From The Pen Of Bart Webber
Now that Josie was no longer running the day to day operations of the small social services consulting firm she had established back in the late 1970s in Cambridge in conjunction with her Sociology teaching job at Tufts University after she had finally wormed her way through to her doctorate at Boston University she had time think back about those man problems, the ones that caused her eternal grief in the end. So to keep things straight in her head as she tried to reassemble her past she would keep a little diary, no, not a diary so much as a series of notes when she decided to write everything down which she had always been most comfortable doing when anything bothered her. She had initially made a list in no particular order of her “men,” some of them anyway, and why they had slipped away (or why she pushed them away in some cases including that latest one, Bradley, which had acted as a catalyst for the whole exploration). When she looked over the list she noticed that she neglected to put her two husbands on the list which she chuckled to herself at. That seemed about right, seemed to be some kind of poetic justice as she decided to keep the list as she had created it in the moment and throw the husbands in her notes as their existences had some part in the story.
Staring at that list of names though Josie Davis had to admit, had to finally admit, that she never had much luck with men, never had much luck at all as she sat there in her bedroom cleaning out the stuff he had left behind, that last he, the stuff that certainly would have tied him down as he fled the scene, literally fled the scene with no good-byes and no sorrows either. But that he will get his moment of glory later and need not detain us right here. Right her being the hard thought that it was not as though Josie had started out life with man trouble, certainly in high school and a little in big amorphous college at Wisconsin she had had her pick of good guys, guys who brought gifts, guys who didn’t mind picking up the check although that trend was going out of fashion back in the 1960s even before women were expected, as part of their liberation, to pick up on occasion previously male-responsible dinner bills. Guys who made her laugh, guys who provided her with dope for a good time, guys who knew more than her in the sex department and were willing to teach her a thing or two. One Josie Davis, a quick learner that way, caught on fast, worked her way through a good segment of the Karma Sutra and enjoyed most of what she experienced except maybe that S&M stuff that she got a little too frisky with at one time or another. With those thoughts in mind she started writing her little notes on her iPad in the third person which she was also more comfortable with although she had spent years in therapy working through her own identity crises. Here is what she ahd to say:
After You’re Gone-An Interlude
Thoughts of bright blue-eyed blonde and sexy Jeff though got Josie all melancholy, got her distracted about all the relationship disasters that happened after she graduated from Madison in 1968. That start-up with Jeff seemed so simple a way to show a man she understood things, understood things were changing, understood that not everybody, not every man had the same breaks she had received from doting if uncomprehending parents (and received aid for a long time after most men who were expected to pay their way while she was working on her equally eternal doctorate). It seemed that once she left Madison, left the bucolic campus life where the hardest task seemed to stay focused on graduating with a high enough GPA to get into that increasingly necessary set of advanced degree programs to avoid some clerical job in some rustic Department of Social Services or worse, the humiliation of waitressing with its sloppy drunks and leering looks the male hunters in the eternal male-female dance that ruled her life (ruled it since that first time she had sex in high school with Manny and liked it, liked it enough to have periodic erotic dreams where she got herself into some strange sexual situations when study, work or some project took her too long away from mankind but that was something that she was working out, eternally working out with her own psychologist) always turned out to be less than they looked like, a lot less when it came right down to it.
She knew she had never been a great beauty although guys who wanted to get next to her would flower her with such praise, knew though that what one guy, Max, sweet old Max from Sociology 201 class, she wondered where he was now all these years later having dropped out of school to go “find himself” after sophomore year and had not been heard from since, someone said Mexico the last anybody heard of his doings, called her “fetching,” meaning that her brand of prettiness, smarts and pleasing personality meant that she would not have to spent too many lonely nights by some midnight telephone. And whatever else she never had to sit by that dreaded midnight phone that even someone as popular as Frida, or better Dora Denny who was a social butterfly at Hunter had to deal with on occasion.
What she had going for her whether that fetching business was anything but bluster or the latest line of male “come on” which Max usually picked up very quickly was nice straight long dark brown hair which in those days, slave to fashion that she was, slave to folkie fashion after the “queen” of female folk singers Joan Baez got on the cover of Time and sent every girl with short hair or long to the dorm ironing board to emulate her (because every folkie guy would swoon uncontrollably when pretty straight long-haired girls passed by she had noticed in the coffeehouses). She had a pleasing body which when she usually felt comfortable with since she did not worry about the other fashion statement of the day razor thinness like ones you would see in all the fashion magazines which still were the way that young women caught the latest fashion statements whether they followed them or not, that Josie figured out where she belonged in the universe before the days when women’s liberation said “fuck all that.” More intriguingly, and guys would comment on the subject, one of her soft brown eyes was just ever so slightly cross-eyed and so she appeared like some exotic flower especially after a day at the beach when her brownish skin turned dark brown.
