LOSING FIFTEEN POUNDS: PART ONE

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As I’ve mentioned before, I spent a major part of my adult life losing fifteen pounds. It wasn’t always the same fifteen pounds. But I did it over and over again, until I probably had lost nearly a cumulative thousand of them. And then when I was already collecting Social Security, which was many decades after the first loss (and re-gain), it began to seem a foolish preoccupation. If every year there was less and less life left to live, why spend so much of it agonizing about how much of me there was or wasn’t, when I could spend more of it actually living?

That was when I invaded my savings to join a non-pretentious, non-judgmental low-profile gym that cost quite a bit of money, which made it clearly counterproductive to comfort myself with chocolate cake when things didn’t go my way. As they used to say in the old country, we grow old too soon, and smart too late.

It began long before, of course, with the well-known “freshman fifteen.” Except in my case, I arrived at college an unnatural fifteen pounds down from the comfortably rounded weight I carried through high school. Once I learned I had won a full scholarship to a prestigious girls’ college my parents could never have afforded on their own, I went into serious training to take complete social advantage of this opportunity, guided by visions of the slender and narrow-boned models who appeared every year in the college issue of Mademoiselle magazine. I myself had peasant bones, but that didn’t keep me from limiting my daily nutritional intake to a spartan 750 calories divided between breakfast and dinner, with a vigorous hour’s walk during lunchtime to speed the fat-burning process.

I arrived on campus successful: I looked properly emaciated, with my hipbones jutting out in my narrow new college clothes. I was also starving, and soon began to eat back the lost pounds – aided by starchy college food, coke and candy machines in every dorm, and a disinclination to get drunk on disappointing dates, preferring food binges by myself in my room when life let me down. The first time the fifteen pounds came back, I panicked. What would my mother say when I got home? (It was she who had invested her household savings in my fashionable new college wardrobe, dreaming no doubt of potential wealthy son-in-laws.) In the three weeks before the end of the college year, I drank unsweetened tea, swallowed amphetamine-laced diet pills from the local drugstore, and savored only two thin slices of roast beef for dinner (250 calories?) until my new clothes fit again.

Coping mechanisms tend to be habit-forming. I also gained and lost a “sophomore fifteen” between September 1949 and June 1950 and gained them back during my junior year. That spring, alas, I had two major papers to write – one on “All’s Well That Ends Well” and the other on the minor novels of Dostoevsky; I needed nourishment right until the end. I came home in June 1951 without a summer job and with my skirt held together by safety pins.

My first college summer I had worked and had a serious boyfriend. The second summer I went to Europe on the money I’d saved to go to college and now didn’t need for that. But this third summer, the boyfriend was gone, my father was working in Texas, my mother was all alone in the apartment, it seemed too late to look for temporary work, and so I decided to make it my full-time job to get rid of those fifteen pounds for good.

It would be my last chance before I had to contend with “Real Life,” a last chance to have the glamorous college year I hadn’t had so far. I therefore embarked on training for this final year as seriously as I had trained for the first, except that then I hadn’t anticipated the possibility of eventual failure. Now, with several dietary defeats already under my belt (I speak metaphorically; the belt itself was in a drawer, pending a smaller waistline), I was not only determined but desperate. I had already learned my worst enemy was me.

[To be continued…..]

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THE PRACTICE BOYFRIEND: A MEMOIR (PART FIVE OF FIVE)

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 [Continued from previous four posts.]

7.

My photograph in the 1948 face book for the entering class at Sarah Lawrence College looks not only very young and thin but also uncertain. The camera didn’t lie. I was finding it hard to strike up conversations. The members of my class who impressed me most, and whom I most wanted to know, all seemed golden girls. They were blonde and tan, smoked cigarettes with their coffee, and talked about parties at which they’d got really plastered.

They had also gone to private day schools or else to boarding schools with famous names, where they had learned to play not only tennis and golf, neither of which I’d had the opportunity to attempt, but also field hockey, of which I had never heard. They all seemed either to know each other or know each other’s friends, and already had invitations to football weekends at Harvard and Yale and Princeton. Some were talking about their coming-out parties. How could I ever have thought I would fit in?

