In the afternoon, the wind changes and the color of the water changes with it, darkens and takes a bigger bite. In the afternoon, it could be a different ocean. Above that, the moon and the gulls are floating, pale and timeless against the sky; and, as it happens in this life, I find myself on a porch on Cape Cod with a television director who, 19 hours ago, interrupted his drinking long enough to kill a 52-ounce rum kamikaze that may have come with orchids floating in it, and he is looking a little pale and timeless himself.
We watch the gulls awhile and the moon and the ocean breaking in over the rocks, smoothing them, and it comes to me, suddenly, that the television director is about to connect us somehow to the great plan all around us. And I am right.
“Erik Estrada is a pain in the ass,” he says, looking out over the ocean. “A complete pain in the ass. That surprises you, doesn’t it?”
“Well, you hear the rumors….”
The director smiles. “He sits on a motorcycle all day on the set, giving everybody a load of shit because he’s a television star. They’re going to get rid of him because he’s a pain in the ass. That’s why Jimmy’s got a good chance to get on the show.”
“Who is Erik Estrada?” I ask.
“On CHiPs,” he says. “He’s one of the cops on CHiPs. And he’s a pain in the ass, and Jimmy’s not.”
Months later, though, CHiPs will not have traded in its pain in the ass for Jimmy Craig. By then, Craig will have done a guest spot on Laverne & Shirley and gone back to Boston, planning to play pro hockey again for the Bruins.
“Jimmy’s like a wonderful child,” the director says. “There’s nothing phony about it, either. Just look at him.”
Out in the ocean, Craig is bouncing in the waves, keeping his chin just over the water. A beautiful three-year-old child named Muriel Goddu is fastened to his neck, singing to him. Bette Davis Eyes. Better than anything else, he knows children. Better than hockey or women or celebrity, better than he understands what has happened to himself.
When it began, he was a kid. A nice kid. A little mouthy for having been small growing up—he was only 5’3” when he was graduated from high school and grew almost ten inches in the next year—but a kid who would find a way to win. “I always believe I’ll win,” he said once, “and it seems to carry over to the other people on my team. That’s my greatest asset as a hockey player: I make them believe.”
Craig led Boston University to an N.C.A.A. title, and a year later, he was the goalie on Herb Brook’s Olympic team that beat the Russians and then Finland to win the gold medal.
When that happened, he became a national hero. He had money for the first time in his life; he got an N.H.L. contract, a Coca-Cola contract. Women and talk shows and Sports Illustrated. Babies were named after him.
And it was harder to see, but he was still just a kid who could play hockey.
“Muriel,” he says, “sing it to me one more time.”
She says no. He says, “Oh, please, Muriel? Please?” She says no. He says, “Poor Muriel, she doesn’t even know how to sing Bette Davis Eyes.” And Muriel sings it again.
The television director shakes his head. “He has such a marvelous quality,” he says.
Craig walks out of the ocean, limping on a leg he tore up this morning playing softball, the baby still hugging his neck. The air has turned cool and Muriel pulls closer. He picks up a towel and wraps her in it carefully and then holds her there, close to him, until she stops shaking.
“Poor Muriel,” he says. “She doesn’t even know how to sing Bette Davis Eyes.” And she sings it to him again. Dead serious, chattering teeth.
The director is still shaking his head. “Jimmy stayed at my house,” he says. “Did you know that? The whole week he was out on the Coast, he stayed with me, and I love him. He didn’t drink all the booze in the place or anything. My kids loved him. He isn’t a smartass with anybody, and he’s sincere. Everybody loved him. Then he got back on the plane to Boston. He called me from the airport to thank me, to say he loved me, and the next thing I knew, it had happened.
“I mean, I was just talking to him on the telephone, and the next day, the story was in the paper.”
The story in the paper. Just before midnight last May 29th, in a rainstorm, Craig’s new BMW collided with a 1973 Toyota driven by a 30-year-old woman named Ingrid Olson. The collision occurred in front of a bait shop on Route Six in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, two miles from his house.
“I learned there’s always people who want to build you up to be a hero, but they want to tear you down, too.”
