The Instructor

Once upon a time there was a drawing student named Henry.  He worked at Disney and believed in Jesus.  He drew Bibles, crosses and mouse ears when given the chance, and he hated the instructor.  He knew, just knew that the man had no faith in Christ or Walt Disney.  And the instructor frowned every time Henry brought out his pictures of his lovely wife and two darling children.  Didn’t he like children?  Or didn’t he believe that Henry was their father?  Why couldn’t he be the father?  He had the right equipment and knew how to use it.  The instructor didn’t care that Henry did his absolute best, had put his past permanently behind him.  Jesus saved him, and then he found Lisa, and now he was happy.  Really, really happy…What did the instructor know about anything but drawing bottles and boxes?  He could talk all day about perspective, but did he have any?  Did he understand true suffering, the suffering of Jesus for mankind, the suffering of mankind trying to be like Jesus no matter how much it hurt?  That smug bastard was the king of his classroom, but not King of the Universe.  Henry wanted to be there when God gave the instructor his Final Grade.

Helen sat next to Henry.  She hated the instructor too, but wasn’t sure why until Henry told her that the instructor was arrogant.  Helen hated arrogant men, and this teacher (He wasn’t a real professor, was he?) was dirty minded too.  The instructor had asked her if Robert bothered her and didn’t believe it when she told him that she liked Robert.  Robert was funny.  The instructor said, “I saw you bend over to pick up your back pack off the floor, and Robert bent over your back, hugged you from behind, and whispered in your ear, ‘See you next Tuesday.’  You’re okay with that?”  Helen was fine with that.  Robert just kidded around, and she hadn’t felt anything sexual.  The hug had been funny and nice, and she didn’t care whether Robert had pressed up against her butt and his hands accidentally grazed her…The instructor was the real pervert imagining filth when grown people were just having a bit of fun, horsing around.  She wasn’t a weak woman like her mother who let men do what they wanted and pretended to like it.  Helen could take care of herself better than some fake professor who saw harassment in one harmless little hug.  Arrogant bastard.

Robert sat two easels away from Helen, but he’d already decided that she wasn’t the one for him.  Too old and lean.  Stringy blond hair.  There were several girls in the class, younger, juicier, who deserved his attention.    But one stood out:  Charlotte.  She was a tough chick who wore work boots, skinny jeans, tank tops, and pink lipstick.  She smoked cigarettes with him during break.  She liked his jokes, dirty girl, and paid close attention when he got close to her and touched her shoulder and told her about his mother, the artist.  Most girls thought that he was weird when he went on and on about Mom, but Charlotte listened…Mom knew that he was a special and had lots and lots of talent.  Robert didn’t care that the instructor gave him Cs.  He knew that it didn’t matter if he drew abstract textures while everyone else drew still lives.  Real artists didn’t bother with anything but abstraction and the human form.  He loved the human form.  And it didn’t matter that Charlotte asked him to stop touching her arm, her shoulder, to stop bumping his hip against hers (“Oops again, hah-hah!”) when he passed by her easel.  She pretended to be pure but acted like she had plenty of experience.  He could tell.  Girls liked to put up some resistance at first, but gave in eventually.  Most did.

Joseph knew that the instructor didn’t respect him.  The instructor was annoyingly tall and walked around like the giant god of the world.  But Joseph had talent, more talent than the instructor, and he would show the man how good he was once the instructor brought in models.  Joseph had signed up to draw nudes, but that man made him draw bottles and boxes, toys, a doll and a beach ball.  Junk didn’t inspire him, and an artist needs inspiration to do his best work.  At midterm that prick had given him a D and told him to do some homework in the second half.  He might get a B if he applied himself.  Joseph did not do B work, but he did choose what kind of work he did. And he didn’t do homework.   Homework was boring.  Homework was useless practice when he, Joseph, already knew how to draw his hand, a still life, the interior of a room.  Couldn’t the man see that?   Maybe he was too tall to look down and see Joseph.

Mary was tired, really tired of being told what to do.  She worked as an airline stewardess and took the class for fun, as an escape.  She spent the week slaving for people who acted as if she were a servant, and now she wanted things to follow her terms.  She’d paid good money for this class, and technically, though he’d never admit it, the instructor was her employee.  And he was so rude to her, never saying anything nice about her work when it was obvious that she was the best drawer in the class.  Oh, he gave her As on nearly every assignment, but he always slipped in some nitpicking criticism about any little mistake he could find.  He must spend hours finding a line that wobbled a sixteenth of an inch, a tone that smudged slightly.  Why couldn’t he tell her just once how good she was, and then shut up and go away?

