Bill Todd -- Tim and Sharon
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 Chapter 3

Cafe Society

     Tim liked to talk with the girl friends of his friends. He didn’t have one of his own, but was convinced that Meredith and Audrey, at any rate, were more worldly and sensible, if not better educated, than he and the boys. They also had nicer voices, smelled better, and were better to look at.

     On this occasion, he was having morning coffee with Audrey, Howie’s girl friend. They were in a little French café just off the square whose menu was in French, except for words Harvard students wouldn’t know. Since Howie majored in French, he did know the words. Audrey, majoring in Russian, knew just enough French to get into potential trouble. In any case, neither had been to France, and didn’t know what a real Parisian café was like. Tim, who had been, was well aware that the present establishment was much too clean, had much too much room between the chairs and tables, and had no German Shepherd guarding the place by night and sleeping under a table by day. But he had no desire to spoil the illusion.

     Audrey went around in clothes that might have come from the Salvation Army. It was never clear whether she didn’t care how she looked, or, alternatively, knew that she looked great whatever she wore. In any case, the ladies who ran the café were obviously happy to have her on display near the front door. Speaking of Howie, she said, “He still doesn’t know what he wants to do after he graduates in June.”

“I hardly do either.”

“Howie was much happier after he switched from English to French. And he’s done well. But he has zero identification with these nerdy little guys with big glasses who teach literature.”

“I know. He should probably be hanging out in Paris with the present-day versions of Sartre and Simone. But there has to be some way of making a living.”

“He’s always had this idea of possibly being a professional athlete. If you and he do something heroic against Yale in a couple of days, that might bump him along in that direction.”

“Yeah, he probably is better adapted to football than basketball. There isn’t the shooting problem.”

Audrey asked, “Is he really big enough?”

“He has good height and size for a wide receiver. But there’s amazing competition at those positions. At all positions, really.”

“I’m also afraid that he’d be maimed for life.”

“Yes. Did you ever meet DeWayne?”


“In the spring of our freshman year, we went to a little gym across the river where it was said that pro football players went in the off-season. It was a really grungy little place in a basement, and we’d hardly walked in when a chunk of plaster fell off the ceiling and landed in front of us.

“You and Howie must have felt comfortable there.”

“You’re not so hoity-toity yourself, Audrey. Anyhow, a huge black guy pointed to the back door and said, ‘Chicken Little was working out here, but he just ran out. His worst suspicions were confirmed when the ceiling fell.’ That was DeWayne.”

“I would have had doubts myself.”

“We got to know DeWayne pretty well. He was lots of fun.”

“I hope you didn’t play football with him.”

“Not much. We did persuade him to pretend to block us from his tackle position, which was more than enough for us. It was mostly beer drinking after weight workouts.”

‘Do you still see him?”

“He died a year ago last summer.”

“How awful! What happened?”

“It was some form of meningitis. But Howie and I were convinced that it was really the NFL. DeWayne had been a wonderful high school athlete and basketball player, weighing about two thirty. When we knew him, he was almost three hundred, and almost crippled. He could deliver a powerful block, but he could hardly run at all. Everyone could beat him at handball. That was what nine years of pro football had done to him.”

“Didn’t he realize what was happening to him?”

“Sure. It had also happened to a great many others. But he said it was the only way he could have gotten out of the ghetto. He also said that it would be stupid for people like us, who didn’t start from poverty, to do anything like that. So, whatever Howie might say at times, I think he knows better.”

“Are you sure this wasn’t an unusual case?”

“The life expectancy for pro football players is in the fifties. They die of all sorts of different things, but the common thread is undeniable.”

“The next time Howie talks that way, I’ll remind him of DeWayne.”

“It’s especially relevant for pass receivers. They get smashed even when they don’t catch the ball.”

“What about quarterbacks?”

“The league and the referees try to protect them, but they still get shots to the head and concussions. Those are cumulative and worse each time.”

“So that would apply to you, too.”

“One of the few exceptions is for punters. They never get hit at all.”

“What if they have to make a tackle on a punt return?”

“Very  rare. Besides which, if you punt high enough, there isn’t any runback.”

“Okay, Tim. I see where this is heading. You can get rich easily by just punting the ball.”

Tim smiled wordlessly, and Audrey responded, “We’ve got to make it clear to Howie that he can’t tag along with you into the NFL.”

Tim nodded, without having much idea how that was to be done.

     As they sat sipping their coffee and nibbling their croissants, a number of people passing by gave Audrey a long look. Her face, not exactly that of a supermodel, had a look no model would be likely to have. It was hard not to stare. One older gentleman with a cane did, indeed, look too long, missing a depression in the brick sidewalk. He tried to prop himself with the cane, but it didn’t work. Not small, he went down with a crash.

