Showing posts with label American Dream. Show all posts
Showing posts with label American Dream. Show all posts

Friday, August 9, 2019

A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley is an American 20th Century Classic

My good friend, a fellow boater and a terrific actor, James Andreassi, turned me on to this book, A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley.  Jim knows my love of American literature and as we are both NY Yankee fans, we also naturally share an interest in the NY Giant football team.  Back in my college days I used to go to Yankee Stadium to see YA Tittle and Frank Gifford star in the NFL in the early 1960s.

I think Jim was surprised that I wasn’t familiar with this book but now I understand why: you won’t find it on those lists of important American novels of the 20th century.  It ought to be.  It’s an under-the-radar American classic.  I felt the same way when I read Stoner by John Williams and Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters.

Not that Exley’s work shares a similar writing style but its importance to the canon of American literature cannot be underestimated.  It certainly does not deserve its general anonymity. Its acclaim now depends on keepers of the flame (of which I am now one).

Exley describes his work as a “fictional memoir” and I sometimes wonder whether, when it comes down to it, other great pieces of writing should be similarly described.  But Exley puts it right out there with self-deprecation and hilarity equally balancing the forces of life that tear away at him.  No doubt he had ridden life hard and in turn was ridden, roaming between cities, women, bars and mental institutions.  These experiences permeate the novel, making it almost a documentary of the beat 50s and the turbulent 60s, and an astute commentary on the chimerical American dream.

Because of his bouts with alcoholism and mental illness, the novel similarly drifts in and out of consciousness, but even at its less lucid moments captures one’s attention.  His writing process is best described by himself in the novel.  He goes back and forth to “Avalon Valley” a mental institution where he finally begins to put pen to paper: “… what I was doing at Avalon Valley has begun to haunt me, and taking a deep breath, I started fearfully into the past in search of answers. In many ways that book was this book, which I wasn’t then ready to write. Without a thought of organization I wrote vignettes and 30 page paragraphs about anything and everything I could remember. There are times now when, in nostalgia, I tell myself I’ll never again put down the things I did then, but I know I’m only confusing quantity with quality. If nothing else, I wrote a great deal during those months, writing rapidly, furiously, exultantly, heart-sinkingly, and a manuscript of whatever merit began, page upon page, filling up the suitcase at the foot of my iron cot.”

Indeed, there are resemblances between that “book” and this one, particularly the observation about vignettes, as he goes from one subject, a bar, a person, a city, to another.  His character descriptions in particular are superlative, alive in every way.  Sometimes in tone, I think of Frederick as a mature Holden Caulfield gone berserk.  In fact there are several references to Caulfield in the book and the two characters certainly share a cynical view of the world.  There are hints of Amory Blaine from Fitzgerald’s first novel The Far Side of Paradise (in Exley’s more lyrical, optimistic moments) but also a reminder of the admonition from Fitzgerald’s Crack Up: "Of course all life is a process of breaking down ...."

One would think by the title that this is a sports book and it is as far as it serves as a metaphor.  In this regard it reminds me of the English novelist David Storey’s early 1960 novel, This Sporting Life, made into a movie starring Richard Harris, his first major screen role.  I reviewed that for my college newspaper at the time, saying “The challenge of the rugby game is juxtaposed to the challenge of life. Frank accepts both and deals with them in the only manner he knows how: using brute force. Although a vigorous, powerful, and relentless symbol of strength throughout the film, he is unable to dominate life entirely.”

That juxtaposition of sport to life is evident here as well, but unlike the main character of This Sporting Life, Fred’s sporting life is that of a fan, in particular, of Frank Gifford of the New York Giants.  He first comes across Frank when he’s in college at USC and naturally, Frank is playing for his college team and he is the Big Man on Campus, and is spoken of in reverential tones.  Unknown to Fred, it is Frank’s girl he spots on campus, his knees buckling at her beauty, never to be his though as he is “not in the game.”  It is just the beginning of his realizing that his life, no matter how far he stretches for the golden ring, will never attain the heights enjoyed by our sports heroes such as Frank Gifford.  Exley’s description of Frank’s girl when he first sees her on campus as well as his first roommate at college is testimony to Exley’s descriptive powers:

“I saw her first on one stunning spring day when the smog had momentarily lifted, and all the world seemed hard bright blue and green. She came across the campus straight at me, and though I had her in the range of my vision for perhaps a hundred feet, I was only able, for the fury of my heart, to give her five or six frantic glances. She had the kind of comeliness -- soft, shoulder-length chestnut hair; a sharp beauty mark right at her sensual mouth; and a figure that was like a swift, unexpected blow to the diaphragm-that to linger on makes the beholder feel obscene. I wanted to look. I couldn't look. I had to look. I could give her only the most gaspingly quick glances. Then she was by me. Waiting as long as I dared, I turned and she was gone.

