By Marilyn Levy
Harvey Bender took his emotional temperature at precisely 6:38 every morning. After brushing his teeth, which he flossed after every meal, he gave himself two minutes to decide if he was up or down or merely neutral. On the morning of August 28, 1968, he felt merely neutral. He picked up his electric shaver and studied his reflection in the bathroom mirror as he shaved.
Harvey had a very large head situated on a relatively small body. Though he was five feet, seven – eight if he stretched the truth – a stubborn fear that he was actually a dwarf had persisted since childhood.
Now that he was a lawyer in a big time firm whose name more than hinted at his intelligence, he allowed himself to bypass the size of his head and concentrate on the size of his wallet instead. Most of the time.
After he finished shaving, he continued staring at himself in the mirror. “Boychick,” he said out loud, as he studied the dark circles under his eyes, “you gotta get more sleep.”
It wasn’t as if Harvey had an active social life, and it wasn’t as if he worked such long hours, though he did stay until nine or ten sometimes if he were working on a particularly difficult case with one of the partners whom he wanted to impress. Harvey stayed up late at night listening to classical music. He was educating himself. He listened to Haydn, Mahler, Beethoven, Brahms, and Chopin over and over again until he could identify the composer, the symphony, and the movement.
In order to amaze impressionable young women with his knowledge, when Harvey had a date, he always tuned the car radio to WFMT because they played classical music. And his dates were, indeed, awed, even if they didn’t particularly want to date Harvey a second time.
Still, Harvey, a true autodidact, persisted in acquiring knowledge. He bought a membership to the Art Institute and studied the major Impressionists with the same vigor he had lavished on the great composers. If he had not been to the manor born, he would do the next best thing. He would become to the manor adopted. He had his suits tailor made, bought his ties at Sulka, his aftershave at Saks Fifth Avenue. At thirty, he owned an apartment in Hyde Park, near the University of Chicago, one floor below Saul Bellow’s, in a neighborhood that had suddenly become chic again. He had studied architectural magazines and had furnished his home entirely himself. Every dish and spoon, every chair and table, every piece of art had been carefully chosen by Harvey.
Harvey had also supervised the reinvigoration of the solid oak floors, the painting of the walls a subtle shade of cream, and the updating of the bathrooms and kitchen so that they maintained the flavor of the late twenties when the apartment building had been built. All and all, Harvey was quite satisfied with his accomplishments, and, though he longed for a woman to fill the empty spaces in his life, deep down he wasn’t quite sure he was ready to bring anyone else into his perfect sanctuary.
Harvey straightened his tie and brushed away the imaginary lint on his jacket as he passed the elaborately-framed mirror in the hallway situated above the small, antique, mahogany table upon which his cleaning lady neatly stacked his mail.
He glanced down at his highly-polished Florsheim shoes and thought he looked expensive. But part of him wasn’t quite sure people would notice. He wished he could wear the label of his suit jacket on the outside. Winter was great because he could sling his coat casually across a chair with the silk lining and hand-sewn label exposed. And in spring he had his Burberry raincoat which was also impressive. But August was impossible.
Harvey had had a successful meeting with a new client, and one of the partners had congratulated him on his brilliance, so he decided to give himself a treat, take a long, very late, lunch break, and cab over to Grant Park from his office on La Salle Street. He was in a great mood, and he wanted to see for himself just what was going on there. Harvey did not believe in this war, and he had, in fact, written a cogent letter to the editor of the “Sun Times” logically and convincingly stating exactly why the United States had been wrong to invade Vietnam in the first place, why the war was an unwinable quagmire, and why we must now get out.
Three of the partners, self-importance billowing out of flared nostrils in which every visible hair had been clipped, had called Harvey into their individual offices, and without inviting him to sit down on their expensive leather sofas, had let him know that they not only disagreed with his stance but that because he was an associate, he should strongly consider keeping his politics to himself. They had then dismissed him as if he were yesterday’s law school graduate and not an important member of the firm.
Luckily, for Harvey, the two founding members of the firm, old lefties who had been raised in the same Workman Circle School as Harvey’s father, had stood behind him. Harvey had known, even before he wrote the letter, on which side his bread was buttered. He was canny that way.
Almost as soon as he crossed the street in front of the Hilton Hotel and made his way into the park, he spotted Suzanne Kaplan. Though Suzanne had been several years behind him at Northwestern, she’d been in his Modern European Lit class her sophomore year. A large class taught by Don Torcello, the first Italian he’d ever met who had blond hair and blue eyes.
Don was the English Department Casanova. He was also a great teacher, passionate, literate, funny, and dramatic. His classes were filled immediately. But Harvey was as interested in Torcello himself as he was in “The Magic Mountain” or “Swann’s Way.” He studied the man, just as he now studied the arts, hoping to learn how to seduce women.
Harvey didn’t have either Torcello’s Byronic looks or instant charm, but he’d read “The Joy of Sex” and knew exactly how to please a woman.
