Bill Todd -- A Harvard Story
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 Chapter 3

Joe, Dick, and Harry

Most of the K-Entry residents were no longer on the official Harvard teams, but they remained sportsmen. Among their other activities, Tom, Kent, and Jimmy went rowing on the Charles River. Kent wasn't a natural sportsman, but he came from a class of people who thought that sports are a test of character, most particularly for those who must substitute determination for ability. Even though he might fail to live up to his powerful and influential father's standard in many ways, he could at least grit his teeth and tug desperately at the oars.

In between tugs, Kent had the great gift, which his father probably didn't have, of being able to see himself and his whole culture as if from a great distance. While Tom knew that perfect objectivity was a myth, he thought that Kent approached it more closely than anyone else he knew. On rowing, Kent had once remarked,

"There is a joy in taking a gentle stroke and feeling the boat glide along. But it also gives some of us an opportunity to punish ourselves."

Jimmy, on the other hand, wasn't interested in punishing anyone. Having come to Harvard as a very shy little Chinese boy of fifteen who could master tremendous amounts of scientific and other material with ease and speed, he had inevitably been classified as a prodigy. But he was much less serious and more whimsical than the other prodigies at Harvard. Jimmy joked about some things that some people thought shouldn't be joked about, and he also had a yen for baseball. Indeed, he had originally met Eric in the course of accidentally throwing a ball through Eric's window.

It was only after the others had taken Jimmy in and included him in their many games that they found that his father was Chiang Kai-shek's chief of secret police. That put Jimmy's father in at least the class of Kent's father. The latter could move millions of dollars with a telephone call, but he couldn't, on whim, have people executed. Of course, Chiang and his people had been demoted from China to Taiwan, but they had lost none of their authority over this reduced populace. Jimmy's father was said to be a hard man, and Tom didn't doubt it.

Jimmy never mentioned such things, and it was impossible to tell to what extent he was conscious of them. In any case, it was hard to imagine that the father of such a nice little boy was, more or less, a specialist in torture.

Jimmy was almost entirely without ideology, and often without direction, but he delighted in bodily motion. He might have been anything from a ballet dancer to a lacrosse player, and it was easy to recruit him as an oarsman.

In addition to the crew boathouse, upstream a bit on the other bank, there was the Weld Boathouse, upstream only a few hundred yards from K-Entry. It was a Victorian structure which squatted under a large elaborate roof, right on the river bank. Indeed, from its posture, one wondered if it might not secrete questionable fluids, adding them to those already in the river. Still, any student could go there and check out a boat.

One began with a wherry, a long open rowboat with out- riggers for the oars. It was wide enough not to capsize, even when a beginner missed a stroke and ended up on his back in the bottom of the boat with his feet waving in the air.

Kent had been taught to row a racing shell when quite young by a private coach on a private lake, and he was able to convince Blake, the nice older gentleman who ran the boathouse, that he could skip the wherry phase. Tom had been rowing for years, but in ordinary rowboats as opposed to shells, and he had taken out a wherry a few times. Jimmy had never rown, but he progressed quickly.

The next step was a boat called a "comp," which was basically a shell, but eighteen inches in beam instead of twelve. It didn't tip over unless one leaned to one side without the pressure of an oar on the water for support. They had all spent some time in comps the previous year, and no one had dumped into the Charles.

They were now in single shells. These were almost impossible to keep upright without the oars, and one feathered them on the backstroke to keep them in contact with the water at all times. The river never seemed to get quite rough enough to slosh sufficient water into the open cockpits to sink them.

Kent had managed to avoid the crew at Groton, his prep school, but his form was good enough to allow him to more or less keep up with Tom and the fast improving Jimmy. Tom again had difficulty with his bodily anamolies. He could generate a great deal of force with his back, but his arms weren't strong enough to apply the force smoothly. Blake rolled his eyes at the resulting choppy stroke, but there was no denying that Tom went fast, the fastest of the three. It was Jimmy whom Blake loved. He had taught Jimmy a nice smooth stroke from scratch, and Jimmy was held back only by his size in what was basically a big man's sport.

The Charles, with its grassy banks and low arched bridges of red brick, was a rather pretty river. If one wasn't too put out by used condoms ("Charles River Trout") in the water or the occasional squalling child on the bank being beaten for bad behavior, one could breathe deeply and row rather whimsically. It was Kent's idea, for example, that they reply to the birds and bees, perhaps not in their own languages, but with nonetheless appropriate noises. For a long time, they were content to snake their way upstream, with only an occasional bit of singing, as they raced people running on the adjacant paths. Then, for variety, they could go downstream as far as the locks at Boston's North Station and get in the way of the MIT boys in their sailing dinghies. It was just this year that they had discovered another diversion.

The head of navigation upstream was at Watertown, a bustling little town of no particular distinction. Kent had noticed a place where they could land and leave their shells, apparently without much risk of theft or vandalism. Then, hardly fifty yards away, there was a small and somewhat seedy diner neighboring the trolley yards.