I also found myself enrolled in classes where the skills which had worked so well for me in high school seemed inapplicable. Sarah Lawrence was not a place where one took copious notes, memorized them and then regurgitated on examinations what one had just ingested, at all of which I excelled. Instead, within a couple of days my professor of Exploratory Literature – who’d let me into his highly popular class because my reading Le Rouge et le Noir in the original had impressed him — asked us to write a paper explaining why the heroine of David Garnett’s Lady Into Fox had turned into a fox shortly after her marriage, a question never answered in so many words on any of its pages. In American History, the assignment was to write a critical review of a well respected standard text. In Creative Writing, I was supposed to describe something using only one of my senses. I wasn’t sure how well I would do with this odd kind of education. But if I didn’t live up to expectations, what about my scholarship?

I’d been struggling with these matters for about two weeks when Perry telephoned. My mother had given him the dormitory number. He was so sorry he hadn’t been able to get back before I left. He’d wanted to give me a proper send-off and help me move in. But he would be in the city for at least a while now — he was going to be involved in training new sales personnel — and how about if he drove up on Saturday?  We could have dinner and take in a movie.

I’d already discovered the campus virtually emptied out on weekends and had been dreading being alone in a nearly deserted dorm.  So I was briefly happy he called.  He was familiar and warm.  I could tell him everything that was happening, and he would sympathize, and maybe even know what to do about the snobby girls I couldn’t get to know and the peculiarly difficult homework I worried about. He was older and had more life experience and was good with people and cared about me.

But then I remembered the horrid plaid melamine plates that so excited him and had taken him away without apology on those long road trips. I also wondered if I was supposed to confess about all the kisses with the boy from the University of Chicago, who was now sending me increasingly heated letters for which I searched my mailbox every day.  By the time the front desk called on Saturday evening to announce my guest had arrived, I felt nervous and duplicitous and also annoyed that I should have to feel this way, with the result that I began to wish the evening weren’t happening at all.

I couldn’t conceal my lack of enthusiasm at the news that his plastic dinnerware company was rapidly expanding and he might perhaps be made an assistant marketing manager by the end of the year. For his part, he must not have understood how I felt about the golden girls and Lady into Fox, because all he said was he was sure there were plenty of other nice girls at the college with whom I could be friends, and if I did the best I could with my schoolwork, he knew that would be just fine.

After dinner, we saw Arc of Triumph, with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. I couldn’t concentrate on the story. It seemed so long since we’d been together. He looked incongruous on campus, too. He didn’t belong there. Now in the movie theater it was as if a stranger were taking my hand in the dark.  He must have sensed my discomfort, because he soon moved his own hand away to reach for his handkerchief and then never put it back on mine. I clasped my own two cold hands together in my lap and felt sorry for myself, but still worried all the way through the movie that I would have to really kiss him when he took me back to my dorm.

He was wiser than I gave him credit for. He touched me gently on the cheek and blew me an air kiss. He also told me to enjoy every minute of college. I watched him drive away and wanted to cry.  But I was too young to realize, until several months went by without hearing from him again, that he had been saying goodbye.

Eighteen months later, there was another final goodbye. It was the late spring of 1950 and I was by then deeply enmeshed in major sturm und drang both by letter and in person with the boy from Chicago, who like any other normal nineteen-year-old boy was demanding I prove my love by “going all the way.”  It was at this point a letter arrived from Perry.  It had no return address, so I didn’t know who’d sent it until it was open.  I had never seen his handwriting before.  “My Nina,” he began. “I dreamed about you last night.”  It was a very short letter. Nothing about where he was or what he was doing. He said he would always remember me, and hoped I was happy, and wished me a wonderful life.

8.

That was nearly sixty-five years ago. The life I went on to live would probably not qualify as “wonderful.” Poor romantic choices, emotional tumult, dysfunctional marriages. But also much higher education, considerable professional accomplishment, two children to be proud of, and a reasonably safe and quiet harbor near the end.  Along the way I’ve sometimes looked back to reflect.  But never about Perry: For too long it was as if he’d never been. Until a few months ago, when the man I live with — who also looks back to reflect — asked if the boyfriend from Chicago was the first. “Not exactly,” I said. “There was a practice boyfriend before him.”  A practice boyfriend? Someone about whom the man I live with had never heard? “Nothing happened,” I said. “There’s not much to tell.”