“From that day forward I moved about the campus in a kind of vertigo, with my right eye watching the sidewalk come up to meet my anxious feet, and my left eye clacking in a wild orbit, all over and around its socket, trying to take in the entire campus in frantic split seconds, terrified that I might miss her. On the same day that I found out who she was I saw her again. I was standing in front of Founders' Hall talking with T., a gleaming-toothed, hand-pumping fraternity man with whom I had, my first semester out there, shared a room. We had since gone our separate ways; but whenever we met we always passed the time, being bound together by the contempt with which we viewed each other's world and by the sorrow we felt at really rather liking each other, a condition T. found more difficult to forgive in himself than I did.”

Fred’s father, Earl, was a football star in school and between his expectations and those fostered on him by society he seemed condemned to live a life of failure, especially trying to attain vestiges of the American Dream such as finding the girl next door.  He thinks he’s found her, when he meets Bunny Sue, who “had honey-blonde, bobbed hair and candid, near-insolent green eyes. She had a snub, delightful nose, a cool, regal, and tapering neck, a fine intelligent mouth, that covered teeth so startling they might have been cleansed by sun gods....she was so very American. She was the Big Ten coed whose completeness is such that a bead of perspiration at the temple is enough to break the heart.”

She is so, so perfect, though; he is totally impotent trying to make love to her.  She lives a placid life in the suburbs where her father boasts the tallest TV antenna in the area to bring in far away stations.  Is this to be his life too?  No, he was to be condemned again, and again, becoming a vicious alcoholic, coming home to his mother and step father when he could no longer function, and then, ultimately being sent back to Avalon for treatment.  He was a “repeater,” the underbelly of the American dream:

“These repeaters were the ugly, the broken, the carrion. They had crossed eyes and bug eyes and cavernous eyes. They had club feet or twisted limbs — sometimes no limbs. These people were grotesques. On noticing this, I thought I understood: there was in mid century America no place for them. America was drunk on physical comeliness. America was on a diet. America did its exercises. America, indeed brought a spirituality to its dedication to pink-cheeked straight-legged, clear-eyed health-exuding attractiveness -- a fierce strident dedication....To what, I asked myself, was America coming? To no more it seemed to me, than the carmine-hued, ever-sober ‘young marrieds’ in the Schlitz beer sign.”

The process of his returning to a modicum of sanity brings the novel back to the sports metaphor.  Constantly in bar rooms or street fights, he emerges from one such fight with bruises as well as an epiphany, one perhaps delayed too long in the novel, and in his life, but climatic nonetheless:

“In a moment I would fall asleep. But before I did, all the dread and the dismay and the foreboding I had been experiencing disappeared, were abruptly gone, and I feel quiet. They disappeared because, as I say, I understood the last and most important reason why I fought. The knowledge causes me to weep very quietly calmly, numbly, caused me to weep because in my heart I knew I had always understood this last and most distressing reason, which rendered the grief I had caused myself and others all for naught. I fought because I understood, and I could not bear to understand, that it was my destiny – unlike that of my father, whose fate it was to hear the roar of the crowd — to sit in the stands with most men and acclaim others. It was my fate, my destiny, my end, to be a fan.”

