Read Truth Like the Sun Online
Authors: Jim Lynch
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Historical
Helen punched the numbers into her cell for the newsroom, feeling as if she’d inadvertently overheard a coup conspiracy less than a half hour before the paper’s second deadline. By the time the irritable night editor picked up—“City Desk”—the ballroom was too loud for her to be heard over the shouts and croaks and hoots. She watched men and women in their eighties and nineties fighting to their feet, others tiring and plopping back down like a poorly executed wave of undulating sports fans. People started banging coffee cups on tables. Canes thumped the floor. A large woman in a handicapped scooter pounded her horn. Three women danced a slow jig, people tapped forks against glasses and one table started a “Ro-ger! Ro-ger!” chant that spread across the room.
Helen broke toward the exit doors so she could be heard before realizing she’d lost sight of Elias again, then hung up and frantically looked for him in the ruckus. A plate fell and shattered. Thinking it was on purpose, a thin man whooped and hurled a water glass against the wall, though not hard enough to break it. Then his friend threw a wineglass and succeeded. When Helen finally spotted her son he was standing across the ballroom next to Morgan himself, coming up to his waist, the two of them seemingly enjoying a casual interchange amid the madness. The city’s newest mayoral candidate pulled some sort of doll out of his pocket and handed it to Elias. Behind them, Ted Severson calmly lit his cigarette, the smoke billowing from his smile.
When the shouting and laughter reached a climax, servers, cooks and dishwashers burst through the kitchen doors into the back of the room to witness the bedlam that rose up and over the thick walls into Seattle’s oldest streets.
HE SLOW START
quiets the alarmists who warned that the Century 21 Exposition would paralyze downtown, and the smaller crowds give the staff a chance to develop a rhythm in herding people into exhibits, shows, rides and up the Needle. And, deep into the second week now, Roger is finding his stride as the master of ceremonies, introducing luminaries, regaling journalists and hawking the city to visiting tycoons.
For once, his provincial port shimmers with worldliness. Filipino dancers, Thai silk, Frenchwomen dousing everybody with perfume. And the food! The sudden aroma of Danish sausages, Belgian waffles and Mongolian steaks in a place accustomed to burgers, fish sticks and hot dogs. As all the strange license plates suggest, the fair is rapidly becoming the new destination of the great American road trip, with families puttering into town in bug-smeared Valiants, Skylarks and Bel Airs, just curious as hell ever since they saw the Space Needle on the cover of
. They come by train and Boeing airliners too, thousands flying for the first time on gleaming new 707s. And Roger sees all these visitors as potential residents, straining their necks to gape at the views. And there is so much to do! Ride the silent monorail, then spend a few hours in the Science Pavilion, or how about the World of Art—
never before, never again?
Or meander over to Show Street for a futuristic striptease while the wife checks out the fashion exhibit
—new models every two hours
. Then throw a few pennies into the reflecting pool, recharge in the Food Circus and loosen your tie or slip off those heels. Hear that
Hi-ho, come to the fair. See the world of tomorrow today!
Roger’s days start at his fairgrounds office, where the cheerful secretary he’d instantly nicknamed Jenny Sunshine brought him stacks of reports, requests and complaints. It would be hard to beat the opening-day air force disaster, which demolished three homes and killed two citizens, but there is a daily onslaught of snafus. And most mornings, shortly before eleven, he speed-walks to the Plaza of the States, where the marching band plays the same songs, over and over again, before and after his effusive introductions of visiting notables. Crowds for these formalities vary wildly. The governor of Alabama gets skunked. The shah of Iran gets mobbed. Then come the astronauts. First Gherman Titov shows up, boasting about his space travels and poking fun at Western religious notions. “I saw neither angels nor gods up there,” he smugly observes. People are appalled, particularly Teddy, though still awed until John Glenn shows up. Having just orbited the earth three times in five hours, he attracts far bigger throngs scrambling for a glimpse of America’s freshly minted hero.
After the meet-and-greets, Roger usually whisks the VIPs to Club 21, the exclusive expo lounge, for lunch or cocktails, and tries to get their impressions, though they are rarely illuminating. This time it’s Ed Sullivan prattling over martinis about how Los Angeles is dying until Roger interrupts. “So, what do you make of Seattle, Mr. Sullivan?”
