During idle moments I sometimes wonder what sort of trauma arrested Bob Greene in late adolescence. Did a girl do something dirty? Did a couple of mean boys subject him to some grotesque humiliation?
To tell you the truth, I think Bob could have been chased into a graveyard by the hounds of hell and forced to spend the night hiding in an open grave, next to a fresh corpse, listening to the beasts’ terrible bayings and snufflings just above him, feeling bits of earth and droplets of drool falling on his cheek, and it wouldn’t provide an adequate explanation for a column as stunted as September 12’s “Maybe C.W. Jones was right after all.”
Jones, as we all know by now, was Bob’s high school principal. This time, Jones’s spirit is conjured up by the local school regulations “here in Roanoke.” As usual there is no apparent reason for Bob’s presence in the datelined city. It is impossible to conclude, even for Bob, that Roanoke’s unremarkable rules rated a plane ticket to Virginia. Perhaps he had a layover there and headed instinctively for the nearest elementary school, carrying his Davy Crockett lunch box and an apple for the teacher. “I’m sorry, Mr. Greene. You’re not enrolled, and you’re not a parent, and you can’t just attend a day of fifth grade–here are our regulations that say so.” Presto: a column.
Bob explains that Jones is “the greatest and most powerful authority figure I have ever known,” quite a statement from a man who met Nixon. He admires Jones for his arbitrarily enforced dress code. “White Levi’s were bad; so were regular blue Levi’s,” Bob lovingly recalls.
His fond recollections have the flavor of a battered wife rhapsodizing her abusive husband. In a 1977 interview, Bob described himself as a person who “never read anything…never read a word of Hemingway. I’ve never read any F. Scott Fitzgerald. I certainly never read any fuckin’ Shakespeare.” It never occurs to Bob that this aversion to education might have been inculcated at Bexley High School, by martinet administrators hectoring him about the color of his pants.
A few months back, Bob invited psychiatric professionals to weigh in with their opinions of the damage Baby Richard will suffer growing up under the aegis of Otakar Kirchner. He hasn’t run that column yet–I’m sure we can look forward to that one. But in similar spirit, I want to float one aspect of the C.W. Jones column up for professional discussion: Bob makes the alarming confession that he keeps a photograph of C.W. Jones, his high school principal, on the nearly bare walls of his office in Tribune Tower.
What kind of 48-year-old man does that? Could Jones somehow figure into the formation of the yawning fissure in Bob’s personality? Could his breezy paean to Jones’s discipline–the panting confession that “there are times in the lives of young people when they may secretly need an older, more somber person to tell them what to do, whether they like it or not”–point to a deeper, more terrible secret behind the horrific spectacle of Bob Greene?
Those in the helping professions, please send your diagnoses to: Ed Gold, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago, 60611.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Jeff Heller.