The instructor could tell that half the class hated him.  Henry was meticulously polite but sneered at him when he thought that the instructor wasn’t looking.  He whispered like a conspirator with Helen during breaks.  Helen glared at him as if his very existence offended her.  Joseph stared stone faced whenever the instructor looked at his drawings.  Nothing he said made an impression on Joseph.  Mary thought that she was running the show.  She lectured him on his duties as an instructor.  She told him one day, “First you have to greet me, say ‘Good morning, Mary.’  Then you have to praise me.  Then you can tell me all the things you think I’ve done wrong!” Robert oddly enough, thought they were buddies.  But Robert was a loon and a lecher who had taken the class to harass women.  And Robert’s sketchbook had odd little poems about suicide, about using a piece of glass to slash his wrists.  The instructor had reported him to the dean’s office, but they were worried about legalities and seemed to think that the instructor showed a negative bias toward Robert.  Thank God there were a few students who took him seriously, who worked hard and tried to improve.

The instructor’s wife pretended to listen when he complained about the class.  He joked, but wasn’t really joking, when he said, “My quest to be loved by everyone at all times has failed once again!”  She sighed and said what she always said at times like these: “There’s always another class.  There’s always another semester.” Continue reading

Women Jumping Out of Cars

Last week I waited to make a left turn into my neighborhood and saw a woman jump out of the shot gun seat of a car idling at a red light.  She looked as if someone had goosed her.  The driver made no effort to call her back though she stood on a nearby curb and stared intently at him.  She bounced on her toes as if waiting for him to make a move.  She began to walk away after a minute passed, and then he finally turned the car in her direction.  Negotiations had begun.

I saw a more vivid version of this story a few years earlier.  I heard yelling inside a car beside me on Semoran Boulevard.  We were stopped at a red light.  The front passenger door flew open.  A twenty year old woman slammed it shut and stomped away.  She veered behind the car, stepped onto the median and quickly put distance between her and the car’s driver.  He leaned out the window and called, “Hey, baby!  Come back!”  She ignored him and kept going.  Then he began to cuss her out in Spanish, shook his fist at her, and hit the horn once.  She kept going.  When the light turned green he made a u-turn and slowly headed in her direction.  He looked grim as if he expected no success in retrieving her.

Twenty years ago I heard yelling up the street from my house.  It was 1 a.m., so I peeked out my front door and saw a woman staggering across a lawn at the neighbor’s across the street.  Two or three men were inside a car idling at the curb, and one ordered the woman to get back in the car.  She screamed at him.  Her speech slurred, but I believe she told him to go to hell.  She knocked on my neighbor’s door–no one answered.  The man in the car yelled again, this time with greater violence.  I stepped outside and headed toward the woman.  When the men saw me they realized that a witness had arrived, and they sped away.

The woman spotted me and staggered to where I stood at the bottom of my driveway.  She asked if she could use my phone.  I let her inside and pointed to our land line.  I asked her if she wanted some coffee to help her sober up.  She glared and said, “I’m not drunk!  My boyfriend hit me!”

I retreated to the kitchen to get her some ice, and while I was gone my wife woke up.  Judy came out to the living room half awake.  She found a strange woman with crazy hair talking on our phone.  The lady’s outfit, cut offs and a sweaty tube top, gave her a street look.  I took Judy aside before she could make unfortunate assumptions and explained the situation.  The woman put a hand over the mouth piece and asked, “Where am I?”  I told her, and then she gave instructions to the person on the line:  “Pick me up at the 7/11 at Forsyth and Aloma.”

She hung up, and I offered her a ride to the convenience store.  She refused and headed out the door.  I followed after her and watched her walk up Bougainvillea Dr.  I worried that her tormentors might return.  A police car turned the corner and stopped next to her.  She waved her arms, shook her head and refused to get in the cruiser.  They let her go shortly after, and she strode away with firm, determined steps.  She turned the corner and disappeared, and the cops drove on.