Hunched and neckless, Sullivan glares at his martini. “Feels like Nevada to me.” He sucks the olive and spits it back into his glass.
Roger fakes a chuckle, but the variety-show king remains hunkered down like a grumpy turtle. “Whole lot of gambling,” he finally mutters.
Smiling and nodding, Roger leaves open the possibility that this is a crafty setup for some joke about Seattle or Nevada or gambling in general, but that’s all there is.
Journalists are so much easier to read. He loads them into vans and hauls them around, exaggerating the city’s growth rate and insisting it’s on its way to being, in Teddy’s words,
, with an
expanding economy and people eyeballing it for pro sports franchises and, well, everything else, really, nailing the expectant tone without crowing. It’s not all that different from selling the idea of the fair in the first place, a matter of weaving the urban history into a flattering narrative until lines like
Seattle is the ripest city for development in the most dynamic state in the West
are accepted as fact. He shows off all-American neighborhoods full of roomy homes with daylight basements and blooming rhododendrons. “Ten-thousand-dollar houses with ten-million-dollar views,” he says, knowing reporters can’t resist superlatives. He isn’t sure where he heard this one, though he spins it as gospel:
Seattle has gone from a wilderness to a big city faster than any place in the world
Positive press begets more of the same and then gets recycled in local papers, the echo continuing with visiting celebrities feeling obliged to praise this “jewel box of a fair.” Walt Disney raved about it, and John Wayne called it fantastic. Sure, the theme is sanguine—Science is coming to the rescue!—but it’s not all happy talk, either, otherwise it wouldn’t indulge the specter of bomb shelters in every home, would it? And if it isn’t a serious venue, why is NASA brass and the vice president himself flying out here to chat about “the peaceful uses of space”?
On the morning of the conference, John Glenn asks to see the World of Tomorrow. As Roger leads him into the Coliseum, Glenn smiles and waves at fans and cameras and carries himself like a patriotic superhero, as if recognizing that his role
—has never been played before. He’s also the breathing, wholesome, square-jawed proof that America will get to the future first. Yet he rubs his nose, gets food caught in his teeth and loses his hair just like the rest of us, which makes us all potential spacemen, right?
Glenn and Roger lay beside each other on the carpeted floor of the Bubbleator, a massive glass elevator rising through images of twenty-first-century life. Houses with push-button windows, disposable dishes and helicopter pads in cities shielded by weather domes. “Pretty nifty,” Glenn mumbled afterward, though nothing seems to have really registered.
“What do you think of our city?” Roger asks, now escorting him
to the NASA exhibit, matching his stride and posture so well that they look like
famous spacemen strolling the grounds.
“It’s your city,” Glenn responds. “You tell me.”
“What I want it to be, sir,” Roger explains, “is a different kind of city, a big city that still feels like it’s on the edge of the forest, yet a true cosmopolis with opera and clams and symphonies and deer and Major League Baseball, if you know what I mean.”
Glenn stares through him with eyes as unresponsive as marbles.
“Well, in your opinion, sir,” Roger prods awkwardly, “what do you think makes a city great?”
Glenn offers him a clumsy wink. “I’d start with an honest police force.”
Roger forces a laugh, but isn’t sure if Glenn’s joking.
The astronaut beams for more cameras, muttering through his strangely even teeth. “Saw the headlines on my way in.”
Roger nods with false understanding, then later rifles the papers, skipping stories about China getting its own bomb and the Birchers calling city hall’s fluoridation plan a Communist ploy until he finds a short piece inside the
about the note a Pioneer Square tavern owner posted in his window:
Thank you for your patronage for the past three years. This tavern has been forced to close because I refused to make further extortion payments to the racket whose enforcers are members of the city’s police force. I am willing to take a lie detector test, though I know the great white chief and the lord high mayor dare not
There was nothing more from the bar owner, Charlie McDaniel, and little from the police other than a brief comment that his accusation lacked credibility.
“The guy’s a crackpot,” Teddy says, reading over his shoulder. “A real nut job.”
