Sunday, June 22, 2014

New Voice Of Gen-X Remembers 1994 When World Soccer Came To USA

So here is the deal 30 Days Across America is a great story.  It's about America and New Jersey and the world, a bromance and a road trip, social class and even a bit of a dark sidetrip into the world of alcohol abuse.  I have to get that out of the way, because my meandering mind has this regrettable tendency to "bury the lead". which may be the reason why I don't get the "pageviews I deserve" according to my editor on

 The bare basics of the story are that David and Julio, prep school pals, who share living quarters in Montclair NJ while attending different colleges decide to go on a road trip to see as many of the 1994 World Soccer games, hosted in the USA that year, as they possibly can. David's parents were just killed in a tragic traffic accident leaving the grieving kid with considerably more dollars than sense. The number of issues that Chris Dwyer manages to seamlessly weave into the story is simply mind boggling.  

Jersey Boys

Although David and Julio travel the country. Their base is Northern New Jersey which Chis Dwyer evokes masterfully.  Thomas Wolfe wrote that only the dead know Brooklyn, but even they do not fully comprehend Northern New Jersey.

If you have read Democracy in America by Alexis De Tocqueville, who visited the nascent United States in the 1830s, you can see that the culture of the United States was well formed and recognizable even them.  It was the result of a complex interaction of Europeans, predominately English speaking, indigenous peoples and people taken in captivity from Africa.  Who gave us which pieces is a puzzle that will never be fully solved.

Then came the greatest movement of people in the history of the world. Roughly 100,000,000 people coming from Europe to the Americas, many going to the United States until the gates were largely shut after World War I.  For two or three generations many would not get that far from Ellis Island and maintain ethnicity that would gradually fade.  One wave of refugees washing into another slightly better established.  

David and Julio are part of that story.  David's father was of Italian descent, but had anglicized their last name, and married a woman of Welsh descent.  From relatively modest circumstances they had done quite well for themselves as is outlined in the first stage setting chapter.  They live in Basking Ridge a very wealthy ex-urb and rent Dave a place in upscale Montclair.  Julio is Cuban.  Cubans were the latest batch of refugees when I was growing up in the 1960s in Fariview NJ.  Quite a few of them attended Xavier High School.  Holy Rosary Academy in Union City, where my sister attended and taught for a while, an all girls school, was also popular and may have had a longer lease on life thanks to them.

David and Julio met at the fancy prep school they attended. Julio was there on a scholarship.  He believed that his main purpose was to provide the other kids, whom he refers to as douchebags, a bit of diversity.  In part their friendship reflects the fact that David too didn't quite belong there. The prep school is one of the last bastions of the Waspocracy.

The passing of the Waspocracy is signified by many things, not least, in my mind that their best chronicler James Gould Cozzens, once a best selling author and critically acclaimed, is barely remembered today.  Even more notable perhaps is the fact that the Supreme Court contains not a single Protestant. Even the African-American is a graduate of the College of The Holy Cross. Although Northern New Jersey is not represented, there are justices from Queens, The Bronx and the Upper East Side. As Rumplestilsken/Mr. Gold is wont to remark "All magic comes with a price"

So too with social transformation.  The Catholics and Jews who have in many areas ousted the Waspocracy have in many ways had their ethnicity drained from them with little bits of it being incorporated into the common culture.

Chris Dwyer has the ideal background to tell this story.  It seems to be a rule in American literary life that novels of youth must be written by and about prep school kids.  The canonical youth novels as far as I know are Catcher in The Rye and A Separate Peace - oh yeah, then there is Lord of The Flies seem to follow that rule.

So how can the youth of North Jersey with there slowly fading ethnicities have their stories told when even those who attend elite high schools still commute and the schools are just not at all WASPy in heritage.  They needed Chirs Dwyer to be their voice. Here I must out myself as someone is related to the author.  Chris's mother, Marianne Reilly Dwyer is my first cousin.

Our families were in a sort of liminal space, the southern part of Bergen County.  The dominant housing was single family as opposed to the multi-family of Julio's West New York, which in Fairview we referred to as "down the avenue:, but the single family homes were tightly space on 37' by 100' lots.  Marianne lived in Ridgefield and every Sunday afternoon was command performance at our Irish immigrant grandmother's home in Cliffside Park.

We all went to Catholic schools and were entirely of Irish descent, although Marianne's mother came by way of Scotland.

