Excerpt from Eyes Shut Tight
I walked into the office, stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Ken McGee. The tall, black, handsome, meticulously dressed man took a drag on his cigar and smiled at me. He had one of those wonderful smiles, the kind that can make strong women weak and weak men strong. It could light up a room. "Glad to meet you Ken," he said. Sit down and let's see where we're going." I was in my mid-thirties, successful, and somewhat bored with the rewards of middle class life, wife, four children, expensive condominium, Jaguar, and an airplane. The civil rights movement and politics seemed like a breath of fresh air particularly when the "new action" could be cloaked in the self righteousness that could never be contained in the gambling and drinking that regularly was featured as "action" in my life. I had fought hard the ghosts of the past for some time, seeming driven to reject all those things material and personal that surrounded me. I had also been sober for several months.
To Carl Stokes, I must have been what he needed at this moment. Urbane, articulate, and described as having that "star" quality that only a few politicians have, Carl Stokes was fast achieving a Messiah image for Cleveland's Blacks. The Irish had Jack Kennedy, the Jews had Moyshe Dayan, and now the Blacks had Carl Stokes. He had, at this point however, in his campaign for Mayor excited the Blacks and the Jews and that was it. "Dammit," Stokes thought, "why do I have to have the Jews as my only white backers." It was reminiscent of that line from the novel, Barefoot Boy with Cheek, "I only have one friend and I hate him." What he needed, practically speaking, was a show Whitey and not a Jewish liberal with a beard. I was perfect, Irish (although really half Jewish) successful (it appeared), well liked by most who knew me and agreeable to playing the part of traveling companion, confidant and backer to the fast rising fortunes of this black political super star. "Just enough idealism," thought Stokes, "he'll make a good john."
Carl Stokes knew he was finally standing on the threshold. He might not make it this time but in general, he was at the right place and very close to the right time. Although quick to lay on guilt to his white friends about their good fortune in being born white, he knew in fact that black was where it was at, if one knew where and how to play the game. Being born poor was bad. Being born poor and black was ten times worse. But Carl knew one thing. No other training ground in the world could have given him the necessary ingredients that went into making him what he was today. Conning the white man and making it in his world was a fact of survival and now riding on the crest of the civil rights movement it had become the formula for success. For the mediocre of mind it meant the entry into the white world, and some getting even to boot. For the smart and the gutsy it meant success beyond the wildest dreams. For a street hustler turned lawyer, smart, a quick wit and a winning way, politics was the answer and Carl Stokes knew quite soon he would have it made. But he had to play it smart now and take it a step at a time. He turned to me, "Let's get out of here, we have to meet with the goddamn cops and also get to know each other. After all, we're going to be Mayor of Cleveland!" I smiled, here was some real action at last and a chance to also accomplish something. It's dangerous, it's fun, it's legal, ethical, moral, and it's a free pass out of the house. What a hell of a parlay!PREVIEW EYES SHUT TIGHT