And this was true. I knew nothing, or remembered nothing, about his family, or boyhood, or politics (although there I could guess), not much about his friends, interests, hopes, dreams. I never heard more about Jeanie, or the girl who wrote the “Dear John” letter. I had no idea what he did in the evenings when he wasn’t with me, which was most evenings. Did he read, do crossword puzzles, listen to music, other than dance music? Did he ever play tennis or golf? Could he swim? I didn’t even know his phone number, although I suppose I could have got it from Information if necessary.

But there was one thing I did know, although I didn’t know I still knew it. The night the man I live with asked his question, I too had a dream. One of those dreams so real you think it is.  I saw a mouth. Very near to mine.  I woke with a start. Whose mouth, whose? I ransacked my small inventory of well-known mouths. (Husbands, lovers.) The one in the dream was none of those. It was Perry’s. Still warm and alive inside of me.

And then I was frantic to bring him back. Packrat that I am, I couldn’t find the letter to “My Nina.” Or the photo of us as a couple on fake snow. I’d given away the Swiss silk scarf to the Vietnam Viets.  But I did still have the two photos taken in early December 1947 while I was in high school and he was at Where. And now I had Google, and Yahoo and Bing.

That’s how I learned he was born on May 2, 1922 (I’d forgotten the day) and died April 9, 2008, one month short of turning 86. According to “Radaris,” a search engine of scary thoroughness, his most recent address was 330 West 46 St., NY 10017. It’s between Seventh and Eighth Avenue. Not the greatest place in Manhattan to live. Google shows it as a brownstone converted to apartments above a street-level fruit and vegetable store. I’ll bet it’s a walk-up. My guess is he died a widower or divorced; I don’t think old married people live on West 46th. “Radaris” also reports his background as Austrian-German-Swiss (didn’t know that, either) and that he was a high-school grad. (He got no credit for the two years at NYU.) His profession? “Food preparation & serving-related occupations.” (Is that where melamine led?) I found his last telephone number too, but in the privacy interests of whoever has that number now, I’ll omit it from this report. He was related to an Amy Rose L.

The United States 1940 census is also now online. There I found the L. family living on Mosholu Parkway North, Bronx, NY. The Head of Household: Irving L., age 45. Wife: Beatrice L., age 41. Son: Perry L., age 17. Son: Warren L., age 13. (I never knew, or else forgot, that Perry had a kid brother just barely young enough to escape the draft, who was probably finishing college in ‘47 or ‘48.)

There’s a Warren L., age 87 or 88, now living in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Amy Rose L., age 63, lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, quite near the waterfront. It’s where Frank Sinatra came from.

What should I do with this free information? Contact Warren L., the 88 year-old kid brother in Deerfield Beach, and ask about Perry, now seven years dead? Get in touch with 63-year old Amy Rose L., who lives in New Jersey just like me and is probably his daughter? What good would it do to identify myself as her mother’s predecessor and ask nosy parker questions about her dad? Or should I dig up even more by paying “Radaris” $19.95 for a trial period background check, which will produce for me all the publicly available records in the United States concerning Perry L.  Is learning the name of his wife worth $19.95?

Those are rhetorical questions. I already know the answers. I’ve also concluded that my dear departed mother who was wrong about so much, and maybe also wrong that Perry was sleeping with Jeanie, was right about one thing: that for a time he really did love me. If Amy Rose, age 63, is his daughter, he would have had to marry her mother in 1950. (Unless she were a shotgun baby, which I very much doubt.) If so, he dreamed about “his” Nina and wrote he would always remember me shortly before the wedding.

Little as I ever knew about him, I do know Perry was one of the kindest men in my life. He’d survived bloody carnage in Europe – and make no mistake: he was cannon fodder, nothing more – yet managed to keep his balance. He was steadfastly there for all the time I needed him, and on my foolish terms. (Which can’t have pleased him). He had fortitude. (“It’s not the end of the world.”) He also kept his own counsel. I sometimes wonder where he thought we were going, or whether he thought about it at all.

