The Symbiotic Club
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents
are either the product of the author's imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events
or locales is entirely coincidental.
This work contains adult themes and is not intended for children.
Chapter 14 - The Raises and Calls
The Circle had rituals for every conceivable occasion. The rituals were all well written, platonic expressions appropriate to the occasion. Their authors demonstrated that they were men of letters. Their messages were both educational and uplifting. Of course, they also furthered the aggrandizement of the Circle.
In like manner, there was, in the design of having Priests memorize and recite the passages, a goal of building leaders who could better inspire allegiance to the organization's creeds. To encourage and reward high quality in the execution of ritual, the Circle sponsored workshops and contests in each of the states. To ensure minimal standards in its performance, the Circle appointed Area Coordinators whose job, among others, it was to enforce the rule that all the Priests in each Area know their part of the ritual.
The AC visited each club in his district at least once during his year in office. He inspected the condition of the club's facilities, its business records and proof of its charitable activities. He attended a meeting during which there was an initiation in order to monitor that ritual.
Generally, the AC considered himself as a friend and helper to the officers of his clubs. Still, he was empowered by the constitution to remove any and all officers from their office, and, when he believed it necessary, to completely close a club. He represented personally the National High Priest in the Area. His was a completely voluntary office, as were those of most of the officials. One can not give so freely without viewing what he does as important. The AC considered the proper performances of ritual to be of primary importance.
The proper performance of ritual was, also, of prima fascia importance to Charles Lansburg. He believed that standardized movements precisely executed and saccharine phrases dramatically recited had intrinsic worth. During my first year at the club, he substituted at each of the five Points of the Star. He had each passage memorized; he moved with precision and always affected a sense of sincerity. Perhaps his only weakness was in vocabulary; he, obviously, didn't understand the meaning of a few, key words. When he said these words, it was with the wrong pronunciation and emphasis which distracted from the legitimate sentiments within the prose as written.
His commitment to the ritual went beyond our local group, I soon learned. He regularly traveled to other clubs in the area to coach their Priests in their roles. He organized our Priests for pilgrimage to other locations to demonstrate appropriate rituals techniques. He was certified by the national organization to judge its contests and often traveled to other states as an evaluator. During my first year, our club, through Lansburg's efforts, sponsored a ritual contest for the Area. His dedication to this aspect of the Circle seemed unlimited.
There was a meeting at Bob Dalton's house in January to select an alternative slate of officers. I didn't attend, but the proceedings were no secret. Indeed, many Former High Priests attended. It was hoped that one of the FHP's would make the nominations from the floor. A few of them did gamble, rummy and pitch mostly; a couple played twenty one and rolled dice. Yet, none would make the nomination; theirs was a strong brotherhood. They did volunteer to help in conducting the election to ensure fairness. They also advised the nominees of all they would have to do as officers; they had best follow the rules to the letter, if elected.
Bob Dalton read the list of nominees from the floor the next week. Members packed the meeting that night. Even drunk, Bob showed signs of nervousness. It was a monumental event in his life and the life of all those in the room. Most were challenging the established order. They introduced a touch of democracy into this patriotic organization.
Still, I only recognized three of the names on the alternative slate as among the gamblers from upstairs. Freddy was named for High Priest. Professor Miller was proposed for Priest of Peace, the lowest of the Priests. And, Henry Ruth's name was read for Secretary.
Election night corresponded with Reunion Night. There was a free meal for all the members to encourage a big turnout. Anyone who had been a member for more than 20 years, and all the FHP's were listed on a program and honored at the meeting. We feared that this festivity might work against the alternative slate. It did bring to the meeting people who supported the traditional way of having the ones in power pick their successors. Thus, it behooved the gamblers to round up all the supporters they could. And, they did. There was record attendance at that meeting.
The FHP's lived up to their commitment to see that the election was fair. They had ballots printed, and we had to show our membership card to get one. They checked our names on a master list and guarded the ballot box. Two witnesses, one from each of the factions, observed each stage of the process.
The outcome of the election was decisive. The alternative slate had an overwhelming majority. Again, I had not learned the lesson. I thought the election would solve the problem.
What I didn't know the night of the vote was that the primary justification for replacing the present officers that had been presented at Dalton's house in January was their financial ineptness in running the club, not the banning of gambling. Unexplainably, most members were unable to link the club's financial woes to the ban on gambling.
