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 Chapter 19

Party Planning

     Joan Hanson, with little warning, decided to have a Christmas Eve party in their rented house. She checked with everyone to make sure they could come, and found that they could. Vic, Vicki, and Katarina were all estranged from their families. Toni and Wanda had no families left, at least outside the Iron Curtain, and would be accommodated overnight. With six women including herself in attendance, Joan asked Vic if he could bring some men. Frank Collins was enthusiastic. While Ormsby was a little strange, he was certainly gentlemanly and acceptable as a guest. He very definitely did have a functioning family, but he didn’t much like it. As he said, “I’ll put in a familial appearance on Christmas day, and perhaps Boxing Day, but I want to be away from them as much as possible.”

Vic also wondered about Billy Penderby, but Joan replied, “It just doesn’t work to mix social classes in England. People get embarrassed and refuse to speak.”

It sounded as if Joan had had some experience in the matter, and, as it was a Friday, Vic headed for the train station and London.

     Vicki, now settled into her job, had time to be curious about her family back in New York. She said to Vic,

“I could call my mother. Even if they know that I’m in London, they wouldn’t be able to find me.”

“I tried that with my mother, and it wasn’t good. I got screamed at, and hung up feeling that I’d compromised my position.”

“Yes. The same thing would probably happen with me. I have cousins who’d know how things are, but I wouldn’t want to give them my address.”

“You could get Sy Rosen to go around to your house and ask for you in order to see what response he might get.”

“I’d have to explain to Sy about my parents, but I think I can trust him not to reveal my address.”

“I’m sure he wouldn’t. Anyway, since he’ll be asking where you are, he wouldn’t be expected to know.”

“My mother might just tell him to get lost, but she might instead vent at some length.”

“Most women wouldn’t tell Sy to get lost. And, then, the more venting the better.”

“Except, he’ll be home for Christmas vacation, and I don’t have his address.”

“I still remember his home phone number. You could make one of those trans-Atlantic calls. Expensive, but it might be worth it. He’ll never guess how you got his number.”

“I can say I got it from one of the other Brooklyn guys.”

“He’ll be amused by the situation, and no one at Harvard will hold this against you. You have nothing to conceal except your location.”

“Okay, I’ll do it.”

“I might get you to do the same thing for me.”

“I was just thinking that. We’ll have to work out the details.”

     They were, appropriately, having lunch in a Lyons Corner House, taking advantage of Vicki’s discount. She humorously apologized, “I’m afraid that the Lyons Company is too British to serve coffee in glass cups. Do you yearn for greater sophistication?”

“You forget that I’ve moved beyond the glass cups and now seek to be cosmopolitan rather than elegant.”

“Have you really made the switch?”

“Yes. Among other things, Toni made the point that a man being examined with his pants down can’t be elegant, but can be cosmopolitan.”

“Has she had you with your pants down?”

“Yes. Checking out the things Swede did to me.”

“Were you embarrassed?”


“Would the complete cosmopolitan gentleman be embarrassed?”

“I think so, but he’d compensate in various ways.”

“But you aren’t quite there yet?”


“Well, you grew up in quasi-barbaric circumstances, and you’ve naturally sought civility. I think, with the glass cups, you mistook some of the surface symbols for the essence.”

“Probably so. What about you?”

“We were middle class, but, of course, there was sexual perversity. It’s not clear exactly what I need to do to make up for it.”

“A more complex problem.”

“I’ve read what little material there is on the subject. Some girls lose all focus, drop out of school, and eventually become prostitutes. Some become obese. Wanda has seen a little of this professionally, but no one much like me.”

“You’ve certainly coped extremely well. Given time, you’ll choose the right course.”

“Yes. There are various kinds of psychological time bombs that can afflict people, but it helps to be as self aware as possible.”

     Out on the street, Vic asked, “What do you think about Joan’s party?”

“I’m hardly a party person, but they have office parties at work, so I’d better practice with people I already know.”

“I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a party.”

“Haven’t you even been dragged to a wedding, or neighborhood pot-luck?”

