THE PHILOSOPHER Havelock Ellis wrote, “The omnipresent process of sex, as it is woven into the whole texture of our man’s or woman’s body, is the pattern of all the process of our life.” I believe this is true. But if you mix in love, and if you’re honest, the two concepts often blur and clash with disastrous results. In this country—-up until the mid-1960s, when Vietnam really heated up—-almost all of my friends got hitched within weeks of graduating from college, to whomever they were dating at the end of senior year. More then 50 percent, the national norm, of their marriages ended in divorce. What did they know? They were kids. Of course, many of them confused love with sex.
I remember when the “1” word first surfaced in my life. It was my junior year in high school at the prom. Our theme was “Under the Sea,” and the gym was transformed into a nautical mix of nets, cardboard mermaids and fake fish. In a miracle of technology, strobe lights, in reds and greens, beamed across the gym floor while the tuxedoed dance band played slow and romantic until couples got too close.
Slow dances, of course, were where you learned how your date really felt about you. But that night I was more worried about dodging
my parents than taking the temperature of my date’s affections. They were class chaperones, a social catastrophe. In my generation no parents came to our games, no parents sacrificed their weekends for our pleasure; playpens were embraced, not banished. And not one of my friends ever wanted his parents to meet a girlfriend. From the minute the prom began, I steered my date to corners, then hid behind groups of classmates.
But we took to the bleachers during a band break, and my mother, scanning the scene like a submarine skipper moving the periscope across the sea’s surface (perfect for the prom’s theme), saw her opening. Then my date, as we were holding hands, said, “Do you know what I’m thinking?”
“No,” I answered, as my mother and father headed our way.
“Pm thinking about how much I love you,” she said.
One of my many half-baked theories includes, “When something amazing happens to you, it’s undercut within 24 hours by something equally bad.” This was the moment when I was supposed to say something back to my date. Instead my father interjected, “You can run, but you can’t hide. What’s the matter, ashamed of your parents?”
All I could summon up was, “Mom, Dad, this is Stephanie.” But the magic mood was broken,
Slow dances were where you learned how your date really felt about you.
despite the strobe lights, despite the fact that the band started to play “Teach Me Tonight,” one of the all-time great make-out songs. I bumbled through the rest of the evening and, I suppose, muttered the “1” word, wondering what magical places it could take me.
Later in my life, during a summer as a busboy on Main Street in Hyannis, I truly fell in love with one of the waitresses. Don’t tell me it’s a cliche and all guys are idiots. But she was almost white-blonde and had the darkest tan, it seemed, of any of the hundreds of young women working on the Cape. This was in the days when tanning meant beauty, like how a century ago portliness meant prosperity. At any rate, I thought I knew love when it hit me between the eyes but never told the waitress. I couldn’t even sing her “I’ll See You in September,” because she went to college outside of Philadelphia.
Then spring of my senior year, I was in a musical that traveled to several Eastern cities, including Philly. I contacted my secret passion, desperate to see her. We arranged to have drinks and then to have her come to the show. That afternoon, with some other cast members, we went to see the great comedy Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. At the end of the movie, Lemmon, in drag, is off on a speedboat with Joe E. Brown, playing an elderly millionaire in love with Lemmon, thinking he’s a woman. Lemmon protests the marriage will never work for various reasons. Brown keeps saying that it doesn’t matter, he’s in love. Finally, Lemmon whips off his wig and announces, “I’m a man.” The old millionaire cuddles even closer and delivers the film’s last line: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
My glamorous tan waitress showed up later for a drink. I didn’t recognize her, pasty and pale and heavier by many pounds. In shock, I just shook her hand and muttered, “You’re not tan.” She smiled at me, squeezing my hand back.
“Nobody’s perfect,’’ she said.