He becomes an Englsih teacher and is able to express empathy: “…having attempted merely to dazzle the kids with the Bard’s poetry, with ever so much scholarly caution and hemming and hawing, I was one day starting back through the text elaborating this theory when a point eluded me, I looked up and off into the class, and my eyes came to rest on a girl who was smiling and weeping simultaneously. A stunningly salubrious and tall maiden with glittering teeth, brilliant blue eyes, and a wondrous complexion, the smile was with her a perennial characteristic – though it was not in the least insinuative or licentious. If a teacher is in the least a man, he soon comes to imagine that his female trusts spend half their nocturnal hours masturbating to his summarily called up and glamorized image; her smile had never seem to have that kind. An abstract of guileless amiability, as though her heart were large and airy and glad, hers, rather, had always seem the smile of an innocent as yet unprepared to determine what should  penetrate that heart. A poor student, her countenance exuded remarkable intelligence; both her modish dress and fine carriage intimated ‘background’; when she finally surmised what I demanded by way of examination answers, I had thought her grades would improve. Above the smile on this day, above the lovely Grecian nose and vigorous colored cheeks were two great lipid pools of astonishingly blue tears. My first impression was that it was her time of the month, my first impulse to hurry her discreetly to the girls’ room. With an alarming suddenness, though, and accompanied immediately by an almost feverish remorse, the blood rushed to my face, I turned away from her, and my eyes fled back to the text: she was frightened to death of me.”

Yes, Exley was hung up on masculinity and is even misogynistic at times, with clearly suicidal tendencies in his compulsion to drink.  Yes, he will never measure up to his father or Frank Gifford in sports. But merely recognizing that his student “was frightened to death of me,” is a far cry from where he began.   Every step of the way, his writing, although sometimes disjointed, is lyrical, even magical at times, clearly a novel to be included in the canon of important literature of a unique American era.  And ironically, over time, this one work will endure while his father’s sports accomplishments have been forgotten and Gifford’s will merely be impressive statistics one can Google.  Sadly, Exley produced very little after this titanic novel but it is enough for one to take serious note of A Fan’s Notes. 
Two fans at a minor league baseball game, Bob and Jim

Friday, May 10, 2019

Maybe There is Hope

Why?  Because baseball continues to reflect and give voice to the American Dream.  Work hard, have talent, succeed, in spite of ethnicity or humble beginnings.  It stands as a bulwark against the tide of dystopian xenophobia promoted by no less than the President of the United States.  It is rule based and while it has succumbed to instant replay challenges, pitch clocks, and exotic statistical metrics, it has essentially changed to remain the same.

There used to be a similar familiarity about the checks and balances of our three branches of government, comforting as a citizen, but we now have a disrupter in the White House, someone who has no sense of history, a disdain for culture, and who measures everything in clicks, sound bites, and winning and losing.  And now he is set to ignore an equal branch of government, Congress, and apparently Republicans there are willing to be accomplices, their sacred vow “to affirm support for the Constitution” relegated to mere hollow words.  If baseball was played this way, players might as well refuse to return to the dugout after strike three is called, saying the people want to see hitting, so let’s make it 4 or 5 strikes before one is called out.  Just tweet it and it shall be.

The recent political developments would normally envelop my blog with multiple entries, as well as more on gun control because of the recent tragic Colorado school shooting, However,with the publication of my book, Waiting for Someone to Explain It, I vowed it would serve as a cathartic statement on such topics, thus allowing my writing life to return to some kind of new normalcy as well.

“As American as apple pie” frequently gets conflated with baseball.  The baseball of my youth was mostly all white players with Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in the National League in 1947 and Larry Doby the American League a few months later.  As an adult I once sat next to Roy Campanella  (who came up to the Dodgers the year after Robinson) at a luncheon; it was sometime in the 1980s.  He was in a wheel chair because of the automobile accident that ended his playing years.  We briefly talked about the old days, not about race, but about baseball.  He was interested in my childhood dreams of pitching but of course I tried to turn the discussion to him, but he was reticent in that regard, I think there was an inherent sadness about missing his buddies, and his last years in baseball. After Jackie Robinson he was the second black player inducted into the Hall of Fame.  I remember his humanity and putting up with me and my questions.

I think of him from time to time especially as the landscape of American baseball changes to reflect our immigrant heritage.  It is truly an international sport and it is no more apparent than here in the United States.  One wonders, if baseball could change and still be the great sport of yesteryear, why not America?  Isn’t that what it means to “make America great?”

And it is nowhere more apparent than in the Miami Marlins’ farm system.  As the Marlins’ CEO (and one of my favorite Yankees of my adult life) Derek Jeter said: "We want Miami to be the destination for top international talent.  This organization should reflect the diversity of the South Florida community."  And indeed it does.

Although we’ve already seen a few Jupiter Hammerheads’ games this season, the Marlins’ Class A+ team in Jupiter, this was the first opportunity to write about one and although Wednesday night’s game involved dropping a 5-1 decision to the St. Lucie Mets, it was notable in other ways.

