Walker Percy Wednesday 130



The Donahue Show is in progress on what appears at first to be an ordinary weekday morning.

The theme of this morning’s show is Donahue’s favorite, sex, the extraordinary variety of sexual behavior—“sexual preference,” as Donahue would call it—in the country and the embattled attitudes toward it. Although Donahue has been accused of appealing to prurient interest, with a sharp eye cocked on the ratings, he defends himself by saying that he presents these controversial matters in “a mature and tasteful manner”—which he often does. It should also be noted in Donahue’s defense that the high ratings of these sex-talk shows are nothing more nor less than an index of the public’s intense interest in such matters.
The guests today are:
Bill, a homosexual and habitué of Buena Vista Park in San Francisco
Allen, a heterosexual businessman, married, and a connoisseur of the lunch-hour liaison
Penny, a pregnant fourteen-year-old
Dr. Joyce Friday, a well-known talk-show sex therapist, or in media jargon: a psych jockey.

BILL’S STORY: Yes, I’m gay, and yes, I cruise Buena Vista. Yes, I’ve probably had over five hundred encounters with lovers, though I didn’t keep count. So what? Whose business is it? I’m gainfully employed by a savings-and-loan company, am a trustworthy employee, and do an honest day’s work. My recreation is Buena Vista Park and the strangers I meet there. I don’t molest children, rape women, snatch purses. I contribute to United Way. Such encounters that I do have are by mutual consent and therefore nobody’s business—except my steady live-in friend’s. Naturally he’s upset, but that’s our problem.
DONAHUE (striding up and down, mike in hand, boyishly inarticulate): C’mon, Bill. What about the kids who might see you? You know what I mean. I mean— (Opens his free hand to the audience, soliciting their understanding)
BILL: Kids don’t see me. Nobody sees me.
DONAHUE (coming close, on the attack but good-naturedly, spoofing himself as prosecutor): Say, Bill. I’ve always been curious. Is there some sort of signal? I mean, how do you and the other guy know—help me out—
BILL: Eye contact, or we show a bit of handkerchief here. (Demonstrates)
DONAHUE (shrugging [Don’t blame me, folks], pushes up nose-bridge of glasses, swings mike over to Dr. J.F. without looking at her): How about it, Doc?
DR. J.F. (in her not-mincing-words voice): I think Bill’s behavior is immature and depersonalizing. (Applause from audience) I think he ought to return to his steady live-in friend and work out a mature, creative relationship. You might be interested to know that studies have shown that stable gay couples are more creative than straights. (Applause again, but more tentative)
DONAHUE (eyes slightly rolled back, swings mike to Bill): How about it, Bill?
BILL: Yeah, right. But I still cruise Buena Vista.
DONAHUE (pensive, head to one side, strides backward, forward, then over to Allen): How about you, Allen?
ALLEN’S STORY: I’m a good person, I think. I work hard, am happily married, love my wife and family, also support United Way, served in the army. I drink very little, don’t do drugs, have never been to a porn movie. My idea of R & R—maybe I got it in the army—is to meet an attractive woman. What a delight it is, to see a handsome mature woman, maybe in the secretarial pool, maybe in a bar, restaurant, anywhere, exchange eye contact, speak to her in a nice way, respect her as a person, invite her to join me for lunch (no sexual harassment in the office—I hate that!), have a drink, two drinks, enjoy a nice meal, talk about matters of common interest—then simply ask her—by now, both of you know whether you like each other. What a joy to go with her up in the elevator of the downtown Holiday Inn, both of you silent, relaxed, smiling, anticipating—The door of the room closes behind you. You look at her, take her hand. There’s champagne already there. You stand at the window with her, touch glasses, talk—there’s nothing vulgar. No closed-circuit TV. Do you know what we did last time? We turned on La Bohème on the FM. She loves Puccini.
DONAHUE: C’mon, Allen. What are ya handing me? What d’ya mean you’re happily married? You mean you’re happy.
ALLEN: No, no. Vera’s happy, too.
AUDIENCE (mostly women, groaning): Nooooooo.
DONAHUE: Okay-okay, ladies, hold it a second. What do you mean, Vera’s happy? I mean, how do you manage—help me out, I’m about to get in trouble—hold the letters, folks—
ALLEN: Well, actually, Vera has a low sex drive. We’ve always been quite inactive, even at the beginnings—
AUDIENCE (groans, jumbled protests): Nooooo.
DONAHUE (backing away, holding up placating free hand, backing around to Dr. J.F.): It’s all yours, Doc.