The three boatmen had all kept their hours free of classes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and, starting out early, they would arrive at Watertown at breakfast time. On their first visit, Kent had suggested,

"Let's pretend that we speak hardly any English. Jimmy can order for us with a mixture of pidgin English and gestures, and Tom and I'll pretend to communicate in made-up gobblydey- gook."

It had worked perfectly. They were near enough Cambridge so that people were used to foreign students, and it was fun to make up speech, mixing bits of existing languages and nonsense syllables. The unexpected bonus was that the regular patrons of the cafe talked quite openly and loudly in front of them, apparently on the assumption that Tom and his friends couldn't understand them.

They soon noticed that the same three trolley motor-men were in the habit of having their breakfasts before starting their runs. They were rather rough and obscene in their speech, and all seemed to be in various stages of divorce. They spoke often of their wives or ex-wives, and in terms that betrayed a good deal of mixed feeling.

On the trips back downstream, they went at a conversational pace and discussed what they had heard. Out of deference to Tom, the three men were named Joe, Dick, and Harry. Joe was the oldest of the three, perhaps forty, and he seemed to have been divorced for some time. Tom asked,

"Wasn't Joe the one who said he wouldn't have any problem if he could find a woman better looking than the one he had before?"

Jimmy replied in the affirmative and added,

"So he's in our position, looking for a woman and apparently not finding one."

"Except that he's used to women, knows about sex, and knows where to look."

Kent said,

"They all three have those advantages, even the young guy, Harry."

He then changed the course of his boat enough to keep it clear of Jimmy's and continued,

"But Dick and Harry are actively unhappy, and Joe doesn't seem exactly joyous."

Tom replied,

"We're probably shielded from a lot of unhappiness just because we don't know enough to get in trouble."

It was agreed that they had all been raised in specially isolated little environments, and, whether that was good or bad, the trolley motor-men represented the great world outside.

The next Tuesday, they raced upstream. Tom almost tipped over when his left oar didn't bite deeply enough and skimmed the surface, but he was nevertheless first to the Watertown bridge. As he waited briefly for Jimmy and Kent, he could hear the horrid racket of the older trolley cars above him as they clattered, rasped, and screeched over the bridge. What, he wondered, would it do to one's disposition to be in charge of something like that for hours at a stretch?

They took their usual table at the cafe, which was separated from the counter by a narrow aisle. Joe, Dick, and Harry were seated at the counter, where they would hardly be aware of people behind and below them. Moreover, Joe and Harry had to speak loudly to communicate with each other past Dick. It was immediately apparent that something unusual was going on, and that it was centered on Harry.

Harry was only a few years older than the boys at the table, and he had probably married right after high school. He said, his voice full of emotion,

"He works the night shift, and he goes over to my house when he gets off. He's probably there now."

Dick said,

"My ex is probably fucking anyone who'll buy her dinner."

This didn't seem to help Harry, who said,

"And she'll be in the bed I bought in the nightgown I bought her, maybe not in anything."

Dick asked,

"Is your wife a pretty girl?"

Harry seemed to have trouble answering that one, and Tom realized that he was in tears. It sounded as if Dick was actually enjoying the situation, fishing for juicy tidbits. It was Joe who said,

"They're all alike. It don't matter who fucks em. Some cost a little more, some a little less. That's all the difference."

At least Joe was trying to be helpful. And, of course, it was an interesting thought. The Radcliffe girls were extremely expensive. They demanded, in effect, the promise of lifetime support at a high level before deigning to go much beyond a brief howdy-do. If Joe was right, something very much cheaper might do just as well. Tom said to Kent,

"Santarakshita apres voo voo simapuppula."

Kent, glancing sideways at Joe, smiled and replied,

"Iggy big boo, ya ya."

Kent clearly agreed with Joe. Jimmy, despite his chivalric tendencies where women were concerned, nodded his head and said,

"Whampoa yup yup."

They were all a bit blitzed from rowing, and spoke rather breathlessly, but Joe's doctrine had a clear appeal. Tom wondered briefly if it could consistently be combined with Eric's Principle of Neuter Gender. It would be a difficult fit, probably because Eric's view of female nature, and human nature generally, was a good deal removed from that of Joe.

The waitress then came, and, once Jimmy had ordered, they heard Harry say,

"I'm goin there now! Tell the yardmaster I got sick at breakfast."

Abandoning his partly eaten breakfast, Harry threw money down and moved toward the door. Dick was looking over his shoulder with an unpleasant smile, but Joe reached out an arm to stop Harry and said,

"What'll you do if he's there?"

"I've still got my key. I'll slip in quiet."

"Shit. Anything can happen, you can't....."

Bumping against their table almost hard enough to knock over the water glasses, Harry broke away from Joe, and was gone. Dick asked Joe,

"Know what the other guy's like?"

