The Dangers of Life at the Green Valley
The two men sat in twin chairs in front of one of the twin pine trees in front of the Green Valley Retirement Home. Both were alert, and both were watching. The smaller of the two looked as if he had always watched, perhaps for no reason. The larger man looked as if he had always had reason to watch. But, of course, not many residents of the Green Valley still had reason to watch for anything but the approach of death. The smaller man, Paul Henderson, said,
"Ya know, I've heard people say that the houses around here are all alike, but I don't think they really are. Each one, I betcha, has something different about it."
Although Paul had just passed his seventieth birthday, he had a boy's face with a rosy complexion and a close cap of bright white hair. He also spoke as a boy, remarks bubbling out nervously that he seemed prepared to retract at the first sign of displeasure from an adult. The adult, Dr. Goodman Narrison, smiled at him.
Dr. Narrison was disposed to enjoy the little by-ways of life. It occurred to him that he could probably get Paul to go around the neighborhood, steno pad in hand, noting down whatever it was about each house that distinguished it from the others. Paul had been a schoolteacher for over forty years, and it seemed that he had simultaneously remained a certain sort of schoolboy, the kind that always wanted to please the teacher that he had become. Doctor Narrison asked,
"When you were teaching, Paul, did the boys ever play tricks on you?"
"No, not so much, Doc. My wife, she taught in the same school. Whenever there was any kind of trouble, she was on it real fast. I quit right after she died."
The doctor nodded and replied,
"You did well to come here. There's not much trouble. Somebody dies once in a while, but you have to expect that."
Paul winced perceptibly at the mention of death. Dr. Narrison had forgotten how much it bothered Paul, and he quickly changed the subject to the impending arrival of the bakery van. That was, after all, what they were watching for.
When the van drew up, the delivery man came up the walk, saying,
"Good to see you out so early, gentlemen. I've got a bagel for each of you."
This was, in fact, part of Paul's plan. He had, some time ago, coaxed the delivery man to give him one of the bagels
that were being delivered to the home. It became a custom, and Paul had since included his best friend, Dr. Narrison, in the arrangement.
There was, on this day, an unfortunate consequence. Shortly after the delivery man left, there appeared two horrid-looking elderly women, the sisters Rebecca and Ursula.
Rebecca, a big woman with disordered white hair and the face of a giant tropical rodent, pointed her deformed finger at Paul and said,
"You stole that bagel."
Paul recoiled and stuttered as he attempted to put together some sort of defense. He then looked at Dr. Narrison, who had already finished his bagel, for some support. The latter replied,
"Paul will be happy to give you the remaining half of his bagel, Rebecca."
Seemingly torn between the joys of furied indignation and a desire to accept the half bagel, Rebecca could do no more than burble. It was Ursula, not quite as ugly, but with the dangerously sharp eyes of a sea-eagle, who occupied the high moral ground.
"It's not fair to the rest of us. You get a bagel out here, and you'll come in and take another at breakfast."
Unfortunately, Ursula's general bearing was not well suited to the high moral ground. Dr. Narrison half whispered to her in a conspiratorial voice,
"Wouldn't you do the same?"
The answer was so obviously affirmative that both sisters ignored him and concentrated on Paul. Rebecca said,
"He looks bad today."
"He's the type that gets stomach cancer."
"That's it. You better check your stools for blood, Paul."
Ursula made as if to quiet her sister, whispering loud enough for Paul to hear,
"It's probably too late already. Don't upset him."
Paul, his face ashen, kept backing away from the sisters. Dr. Narrison took him by the arm and swept him down the sidewalk as he said,
"They have foul mouths, but they're slow afoot. They can't catch us."
When he had somewhat recovered, Paul said,
"They're really something, those sisters!"
"I may have spoken a little soon in saying that there's no trouble here. But we can avoid it in the future by taking our bagels and walking around the block as we eat them."
Paul cheered up a little at that thought, but then asked,
"Do you think it's safe to go back for breakfast now?"
"We'll have to. I'd like to get in to the office a little early today."
Having smiled at the sisters as he took his second bagel at breakfast, Dr. Narrison was in his Cadillac a little after eight. He knew of another shipmaster who, having survived the worst gales in all latitudes, had become a traffic fatality. Having no wish to share that fate, he drove with particular care. On the other hand, in order to avoid boredom, he made a game out of seeing how much he could irritate the frantic commuters of Chicago.