But her run of luck, maybe her fetching looks, maybe that slightly cross-eyed look turned evil-looking outside of campus life, something happened, seemed to sour out of the friendly confines of some campus, soured when she came to Boston to make her mark in the world, the world of sociology, really in the end social psychology, where she would begin her advanced degree programs, including a nice stipend after her first year’s Master’s program as an intern (along with the inevitable family treasury back in Manhattan supplementing that nice stipend, nice as far as academic stipends went, which would not pay for extras like clothes, trips home and away, and that car that she just absolutely needed to get to her clinical sites). Still after all these years not able to figure it out she returned to her list, her wistful list.
Variety Is The Spice Of Life, Maybe
You would be surprised, or might have been surprised if you were a certain age (funny expression that Josie’s mother had repeatedly used to cover up her age, or the ages of her friends, into a mishmash of just indeterminate mature women and now she was using that same expression to cover up her age, weren’t we supposed to have gotten over that in the enlightened 1960s when truth will out ruled the roads), at the kind of talk that you would find in girls’ lav, locker rooms, at female table, or on the ubiquitous phone, the telephone now the cellphone, about men, about sex and about what women would tell each other that would never cross over to the ears of men, even if they were with them for fifty years. Josie was thinking of the various times when just like the long straight black hair craze which Joan Baez started and which everybody who could was emulating making iron companies rich in the process, when peasant blouses were the height of fashion having sex with certain categories of men was a craze among some young women once they started to have sexual relations (called “going steady” in high school, “going out with” in college and “one night stands” in the post-graduate world).
In high school for Josie (and her friend Frida as well) it had started with just Jewish boys but that soon became wearisome when they had more neuroses that she did, came from that same stinking brown world that she came from (brown eyes, brown skin, brown hair, brown, brown). So the fad after that was to snag a Washington Square folk-singer (at least that was what Frida and the JAPs at Hunter College High were experimenting with), a rough-edged, raggedy muffin blue-eyed WASP was the goal (and she had got her wish, Frida too and some JAPs did too if the Monday morning girls’ lav rumors had any truth). What Josie didn’t know until much later, and Frida had heard the same from some guy she had gone out with, was those WASP folksingers were learning their three chord songs to snag pretty Jewish girls when they got tired of Muffy and Buffy WASP this and that out in the suburbs. Heard that Jewish girls were “easy” too so there.
Later in college, at Madison during the height of the civil rights movement, and a little after, it was black men, the blacker the better to check to see if it was true about their manhood size, their penises, and just to do it as a flavor of the month kind of thing. That “little after” part stopped things between black men and white women when black nationalism, the Panthers swept the imaginations of students but they also called on the “brothers” to be fruitful with their black sisters and keep the black nation alive and well and not go after honky women (which didn’t stop many of the brothers, brothers at Madison she knew from personal experience, from bedding white women, “easy” Jewish girls or blonder than blonde Swedish girls it did not matter- on the QT). There might have been other flavors of the month but between WASP folk-singers and black men she kept herself as busy in bed as she wanted.
But she was always willing in her dreams to explore further and when she arrived in Boston, a city that she thought was all Irish from what her parents had told her trying to dissuade her from going among the Irish Catholic heathens who still in their hearts believed that Jews had killed their Christ, their Messiah, she had thoughts of trying one out. Not the city-bred ones she had had enough of those black-hearts and drunks at Madison and in New York where some of the girls at Hunter had these awful red-faced snaggle-toothed Irish boyfriends who liked to swear and drink without end as young as they were. When she got into Boston by the early 1970s the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bravos were making noise over in Derry and other hotspots in the North (not Londonderry, not if you didn’t want an argument, a serious argument about British imperialism and naming thing their way in a foreign country not their own, male or female) and some under British ban were heading to Boston in exile, to lick their wounds or to raise funds for the “struggle.” And so her new flavor of the month, although if she had known what the end would be like she would have hunkered down with some poor Wasp folk-singer around Harvard Square or nice Jewish boy from Long Island like her mother always wanted for her.