“I don’t think so. It may be that no one liked my parents enough to invite them anywhere.”

“God! Even my family got invitations. My father was quite popular.”

“My aunt Yvonne was popular, and went to parties.”

“Could she have brought your family along with her?”

“I guess she could’ve. But you have to remember that my parents were both very boring. The other guests would’ve fled from them.”

Vicki started laughing, and, when she recovered, she said, “I’m sorry, Vic. I just had an image of people in a large room circling backward with your parents advancing toward them.”

Vic, also laughing, replied, “This party should be interesting. Frank Collins wants to meet you, and you’ll like him. You’ll also get to try to figure out what is, or isn’t, wrong with Ormsby.”

“Okay. I enjoy doing that. Do Joan and Swede have ulterior motives in this?”

“Billy Penderby thinks that Swede always does. Anyhow, I haven’t been taken in on it.”

“Just as well.”

“I sense that you’d rather have me tutoring Ormsby for less money than doing funny things for Swede and Joan for more.”

“Certainly. Of course, they’ve done us a tremendous amount of good, and I really am grateful. It’s just that they have an entirely different life agenda.”

“I’m pretty sure they realize that. I think they’re just pausing to give us a helping hand.”

“Okay. Well, up here in the big city, I’ve been starting a life of my own.”

“With your work?”

“Partly, but the people I work with are all married homebodies. I don’t think a single young woman would fit into their social lives. I’ve been with Wanda a lot.”

 “Has she checked you out again?”

“Yes. It’s getting better. But, apart from that, we’re in the same house. We eat with Toni sometimes, but, if she has evening patients, we go to little restaurants.”

“Do Toni and Wanda have boy friends, or whatever they’re called these days?”

“There are some men whom Toni goes out with occasionally, but Wanda doesn’t seem to.”

“She’s so attractive, there must be men who’re interested.”

“She said she’s been around too many men who are too pushy. I know what she means. A couple of times I’ve had boys trying to lift my skirts while I was pushing down. I wasn’t threatened enough to cry for help, but it was unpleasant.”

“I suppose most of the guys I’ve known would’ve done that.”

“Sometimes, of course, things go beyond pushiness. Wanda’s thankful that she was spared the invasion of the Red Army and all the rapists.”

“I guess they’re known for that.”

“Women feared them by reputation even before they arrived.”

“Elizabeth may have been victimized. She also says that the European men have made such a thorough mess of things that the women hold them in contempt.”

“Wanda feels some of that. The men were traditionally supposed to protect women, and they ended up exposing them to all kinds of horrors.”

“As a man, I certainly don’t feel any hostility from either Toni or Wanda.”

“Well, American men could hardly be blamed, not to mention that you were just a kid at the time.”

“Yeah. People like Wanda and Toni probably could run a better world than the male politicians.”

Vicki laughed and replied, “Remember, there are also women like our mothers. What would it be like to have them in charge?”

“One tends to forget that. I guess Wanda is too young to be your substitute mother.”

“She treats me as an equal. In fact, she’s got me teaching her programming. She thinks there are medical applications.”

“I’m sure there are. The two of you together might produce something significant.”

     That afternoon, they went to the museums, and, after an Indian dinner, to a concert at the Albert Hall. Vicki had absorbed a lot besides mathematics in her year and a half and Harvard, and was better educated in a general sense than Vic. He had audited history and science courses, but hadn’t read much serious fiction, and knew hardly anything about art. Vicki said that he liked only the worst music. That last was a bit of a joke between them, and, at the concert intermission, she asked, “Am I being too pushy about culture?”

“A little, but I know it’s good for me.”

“Like bad-tasting medicine. Anyhow, we’ll go a bit easy after tonight.”

     The bedtime routine was much as before. Vicki changed into pajamas in the bathroom, and prepared for bed. Vic had acquired an old quilt which, doubled up, made a comfortable pad. Vicki briefly joined him there and was somewhat more affectionate than before. Vic, feeling good, slept soundly.   

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