Olson has told police Craig was in her lane. Craig has said she was in his. However it started, the cars skidded, hit each other on their passenger sides and rolled into the trees on the north side of the road. Margaret Curry, who had been sitting in the back seat of the Toyota, was thrown through the rear window and killed. She was 28 years old.
Another woman, Patricia Belliveau, was admitted to St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford in critical condition and was released three weeks later.
Olson was treated and released that night, and Craig, who had been knocked unconscious, refused treatment. He was given a sobriety test and was taken to the police station for questioning. There has never been any suggestion that drugs or alcohol were involved. “I remember I wanted to go home,” he says. “It was freezing cold, and I just wanted to be at home.”
Three days after that story hit the wire services, there was another story. Craig had been charged in a three-week-old incident on Cuttyhunk Island, off Martha’s Vineyard. He had taken two of his brothers and three of their friends on his boat to the island, which has 47 year-round residents, and they were all being charged with disorderly conduct.
The only known casualty of the afternoon was an $11 pane of glass in a public telephone booth, but there are only seven phones on Cuttyhunk and the islanders are protective. The report also had it that the intruders had used abusive language and, possibly, urinated in public. State trooper Daniel Flynn said this for the papers: “The boys acted up and were pretty rowdy.”
Coming weeks after the fact and just days after the car accident, it looked cheap, and a week later, when the charge against Craig was dismissed (“There just wasn’t any evidence against Mr. Craig,” said Assistant District Attorney Charles Morano), it still looked cheap.
“I’ll tell you what I learned from all this,” Craig had said after the accident. “I learned there’s always people who want to build you up to be a hero, but they want to tear you down, too. I learned how rude people can be and how bad the media is.”
The truth is, the newspaper coverage wasn’t much worse than it usually is when something happens. The Boston Herald made it look like they’d gone and shot Kennedy again, and there is at least a possibility that the stories had as much to do with the disorderly conduct charge on Cuttyhunk Island as the police did, but mostly, the papers just did what they always do.
They went to the family home in Easton to talk with Craig’s father. They called his brothers. They went to old coaches, to the relatives of the girl who had been killed, to Craig’s business agent, Bob Woolf, and to the police. The stories they wrote, of course, were rooted in the moment at Lake Placid when Jim Craig, wrapped in an American flag, had skated up the ice after the U.S. had beaten Finland for the gold, looking for his father.
They presumed that that moment was the apex of a life and that a car accident was where it bottomed out, and they wondered at the speed of the fall. Nobody figures out your life surer than a newspaper reporter who’s had half a day to look it over.
The story from Cuttyhunk can be laid in a large part to the work of a Boston Herald reporter named James Welch. Welch says he got an anonymous call from the island and went to Trooper Flynn with the information.
Bob Woolf calls the charge “crazy” and says that the newspaper had pressured the police into bringing the charge. “That happened a month before the car accident and Jimmy was never charged then,” he says. “Why now?”
Flynn says he hadn’t brought the charge against Craig because Woolf had told him his client was on the boat when the glass in the phone booth was broken. “I didn’t get over to investigate until the first of June,” he says, “and when I checked, it turned out all six of them got off the boat.
“Then Mr. Welch called and started telling me there had been public urination. I said, ‘Public urination? Hold on; we’re getting into a felony now.’ But it turned out the urination wasn’t public; it was into private weeds. The judge dropped charges against Jim Craig, and that’s fine with me. As far as I’m concerned, the newspapers blew the whole thing out of proportion.”
“The worst thing in the world is having to talk every day about something you didn’t do.”
Welch says he resents that. “There was a four- or five-hour boat chase, two Coast Guard boats and then a helicopter, before they caught him,” he says. “I’d like to hear the Olympic hero deny he was on that boat.”
Welch is right; there was a chase. It wasn’t four or five hours, but there were two Coast Guard boats and a helicopter, and it was the helicopter that eventually caught up. The Coast Guard says Craig was so much faster that he may not have known that its boats were trying to stop him.
And Craig is right, too. The same people who build you up want to tear you down.
Jimmy carries Muriel into the house and sits on the floor with her in his lap. There are a dozen other people in the room: Woolf and his family, the first baseman and the shortstop of the Mattapoisett Inn softball team, Craig’s brother Danny, an old goalie coach. Everybody’s kids crawl all over Craig, but he pays all his attention to Muriel. They have decided to be best friends and play with each other.
