Copyright© 2002 by Carlos Malenkov
This is a story of how two people lost their virginity. And how this plunged the nation into the gravest crisis in its history.
A heraldic device consisting of a bar slanting obliquely from the top left of the escutcheon to the bottom right. The implication is of a birth "on the wrong side of the blanket" somewhere in the line of descent.
1955 the year was. It was late August and the Yankees looked like a sure bet to regain the pennant. The 283 Chevy V8 ruled the streets. Rock and roll music was starting to rule the airwaves. I had just turned 18 and was still a virgin, not that I lost much sleep over it.
My parents were in the habit of spending their annual two-week vacation at a resort in the Adirondacks, about a three hour ride from their Riverside Drive apartment in Manhattan. As a newly-minted adult, I finally impressed them as mature enough to come along. I thought this a considerable improvement over past years of having to board at my aunt's, with bratty little kids underfoot and nothing much to do. And my mother, at least, had great hopes of finally getting my nose out of my books.
There wasn't much traffic on Route 9 the morning we left. The sun was just starting to come over the horizon on my right, as I sat in the back seat with my nose in a book, naturally.
"Morris, pay attention to me. You'll have the chance to meet girls up there at Schwanger's. Nice girls. They have dances nightly, and the other social activities -- "
"Quiet, Ruth. Kindly let me concentrate on my driving." That was my father. "You'll make the both of us crazy with this constant pounding into his head about girls and social life. If Morrie wants to read and be by himself, let him. He's a college boy. When he's already a doctor or a lawyer, that'll be time enough for girls."
Dad would take up for me after mother's nagging reached a certain threshold. Maybe he was grateful for my company. Maybe he was finally starting to respect me as an adult.
1955 the year was. The leaves were just a few weeks short of turning colors and the Dodgers were still going strong. Designers in Dearborn, Michigan, dreamed about tailfins and double headlights. A young guitar strummer and hip swinger was starting his career down Memphis way. Not that I much cared about baseball and cars and rock and roll. I was an old maid. I had turned 43 a couple of months back and was still a virgin.
The management of Schwanger's Resort had just promoted me to Director of Administration. It was a darn good job for a woman and I was darn good at my job, efficient at handling mountains of paperwork. Good old steady and reliable Josie Carpenter. Dull and boring, perhaps, but morally upright, never taking a risk, never a wrong step, always predictable. "Holy Jo" they called me behind my back, never dreaming that dark undercurrents roiled my emotions and disturbed my sleep.
My parents had brought me up to be virtuous and respectable, and I hadn't disappointed them. Oh, there had been temptations now and then, like the time I almost got engaged to that handsome seminary student back before the war. When we had kissed I felt all soft and squishy inside. But then came the guilt and I couldn't go any farther. I was still curious though. Curious about these feelings that still swept over me, now and again. Curious about the heat that burned within me. Curious about what they call "the facts of life." Curious about the details. No one had ever explained to me exactly how babies are conceived.
Festoons of multicolored crepe streamers and bunting hung from the rafters of the rec hall. The band was limping through an unconvincing imitation of a samba. They couldn't just call it something straightforward, like a First Night Welcoming Dance. No, it had to be "Mardi Gras & Rio Carneval All-In-One Super Extravaganza." The spiked punch hadn't yet produced a noticeable effect, and couples were milling around in clumps on the dance floor, talking and laughing. I was sitting in a far corner with my nose in a book, naturally.
"Whatcha readin' kiddo?" It was a skinny young woman about my age, her hair done up in ringlets, loudly chewing gum.
"Nabokov's 'Bend Sinister.' It's about -- "
"Never hoid of a Nobby Cop. Not too much interested in books, anyway. Ain't read none since I got outta school, and din't much read even before. 'Classics Illustrated, ' ya know. You're cute, though. Wanna dance?"
I knew all too well. Many of my classmates assiduously read 'Classics Illustrated' comics to avoid having to read the actual classics. It was good enough for book reports, sure, but you didn't get any of the flavor of the literature, and no, I didn't especially wanna dance or wanna do anything else with this second-rate impersonation of a human being.
"You're charming and I'd love to dance, but... injuries sustained falling off the scaffolding while washing windows on the 80th story of the Empire State Building are still in the process of healing. Internal bleeding, uncontrollable diarrhea and all that stuff. You know. Try me again in six months."
I didn't think she'd get back to me, in six months or in six years. I inserted my nose back into the book.
About an hour later, there was a tap on my shoulder. My mother was standing there beaming, with a lady about her age who had a younger woman in tow. "Morris, I'd like to introduce you to my new friend, Mrs. Rosner, and her daughter Marlene." In a whisper into my ear: "Stand up, you klutz. Her father owns a dozen meat processing plants. At least try to make nice."
And so it went for a couple of hours. I finally got disgusted enough to leave. No one noticed, or maybe no one cared enough to notice. I sat a while outside our cabin trying to concentrate on the book, then finally gave up and went in and crawled under the covers.
