TITLE: The Largest Colonial Building in the World
AUTHOR: Sabine (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CATEGORY: J, shades of J/S
SPOILERS: "The Crackpots and These Women"
SUMMARY: In the summer of 1970, Uncle Roger, who wasn't Jewish, bought the first Chevy Suburban in Connecticut.
DISCLAIMER: Sorkin, Schlamme, and Whitford again own this guy and his history, not me. And the largest colonial building in is now the headquarters for Aetna, right on route 84 in historic Hartford, CT, insurance capital of the world.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: For my dad, who pointed it out every time we drove past. For Punk, the largest colonial beta in the world. For Dawn's early light. And for Shana too, because she went through it every time.
NOTE: Because I only know one Josh now, this fits in with all the rest of 'em I've written, somewhere in first season, somewhere after "Out Here in the Fields" but before "Women." Not that it matters to anyone but me and Josh, and maybe Sam, if those boys can ever get their acts together. Which is to say, this thing stands alone.
The Largest Colonial Building in the World by Sabine
In the summer of 1970, Uncle Roger, who wasn't Jewish, bought the first Chevy Suburban in Connecticut. Noah Lyman took his family to see it, straight shot up 84 in the dog days of August with the radio making them all sick on CCR and Buffalo Springfield, two-lane overhung with trees dripping in the heat. In the back seat, Josh's thighs stuck to the burgundy vinyl, and next to him Joanie chewed her hair and scowled out the window, twirling the fat wooden beads her best friend Natalie'd shown her how to string onto her crazy braids.
They pulled off in West Hartford, past the tire shop and the burned-out bottle factory, past the rows of new ranch-style houses on too little land, roofs snowed over with the yellow leaves of golden raintrees.
Aunt Myra was waiting in the street when they got there, standing next to the big wood-paneled monster parked at the foot of the driveway. Noah stopped the car to let his wife out.
"We're here?" Joanie pushed at the door. Noah raised a hand.
Josh pressed his face to the window and watched his mother trip over her feet to hug her sister, and Aunt Myra's face was red and sweaty and swollen like a newborn baby. Josh stuck out his tongue and the glass tasted like blood.
"Did you know," Toby says, shaking off his umbrella and leaning it up next to the coffee machine. "In Australia they still call China the Far East. Goddamned country's due north of them, they call it the Far East."
"It's our fault," says CJ from somewhere. "We've ruined the world."
"Go ahead," Uncle Roger said, beaming, his sweater vest pulled out a little over his enormous gut and his fingers fat like hotdogs. "Kick the tires."
Noah kicked the tires obligingly. Josh did too, and they were hard against his sneakers, like tires.
The Chevy Suburban was a hulking beast, nearly twice as tall as the Lyman's Buick wagon, with massive doors and a tricked-out rear hatch, with a back running board that raised and lowered with a hand crank. Roger let Joanie sit on the rubber-carpeted deck and she looked bored as the platform rode up and down. Josh wanted them to let him ride too. No one did.
"Pretty nice," Noah Lyman said.
"Had this all done up custom," Roger said. Josh found a worm in the dirt, and he poked at it with a stick and it curled around the end and wouldn't let go when he tried to shake it free.
"It seems to me," Sam says. "The problem we have is that we need to make this thing look bad, but not for the same reasons that it actually IS bad."
"Yeah, that's about right," Toby says.
"Considering we're the reason it is bad," CJ says, uselessly.
Josh leans back, crosses his feet on CJ's couch. "I'll talk to Brian Ostrow when he gets in," he says, his voice cracking around exhaustion. It's five fifteen in the morning, and he'd only just found sleep when the phone rang half an hour ago to call him in. His tongue feels wooly and he's prickly and grimy and unshowered. His shoulderblades itch.
"Emmanuel Sortigo was a tyrant," Toby says, and Sam scribbles on a yellow legal pad. "Yeah, write that down, under 'notes,' Sam. Note to self. We put him in office and now we want to support the provisional government that's ousted him. Now, you can, you can call me a horse's ass, but I don't have the first clue how we're gonna spin this. But at least, goddamn it, we're taking notes!" He throws an arm in the air.
Sam looks up. "How about, it's Paraguay, and nobody cares?"
Noah and his brother-in-law stood on opposite sides of the driveway, occasionally nodding and tossing off well-worn phrases: "Sure is a hot one." "Even worse in the city." "You been down there lately?" "Not really, Carrie wants to go to the theater, though." "Theater's nice." And one of them would smile and they'd start again, like men do when they don't have much to say because they don't really like each other.