Glad that he had put on his expensive, navy blue pin-striped summer-weight suit that morning in order to impress his new client, Harvey approached Suzanne with some trepidation. He had had a major crush on her in college. But she had been out of his league then, and he’d never even spoken to her. And now, here she was right in front of him, still looking like a college student with her freckled nose and short, dark hair, worn in a pixie cut like Audrey Hepburn’s.
“Miss Kaplan,” he said, his tone of voice perfectly modulated with a touch of irony.
“Oh, hi,” she said, obviously distracted.
He would have to do something quickly, or she would disappear into the crowd, as she’d continued walking towards the make-shift podium at the Band Shell a hundred feet ahead of them. He began humming the first few bars of Northwestern’s Alma Mater.
“Northwestern,” she said, without fully engaging.
“Based on Haydn, you know.”
Harvey could see by her body language that he had overwhelmed her with his esoteric knowledge.
“I was in your Modern European Lit class.”
She cocked her head to the side as if she were studying him, but she continued striding towards the podium.
“It was a big class.”
She laughed. “I remember you now. You asked a lot of questions.”
“That would be me.”
“Well, Harvey, what can I say? You obviously asked the right questions. Here you are at an anti-war demonstration, dressed as if you’ve just had lunch at Jovan and are about to try an important case.”
“How did you know?” Harvey asked, delighted.
She laughed again. And though her eyes darted around the crowd, Harvey’s perfectly showered body tingled.
“I didn’t know, Harvey. But look around. It’s the suit. Too expensive for a salesman, not many doctors’ offices in this area, but we’re not that far from La Salle Street. Nobody else here is dressed like you.”
“Very astute powers of observation. Congratulations. I’m an associate at Myers, Arlen, and Smith.”
“You hit the big time.”
“Yes, I did. And what have you been up to since you graduated?”
“Taught at New Trier for a while. Teach at Roosevelt University now. Well, until the end of summer school.”
Ah, New Trier, he thought. Excellent. Well, Roosevelt’s not Northwestern or the University of Chicago, but it’s a university. She can move up from there. “I just wish I could do more about trying to end this war,” he said.
“Well, you’re here. I guess that says something.”
Some people may have found Suzanne’s comment and her tone of voice a bit condescending, but completely oblivious, Harvey continued.
“I’ve been talking to two resisters who burned their draft cards.”
“Talking to them, huh?”
“Trying to give them a little advice – pro bono.”
Harvey straightened his shoulders and hiked himself up to his full five feet seven or eight inches.
“Good for you.”
Harvey was sometimes amazed by his ability to turn on the charm and say just the right thing. Besides that, he was at least a full five inches taller than Suzanne.
“Jesus, look at all the cops,” Suzanne said.
Harvey sized up the police, their pants tucked into shiny black boots, their helmets in place, their billy clubs dangling from their belts. Big guys in expensive uniforms, boots, pants, and short-sleeved shirts with their muscles bulging. A whole battalion of Gregor Samsas crawling through the park, almost unnoticed.
“Rennie Davis,” Suzanne said, as they approached the Band Shell near the south end of the park. Several men of various ages stood facing the crowd.
Harvey glanced at the short-haired guy, who looked more like him than like the long-haired hippies and wannabe hippies standing next to them. All eyes were focused on Davis whose voice traveled the crowd, exhorting them to protest, on one hand. But to keep it in check, on the other. Everyone was amazingly calm, almost languid. As if they realized that their sheer number was enough to send a message. Harvey felt proud to be an American. Proud to live in a country where it was possible to protest the government without fearing that the government would crack down on you and throw you in jail. He felt a stirring in his breast every time he sang “The Star Spangled Banner.”
He was sure the demonstrators in Lincoln Park last night had instigated the mess. “This is a peaceful demonstration. How come so many police are here?” Suzanne asked, looking a little worried.
“Maybe to protect the protestors,” Harvey suggested, only half-seriously.
“That’ll be the day.”
Suzanne Kaplan’s feistiness turned him on. He immediately fantasized walking into the firm’s Christmas party with her on his arm. Though on second thought, he might have to amend his fantasy. She would, of course, have to lose the T-shirt and jeans look and the cheap dangly earrings. But by then he would have bought her a pair of cultured pearl earrings to celebrate their fourth month together. The matching necklace would come later. But unlike Harvey, who had struggled to lose his Chicago accent, Suzanne’s voice was as accent free as a newscaster’s. Suzanne could pass. If she wore a bra.
While Harvey was still in seduction mode, one of the demonstrators began climbing a flag pole nearby. Rennie Davis was still speaking, so only a few people noticed at first. Suzanne was one of them. “Oh no,” she said, under her breath, as she poked Harvey in the ribs. Harvey looked at her. She pointed to the guy, now half-way up the flag pole. Demonstration marshals raced towards the flag pole. But two policemen beat them to it. They started pulling the protestor down. Five other policemen quickly joined the first two. They dragged the screaming protestor to the ground and began beating him unmercifully. Harvey was stunned.