If I try to replay the cards in my mind, try to make it come out differently, I still can’t make it work.  Suppose I did have to go to Hunter, living in my room at home and commuting to a college for women a block away from the high school I’d been attending when I met him. And suppose he was promoted to assistant marketing manager, and then marketing manager, so that he finally earned enough to think of marriage. Would I have been happy as the wife of a very nice beer-drinking man who earned his living selling tableware I wouldn’t put on my own table and liked bowling, the Giants and fishing vacations? I know the answer to that one too. We met while neither of us knew what lay ahead. But we were programmed to take off in different directions. And then we did.

I also ask why he was even bothering with a sixteen-year-old bookish schoolgirl nine years younger than he was, whose head was full of daydreams and who knew nothing of the world. My best guess: because of the war. He’d lost three years of his youth while trudging through foreign mud with a heavy pack under enemy fire, and for six or seven months he got it back with me.

And so when I think of him now, it’s not as my practice boyfriend. He’ll be always the young man with whom I threw snowballs – knowing that when we got too cold we’d go in to hot cocoa, and then supper, and then close dancing in the foyer to the sound of Glenn Miller and Harry James, our bodies entwined and mouths connected forever.

What could be better than that?

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THE FIRST TIME I SAW PRINCETON

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[I live in Princeton, New Jersey.  Bill and I moved here from Massachusetts in 2006, after I retired from practicing law.  Princeton was Bill’s suggestion, but I didn’t object. It’s conveniently located between Philadelphia and New York (where we both had grown children), and has a renowned university with a vibrant cultural life available to the community and an audit program for many of its courses which is open to residents of all ages.   Moreover, I had already been to Princeton on three prior occasions — the last two times bringing each of my sons in turn to check it out as a college where he might want to study.  By then, Princeton had become co-educational and was beginning to open its doors to a diverse and multicultural student body.  Although they didn’t choose to apply, I did think at that time it was a pretty and inviting town in which to live.  However, had neither of them wanted to see Princeton, I might have put up a fuss when Bill suggested the move.  Because long long ago, I had been here a first time. It was when I was barely seventeen, a scholarship student just out of the nest, and Princeton was quite a different sort of place  — still an all-male preserve of WASP privilege, nestled in a little town saturated with social snobbery….]

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 The photograph of me in the face book for the 1948 entering class at Sarah Lawrence College looks very young and somewhat scared. The camera didn’t lie. I was finding it hard to strike up conversations with other members of my class. The ones who impressed me the most, and who I wanted to know, all seemed like golden girls. They were blonde and tan, smoked cigarettes with their coffee, and talked about parties at which they had got really plastered.

They had also all gone either to private day schools or else to boarding schools with famous names, where they had learned to play not only tennis and golf, neither of which I had ever had the opportunity to attempt, but also field hockey, of which I had never even heard. What’s more, they all seemed either to know each other or know each other’s friends, and already had invitations to football weekends at Harvard and Yale and Princeton. Some were talking about their coming-out parties. How could I ever have thought I would fit in?

And then, a miracle!  Dora, the one golden girl with a friendly smile for everyone, asked if I could come to the Princeton-Virginia game with her. It would really help her out, she said. This guy who had invited her had a friend who also needed a date!

I asked no questions.  Into a small suitcase flew a violet off-the-shoulder dress, taken from its hanger for the first time, and a strapless bra. Clad in my new scratchy tweed football-weekend suit and only cashmere sweater — both highly recommended by Mademoiselle magazine for just such an occasion – Dora and I rode the train down to Grand Central; from there we shared a cab to Penn Station and then took another train to Princeton. Dora came from just outside Philadelphia. At Princeton, she was therefore staying with a friend of her mother’s. But a room had been arranged for me at the home of a friend of her mother’s friend.

Dora’s mother’s friend’s friend was a stern-looking matron who made no effort to conceal her scorn for both my appearance and my name when I presented myself in her front hall. A well-thumbed copy of the Social Register lay prominently open on the lamp table by the front door. (It goes without saying my family was not in it.) She gave me a tight little nod and led me in silence up two steep flights to a small third-floor bedroom, probably originally a maid’s room, where I was instructed to leave my suitcase.