Marianne is a couple of years older than me, but young enough to be a first wave boomer.  So while I was attending Xavier High School in Manhattan, she and her husband to be were founding the Jersey City chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, while attending St Peter's College.  Hank also felt a calling to be a priest.  Rather than resolving this inconsistency by some sort of Thorn Birds type drama, they became Episcopalians.  Reverend Hank Dwyer served parishes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but that is another story.  His clergy status while not leading to the wealth of Dave's parents provided scholarships for Chris to attend WASPy prep schools finishing at Westtown.  The prep school that Dave and Julio attended is based on the ones that Westtown would play.

So Chirs Dwyer has a feel for the working class slowly dethnicizing people of North Jersey and the WASPy prep school.  An oxymoronic "poor Episcopalian", he was both an outsider and insider at the prep school.  Julio is an outsider, but his friendship with Dave is based somewhat on Dave's ability to bridge the gap, since he, despite his family's new found wealth, is also something of an outsider.

The Road Trip

Julio probably had not crossed too many state lines before embarking with David and we get to share his experience of what a big country it is.  A little side trip to Tijuana also reminds us of the problems of driving while hispanic as they encounter difficulties at the border crossing.  The trip to Tijuana is inspired by a couple of sailors they meet in San Diego.  The author is again bringing in a bit of his real life.  When your parents found the SDS chapter in their city and take you to Rolling Stones concerts, what the heck can you do to rebel?  Chris enlisted in the Navy.  He trained as a sonar man in San Diego.

The Soccer

Chris told me he watched every single game that Dave and Julio saw, mostly on youtube.  Among the more important were the US v Brazil

And Brazil v Italy

I really don't like soccer much at all, but was really able to appreciate the tension that the guys were experiencing.

At the outset Julio has to explain to David that not all hispanics are soccer fanatics.  In Cuba, they love baseball.  As far as soccer is concerned

It's just 20 guys kicking a ball around and another two who can use their hands.

The Tick Tock Diner

There is lots of North Jersey color, but probably one of the best spots the boys frequent is the Tick Tock Diner.  When I did my own cross country road trip in 2010, that was my last stop for a mini-family reunion, which had the author in attendance

His wife was smiling even though he wasn't.

On GenX And Boomer

Chris Dwyer, born in 1971 is like, David and Julio, firmly Gen X with parents, like David's, who are first wave Boomers.  That gives the book a rather eerie feeling for me which I am now going to take way too long to explain.

Quite a few years ago, probably a bit before David and Julio embarked on their road trip in 1994, I got one of the first intimations that I was getting on in years.  I was visiting a college and high school classmate, Victor, who had chosen a military career. He had been an electronics weapons officer flying in the back seat of a plane called the Wild Weasal, which located SAM sites but tricking the SAM site into firing at them or something equally crazy.  He had then gotten into a special program that sent career Air Force officers to law school.  As we were comparing notes on our jobs, he started ranting as was sometimes his wont that he just did not understand the young captains who were cutting out of work early. That when he was a captain he would never leave his office while the Colonel was still there. I was bit non-plussed. I mean how is it that I could have graduated high school and college with someone who was now showing distinct signs of being an old fart?

 Relating the experience to some friends who were a bit older than I said that you know you are getting old when all your classmates in the military are colonels.  They laughed and said that no it was when your military classmates are all retired.  There is actually another threshold with your military classmates that I experienced when I spoke to Victor just a couple of years ago.  He is retired from the military of course, but still doing pretty much the same job as a civilian DOD employee.  They start talking about their right to be buried at Arlington - with horses.

 Well now Chirs Dwyer has given me another index of senescence.  You have somebody from the next generation writing nostalgically about the period they grew up in.  The role played by my generation in the book, actually a significant one in a subtle way, is played by people who are dead (tragically relatively young deaths, but dead).

 In one touching scene David is reminiscing with Julio about music talks he had with his dad:

 Dude, freaking 'Good Vibrations'.That one's not on any album, mostly because no one album could contain the awesome. 

 Frankly, I did not get most of the music references in the book as David and Julio bickered over what to listen to on the road trip.  It was heavy metal v punk, as far as I can recall, but when they discuss going back to the West Coast and they start referencing California Girls, I'm totally with them

And The Rest

Getting into the romance, the codependence and the stages of grief threatens too many plot spoilers.  It is all there though.  The excitement of the soccer is also infectious.  As I close this I just saw USA tie then forge ahead of Portugal only to have Portugal end the game in a tie with an amazing goal in the last few seconds.  If you are a soccer fan looking for converts, buy multiple copies and give them to your disciples.

You can follow me on twitter @peterreillycpa.

There is one prophetic line in the book that I hope will be refuted soon - "The ball is round, the game last 90 minutes and Germany wins".  Say it ain't so.

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