So take Jack Donovan (please do), an Irishman who had only been in the country for a few months when she, curious about the night life in Boston ran into him at the Plough and Stars in Cambridge a favorite watering hole for the ex-pat Irish fleeing the turmoils in the old country. She, a Jewish girl from Manhattan via Hunter College High School, had fled that overwhelmingly sad city for Madison and now Boston, had been intrigued by his accent and by his winsome manner and although she knew nothing about his Irish heritage having been immersed in finding her own Jewish identity of late she had decided to take the ride, decided to see where things would lead. And for a while they were great, a few months of going out several nights a week to the Plough or some other Cambridge bar, lots of laughs and lots of singing, good times and pretty good sex.
Then the other shoe kind of dropped which Josie, the queen of social psychology and so supposed to know something of human nature in the raw should have seen it coming, Jack lost his job down at the docks where he had been an alternate (a B-man he called it as opposed to an A “steady” man who still had work) but there had been plenty of work which suddenly dried up and he began to drink more heavily, lost his small shabby room where he had to share a common bathroom on Beacon Hill and moved in with her. Got more morose as he could not find work, working class job work since he had left Cork without a high school diploma. Then the beatings started, at first just a belt to the shoulder or someplace soft and hidden but it hurt and she thought it was just his frustrations at not having a job and basically living off a woman although he never articulated the matter that way.
Then he belted her in the eye and she had had to stay in the apartment for a few days while the swelling went down and she was embarrassed when she went back to work and her girlfriends quizzed her about the residue black and blue around her eye and of course she lied, lied and said she had hit her eye on the eternal door. Said to herself that he hadn’t meant it, hadn’t been himself and for that one forlorn minute asked herself what would she do without him, how before the drink caught up with him, maybe his whole life caught up with him, he had loved her so. One night in a rage, loaded to the gills, smelling of vomit and whiskey he pummeled her which required her to go the hospital where she had to make a report, a police report, and while she did not want to be the reason Jack went to jail (and would later be deported after building a criminal record) she had no choice, she did not want to go on that way, for love or not. She was sour on men for a long time after that, was going to see her psychologist more often than once a week because after Jack lost his grip on her she was totally immersed in finding out why she had taken the beatings, why she had not left him high and dry after that first hard “meant it” punch toher shoulder that hurt for several days.
Down In The Dumps
After Jack, after Stan, Josie was shy around men for a while, wouldn’t you be if you had previously been a punching bag for gone losers, didn’t want to get involved playing the percentages of winding up with another wrong “gee” (an expression she had picked up from Stan who was addicted not only to sister cocaine but to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler 1930s hard-boiled detectives who did not see the irony of his own being a wrong gee when she mentioned that hard fact to him after the first time he swatted her), hell, had been afraid to get involved with almost anybody after the Jack black eye incidents, that on top of Stan’s abuse too, his made worse by the drugs which laid him low just when she was beginning to believe in men again, believe in Stan who knew so much about the blues that the words about doing his honey wrong must have sunk in to his brain, but she like a lot of women needed intimate relations with a man and so one day her friend Susie from the clinic where she worked introduced her to a guy whom Susie had known back in college at New York University, Jeff Goldman, whom Josie hit it off with right away. (Susie one of the voices she listened to when deciding that Jack would wind up a bum and who knows what would have happened to her if she had stayed with him any longer that she had and later that Stan’s drug habits were social psych 101 evidence that she needed to ditch him).
Both Jeff and Josie had cultural (a serious taste for art, Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism in particular), ethnic (both had been raised secular Jews, vanilla American assimilated Jews, who once the Holocaust, Shoah, began to be a topic for fit conversation rather than awful denial or something by their parents’ generation to be put aside and left unspoken were among those who wanted to know some Jewish history, know the shtetl, know Yiddish, know that Eastern European Jewish culture that their grandparents had fled in the dead of night from, fled from the ever present pogroms) and musical interests in common (he had tried out as a folk-singer in New Jersey, out in a Tenafly folk venue where they had “open mic” nights and later helped run a coffeehouse off McDougall Street while he was in college and we already know Josie’s long resume as an aficionado).
Jeff had told her from the beginning that he lived on Long Island and so would only be able to see her when he came to Boston on business (he ran a small accounting firm looking to get bigger, to expand into the Boston market where a lot of small high-tech geeks he called them and she knew what he meant needed stable financial help before they went belly-up no matter how cutting edge their ideas were, he told her where he could then see her more often was the hook he had used this time), or when he decided to take her on some whirlwind weekend in some secluded resort where they would have a great time. And they did going to places like the Bahamas when she mentioned to Jeff that she could use some sunshine one winter day, down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras on another jaunt, several romantic trips to San Francisco just to see the Golden Gate Bridge and eat some clams. Shorter trips closer to home too. Nice times, nice times indeed.