With only three gamblers on the board, Freddy soon discovered that he was captain of a divided crew. His ship was drifting without financial power on rough seas. The rough seas represented the unhappiness of the members. Fights hurt everyone who participates and the wounds heal slowly. Although, in the election, the gamblers had won a moral victory, they still felt a sense of being wronged. They wanted the new officers to somehow compensate them for that wrong. The general membership, even though most had voted for this slate of officers, believed that the shift was too much toward "the upstairs running things." And, of course, the deposed officers and their friends were dedicated to the ruination of the club with its present crew.
Financially, the club had no operating capital and many outstanding bills. The outgoing officers had done nothing to help, and probably some things to sabotage the new Priests. The first action of the new Executive Board was to issue $20,000 in bonds to pay its debts and to provide moneys for daily operations during the slow summer months. It wasn't a popular decision, but it was an effective one. The notes sold quickly.
Freddy, then, focused on cutting expenses. The liability of the Taylors was the most logical target. The Board agreed to let Freddy fire them. Freddy wanted to replace them with volunteer help, which would have to rely heavily on members of the Board itself. Freddy received no support for this proposal.
Replacement for the Taylors would demand continued expenditures. Freddy asked how the cost could be reduced. Miller suggested finding a retired member who might care for the daily operations on an hourly basis which would be considerably less than the present salaries. That arrangement would permit some voluntarism in overseeing the social affairs of the club, thus increasing the savings. Miller's suggestion led to the hiring of Jim Golden as manager.
Jim looked every day of his seventy years. He was a slumped shouldered, wrinkled rawhide, slow moving collection of jointed bones. He supplemented his social security checks by mowing lawns on a small riding mower during the summers. I assumed that he had been a farmer during his prime. His speech pattern and articulation suggested a mental deficiency, but actually reflected his drinking. He loved alcohol in all of its various forms. For this reason, I questioned the wisdom of hiring him.
The acquisition of the job of manager changed Jim only slightly. He was neater more of the time. His speech could be understood later into the day.
One day, he told me about attending the local college on a baseball scholarship and playing for a semipro team out of Chattanooga for several years. "You know, it was considerably different then, before television. Weren't much else to do. They came out to the ball park every night. Made good money, too; spent most of it on women and booze. Wasted it."
"That was before the depression?"
He laughed, more snorted, "There really was no 'before the depression' in these parts. The land had been used up; there were no industry to speak of. We were in a 'cotton depression' while the rest of the country had its 'roarin 20's.' That made the 'great depression' that much worse here. We, though, were used to living on nothin already.
"The money I made throwing that ball helped. I didn't blow it all on myself. My folks were working a small place out north of town. We used the money I brought home in the fall to live on during the winter and to buy seed the next year. Each year we got less off the place.
"I married Catherine in 1935. She was a gentle woman; just what this rough country boy needed to settle him down some. Course, I was thirty then and had known all kind of women. She was the sweetest. We were beginning to build a little somethin. I actually saved some money for our own place. Roosevelt sent some conservation people down to teach us how to rotate crops.
"Then, after the '36 season, they told me I was through. No problem, I thought, I have Catherine and my health; we're goin make it." His voice was rougher than normal, his rate slowed as he continued.
"We were putting in a crop the next spring. Catherine was expecting and we were letting her sleep in. We had an upstairs bedroom where it was quiet. Mom was fixing breakfast on a big wood burning stove." He shook his head from side to side as his eyes shifted to the ceiling. "Pa was feeding the stock, and I hitched the mule. I started plowing a small strip behind the barn since Mon had not called breakfast. As I turned the corner, I saw the smoke." Jim cleared his throat before he continued.
I sat, opened mouthed, in anticipation of a tragic end.
"I unhitched the plow and jumped on that old mule. I was able to help my younger brother, who smelled the smoke at the south end of the house, get our sisters out. The fire had started in the kitchen at the north end. I have no idea how it started, the whole north end was caving in by the time I got there. I don't think my Catherine ever awoke. We found the melted bed posts in the ashes.
"They say hardships come in threes. I lost my home, my mother, my wife and my unborn child all in a few minutes.