At the NASA conference that afternoon, Lyndon Baines Johnson’s opening speech is instantly forgettable, but that doesn’t matter. The place is overrun with reporters as attention swings from Glenn to unknown pilots and scientists, then back to the famous astronaut. People shout questions, drowning out reporters. “See any UFOs up there, John?”
Afterward, amid a dizzying crush, the vice president and other politicos are served Olympia oysters and Dungeness crab legs atop the Needle. This is where Roger has most of his meals now, usually with out-of-town CEOs fishing for tax breaks and cheap properties. He softens them with his recruitment chatter, gets them drunk, finds out their needs and timelines, then watches their excitement build during the hour it takes the dining room to make a complete revolution. As the sun sinks behind the Olympics, he hears himself making promises he can’t keep, but it’s festive handshakes all around with everyone vowing to do their damnedest. Then he’s off to work on the grain exporters or the auto dealers or the aluminum manufacturers. But this is a political gathering, with LBJ’s presence attracting a senator, the mayor, a congressman and the local U.S. attorney. And the more festive it gets, the darker Roger’s mood becomes, his worries going well beyond the fair. It’s what wasn’t said at the conference that alarms him, such as Kennedy’s announcement this morning that atomic testing will resume and, almost as an aside, that the Pentagon is installing long-range missiles about a hundred miles southeast of Seattle.
He studies Johnson’s furrowed face, his jowly mug a vault of secrets. His aides had cryptically hinted that he almost didn’t fly out at all. As if sensing the scrutiny, he suddenly focuses his hound-dog eyes on Roger. “Let’s pop outside and chew the fat.”
They excuse themselves and head up to the observation deck, where LBJ sticks out a big hand, keeping his security boys out of earshot, then breaks wind noisily. Roger braces himself for whatever he intends to confide, desperately wanting the conversation to develop before someone interrupts them. Teddy’s right. Everything
starting to piece together. Kennedy’s oddly foreboding words at the opening ceremony. The jarheads insisting on a bomb shelter beneath the Science Pavilion as well as the sudden construction of an underground hideout on Sixty-fifth Street to house as many as two hundred people during an attack. It occurs to him in a hot flash that the word
might come to mean something entirely different in the future, as
would never again be just a Japanese city. He can’t resist asking, “Is there any reason to think, sir, that Seattle is a target?”
LBJ looks away, smacking his lips. “Lots of mustaches in this town.”
Roger counts to five, then says, “So, sir, is—”
“I almost couldn’t fly out here, son,” he twangs, squinting at the anchored freighters bobbing like toys in Elliott Bay.
Here we go
, Roger thinks, grabbing the railing. “Why’s that, sir?” he drawls, as if they hailed from the same sun-baked Texas county.
“Got a swollen right testicle,” Johnson tells him. “Ain’t supposed to fly.”
Roger can’t tell if the big man is kidding or just getting at whatever needs to be said in roundabout Texan fashion. So Roger matches his neutral expression and waits, studying the city, neighborhood by neighborhood, as if for the first time—Wallingford, Montlake, Laurelhurst—and the new freeway sections being laid out to the north. It’s hard to imagine people doing sixty through the heart of the city, yet he feels excited all over again by all the change this will bring. Most of the buildings in its path have already been bulldozed. The Hotel Kalamar at James and Sixth, gone. Likewise, St. Spiridon’s Russian Orthodox Church and some of the city’s oldest homes on Sixth and Seventh. Closer to the canal, he notices a large yellow crane hovering over a cleared lot off Roanoke Street and feels his pulse quicken. Construction isn’t supposed to begin until
the fair. The sight of this crane makes him think about how the senator just called him
and how the chamber president patted him on the head as if he were a clever cocker spaniel, and how he might have no idea to what extent he’s being used.
He catches LBJ measuring him through those slitted eyes and thinks their conversation is about to get somewhere. “Got my tailor to make six pairs of these trousers last year with a little extra in the pockets so my knife and keys don’t fall out every time I sit down, see?” He shows off his roomy hip pockets with his fingers. “But I also got a little extra room for the nuts. Told him to put another inch in there between the zipper and my bunghole. Could use a couple more inches now,” he adds, rearranging himself and scanning the hills with sudden interest. “Can’t get over how there’s no goddamn bugs. Any octopus in these lakes?”