It develops that Muriel plays rough. They wrestle on the floor and she throws short, straight punches into his stomach, then his head as he folds over and then into his back as he expires on the floor.
The television director is on the phone to the Coast, trying to straighten out some kind of furniture problem there. I don’t know what the problem is, but the furniture is teak. The director has been on the Cape 36 hours, and half that time, he’s been on the phone with the Coast. Los Angeles is a hard place to get away from.
Muriel is jumping off a chair, landing with her elbow in Craig’s back, trying to bring him back to life or make sure he’s dead, and while he waits for her, he watches the director explaining, running his hand through his hair, trying to show somebody who can’t see him how tall a table is. Everything Craig never wants to have to do.
“I wish they’d never invented telephones,” Craig said earlier. “Nothing good ever happens when the phone rings; good news doesn’t come that way. Every time it rings, it’s something you’ve got to do, someplace you’ve got to go, someplace you forgot to go.” Most of the time, Craig doesn’t answer his phone; he lets the answering machine do it. “That’s what it’s for,” he says. And sometimes he will listen to the tape the answering machine makes, but mostly he won’t.
In the week after the accident, Craig moved into Woolf’s house and didn’t answer anything. “The worst thing in the world is having to talk every day about something you didn’t do,” he says.
And this morning, before the Mattapoisett Inn softball team dropped a double-header, a kid had stood behind the fence and watched him take batting practice. He said, “Are you that Olympic hockey player?”
“Sure am,” Craig said. “You play?”
The kid said, “I thought you got arrested for killing that girl.”
Craig looked at him the longest five seconds in the world. “No, I didn’t get arrested.” He moved away from the kid then, back toward the bench, but the kid followed him.
“I bet you’re sorry you killed her,” he said. Craig grabbed his glove and ran past the kid, out toward third base.
The kid started to follow him, then stopped. “Are you sorry?” he said.
“Yeah,” Craig said without looking at him. “I sure am.”
Back on the floor, he puts Muriel on his knees and then drops her almost to the floor. You wonder how he knows how much to scare her, how long to hold her to get her over it.
Jim Craig was the sixth of eight children. He was raised in North Easton, Massachusetts, a working-class town between Boston and Brockton. He caddied at the golf course in Brockton. His father was a director of food services for the school system; his mother died of cancer in 1977, before things had begun to go his way.
“That’s what it was about, after the game,” he says. “I was thinking of my mother. Actually, I guess, I was thinking about my dad thinking of my mother, wishing she could have been there to see it. I knew that’s what was going through his mind, and I was trying to find him in the stands, to let him know I understood.”
There was something else to that, too. In seven months of exhausting daily practice before the Olympics, Craig never got close to the team. He was the talker, and he would say what he thought. He was full of himself, and sure of himself, and apart. And when it was over and he was being pulled all the different ways something like that will pull you, he needed somebody to share it with.
And so he skated up the ice while the rest of the players were falling over one another, scrubbing heads, and looked for his father. And somehow, doing that, he was chosen as the proof that America was still what it was supposed to be.
The Iranians had grabbed the hostages, Russia had grabbed Afghanistan and the Arabs were still kicking the ass out of the economy, and then this kid and his teammates had come out of nowhere to beat the world at hockey. America had won one—beating Russia in the semis so everybody knew to watch the finals against Finland—and people from one end of the country to the other cried and got drunk and hurt their backs jumping up and down in front of the television set. They had been saved.
The Flames thought Jim Craig could make Georgia love ice hockey as much as it hated the Russians.
They wrote letters to Craig and his father saying it was the greatest moment since they had their first grandchild. President Carter had the team over to the White House for lunch, and for two months, every time you turned on the television, there was the American hockey team gathering into that happy ball and then Craig, moving off alone.
And Craig knew it wasn’t what they thought but liked where it was going. He signed napkins in restaurants, he talked to every reporter, he did the talk shows, he even answered the phone calls.
Fifteen of the 19 players on that American hockey team went into the Olympic games with a commitment from N.H.L. teams. Craig wasn’t picked up by the Atlanta Flames until he was already a national hero. He never had any of it until he had it all.
