Well, now. Who do we have here? It's Cadet Conroy, Pat, The Citadel, Class of '67. Conroy, you have the military bearing of a used vacuum-cleaner bag, boy.
"Actually, I've had more militry training than Napoleon. You have to count the first 18 years of my life, served under my father, who has the personality of the Third Reich."
Cadet, further wisecracks about Col. Donald Conroy, U.S.M.C Ret., fun-loving night-fighter pilot and strong-willed father, will not be tolerated. That novel of yours, "The Great Santini," has already done enough damage. Take 10 demerits for filial ingratitude.
"Then I had four years at The Citadel, even though I never got above the rank of private. That's 22 years of military training. Lots more than Napoleon, and I can't even use the PX."
All right, Conroy, up against the wall. Tuck your chin in tight and spout the Lesson. Tell us the true value of discipline and the military life, Cadet. Pop off!
"The only thing wrong with discipline is the people who like discipline. When military men plan to instill discipline, I think of King Herod planning to kill the babies. Show me a general, I'll show you a jerk. A man with the charisma of day-old bread who gives 18 speeches a year on the joys of discipline. Then go interview his kids. The higher you go in military rank, the less disciplined the kids."
Conroy, you are lower than the whale excrement that lies at the bottom of the sea. You are a disgrace to The Citadel Ring. Why did you even go there?
"Well, my father is 6 feet, 4 inches tall, and he weighs 240 pounds. We discussed it. He said he hoped I'd like it at military school, but, if not, he didn't care. That's the kind of discussion you have if you're the son of The Creature From The Black Lagoon."
Very funny, dumbhead. This sense of humor must have served you well at military school.
"My sense of humor did not win me very many friends at military school. To have a sense of humor meant they wanted to kill you. What served me well was my ability to cry a lot."
They may still wish to kill you, cadet. This new novel of yours, "The Lords of Discipline," is set in a certain well-known Southern military school, which you call Carolina Military Institute. However, since it is in Charleston, it sounds mighty familiar.
"Yes, was down at The Citadel just last week. They knew I was writing the book, and interviewing people at other military schools, too. But I told The Citadel that they should not, ah, should not plan on using my book as a recruiting manual."
That will cost you 10 push-ups. The military experience prepared you for life better than you think.
"Yeah, it prepared me to be a draft-dodger. I decided Vietnam was definitely not my war. I'm not sure what my war was. Possible the Punic Wars. Maybe, maybe not. So I became a teacher on the island of Daufuskie, S.C. If you taught in rural South Carolina, you could get a deferment."
Yes, Cadet. And from that experience, in which you brought the modern world to black children who spoke dialect and hardly recognized a map of the United States, you wrote "The River Is Wide." And from that book, the movie "Conrack" was made. Jon Voight played the part of you. But surely you had to bring discipline to those children.
"Chaos doesn't work under any conditions. But The Citadel taught me exactly what kind of discipline I did not want to inspire among those kids. The Citadel would drop its entire freshman class into a mental Cuisinart, and make liquid out of their brains and then pour the liquid into a mold. After the liquid set for four years they came out military men. On Daufuskie, they didn't need that kind of discipline."
This book, "The Lords of Discipline," makes "Lord of the Flies" sound like "The Sound of Music." It is a study of cadets' inhumanity to cadets, an indictment of the Honor System, and it comes right out and says that just because your shoes are spit-shined doesn't necessarily prove you're a man. Cadet Conroy, all you have proved once again is that all English majors in military schools are sexual deviants.
"I wrote it because I wanted to tell about how little women understand about men. The one cultural fact of life about military schools is that they are men living with men. And they love each other. The love between these men is shown only in obscure ways, which have to be learned by them. The four roommates who go through this book are very different from each other, but they have a powerful code. They have ways to prove their love to each other, and they're part of the rites of passage."
Yes, Cadet, but only among English majors. When one of your characters is expelled on an honor violation and takes the Walk of Shame, it means that none of his classmates will ever mention his name again. Yet his roommates kiss him, Cadet. Right on the parade ground. Give me 20 push-ups!
"There is no homosexuality under these conditions. If you smile, they'll kill you. You can imagine what would happen to a homosexual."
Look at yourself, boy. You're 35 years old and your shoes aren't shined.You slouch in the chair like a girl. You're wearing a golf cap on that big Irish potato-head of yours, and your sports jacket looks like you used it to wipe out a salad bowl. Yet you write novels. Writing novels takes great personal discipline, Conroy. For which you can thank your military school.
