Percy took Intro to U.S. Labor History for an elective in the spring of his sophomore year. The professor's name was Leon Pitzer, an embittered pinko genius with a marked limp. In him Percy knew he had finally found the father surrogate he'd been searching for since arriving at Schmall, a semi-elite liberal arts college in a town of the same name in the heart of the heart of Ohio. Percy changed his major from English to history, and over the following three semesters took every course Pitzer offered. Too, Pitzer directed Percy's senior thesis, an inspired treatise on the American government's illegal 1921 deployment of the Air Force to bomb striking mine workers at Blair Mountain, West Virginia. The SEIU invited Percy to come to Chicago and join a hotel campaign they were working. He talked to Kat about his decision. They both cried, but later, recounting the story to Andy on the porch over nightcap beers while Kat slept, Percy tried to make it sound like only Kat had cried. Andy knew the truth because his bedroom was across the hall from Kat's and he'd been listening in. "I just don't get what the whole big deal is," he said to Rachel. "So he loves her, too. So what? Why is that some disaster? And what century does he live in where a man's not allowed to cry?"
"Are you, like, preparing me for something right now?" Rachel asked. She lived around the block from Andy. They were between her sheets and he held her tightly, as though the bed were a dinghy in some rough sea and he meant to keep her from going over. Rachel and their other friend, Ellen—both film students—had managed to get their mentor to secure them internships working for an experimental West Coast filmmaker who staged an annual festival of the innovative and insufferable in Portland, Oregon. It was not clear when—or even whether—Andy and Rachel would see each other again. "Please. Just don't say anything else," Rachel said. Andy clenched his jaw. Not talking when he felt like talking was pretty much the hardest thing in the world for him, and there were [End Page 137] few people other than Rachel for whom he would do it. He thought of a popular song he'd hated in high school, the one with the chorus that went "well I guess this is growing up." He wanted to put himself through a third-floor window. He wanted to fall sleep in the half-reclined shotgun seat of his own gray Honda Civic at a highway rest stop on the mid-Atlantic coast. He squeezed Rachel tighter, closer, begging her body to be his anchor, keep him from setting adrift in his own head. Nothing was going as it had in his mind. Her lower lip was between her front teeth. They enjoyed fast, rough sex and then she threw him out so she could shower and get dressed. She was due to meet her boyfriend Marcus for pizza. Instead of a goodbye kiss, or even a hug, they high-fived—a fierce flat sound that did not echo but somehow still rung in his ears the whole block home.
Andy had large, vague aspirations. He knew he liked writing, and he knew he didn't want to move back to Kettering and he knew he didn't want to stay in Schmall, especially not without his friends, but that was as much as he knew. So when a professor of his, presumably inspired by the STOP THE IMF! button on his backpack, offered to help him secure an internship at a prestigious-sounding New York political magazine that he had never heard of before, he told her he'd been a subscriber since he was fifteen and that it would be a dream come true. He printed out the application from their website and she wrote him a letter and the next thing he knew he was on a plane east.
His boss in New York was a hunched man with close-cropped hair...