"No idea."

"You seen Pat's wife?"

Tom nodded at the others to take note of the fact that Harry's real name was Pat. Joe answered,

"Once. She's a pretty girl. I guess she's now attracted an older guy with more money."

Dick smiled again and replied,

"Maybe tougher too. She's probly taking down her panties right now."

"I don't think Pat has a gun. He certainly don't have it on him."

"Maybe he's got one in that room he's rented."

"I doubt it. If I thought so, I'd call the wife and warn her. Maybe I should anyway."

"If the other guy's warned, he'll lay for Pat when he comes in the door."

On the way back down the river there was a good deal of discussion of Pat's situation, but they arrived at no conclusions.

On Thursday it didn't develop into a race. As Blake held the shell for Tom to put his foot in the one place where it wouldn't go through the bottom of the boat, he said,

"Just try to be smooth, Tom. Don't try to break the oars."

Tom agreed with a smile, knowing that some people were both smooth and strong. Blake didn't tell them to go easy.

Trying to pretend to be a swan, Tom slid his seat gently back and forth. It was surprising how little energy it took to maintain a decent speed. In fact, it didn't appear that he was holding back Jimmy and Kent. They went swooshing around the bends, flushed a few birds from the banks, and arrived in Watertown in due course.

As they approached the cafe, a young man came towards them on a converging course. Tom barely recognized him as Pat, alias Harry. His face was grossly discolored and swollen, and his mouth, puffed out with fresh scars, was open enough to reveal missing front teeth. As if by common agreement, they slowed enough to let him enter the cafe first, which he did, almost letting the door slam on Kent.

Joe greeted the new arrival with,

"My God, Pat, you look worse than yesterday."

Tom was himself aware that bruises often did look worse a day or so later, and he listened closely as Dick said,

"By tomorrow, you'll be healed up enough to go back and try again."

Pat began to laugh, but it evidently hurt to do so. He then said, a little thickly,

"I could go back a hundred times, and it'd be the same. After he beat the shit out of me, he kicked me down my own front steps."

It amazed Tom that Pat sounded relieved and almost content. He said to Kent,

"Yazza betta befeeling him?"

Kent seemed to understand, and replied,

"No bugga bugga ambiguita no mora mora."

Whatever ambiguities there might have been had been clarified for Pat. And, of course, having done what he thought needed to be done, there was now no reason to be fearful. It was better to have just been beaten up than to be about to be beaten up. But what about the wife? Joe seemed to have arrived at the same point, and asked Pat,

"What did your wife say?"

"When I snuck into the bedroom, she was just in her panties. I was looking at her and she was screaming, and then he tied into me. I really don't know what she did after that."

Dick was obviously fascinated, but Joe, looking pained, said,

"Pat, I realize that you had a right to go into your own house, but that was a very unwise thing to do. You could easily have gotten killed."

"I didn't know how violent he could be. I thought he was going to kill me."

"Those nasty violent guys usually learn how to fight in prison. You're a nice young man, and you're no match for anyone like that."

Pat didn't dispute his words, and Joe continued,

"It may well be that your wife'll now realize what he's like and want to come back to you. Will you take her back?"

"I don't know."

"You'd better think about it in case she suddenly turns up at the end of your route today."

"I don't think she'll do that."

"She don't know where you live, does she?"

"I haven't told her."

"And you've got no phone. She'll want to know if you're all right and back to work. Of course, she may hide across the street and not say anything when you go past."

For the first time, Tom found it irritating to have to try to communicate in nonsense syllables. They finished quickly and were soon back to the boats. Kent remarked,

"It looks as if the problem of finding a girl may be much simpler than that of dealing with her after she's been found."

Tom replied,

"I wonder what Pat was thinking when he did that."

"Voyeurism. The idea of seeing his wife in bed with another man fascinated him. He just assumed that the other man would be defensive, or, anyway, not as strong."

Jimmy said,

"If Pat were at Harvard, he'd have learned to do some research on the other man before undertaking such a project."

Tom knew he was joking, but replied,

"I don't think Joe's been to Harvard either, but he seems pretty sensible."

Jimmy nodded, and then said in his youthfully romantic way,

"I bet the wife will turn up to see if Pat's all right. She may come up to him and throw her arms around him and beg to be forgiven."

Tom asked,

"Are you going to hang out at the end of Pat's route to see if she does?"

"I might if I knew when he's due back."

"It's probably an hour and a half in to Park Street, a short layover, and then back. Three hours or so."

Kent then broke in,

"I don't think I want to know if Pat's wife comes back. This is getting to be rather like a soap opera."

Tom replied,

"The soap opera people may know more about ordinary life than anthropologists and sociologists."

"Yes. But I still think I'd rather be an anthropologist and bury my head in the sand to a certain extent."

This was also a joke, but they gradually reached a consensus not to return to the diner.

Bill Todd -- A Harvard Story
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