Fifty years ago my mother stepped out of a car after an argument with my father.  We were stopped at a light about three miles from home.  We three kids huddled together in the back seat and wished that the nightmare would end soon.  My father drove off, and Mom’s figure grew smaller and smaller in the rear window.  I felt an odd sensation that I was the one left behind.  Two hours later Mom opened the front door to our house, came inside, and hung up her coat in the hall closet.  We all pretended that nothing had happened.

A Poet Wore Black

My friend Kathy wore black on the day after Ronald Reagan’s first presidential victory in 1980.  She told me that she intended to dress like a widow until she no longer felt the need to mourn a political world gone mad.

Kathy was an English major at the University of Dayton.  She wrote poetry and frequently used the words “bone” and “ash” in her free verse to give her writing an air of grim melancholy.  She lived by herself in an off campus apartment and kept her rooms dim by blocking light from the windows with sheets hung from curtain rods.  She cleaned and aired only when the smell of dirty clothes, sour milk and stale cigarette smoke overwhelmed her.  It took a lot to overwhelm her.

I had a crush on her, nonetheless.  I had spent three years dating Midwestern girls who expected me to conform to their middle class expectations, and Kathy presented a bohemian alternative.  But she remained steadfast in her resistance to my overt and covert maneuvers.  Instead she favored the company of Sheila, a fellow English major who glared at me with narrowed eyes whenever I spoke to Kathy.

Two days after Reagan’s election I came across Kathy smoking a cigarette as she sat on the steps of the student union by a statue of JFK.  She squinted through the smoke and coldly studied me.  She knew that I was a Dayton native and once asked me if the world ended for me just beyond the city limits.  She believed that the locals suffered from the delusion that nothing worth knowing existed outside of Dayton.  She coughed and ran a hand through her tangled hair as she continued to appraise me.  She finally said, “You wanna come to a meeting with me?”

“What meeting?” I asked.

“Reps from the Communist Party are giving a talk here at noon.”

“Okay,” I said.  I was glad to be given a chance to prove that I wasn’t a rube and to spend time with her.

The commies, a man and two women wearing gray and black coats, set up a card table in the square near the art building.  They had stacks of pamphlets and flyers at their elbows and looked as grim and determined as revolutionaries should.  The man spoke for twenty minutes and told us that capitalism was doomed and that our lives were exercises in folly until we genuflected before the teachings of Karl Marx.  He didn’t offer any evidence for the imminent downfall of the American system and failed to mention Stalin’s legacy of horror.  I asked him if Reagan worried him.  I knew that the president elect had testified against fellow actors during the McCarthy witch hunt era and had fought against unions in Hollywood.  The communist didn’t hesitate to answer and told me that one American president was much like another.  Reagan was no different than Carter.  I didn’t challenge him.  I thought, “Why argue with a fanatic?”

Kathy went to England during Christmas break.  I saw her at the beginning of the next semester.  She no longer wore black and looked almost cheerful.  I invited myself over to her apartment that evening, and we sat in her living room and drank wine.  I asked her to tell me all about her trip.  She hesitated for a long moment, closed her eyes and said, “I’ll tell you one thing, but I want to keep the rest of my experiences for myself.”  It appeared that anything revealed would lose its magic power to inspire her, and she was only willing to give me a scrap.

I no longer remember what she said–maybe she visited Charles Dickens’ home and saw his writing desk.  But I do recall that a little door closed in my mind as I listened to the rise and fall of her voice.  I made my excuses a few minutes later and left.

During that semester I no longer sought her out.  And whenever I ran into her outside a classroom I nodded a hello but said little.  I no longer considered her much of a friend or had any desire to pursue a romance.

A few years later I ran into an acquaintance who had known both of us at UD.  Pat knew that I had been interested in Kathy and told me that she was still in town.  I was surprised as she had vowed that she would never become trapped in Dayton like so many graduates of the University.  The town was a narrow minded, cultural wasteland that would do nothing to nourish her poetry.  Pat went on to say that Kathy worked at a bar in the Oregon District, a trendy strip of night clubs on the southeast side of downtown Dayton.  She dressed in gypsy skirts, wore a head scarf and did Tarot card readings for the well heeled patrons.  He waited for me to ask for the name of the bar, but I just started to laugh.