DR. J.F.: Studies have shown that open marriages can be growth experiences for both partners. However—(groans from audience)—However: It seems to me that Vera may be getting the short end here. I mean, I don’t know Vera’s side of it. But could I ask you this? Have you and Vera thought about reenergizing your sex life?
ALLEN: Well, ah—
DR. J.F.: Studies have shown, for example, that more stale marriages have been revived by oral sex than any other technique—
DONAHUE: Now, Doc—
DR. J.F.: Other studies have shown that mutual masturbation—
DONAHUE (eyes rolled back): We’ve running long folks, we’ll be right back after this—don’t go away. Oh boy. (Lets mike slide to the hilt through his hand, closes eyes, as camera cuts away to a Maxithins commercial)
DONAHUE: We’re back. Thank the good Lord for good sponsors. (Turns to Penny, a thin, inattentive, moping teenager, even possibly a pre-teen): Penny?
PENNY (chewing something): Yeah?
DONAHUE (solicitous, quite effectively tender): What’s with you, sweetheart?
PENNY: Well, I liked this boy a lot and he told me there was one way I could prove it—
DONAHUE: Wait a minute, Penny. Now this, your being here, is okay with your parents, right? I mean let’s establish that.
PENNY: Oh, sure. They’re right over there—you can ask them. (Camera pans over audience, settling on a couple with mild, pleasant faces. It is evident that on the whole they are not displeased with being on TV)
DONAHUE: Okay. So you mean you didn’t know about taking precautions—
DR. J.F. (breaking in): Now, that’s what I mean, Phil.
DONAHUE: What’s that, Doc?
DR. J.F.: About the crying need for sex education in our schools. Now if this child—PENNY: Oh, I had all that stuff at Ben Franklin.
DONAHUE: You mean you knew about the pill and the other, ah—
PENNY: I had been on the pill for a year.
DONAHUE (scratching head): I don’t get it. Oh, you mean you slipped up, got careless?
PENNY: NO, I did it on purpose.
DONAHUE: Did what on purpose? You mean—
PENNY: I mean I wanted to get pregnant.
DONAHUE: Why was that, Penny?
PENNY: My best friend was pregnant.
AUDIENCE: (Groans, laughter)
DR. J.F.: You see, Phil, that’s just what I mean. This girl is no more equipped with parenting skills than a child. She is a child. I hope she realizes she still has viable options.
DONAHUE: How about it, Penny?
PENNY: No, I want to have my baby.
PENNY: I think babies are neat.
DONAHUE: Oh boy.
DR. J.F.: Studies have shown that unwanted babies suffer 85 percent more child abuse and 150 percent more neuroses later in life.
DONAHUE (striding): Okay, now what have we got here? Wait. What’s going on?
There is an interruption. Confusion at the rear of the studio. Heads turn. Three strangers, dressed outlandishly, stride down the aisle.
DONAHUE (smacks his forehead): What’s this? What’s this? Holy smoke!
Already the audience is smiling, reassured both by Donahue’s comic consternation and by the exoticness of the visitors. Clearly, the audience thinks, they are part of the act.
The three strangers are indeed outlandish. One is a tall, thin, bearded man dressed like a sixteenth-century reformer. Indeed, he could be John Calvin, in his black cloak, black cap with short bill, and snug earflaps.
The second wears the full-dress uniform of a Confederate officer. Though he is a colonel, he is quite young, surely no more than twenty-five. Clean-shaven and extremely handsome, he looks for all the world like Colonel John Pelham, Jeb Stuart’s legendary artillerist. Renowned both for his gallantry in battle and for his chivalry toward women, the beau ideal of the South, he engaged in sixty artillery duels, won them all, lost not a single piece. With a single Napoleon, he held off three of Burnside’s divisions in front of Fredericksburg before being ordered by Stuart to retreat.
The third is at once the most ordinary-looking and yet the strangest of all. His dress is both modern and out-of-date. In his light-colored double-breasted suit and bow tie, his two-tone shoes of the sort known in the 1940s as “perforated wing-tips,” his neat above-the-ears haircut, he looks a bit like the clean old man in the Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night, a bit like Lowell Thomas or perhaps Harry Truman. It is as if he were a visitor from the Cosmos, from a planet ten or so light-years distant, who had formed his notion of earthlings from belated transmissions of 1950 TV, from watching the Ed Sullivan Show, old Chester Morris movies, and Morey Amsterdam. Or, to judge from his speaking voice, he could have been an inveterate listener during the Golden Age of radio and modeled his speech on that of Harry Von Zell.

