An American Legend
by B.Z. Niditch

 
 

It is 1940. A poet who names himself Tom Trix and is rejectedover twelve times by Sign Magazine writes to the editor: "Dear Mr. M.:Just because you know I am the literary heir to Eliot and Pound you haverejected me. Well, I will soon be in your office to eliminate you."

Tom is in a sweat. It is the hottest recorded summer in Boston'shistory and the Red Sox have lost. That means his father will beat up onhis mother again and turn into a Jack Daniels hood all weekend.

"Ma, why don't you go to Revere Beach? Get away from dad. I'mgoing to do some painting around here. These walls make me puke."

Tom stares at the walls and prepares his next letter to a literaryagent named Stine.

"Listen, Stine, you know I'm the successor to Ernest Hemingway andHenry James. But you won't help me. You'll be sorry."

Tom watches the pigeons attack his box of cracker jacks from theroof. The voice of Father Coughlin on the radio is heard and he shuts itoff, goes to his drawer full of blue stationery he found in a backyard inCape Cod where he worked as a busboy and writes a letter, addressed to thePope in Rome.

"I know what's going on in Rome. I'm the successor of King David,the incarnation of you know who. I will be showing up soon. Have somemoney for me at the door. I'm running for the office. P.S.: Father, I'moffering services so don't forget a love offering at the door. It mightbe hard for me to get away from my literary pursuits, but I will be thereat the Holy Office. My best to the Popessa."

Tom's dad is off the wagon. He throws beer cans all around thehouse. "Why did you shut the radio off?"

"I felt like it."

"I don't want to hear your lip. Where's Ma?"

"She expired."

"What are you talking about? You were always a crazy kid. I usedto take you when you made up all those headaches and bounced your headagainst the wall. Whenever you said you wanted to see a doctor, I had itin for you. It was fun, and remember when you was a kid and I almostthrew you down from the balcony roof where you were fooling around withthose damn pigeons, so you would stop crying..."

Tom goes into his room. He writes a letter to The Boston Globe."I know I can stop the war. I know more than Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalinand Hitler combined. What's more, I have connection with the Vatican andI know who the antichrist is. They're trying to get rid of me, the wholeworld, the literary world, the religious world, the political people andall you journalists. Get me an editor's job or else." He signs it,"Yours sincerely, Tom Trix."

His mother drops the vegetables in the pantry and Tom's fatherstarts to get angry.

Tom imagines himself on a train, stowing himself all away alongthe flats in middle America. He puts the radio on and croons with FrankSinatra, then imagines himself in black face. A voice from anothercountry: "Where are all my stamps?"

"I took 'em, dad."

"But I need them for the rent and gas bill."

"I need them for my future."

"What future you got...in an institution? I'm going to dial upGeneva 6-6000. That's the State Hospital, Tom, and the men in the whitecoats are gonna come and get you." Tom's father goes to the black phoneand gets a dial tone.

"Just try it and you're dead."

"You think I don't see you and God don't see you done all thosesneaky things in your room."

"What's it to you?"

"Writin' all those letters when you couldn't get into parochialschool 'cause the nuns knew you had a black mark on your soul every timeyou spoke. You was born bad I tell you, not likeyour soldier brother Billy. They took him in; but when you told the Armyyou was Lincoln's great grandson they just laughed at you. You was tooskinny anyway. All skin and bones, no muscle -- only a brain with a tincan in it."

Tom goes into his room and writes to Betty Grable and addressesthe letter "Hollywood."

"Dear Betty; I know you are always in the movies but I am adirector too and can show you what you can do with your million dollarlegs." Tom takes his last stamp, licks it, kisses the letter and leavesthe house forever.

He hops a train for the Dust Bowl and eventually becomes a tobaccosalesman, a street evangelist, a car dealer, a radio disc jockey, achiropractor, a dance instructor, a Hollywood extra, an Elvisimpersonator, and a talk show host.