Life’s ironic. You live your first few years thinking you’re special. Then you spend the rest of it finding out how ordinary you are. There are people who never get that memo. Those are the guys who spend their entire life as self-important assholes. I envy their ignorance.
The war between our high opinion of ourselves and the actuality of our day-to-day existence might bother some folks. But all it did was turn me into a pragmatist. You know the fable about the pessimist and the half empty glass. Well ... to a pragmatist the problem is that the glass isn’t the right size. So, we spend our life rightsizing things.
For instance, I was an average guy. So I didn’t even think about playing basketball. And because I was a nerd I didn’t consider asking the Homecoming Queen to the senior prom. I just did the things that reality dictated. Mostly I was a face in the crowd. I had things I liked to do. And I did them when I could. But my family was middle-class poor. So my repertoire of fun was limited to the commonplace and cheap.
I accepted that. The only thing that distinguished me was my academic ability. I might not be Einstein. But I could have played him on TV. My problem was that I studied everything. When I got out of school I was a first-class, jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none. Then I hit the job market. My ever so close-but-not-quite-close-enough qualifications turned out to be a BIG problem there. I was on everybody’s short list. But I was never the one they picked.
So, I rightsized myself. I found the one career where you have to know a lot. But you really don’t have to know anything in particular. I became an academic. It took four more years to earn the union card; the PhD. But once I had it I discovered that I was in high demand. And after several recruiting visits I ended up working at a State University near Bethpage New York.
Bethpage would be a classic Long Island hamlet if it weren’t for the fact that Leroy Grumman founded a little company there; where he built “Cats” for the Navy. Construction of the last of that distinguish series, the “Tomcat”, was shut down in 1991. But a bit of the wild-blue-yonder spirit still lurks in the nooks and crannies there. So, it wasn’t like I was moving to Sleepy Hollow.
I chose Bethpage mainly because it was near work and equally close to the water on both sides of the Island. I’m from Wisconsin and I like to sail. Accordingly, I kept a 31-foot C&C Corvette Cruiser in a permanent slip at a marina in Oyster Bay. I was by no means rich. But I was single; and for a change I was making good money. Therefore, the banks were willing to provide the financing.
Everybody should have at least one vice. The peace and quiet of Long Island Sound was my drug of choice. I learned my sailing on Lake Michigan and I am an excellent solo sailor. The boat gave me the freedom to slip away on the weekends from April to October. I’d leave right after class on Friday, coast up to Mount Sinai Bay.
Then I would lay-up for the night and go the rest of the way around Orient point and down past Gardiners Island on a tack to Montauk. Or close haul off the Northeasterly’s to Block Island. If I got an early enough start, I might go all the way to the Vineyard. My dog Buster and I would arrive in the afternoon Saturday. And then I would proceed to party until the wee hours Saturday night and broad-reach back on Sunday.
Have I mentioned Buster? I found him in a Detroit pound. I was living in Ann Arbor at the time. And I wanted a dog. The rest of the dogs were barking at the front of the cage. Only Buster was huddled in the back corner just radiating misery. He was by far the biggest, ugliest, and meanest looking animal in the Pound. And he just KNEW that nobody would want him. I couldn’t help it. My heart went out to the big lug.
Adopting Buster taught me a lesson about God’s creatures. It’s the soul that counts, not the package. There is no sweeter, gentler animal than my dog. He just happens to look like somebody shaved a Grizzly Bear.
He did not take kindly to the sailboat at first; being a former D-Town street dog and all. But he came along anyhow because he’s my buddy. And that’s what buddies do for each other. NOW, he is slightly more nautical than Admiral Halsey. He sits in the bow, with his battle scarred ears streaming behind, like the pennants on a clipper ship. It’s the equivalent of him sticking his head out the window of a car. And I occasionally have to duck the ropes of drool that come flying back. But Buster makes a memorable figurehead.
