Issue 22/23
cover photo of Louise Brooks
publication date 12/17/1983

from U. S. Head

Frank Gatling

As a boy, I had an imaginary pal named Cornball Johnson. He led the American League in inside-the-park grand slams four years running, and used to pal around the clubhouse with a dude called Two House Cain. And, of course me, the little shortstop. By some miraculous exemption from logic, I had bypassed high school (and even junior high) and jumped straight into Triple A ball at age 10; and then, after half a season, I went straight into the majors with the Detroit Tigers. Harvey Kuenn didn’t mind that I had beaten him out, and he and Al Kaline and Cornball and Two House and I used to play draw poker for hours on the train between cities,

Cornball Johnson was the world’s greatest living center fielder, black like Willie Mays but even faster and with a better arm . . . never even one-hopped the ball. One day at Comiskey Park in Chicago, he outraced the right fielder to a foul fly down the right field line. Twice, in Tiger Stadium, he ran the bases and touched home on a home run before the ball landed in the bleachers. And he threw out Mickey Mantle from four-hundred feet in dead center as the Yankee speedster raced home with the potential tiebreaker.

I like to tell these stories to Jake when we get high. We’re smoking out of his antelope-bone pipe and drinking Guinness at my kitchen table and he’s laughing and really getting into the images of me as a precocious shortstop with the pennant hungry Tigers. He starts writing a song about Cornball Johnson.

Cornball Johnson was mighty much man,
Led the loop in inside the park slams.
Him and Two House was a laugh a minute,
Brought the motor city a long-awaited pennant.
Out at short was Shrimpo Paul,
Could move to his left for the double-play ball.
Kuenn and Kaline was holdin’ a sign up:
Can’t keep Paulie out o’ the lineup.
And, in answer to the journalists queries,
They said "hell yes, we gonna sweep the series."

All of which didn’t seem so brilliant later, but got me to get Jake to tell me how he used to daydream of having intercourse with Batgirl in the school boiler room, when he was feeling the new urgencies of puberty.

Our eyes glance up from the beer and lock in the surprised recognition that the expected gradation between adolescence and manhood has gone unnoticed. We are simply here, little changed, struggling to manage our lives in an adult world that did not, as we had trustingly counted on, welcome us into its folds, and make us a functioning part of its self-preserving protectorate.

"What kind of bag o’ shit have we gotten ourselves into Paulie? I mean life?"

"I don’t really much like to think of it, Jake."

"Go ask Cornball, would ya?"

A girl, hands in her long hair, leaps up and runs from the room screaming. Other people are moaning and weeping, clutching their stomachs. Jake walks to the corner and bends to vomit.

In one of the university t.v. rooms, students and old hanger-on grads like Jake are watching coverage of the slaughter of four Kent State students by hysterical, panicking, National Guardsmen, some of whom were struck by rocks and reacted by spraying indiscriminate fire into the large and shifting crowd of students. The killed ones were positioned between 80 to 150 yards from the pants-soiling chicken-shits in uniform*, from which distances even seyhey Willie Mays couldn’t have hit them with a rock. Yet folks were saying they got what they deserved, that they shouldn’t have been there.

"They said they shouldn’t have been there," you are shrieking, your face streaked red. "Those assholes at my office said anyone who participated in something like that deserved whatever they got. I blew up, Paul; I started shouting at them. They shot people 150 yards away, man. They could have just been on the fringes, out of curiosity, you know, students are supposed to be curious about political events. They might have been walking to class, Paul. Jesus, even if you threw a rock, if you are eighteen years old, do you deserve to be shot to death? I left, Paul. I may not have a job anymore. I told them they were idiots, that they were condoning the indiscriminate killing of their own children."

We are both beginning to cry, to rage, to curse and spit, snot bubbles blowing out uncontrollably in the moment of absolute outrage, that rare occasion of righteousness you never wanted to feel.