 

Rough Sketch: An Interview with Aimee Mamelon

rough sketch cover

Here are some sections of an interview with Aimee Mamelon, the author of a new adult novel set in the Central Florida art world.  The book is called,  Rough Sketch.

JR:  I understand that Aimee Mamelon is a pen name.  Why adopt a false identity?  Aren’t you proud of this book?

AM:  Nice opener.  Let’s get to the hostility right away.

JR:  I’ll rephrase my question.  Aimee Mamelon is a pen name.  Interesting…

AM:  I’ve worked as a model, artist and art instructor in the Orlando area.  Some of the characters are composites based on people I’ve met, and the plot contains elements of stories I’ve been told and my own experiences. I didn’t want colleagues and  acquaintances and friends leaping to conclusions.

JR:  You didn’t want them to find out that you were writing about them?  Won’t they figure out your identity once they read a few passages that are about things that only you and they went through together?

AM:  Please listen carefully.  This is a novel, not a memoir.  None of the things that happened in this book are a blow by blow account.  The characters in the book are representative of certain types of people I’ve met in the art world, but none of them are direct portraits of actual people.  Got it?

JR:  So you’re not a sex addict?

AM:  No.

JR:  But your main character, Lizzy, is.

AM:  Maybe at the beginning.  I think of her more as a female Don Juan, as someone who’s desperately trying to find fulfillment, to patch a few gaping holes in her life.  She uses sex to take the cutting edge off of her loneliness.

JR:  Why did you open the book with a graphic sex scene?

AM:  Well, obviously, I wanted to get my readers’ attention.  And I wanted to introduce the main character’s core problem right at the outset.  The first chapter is really about playing out her frustrations more than reveling in her satisfactions.

JR:  She keeps trying to find some sort of escape from reality?

AM:  Yes.  Exactly.  She drinks and goes out clubbing and has one night stands to forget that she’s just scraping by, her family drives her nuts, and that she feels unloved and unlovable.  When she takes someone home she can believe for a moment or two that she’s taking control of her life and her needs.

JR:  But of course she just makes things worse.

AM:  Yeah, it takes her a long time to figure out what she really needs and how to get it.

JR:  Have you ever modeled in the nude?

AM:  Yes.  I’ve modeled for art classes, and I posed for a boyfriend who is a figure painter.

JR:  So the scenes where Lizzy models are fairly accurate?

AM:  Oh, yes.  The first time I modeled in a class I thought that I was going to throw up or faint.  It feels pretty strange to be the only naked person in a room of 25.

JR:  Does that get easier the more you do it?

AM:  I was a little nervous every time I modeled, but not nearly as bad as the first time.  It depended a lot on the instructors and the students.  Some teachers were very demanding and didn’t care if my leg went into a spasm during a pose.  They just expected me to keep holding it.  They acted like I was an object.  Some were a lot more kind and took my needs into account…One creepy guy wanted to date me and called me up at home at all hours and asked me what I was wearing.

JR:  That had to be awkward.  What were some of the stranger moments you faced in class?

AM:  I was modeling at a little, nonprofit art school, and all the students were in their thirties or forties.  I relaxed.  Usually it’s younger college kids who show no respect.  Well, anyway, I’m standing on the modelling stage wearing a bathrobe, waiting for the male instructor to stop talking to one of the female students.  He finally says a few words, I drop my robe and hit a pose, and this old bat in the corner looks me straight in the eye.  Her face is red and she’s glaring at me.  She throws down her charcoal, points a finger at me and yells, “Jezebel!  You brazen Jezebel!”

JR:  Really?  What was the class?  Watercolor still life? 

AM:  Figure drawing.  I guess that lady had no idea that artists draw nudes in a figure drawing class.  Go figure.

JR:  What did the instructor do?

AM:  He was pretty cool.  He asked me to put the robe back on, and then he told the lady to pack up and leave.  She demanded her money back, and he opened up his wallet and peeled off a few bills.  He apologized to me after class and said that the school gets some odd balls from time to time.

JR:  Is the art world as tough as you’ve portrayed it in the book?  Is it all about finding out a way to sell out in order to make some cash?

AM:  I’ve understated some things.  It’s intensely difficult to make a living doing anything creative.  Some artists try to tailor their work to a market.  In Central Florida there are a lot of artists doing old fashioned still lives and landscapes.  I see lots of flower paintings and landscapes with a palm tree stuck dead center.  Sky, water, palm tree.  This kind of work usually sells a lot better than scratchy, dark abstractions. 

