the Pines, Part 10 (Two Years Beneath the Pines: Timely Invitations)
LUDWIG RANG, ALUMNUS CONTRIBUTOR
Time was passing so quickly, it felt like I'd already
been in America six months, though in reality it was only three.
Homecoming weekend had come and gone, along with my
first blind date, followed by Thanksgiving, spent with my friend Simon
from the boat and his family in Philadelphia.
The best thing about Homecoming had been the Big Game.
I forget whom our side played-whether Colby or Bates, Amherst or Williams-or
if Bowdoin won. But if we did, I'm sure it was my roommate Harvey who
scored the winning touchdown or kick.
Not that I really understood football, a rougher form
of rugby it seemed, but fortunately my date did, patiently explaining
the finer points to me. We had been "matched up" after lunch on the day
of the Big Game in First Parish Church, where Commencements and Convocations
were held. The girls sat on one side of the aisle and the boys on the
other, with the sexes separated just as in an orthodox synagogue.
My last name beginning with R, it took a long time for
it to be called, and I was beginning to wonder if there'd be any girls
left. The one I was matched up with, though no Marilyn Monroe, was awfully
Just before the game started, all eyes were on a couple
walking past the stands to their seats: a glamorous woman in a fur coat,
on the arm of a ruggedly handsome man in suit and hat, worn at a jaunty
angle a la Humphrey Bogart.
He was a B-movie actor, and Bowdoin alumnus, called
Gary Merrill, my date said, with his wife, Bette Davies, the famous Hollywood
star. I hadn't heard of either before.
"Gimme a B...gimme an O," pretty cheerleaders chanted,
kicking shapely legs high, throwing batons high in the air, and deftly
catching them as they came down. Frankly, I enjoyed all the attendant
razzmatazz more than the actual game.
At the house party afterwards, there was dancing in
the lounge, to a live band whose bandleader cracked jokes. There was also
a great deal of drinking in the basement meeting room, for once stripped
of its bogus fraternal mystique, having been converted to a make-shift
Later on, as the lights were dimmed in the lounge and
couples started "making out," kind, yet determined-looking chaperones
took up positions at the foot of the stairs, making sure no one took their
date, blind or not, but by chance blind-drunk, up to their room.
"Well, Limy, did you get laid?" Big Charlie cheerily
asked the next day. Fat chance. All my date and I did was hold hands.
A beanpole of a girl, taller than me. Unfortunately I've forgotten her
But how could I forget my second blind date, for Ivies
weekend-to fast-forward the action again.
Bonnie was her name. It sounded almost like Bunny to
me, the way she pronounced it. A shortish girl, from Newark, New Jersey,
but a little sex-bomb. Bonnie, arriving hours late, had planned to fly
up to Maine she explained, but due to bad weather her flight had been
So her dad had "jumped in the car" and driven her all
the way to Brunswick. Naturally, by the time she finally turned up, I
was more or less "stinko," as Charlie put it. However, we made up for
time missed by more drinking, and wild petting, the former leaving me
with a splitting headache, the latter with lipstick all over my clean
white shirt, and in the end, I felt more frustrated than ever.
I'm not sure I didn't actually prefer Miss Beanpole.
In answer to the same question Charlie had asked me, Harvey defiantly
said, "Damn near," as though talking about a daring tackle or a run nearly
resulting in a goal.
These revels were followed by the more cerebral excitement
of the '54 mid-term elections, as described in a previous installment,
and a couple of weeks later, by the Thanksgiving Holiday-my first break
The family, having invited me to spend this uniquely
American feast with them, happened to be Jewish. In fact, Simon was a
second-generation American, yet the family was already as American as
roast turkey with cranberry sauce, corn-on-the-cob, and pumpkin pie.
Born in Tsarist Russia, Simon's father had started life
in America as a dishwasher in the Ghetto of the Lower East Side. The proverbial
self-made man, he had worked his way up to being boss of his own business,
an outdoor advertising agency in Philadelphia.
His sister in New York, though not quite a self-made
woman, had done alright for herself, too, by marrying a Wall Street broker-a
Gentile, she said. At first, I never thought of Simon-or my Bowdoin friends
Zal and Ed-as Jews either, simply because, having grown up in Hitler's
Germany, I'd never met anyone Jewish before.
Simon's family lived in Drexel Hill, a pleasant residential
area on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Set on a slight rise, a long flight
of steps led up to the house, outside of which his mother stood waiting
for us as our taxi pulled up. Simon bounded up the steps to be greeted
with a kiss and a hug, while I hung back a little, suddenly feeling self-conscious,
not sure how to act or what sort of welcome to expert.
I needn't have worried. Simon's mother welcomed me as
warmly as his aunt had done in New York on the day of my arrival in the
New World back in September. I shall always be grateful to her and her
son for my first Thanksgiving, in the City of Brotherly Love.
Back at Bowdoin a few weeks later, a fraternity brother
called Harold Tucker asked me if I'd like to spend Christmas with his
family in Florida. Hal's father was a reverend, originally from Rhode
Island, but had just been given a new parish in Daytona Beach.
Another timely invitation, immediately and gratefully
accepted. Till next week then, and the millennial year's final installment,
beneath palms. Some people hold that the new millennium does not actually
start until midnight, December 31, 2000. But who cares.
We as a species won't be around in another thousand,
or maybe as little as a hundred years, unless we pull our socks up and
try to save the planet from destruction by our own kind, possibly extinct
by then, NOW.