Nils Peterson: Talk in the Reading Room
About Nils Peterson
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PART 1: GROWING UP
 The Reading Room
 Halloween 
 Xmas Eve at the Big House 
 Christmas Mysteries 
• 
Summers in Long Island 
 Father Arrives in the    Triumphal Car 
 Yankee Stadium Gone 
• 
Sandlots 
 A Thing of Beauty 
 Learning From My Father 
 Learning From My Mother 
• 
The Bus

PART 2: COLLEGE

 Next Stop 
 Going to College
 My Lecture on Romanticism 
 
A Story 
 Go Way From My Window 
• Singing in the Rain 
 On the Nature of Exposition 
 A Latin Class
 A Hero's Life
 Letter to Paul Cantrell
• Homecoming 
 The Moon and the Bulldozer
 

 

A Story

Farley Inman — for 25 years I haven’t seen you or thought of you, yet here you come about me this Christmas rattling your chains like Marley’s ghost when I try to bless or be blessed ready as ever to kick ass or kiss it.

I hate your bow tie. I hate your high hair part. I hate the late adolescent grain of your cheek. I hate the arrogant outjutting of your ears not to mention the smirk of your smile. I called you once — no doubt you’ve forgotten it, you son of a bitch — “Cincinnati’s Dancing Pig” from the title of a popular song about your hometown (not top 10 — maybe 15 to 20). I must have been fending off some snotass remark of yours. I don’t want to talk to you anymore. I’ll talk to my friends out there.

He transferred from our small-town-small Southern Presbyterian college after pledging Sigma Delta Tau our freshman year to Cincinnati U. where there was a good chapter. God, I suppose he was not unattractive in some kind of general Midwestern clean-cut way. Farley, I hate hating you. I hate why I hate you. I hate you because you took Roseanne to the Sophomore Gardenia Dance.

Roseanne was not one of the Belles whose legs swung like clappers inside calf-length, gray-flannel skirts as they strode from class to class across town at KCW. Coopies we called them (we, the horny inhabitants of Breckinridge Hall peckers rising high above the petty assault of saltpeter in the mashed potatoes) or The Collection. The Collection at the Kentucky Corral for Wildlife. Roseanne was beautiful, though shorter from hip to ankle than my taste brought up by Betty Grable and the cartoon calendar girls of Esquire Magazine said she should be. She dwelt in the trodden way between Old Breck and the Coop sweeping the cinders behind the counter of Begley’s Professional Drugs, flowing between the mayonnaise and the meat grease swelling her uniform of pastel blue and dirty cream with such sweet swells my heart long in hiding now stirs for a word.

And though we could not, would not take out a town girl save on the sly to try and get a little of what Townies were supposed to be good for, weekend after weekend we crowded 4 by 4 in 2 by 2 booths to dine on the Saturday Surprise — thinned out tuna plopped down amidst a tomato quadrisected on a leaf of lettuce too limp to last to Sunday Noon Dinner.

We watched before going on to the Saturday Movie Special (three Westerns, two starring Buck Anybody in black and white, one with Audie Murphy or — God forbid — Rory Calhoun in Eastmancolor, six Silly Symphonies, a Pete Smith short, and a serial about men from Mars who from some cave use Miss Jane’s Dude Ranch as cover) salivating out of more glands than the salivary as she made each sweet and Saturday Surprise out of her sweet and Saturday self, she, Roseanne. How could it be that it was that asshole Farley Inman who asked her to the Sophomore Gardenia Dance? I can’t stand it. A half century later, I can’t stand it.

Friends, you should know I was not a dancing man. Those few I attended in high school I spent in the cloakroom not checking coats. The first dance that ever I danced I danced with Alice Fern stumbling, after the movie (the high-class midweek Western in genuine Technicolor) into a social at her KCW dormitory. There was no out save admitting I never danced before which admitting I was not about to admit. Her hall did not even have a cloakroom not to check coats in.

