For friends who have read my memoir Spiral to Edinburgh, the Darien High School material in this and the next few posts is new. In this four-page episode, I skip forward to the summer preceding senior year.
That summer, I went to numerous parties held by a collection of classmates who had in common good academic performance. They called themselves the “Group.” I figured they didn’t give themselves a more distinctive name to avoid admitting they’d formed something as mindlessly stereotypical as a clique.
A member of the Group named Perry and I shared a love of books and an obsession with girl psychology. There was, as well, his Anglophilia, except he expressed it in sarcastic references to “Limeys” and exaggerated imitations of posh Englishmen.
We talked frequently on the phone, and often he came to my place or drove me to his. Darien High students either didn’t read or concealed their reading. Perry read, absorbed, then propounded to anyone who would listen, which was me. He called me “Boswell” to his Samuel Johnson, a subservient role I accepted, considering my limited access to books, for the sake of educated conversation.
We made jokes that no one else would find funny, or rather, that everyone else would ridicule as “intellectual.” Bewildered by the grammatical rules we were learning in Latin class, we enacted the arrival of a messenger before some Roman general during a battle. The messenger got so tangled up in ablatives, declensions, conjugations and overall sentence unruliness that he couldn’t get out the critical information.
Naturally, I was the messenger. “Great speed, troops over hill, um, come?”
“Out with it, Boswellus.”
“Come over hill troops rapidly.”
“Are you saying troops are our way coming, or I should troops going command?”
And people wrote tomes on the decline of the Roman Empire.
With high school senior year almost upon us, several members of the Group planned to meet the 4:29 train from New York. Pam, a popular girl whose family had moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at the end of junior year, was on her way for a visit. She’d been one of my readers. When we stopped reading homework assignments, she’d used to select a poem by Leonard Cohen or E.E. Cummings. I couldn’t have said whether my pleasure was more in the poems or her renditions.
The day of her arrival, Perry told me on the phone, “You know what it’s going to be like. The girls are going to scream like crazy the moment they see her, and we guys are going to stand around in total embarrassment.”
I said, “Then why don’t we join them afterwards?”
“We’d be missed. At least I would be. I can’t speak for Limeys.”
Another Group member was Doug. At 4:15, his “Dougmobile” pulled into our driveway. It was a dilapidated vehicle that rode low and jarringly over every bump in the road and had a grubby plastic interior that left me wanting to wash my hands each time I got out. As I eased into the back, I discovered Doug had already picked up his girlfriend, Priscilla, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, as well as Perry, beside me in the back.
Doug turned back to me. “Ready to say hi to Pam?”
“Speaking of special occasions,” I said to Perry.
He’d recently made progress with a girl I knew only slightly. They’d been to a couple of movies together, and she’d joined him at a Group party.
“What?” he said, since I was waiting significantly for him to ask.
“I had a feeling you’d forget. Didn’t you tell me a certain someone has her birthday tomorrow?”
“Ouch. Shit. Driver, go by Stoler’s so I can buy a card.”
“No can do,” Doug said. “We’ll just make it to the train as it is. Perry, man, you wonder why it never works out with you and girls.”
Priscilla turned around to console him. “Don’t worry, Perry. You can pick up a card later and give it to her at school tomorrow.”
Perry continued to mutter curses.
“Here we are,” Doug announced, as the car swerved to a curb and jerked to a stop. “4:29 on the nose.” The other car, which was all girls, had already arrived, and they greeted us as we climbed the steps to the open-air platform.
“Where’s this train?” Perry muttered. “We could have stopped off and gotten a card.”
“Perry, you fool, we’d never have made it here even if the train was due tomorrow.”
“Shut up, Doug.”
Doug’s chortle carried all along the platform.
I thought I heard the first clickety-clack of a train just before a girl yelled, “Here it comes.” The train drew closer, thrusting air before it like a hand sweeping aside everything in its way. I stepped back. Brakes hissing, the train came to a halt and the doors slid open. The girls shrieked, “Pam!” and rushed over to the car where she’d emerged.
Doug called, “Well, hello there,” and ambled over to the crowd of girls screeching and jumping in rapture.
Perry hung back with me, saying, “See?”
As we walked back to the cars, the clamoring girls circled around the star.
“Pam, you haven’t changed.”
“Such a tan!”
“Your hair’s different.”
“I had it cut shorter,” Pam said, getting a word in. “I didn’t want to look like all those California girls.”
When we reached the cars, Pam separated herself and came over to hug Doug, Perry and me.
“Still writing poems?” she asked my shoulder. “You’ll have to show me.”
Embracing her, I experienced the old affection for her sturdy frame and how it matched her character.
The two cars set off for the home of a girl named Molly, where the party was to start.
Note: To read all my memoir excerpts to date, along with other recent posts, please go here, the blog page of my website.