The first thing that caught my eye after the singing of the National Anthem was the image of the American flag in the background with the Hammerhead’s pitcher, Edward Cabrera, standing in the foreground waiting for the sign.  

He joins the ranks of players from the Dominican Republic, boasting probably more professional baseball players per capita than any place on earth.  We’ve truly, rightfully assimilated the best of the best on the field.  We just need to do so as a nation of citizens.

I was looking forward to seeing him pitch; a highly touted, skinny 6’4” ballplayer who can routinely throw in the high 90s.  His young, 21 year-old body still has time to fill out and will make him even more formidable.   During his last start he had struck out 13 and now has more than 20 scoreless innings to go along with his 1.50 ERA.  While he pitched well for 2 innings (scoreless, and 2 K’s), apparently he had a fingernail problem and had to leave the game.  But one sees how he gets his speed from his whip like delivery.  Edward Cabrera is a player to watch for MLB action, or at least moving up a notch in the minors this year.

He was replaced by Daniel Castano, a lefty who caught my fancy, my being a lefty with baseball dreams which never went beyond my teenage years.  When the Miami Marlins traded away Marcell Ozuna, they got three highly ranked minor leaguers and sort of as an afterthought the left-handed pitcher Castano was thrown in.  He’s labored in the minors but has good control.  His low base on ball to strike out ratio is an attribute of a more mature pitcher.

In five innings he allowed five hits and four runs, although two were unearned, and he struck out five. His ERA is still around 4.00, but his mechanics were powerful, mustering up speed and good breaking stuff.  He was at the low end of the draft (picked in the 19th round) and he is one of the “old guys” on the team at the age of 25.  He’s listed at 6’4” but seems smaller as at 230 lbs he is stocky.  Somehow I think this guy has some chance of making the majors.  Here he is in action:

But that is not the end of the multicultural story.  The shortstop Jose Devers, only 19 years old, is another Dominican.  Disappointingly, my New York Yankees traded him to the Marlins.  He is now one of the high ranking shortstops in the minors, hitting around .370.  If the name sounds familiar, he’s the cousin of Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers.  How cool would that have been if the NYY held on to him for the Sox / NYY rivalry?  During Wednesday night’s game he went 2 for 4. 

Also on the team is the highly touted 22 year old Cuban Victor Victor Mesa who the Marlins signed for about $5 million, along with his 17-year-old brother, Victor Mesa, Jr. for $1 million. To my knowledge, the latter is yet to play minor league ball, but his older brother looks like he has the right stuff.  They’re sons of the famous Cuban baseball player – you guessed the name, Victor Mesa.  Here’s Victor Victor at bat:

Finally that game was the first rehab assignment for one of the Marlin’s regulars, Garrett Cooper, who unfortunately made a bush league error playing left field and seemed to have difficulty getting back into the grove, but the last I looked he was batting over .500 so I can only assume he’ll be joining the parent club soon.

It was one of those special Florida nights, a cool breeze and on the field the kind of multiculturalism which is to be embraced, not feared.

Friday, December 9, 2016

American Ingenuity and Pragmatism – The Wright Brothers

For a change of pace from the constant drum beat of politics by Twitter and the soul-searching fiction I usually read, I needed a non-fiction reminder of what made this country so unique and special.  Toward that end, I turned to David McCullough and his biography, The Wright Brothers.  McCullough has the ability to present history as a living entity, a time machine into the past.  Once you read something by him, you feel connected to that era.  I read his award-winning 1776 and John Adams before I started writing this blog and later returned to his The Great Bridge which he wrote early in his career.  It is the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and as Brooklyn is near and dear to my heart, I marveled at his tale.

He is a natural born writer and honed his craft as an English major at Yale University.  He is not an historian by education, but historical literature is nothing more than great story telling using facts where possible and filling in the blanks.  I’ve always found that the line between fiction and non-fiction is very malleable.  Being a good writer brings history to life.

In The Wright Brothers he captures the persona of two distinctly American men, Wilbur and Orville Wright, problem solvers and entrepreneurs who after establishing a successful bicycle manufacturing business in Dayton, Ohio around the turn of the century became fascinated by flight, studying birds for their beginning education in aerodynamics.  Against the then current belief that human flight (other than by balloon) is impossible, and without funding, they methodically and pragmatically tinkered with glider design, picking the Outer Banks -- Kitty Hawk, NC -- as their testing site, not exactly around the corner from Toledo, Ohio, because of the unrelenting winds there.  It was completely desolated during those times and at first they lived in tents, graduating to a little shop they set up.  Not many people followed them, thinking they were just eccentric.

