(continued from “Enter Jennifer”)
(what follows is an excerpt from a work-in-progress; find more here)
Lady finger, dipped in moonlight, writing “What for?” across the morning sky. Sunlight splatters, dawn with answer, darkness shrugs and bids the day goodbye. Speeding arrow, sharp and narrow,
What a lot of fleeting matters you have spurned.
Several seasons with their treasons,
Wrap the babe in scarlet colors, call it your own.
— The Grateful Dead / St. Stephen
It was fairly obvious to me that whatever Jennifer had going with Marty, it wasn’t going very far.
So I retreated to my imaginary emotional fortress and assumed what the journals call my “sentry” routine. I just tried to stay close, to be patient, and to whatever extent anybody cared, to be available.
Marty was easy going enough and always seemed to have some dope — and being new in town, I had yet to develop my own sources and connections. The hash we’d smoked after that arduous trek around Georgetown was the last I’d brought with me from home, so I was sorta depending on Marty to maintain my buzz.
It hadn’t occurred to me yet — wouldn’t occur to me for a long, time, really — the extent to which I was already becoming “chemically dependent.” I just really liked the way smoking dope made me feel. I liked getting “high” and I liked the expansive state of mind it seemed to put me in. I always felt like being stoned put me at some secret advantage over everybody else. The word “high” seemed appropriate. I felt like I was floating above myself — like one of those dreams you have about flying.
I hung out with Marty, and I saw Jennifer peripherally. I spent a lot of time just hanging around in the lobby in Thurston Hall, not doing a particularly good job of making new friends. Searching the memory banks now, I can conjure only one other person out of the time-tunnel: one tall, slender, darkly beautiful woman with long, straight black hair, in denim jeans and a black turtleneck. I don’t think I ever talked to her. She hung with a crowd that I was never going to run with. But she obviously made some kind of impression, because 45 years later this nameless co-ed is one of the few faces I can conjure from my memories of those days.
Eventually I made friends with a couple of people on my floor at Mitchell Hall. I recall the names of Nick, Elliott, and Peter. Nick was a tough guy — Italian, I think, though that might be just a stereotype kicking in. Elliott was pretty conventional, went to all his classes and talked about being a banker or a real estate developer. Peter had a mystical/shamanic quality that I found intriguing. He introduced me to the music of Laura Nyro [Spotify]. What we all had in common was a mutual interest in smoking dope, which we did with increasing frequency.
But Jennifer was really the only person I felt not just attracted to, but oddly attached to. Finally, one night in that carnal Thurson Hall lobby, the dynamics began to change.
Jennifer was there with Marty, except Marty wasn’t really “all there.” He must have been stoned out of his gourd. He was bouncing around, never settled into one chair, never stood in one place for any longer than it took to find his balance.
Jennifer kept watching him, trying to engage him, but he never lighted long enough for her to make any actual contact. The once or twice he did sit down he seemed to be swept up in the whirlpool of energy around him; he focused some attention on whoever might be speaking, but never paid any real attention to Jennifer.
Jennifer glanced toward me. She wrinkled her nose and pursed her lips. Silently, she wanted to know, “are you watching this?”
Of course I was watching. And waiting. Because the only thing I wanted out of this whole experience, this whole business of going to college… of being in a new city and a completely new environment, the only thing I wanted out of any of this… was to be with her.
So yes, of course, I was watching. And waiting from the vantage point of my private watchtower. I watched her trying to get Marty’s attention. I watched Marty continuing to glaze over the whole experience.
When she had finally had enough, Jennifer rose from her seat, started toward a hallway on the opposite side of the lobby — and turned to Marty and motioned for him to come with her.
My heart skipped a beat when they emerged from that hallway — going in opposite directions.
Marty stormed out of the lobby.
And Jennifer came over and sat by me.
“What was that all about?” I asked, feigning something less than intense curiosity.
“He said something about his one true love… in Boston.”
“You wanna go for a walk?”
Jennifer got her coat and I… I donned my cape …
Yeah, you read that right… I ‘donned my cape.’ I had a cape — a black wool cape that I’d found in a vintage clothing store in Greenwich Village the previous summer.
I only knew one other person who ever wore a cape, my friend Arnie. That’s what he’s wearing in that photo that was taken on the lawn of the Ethical Culture Society after we were suspended from school for exercising our First Amendment rights back in April.
I don’t know where Arnie got the idea, but I suspect that I was taking my own cue from Paul Simon, who wears a cape on the cover of the Sounds of Silence [Spotify] album. So I had this cape, and the cape became one more thing I could hide in.
Anyway, Jennifer got her coat and I wrapped myself in my Sounds of Silence cape and we left the lobby, stepping into a crisp early autumn evening.
As we walked out of Thurston Hall, I suppose the last thing I needed was to wrap myself in a blanket of black wool. But goodness it was cold that night, for the end of September.
We walked a couple of blocks. We talked about school and classes and the whole idea of being college students.
We turned the corner from F on to 21st Street when she asked me to hold her hand.
There we openings in the cape I could have put my hand through, but that seemed awkward. I took a gamble. Instead of reaching out to hold her hand, I opened the cape, putting my arm around her like I had wanted to since the night we sat on the lawn together in front of Thurston Hall — before Marty intervened.