JR:  Do you look down on the sell-outs?  You went to art school.  Didn’t they teach you to look down your nose at realism?

AM:  I don’t blame them at all.  If they figure out how to turn a buck selling art I’m ready to applaud.  One thing you learn in the art world is that it’s not a meritocracy.  Some of the best artists I’ve known have a huge collection of their own work.  They can’t give it away, and the only ones who really like their work are fellow artists who can’t afford to buy.  Sometimes the least talented artists get to the top of the heap by relentless self-promotion.  But there are times when crap art gets exposed and the good artists get shows and sell.  It’s all random…If someone can figure out how to make the money flow in their direction, even for a short while, then I say, “Go for it chickee!”

JR:  That sounds a little bitter.

AM:  Just trying to be realistic.

JR:  Are you still working as an artist, or are you devoting all of your efforts to perfecting your craft as a writer?

AM:  It’s about even.  Sometimes I feel less inspired to go into my studio and work on a painting.  The computer looks more inviting then.  And sometimes I get tired of digging around for the right word, the right turn of a phrase, and it’s nice to pick up a brush and turn off the words in my head.

JR:  Are you modeling anymore?

AM:  I trade off with friends from time to time.  They pose and I paint, and vice versa.  Mostly it’s just for portraits.  I can’t remember the last time I posed in the nude.

JR:  But not for college classes?

AM:  No.  I gave that up when I put on a few pounds after I had my first baby.  A lot of models quit when they no longer feel confident in their body image anymore.  It takes guts to get up on stage and have twenty pairs of eyes poring over every square inch of your body…And the joints get achy.  I did yoga to stay loose and limber, but after a while I started visiting my chiropractor more often than I wanted to, and modeling seemed like a less attractive way to pick up a few extra bucks.

JR:  At the end of the book Lizzy gives up a lot of her independence to take care of her lover.  Do you think that she made a good choice?

AM:  She learns to give more of herself, to expect less from others.  But I’m not sure if Peter is a good bet in the long run.  He’s an alcoholic with personal issues of his own.  But I think that their relationship gives Lizzy a chance to figure out a different route for her life.  When she’s with him he presents enough of a challenge to force her to make different choices.

 

Valentine for my Wife

My wife and I have long ago abandoned most outward displays of romantic commitment.  I buy her flowers on occasion, but rarely on Valentine’s Day.  And every day isn’t a testament to our enduring love.  We still argue and get annoyed by one another.  We have to work on our relationship.  But when I saw her sitting across the room from me today I remembered a moment during our engagement when we went to visit her parents.  They hadn’t met me before Judy and I announced our engagement, and this trip turned out to be one of mutual inspection:  they wanted to see if I was a good match for their daughter;  I wanted to get a feel for the dynamics and history of my intended’s family.  The second night we were sitting at the table after supper getting better acquainted, and I suddenly found myself listening intently to my fiancee’s voice.  She was talking with great animation with her father, but I didn’t really hear the words.  What caught my attention was the timbre, the rise and fall of the notes, her slight Pennsylvania Dutch accent.  And I was struck by the knowledge that this was the voice that I’d be listening to for the rest my life.

A few years later one of my relatives thanked my wife for being generous enough to marry me.  The woman went on to say that the family thought that I would never get married as I was such a difficult person to understand.  As we drove home that night Judy turned to me and said, “You’re the one in your family who’s easy to live with.”  I felt a surge of love for her while at the same time hoped that she’d never change her mind once she really got to know me.  I had plenty of doubts about my worth.

Her understanding of my personality and character has evolved over the last 32 years,  and I’m relieved to say that she still loves me now that she is thoroughly acquainted with my strengths and faults.  That’s a huge gift, and I sometimes don’t think that I deserve it.  I’m still a bit surprised that she enjoys my companionship, that she smiles at me when I come home from work, that in many ways we feel closer than we ever have before.

Beyond her acceptance she has stood behind me in hard times.  She took care of me while I was recovering from a difficult surgery.  We had only had known each other for seven months, but she made sure that my needs were met.  I’ll never forget how comforted I felt when I saw her look down at me with deep concern and understanding as I lay in a hospital bed.  She was willing to suffer along with me.