 Alice too transferred after her first year, I don’t know where — I can’t believe it was to Cincinnati U. So, it was not that Farley and I were rivals. I wasn’t going to the dance with anybody. In truth, despite my yearning, I liked women most from afar, and did not hasten back after dancing my first dance, and yet, I was there — I don’t remember how — perhaps with Jean Haversham, then a sophomore, whom I didn’t go to several dances with — I dressing up in my father’s fat old tuxedo; she (a skinny thing, tall, a writer, with one eye too in love with her long nose), donning — with amazing grace — pale green puffy low-cut things (later, she grew elegant becoming a buyer for B. Altman or Bonwit Teller) and our going together — but not as dates no, never as dates,

One grand time Jean and I played basketball all night long with the decorations at the spiffed-up gym — dreamily trying to dribble soft pink balloons between the dancers, passing and shooting at the crepe-paper covered baskets and talking and talking and talking. Maybe that was the night when I — fearful of an unsolicited erection — wore an athletic supporter and my jock-strapped in parts grew deep and awful in their ache.

At dance’s end, I could hardly walk back from the white arches of her dorm. Through the spring-scented, locust-silent streets half bending, I, gathering myself to myself around that central pain, shuffled before grave, broad-fronted houses frowning in Southern at me.

No, that seems later — perhaps it was just that in that time whenever there was a place to go we all went, like my thick-necked tackle of a first roommate also from New Jersey, sitting in pained stolidity in front of a fattening soprano singing Schubert lieder because there was nowhere else except another Western or the Coffee Cup Cafe which hadn’t changed its pinball machine since the original installation in the Gold Star Summer of Nineteen-Ought-Seven.

Anyway, I was there, at the dance, when Farley and Roseanne came in, Farley smirking his smirk, licking his pimpled chops and Roseanne in rose-red, Roseanne in rose-red bare-shouldered, dark-haired, the tops of her breasts trembling out above the crinolined carapace of those thrilling formals of yesteryear, gowns modeled, I learned later, from top to tail after the breast plates of Roman Centurions. I couldn’t stand it then, I can’t stand it now that it was Farley Inman, that ass, who took her to that dance.

What in my smallness makes this memory bearable is that Farley did not have the joy of her. Discarding their dates like old corsages, fraternity presidents, football captains, tennis stars, Phi Beta Kappa candidates, veterans, yes, the last lorn legions of World War II exotic as flamingos surviving on the dwindling pink shrimp of the GI Bill, cut in on him and on each other — one after the other, a line, a conga line of tuxedoed, bow-tied, Adam’s appled, cutter-inners while abandoned, unCooped Coopies who not long before had sipped snoot-nosed lemonades at that very drugstore of which I’ve spoken huddled sullen by the coke machine whispering — or lingered long in the powder room carved out of the odor of liniment and toweling in the trainer’s quarters. Even the doddering Dean of Men did his dance with her and Hazlitt Tee Beauregard, the head of the English Department.

It was Roseanne’s night, and you, you bastard, you did not have the joy of her I think — except the wry joy of the owner of the one good bottle of bourbon at a bring-your-own party who, going to make his drink, finds that everyone else has approved his taste by emptying his bottle. Roseanne in rose-red you owned us all that one night in the spring of 1951.

I do not know what happened at whatever hour the clock struck twelve. When I went back to school the next year, she was gone — I don’t know where — certainly not to Cincinnati U. We no longer ate at the drug store, moving on — now that someone had a car — to the Crossroads just outside of town; having lost the salt of Roseanne’s beauty, we settled for the savor of homemade barbecue sauce puddling over hard-fried food.

Oh friends, the stories of my life have long bent and cracked beneath the weight of unrescued girls. For once, then, a happiness, but I was not Prince Charming, no, never charming. It was Farley Inman who played that role and haunts me still.

 


  © 2014, Nils Peterson
 

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