The critics have been effusive in their praise for Richard Bausch's Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America and All the Ships at Sea.His hardover sales have also never been higher.Taking its title from Walter Winchell's famous radio salutation, Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America opens in Washington, DC, in 1964, just after the Kennedy assassination, telling the story of Walter Marshall, an idealistic 19-year-old who lives with his widowed mother and studies to be a journalist like his hero, Edward R. Murrow. In this coming-of-age novel in the truest sense of the phrase, young Marshall fumbles toward manhood in a nation that is itself in the midst of cataclysmic change.
With the same elegance and precision that has distinguished his other novels, Richard Bausch has evoked a sense of time and place in a different America and brings the last 30 years of history profoundly and vividly to life.
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About the Author
Richard Bausch is the author of nine other novels and seven volumes of short stories. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Playboy, GQ, Harper's Magazine, and other publications, and has been featured in numerous best-of collections, including the O. Henry Awards' Best American Short Stories and New Stories from the South. In 2004 he won the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story.
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Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea
The other students still enrolled in the D'Allessandro School for Broadcasting in the fall of 1964 had heavy responsibilities and worries, and were making sacrifices to come to school. Lately it had seemed to Walter Marshall as if there were some general discouragement these students were all stoically enduring to continue acquiring their training, though Mr. D'Allessandro himself was always cheerful, and went about his business in the usual meaningless hurry. He had a big ring of keys attached to his belt, and each evening he opened his office with a great jingling of the keys and breathless protestations about how pressed for time he was. Everything he did, every aspect of the school's operations, took place in the same hectic rush.
The building that housed the school was old--it had been erected during the presidency of Andrew Jackson--and occasionally the lights flickered or went out, as though something in the heart of the structure had failed momentarily. There were holes in the plaster of the ceilings in the corridors, and some of the wainscoting had come away from the walls of the rooms; the radiator pipes made an awful pounding noise in cold weather, when they worked at all. And if the building itself was dilapidated, the school's equipment was not much better--several student desks were falling apart; some of the switches on the electronic console in the sound booth were broken; there were sheets of baffling dangling from the ceiling in the studio; only one of the phones worked. Mr. D'Allessandro had cut down on the electricity as much as possible, and was economizinginother ways: When the toilet in the men's bathroom broke, instead of calling a plumber he had fashioned a small cardboard sign for the one good bathroom: occupied (the U was closed at the top, so it looked as if it said occupied); because the radiator in his office was unpredictable and worked on its own undiscoverable schedule, he could be found some winter evenings sitting at his desk wearing a coat.
In the middle of all these homely concessions to frugality, Walter Marshall felt more than a little guilty: His tuition had been paid for out of an inheritance from his father; and just as it was becoming clear to his classmates that he had the best prospects for landing a job after graduation--he was already spending some Saturday mornings taping sixty-second commercials in English to be run during a South American public affairs program on Sunday afternoons--he had let it be known that he was no longer interested in broadcasting as a career.
So while the others struggled to meet their payments and to fulfill the responsibilities that were weighing them down--and while Mr. D'Allessandro himself seemed more harried and threadbare than ever--Marshall was coasting through only in order that the money already spent would not be wasted.
Aside from Albert Waple, who had been friendly from the first days, the other students had begun keeping a certain distance. There was never any unpleasantness--but in fact they now possessed more shared experience to talk about, since together they had also begun to arrive at the painful conclusion that the resources they were spending on this training might as well have been spent on something else.
