Perry was a rare self-confessed lover of things intellectual in my high school. He’s the guy who called me Boswell to his Samuel Johnson. In that same excerpt from my Darien High School memoir, he forgot to buy a birthday card for the girl he was then seeing. Although precociously active in town Democratic politics, Perry seemed the most likely among us to end up in a corporate role, which he did. It would be unfair if this summary seems to typecast him. As this week’s excerpt reveals, despite his focus on the future, he was generous in the present.
Emily is back from last week’s episode, while Doug and Gretchen are back from “The Date from Hell.” The story of Gretchen dumping another guy is described in “I’ll Follow the Sun.” Mr. Munro was the English teacher at the center of “Meditating on the Transcendentalists.”
Falling into conversation after Mr. Munro’s English class, Perry and I walked together to the library closet where I was to meet Emily for a reading session. I knew he had an ulterior motive because he’d become interested in her. I suspected my own interest in her had triggered it, but I’d pretty much given up on my chances.
As we entered the tiny room, Emily perked up. “Oh, hi, Perry. I hear you’re going skiing this weekend.”
“A group of us. Want to come?”
“Love to, but I already have plans.”
“I’ve never skied in my life,” he said wryly.
“You’ll love it, believe me.”
I worried that Perry and I were becoming competitive. It started when Mr. Munro assigned Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela. The story was simple enough: A maid’s widowed master attempts to seduce and even rape her, but then he makes everything right by marrying her, thus elevating her to his station. Hence the subtitle, Or, Virtue Rewarded. Two hundred years later, the subtitle seemed just too naïve and cruel.
I read a hundred and fifty of the six hundred pages, while Perry read the Cliffs Notes and none of the actual book. I felt guilty for not finishing it, but at least, I told myself, I hadn’t resorted to a commercial outline. Meanwhile, in class, Perry spoke as if he knew the novel inside out.
I felt so conflicted, both about my shortcut and Perry’s use of notes, that I had to talk it through with someone who had a reliable moral compass. Emily’s dedication to honesty made her the obvious choice.
“At least you didn’t read just the first sentence of each paragraph,” she said.
It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d be telling her about the only other book I’d shortchanged.
Then she said, “But what’s this about Perry?”
“You know, Cliffs Notes. Everyone uses them—except me.”
“No one I know uses them. I thought Perry was better than that.”
I winced. First, I’d sabotaged whatever hope a fellow Group member might have had with Gretchen, and now I was sticking it to Perry. Both times, I should have known the consequences. Or worse, I had known the consequences and gone ahead anyway for my own gratification.
Perry called that afternoon. “I just got ticked off by Emily for using Cliffs Notes. You told her, right?”
I steeled myself against the harangue I deserved.
“She wanted to give me a hard time, but she had to admit she was impressed. Would you believe she even laughed? Not really a laugh, you understand, but a chuckle with Emily is like someone else doubling over with mirth. She told me, ‘I admire your glibness.’ Glibness! Take that, Boswell. Talk about virtue rewarded.”
He was happy, and no wonder.
Then he said, “What do you think, shall I invite her to a movie?”
“Seems like she’d be happy if you did.”
He ended the call gloating, “The price of Perry’s stock goes up on the Darien Socialite Exchange.”
She accepted his invitation to the movie. Then he asked her to the prom, and she again accepted. But she made it clear their friendship was to stay platonic.
During the phase when she’d been telling me she was “the most average” and “the most terrible” person I knew, she’d gone on to tell me she was “frigid.” At the time, I hadn’t exactly known what that meant, but whatever it was, it sounded melancholy and made me concerned for her. Perhaps she really did suffer from that condition, except now I thought I knew better.
* * *
Meanwhile Doug was showing signs of interest in Gretchen, the girl from that dismal date he’d choreographed for me. I felt like a trailblazer scouting out my friends’ eventual love interests.
“I’ve never had a cold in my life,” Doug complained, blowing his nose loudly down the phone connection. “It sucks.”
A veteran of colds, I was unsympathetic. “Since you’ve never had one before, chances are you’ll shake it off in no time.”
“God, I hope so. Anyway, Gretchen’s coming over tonight.”
“Gretchen’s coming over and you’re complaining about a stupid cold?”
“That’s what makes it so annoying. Listen, I thought you should know. I mean…”
“It’s fine, Doug. You gave me a fair shot. Maybe the best man won.”
“Hey, of course the best man won. I was bound to in the end.” He blew his nose.
To read all my memoir excerpts to date, along with other recent posts, please go to the blog page of my website here.