Coming down again, I peeked into the open bedrooms on the second floor. They already had partially unpacked suitcases on the beds, and were much larger and airier than mine. I also noticed there were no locks on any of the bedroom doors. But then I recollected this was a private home. Surely, there was no need for concern. In any event, there was also no time to ask. Dora and the two dates had arrived to collect me for the game.   Mine came from a prep school in Minneapolis. The top of his head was level with the bottom of my nose. He was already somewhat drunk when we were introduced. Then Dora and her date took off; I was on my own with mine.

My experience with football was at this point minimal. I had been taken to two Giants games the previous year but had been entirely unable to follow the ball. Unsurprisingly, I failed to muster sufficient visible enthusiasm for whatever Princeton was doing down there on the field to dispel the initial suspicion with which my date had looked up at me when we met. And why hadn’t anyone warned me it would be cold in the stadium, even in my scratchy tweed suit?  The date had a small pocket flask from which he quaffed warming draughts from time to time, but once I had refused his first offer to partake, no more offers were forthcoming. Also everyone kept jumping up and down, waving orange Princeton pennants and yelling – for what, I wasn’t sure — which was disquieting. After the game, which Princeton lost, the date then dragged me to innumerable drinks parties on the baronial stairs and in the oak-paneled rooms of the various houses on campus to which he had entrée. It seemed as if I climbed for hours around and past seated groups of drinkers to reach rooms packed tight with the bodies of Princetonians and their girlfriends noisily drowning the sorrow of their loss.

I must have been mercifully walked back to my room at some point, to change for dinner and dancing — although I now no longer remember when, or by whom. What I do remember is the discovery that while I had been away, my suitcase had been rifled of its strapless bra. The stern-faced lady of the house, when found, disclaimed all knowledge of what she lightly termed “a youthful prank,” and implied that there was something ill-bred about my distress and use of the word “stolen.”   Begrudgingly, she gave me two little safety pins to keep the straps of the bra I was already wearing from showing under the off-the-shoulder violet dress. When inserted, the pins pulled the dress towards the bra straps rather than the reverse, thereby creating two bunched-up mounds of cloth at the shoulders and a neckline that gaped in front.

But by the time the date returned by taxi to retrieve me, he was so far gone my appearance didn’t matter. We probably ate something. We may even have danced one dance, in a room festooned with orange lanterns and more orange pennants. I seem to recollect his lurching against me and his head flopping on one bunched-up shoulder of the dress. We came across Dora and her friend, both less drunk than my date; they explained indulgently that Virginia was known for suitcase-rifling. Was it a comfort to me that my lingerie would be hung from a University of Virginia dorm window as a larcenous trophy of victory? All I could think was that the bra had cost eight dollars (at a time when you could buy a regular bra for $1.95) and was therefore a luxury in my family, whatever it might be to a golden girl — and also that it was probably tacky of me to keep harping on it. But I couldn’t help it (which was itself tacky), because being robbed just wasn’t right. Especially as I was a guest.

My date was unable to appear for Sunday breakfast. Dora and her friend made token apologies for him. On the train back to New York, Dora also said she was sorry it hadn’t worked out, gave me one of her friendly smiles, and then immersed herself in Sons And Lovers, the assignment for our next Exploratory Lit class, which met the following morning. This was to my mind cutting it rather close. I had made sure to finish the whole book before the weekend, and planned to review it when we got back to school that evening. But that’s how it was, I supposed, when your family had enough money to send you to any college you wanted and you didn’t need to focus on keeping your scholarship. I had hoped Dora and I would chat and get to know each other better on the return trip, but that was apparently not to be.

In any event, I knew one thing for sure: I was never never ever going back to Princeton again. Not for another football game, and not for anything else, either. I hated the university, the town, and the color orange.  I sought revenge for all of it, and comfort for myself, in doughnuts in the dining hall and Ritz crackers with cheese in the dorm, so that soon I didn’t have to buy another strapless bra because the violet dress didn’t fit any more. The scratchy tweed football-game suit didn’t fit very well either.

What my mother had to say about that when I next came home is another story.

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[But I probably should add that Bill’s favorite color is orange.  And that you just never know how things are going to turn out, do you?]

 

 

 

WHAT GOES AROUND, COMES AROUND

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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.