And years later she walked out of a church meeting with me to show her solidarity when my motives and character came under attack.  She didn’t hesitate when I stood up, spoke my peace and said, “I’ve had enough of this.”  My wife said, “I’m with him,” and we marched out the door together.

And that’s the crux of it:  she’s with me and I’m with her.

 

 

A List: Love’s Labor Lost and Found

1.When I was five I loved Shirley Temple. I felt sorry for her when an evil spinster or a policeman tore her from the loving arms of her crusty but kindly grandfather and carried her off to orphanage hell. I wanted to hug her and make her feel better as she wept.

2. At seven I fell in love with Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills in the movie, “The Parent Trap”. The young actress played a set of twins who had been separated by a divorce and didn’t know of each other’s existence until they met, by chance, at summer camp. I adored their curly short hair and big round eyes, and my heart went thump, thump, thump when they played guitars and sang, “Let’s get together, yeah, yeah, yeah.” If only we could…At school I two-timed the movie twins with a skinny, little girl with freckles named Laura. She had a great sense of humor, and I enjoyed talking with her every morning on the playground before the bell rang. The only problem with our relationship was that she punched me with her bony fist every time I made her laugh. It was meant as an affectionate gesture, but her knuckles separated the thin strands of muscle in my upper arm before colliding with my bone. I decided, reluctantly, after a month of her sadistic love, that I valued the structural integrity of my arm more than her.

3. In fourth grade I probably fell in love with Sharon. She was a happy go lucky girl who didn’t have all that much to say. I don’t remember any significant moment of romance between us, but that I enjoyed chasing her around the classroom at lunch time and she enjoyed being chased. I guess that I secretly longed for a deeper, more meaningful relationship and began to allow the distance between us to grow wider and wider.

4. In eighth grade I kinda/sorta liked Eileen. All the kids were starting to pair up, and while I didn’t feel any lust for her, she seemed like the most natural candidate. She was the smartest girl in our class, and I was near the top among the boys. We were both quiet and studious and took things very seriously. The main difficulty we had in jump starting our passion was that she looked like a hunted animal whenever our eyes met. She lived in terror that I might actually walk up to her and ask her out. I believed in the virtues of kindness and mercy and left her alone.

5. When I was a freshman in college I fell in love with a girl named Madonna. She dumped me after a couple months, and when I recovered from that blow I began to look for another target for my desperate affection. A young woman named Karen sat in front of me in speech class. She was a short brunette, petite and cute. I tried chatting her up one day, but her cold response warned me away.

I gave several awkward speeches at the beginning of the semester, and tried very hard not to look in her direction while I stammered and shook at the podium. I eventually got the hang of channeling my nervous energy into making stronger performances. I began to relax and enjoy public speaking. I wrote a skit and acted it out with three other classmates. We made satirical references to the health clinic and administration at U.D. and got a few laughs. Even Karen smiled a few times.

My final exam that semester was in biology. I filled in scan-tron dots for two hours, and after I answered the last question I felt my brains seize up in a massive, mental Charley horse. I stumbled out of Wohlleben Hall and was confronted by Karen. She looked up expectantly as if she wanted something from me. I was puzzled:  she had never bothered to talk to me in class. She hemmed and hawed and said something about living in a little town close to Dayton and that she had a summer job but would have lots of spare time and she thought that I was from Dayton and…then she trailed off into silence. She blushed and looked embarrassed. I rubbed my eyes and stared down at her and couldn’t imagine what she wanted from me. I wished her a good summer and walked away, but noticed that her shoulders slumped and head bowed after I spoke.  It didn’t occur to me until a few minutes later that she had been hinting around for me to ask her out. I ran back but couldn’t find her anywhere. I felt like a complete moron.

She wasn’t a science major, and I didn’t see her in any of my classes the next fall. But one day I was walking along Stewart St. near the campus with a friend. I saw her in the distance with a male companion. She glanced in my direction and a look of recognition crossed her face, followed by hurt and embarrassment. She hung her head and took the hand of her boyfriend for comfort. I felt the urge to run up to her and explain that I was a blockhead when it came to reading signals from women, but managed to restrain the impulse. I knew that anything I would say would only make matters worse.