"I wasn't worth a thing after that until the war came along. The war destroyed lots of lives, but it benefited me. Course, at first, I was on a suicide mission. I won two medals trying to kill myself. But, you know, I saw more tragedy, and the more I saw, the more I knew that everyone has to suffer at sometimes in this life. The fire was an awful bit of misfortune, but I've had my share of good luck too. I came out of the war without as much as a scratch. I've had my ups and downs since, but, I guess you'd have to say, 'I'm a survivor.' Now, I've been lucky enough to land this manager's job, and, Buddy, I'm going to do what I can to help turn this place around."
Listening to Jim gave me a more confident feeling that the Executive Board had made a reasonable choice in Jim as manager. His hourly wage totaled less than one third that of the Taylors.
Still, cutting expenses wasn't enough. Freddy's crew needed to increase participation. They tried a summer membership drive. They received little support. Most members responded, "Why would anyone want to join this place?" or, "I sure as hell ain't going to recommend it to no one!" The drive netted only one new member.
Yet, one person was sufficient to require that the Priests perform the initiation ritual, from memory, and serve a free meal to the membership. They withstood the financial strain easier than they did the mental one. Even the professor, with all of his speech training, blundered his part. His problem was the opposite of Charles Lansburg; the professor knew the language too well. He knew synonyms for all the key words. What he said was semantically equivalent, and may have sounded better, but wasn't the correct phrasing of the ceremony.
The other officers ranged from the laughable to the ridiculous. Freddy attempted to read his part, including the administration of the oath. He lost his place and confused the candidate. Most of the gallery guffawed at the comedy. The others in attendance, primarily FHP's and outcast officers, responded with disdain.
When it was over, Charles Lansburg exhorted the players to perform their parts better. He was tactful; he even volunteered to help them improve, but his language more than implied that such a loathsome showing would not be tolerated.
I asked the Professor what Lansburg could do and was told, "He, unto himself, can not do anything, but he is friends with the Area Coordinator who has the power to pull our charter. By law, this building, this property, and everything contained herein belong to the national organization. If we do not fulfill its holy wishes, they can take it back; give it back to Lansburg and his ilk."
However, Lansburg's threats didn't prompt the officers to practice. The Professor told me that they had to give a low priority to ritual. Without some course correction, the ship would soon impact with bankruptcy and there would be no need for ritual.
In September, the Executive Board began to schedule one dance each month. They hired expensive bands in hopes of drawing a crowd. Since most of the dancers were either previous officers, or those who felt the "upstairs bunch" was too powerful, the quality of the band was insufficient to regain their support. The dances lost money.
Sampson had his workers build new blackjack and dice tables, which helped. Gradually, the gamblers did return and the bar revenues increased slowly.
Freddy contracted with cheaper bands to play for the cover charge. Freddy and Golden organized volunteers to prepare the Friday dinners. By controlling these two expenses, the events began to give a return. By November, the Club's losses were cut almost to zero.
Unfortunately, the Area Coordinator's visit also came in November. The occasion of his visit was clouded from the start. Charles Lansburg suggested a special reception for the AC at Lansburg's house. It was unclear who would pay for this gala, but Freddy understood that it would be the club. Charles was clear that he intended to invite only Former High Priests. Freddy refused to allow a Circle event which wasn't open to all members. Finally, Lansburg clarified that he had every intention of providing his own booze. Freddy allowed that Charles could have whatever private function which he desired, but there could be no official Star reception outside the club.
A majority of the Board voted with Freddy. The AC with his entourage of visiting dignitaries came directly to the club. His drinks were "on the house," and everyone else was required to buy their own.
The mood when the visitors arrived was less than positive. Freddy attempted to lighten the situation. He tried to be jovial, but the inspector would not be humored. When Freddy took the AC to the bar he told Kati, "This shit ass's drinks are free tonight."
Later, Sampson often said that Freddy deserved credit for knowing one when he saw one, and Coach said that he didn't know anyone's name for months because it was always, "Shit ass this, asshole that, or prick the other." The gamblers used such terms so much that they had primarily humorous overtones.
Evidently, all clubs didn't share the same brand of humor, or, perhaps, the AC was not predisposed to find anything to his satisfaction at our club. The short, round, balding man took offense at the characterization.
