Page 235-237: I don’t recall a blare of trumpets and a silver leaping flash of mercury, but there might as well have been. He wasn’t there. And suddenly he was. Moving effortlessly, like a gleaming thoroughbred trotting into the winners’ circle. You got the feeling he always moved like that: like a fighter waltzing across a ring, or an Olympian surging victory-foamed out of a pool, a dancing golden boy, the world’s greatest . . .
The roar rose as if the cement were splitting under our feet, it rose in stages, in tiers, until it shook the rafters, till it fluttered Palmer’s necktie, a leaping frenzy of noise, as people roared and whimpered and climbed high on the backs of chairs to shout their inspiring gratitude. It was everything: the end of a long summer, the heat, the bursting tension, the wait, the golden boy appearance, that dance, smile, aristocratic wave, that he was brother-in-law related, that in a sense everything flowed from him, our leader . . . .
Now he was coming into focus as a human being, an anthropoid figure like everyone else. Shriver was dazzling. Diamonds smile. Clark Gable hair, with streaks of silver. Skin a booming tan, no doubt from weekends yachting off Hyannisport. His face looked patted, so smooth and babylike. He flashed gold cufflinks. He sat on the right hand of the President of the United States, by virtue of talent and family . . . .
He commenced to speak.
Rotten accent, bad as Kennedy’s. But what the hell, maybe God has a rotten accent. He came quickly to the point, the meat of his sermon: on the plane he had been reading Yevtushenko’s autobiography and in places it carried such a force of truth that he wanted to read us a few excerpts.
Now this was such a Peace Corps thing to do I almost wept from the ingeniousness of it. The conservative press would scream: Peace Corps Director Reads Indoctrinating Communist Propaganda to Training Group; while the liberal press would slobber down their bibs in admiration. It was so typically Peace Corps; liberal, daring – with one eye on the propaganda market. Shriver read lurchingly, that accent hatcheting up the words, but dwelled with obvious admiration on Yevtushenko’s great remark: “What kind of age is this, to speak the truth is called courage.”
Fay had to control me. He was telling us that. Easy boy! He was telling us! The implication was: if we had nothing else over the Soviet system, at least we had that. “Did you hear – !!” I hissed, in something resembling righteous convulsions, “did you HEAR what that – MAN – said! – to speak the truth is called courage, and CONTEMPTUOUS yet – TRUTH! TRUTH! – when half the motherfuckers here are muzzled to the teeth . . .!”
I saw my role with grand simplicity, I would get up, interrupt the reading, and say, as the cameras ground away, Please, Sir, Mr. Shriver, something is amiss in this program of which you are the head, and I think you should be apprised of it, not via reports, the end of a long chain of political softenings, but from a man who knows and can quote chapter and verse, there is something rotten, terribly rotten, in this great American experiment afflicted by the greatest of American diseases: Playing-it-safe. Shriver paused for breath and I saw my opening, this bearded maniac rising from the twentieth row to tell the President’s brother-in-law how to save his creation . . .
But I said nothing, for the same reason Fay didn’t fly in the face of family and priest to go to Harvard: I didn’t have the balls.
Shriver rolled on, dropping pearls of inspiration about courage, about truth and freedom. Freedom of expression. Freedom of dissent. He finished and whacked the book into his palm, saying Yevtushenko was, yes, a dedicated Communist and a patriotic Russian, but still we could learn from him. He was so impressed he would see to it that we all got a copy of the book . . .
He left much as he had come, with banners waving and throats hoarsing themselves red, and Palmer still fingering his fly to check that all was well.
The New York papers reported that “Sargent Shriver paid a surprise visit to a Peace Corps training site today and was spontaneously and enthusiastically acclaimed.”