And then one morning, going through a suit before it went out to the cleaner's, I came across a crumpled piece of paper. There was a name scrawled on it—Marie Visconti—and then the phone number. I was glad to find it. Marie Visconti was a teacher we had seen one day in the office of the Dean of Girls at Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx. A group of black girls outside the school had insisted that Mailer and I meet her. They led us inside and proudly introduced us to Miss Visconti, a young, pleasant, aware dark-haired girl. Norman and I stayed in the office for a couple of minutes. We were fascinated to see a New York City schoolteacher who had any feel for students who were not white. As a general statement of fact, there is no such thing. At this point, a little bald man, semi-belligerent from the fear that flickered in his eyes, bustled in.
"What's this? What's this?" he kept saying. He identified himself as the assistant principal. He did this the same way the stationmaster at Auschwitz' greeted arrivees. Norman Mailer kind of rocked back, stuffed his hands into the front of his belt, and began sneering. I knew the assistant principal was in for the full bit, the Southern Mailer, and it would have been a terrific show. But we had no time, and, keeping his silence, Norman allowed himself to be prodded out of the building.
"Wow," Norman said outside, "did you ever see such a jealous little man? I'll bet you the girl gets in trouble because of us." I thought so too, and we had somebody go back inside and get her home phone number. So now, weeks later, I came across the number and I called her at home. Miss Visconti told me she had been fired by the school principal just before the term ended and that she also had lost her summer teaching job in the school. This gave me one project of importance to worry about.
"The hell with everybody coming over to Lindsay. Let's make him declare himself a Democrat. Make him do the line-crossing."
And then, late on a hot, dull Sunday afternoon, I drove in from the Hamptons to Brooklyn for the wake of Hugh Carey's two sons. To get to the Carey house on Prospect Park West, we came along Bushwick Avenue and then Eastern Parkway. Block after block of hot, filthy houses and sidewalks lined with garbage cans that never seem to be collected and have been kicked over by dogs and kids. And, on so many streets, a stripped, smashed car, sitting there as a reminder of everything that is brutal and barren about city life. We stayed at Carey's for only a couple of minutes because the lines were long. When we left, nobody in the car felt like talking for a long time. Fat Thomas, who was driving, went down the hill from Prospect Park West and made a right turn on Fifth Avenue and started for the Manhattan Bridge. Fifth Avenue was hot and ramshackle and dirty and crowded with Puerto Ricans who carried a can of beer and drank it while they walked. They are the first people since the Irish to drink beer this way, and I have to love them for it. But when they stand on their street corners, their beer held up like brown trumpets, and you look at them, the amusement turns to sadness because their visible surroundings seem so hopeless and the invisible walls they face each day are so much thicker and higher and permanent than anything the Irish, who were on these streets before them, were asked to overcome. We drove out of Brooklyn and went over the Manhattan Bridge and came down onto the East Side, with dogs sniffing at garbage and more stripped cars and more crowds of Puerto Ricans standing outside buildings with chalk-marked hallways.
"Hell, when are we going to drive past something clean?" I said.
"We've been driving for exactly 12 miles," Fat Thomas said. "Except for the bridge, all of it has been in busted-down neighborhoods. That's 12 miles of slums and we've been in only two parts of the city. We're in a hell of a shape."
It is a city with more trouble than even its miles of decaying streets indicates. The case of Miss Visconti happened to be simply one fact representative of the frightened, constipated system of Civil Service. Under Civil Service, progress, even when practiced by a lone individual, is a felony.
Later, on this Sunday night, the newspaper picked up on 59th Street referred to more of the trouble of the city. One headline said, "Albany Leaders Cool to City U. Bid for Open-Door Aid . . . Brydges and Duryea See Obstacles." Here we are again. Earl Brydges is the majority leader, Republican, for the State Senate. He is from Niagara Falls and he is a great rooter for upstate power companies. Perry Duryea is a Republican who is the speaker of the State Assembly. He is a lobster peddler from Montauk Point. They, and the people they control, have as much to do with the governing of New York City as does the mayor. This situation does present certain problems for the upstate legislator. In the school dispute over the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district, many people who discussed it in Albany felt Ocean Hill-Brownsville was a new breed of cow. So it may be said aloud once more: there is no sane argument in favor of New York surviving the next 10 years under this system.