During the initiation ritual, Professor Miller more closely followed the ritual's exact wording than he did in the summer. Another Priest quoted his part fairly impressively. The others did worst than in the summer. Worst of all was Freddy. He read everything. He was better than he had been that summer, but not by much. No one laughed during the service, but at its conclusion, the critics were more vocal than they had been the first time.
At the next regular meeting, Lansburg quoted the section of the constitution which required the High Priest (as well as the other officers) to have his part firmly committed to memory. Then, Charles called for Freddy's immediate resignation but he didn't ask for the others to resign.
Freddy didn't respond to the request, but continued the meeting.
Lansburg interrupted, demanding a reply to his charges. Freddy responded very dryly, "Well, I ain't going to resign, if that's what you are asking."
The next week, Secretary Ruth read a letter from Lansburg expressing his intense displeasure with "the current administration," and resigning his position as a member of the Executive Board. Further, he recommended that the Board, "take appropriate action to replace the current High Priest; or be prepared to be held culpable in his wrongdoings." The letter was copied to the Area Coordinator and listed all Lansburg's titles in the Circle, which, given his work with ritual throughout the region, were considerable.
Dale Chase's name was immediately placed in nomination to replace Charles on the Board. Dale accepted the nomination expressing his desire to help "get us back on the right track." The constitution required that the nominations remain open for another meeting, but no one would oppose Chase.
Professor Miller told me that Chase made Freddy's ritual performance a topic of the Board. The Board, with the exception of Freddy, agreed that he must have his part memorized by the first of January, a week prior to that quarter's initiation on the 15th, or step down from the post.
In the meantime, the Area Coordinator, perhaps prompted by Lansburg's letter, requested that the National High Priest remove Freddy from office. The constitution of the Circle clearly gave the NHP power to remove from office any person guilty of malfeasance. It, also, gave the officer the right to appeal the decision within ten days. Any appeal would be ruled on by the National Panel composed of five from a pool of fifteen Judges who were appointed by the NHP to staggered three year terms.
On the tenth of December, the NHP issued the order removing Freddy from office. It was mailed, via registered letter, from Dallas the following day. Chase told Miller that the notice had been sent at the meeting that night. In that way, Freddy learned about the letter and was able to avoid signing for it until after the meeting on the eighteen. Miller told me that Freddy wanted to remain in office to complete his term. To do so became a point of honor for him.
At the meeting of the 18th, Dale Chase showed some irritation that Freddy was still functioning as High Priest. Freddy simply feigned ignorance and went about his business.
Freddy retained Harrison Murphy as his counsel. I figure Sampson underwrote the fee, but have only my intuition to support that conclusion. Harrison recommended mailing the appeal on December 29, 1975, exactly ten days after Freddy signed for the registered letter. Since Christmas fell on a Thursday, there was no challenge to our High Priest through the holidays. At the New Year Eve's dance, Freddy greeted all the guests in that capacity, and he prepared to preside as usual at the year's first meeting on the eighth.
On that Thursday, the Area Coordinator called the Priest of Piety, Alan North and told him that, it was his duty to prevent Freddy from conducting the meeting. Alan was to be in charge. Alan said he felt most strained being put in the middle, but the AC wasn't sympathetic. If North valued his position in the Star, he had best do his duty.
Alan came to the club, that night, appearing ready to substitute in the High Priest slot. He was met at the door by a clerk from the Circuit Court's office. The clerk served North with a restraining order directing him not to interfere with Freddy in his duly elected office in the order. Now, North was certainly in the middle.
North asked for an Executive Board session before the regular meeting. We members waited in the meeting room while they met in the kitchen, next door. We could hear the most parts of the exchange. Freddy's strategy was obviously to let Chase blow off steam and then proceed with his business. Chase indicted Freddy for going to the courts before completing the in-house appeal.
Freddy replied, "It was my only means of remaining HP. You're trying to punish me before I'm found guilty."
North elected to obey the restraining order although Chase questioned both its authenticity and its authority. Eventually, the meeting took place fairly much as ordinary, with Freddy reading his passages as High Priest.