6. I turned down a chance for love when I was 23. I had an off and on crush on a poet named Kathy. She was close friends with an English major I had known in high school named Sheila. Sheila was friendly toward me when I ran into the two of them on campus as long as I didn’t talk to Kathy for very long. One day I heard pounding on my apartment door, and when I opened it Kathy and Sheila invited themselves in. They had odd smiles on their faces as they chit chatted about U.D. gossip. They eventually got around to telling me the reason for their visit. Eileen, my proto-crush in eighth grade, was a friend of Sheila’s. She apparently suffered from having remained a virgin all these long years, and needed someone to release her pent up, libidinal energy. They went on to explain that poor Eileen had talked to priests about her problem to no avail, and had recently begun to break down crying during Mass. She was wracked by nun induced guilt when it came to her sexual needs. Kathy and Sheila wanted to know if I was willing to help a poor girl finally get some relief.

The two of them sat close to each other on my sofa and stared at me with wide eyes and coy smiles as they waited for my answer. It occurred to me that they were trying to kill two birds with one stone. They were a lesbian couple, I was a possible distraction for Kathy if she ever decided to switch teams, and Eileen needed to get laid. As all of these revelations danced in my head, I imagined going to bed with a hysterical, guilt ridden woman. I knew without a doubt that Eileen was one of those Catholic girls who would blame me for stealing her virtue minutes after the deed was done.

I was too embarrassed to admit to anyone that I was a virgin myself and was starting to get very impatient to have my first go at lovemaking, but the thought of deflowering Eileen wasn’t very attractive. And the offer being presented seemed predicated on their theory that I was a man and would screw anyone available if given the chance. I told Kathy and Sheila that I wasn’t interested. They looked disappointed and left immediately, but they had accomplished one part of their mission: I no longer had a crush on Kathy.

7. In the spring of 1983 I was finishing up a B.F.A. degree at Wright State University and a relationship with a woman named Jane. At various times I believed that I loved her, but inwardly cringed at the thought of marriage. She could be randomly sweet and loving and cruel and critical with me, and I wasn’t sure which end of the spectrum would become most dominant in her dealings with me. She once told me that she was a month late, and I reluctantly agreed to marry her if it became necessary. I could feel all sorts of doors to a happy life slamming shut as I told her that I would stick by her. That crisis turned out to be a false alarm, and our affair continued to stagger onward toward its final, ugly conclusion.

I had a few opportunities for a better romance during the last three tortured months of our relationship. One was a nursing student who rented the apartment below me. She had been living with a hyperthyroidic plumber who could stand outside in the freezing cold wearing nothing but shorts and a t-shirt. She had tired of his hot blooded love and kicked him out shortly before attending a wedding in which I served as an usher. We had shared a few sympathetic looks when we met on the front porch of our building, but I hadn’t thought that love might be possible. When she came through the receiving line she gave me a sad smile and a peck on the cheek, and it occurred to me that she was letting me know that she liked me. Visions of a vengeful Jane danced in my head, however, and I let that chance pass by.

A woman in my French II class liked to talk with me in the hall during breaks. She had long, silky, black hair, and caramel brown skin and gorgeous black eyes. One day she stood a little closer to me than normal and had that expectant look in her eyes, but she said nothing obvious. I knew that I could ask her out for a cup of coffee and that one thing might lead to another, but didn’t respond to her subtle overture. (I had vowed to never two-time anyone after being two-timed by Madonna.) She grew quite angry, stormed off and never spoke to me again.  (Years later I realized that she thought that I turned her down because I was a racist.)

Jane walked into my place early one morning six weeks later, woke me up and told me that she had been seeing someone else, and that she only thought of me as a friend. I wasn’t surprised. We had stopped going to bed together for the last two months of our affair, she had previously told me that she had learned to enjoy kissing again with a man who was better at it than I, and she had drunk dialed one night from a party and encouraged a group of men to jeer at me.   Jane babbled a few more excuses and self-justifications before she left, but I had stopped listening. My attention was focused on the urgent need to kick myself hard in the ass for remaining faithful to her.

7. My wife and I met two months later. Judy was the anti-Jane: she was consistently kind, thoughtful and loving. She didn’t like the way I kissed either, but was happy to teach me how to please her. And I was happy to practice until I got it right.

