A Primer for the Democratic National Convention
Had Thurman J.D. Troyer not become a politician, he surely would have withered and died like an unwatered plant. From the instant of conception, the chromosomes of his mother and father meshed like fine gears, putting into motion the most efficient political machine the state of Georgia would ever see. He was blessed with the legendary striking good looks of his mother’s family, as well as their oozing, oily charm and, of course, the in-bred infra-structure of tradition peculiar to the deep South of the United States. Paternally, he was equipped with towering physical strength, seemingly endless reservoirs of stamina, a true filibuster’s gift of gab and the ability to read people like thirty point newspaper headlines. Environment conspired with heredity to pump his conscience down to a near perfect vacuum and to instill a system of moral values as simple as tallying votes or totaling left over campaign funds. His entire life had been one long political campaign—literally, in that four days after his birth, against doctors’ explicit orders, the swaddled Troyer babe was carried from one end of Georgia to the other in his mother’s arms to press the flesh (mostly cheeks and lips) in support of the first in the life-long string of his father’s unsuccessful bids for the governorship. Jefferson Davis Troyer was a far better peanut farmer than a politician, but his son avenged his many losses and “done his kin proud” by ascending that Mount Olympus of American government, Washington, D.C.
Thurman Troyer was at his level-best horse trading with his peers in the Senate cloak room. It mattered little whether he was garnering votes for passage of a bill or swapping livestock from his Ilium, Georgia, peanut farm with other landed gentry members of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. He loved to feel the heat of face-to-face, toe-to-toe negotiations flush his cheeks and swore he could actually hear the snap of backbone when the nearly imperceptible relaxation of muscles about the eyes and mouth signaled the breaking of his opponent’s will. For leisure, he sipped Jack Daniel’s sour mash whiskey and charmed doting flocks of wealthy matrons at various society functions about town with juicy gossip about the inner workings of government and his own indelible marks made in shaping mankind’s future recorded history, all the while gauging in the back of his mind whether his audience of the moment might mark an ‘X’ by his name on a voting ballot.
Katherine “Cissy” McClean found Thurman Troyer to be an intolerable bore who took himself far too seriously, yet she nodded and smiled approvingly as the guest of honor at her dinner party droned on and on and on. It was the spring of 1943. The war dragged on and small wonder why, she thought, with interminable wind bags like the Senator running things. Although the war took its toll on Washington, D.C.’s second largest industry, what with food and gasoline rationing as well as a continuous stream of downbeat news reports about the fighting and killing overseas, Cissy McClean had been able to maintain her position of preeminence as the capitol’s premier party thrower. The secret of her success on the society pages was that she knew a hostess could not ignore the public’s insatiable taste for conflict, drama and intrigue. It took more than fine food and famous faces to get newspaper cameras clicking and Washington whispers wafting. Cissy McClean nodded and smiled approvingly at the man she had secretly selected to provide the entertainment for that evening.
As Cissy McClean well knew, Thurman Troyer never missed a ritualistic gathering of the rich and powerful of Washington society, lest his absence be noticed less than his presence, and to insure due notice of his attendance at such functions, he never failed to parade about with the most valuable social asset he possessed on his arm, his famously beautiful and infamously eligible daughter, Helen, for all the world—or at least all the world’s ambassadors—to see, to admire and to envy. Cissy McClean was also keenly aware that the feud between Senator Troyer and Admiral Hemmings had attracted wide public interest, having been fought openly and bitterly in Washington, D.C. newspapers during the first dark days of World War II when everyone was looking for someone else to take the blame for the embarrassing debacle of Pearl Harbor. Even though the Army eventually got their own war in Europe while the Navy got a war all to themselves in the South Pacific, the military’s internecine acrimony was never more than a few degrees short of a full boil, and Cissy McClean could feel the temperature rising as she stood with Senator Troyer watching her guests being seated for dinner. She smiled with a touch of Machiavellian malice as the Senator’s eyes narrowed to near slits and his ears flushed bright red at the sight of Helen Troyer being seated, exactly as Cissy McClean planned, next to a handsome young Naval officer, notorious in his own right for his prodigious womanizing as well as for his effectiveness as a member of Admiral Hemmings’ staff. The young Naval officer was Y.T., Sr.