The Flames were a bad team on the ice and a bad team at the gate. They brought Craig in for a $45,000 bonus, a contract calling for about $85,000 a year and guarantees of endorsements. They thought Jim Craig could make Georgia love ice hockey as much as it hated the Russians.
As soon as he arrived in Atlanta, Craig was given a one-shot Coca-Cola commercial for $35,000. “Everywhere I went,” he says, “people wanted to do things for me. They offered me free places to live, free cars to drive, free meals at restaurants. The governor made me the second most powerful man in the state. He gave me a proclamation.”
He says that and you see that he half believes he was the second most powerful man in Georgia.
Everywhere he went, people knew him and wanted some part of him. The country club where he had caddied in Brockton gave him a membership. That is one of the things that nobody has taken back.
“Yeah, I knew they were using me,” he says, “but I was just so happy to be used….”
The first game Craig started for Atlanta was the first sellout crowd of the season. Atlanta won the game, 4-1, and then it all went wrong. Craig played in three more games and then it all caught up. Exhaustion and an ulcer. “I worked my ass off not to let anybody down. I thought I could have it all ways; I didn’t know you couldn’t do that. I didn’t know until I didn’t even want to put my skates on anymore.”
The Flames sent Craig to doctors, who found the ulcer and diagnosed the exhaustion, and then to Hollywood, Florida, to rest.
His father says, “I thought the boy handled it pretty well, considering. He did as much as he could as long as he could. It seemed like there were always so many people depending on him, if you know what I mean.”
At the end of the season, Craig left Atlanta, and so did professional hockey. Craig was traded to Boston and the Flames went to Calgary. Boston watched him awhile and decided to send him to a farm team. He refused to go. “A lot of people misunderstood that,” he says. “It wasn’t that I thought I was a big deal. I was playing good hockey, though, and if I wasn’t good enough to make it in the N.H.L., I wanted to know it so I could get on with something else. That was when I saw that it was beginning to roll the other way. People were talking about what was best for hockey and what was best for my career. I kept thinking, What career? I’ve played in four games.
“I mean, I was 24 years old. That isn’t a kid in hockey; you’ve only got so long. The players down in the minors, most of them were 18 and 19 years old, Canadians. Can you see me spending half a year in a bus with 18- and 19-year-old kids?
“That didn’t make me popular with the Bruins, either. Most of them are Canadians, and they came up through the juniors. They think college hockey is bullshit. So I showed up, famous and supposedly rich, and I didn’t know how to act. I knew what they were thinking.”
Craig got into 23 games for the Bruins in the 1980-1981 season. He broke a finger getting ready for the Canada Cup series before the next season began. And this time he went to the minors to play himself back into shape. To the Erie Blades.
“Erie, Pennsylvania,” he says. “There were nights when we ended up sleeping in banquet halls. You could lie awake all night in Erie wondering why it was there.”
He broke his finger and then his ankle, then he had a growth on his shoulder that he thought was cancer, and then he hurt his back. It was a bad season for a professional athlete but the kind of season that a professional athlete sometimes gets. Being Jim Craig, he had no time to sit back and figure that out. There were always reporters wanting to know what had happened to America’s hero.
“It occurred to me one night that no matter what they wrote, it didn’t change anything. I couldn’t see that before. It occurred to me that I didn’t care if I ever saw my name in another newspaper as long as I lived.”
Late at night is when things come. When he can’t sleep and there’s nobody to talk to, when there’s nobody else in the house. Days he fills with golf or softball, or he gets in his boat. During hockey season, he is always an hour early getting to practice, an hour late leaving. But two days before the season opens, there is no season. Craig will be given his unconditional release by the Boston Bruins, and a month into the National Hockey League season, no other team will have offered him a tryout or shown any interest in him at all. Even now, he may feel it coming.
“I just want to get a job and be happy,” he says. And he sounds like a kid who doesn’t know what a job is. And he talks about going to Hollywood and doesn’t know what that is, either. “I’d mow the grass just to look at the girls,” he says.
And he fills the days; but late at night, things come.