I Wasn’t All That Attracted

Dave called me at work at 7:00 in the morning just before the end of my shift and told me to come to Schwelitz’s lab at the University of Dayton at 10 o’clock. He wanted me to go to a movie and get some lunch with him and a woman named Judy. I wanted to drive home and go to bed, but he was insistent. Judy arrived shortly after I did, and she and Dave began a lively conversation that barely included me. I struggled to stay awake and drank a second cup of coffee. I wondered why my attendance at their outing was necessary.

Dave had been trying to fix me up for the past few weeks after my most recent, disastrous relationship had crashed and burned. I wasn’t sure if this get together was another of his attempts at matchmaking. He usually didn’t give me any warning and would spring a complete stranger on me without allowing time for me to prepare. But this time I  was somewhat forewarned.  As he tried to persuade me to come along he mentioned that Judy and I had both read John Gardner’s novel, Grendel. He seemed overly excited by that coincidence.

I wasn’t all that attracted to Judy, but I should have been. She was tall and willowy, had long brown hair, golden skin and big hazel eyes. It was obvious that she was smart. But she talked about nothing but biology and didn’t seem to notice my presence in the room.

We sat at a table in a diner after the three of us went to a Woody Allen movie (Zelig), and Dave dominated the conversation as usual. Judy jumped in enthusiastically whenever he paused for breath. I sat there thinking about her laugh while they rattled on and on about research. Several times during the movie she had whooped very loudly and sounded like a crazed loon.

We finished our meal and left. Dave drove. Judy rode in front, and I sat in back. Their conversation gradually died down, and there were opportunities for me to speak. I leaned forward and asked her a few questions, listened to what she said and asked a few more. (What’s your research about? Where are you from?) She was pleasantly surprised that I took an interest in her. I looked in her direction when she got out in front of her address on Wyoming St., and was surprised to see her staring at me as she stood on the sidewalk. Her expression was a study in concentrated intensity. She seemed to be sending me a message, or willing me to do something. I was a little stunned as we pulled away from the curb, but said nothing to Dave. In the deeper recesses of my brain I may have understood that my fate had just been sealed.

I couldn’t forget that look and thought about her off and on for the next two weeks. I had no intention of asking her for a date, but couldn’t seem to put her out of my mind. Dave filled me in on a few more details: she wore gypsy skirts, made her own mint tea from leaves dried in her attic, told eccentric tales about her life growing up in eastern Pennsylvania, and meditated. He made her sound like a mystical, witchy chick. Dave liked girls who appeared exotic when compared to the conformist Midwestern women that surrounded us. He considered Judy to be one of his unique finds.

I decided one night to visit Dave on campus. He was working late on his research. I asked him a few more questions about Judy, and he told me that she was down the hall giving a test review to freshmen. We walked into the back of the lecture room and sat down. She was a good teacher who engaged her students in an open, vivacious way, and I enjoyed watching her in action. She smiled brightly when she saw the two of us, and I was surprised when I realized that she was focusing her charm on me.

The three of us met back at Schwelitz’s lab after the class ended, and Dave stepped out for a moment. I took advantage of the opening. I stammered when I proposed a Dave Brubeck concert, but her answer was swift, sure and adamant: “Yes!” She had been impatiently waiting for me to make a move. But she said nothing more, and an uncomfortable silence fell between us. We barely knew each other. Dave returned and released us from the awkward moment.

The three of us talked for a few minutes, and Judy and I decided to leave him to his work. As we walked down the hall I thought about our upcoming date and remembered that Brubeck wasn’t coming to town for another two weeks. I didn’t want to wait. I proposed that we go out to a movie later that week, and she said “Yes,” in a more gentle tone of voice. Our paths split at a stairwell, and she gave me a wistful parting smile. I still didn’t feel all that drawn to her, but as I left the building I noticed pleasant butterflies of anticipation fluttering in my stomach.

Our first date lasted ten hours. Time seemed to change its course of flow when we kissed. It was as if she had pulled me into another dimension.

On our second date she wore a gypsy skirt and made me mint tea. A few weeks later she enrolled me in meditation classes. Four months later we were engaged, and six months after that we got married. We’ve been married for thirty years and the connection between us seems to be getting stronger and stronger. I can’t imagine going through a day without hearing her voice.

At odd times I remember my initial indifference toward her and turn to her and ask, “What did you do to me? What kind of hold do you have on me?” She’s smiles mysteriously and doesn’t answer, and I think, “Damn, that’s attractive.”