DONAHUE (backpedaling, smacking his head again): Holy smoke! Who are these guys? (Beseeching the audience with a slow comic pan around)
The audience laughs, not believing for a moment that these latecomers are not one of Donahue’s surprises. And yet—

DONAHUE (snapping his fingers): I got it. Wait’ll I get that guy. It’s Steve Allen, right? Refugees from the Steve Allen Show, Great Conversations? Famous historical figures? You know, folks, they do that show in the studio down the hall. Wait’ll I get that guy.

General laughter. Everybody remembers it’s been done before, an old show-biz trick, like Carson barging in on Rickles during the C.P.O. Sharkey taping.

DONAHUE: Okay already. Okay, who we got here? This is Moses? General Robert E. Lee? And who is this guy? Harry Truman? Okay, fellas, let’s hear it. (Donahue, an attractive fellow, is moving about as gracefully as a dancer)
THE STRANGER (speaks first, in his standard radio-announcer’s voice, which is not as flat as the Chicagoans who say, hyev a hyeppy New Year): I don’t know what these two are doing here, but I came to give you a message. We’ve been listening to this show.
DONAHUE (winking at the audience): And where were you listening to us?

STRANGER: In the green room.
DONAHUE: Where else? Okay. Then what do you think? Let’s hear it first from the reverend here. What did you say your name was, Reverend?
STRANGER: John Calvin.
DONAHUE: Right. Who else? Okay, we got to break here for these messages. Don’t go ‘way, folks. We’re coming right back and sort this out, I promise.

Cut to Miss Clairol, Land O Lakes margarine, Summer’s Eve, and Alpo commercials.
But when the show returns, John Calvin, who does not understand commercial breaks, has jumped the gun and is in mid-sentence.