“I was lying in bed, thinking,” he says. “About what has happened to me just in the past year. My Uncle Bob died; my grandfather died. I got my finger mashed and missed the Canada Cup and most of the pre-season, so I went to Erie and hurt my back. I broke my ankle and then I thought I had cancer, and then my cousin got murdered in Florida, and then the girl got killed in the car accident. You lie there thinking, What’s going to happen to me next?”
Jim and Muriel get off the floor and bounce on the sofa. The television director finishes with the phone and watches from the kitchen, smiling. “Poor Muriel,” Jim says. “She doesn’t even know how to sing Bette Davis Eyes.” Muriel locks her jaw and shakes her head no.
He says, “Poor Muriel, can’t even talk.”
She says, “Then I won’t love you anymore.”
And he says, “Has anybody seen Muriel? She was just here. She was so cute, and now she must be invisible. Maybe somebody better call the police and tell them.”
Muriel sits in his lap and watches while Bob Woolf’s daughter picks up the phone and reports her disappearance to the police. When she hangs up, Muriel says, “Ha.”
Jim says, “Has anybody looked under the bed?” Somebody goes into the bedroom and looks under the bed. No Muriel. “I wonder who’ll play with her brother now,” he says. Then his face changes. “Maybe God took her,” he says. “Maybe she’s up in heaven, or maybe He put her in that other place.”
Muriel turns in his lap and gives him a look. “I’ll bet God took her,” he says.
She says, “I’m right here.”
“It’s funny,” he says, “I can almost hear her. Her mother is going to miss her very much.”
“I’m here,” she says. Something has come into her voice.
“I wonder if God would give her back if she gave me a kiss,” he says.
“Hey,” she says, “I’m here.” She isn’t worried enough to kiss him yet, but Muriel is a tough play. Fifteen minutes later, though, she suddenly pulls his head down and kisses him on the cheek.
“Why, I can see a foot,” he says, moving his hand up her leg. “And here’s a knee. Muriel is coming back….” And a couple of minutes later, Muriel is all the way back, still sitting on Jim Craig’s lap, touching her arms and legs, making sure.
And half an hour later, she is still making sure, standing in front of a window, studying her reflection. Someone she doesn’t know tells her not to worry. “You’re right here, Muriel.”
She looks at herself in the window. “I know,” she says. “They said so.” And something small has been changed. Getting scared can do that.
The stranger says, “You didn’t really go away. You’re always going to be here.” And she looks at him like she knows that for the lie it is.
“And then the girl gets killed in the car accident. You lie there thinking, What’s going to happen to me next?”
In a real, tangible way, of course, Margaret Curry’s death was something that happened to Jim Craig. Something bad. And if he sees it that way, as opposed to something that happened to Margaret Curry, you can understand it. In his way, the television director is right: Craig is like a child. But the world is catching up.
“I thought about that accident again and again,” he says. “You run it over in your mind every way possible, and my mind is completely clear….” But still, he can’t sleep.
“Those girls,” he says. “I don’t even know what they look like. What happened was a tragedy, but the girl who was driving that car has to live with that the rest of her life, not me.”
But as it goes on, the girls become enemies. Hearing that they had been to at least one bar before the accident, he comes to refer to them as “smashed.” He talks about the bald tires on the Toyota and the reflexes that made him a goalie in the N.H.L. And there is truth in all of it. The tires were bald, the girls had been at a bar and he has exceptional reflexes, even for a professional athlete. He explains that he had been on the West Coast, so it was only nine o’clock to him. The mistakes in the news accounts of the accident are somehow proof, too.
There are things on his side—and two months later, a judge will look at the things and drop all charges—but the things of it are separate from the moment itself, from headlights and steel and a girl whose life ended going through the back window of a Toyota. And the quiet afterward.
He sits by himself in the living room, going over it one more time, from the time he sees her car in his lane. He moves into her lane, trying to miss her; she moves back. He adds it up every way there is and says his mind is clear. But late at night, it keeps coming back. Late at night, you’re never really clear. That’s what growing up is about.
He sits for a minute in the wake of the accident, sipping a beer. Then he sighs and looks around the room until he spots her, still over by the window.
“Muriel,” he says, “come sing me Bette Davis Eyes. Please?”
[Photo Credit: Malcolm Jones]