“Oh my god,” Suzanne shouted.
“Stop. Stop,” someone yelled.
“You’re gonna kill him.”
“Off the fucking pigs.”
“What are you doing?”
Hordes of police came wading through the crowd. Confused by the panic, Harvey wasn’t sure which way to turn. The police were everywhere. Poised to swing at anyone who got out of line. Harvey was as terrified as everyone else. But he knew instinctively that he could maneuver Suzanne out of harm’s way if he stayed calm like Rennie Davis. Davis continued standing on the platform, megaphone in hand, an ohm in the midst of impending chaos. But before Harvey could lead Suzanne away, a cop pounced on Davis. Hit him hard on the back of the head. And sent him reeling to the floor of the podium.
For a moment, Harvey couldn’t believe what he’d just seen. Then he grabbed Suzanne’s arm. “Let’s get out of here!” She stood there, frozen.
“This is horrible. Horrible,” she kept repeating.
Someone nearby screamed. A sea of gigantic beetles invaded and began terrorizing anyone in their path. Harvey’s sense of identity as a proud American started to shrivel. He felt tears sting his eyes. Everyone around him was crying, as well.
“Teargas,” someone yelled.
As if that cry of alarm had finally given her the impetus to move, Suzanne suddenly turned and ran towards the street. She cut through pockets of dazed demonstrators. Harvey ran after her.
When they got to Michigan Avenue, eyes burning, tears now streaming, they were both panting. Harvey was aware of the sweat rolling down his arms and felt as if he were drowning in salt water and perspiration. The whole experience felt surreal and too real at the same time.
Without speaking, they crossed Michigan Avenue and stood leaning next to the doorway of the Hilton Hotel.
“Jesus,” Harvey said. “What the hell just happened?”
Suzanne was shaking. “The whole thing is insane.”
Even with their blurred vision, their eyes were glued to the scene across the street. Both of them felt as if they had somehow escaped from a hell that had materialized from out of nowhere. Other demonstrators, still trying to escape, were running in all directions. The cops were chasing them down. As if they were on a frantic mission.
“We gotta get out of here. Now,” Harvey said, without looking away from the park. He rubbed his eyes, still streaming. “I can’t see straight. Maybe we should head over to State Street.”
“Let’s go into the Hilton, find a bathroom, and wash out our eyes.”
But they didn’t move. They just stood there crying.
“You’re a big lawyer. You have to do something about this! Tell people! They’ll believe you. Sue the city. We weren’t doing anything. We were all innocent bystanders.”
“We were protesting.”
“So what? Since when has that become illegal?”
“You’re right. You’re right.”
“Let’s get out of here.”
Suzanne swiped her eyes with her arm. Harvey moved closer to her. For a moment, he worried about his expensive shirt and suit jacket, now totally ruined.
“Maybe we can sue the city.”
Harvey tried to ignore the bile that coated his throat. Attempting to piece together exactly what had just happened, he suddenly found himself shaking uncontrollably. His illusions had been shattered. Or at the very least, altered.
Suzanne started to cry, clearly not only because of the teargas. “They just came at us – like they hated our guts. My god, it was like they wanted to obliterate every single one of us.” She cringed. “To be the object of hatred…”
Harvey put his arm around her. “I’ll need names of people who were in the park, people who witnessed what went on.”
“I’ll get in touch with some friends who were – who are probably still there.” She allowed herself to lean against him for a moment; then she pulled away. “I have to go back.”
“Look,” Harvey said, gently. “Given what we just went through, I don’t think the police are going to calm down any time soon.”
She hesitated for a moment.
Harvey realized that she was struggling to garner all her resources. He wanted to protect her. Even more than that, he wanted to impress her.
“We can’t let them win,” she said finally. “We can’t get into the boxcars again, thinking we can save our asses if we don’t protest.”
Harvey looked at her for what seemed like a long time. Finally, he took her hand. “Let’s go.”
“I’m not leaving Grant Park,” she said, fear obviously lurking behind her bravado.
They walked back across the street together. Somehow, despite his fear and his losses, despite the ordeal he had just gone through and the one that was certainly ahead of him, Harvey suddenly felt hopeful. After all, he told himself, Dante had gone through hell before catching a glimpse of Beatrice. But he was already holding her hand.
Marilyn Levy has had 18 Young Adult novels published (Ballantine Books, Houghton Mifflin, Penguin, and J.P.S.). Several have won awards, including A.L.A. Best Book List. She wrote the screenplay for Bride of the Wind, based on the life of Alma Mahler, directed by Bruce Beresford and distributed by Paramount Classics.
Harvey Bender is part of a novel in progress containing linked short stories that all take place on August 28, 1968 during the Democratic Convention in Chicago.