CALVIN (speaking in a thick French accent, not unlike Charles Boyer):—of his redemptive sacrifice? What I have heard is licentious talk about deeds which are an abomination before God, meriting eternal damnation unless they repent and throw themselves on God’s mercy. Which they are predestined to do or not to do, so why bother to discuss it?
DONAHUE (gravely): That’s pretty heavy, Reverend.
CALVIN: Heavy? Yes, it’s heavy.
DONAHUE (mulling, scratching): Now wait a minute, Reverend. Let’s check this out. You’re entitled to your religious beliefs. But what if others disagree with you in all good faith? And aside from that (prosecutory again, using mike like forefinger) what’s wrong with two consenting adults expressing their sexual preference in the privacy of their bedroom or, ah, under a bush?
CALVIN: Sexual preference? (Puzzled, he turns for help to the Confederate officer and the Cosmic stranger. They shrug)
DONAHUE (holding mike to the officer): How about you, sir? Your name is—
CONFEDERATE OFFICER: Colonel John Pelham, C.S.A., commander of the horse artillery under General Stuart.
PENNY: He’s cute.
AUDIENCE: (Laughter)
DONAHUE: You heard it all in the green room, Colonel. What ‘dya think?
COLONEL PELHAM (in a soft Alabama accent): What do I think of what, sir?
DONAHUE: Of what you heard in the green room.
PELHAM: Of the way these folks act and talk? Well, I don’t think much of it, sir.
DONAHUE: How do you mean, Colonel?
PELHAM: That’s not the way people should talk or act. Where I come from, we’d call them white trash. That’s no way to talk if you’re a man or a woman. A gentleman knows how to treat women. He knows because he knows himself, who he is, what his obligations are. And he discharges them. But after all, you won the war, so if that’s the way you want to act, that’s your affair. At least, we can be sure of one thing.
DONAHUE: What’s that, Colonel?
PELHAM: We’re not sorry we fought.
DONAHUE: I see. Then you agree with the reverend, I mean Reverend Calvin here.
PELHAM: Well, I respect his religious beliefs. But I never thought much about religion one way or the other. In fact, I don’t think religion has much to do with whether a man does right. A West Point man is an officer and a gentleman, religion or no religion. I have nothing against religion. In fact, when we studied medieval history at West Point, I remember admiring Richard Coeur de Lion and his recapturing Acre and the holy places. I remember thinking: I would have fought for him, just as I fought for Lee and the South.
Applause from the audience. Calvin puts them off, but this handsome officer reminds them of Rhett Butler–Clark Gable, or rather Ashley Wilkes–Leslie Howard.
DONAHUE (drifting off, frowning; something is amiss but he can’t put his finger on it. What is Steve Allen up to? He shakes his head, blinks): You said it, Colonel. Okay. Where were we? (Turning to Cosmic stranger) We’re running a little long. Can you make it brief, Harry—Mr. President, or whoever you are? Oh boy.
THE COSMIC STRANGER (stands stiffly, hands at his sides, and begins speaking briskly, very much in the style of the late Raymond Gram Swing): I will be brief. I have taken this human form through a holographic technique unknown to you in order to make myself understood to you.
Hear this. I have a message. Whether you heed it or not is your affair.
I have nothing to say to you about God or the Confederacy, whatever that is—I assume it is not the G2V Confederacy in this arm of the galaxy—though I could speak about God, but it is too late for you, and I am not here to do that.
We are not interested in the varieties of your sexual behavior, except as a symptom of a more important disorder.
It is this disorder which concerns us and which we do not fully understand.
As a consequence of this disorder, you are a potential threat to all civilizations in the G2V region of the galaxy. Throughout G2V you are known variously and jokingly as the Ds or the DDs or the DLs, that is, the ding-a-lings or the death-dealers or the death-lovers. Of all the species here and in all of G2V, you are the only one which is by nature sentimental, murderous, self-hating, and self-destructive.
You are two superpowers here. The other is hopeless, has already succumbed, and is a death society. It is a living death and an agent for the propagation of death.
You are scarcely better—there is a glimmer of hope for you—but that is of no interest to me.
If the two of you destroy each other, as appears likely, it is of no consequence to us. To tell you the truth, G2V will breathe a sigh of relief.
The danger is that you may not destroy each other and that your present crude technology may constitute a threat to G2V in the future.
I am here to tell you three things: what is going to happen, what I am going to do, and what you can do.
Here’s what will happen. Within the next twenty-four hours, your last war will begin. There will occur a twenty-megaton airburst one mile above the University of Chicago, the very site where your first chain reaction was produced. Every American city and town will be hit. You will lose plus-minus 160 million immediately, plus-minus 50 million later.
Here’s what I am going to do. I have been commissioned to collect a specimen of DD and return with it so that we can study it toward the end of determining the nature of your disorder. Accordingly, I propose to take this young person referred to as Penny—for two reasons. One, she is perhaps still young enough not to have become hopeless. Two, she is pregnant and so we will have a chance to rear a DD in an environment free of your noxious influence. Then perhaps we can deter mine whether your disorder is a result of some peculiar earth environmental factor or whether you are a malignant sport, a genetic accident, the consequence of what you would have called, quite accurately, in an earlier time an MD—mutatio diabolica, a diabolical mutation.
Finally, here’s what you can do. It is of no consequence to us whether you do it or not, because you will no longer be a threat to anyone. This is only a small gesture of goodwill to a remnant of you who may survive and who may have the chance to start all over—though you will probably repeat the same mistake. We have been students of your climatology for years. I have here a current read-out and prediction of the prevailing wind directions and fallout patterns for the next two weeks. It so happens that the place nearest you which will escape all effects of both blast and fallout is the community of Lost Cove, Tennessee. We do not anticipate a stampede to Tennessee. Our projection is that very few of you here and you out there in radio land will attach credibility to this message. But the few of you who do may wish to use this information. There is a cave there, corn, grits, collard greens, and smoked sausage in abundance.
That is the end of my message. Penny—
DONAHUE: We’re long! We’re long! Heavy! Steve, I’ll get you for this. Oh boy. Don’t forget, folks, tomorrow we got surrogate partners and a Kinsey panel—come back—you can’t win ‘em all—’bye! Grits. I dunno.
AUDIENCE: (Applause)

Cut to station break, Secure Card 65 commercial, Alpo, Carefree Panty Shields, and Mentholatum, then The Price Is Right.

Question: If you heard this Donahue Show, would you head for Lost Cove, Tennessee?
(a) Yes
(b) No