Caroline Margolis Lyman had wandered off with her sister, the two of them holding hands down the street littered with those yellow flowers from the golden raintrees. Aunt Myra usually made Josh and Joanie cookies, but no one was inviting them inside today. Joanie sat in the back of the Suburban and chewed her hair.
"So, what kind of gas mileage you get on this thing?" Noah asked.
"About twelve in town," Roger said. "We haven't taken it on the highway much, don't really got anyplace to go except the VA which is right in Hartford. And Myra's nervous, just last year we had a friend got in a bad wreck on the Merritt."
Josh's dad looked uncomfortable. "Yeah, I guess you'd want to be careful," he said. "Say, Rog, listen --"
"Carrie and I were thinking, if you and Myra ever want to get away a little, we'd be happy to have Doug come down to Westport stay with us."
Joanie perked up at that, and Josh watched his older sister catch herself and then try to act nonchalant. She'd had a crush on their cousin Doug forever, ever since he taught her how to tie-dye in a big steel washtub in the basement. He'd gone away last year, the families had dinner together before he'd flown out, but she was bitter and quiet all night because she didn't care he was going to Vietnam, she just knew he was leaving her.
"We couldn't do that to you," Roger said. "You've got your hands full with these two scamps." He reached down to tickle Josh under the chin, and Josh squirmed away.
"I don't ask him to have his hands full," Joanie said. "I'm a free spirit." Noah laughed, and patted Roger on the back twice, hard.
"Just let us know, pal," he said, and then they both looked off down the street where their wives had gone.
"Well, let's see just how bad we've been scooped," CJ says, flipping on CNN. "Maybe they're making fun of us already."
A reporter's standing in front of the ruins of a factory, chyron reads "Manila, Philippines, 6:01 pm." The reporter -- it's Bruce DeWitt, and Josh vaguely remembers a rumor that CJ slept with him -- mumbles about terrorist bombing as the sun sets behind him.
Josh looks out the window, where they sun's just rising, peeking up over the white stone wall of the south parking structure. He looks back to the TV. Same sun, creeping around the horizon half a world away. Live TV, in living color.
"At least we've got another top story," CJ says. "Four minutes and no one's mentioned Paraguay."
"You're really quite morbid, there," Sam says.
The TV still says "LIVE - Manila" and Josh rubs his eyes. The world suddenly seems very small and round.
Josh's mom came back, but they didn't go inside, just stood there in the driveway in the setting sun next to the massive Chevy Suburban, all staring at one another. Josh threw a rock in the road.
"Did I show you how it's got these manual levers for pedals?" Roger asked. "Can do all your shifting right-handed."
"You did," Noah said. "It's real nice."
Caroline wrapped an arm around her sister and kissed her on the cheek.
"So what have we got to work with?" Leo asks, standing in CJ's doorway. "Anything?"
Josh sits up, rubs his forehead. "Not much."
"President's gonna be here in an hour," Leo says. "And I'm willing to wager he's gonna want something a little more strategic."
"We're working on it," CJ says. "Can we hold off a day on official involvement?"
Josh looks at Leo. "Official, or actual?" Leo asks.
"I think we can," Josh nods at CJ. "We can buy maybe twelve more hours, make it look a little less like we've picked sides."
"You know," Sam says. "If Sortigo were dead, we wouldn't have this problem."
Josh is impressed. "You're a real bleeding heart there, Sam."
"He's right, of course," Leo says.
"Damn straight he is," Toby agrees.
"Terrific," CJ says. "I'll just stroll in there and tell the press corps we're going to call a hit on University of Chicago-educated former UN Ambassador now-deposed president Emmanuel Sortigo."
"No one will be writing about that industrial plant in Manila, at least," Josh says.
Leo chuckles. "Fix the thing, guys," he says, and walks away.
"I like how high up the seats are," Aunt Myra spoke, maybe for the first time since the Lymans got there. "Roger practically has to give me a boost to get me up into the passenger's seat. I feel really important up there."
Caroline nodded a couple times. "So how does Dougie --"
"Oh," Myra said. "It's got this amazing little lift in the back, like an elevator almost. A little pallet. Rog just cranks up the thing --"
"It's hydraulic," Roger said. "I showed them."
"We got it all done custom," Myra said, smiling with her mouth only. "Whole thing cost over a thousand bucks, just for that special hydraulic pump."
Joanie came over and sat on a rock next to Josh. "Do you know that all my friends are at Heron Lake today? I didn't ask to come here."