There was Ricky Dalmas, who at twenty-two was onlythree years older than Marshall, but who already had a wife and two children. During the days, he worked in an auto shop behind the parts counter, and barely made enough money to pay his rent. Of course he could not afford payments on a car. School nights, his wife packed sandwiches for his evening meal, and sent him trudging through the weather to school. Often, he had part of a sandwich with him to eat during the break, and when he did not have anything, he watched the others eat their candy bars and snack crackers. No one offered him anything, because he always refused and always seemed vaguely affronted by the offer. He kept an unlighted pipe in his mouth a lot of the time, bringing it out and holding it up as if to savor its aroma before he spoke. This was a nervous gesture, unconscious as a blink, and it was rendered all the more awkward by the fact that you could see him striving to be the sort of person who held a pipe a certain way--a man pondering troubles, the complexities of existence. Each night he wore the same dark green sport coat with patches on the sleeves, and his hair always dangled over his forehead, black, straight, and with a sheen like polish. At times the dark forelock looked exactly like that of Adolf Hitler in the photographs, but no one ever mentioned this. The pipe had a chip in its stem, and he had a chipped tooth, and it was difficult not to connect the two, somehow, as though there had been some kind of collision in his past having to do with the pipe. He had not finished high school, and was now having some trouble with the required work. His best hope for the future, according to Mr. D'Allessandro himself, was to find a job selling advertising time or something.That was as near as he would ever get to a real job in broadcasting, and Mr. D'Allessandro had been straight with him about it. He would never work the microphones, because his voice was too high-pitched, his ear for where emphasis ought to fall too weak. "There's no way to fake a tin ear," Mr. D'Allessandro told him.
Yet each night, as part of the second-year training schedule, Dalmas was required to read out some advertising copy, which--as was nearly always immediately evident--he had taken the trouble to write himself.
You know, death is always inconvenient, but to make it even more convenient, try Gausson's Funeral Home on West Pike Street in Landover Heights. That's Gausson's Funeral Home, the place to bring your family and friends during moments of grief . . .
There was Joe Baker, thirty-one years old, a civil servant now, though until the year before last he had been an elementary school teacher, in Alabama. He had been with the National Guard there during the riots three summers ago. "They had me guarding a church in Montgomery," he told Marshall in the first minutes of their acquaintance. "After the Freedom Riders came in and this mob went after them. That was a world of hurt. A bunch got away from the mob and gathered in this old church. A lot of the famous ones, too. I mean the whole boatload of Civil Rightsers--King himself was in there--making speeches and singing. It was something. Didn't know if anybody'd get out alive, least of all me. I believe in integration, too. I do. You know why? I think it's good for business. A lot of Southerners do. Even the ones raising all the hell. Like the bus-company owners. That's the most ridiculous thing in the world. Everybodyknows they need the Negro's business--can't survive without it. And here they are insisting on this back of the bus shit. For the sake of form. All knee-jerk shit, you see? They're afraid to look at it differently. And then everybody's afraid of the crowd." He was also married, with three daughters, one of whom occasionally came with him to class. She looked nothing like her father, and he teased that this was one of God's mercies to the country. Baker was heavy-jowled, and pug-nosed, and wore a flattop haircut that showed the crown of his scalp. His mouth was crowded with teeth, especially on the bottom row, and they made his jaw stick out. The starched white shirt he always wore was invariably rolled up at the sleeves, showing powerful, almost hairless forearms. He possessed a good radio voice, but could not distinguish the tones needed--again, a problem of emphasis. When he spoke into the microphone, you could hear authority and confidence, but there was no music in it; it sounded flat, almost machine spoken--which was not at all the way he sounded simply talking. His ambition was to work his way up to sports announcer.
Only auto accident I ever had, it was summer, I was going slow in traffic, bumper to bumper, and I saw this beautiful girl--this vision, you know?--come walking out of a bank over on H Street. I couldn't take my eyes off her, and--bang!--I hit the guy in front of me. I'm--what--eighteen years old, scared shitless, and out of the car this old, old man comes, all bent over with a cane. He walks slow, back to the window of my car, leans in and without quite looking at me says, "That's all right, son. I saw her, too." Then he turns around and walks back to his car and gets in,and that's just the way I want to be when I'm eighty-five . . .
There was Martin Alvarez, whose uncle worked at the FCC, and who claimed to have important connections there. Even these, he seemed to be saying at times, would do him no good. He was twenty-eight or twenty-nine, unmarried, and it was hard to know much else about him, since he never wanted to come out with the other students after classes and he seldom talked about himself. Big-shouldered and dark and round-faced, he spoke with an accent that made the others wonder why he was not the one doing advertisements for South American Radio. One of his eyes had a white fleck of something in it, and when he looked at you, with his white smile and his enthusiasm, the fleck made you think of helpless children in dire circumstances.
My favorite guy een show business ess thees guy Bert Pahks. Mos'talented guy I have ever seen, mun. No sheet. I saw him perform at thees club las' year, almos' keel me, mun . . . Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea. Copyright ? by Richard Bausch. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.