I opened the cape and she snuggled right in. We walked on in no particular direction, with no particular destination in mind. I remembered a little park I’d seen, and steered toward that small oasis amid the jungle of asphalt and concrete that is most of Washington. We found the park, found a bench, sat down.
Situations like this, they’re always filled with an odd combination of joy and tension. Like, hey, there’s two people coming together. So when’s it gonna be right to kiss her?
Woody Allen had the right idea a few years later in Annie Hall, when he just stopped Diane Keaton on the street and said, “gimme a kiss and we’ll get past the tension and then we can digest our food better.” But that movie was still several years in the future. That night I was on my own.
This was not a “somebody make the first move” situation.
I didn’t kiss her and she didn’t kiss me. We just… kissed.
Her lips were cold. The moment was warm. And it was the most natural thing in the world. Worth the wait, and worth putting up with that cretin Marty.
It seems a little odd to recall this sequence of events now, to read that she essentially broke up with one guy that night and a half our later we’re making out on a park bench. Maybe there was some kind of clue there as to how all this was going to turn out.
I was not interested in clues.
We sat on that bench for a while, and when it got too cold we walked back to Thurston Hall. We lingered for a few moments at the door. Since the next day was Sunday, we thought it would be a lark to go to a church. We made a date.
The next morning we met on the same spot, and tried to figure out where we’d go.
All I knew about Jennifer was that she was a gentile — some denomination of Protestant.
My family was Jewish. My ancestry is a mix of German and Russian — what I found out eventually is an Eastern European extraction commonly known as “Ashkenazi.” I was about 11 years old before I had any idea what any of that actually meant. When I was younger, I wondered why all the other kids in my neighborhood went to church with their families on Sundays and we didn’t — until I started going to a Hebrew school on Saturdays when I was in the 5th grade. Then it started to dawn on me that we were, well, somehow… different.
I was actively “Jewish” through most of high school. Once we’d moved to Essex County, we joined a large, venerated, prestigious and affluent congregation there, and its Youth Group became the social focus of most of my adolescence. They kept insisting that “JFTY is not social organization…” but who did they think they were kidding? Almost all the girls I made out with I met at one of those youth group functions.
But by my senior year, I found I no longer had any use for any of the mythology or ritual that came with being “Jewish.” My willigness to embrace the fabrications of ‘faith’ dissolved almost at once. I pushed it all away and have not really given a flying flip about anything “Jewish” ever since. I am now what would be called a “non-practicing secular Jew” — the “Jew” part being only a nod to my ancestral heritage.
So where do a shicksa goddess and a lapsed Jew go for a Sunday morning date?
Why, a Catholic mass, of course.
We found a church directory in the Thurston Hall lobby, and discovered that there was Catholic church associated with the school just a few blocks away on Pennsyvlvania Avenue called “St. Stephen Martyr Church.”
So off we went to a church named for the opening track of a Grateful Dead [Spotify] album. We didn’t actually join in any of the prayers or hymns, we mostly watched each other people and made silent, nodding judgments of the others in the crowd. In full view of the Crucifix, we sat next to each other and held hands. While the other congregants fixed their attention on the priest in his pulpit, we just looked at each other and smiled. They found their faith in their imaginary friend Jesus. We tried to find faith and comfort in each other.
After that, it was back to a daily routine of boring classes, coursework, writing papers, getting stoned… and trying to write papers.
After classes, Jennifer would visit me in my my little dormitory room. We listened to records. She liked the Crosby Stills & Nash [Spotify] album. Not so much the Grateful Dead.
“What’s the name of this record?” she asked of one Grateful Dead selection.
“Aoxomoxoa [Spotify] — it’s a palindrome. Reads the same forward or backward.”
“It sounds like they’re playing it all backwards…”
We made out a lot, but it was all kissing… she was in no hurry and I was, well, still scared…
We lay on the bed together, looking up at the ceiling. She waved her hands over her head. Hand dancing, she called it. Went really well with being stoned and listening to Aoxomoxoa…
One night in early October we made a pilgrimage to the Lincoln Memorial.
We’d made a date, and I wanted to take her to see the movie they’d made of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant. I’d already seen it when it first came out in the summer of ‘69, but it was still running at an art house theater in Washington, and since “Alice” had been such a big part of my high school experience, I wanted Jennifer to see it.
When the appointed hour finally came, I waited in the lobby of Thurston Hall for like 45 minutes while Jennifer was still getting ready, and by the time she finally came downstairs it was too late, so we had to scrap that plan.
“Let’s go to the Lincoln Memorial,” she suggested.
“I’ve been here for a month now and haven’t really seen anything of the sights. And its only a few blocks away…”
So we started walking again into another crisp autumn night.
Along the way she told me she’d had a call from a classmate named Henry. He’d asked for a date. She’d turned him down.
“I told him I was seeing somebody,” she said.
That would be… me.
We reached our destination, and after admiring the giant statue of the seated demigod and reading the engraved words his Gettysburg Address, we sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and looked out over the reflecting pool and the mall at the Capitol building in the distance.
That’s when Jennifer told me that she loved me.
And that she wanted a Jewish wedding….