A few nights later, we gig, outdoors on the American University campus. We do the most political and satirical songs we know. We have a good, large, responsive audience; the feeling of solidarity is high. Stepping out of character, I step to the mike between numbers and speak:

"Kent State is the blackest event of our generation. The fact that so many of our elders are so deadened as to condone these murders is indeed food for thought. Even the most thoughtful, the slowest to action must now see that THIS GOVERNMENT MUST FALL!"

Just after I get this out, Jake cranks up his Telecaster with the most mind-wrenching, screaming series of two note vibrato chords; I hammer the lowest string of my bass repeatedly, Jon wreaks havoc on the bass drum, and our new keyboardist, Zack, helps put everybody’s senses on a train, thumping up and down on an E chord. Capping off the pandemonium, Jake rips off his guitar and bashes it Peter Townshend style against the stage. Out past the stage apron are hundreds of upraised fists, set in a promise of activism.


In my dream, I’m God, and I have to pass some judgments on the Kent State Affair. I’m sitting on the bandstand in a director’s chair with God etched on the back, chatting with some other people, preparatory to a loose panel discussion of sorts. I’m dressed in fatigues with a Che Guevara beret, and people keep wandering up to me with faces ranging from the quizzical to the disgusted and back again, asking me, "hey, are you God?" or even "hey man, are you Mister Big?" from street dudes, and I modestly acknowledge that I am. One chick wants to know if I am "a god," and I have to tell her, gently but firmly that I am "the God," that this is not, as some contend, a polytheistic universe.

The position of God also seems to entail some earthly office. Some folks are referring to me as El Presidente and this also seems correct. At any rate, I’m finding out that the responsibilities of being God are really enormous. Cripples, lepers, and asthmatics keep dragging across the stage and petitioning me for cures, and I have to go through the tedious business of explaining that I don’t have strict material control over my created universe anymore than, say, a chemist has over the effects and permutations of a batch of L.S.D. he has concocted, and that perhaps they should apply in person to Oral Roberts. There is a good deal of grumbling over this and I tell one particularly querulous old hunchbacked woman to "fuck off" which draws an indescribably shocked expression. I do suspect I’ve spoken out of character, and the old witch snarls at me and says "you ain’t anybody’s God, buster; you’re just a papier-mache Castro," surprising me a bit with her verbal facility.

The Guardsmen are there with their rifles, down in front of the stage, looking nervously at the crowd of students. There is commotion off to the left; the crowd separates, and four bodies, swathed like mummies in bloodstained rags, are dragged up and plopped in front of the Guardsmen. Things begin to get turbulent; in fact, mass hysteria is only moments away. Demands of all sorts are being made; punitive measures from dismemberment and castration to a lifetime of editing combat films are being suggested. One of the young Guardsmen is beginning to cry.

After a brief period of divine deliberation, I announce that no individual guilt can be assigned, that I must judge not and be not judged.

There is a general outcry, and a great deal of blaspheming can be heard. One aggressive-looking young male screams "hey, fuck you, God, you’re a wishy-washy heap of shit" and seizes one of the Guardsmen’s rifles, clubs the guy with it, and points it at me. "Jesus Christ!" I yelp, and skitter under the table. The bastard is still coming after me though, up onto the stage, crouching to trigger a shot under the table. He misses, and, suddenly and miraculously, Fidel Castro does a commando roll onto the scene, jabs a pistol into the guy’s side, and, all in one motion, disarms him.

Squatting there watching this bit of Castro mastery, I’m feeling a little brought down and inferior. I’m telling myself "man, you ain’t nobody’s God," and Fidel smiles at me and says "Companero, you ain’t no Eric Clapton, verdad?" And I remember the famous note scrawled on a London Tube Station wall


I feel a terrible desire to pee and, trying to rise, crack my head on the table.

I make it to the bathroom just in time.

"Whoozat?" you mutter as I stagger by.

*NOTE: The author seems to have taken leave of his usual objectivity here.-Author