Dr. Hoggenberg has taken an interest in me. We talked for hours last night. Hoggy's a liver specialist who's taking a long-overdue vacation here at the resort with his wife. His wife, whom he doesn't love and with whom he hasn't taken fleshly pleasures in years. I've become a sort of confidante for him, someone he can unburden his soul to. Last night as we said goodbye, he kissed me. Me, a middle-aged spinster. On the lips.
This morning, I was wet down there as I awakened. I had dreamed about him, and I vaguely remembered waves of heat and cold washing over me. I wanted him next to me, in the circle of my arms, pressed to me, and in some indefinable way, inside me. I don't understand. I've never had feelings like that before. I'm afraid. I'm lonely. I'm curious.
I finally got around to the books I'd hidden in my suitcase. Under my dress shirts. Wrapped in butcher paper. Books I'd found in a grubby little shop on Canal Street, in between the shops on "Electronic Row."
I put a 45 on the portable record player, the better to read by. The band my mom called "Bill Haley and the Vomits." The kind of music that gave her a fit. "Crazy music like that makes people do crazy things. Like that Elvin Pressler meshuggener who sings no better than a hound dog. He should only suffer a heartbreak in his hotel room. Mark my words, he'll end up breaking rocks in a jailhouse." And on and on. As if rock and roll could corrupt a nice, respectable person like me.
To the beat of "Rock Around the Clock," I'm lovingly unwrapping the bundle. "Studies on the Psychology of Sex," by Havelock Ellis and "Love Without Fear," by Dr. Eustace Chesser. They're a bit sketchy on detail, but they've inflamed my imagination. Right about now, I'm thinking that I maybe shouldn't have been so nasty to Marlene. The things we could have done. The things I could have discovered about female anatomy! The explosive heat of connecting physically with a woman's... Darn it, even that moron in spit curls had possibilities.
I love him! I hate him!
We took a long walk together after supper. There was a cool breeze rustling the leaves as the evening sky gradually turned crimson. He walked silently beside me for some minutes, then shook his fists at the sky. Hoggie began telling me how lonely he's been and how his physical needs have been tormenting him. I impulsively put my arms around him and squeezed. I was trying to give him comfort, and it warmed me as well. He put his head on my breasts and cried. This started me crying too.
I suddenly tensed up. One of his hands had crept around and was cupping the cheek of my behind. What was he doing? I didn't know whether to slap him for taking liberties or to hug him more tightly. Conflicting emotions tore me in half.
Hoggie must have sensed something was wrong because he released me. He turned away from me and began walking down the path back to the cabins. I ran after him crying his name, but he pushed me away. He rejected me. He continued walking away, muttering something that sounded like "frigid bitch."
He doesn't pick up the phone when I try to call his cabin, and my notes to him remain unanswered. It's a safe bet that he won't have anything further to do with me. Am I really a frigid bitch? Does frigid mean what I think it does? I can't stand it any more. I can't stand it.
It had to happen, I suppose. My mom went snooping through my things and found the sex books. How could I do this to her, she said. Screamed. Her son reading the most vile pornography! Infected by it! Polluted!
She couldn't stand it. She had to talk this over with someone who could understand how a mother felt when her son went bad. She was going to talk to that nice lady running the administrative office. Of all the persons she could talk to, she had to pick Our Lady of Sorrows, the dried up old bitch they call Holy Jo.
I just had to calm down a hysterical woman, one of the guests actually. Her son had been corrupted by pornography and rock and roll music, so she claimed. I finally convinced her that opportunities for mayhem and mischief are severely limited at this well-run resort. She left, no longer screaming and raving, but crying and sniffling into one of my best embroidered hankies.
The two infernal, depraved books are still sitting here on my desk. Maybe I'll sneak a peek at them to find out just what manner of malign depravity they depict. I must find out more about this evil if I am to combat it.
My parents are arguing about leaving early. Mom won't talk to me and Dad just give me a wounded look. What have I done, after all, that's so bad? It was only a little sociological research. They were just books. Just books, damn it.
I can't stand myself or my life any longer. Am I to remain cut off from the pleasures of the flesh forever more? Am I forever destined to be a maiden aunt, never to participate in the central experience of life? Anything must be better than this. Anything.
The books gave me some ideas. Ideas. Ideas I can't get out of my mind. Nasty ideas. Devilish ideas.
I know what I must do. Break out. Break the ties of morality that bind me. Smash the temple. Become a bad girl, if only long enough to find out. To find out what it's really like.
Courage. What I need is courage. If there's no other way, I'll take liquid courage. Demon rum.
All I know is I've got to do something. I just don't know what.
We're packing to leave, and I'm in complete disgrace. All I know is I've got to do something. I just don't know what.
The supply shed had a Dutch door, meaning that the upper panel could open, with the lower one still latched shut, or vice versa. This was convenient for dispensing fresh linen and towels twice weekly.