He looked up at her skinny face with dimples like his, her skinny knees, skinny legs covered in pale, almost pink hair, dirty toes in sandals. She kicked at the dirt. "I didn't either," Josh said.
"I could be at the beach right now with Maribeth," Joanie said. "Really, I'm too old to come on these family trips. I should get to have time on my own. They don't realize it, but I'm a grownup."
"You're not a grownup," Josh said.
Joanie leaned in, like she was telling him a secret. "I think I'm just here because someone's got to take care of you," she said. "So it's your fault."
"How much longer are we going to be here?"
Joanie sneered. "How am I supposed to know?"
They sat in silence a moment, Joanie leaning back, rolling her head on her tanned shoulders, squinting in the sun.
"I think Aunt Myra's sad," Josh said.
"I think she is too," Joanie said, and for a second she didn't look bored anymore, just confused and sensitive and a little scared. And the fact that his big sister could look so vulnerable gave Josh a chill. He plucked a fistful of grass, stood up, sprinkled it in her hair and ran away toward where Dougie's wooden swingset used to be.
He was always the sensitive one, when there were two of them. Joanie'd beat him up, he would cry and he remembers being terrified, utterly convinced that his sister didn't love him. When he loved her more than anything.
After, when it was just Josh, and his parents doted on him and dared him into Milton Academy, the Governor's School, AIS, MENSA, Yale, Harvard -- all those years after, and in there he'd somehow become a callous jerk.
He forgets, now, what it was like to be sensitive, to hurt, to love, to cry. But sometimes he remembers the look on Joanie's face when she was sitting on that rock at Aunt Myra's, just a handful of months before she'd gone and left him alone, and it stirs something inside him, makes him angry or nauseated or frustrated, anything but sad.
Back on 84, driving home, the windshield was sticky with the yellow flowers from the golden raintrees. The sun dipped down behind the overpass and they slid under the southbound lanes, cutting across the edge of the city of Hartford.
"You know what that is?" Noah Lyman tapped the window of the driver's side twice with the side of his hand. "That's the largest colonial building in the world."
Caroline laughed. "In America?" Josh didn't get the joke, but his dad laughed too.
"No," he said. "In the world! In the whole world!"
Out the window, the largest colonial building sprawled fat and brick and white trim over several blocks, tall wooden doors and a bell tower. It looked like everything else in Connecticut, clean and remodeled and well-kept, imbued with a history of white men and factory workers and canneries. There were vans and Mercedes in the parking lot.
"What's a colonial building?" Josh asked.
"It's the headquarters for Aetna," Noah said, which wasn't an answer, but somehow Josh knew his parents' attention was elsewhere today. "That's insurance. You know Hartford's the insurance capital of the US?"
"He doesn't even know what insurance is, honey," Caroline laughed again.
"So he'll learn," Noah said. Josh wanted to learn. He wanted to stay here, where people were laughing, in the car, away from Aunt Myra's where people were distracted and sad.
Next to Josh, Joanie shifted on the sticky seat and rolled her eyes. "Are we closer to Aunt Myra's, or closer to home?" she asked.
Caroline looked over into the back seat. "We're closer to home," she said.
"Non-intervention is a policy," Sam says.
"Patience is a virtue," Toby says. "Nutmeg is a spice."
Sam shakes his head. "No, I'm just saying. It's a fine policy. It's a policy. If there were a list of policies, of possible policies, 'non-intervention' would be on it. The list."
"And I'm just saying, you don't, you don't think it's gonna look a little bit suspicious that the United States government has all of a sudden decided we've got nothing to say about the political situation in Paraguay?"
CJ waves a hand at Toby and if he'd been about to stand up he changes his mind and sinks lower into the couch.
Josh stands up instead, because he's finished with this conversation. "We're done," he says. "There's nothing we can do. CJ, just keep the dogs away for a couple days --"
"An apologetic 'we've intervened enough in Paraguay's domestic policy'?" Sam tries. Josh shakes his head.
"No, no, nothing as guilty as that. Just, we're keeping an eye on the situation, we respect the provisional government's control, blah blah bloodshed."
"Blah blah bloodshed, Joshua?" CJ's laughing.
"I still say it would help if Sortigo got killed," Sam says. "I mean, seriously."
"You're a sick man, Sam," Toby says, hoisting himself up with an old-man groan. "We're done?"
"We're done," says Josh. "Somebody tell Mandy when she gets in, we're done."
Sam follows him to his office.
Josh sits down. "What, what?"
"You're weird today," Sam says, closing the door, leaning against the file cabinet.