Having access to the extensive Wright Family papers allowed McCullough to tap into primary source documentation, quoting sometimes from these to tell the story.  Imagine Wilbur setting up camp, awaiting the arrival of Orville, writing a letter to his father which so clearly sets out the methodical thinking behind their experiments with flight:

I have my machine nearly finished. It is not to have a motor and is not expected to fly in any true sense of the word. My idea is merely to experiment and practice with a view to solving the problem of equilibrium. I have plans which I hope to find much in advance of the methods tried by previous experimenters. When once a machine is under proper control under all conditions, the motor problem will be quickly solved. A failure of a motor will then mean simply a slow descent and safe landing instead of a disastrous fall.

This was the genius behind the Wright Brothers experiments, start with the obvious, recognizing that like a bicycle, lack of control will defeat this mode of transportation.  Well funded experiments such as those conducted by Samuel Langley, with a machine called “The Great Aerodrome” which had the backing of $50,000 in public money from the U.S. War Department and another $20,000 in private backing, including an investment by Alexander Graham Bell, was doomed to crash.  Contrast that to the total of $1,000 the Wright Brothers invested in their successful experiment and you have yet another example of private pragmatism triumphing over public profligacy.

Much of their work was done almost secretly, which is the way Wilbur and Orville wanted it, eschewing publicity and crowds until, well, their experiments resulted in a real flying machine.  In fact they had to take it to Europe to make their mark publicly.  That is an interesting story onto itself, particularly given the fact that the European chapter in their lives involved not only them, but their sister Katherine as well.  She became increasingly involved with their work after Orville was seriously hurt (but fully recuperated with her help) after their one serious accident.  They knew the work was dangerous and for that reason they had a cardinal rule never to fly together (their next generation of the “Wright Flyer” was outfitted for two people), a practice they dutifully followed until later in Wilbur’s life when flying was more commonplace.

While inspiration and perspiration were in large part the necessary ingredients in their ultimate success, so was fortuity.  The unsung hero which McCullough cites in his story is Charlie Parker, an itinerant mechanic who the brothers occasionally used for making parts for their bicycles, who was finally hired full time.  As he later recalled:  They offered me $18 a week…..that was pretty good money…Besides, I liked the Wrights….So far as I can figure out, Will and Orv hired me to worry about the bicycle business so they could concentrate on their flying studies and experiments…And I must have satisfied them for they didn’t hire anyone else for eight years.

Indeed, Parker ran the business while the brothers were working on their experiments, but that was just a small part of Parker’s contribution to solving the riddle of powered flights.  When the brothers finally felt they licked the problem of controlled glider flight, they were ready to add an engine for powered flight.  Accordingly, they asked various automobile manufactures to submit specifications for a light engine with sufficient power but received only one reply and that engine was too heavy.  They themselves had insufficient knowledge to build such an engine but happenstance there was Charlie Parker, a brilliant mechanic.  As he later recalled and recounted by McCullough:  While the boys were handy with tools, they had never done much machine-work and anyway they were busy on the air frame.  It was up to me….We didn’t make any drawings.  One of us would sketch out the part we were talking about on a piece of scratch paper and I’d spike the sketch over my bench.

Does it get any more seat of the pants than that?  He later finished a four cylinder engine, “with a 4-inch bore and a 4-inch stroke.  It was intended to deliver 8 horsepower and weigh no more than 200 pounds, to carry a total of 675 pounds, the estimated combined weight of the flying machine and an operator.  As it turned out, the motor Charlie built weighed only 152 pounds, for the reason that the engine block was of cast aluminum provided by the up-and-coming Aluminum Company of America based in Pittsburgh.  Other materials came from Dayton manufacturers and suppliers, but the work of boring out the cast iron for the independent cylinders and making the cast iron piston rings was all done by one man with a drooping walrus mustache working in the back room at the bicycle shop.” 
The brothers led a monastic life, totally dedicated to their work.  They were bachelors and except for strict observance of the Sunday Sabbath, it was work 24 x 7.  All that sacrifice and McCullough movingly recounts the moment in time when they alternatively flew the first four successful times, the last by Wilbur, 852 feet in 59 seconds.  “It had taken four years. They had endured violent storms, accidents, one disappointment after another, public indifference or ridicule, and clouds of demon mosquitoes. To get to and from their remote sand dune testing ground they had made five round-trips from Dayton (counting Orville's return home to see about stronger propeller shafts), a total of seven thousand miles by train, all to fly little more than half a mile. No matter. They had done it.”

