Excerpt from Cool Nation

Here are the opening scenes from the third chapter of Cool Nation:

The Invasion

They came out and the crowd, girls mainly, were screaming, and the screaming got louder, then they took up their guitars and started to play but you couldn�t hear it for the screaming, and when they shook their hair and sang into the mikes the screaming just got louder, and louder. The first song ended and the screaming went on and the second song started and the screaming never stopped and when they finished they all bowed, then Ed Sullivan came out and tried to regain control over a thing that not even he had ever seen before, or likely believed possible.
The band left the stage and gradually the screaming subsided into orgiastic moans and hysterical weeping, all of them as if mourning the passing of something or some presence or some event but no one seeming to know what.
Seth and I were on our bellies, watching the black-and-white. We heard Stephanie and Jean weeping behind us. I turned.
�Oh stop it. They�re just a band.� But they wouldn�t stop.
�What do you know? Jean said. �You aren�t old enough to know anything. And they aren�t just a band. They aren�t.� She went on crying. �They aren�t.�
Dad was looking at her from his rocker, Mom from her end of the sofa, Dad holding his Kansas City Star in his lap.
�What do you think?� Mom asked him. Allen, my younger brother, was on her lap, and waited open-mouthed for his answer.
�Not much. I saw it when they brought Presley out. It�s the same as that.�
�It sure doesn�t sound the same.�
�You mean the music, or the screaming?�
�Well.� He picked up his Star and went back to reading. �It is. It�s all hype. Only this time it�s Limey hype.�
�They do a pretty good job of it.�
�They ought to. They learned it from us.�
My mother went back to her Edgar Cayce, bouncing Allen as she read.
My sisters went back to their crying.
Seth and I watched them, then left the room. We�d seen all we wanted to.
We went down into the half-dark of the basement, to Jackie�s room, walking across the shuffleboard tiles to his door, from beneath which a bar of light shone and through which the jamming sound of his music pounded. He only listened to bands like The Beach Boys or Smokey Robinson or, of course, Elvis. It was Marvin Gaye he was listening to now.
I knocked, he didn�t answer. I knocked again, he didn�t answer. Then I opened the door just enough to see his flailing maniacism as he danced, shirtless, before the mirror, spinning, hitting the floor, bouncing back up, spinning and stopping and spinning back the other way. We watched him, the tattoo on his arm, the insane driving motion of his legs, the power of his madness.
Seth pulled on my arm. �Come on,� he said. He, like everyone, was afraid of my brother, afraid of him as I had never been. �Close it, Pete. Close it.�
Silently I did, and we went back up the stairs. We would not be seeing Jackie that night.
We waited around until they came back on, their appearance signaled by the screaming, then we watched until they bowed again, then we watched the more familiar, if entirely contrived world of Bonanza, and afterward I walked Seth home.
�Good-night, Sethy,� Dad said.
�Good-night, Seth,� Mom said.
He told my parents good-night.
Silky saw us going and got up to accompany: her job. Yes she was a collie, a tricolor like the one on TV, loving and always with me and obedient and although not as smart as the one on the screen she was smart enough. I had grown up with her by my side; she would later die with me at hers.
What else can you expect? It was that time in the Sixties when it still felt like the Fifties, when neighborhoods were neighborhoods and dogs often roamed with children and we were allowed, at age seven, to walk to the candy store on State Line or the one on Mission Road without my mother ever once worrying would someone stop and take us, or stop and sodomize us, or just shoot us from a passing car for sport. The thought would never enter her mind, or ours.
It was that time: convertibles and unlocked doors and �Moon River� playing on your parents� Hi-Fi; neighbors you knew and street games at night and the escalating but distant war on the evening news; families that seemed complete and unified and neatly whole but of course weren�t�being human; and always the certainty that America could do no wrong. It was that thing that we�ve since lost, along with our national innocence, and will never get back; that thing that we all want back but this time without the naivet�, without the innocence. It was that time, but it wasn�t going to be that time much longer. You could almost feel how it started to change in one harsh, frost-bound February night, and how it would soon change forever. No band from Liverpool did that. We did. Then we adopted them as a symbol of it all, which perplexed them almost as much as it confused us, then we blamed them, then in the end we killed one of them. But that of course was all much later.
Seth and I went out into the frozen night, down the back steps and across the brief pasture.
We passed the little barn and I heard Nancy Jane, Blaze and Shasta snuffling inside. Nancy stuck out her head and I said, Hey, darlin. She watched with equine indifference as we crossed the acre that served as our backyard. In Indian Heights in those days you could have horses in your backyard if your yard was big enough. Ours was big enough. The house, naturally, was big too.
It was a house on the order of Ozzie and Harriet or Father Knows Best, but bigger even than those. That�s how Indian Heights was: big post-war houses, two-acre lawns, dull complacency, hidden addictions, overt prejudice. A white paradise�or a white hell, if you prefer. It even came with a guarantee from Neuman Realty: no Jews or blacks would ever be allowed to move in. That was their policy. Years later the Neuman brothers went to prison for fraud. That was their karma.
Don�t get me wrong though. I�m not ungrateful to my parent�s generation for having built a nation of Indian Heightses. I�m certainly not ungrateful for having grown up among its broad streets, its lush yards, its air-conditioned houses. If I�d been raised in the soiled want of The Depression, then hardened in the gore-spattered hell of The War, I�d have built a nation of Indian Heightses too. But I wasn�t, and I suppose there�s also a reason for that.
Seth and I crossed the pasture. The elms, enormous and overspreading, rose up above us like titans or guides or silent guards, and walking beneath them I always felt a secret presence and certainty. I felt as though they watched over us.
The elms bordered the pasture fence and the fence was made of split-rail oak that had come from the Ozarks in some long ago before my birth, when Dad and Cary had brought it up here on a truck and split it. Cary didn�t split wood anymore. They had him in the asylum in St. Joe, and he was not the only one of us destined to go there. Some kids used to ask me, in that snotty Johnson County way of theirs, what it was like to have two crazy brothers. I never answered them. Mom told me not to.
Seth and I ducked through the fence and jumped the stones across the creek and walked up the hill into his parent�s backyard�the big white house and swimming pool and tennis court and hydrangeas. Mrs. Drummond was from California, and when she moved here to marry Mr. Drummond she essentially rebuilt what she had had left behind in Orange County�she hated it here that much. Seth didn�t. He had me and I had him and we had the world, and to us that was all that mattered.
We stopped at the back gate. �Did you like them?� I said.
�Oh yeah. Did you?�
�Do you think your dad will let you grow your hair that long?� Meaning to the collar and eyebrows instead of just a crew cut.
�Why not?�
�I�ll be lucky if he gets me the boots,� I said.
�Did you ask for them?�
�What did he say?�
�That only greasers and Mexicans wear them.�
�He would.�
I didn�t ask if Seth�s parents would let him grow his hair that long, or get him Beatle boots, or anything else. That was already assumed.
�Well,� I said. �I�ll see you at school.�
�See you.�
He opened the gate to the stockade fence, closed it, and was lost within the depths of the Drummond compound. I said Come on, girl, and Silky brought her nose out of the bushes and followed me home.

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