Nonetheless, except for my occasional visits to nautical bars, I had the sort of social life you would expect in a place like Bethpage - meaning none. I could have gone into the City, or further up the island to some of the trendier places like the Hamptons. But I was too shy and inhibited to strut my stuff at a NYC dance club. And I was nowhere near rich, or preppy enough to fit into the Southampton social scene.
Of course, I had an entire campus full of ripe coeds. And I was only eight to ten years older than most of them. But there is that invisible line between faculty and student that I was not going to cross. It’s a matter of respect. It’s hard to teach people if you are also fucking some of them. And, at best the faculty was a dodgy proposition. Most of the academic women were married. And the ones that weren’t tended to be either ugly, gay, or not into shaving.
Sometimes they were all three.
Plus, if the relationship went south with a colleague; thanks to tenure you might be stuck running into the bitch for the next fifty years. So, I’d rather be safe than sorry. Hence, I survived on the occasional townie and anybody I could scrounge from the local social clubs. I was not into bridge or discussing books but that was what I was reduced to.
Of course, the single women who attended those things were a little ethereal to say the least. And being a red blooded American male I quickly found out what, “respect my boundaries” meant. Then one late August day everything changed.
I had made tenure a year earlier and been promoted up the next step in the ladder. It was a nice jump in status and pay and I was still only 32. I was at one of those godawful faculty mixers sipping the cheap sherry. We were welcoming the new hires in what passed for a Common Room in a modern academic building. The predominant theme was linoleum not thick carpets and mahogany.
I was gazing out the window, bored out of my skull. When I heard a warm, Australian accent say, “It certainly is stark here isn’t it?” I turned my head and looked at her. She was relatively short, dark auburn hair and what could be best described as sturdy. She had a pretty, but not beautiful face. It featured big brown eyes and an upturned nose.
Nonetheless, her lips were what caught my attention. She had a wide sensual mouth with perfectly sculptured lips. Movie stars pay a fortune for lips like that. The rest of her looked presentable but unspectacular, run-of-the-mill boobs, hips and legs. In fact, she was the female equivalent of me. Nobody would turn to look if she entered a room. But nobody would run screaming out of it either. We were just two average people.
I particularly liked the sparkle in those very intelligent eyes. I turned to her in the classic conversational pose and said, “Yes, it is. The place got a lot of its growth in the 1960s and that was not exactly an era of classic academic architecture.” The more I looked at her sweet oval face, the better I liked what I saw. I asked, “Are you a new faculty member?”
She smiled. It was a ten-megawatt smile. My thinking hadn’t turned sexual at that point. But it was headed in that direction. I knew that the person inside that average body was somebody I wanted to get to know. She said, “Yes, don’t you remember me from the interview?”
I had sat-in with a couple of colleagues on a cattle-call of applicants for an open faculty position. But I didn’t remember her. She said, “It was conducted via Skype. I was at the University of Queensland at the time.”
NOW I remembered her. I was sitting off to one side of the monitor. So I had more-or-less heard her. But I had not seen her close up - at least close enough to recognize her in the flesh. And after all, it WAS 11:00 at night due to the time difference down-under.
Nevertheless, I should have remembered her sexy smoky contra-alto voice. It spoke volumes about her personality. She just sounded so confident and in-control. I also knew her background. And the one thing that I was sure of was that she was brilliant. Her publication record was better than mine, even though she was younger. And she had already established her reputation at a world-class university.
So, I asked the clichéd question, “What is a smart girl like you doing in a place like this??” I mean Farmingdale isn’t exactly Cambridge, Massachusetts.
She smiled a little embarrassed and said, “I wanted to try someplace different. Preferably on the other side of the world.” I didn’t push it.
I said, “Well then; let me show you one of the many fine dining establishments in this area. It will totally make you forget the nightlife in a backwater like Brisbane.” That was said with an ironic wink since the area she came from was like the Miami Beach of Australia.
She grabbed my arm, spilling my sherry in the process, and said, “Let’s go mate!!!” She sounded like Crocodile Dundee. Do they really talk like that?
.... There is more of this story ...