He soon found himself leading a line of cars toward a green light, and, knowing the timing of the lights, he let his speed drop from the limit of thirty five to thirty as he approached it. He could see the face of the man behind him, almost apoplectic with frustration and fury. That man, who evidently also knew the timing, pulled out and passed, rather dangerously, on the two-lane road. But, then, just as he tore through the intersection, a police car rounded the corner and tailed him.
Dr. Narrison passed through on the yellow light, and, since the police car had pulled the other motorist over, he had to proceed slowly until he could pass them. As he did so, he gave the man who had passed illegally a look of strong disapproval. Dr. Narrison saw himself as a sober senior citizen, possibly a little over-cautious, but, for all that, one of the safest drivers on the road.
He was still in that mood when he parked behind his building. Then, on encountering the sign proclaiming the offices of the Berwyn Associates, he burst into uproarious laughter. It wasn't the first time he had found his new life amusing.
First to arrive, Dr. Narrison opened the office and sat down at his desk. He then gave some thought to the matching service. It was the first service he had opened, only months after arriving in Chicago. It was obvious, even then, what most of the young and youngish people worried about most. He had thus moved, in a small way, into a niche in which there was less competition than one would have expected.
Right at the beginning, a general pattern emerged among the women. They were mostly between twenty eight and forty five, were reasonably attractive, and either owned a fair amount of property or had careers which provided a decent income.
Most of the men were a good deal older, and they were, on the average, the veterans of more marriages. They also talked about those marriages in different ways. The women's divorces, it seemed to Dr. Narrison, had come only after they had made the most arduous efforts, sometimes heroic efforts, to save their marriages. He had been frankly amazed at some of the things they had been willing to do. Then, when everything failed, they experienced various traumas. Even long afterward, they couldn't talk of these episodes without a certain obvious tension. It seemed likely that, if they married again, they would make maximum efforts with their new marriages.
The men, on the other hand, spoke of failed marriages in the course of describing career changes and moves from one part of the country to the other. The divorces had probably been painful enough at the time, but, in most cases, they seemed to have left no indelible impressions.
The other striking difference between the sexes concerned their expectations. The women spoke of finding someone of their own general class, but, apart from that, they seemed to have in mind only a man who would be honest, and who would make a serious commitment to marriage. The younger ones sometimes wanted to have children, and the ones who already had children wanted a man who would be a good stepfather. But, for the most part, they were willing to at least consider almost any man Dr. Narrison might propose.
The men had quite specific ideas as to the appearance of their prospective mates. In one case, a balding overweight man in his late fifties wanted a tall slim blonde in her twenties! Dr. Narrison had only just managed not to exclaim at the absurdity of that idea, instead murmuring,
"Perhaps someone nearer your own age would be better."
Even that was too much for that particular client, who disappeared forthwith. In the other, less extreme cases, he was able to temporize tactfully.
Even now, with considerable experience in matching people, it still seemed to Dr. Narrison that most of the men wanted women whose gifts, talents, and attractiveness considerably exceeded their own. However, as he looked over the list of clients, with many more women than men, he was forced to admit that those expectations were not so unrealistic.
When Sandy came in a few minutes later, Dr. Narrison asked her how her interviews with the matching service clients were going. She replied,
"It's been interesting. But there are so many common themes in all their marriages, near marriages, and affairs that I have to take careful notes to keep them straight."
"Yes. A lot of these people have just had the same experience a dozen times over, and have married and divorced other people who've also had the same experience a dozen times over."
"I've gotten pretty caught up in some of the women's stories. I admit to them frankly that it's an education for me. I had no idea that there were so many pitfalls."
"Don't get too involved. In interviewing these people, we're only trying to find them partners, not treat them clinically. Even there, we're going to fail most of the time."
"I hope it's not as bad as that."
"Well, we can find women for the men, if they'll only accept them. But there are going to be a lot of left-over women whatever we do."
"One even asked me how we decide which woman gets the available man. I told her that we should be able to provide a suitable man for every woman, but she only laughed. I guess she knew better than I did at that point."
Later that morning, there arrived a woman who seemed to Sandy to be of an altogether different sort. A partner in a LaSalle Street law firm at thirty three, Miss Susan Gatewood was a tall attractive brunette with a manner that impressed Sandy without intimidating her. At first, Sandy assumed that she was there for an experiment they were conducting rather than the matching service.