"I was gonna say you're weird today," Josh raises his eyebrows. "What was that with the wanting to assassinate Sortigo, there?"
Sam shrugs. "I'm a politician just like the rest of you," he says simply. "You just forget because I'm such a brilliant and evocative wordsmith."
"Right," Josh says, making a little gun with his thumb and forefinger and pointing it at Sam. "That's just what happens. Can you -- will you maybe go away now so I can get some work done?"
"Absolutely," says Sam, who doesn't move.
Josh knows how Sam feels about him. In all the years they've been friends, all the years Josh has known, sort of, a little bit, that Sam might want something more, all the years that Josh has been sure Sam knows Josh loves him anyway -- all those years and Josh has never told Sam what really happened. He's never told anyone.
Sam, who loves him, would consider it a gift. Sam would let Josh cry. Josh doesn't want to cry.
Josh closes his eyes, real tight for a second. Takes a breath. "Joanie -- my sister?"
"I know who Joanie is."
"This is -- she would be turning forty today," Josh says. "It's her birthday."
"No, I mean -- I'm okay. It's not a big deal. It's just -- I would have had a sister who was forty. Maybe she has kids, and a husband, and a house somewhere, maybe -- I don't know."
"You want to talk about it?" Sam asks.
Josh shakes his head. "Not at all," he says. Not for years and years. He starts talking anyway, and it's as if Sam's not even there. "About a year before -- the fire -- we went up to see -- " He stops, starts again. "My cousin Doug went to Vietnam, got his legs blown off in a minefield, paralyzed the whole left side of his body. He came home, I was, like, nine -- I was nine, Joanie was twelve -- and my Aunt Myra's husband got a Suburban -- hell, I don't even know how they afforded the thing, it's funny, I never realized it but they were so broke, I remember them once, my dad had to put Roger on the payroll of one of his companies, I think..."
He stops again, laughs. Sam's watching him with big eyes. Sam's standing perfectly still, just watching.
Josh rubs his forehead. "I don't know," he says. "He got this Suburban, all custom fitted with a hydraulic lift in the back so they could get the wheelchair in, you know? Hand lever for the pedals, whatever. So Doug could drive it. And Dad took me and Joanie up to see it, like we're supposed to get all excited about the fancy car. I was excited about the fancy car. I had no idea, Sam."
Josh nods. "Yeah," he says. "Dad told us it was the first Chevy Suburban in Connecticut."
"Suburbans have been around since 1935," Sam says.
Josh laughs again. "What the hell did I know?"
"You were nine, Josh," Sam says. "No one expected you to know what was going on."
"Right," Josh says. "Anyway. I was just -- I was thinking about that today. I don't know why I was thinking about that today."
"It's okay," Sam says, and it's meaningless.
"Dad used to point out -- every time we'd drive through Hartford, Dad would point out the Aetna headquarters, because they're in the largest colonial building in the world. Apparently."
"The largest building left from colonial times?"
"Not even," Josh says. "Actually, largest colonial-style building. I'm not altogether sure my father knew that, though."
"Cool," Sam says.
"You think years from now in, like, Puerto Rico, three hundred years from now some kid's father's going to point out the largest colonial building left from when they belonged to the US?"
"I think it's likely," Sam says.
"You think years from now, in Paraguay, someone's gonna remember Emmanuel Sortigo as the largest colonial tyrant?"
Sam smiles. "Almost assuredly," he says.
"Score one for the United States," Josh says.
They've effectively changed the subject. Sam's still smiling, but that searching look has mellowed into something more like understanding. Concern, but understanding. Josh lets out a breath. He won't have to tell Sam. He won't ever have to tell anyone.
"Tell me about the fire?" Sam says.
Joanie was on the phone. Joanie was always on the phone.
If he listened at the bottom of the stairs he could hear her, but it never made any sense, the laughing, and then the strange seriousness, Joanie and her friends batting back and forth phrases they'd picked up from older kids, hippies. They'd try and talk about the war, about music, about peace and understanding. It never made sense to Josh. He wasn't sure it made sense to Joanie either.
He called up to her. "I'm hungry!"
"So eat!" she called back, and then he could hear her on the phone again: "No, I'm just babysitting. My parents are out to dinner. Capitalist pigs." And then she turned her music up, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. "Four dead in Ohio." Josh went to make popcorn.
"No," Josh says. "I'm okay. Really, Sam, I promise."
Sam nods twice, slowly. "Okay," he says. "I just think it's -- no, never mind."