Helen Troyer tried valiantly to ignore Y.T., Sr. by attempting to sustain a conversation with an impossibly droll little man from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on her left. Her efforts were in vain as the dullard had been scrupulously screened and selected by Cissy McClean to block her only possible avenue of retreat.
Cissy McClean had also deftly positioned on Y.T., Sr.’s right “The Countess”, an elderly Yugoslavian refugee with some extremely obscure lineage to Slovenian royalty who was renowned for her indecipherable English as well as her audible dozing between dinner courses. He ignored her snoring and stared overtly at Helen’s delicate profile as she nodded in agreement with agrarian history slowly unfolding in a painful monotone.
Senator Troyer steamed at the sight of his daughter being visually mauled by a Yankee infidel. Already the canapés he hungrily devoured before dinner were beginning to march through his intestinal tract like Sherman had marched through Georgia.
Delighted, Cissy McClean scanned her other guests for any inkling of recognition of the drama beginning to unfold in their midst.
Helen Troyer’s mind began to drift from the lecture detailing the precise genealogy of the Morovian 5 strain of wheat being recited by the bureaucratic troll at her side. She imagined herself looking down on the Mall from her father’s office window, watching pigeons gather on sidewalk grates for warmth, thinking of the flocking mentality of Washingtonites, being suddenly startled at the realization that a young Naval officer was staring directly back up at her from below. She began to feel Y.T., Sr.’s present stare like a heat upon her neck. An instinctive surge of adrenalin mainlined into her blood stream as if she were a quarry alarmed at the nearby presence of a predator. She began to coldly calculate her strategy to deal with Y.T., Sr. as, inevitably, she knew she would have to do sometime during the course of dinner.
Heading back to Navy Bachelor Officer’s Quarters after a long day of idle waiting at the Capitol, Y.T., Sr. often paused on the Mall to catch a glimpse of Helen Troyer’s alluring silhouette framed in her father’s office window like a bird in a gilded cage. He would try to imagine what it would be like to sit as close to her as he was there at Cissy McClean’s dinner party and what they might talk about. As Helen Troyer struggled to ignore him, Y.T., Sr. mentally inventoried her charms, counting among them the few very minor flaws in her beauty, knowing, as Leonardo Da Vinci must have, that the regularity of perfection can be boring and bland. An arousing Spanish fragrance teased him. Other women trolled with stink bait as if angling for carp, he mused, but this one was probably one hell of a fly fisherman. Having been taught by her father, one of the best fly fishermen in all of Congress, Y.T., Sr. was correct, but it was one of the few things he had not yet found out for sure about her through his many Capitol Hill connections.
Helen Troyer had endeavored to learn much about Y.T., Sr. as well. From Army C.I.D. reports requested by her father, she learned everything from his hat size (7 7/8) on down to his shoe size (9D). She read about his father’s suicide on Wall Street, his mother’s family exile and menial job at the O’Reilly Candy Factory, his school days at Harvard University and his numerous amorous exploits since coming to Washington, D.C. In a paragraph which made Senator Troyer swear out loud when he read it, she discovered that, unlike most Washington-brand warriors, the battle ribbons worn on the breast of his uniform were genuine. Y.T., Sr. had shot down four Japanese Zeros flying off the U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier when he was unexpectedly caught in the midst of the Battle of Midway during a fleet inspection tour for Admiral Hemmings. But all of the typically turgid prose of government reports told Helen Troyer too much about events and too little about the kind of man Y.T., Sr. really was. That information she gleaned by gossiping with her father’s secretary, Madeline, who had inexplicably put her job in jeopardy by clandestinely dating the young Naval officer so despised by Senator Troyer.
He had known for sometime now how bored she was with the stilted society role defined by her father and thrust upon her.
From all accounts—but most vividly and graphically from Madeline—she knew how he fed on Washington society like a hungry predator.
