That’s what your friends tell you when someone’s treated you badly. You think they’re only saying it to make you feel better? That it’s not true? I’m here to tell you it is true. What goes around, does come around. You just have to be patient.
Remember that wonderful black wool dress with the white pique collar and cuffs I was writing about yesterday? That the saleslady at Saks said Mamie Eisenhower had bought, too? No? (So much for posts about clothes.) Okay, let me start again.
The summer between my first and second years at college, I worked in the office of a music publishing company. There I put color-coded tabs on metal plates that fed into a mimeograph machine that addressed envelopes to potential customers of band, orchestral and/or choral music. (This was in 1949 and is something you really don’t want or need to learn more about.) There was a whole wall of drawers full of those metal plates. After tabbing them, I then alphabetized the plates by last name of potential customer, and cut up my fingers, and ruminated about how far I dared go with my first serious boyfriend evenings and weekends without losing that shred of maidenhood allegedly so essential to getting married. I also managed to save almost all my minimum-wage earnings (then 60 cents an hour) because I lived at home, and at the end of summer I had more than enough money to go crazy at Saks. I mean c-r-a-z-y. I spent $150 for that wonderful black wool dress you forgot about, which (believe me) was a lot of money in those days!
What was so wonderful about it? Not that Mamie Eisenhower had also bought it. It was the miraculous construction; the dress had rows and rows of tiny almost invisible tucks running diagonally around its black midriff above its slightly dropped black waist which emphasized an hourglass figure if you had one, and created sort of an hourglass figure if you didn’t. This, please remember, was the era of Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner and the early days of all those rounded Ginas, Sophias and Monicas in Italian movies who wiggled when they walked. Well worth $150!
Fast forward back to school and a “mixer!” Mixers were events at which a busload of college men, then called “boys,” would arrive — under the aegis of both college administrations — at the campus of a college for women, then called “girls.” There were bowls of non-alcoholic fruit-juice punch, a phonograph and records you could dance to, a dance floor (usually the floor of the gym), and — it goes without saying — chaperones, to make sure everyone was behaving properly. The purpose, of course, was to meet suitable members of the opposite sex. The result, quite often, at least in the fall, was an invitation to a football weekend.
It could be argued that I should not have been there at all. I was still attached, in all the ways that mattered then, to my first serious boyfriend. But that dark and saturnine youth was, unfortunately, twenty-five hours away by train until Christmas vacation, reading Great Books (or not reading them and playing pool instead) at the University of Chicago. Out of sight, somewhat out of mind, at least until a letter might arrive in my campus mailbox. Certainly out of mind on that Friday night, when the alternative to the mixer — with boys from Yale! — was a solitary evening in the library or my lonely dorm room.
I went, I was seen, I conquered. A graduate student! Quel coup! Plus an invitation to a weekend at Yale!
Was I attracted to my host-to-be? Did I really want to see more of him when I said I’d love to come? In all candor, I felt mainly triumph. The fellow himself was secondary. Acceptable, meaning in no way obnoxious or misshapen or less tall than I was. (Which in those days was 5’7″ barefoot.) He was also well spoken, always an important point with yours truly. (Muscular but inarticulate was only for my nighttime fantasy life.) And he came from New York City, like I did. That seemed enough to go on. I mean it was just a football weekend. We weren’t getting engaged or anything like that. It goes without saying I mentioned nothing about this in any letter addressed to Chicago.
The big weekend arrived, sunny and promising. New York Central was the train, New Haven was the destination, the law student was on the platform, chrysanthemum for me in hand. He paid for lunch, he paid my ticket for the game, he paid my room for the night (with some elderly lady who rented out spare bedrooms to young ladies like me for extra cash in the fall), he paid for a nice dinner in town, and paid our way into the post-game dance. Reader, he did everything right. Reader, he was boring.
He was suitably dismissive of the football game. (Just a pretext for getting me to come, he admitted engagingly.) But he talked about the cases in his casebooks. He discussed theories of product liability. He discoursed at length about something that had happened just the other day in something called Moot Court which involved some issue of civil procedure. He debated aloud the merits of possibly picking up an M.B.A. to go with his J.D. He had never read D.H. Lawrence, or James Joyce, or Jane Austen. He didn’t particularly want to go to France. He didn’t go to movies much, either; he said he had no time.
I simulated interest. I really did. I asked meaningful questions. I smiled in the right places. I did my best to earn my weekend at Yale. But then — going beyond boring — came the after-dinner dancing, very close dancing, and I discovered he had body odor, or his suit jacket did. Faint, but perceptible. I made this undesirable discovery as the wonderful black dress was doing its work, bringing my odorous host closer and closer, until his excitable lower regions were even more perceptible through the black wool of my dress than his body odor.
[“Excitable” perhaps doesn’t do justice to the law student’s condition on that dance floor, but you know what I mean. Or maybe you don’t. Young people today just can’t appreciate how difficult it was to fox-trot and waltz with your rear end sticking way out to avoid unwanted contact with the groin of your partner.]
At last I could take no more and providentially developed a headache. He urged resting up in his off-campus apartment. No, I said as sweetly as I could, I really did not want to go to his off-campus apartment even though the guy he shared it with was away for the weekend. I really really did not want to go there even though it was much more comfortable than the room where my suitcase was waiting for me. Even if he was absolutely sure he could make me feel much better once we got there. Mamie Eisenhower could not possibly have had these problems with the future President when she wore our dress.
I’ll give him this. He was taciturn thereafter, but behaved correctly. He took me to my room. Picked me up next morning and took me to the train. There had been talk the afternoon before of strolling around campus Sunday morning, brunch at Morey’s. No more such talk. He had a lot of work to catch up on, he said. Thanks for coming, he said without meaning it. Thanks for having me, I said without meaning it. He was gone from the platform before the train left the station.
Thanks for nothing, I thought on the brief ride back. Why did there have to be a quid pro quo for buying me lunch and dinner and a ticket to a game? Why did I have to put out for the price of a room I wasn’t supposed to occupy anyway? Why did he even ask me up for the weekend if that’s all he wanted?
Because that’s all he did want, dummy — was the answer. I know: my hands weren’t so clean in this matter, either. But the shame of it: back from a football weekend in time for Sunday lunch! I skipped the lunch, and explanations. Had crackers and an old apple in my room instead. I was so lucky to have a nice serious boyfriend, albeit in Chicago! No more mixers for me.
But there is payback. God is not going to sit idly by while a young man expects a girl to put out in exchange for a couple of meals and then hurries her back on the train too early without a kind word of farewell when she politely refuses to do what he wants her to do.
About twelve years later, newly divorced from my first husband and living in a studio apartment far east on 72nd Street, I used to take the downtown Second Avenue bus to work. I got on early enough in the route to have a seat, but by 65th Street or so, new riders had to stand. One morning, a man in an overcoat came to stand in front of me. He had a leather briefcase on the floor between his feet, so he could read hisTimes and also hold on to the overhead bar. There was something familiar about his face. Where had I seen it before? The gold initials on the briefcase jogged my memory. Of course! It was the horny law student grown up, and with glasses. I was then thirty-two, so he couldn’t have been more than thirty-six. And you know what? He had lost his hair! He was almost completely bald! Like an egg on top! Just a little bristle left around the ears!
How’s that for retribution? It made me feel good all day.