"We've been friends a long time," Sam says, and Josh hates himself for a minute. "I know you know you can talk to me. If you want to."
"What have I told you before?" Josh asks. He genuinely doesn't remember. He can't keep his stories straight. His throat hurts. "About what happened?"
"I know she died in a fire," Sam says. "I know there was a popcorn machine."
Josh nods. "There was a popcorn machine," he says.
It spat a little blue-green spark when he tried to plug it in, bit his fingers with a quick flame. He dropped the cord on the counter.
"Joanie, will you help me?" he called, but the radio was still singing, loud enough to shake the stairs.
He was afraid to pick up the cord again. He could smell burning plastic a little. See smoke a little. His stomach turned, his palms were sweaty. He knew people could set fires like this, he knew he wasn't supposed to use the popcorn maker, he wasn't supposed to cook alone.
The room smelled funny, like motor oil, like car exhaust, though the smoke was already fading. The popcorn popper looked fine, but he didn't know how these things worked. He backed away, slowly. Walked to the screen door. Pushed it open. Stumbled outside, out into the lawn where he could see the kitchen door. Where he could look up and see the light on in Joanie's window.
And then the song ended, and he could hear her yell "oh, fuck, my brother," and then her footsteps on the stairs.
She was mad at him. The kitchen still seemed fine, but he didn't know. There might be a fire. He backed away a little further from the house, into the gutter, across the street. It was cold, barely October but cold enough for him to shiver in his pajamas in the dark. He heard Joanie calling his name. He edged into the shadows.
The screen door opened, but she was just a skinny dark silhouette there. A skinny dark silhouette in a nightgown, calling his name.
He didn't call back. She was mad at him.
Except she didn't look mad at him, all small and dark there. She just looked worried, crouching down a little, calling for him as if he were a cat.
So in a small voice, at first, and then louder, he said "Joanie?" and then, "I'm over here!"
"You're in big trouble," she said, skinny shadow moving toward him. Toward the road. Then faster, as he ducked away in the dark of the bushes.
He saw the car. He figured she'd seen it too. He figured she'd stop running.
"So, the, um -- what, the house burned down?"
Josh closes his eyes. "I gotta be alone, Sam," he says. "Is that okay?"
"Yeah," Sam says. "Sure it is. I'll be in my office if you want me."
If Josh wants him. His heart hurts.
"Hey," Sam says, in the doorway. "You want to go out for a drink later? Help us forget about Paraguay?"
Josh has forgotten about Paraguay, but now he can hear Mandy ranting from somewhere and he remembers again. About the arrogance of America and this dictator they bought into office because they thought it wouldn't matter. About his father, so proud of how America has broken free, so proud of how they've used colonial buildings for Connecticut insurance companies.
He thinks of all the things his father taught him, all the things his father would have taught Joanie too. She'd be forty today. She'd be a grownup. She'd miss Noah also, the way Noah always missed her, never any less, his love for her never waning till the day he died.
Joanie was his father's favorite. Joanie was Josh's favorite too. They'd both hurt Josh so much, and even now, with Sam staring at him, waiting, it isn't worth loving again. He's built up enough calluses against that.
"You were pretty harsh today too," Josh says, as if it's an answer to Sam's question. "What with the killing Sortigo."
"I figure we can't really get in MORE trouble," Sam says. "I just got tired of it all. I'm allowed."
Josh nods. "You are."
"So you want to go out?" Sam asks, and Josh does, just like he wants to tell Sam about Joanie, about everything. But he can't waste Sam like that. Sam's all he has left. Sam, who has built up his own calluses.
"Nah, but thanks," Josh says. "I have to do some things."
"Okay," Sam says. He leaves.
He used to think that some day he'd stop trying to live up to Joanie's potential. Some day, after trying to keep his parents distracted with Milton Academy and MENSA and Yale and Harvard so they wouldn't realize they were missing half their children, half their family.
When he got old enough, he just stopped thinking of it that way, and instead promised himself he wouldn't set himself up to get hurt. By anyone.
It isn't the same thing, but it's enough for him. Enough to get through the day. Enough to make love to a woman and leave without knowing her name.
It wouldn't be enough for Sam. Sam would ask questions. But tomorrow it won't be Joanie's birthday anymore, and Josh has plans for today.
He's going to go up to where she is now, to the big cemetery in Waterbury, the one on the hill, the Jewish cemetery behind the Christian cemetery and its big glowing cross.
He'll drive up to see her. He hasn't been there in a long time.
Up route 84, on the way to Hartford, on the way to the largest colonial building in the world.
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