“Nothing gold can stay,” wrote Robert Frost, a line that over fifty years later would be introduced to me in somewhat different context by a doomed character in The Outsiders. I was in fourth or fifth grade when I discovered that seminal novel and its sequels and though these were artifacts of a completely foreign culture I connected with the theme of alienated youth to the point of being convinced I was a tragic hero waiting to happen. All I needed was the tragedy, a commodity that was not generally in short supply in that era although almost unheard of in our little suburb. Even the trashy neighbor kids, products of divorce and god knew what else, could complain of little beyond the occasional after-school detention.
And so we did what happy kids did back then—and I was indeed happy if only in retrospect—which was ride our bikes, roller skate, spy on each other, play board games, pretend to be Elvis, and tell each other stories. There were all kinds of stories from all kinds of sources and we could never keep track of what we had heard and what we had invented. Instead we swore to god they were all true, even the lies we made up on the spot, and thus began the legends that Jesus Christ was assassinated in a nearby restaurant, that Deena went away for a month and was replaced with her identical cousin Tammy, and that our neighborhood was haunted by the unusual spirit of a fallen Indian brave.
Once upon a time, there was an Indian with one black eye and one Gold. Of course he was an Indian and not a Native American because we’d spend summer vacations watching “The Lone Ranger” reruns. Back in the days when Washington, D.C. was a swamp and not a Swamp, and the surrounding area was just trees and fields and sparkling water, this Indian would hunt and fish and occasionally sweep out his teepee or whatever Indians did before the White Man came. But the White Man did come because there is no such thing as history without a honky and they did what all White Men did to Indians back in those days: they civilized him. To death. The Indian brave made his last stand on the very spot where our ranch house came to be built centuries later, and he was killed, and the last thing his White Murderer saw of him was the light fade from his Golden Eye.
The activities of the Golden Eye are unclear in the years between its death and my birth. Actually my four brothers’ births because as our family outgrew our little house my father was struck with the compulsion to build an entirely new wing onto it, a wing with a split-level configuration that would lead to the inadvertent construction of The Cave. The Cave was sort of a subterranean shed carved out of the new part of the house. It contained the compressor for the air conditioner, the steps from the old back porch, a window into the disused basement bathroom, and-most spookily-exposure to the dark and spidery crawlspace that ran underneath the entire new structure. My family used the main part of The Cave to store our bicycles, grills, and other outdoor accoutrements; the Golden Eye used The Cave as the lair from which it plotted revenge on my people, the invading murderous honkies.
I should explain here that the Golden Eye had long since shed the corpse of the Indian brave and become a solo act, a glowing yellow orb that floated through the air like a miniature Death Star in search of victims. At night, it would emerge from The Cave and . . . well we were not quite sure. Normal, non-supernatural eyeballs are not particularly dangerous entities and are fairly vulnerable to counterattacks. In the beginning our idea was that the Golden Eye would catch its prey unawares then pop out the White Human’s regular eye and take its place which would certainly be painful although not much of a revenge against an entire race. The saying, after all, is “an eye for an eye,” not “an eye for a genocide.” Later, I think after watching some B movie, we developed the theory that the Golden Eye actually had a manta-like stinger trailing out behind it which it would use to penetrate someone’s forehead and take possession of his or her body.
Looking back I love the idea that a disembodied, floating eyeball was not scary enough, that it actually had to do something more menacing. Today one of the most menacing things I can conceive of is diet soda so perhaps when I tell my nieces and nephews the story there will be a few conceptual revisions.
In any case, perhaps your own trashy neighbors told you these stories, for mythology spreads far and wide and the themes are primitive and universal. All I know is that, however they were transmitted originally—the stories of the Golden Arm and the Golden Eye—we invented them ourselves and they became true because we were the only people who existed and our legends shaped the cosmos in ways the power-mad Richard Nixon could only dream of.
Horrifyingly for the future of the world, however, I think the power-mad George W. Bush understands this phenomenon all too well for his goal is indeed to create a world where nothing gold can stay . . . unless it is in his own honky vault.