash Dance and big hair and Wall Street."
Damon: I lost my war-protesting cherry the next year and very soon thereafter I decided that I (wasn't) marchin' anymore. But didn't we feel cool and even useful for a little while? Thanks for stopping by.

BOKO: Thanks man, though I doubt any of those guys would have hesitated to go up against Spike.

Jane: The only way. It's striking: though I don't share the sense of catharsis that others have in the wake of bin Laden's killing, I suspect more than one person in NYC today got a sense of what I felt back when.
So beautifully written and so touching. And wow, did this bring back a lot of memories. At about the same time I was also swollen with dreams of righteous glory, sneaking out of my house at the Presidio of San Francisco, where I lived as an Army brat, in order to join a protest in Golden Gate Park. I never had the nerve to tell my Dad (even though he hated the war, too), and never had the nerve to tell the kids at my new high school where I lived.
(rated, of course!)
Wow. My own version of that story is ass-backwards.

I too was a college freshman in the fall of 1969. I was a peacenik, but I was also a sports fan. On the antiwar day in October, I spent my time handing out antiwar leaflets, but all I kept thinking the whole time was, "Damn, the Mets are in the World Series today and I'm missing it!"

Loved it, Jeremiah.
Jeremiah, what a well- told good story. Great flow, I couldn't stop, except where I laughed, quite frequently. I completely identify with your experience, so much so I must confess to the same likely measure of gullibility if I had been in your shoes. The end of war should be celebrated just so. r
Hey -- I'm eager to get back to each of you individually, but it's it feels like the levee broke again and the spam is flooding the field. Wish we could find higher ground. I'll be back soon as I can.
Beautiful writing, beautiful self-revelation, beautiful self-restraint in the telling. How we wrestle with ourselves internally, how we call ourselves on the carpet more harshly than any external critic. Rated.
Ben: I read your piece and got a kick out of it. Several, actually, as noted in my comment. To anyone who's reading this, be sure to check Ben's story out, especially if the term "blame vegetable" resonates for you.

Bell: I didn't think so at the time, but you're right. Hope of any kind needs sheltering. But, as I suspect you know, it's a releif to realize, when youth goes the way of the teletype, at least you've got some good stories to tell.

Jonathan: Many thanks.

Kent: Wow. Yours is a mini-post unto itself. I know you're correct about investigative journalism and the (rare) people who can do it well. They take a lot of risks and usually get a lot of shit, which of course can mean everything from angry e-mails to jail time to death. At least one such practioner married Nora Ephron, which must have looked like a good deal at the time.

And yeah, the nature of war has drastically changed with time. My street scene looked to me like photos I'd seen of VJ Day. No Armistice. No surrender. Just the fog of war and its manifold miseries.
Roger -- Coming from a guy who can effortlessly invoke the spirit and being of Thomas Jefferson, that's high praise indeed. Thank you.

Dina: I confess& agree: I was a 19-year-old boy who mistook himself for a man. And I kept on making that mistake well into my 20s. And beyond. As for your analysis, I also agree. I was just a few months away from Woodstock at the time of this story and whatever else you can say about that, it sure beat leg warmers.

Ann: Sounds like you've got a great couple of stories that need exploring there. Woodstock & nostalgia notwithstanding, those were polarized times and your description would seem to embody them. That your father was opposed to the war sounds particularly poignant. I hope you write about those days.

Cranky: There can few stronger indicators of a guy's commitment to a cause than to what you describe. I know what you felt like; I spent more than one Sunday afternoon working at something I said I'd do and thereby missed some of the greatest moments in this Buffalo Bills fan's life, including their famous comeback game over the Oilers. It still pains me.

Maria: So glad you read the story, and so glad you laughed. Thank you.

Martha: Thanks again. I like to think I learn from my mistakes but the record suggests otherwise. There's been too many of them, and too many repeats. But it's a comfort to be able to tell the tale.

Thank you, one & all, for your time, attention and kind comments.
I have to admit, I was surprised that no one wanted to discuss the real meaning of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida with me.
Not to go all existential on you, but I thought the whole point of Innagadda was that it has No Meaning.
Loved this and I understand it all. Excellent writing- we traveled on much the same road.
Martha: Thanks for taking the challenge. Herewith the sum total of my mystic knowledge of the world's longest "underground classic:" The singer was supposedly so drunk (not stoned) when they recorded the song that he couldn't prounce "In the Garden of Eden, baby," etc., etc. I'd be glad to stand (or sit) corrected. Other embarassing footnote: I was disappointed they didn't play Woodstock, as advertised.

Doc: I think we're still traveling that same road. Thanks!