After that their life changed, becoming celebrities of sorts, but still focusing on their work for the next several years, better known in Europe than here in many ways as they went to France to demonstrate their work to the government who had more interest at the time than their own.  Wilbur was the first to go abroad.  His time there was unlike any he’d known back in Dayton, beginning with his first transatlantic voyage on the Cunard Line’s Campania which was advertised as “a flying palace of the ocean,” a phrase which of course appealed to Wilbur.  We made 466 miles the first day he wrote back home and he took a tour of the engine room, amazed at those engines delivering 28,000 horsepower vs. the 25 of the new engine for the Flyer III he was about to demonstrate across Europe. He took copious notes during the crossing and walked its decks to the tune of 5 to 10 miles a day. Wilbur was a person of contemplation and action.

One would think this methodical, technical man might not appreciate all that Paris could offer but he became a regular visitor to the Louvre and spent countless hours among its masterpieces.  Ultimately Orville and Katherine joined him and they became the toast of France, Wilbur at first.  “As said by the Paris correspondent for the Washington Post, it was not just his feats in the air that aroused such interest but his strong ‘individuality.’ He was seen as a personification of ‘the Plymouth Rock spirit,’ to which French students of the United States, from the time of Alexis de Tocqueville, had attributed ‘the grit and indomitable perseverance that characterize American efforts in every department of activity.’”

I think that observation is the essence of McCullough’s biography about the two brothers, their pragmatic approach to problem solving and faith in doing what no one thought possible.  They were finally recognized back home at the White House, President Taft himself presenting medals and acknowledging the tardiness of their recognition at home and the accomplishment which given their lack of support is uniquely American, diligence prevailing above all:

I esteem it a great honor and an opportunity to present these medals to you as an evidence of what you have done. I am so glad-perhaps at a delayed hour-to show that in America it is not true that "a prophet is not without honor save in his own country." It is especially gratifying thus to note a great step in human discovery by paying honor to men who bear it so modestly. You made this discovery by a course that we of America like to feel is distinctly American-by keeping your noses right at the job until you had accomplished what you had determined to do.

This recognition was finally followed by the largest celebration ever staged in their home town of Dayton, Ohio.  It is mind boggling to think that the invention of flight was only little more than 100 years ago.  It demonstrates the rapidity of change today.

Reading this masterful biography was the perfect antidote to a disheartening election and now post election season, with its invective rhetoric, a display of American unexceptionalism and gullibility.   One can only hope this too shall pass and we will revert to the mean that made this nation so special, as typified by the Wright Brothers and so brilliantly portrayed by David McCullough. 

While I was writing this, the report came in that the Wright brothers’ fellow Ohioan, John Glenn, died at the age of 95, the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven.  I remember watching Glenn’s launch on a small B&W TV with my college classmates in our dormitory.  We were in awe of his bravery and felt particularly proud to be an American on that day in 1962.  He and his fellow Mercury 7 astronauts were immortalized by Tom Wolfe in The Right Stuff.  The Wright brothers had the right stuff too and Glenn had already flown as a WW II combat pilot while Orville was still alive.  The Wright Brothers and John Glenn:  Ohioans, pioneers, pilots, uniquely American. 

 I was not able to attend the ticket tape parade for Glenn and the Mercury 7 astronauts as I was in class on that March day in 1962.  But Tom Wolfe captured its mood; the Wright Brothers were certainly there in spirit: “They anointed them with the primordial tears that the right stuff commanded….Somehow, extraordinary as it was, it was…right!  The way it should be!  The unutterable aura of the right stuff had been brought onto the terrain where things were happening!  Perhaps that was what New York existed for, to celebrate those who had it, whatever it was, and there was nothing like the right stuff, for all responded to it, and all wanted to be near it and to feel the sizzle and to blink in the light…Oh, it was a primitive and profound thing!  Only pilots truly had it, but the entire world responded, and no one knew its name!”