     Tim and Audrey rushed outside, where the man, cursing himself for a damn fool, was attempting to rise. Audrey went back inside for water and paper napkins to clean some cuts on his hands while Tim cautiously assisted him to his feet. Obviously more humiliated than hurt, he thanked them and stomped off.

     Back at their table, Audrey swore suddenly. Tim said, “I don’t think there’s any need to worry about him.”

“It’s not that. In the commotion my bra came loose.”

“You can fix it in the ladies’ room.”

“I think it’s beyond repair. Of course, I’m not big and don’t really need one, but it’s tangled around me.”

“Did you get it at the Salvation Army?”

“Certainly not! It was either Goodwill Industries or St. Vincent DePaul.”

“Most people would be afraid to buy underwear at those places. Couldn’t you get cooties or crickets or something?”

“They wash everything before selling it. It’s just that the little hooks and things tend to come loose.”

“As I understand it, you’re far from poor, Audrey. Couldn’t you buy a brand new bra?”

“Sure. But it’s one aspect of my protest against the greedy consumer society that America has become.”

“Have you talked to Meredith about her shopping habits?”

“As it happens, yes. Of course, she often does buy fashionable things, but she went with me to the SA and bought a dress for eleven seventy five.”

“Will she actually wear it?”

“It’s not bad. Some society lady discards wind up in the thrift stores, and they often don’t know how to price them. We might take you to one and bring you out as an elegant boulevardier.”

“I think the phrase used to be ‘gay boulevardier’ before the meaning of ‘gay’ changed.”

“I like the old meaning. The image is of a handsome young man strolling down the boulevard with a big smile for all the pretty ladies.”

“I smile at pretty ladies, but that’s about it.”

“Tim, aren’t you ever going to get a girl friend?”

“I had a couple of sexual encounters in my senior year in high school. I liked them a lot, but I didn’t wind up with a girl friend.”

“But you could now.”

“Those encounters have become very risky. There’s disease and the chance of being accused of something. The Duke lacrosse case had a big impact on the athletic community.”

“They haven’t all become monks, have they?”

“No. I’m told that the procedure of choice is to videotape everything according to a formula. The man first asks, ‘Would you like to have sex with me?’ When the affirmative answer is taped, he says, ‘You must understand that I will stop instantly at any point if you tell me to.’ And it goes from there, usually with another man doing the filming and acting as an additional witness.”

“God, so it’s come to that, has it?”

“Apparently so.”

“Well, you don’t have to do that in a settled relationship.”

“Yeah, that’s the part I haven’t been able to bring off.”

“I bet you haven’t tried very hard.”

“Maybe not. People keep saying that they’ve got the girl for me, and then they want to arrange a meeting. But it seems so awkward.”

“They’ve been too pushy. But you can’t just be passive in this, Tim. You have to approach young ladies who attract you. It can be done very gently without much embarrassment if they don’t respond.”

“They might just say, ‘Get lost, bozo!’”

“Oh, Tim! At worst, they’ll say that they already have boy friends.”

“Well, I guess so.”

     Just then, Howie arrived, straight from his Proust class. Howie caused almost as much of a stir when he entered a place as did Audrey. But, where she electrified with her appearance alone, he also brought with him a remarkable burst of energy. Then, since he spoke French with Madame Auber and her daughter, they liked him even better than they did Audrey.

     Having been apprised of the bra problem, Howie went to Madame Auber, who came back with a stapler. They were then able to lift Audrey’s sweatshirt in back and staple her back together. When informed where Audrey got her clothes, Madame Auber clutched her head and said something in French that Tim didn’t catch. She then said, in English, “It is then good that the young lady will tonight have to rip the garment to pieces in order to get out of it.”

Once Howie had settled down with his coffee, Audrey raised with him the subject of the NFL, adding,

“You never told me about DeWayne.”

“Well, he was part of our other life. I guess we don’t talk much about it.”

“You make it sound as if you’re a CIA agent on the side. Anyhow, you aren’t going to join the NFL, are you?”

When Howie quickly denied any such intention, Audrey said to Tim, “The trouble is that he’ll agree to anything to pacify me. He then does whatever he wants.”

Tim made noises intended to suggest that he wasn’t like that himself. Audrey had more to say, but he enjoyed just listening to her voice. It was deep for a woman, with lots of words stressed, and with a tiny touch of some sort of accent, he wasn’t sure what.

Bill Todd -- Tim and Sharon
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