"I'm disciplined? No, I'm totally undisciplined. I don't get up at dawn and write till noon, or any of that. It takes me four years to finish a book. You call that disciplined?"
We'll ask the qeuestions, Cadet Conroy. You just keep on getting rich, and having a high old degenerate civilian time on your book promotion tour.
"I like to ask questions. For example, I interviewed several former cadets who underwent the Walk of Shame and similar military-school disciplinary measures, and guess what? A lot of times their lives were ruined by it. How's that for degenerate? As for money, I made $256 last year. As for fun, well, during the promotion tour for "The Great Santini,' after it came out in 1976, I had a nervous breakdown in a parking lot and had to be rushed to an emergency room. I was diagnosed as suffering from 'executive syndrome' -- from overwork. What really happened was that my own marriage was breaking up. And my father and mother, after 33 years together, finally got a divorce. I don't think discipline is much help for any of that. It certainly didn't help me when the going got tough. You have to find something else, and I have great sympathy for anyone who can."
All right, Conroy. But you're a Southerner. You live in Atlanta and you admire James Dickey's robust, he-man-type poetry, which is also acceptable to military men on account of Dickey had 100 night-fighter missions during the Big War. Do you realize that this stuff you write casts apersions on Southerners?
"Southerners love any kind of military nut stuff. They eat it up. I can't think of any country that a Southerner wouldn't attack if he was ordered to. Vatican City. Boys, we're going to attack Vatican City! They'd attact it. The Civil War made the South completely full of crap. It even affected the South's poor pitiable writers, all of them. I'm glad we lost. Can you imagine if we'd won? Can you imagine the arrogance of the South if the South had won the war?"
Cadet, you talk like a liberal and a Bolshevik. And yet you say you love the City of Charleston, a city of a "trinitarian mythology with equal parts of the sublime, the mysterious and the grotesque."
"It took me a while to understand Charleston, which is where Carolina Military Institute is, of course. The people there are as quirky and old as the city. These are passionate people, understand, yet they have opted to live lives of simplicity and beauty and dedicate themselves to the study of their navels. A wonderful woman there explained it to me: 'Everything north of Broad Street is Yankee. Everything south of Beauford is Puerto Rican.' That's just the way things are. But of course the black kids on Daufuskie are more capable of change, of expanding, than the people of Charleston."
Conroy, boy, do you ever think of the damage your bad attitude may have done to the military? Just because you're a born wise guy doesn't mean you've got the right to use your sense of humor like a commie night-fighter uses his knife. Think of the damage merely to your own father, The Great Santini himself, from your book and the movie.
"Oh yeah, my dad. Depends on who's looking. When the movie came out, my 11-year-old daughter was really upset at some of the scenes. She said to me, 'How could you write those nasty things about Grandfather?' See, my dad has sort of mellowed, at least to them."
Cadet, have you kept up good and honorable relations with Col. Conroy, retired?
"I wouldn't worry about Dad. He's a folk hero in South Carolina by this time. He has proved that you can beat up your kid and still remain popular. He goes on TV and radio shows all the time now that the movie is playing. His politics make Ronald Reagan look like a communist. As a matter of fact, he came to the opening of 'The Great Santini' movie here in Washington. I introduced the film to the audience, and in the course of my remarks I pointed out why he had chosen the military as a career. It was, of course, something that occurred to him on the day when he discovered that his body temperature and his IQ were the same number. Then, when it was his turn to talk, all he said was, 'I want to say that my body temperature has always been 160 degrees.' People laughed harder. So you see, I still can't beat him."
All right, Cadet. You can go now. Just remember, you are English-major soft-hearted scum, lower than whale excrement that lies at the bottom of the sea: a novelist. Your shoes are a mess and you are making a career of writing about Things Better Left Unsaid, and that is why you are a disgrace to the Ring. There is no love among men, only the great brotherhood of having lived through military hell and being willing to die for your squad and your company and your battalion and your regiment, Conroy. It is a disgusting and sick thing that The Citadel should have produced English majors at all, and prime among these sick things is you. WIPE THAT SMILE OFF YOUR FACE AND GIVE ME 10!
"It's like I told them when I was down there. Sir, we're stuck with each other for the rest of our lives. Either way you look at it, I'm still a Citadel man."