Both of Us, Part 2, by Dick Weinman, The Thin Edge of Dignity
I don’t remember what was playing that Saturday night. Besides, who looked at the movie? You made out – in between peeking at the screen, eating popcorn, sipping Coke from the bottle, or a mixture of Coke and Seagrams 7 sucked up with a straw.
I was not overly impressed by my date. What did I expect: it was Saturday night and she had no date - I didn’t either. But I thought myself a better catch. She was overweight, had a kind of “Miss Piggy” face, with short, light brown hair clinging to her puffy cheeks. She wore some kind of dollar store perfume, whose pungency filled the back area of the car. We sat at opposite sides of the seat, looking straight ahead.
That’s when I got a steady glimpse of Tommy’s date. Ginny. Tiny. Pert. A small round face with full red lips (too much lipstick, really, and eyeliner). A cute, button nose. Short, dark hair. Bright eyes. And a playful, yet solemn demeanor.
Of course, I got my first look at Ginny briefly when she came down the stairs in her dorm. I didn’t focus on her. In the car, however, space was compressed, I could steal front-facing glances when Ginny and Tommy weren’t necking; the most I could see then was the back side of their heads and faces interlocked – a profile view.
But, I had seen enough to ask Tommy, the next day, if he minded if I asked Ginny for a date. He didn’t.
Several days later, I nervously called Ginny and stumbled through asking her if she remembered me and would like to go out. Knowing that she was used to driving with Tommy, I quietly and quickly spit out “I don’t have a car, you know.” I told her, we’d have to walk. “That’s OK,” she said. Thus began a lifelong roman.
On the first date, we walked from her dorm at about seven in the evening to the University Commons, where we spent the whole night till right before curfew, drinking coffee, smoking, and slowly unwrapping ourselves. Glenn Miller’s In The Mood reverberated from the juke box, bodies bounced; laughter was heard all around . . . except in our little shadowed corner. Neither of us was what you’d call a “talker.” We were shy, introverted, and the conversation was stop-start. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I don’t think we really learned about one another until much later – even early in our marriage.
And that’s how the engagement and marriage began – a sputtering first date, awkward and cheap. One nickel cup of coffee after another; one cigarette after another; watching the jitter buggers swing and flip. We didn’t dance; Ginny didn’t want to venture out of the shadows into the glaring circle of dancers. This early encounter was a precursor of our future life, when some thirty years later, we were called upon to dance the first dance at our daughter, Sarah’s, wedding.
At the time in the Commons, I was relieved. I couldn’t jitterbug anyhow, and didn’t care to show my weakness to Ginny and the crowd seated at tables circling the dance floor.
Then Sinatra’s voice emerged from the stack of 45” records. As his longing, romantic sounds hung slowly in the air, I made my move. My hands reached out for hers over the table. I gently tugged. We stood. I led her to the dance circle. She followed hesitatingly. I turned her to me. With my left hand raised, I moved her fingers onto my palm. In a swift change, I left her fingers in my left palm, and slid my right arm around her waist. I pulled her to me; our bodies met. Head to head, we slowly moved to the sweetness of voice and strings. “Everyone’s watching,” she whispered as she subtly snuggled away; as if to say “a little space, please.” I got the message and slid my body away. The record segued into Benny Goodman and the fast dancers took over. We headed back to coffee and cigarettes.
Ginny smoked strange cigarettes. They weren’t packaged in the standard cellophane- covered vertical pack like U.S. cigarettes: they were laid out in a draw-like holder which she slid from a cardboard miniature dresser. The cigarettes were called Players. It was an English cigarette, she explained, as she tried to steady one between her fingers. I could see she hadn’t been smoking for long, unlike me who had started at 13, and smoked like the Theatre major I was hoping to be: leaning on my elbow; raising my wrist limply, and swiveling it while flipping my fingers – very fey. What could Ginny have thought!
She must not have minded, because she said yes to another date.
Our second coming together also was not very – one could say - “grandiose.” It, too, was on a small scale – and one could again say – “cheap.” Free, really. But for the times a unique experience – we watched TV.
I was the Production Manager of the University’s radio-TV stations, and had access to the broadcasting building. Proud of my special access, and showing off a bit, I led Ginny into the empty studio. It doubled as a class room when not being used for production. We sat on classroom chairs to watch the grainy, black and white images of The Gary Moore Show and the sit-coms of the early fifties follow one another on the 16 inch screen. Not many people in those years had television sets. We watched, and we talked; we continued unwrapping the packages of ourselves.
The third date was the Spring Ball of Ginny’s residence center, a dress-up, semi-formal occasion. A twist – she invited me. We had our picture taken – me in my suit, white dress shirt, with bow tie; Ginny in a strapless, floor-length gown. We stood in a booth under a roof of artificial flowers (again a precursor of the wedding canopy of the future?) I have that picture even now, framed on the wall of my room in the assisted living facility in which I am a resident.
After that, we began dating regularly and exclusively. We had nightly study dates at the library, and afterwards went across the street to The Gables, an ice cream parlor. Ginny introduced me to banana-chocolate malts. We also had our beer and cheeseburger nights at the Stardust café. And we continued our coffee and cigarette nights at the Commons, sometimes just the two of us, but now hanging with my friends from the theater, in which I was now performing. And we danced – the slow dances.
Many nights I was rehearsing plays and TV and radio dramas, and I had my regular on-air radio shifts, so we didn’t get together to date. Ginny went to the library, or studied in the dormitory, focusing on her major, Psychology, readying herself for the career she had laid out.
Eventually, we didn’t consider our dates - dates; we were just together after classes. It became apparent that we would be together all the time during the dating hours . We were “going steady.” We saw each other during the day, too, taking a few courses together. Ginny got me into Psychology classes, and I coerced her into Literature classes, which she had been avoiding. She became upset that I would not study the assigned book, and would get an A, while she would read and study and only get a C. This confirmed to her that English was for BSers, people who could write well; science required knowledge and work.
During our final term at Indiana, we took French together. Our professor, Monsieur Leveque was an exuberant, portly man, who always wore a suit with a vest; he displayed his Phi Beta Kappa chain and key across his ample stomach. He was angered when I called him at home to find out our final exam grades. Such communication was definitely not done when we were in college, in those long ago days before email and students addressing teachers by their first names. When I explained we were leaving school at the end of the term to get married, gruff Monsieur Leveque’s tone softened. He told me our grades on the final exam and said he’d give us a wedding present. We both received A s. Merci, M. Leveque.
Part 3 will be posted on February 1, 2015.