"I know you would like me to talk about my childhood, perhaps share it with you." Some people you know are never children, or only briefly. Some have their childhoods much later in their lives.
I can tell you that despite my penchant for soap operas and Bette Devis gestures, I, Merva Goldman, was considered the girl genius of Hunter. A genuine 170 I.Q. Definitely Mensa Society material, with enough trophies and documentation to impress anyone with a record like mine that psychotic breakdowns were in order. One always sensed that something needed altering when it came to me. A seam out of place, a pink slip peeking through a black dress, the wrong belt on the right dress, the right dress with the wrong belt. I guess you would say I lacked style.
I suppose it didn't matter that I knew all the nicknames of Laurel and Hardy's grandchildren, or the name of every shrub in Central Park, the exact spot where Shelly drowned or how many sexual positions there were to be practiced. I simply had no style.
Your jockstrap is on the floor, I said, guess you'll have to wash it again.
Even though I was pretty unhappy, I remember moments of pure joy as I walked alone to the library and knew I could pick out as many books as my arms would support, or the excitement of sharing the book's ideas with girl friends who hailed my literary taste. Had I not been isolated from men, these particular self-realizing joys, I suspect, would have been overshadowed by an apparent lack of what most people referred to as my "lousy social life."
Getting a cold-water flat of my own did nothing to alter my social position, but it did seem to relieve my parents from having to explain that I really did prefer reading to going out on a Saturday night.
So here I was in the basement washroom of my tenement on Morningside Heights eyeing the wash cycle that had three minutes to go. Funny how intently I can stare at that small circle watching my panties, bras, socks and slips whirl through their final stages. Looking in through the machine's porthole was like looking out into a world of insane weather.
"What violence," I heard a voice say, "that machine don't kid around." It was him all right, my next-door neighbor whom I had seen many times without his noticing me. He always appeared to be going somewhere in a great hurry, walking that nervous mongrel of his. He didn't know my name although we almost bumped shoulders on our narrow staircase and our mail boxes hugged each other's. I watched him flip open his machine and gather his wet clothes. In spinning they had stuck to the sides of the bucket and he had to peel then away from the enanel insides. Something hit the floor. "Your jockstrap is on the floor," I said, "guess you'll have to wash it again." He looked at me as if I were some eccentric nut that was about to attack him. "Thanks," he said, backing out of the washroom and lugging his load upstairs, mumbling something like "see ya around." As I said before, "No style."
The next time I saw him was at a singles bar down the street where I went only when I was too lonely to read. He seemed very content sitting in Clarke's bar, his legs hanging way below the fraying stool, sipping slowly what remained of his drink and talking quietly to the man behind the dingy bar. Twisting his glass just enough to make the lemon peel of his martini bob up and down in his well-manicured hand, he recounted to the bartender the events of the evening that brought him to this alien place.
"Plaster peeling from ceiling," he said. "Would ya believe toilet don't flush?" and a few minutes later, "Room sure is getting me down." While gulping down his drink, peel and all, he surveyed the room and promptly spotted me, and with what I thought took great effort, said, "Hi there."
The dimmed lights seemed to have a dual purpose, to create atmosphere and scare the roaches. The tables badly scarred, early formica, and unpleasantly surrounded by dirty imitation leather booths, made him seen like a knight in shining armor as he walked around to my side of the bar to introduce himself. "William Cullen, cleanest jockstrap in town." I answered, "Merva Goldman, person of consequence." Bill stared at me from under his brows. "How come you talk that way?" Before I could explain, he picked up his drink and walked to the cigarette machine. He missed his pocket putting his change away. I went over to help pick it up, searching him out as I handed the coins over to him.
An obviously drunken couple, tucked away in a back corner, cackled with false merriment as Bill and I climbed back upon two stools. She, locking like a tie-dye, turning from yellow to bright orange, to shocking pink; he, balding and almost invisible. Four grubby black leather jackets stationed, amidst screams and hoots, around the pinball machine. A youngish woman sitting a few stools away from Bill winked and blinked at him. A higher priced sister of the one in the back.
I was sure he intended to leave after surveying this scene, but said instead, "Hell, so how about a burger next door?"
Jumping off my stool, with what I considered to be as sophisticated a leap as possible, and landing squarely on William Cullen's feet, was not difficult to manage at all, what was difficult to view was seeing him hop around like some wild beast, his hand wagging in a crazy circle. His pain intense.
"I'd love a burger," I said before he changed his mind, and, as he hobbled over to me, I reached for his arm to support him, and with twinkling eyes finally smiling down upon me, I realized then and there it really didn't matter that I "had no style."
As a result of a complex financial arrangement with the Mensa Regional Vice Chairman, Len Rickard, our new subscribers this month include Margot Seitelman and the Mensa Members Inside San Quentin. Sounds like a catchy name for a rock group.