Miss Gatewood laughed at Sandy's confusion and volunteered,
"People are always asking me why I'm not married. They seem to think that it's a compliment. Then, if I tell them that I've never been asked, which is the truth, they get embarrassed."
Sandy had been about to ask that herself, but she replied,
"You've probably been too busy with your legal work to get around to it."
"I've been busy, certainly, but there seems to be much more to it than that."
When Sandy got out her pad and started asking questions, Miss Gatewood's history began to sound more and more like those of the other women. Like them, she seemed to hold nothing back. And, like most of them, she had had some unfortunate and ill- chosen affairs. She said,
"I got off to a bad start, right after I joined the firm, when I had an affair with one of the partners. I was romantic about the law, I can't think why, and it was really his reputation and the fact that he was interested in a young novice like myself that blew me away."
"Did that lead to trouble in the firm?"
"No. We were careful, and, so far as I know, we weren't discovered. As far as law went, it helped. I learned a lot from him, and it probably speeded up my partnership. But I spent six years hanging around and waiting for a man who, probably all along, cared more for his wife and children than he did for me."
Sandy murmured sympathetically, and the other continued,
"That business of getting all dressed up in case a call comes is really bad for the psyche, and it was crazy of me to refuse dates with other men on the chance that Jim might call."
"But you're over him now?"
"Yes. He's now seduced the latest young woman to join the firm."
"Wow! Doesn't that get him into trouble?"
"The others don't know. But I know how to recognize the signs. I suppose I could go to her and give her unsolicited advice, but I don't want to be rebuffed."
"Well, we're here worried about your problems, not hers. Have you had anyone since?"
"Yes. A much younger man. In fact, the one I hired to plant shrubs in my yard. In some ways I was more in love with him than with Jim. He also let me down more gently. He said there was a girl his age that he wanted to marry. And then he did marry her. So that was that."
Even that fit the pattern of Sandy's list. Other women had turned to younger men with temporary satisfaction and later disappointment. Moreover, Miss Gatewood wasn't the first to ignore social class when other things seemed to be right.
After taking down a goodly mass of data, the time came for Sandy to respond. She found herself forced to say,
"I really don't think we've got an appropriate man for you on our list, Miss Gatewood. There won't be any charge."
Sandy was pretty sure that neither Calvin nor Dr. Narrison would have foregone a charge in such a case. They would have taken the money and matched Miss Gatewood with someone inappropriate. But, after all, Sandy had her own standards.
Miss Gatewood looked really very upset, much more so than Sandy would have expected. She seemed not at all cheered by not having to pay, and asked,
"You really don't have anyone at all?"
"There are some with comparable education, but they're much older. And, in a couple of cases, I'm rather suspicious of their motives."
"How about men with less education?"
"There's one, not much older than yourself, whom I happen to like. He's very anxious to find someone, and he's been in several times to talk with me. He's had some college, and owns an antique store. But he goes through trash cans to see if people've thrown something valuable away by mistake. I can't quite imagine you standing on the sidewalk while he does that."
Miss Gatewood paused momentarily, laughed, and then said,
"I guess it shows, at least, that he isn't pompous or pretentious. And I wouldn't have to actually stand there while he does it."
"The other problem is that he hasn't signed up for the full service, the way you have. That means that we haven't much data on his finances. And other things. So you'd be on your own to that extent."
"Well, of course, that's the usual situation. I'll give it a try if you think he's the best one for me."
"I'll get out his file."
It was against procedure to actually show one client's file to another, but Sandy summarized the information.
"He's six foot four and a hundred and eighty. He looks a bit underfed. I imagine his idea of lunch, and maybe even dinner, is sending out for a hamburger."
She then handed over the picture that Calvin had taken of Bernie Crum with the words,
"It's not a great picture. He's really not a bad looking man."
"No. I like tall men, and I hardly expect one who looks like a movie actor."
"The data on his income is rather inconclusive. It's so far been rather modest, but a small businessman's income can fluctuate a great deal from one year to the next."
"Bankruptcy is also very common. I've handled a few."
"Well, you might not want to get involved in anything as risky as an antique store."
"I've been assuming all along that I'd go on working even if I got married. So his income really isn't very critical. I just wouldn't want someone who expected me to support him."