During the next week, Chase pursed the authenticity of the legal writ which North received. His investigation indicated that the legal clerk had signed the order himself without authorization from the judge. The clerk contended that he had a mandate to sign such orders, in the judge's absence, when immediate action was necessary. The judge didn't reprimand the clerk in any way, but he wouldn't reissue the restraining order. Indeed, the judge took no action in the case. Chase, evidently, reported these events to the Area Coordinator.
The next Thursday, North received a call from the AC. He rebuked North for not following the command of the previous week. The same order was issued for that night's meeting. Alan restated his unwillingness to be used as a pawn in this fraternal chess match. The AC responded forcefully that he had better take the lead, and that the speaker, himself, would be at the meeting to ensure that he did.
Again, there was a meeting before the meeting and we all overheard the details of the previous week. This meeting wasn't as noisy. Since the divisions were established with few officers undecided, they apparently saw less reason to argue. With the questionable status of the restraining order, Freddy resorted more to their sense of reason. He appealed to the principle of innocent until proven guilty. "Since I have not had my day in court, I shouldn't be convicted and removed from office."
While Freddy was making his case, the club received a call from the AC. Dale Chase took the call. Chase reported that the coordinator had car trouble on his way and wouldn't make the meeting. His instructions were for North to preside.
North had made his decision. He would stand by Freddy and take whatever punishment which might come. Chase proclaimed that he was going to obey the lawful order of the Area Coordinator and that, if the others knew what was good for them, they would join him in boycotting Freddy's mutinous meeting.
Two Priests followed him out the door.
Henry Ruth declared, "I wouldn't miss this for the world!" As he came into the meeting room, he beckoned for the Treasurer, Terry Johnson, and Miller to follow his lead.
"Well, someone's got to read the accounts. That's my job," responded Johnson. Miller was uncertain.
"I'll take a Position," said Fello, Sampson's foreman and a FHP. "We need you, Professor, and one more man. How about Hunter?"
The professor came to where I was standing near the door of the meeting room. "You heard?"
"I don't know what to do. I want to do the right thing, but I have no basis for deciding what's right in this situation. The legalities can't be the determining factor since I got involved in this to protect an illegal activity. Bad laws should be changed, not obeyed. We set out to change a rule within our social net, and I still want to change it. Within that 'situational ethic' framework, I should stand by Freddy; but by the same reasoning, he should have learned his part. He still hasn't learned it! I do not feel any allegiance to him, but I do not want to walk away from a confrontation either. If this is a test of my character, I do not want to walk away from it."
"Sometimes, character demands that you walk away." It had been a costly lesson for me to learn so I felt good in giving it to my friend. "You just said you didn't know what was right. Obviously, you're not walking away from something which you believe you should do. It seems to me that when you can't determine a clear guiding principle, you must do what makes you feel best."
"Yes." Miller paused, thoughtfully. "Yes! I do not want to be in that meeting. It does not feel good to me. Moreover, I think that I can help the cause more by walking a more neutral course." With that Clyde left me and went upstairs. I went into the meeting room.
Fello asked about the professor, and then he asked me to read a part. I refused. The situation didn't feel good to me either; moreover, I wasn't an elected official.
Finally, another of Sampson's employees volunteered to be Priest of Partnership, and Sonny Dalton agreed to read the Peace part. The session was more burlesqued than usual, but the business of the organization was concluded fairly much as normal. The legality of the meeting was questionable, but the bank honored the checks which it authorized.
On Saturday, Dr. Miller told me that he had talked to Mr. Chase on Friday. "I told him if they wanted any officers around to run this place next year, they better not punish those caught in the middle this year. He better do all he can to help them."
By Thursday, the fifteenth, there had been some understanding reached. The appeal hearing would be on Saturday, January 31. Until its decision was announced, Freddy could rule as High Priest. The duly elected set of officers presided at the two remaining meetings in January. There were no new members to be initiated into the Babel which was the Circle, but, I am sure that Miller was correct: Freddy never memorized his ritual.
All the testimony of the hearing would be taken at our club. One member of the National Panel would come and preside as judge. The national office would send a prosecutor to represent the National High Priest. Transcriptions of the hearing would then be mailed to the other four Panel members not in attendance. It would take approximately sixty days for them to make a ruling. Freddy, and, I guess, Buster believed that either way they would have a victory. Freddy would continue to preside at the weekly meetings of the Star for the remainder of his year. He read his part for the duration.