He knew from the society pages that endless rumors of her pending engagement to the son of this southern governor or that western senator, this Texan rancher or that Midwestern business leader circulated freely and frequently. He knew from Madeline that she had begun to resent her father’s on-going matrimonial negotiations as if she were merely one more blue ribbon heifer to trade away off the farm in the Senate Cloak Room.
She knew, just by looking across the room at the fear, anger and frustration in her father’s eyes and the gleaming smile on Cissy McClean’s make-up caked face that Y.T., Sr. was the one man in all of Washington who could take the Senator on and, perhaps, prevail.
“And enough already about wheat,” she whispered to herself. She turned to look at Y.T., Sr.
He stared back, giving no quarter. He would not make it easy for her. He knew that would be the wrong approach.
“Ahem.” She cleared her throat and offered a small, coy smile.
He smiled the morphinic Erp smile. He said nothing.
With the arrival of the fruit cup, Helen Troyer elected to seize the initiative. She said with a gusty sigh, “If I have one more meal of chicken, I do believe I shall positively die.”
A moment of silence. A long moment of silence.
“Actually, I do not believe we have ever been properly introduced,” Y.T., Sr. said softly and politely.
Damn, that was my line, she thought to herself. She bowed her head and blushed ever so slightly.
“I am Navy Lieutenant Erp, Y.T. Erp, and I am very pleased to meet you,” he said in a crisp whisper that made her instinctively lean towards him to hear.
Across the room, Senator Troyer stoked his temper like a steamship’s boiler.
“Helen Troyer of the Ilium Troyers.” She looked over at her father, who was too far away to hear them speak. “My father is the senior Senator from the grand state of Georgia,” she said mechanically.
“Yes, of course. I know of him.”
They both smiled.
It seemed to Senator Troyer to be the longest dinner he had ever endured—and he had endured plenty in his life time of politics—watching helplessly from across the room as the flower of his life was sniffed, fingered and tossed in the blustery breeze of Lieutenant Erp’s line of Navy bullshit that he blew her way throughout the meal. As each course was served then later taken away from him untouched, Thurman Troyer’s discomfort and anger became more and more noticeable to those seated about him. Cissy McClean dreamily gazed upon the ripples of gossip slowly spreading out from around the Senator as if he were a stone she tossed into the still waters of a calm pond. The next day’s society headlines and columnists’ copy were still churning in her imagination after dessert when, in excess of even her grandest expectations, a frenzy of photographers’ flash bulbs erupted about a small scuffle at Lt. Erp’s table between Helen Troyer and her big brother. At his father’s behest, Hector Troyer, who also served as his father’s Senate aide and shared in his father’s unwavering hatred of Admiral Hemmings, forcibly escorted his “frail sister” out of the “lecherous reaches of that Navy Scoundrel” and back to the safety of her father’s side. Y.T., Sr. quietly retired from the party under Helen Troyer’s watchful eye.
Hector Troyer’s harsh words to his sister about loyalty, family honor and plain old, down home common sense during the limousine ride home echoed the Senator’s heartfelt sentiments exactly, but fell on deaf ears. Helen Troyer sat pressed against the door of the back seat as far away from her father as possible and stared at passing Washington, D.C. landmarks in a stone-like silence. Once home, she went directly to bed without a word to brother or father. Shaken to the depths of his southern core by the events of the evening and his daughter’s icy attitude towards him, Thurman Troyer went to the study with a fifth of Jack Daniel’s to brood. He listened to Hector Troyer rant and rave on the subject of revenge for only five minutes before he bluntly ordered him to leave. When Helen Troyer arose the next morning at four-thirty, her father was asleep, slumped over in his favorite chair. The whiskey bottle was nearly empty. She tip-toed past the study and left for the airport to meet Y.T., Sr. The night before, at Cissy McClean’s party, the young Naval Aviator had promised to teach her how to fly an airplane. It was a thing she had, inexplicably, always wanted to do, but none of the Army Air Corps pilots her father so favored ever had the nerve to do it, probably out of fear that if she ever got hurt or killed, Senator Troyer, Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Appropriations Committee, would never forgive—or fund—them ever again.
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