"There's no evidence of that in this case. He seems to work hard, and be very much involved in his business."
"Well, then, I guess it's a question of whether he wants to meet me."
As Miss Gatewood left, Sandy was again impressed by the beauty of her clothing and her general sophistication. She then called Bernie Crum at his store. It wasn't far away, and he said he could leave an assistant in charge and drop right over.
Bernie was thirty six, looked like a professional basketball player who had come on extremely hard times, and had an irritating mannerism of pushing his lank black hair off his forehead even though it never stayed pushed for more than a minute or two. When he rushed up the stairs and came crashing into Sandy's office, she said,
"For God's sake Bernie, is that another Salvation Army suit?"
Bernie asked, evidently in genuine puzzlement,
"How'd you know?"
"Because it doesn't reach your wrists and ankles."
"Yeah, well, people in the antique game don't want to look too sharp. You gotta be a little bit of the rube so people'll think they can cheat you."
"I think you've got the right outfit."
"Okay, so I'll put on my Brooks Brothers suit if I meet this lady. What's she look like?"
Since the picture Sandy had taken of Miss Gatewood hadn't been developed, she had to describe her to Bernie.
"She's tall and slim with light brown hair and brown eyes. I think just about anyone would say that she's attractive, perhaps more than that. And she's beautifully dressed and turned out."
"And you said she's a lawyer?"
"Not just an ordinary one. She's a partner in a big firm downtown, probably the youngest one in the firm."
"Wow. Women like that come into my store sometimes. A lot of them've made it on their own, and they want to buy an ancestry. I can't keep faked Victorian portraits of rich- looking ladies and gents in stock."
"I think Miss Gatewood's too sophisticated for that. She'd laugh about people who tried to manufacture an ancestry."
"Then she'd be one of my top-line customers. A woman like that'll buy certain things from me, but she'd go into kidney dysfunction at the idea of a date with me."
"This woman knows the truth about you, Bernie, and she still wants to meet you."
"Well, I did learn a lot at a course I took at the Endeavor Center, and I guess I could use it on her."
"Wait a minute, Bernie. What are you planning to do to her?"
"Oh, it's just harmless stuff. Like you first have to Establish Your Identity."
"Suppose you were out with me, what would you do?"
"I might take you out for a hot dog. Then, just as you were about to eat it, I'd grab it away and say that I just saw one of the cooks spitting in the soup, and who knows what they might've done to the hot dog. See, other people wouldn't do that with you, so you'd realize that I was different."
"I dare say."
"In fact, that would not only Establish my Identity but also Demonstrate Concern."
"Okay, I'm sitting there with no hot dog. What do you do next?"
"The next thing would be to Express Admiration, but do it in a way that isn't intrusive. It'd be too personal to say, right at the beginning, that I like the color of your hair, so I'd say that I liked the color of your handbag. On the next date, I'd say that I liked the color of your dress."
"And then, on the third one, you'd get around to my hair?"
"Yeah. But, by then, I'd be Demonstrating Competence. If I knew how to dance, I'd take you dancing, but I'm pretty good on roller skates. There's a big new rink up in Skokie that's real fashionable. So I'd take you there. Then, if I took your arm to steady you, it would give me a chance to Be Protective, and also execute The First Touch."
"Bernie, please don't do any of these things to Susan Gatewood. You don't have rules like that when you sell antiques, do you?"
"No, but I'd be more nervous on a date. I might not be able to say anything at all to her."
"You could ask her about her work."
"Yeah. I may sue the city because I fell into a ditch near the store the other day. I could ask her about that."
"That might sound as if you're trying to get free legal advice. And you don't want to give her the impression you're always falling into ditches."
"Well, see, at the Endeavor Center we practised dates and played roles and such. I always said the wrong things, so that was why they had me memorize those rules and follow them."
"I see. Well, the roller-skating rink in Skokie might not be so bad. I've heard about it, in fact. Don't they have food and serve drinks?"
"Oh sure, it's a real nice place."
"You could suggest it, but have an alternative ready if she doesn't sound enthusiastic."
"What's your alternative going to be?"
"Ride the A train up to Evanston, switch to the B train, come back down, and go to the cafeteria on Wabash."
It wasn't until Bernie laughed that Sandy was sure that he was joking.