She slowly really did think that she was onto a guy who would treat her right, 100% right. Then the other shoe dropped, again. Jeff started making excuses for why he couldn’t see her, said he had business in Chicago, was making deals that required his serious time just then. She wondered a little about that since he had been so gung-ho about making a splash in the Boston market to be with her but she let it slide. When he called from Chicago or Los Angeles Josie would hear muted voices in the background and at first did not think anything of it but after three consecutive brush-off weekends she started to think he was having an affair with another woman and that she had better head for cover. She did not know how right she was when Jeff did finally come by to see her and after they had made love she and he had fallen asleep she fished through his wallet and found a photograph of his wife and two children smiling in front of their large Long Island home. Adieu, Jeff.
During Josie’s studies at Boston University as part of her doctoral program she had worked as a cross-discipline, multi-campus experiment for the summer at Harvard University for the famous Doctor Samuel Potter, academically famous anyway, who was the king hell king of the latest trends in sociology. The idea was to put the latest findings of empirical research in social psychology to the test, you know, stuff like if you put twenty people unknown to each other and who did not know each other’s individual profiles and personalities would you replicate the social divisions in existing society over time; whether there was an innate social desire to create an ordered world out of an anonymous mass. Josie’s input was to create the theoretical social psychological model that would support either conclusion. Exciting stuff at least in the world of academia, although life would have sorted the thing out easier and with no need to pile up more paper on the ocean of that material which already was afloat on such subjects.
Potter’s claim to fame on this whole project was that he had actually been granted a government subsidy from the Department of Defense back in the 1950s to do an experiment based on the negative conclusion of that premise, that people would create a new class society, and was continuing to subsidize his work while Josie was an intern(the source of the grants unknown to Josie whose anti-war views may have made her take some second thoughts about helping out the war machine then still very much involved with burning or otherwise trying to send the small country of Vietnam back to the Stone Age). The good Professor had been using the sparsely drawn conclusions from his work to lure ever fawning students to his studies since and had been filling up every possible academic journal which would publish him with his statistics despite the fact that about ten subsequent studies had showed his so-called definitive results were at best inconclusive.
Professor Potter had never paid much attention to Josie since her field was social psychology a field that despite this joint experiment he had determined was so much hot air and since he was bedding Susie, another intern, Josie’s closest friend in Boston then and was preoccupied with that hellion (Susie’s term about herself confessed one drunken night when she and Josie were both in the dumps after Josie had ditched Stan and she had made a play for Josie who was just too shattered to response to any sexual advances, male or female, then although later they did have a short fling but both decided that they needed a man, at least for their beds) until either he broke it off or Susie sensing that he was smoking way to much dope, doing too many lines of cocaine the new drug of choice among hipsters around Cambridge saw the writing on the wall. Whichever reason was correct, or if they were both correct, Professor Potter then honed in on Josie. (Later Susie confided to Josie that it was because the dope was making him a lousy lover and she began seeing an old boyfriend again who could deal with her urges, her hellion urges.)
Now in the world of academia this honing in process is something of an art form and here is how it worked, maybe still does even with almost forty years of women’s liberation to cut through the bullshit. Let’s just confine the observations to male professors, the vast majority on most faculties then, and high gloss professors like Potter worked the thing to a science. Professor Potter would personally interview and load up his intern staff with women, a little easier to do since sociology and social psychology acted as a magnet for young women wishing to make a name for themselves in academia or research. Of course the women he picked would be the kind that would be so excited to be working with the Professor Potter whom they had been required to read about in their 101 textbooks that he could have a field day with whomever he wanted and if nothing happened just move on. Or there might but a woman like Susie who had taken dead aim at the Professor figuring that for a few romps in the hay she could move up in the pecking order more quickly. Susie admitted as much to Josie when they first met and almost from day one she was on the good Professor’s trail. It didn’t hurt that he was pretty good looking and soft-spoken as well.
Josie was betwixt and between about the Professor, Sam as he insisted she call him since as he put it in that pseudo-democratic way some men in authority have, they were colleagues not professor and intern, not in his offices, because she really was ready to be off men for a while, wanted to get that dissertation she was about half way through done but he began to make it clear that she had better pay attention to him if she wanted any kind of career in the profession. This in the days before such behavior against female subordinates was strictly off-limits, and even then if Josie or any young woman had pressed the issue, and not every woman would, she would have had said professor in front of a very big carpet complete with rack, and maybe a noose. So she dabbled with the good professor, took his threats seriously until one day after she had not seen him for a week Susie called and told her on the QT that Professor Potter had flipped out on some hell-bent mixture of dope and hubris and had been checked into posh McClean’s Hospital in Belmont until further notice.
Josie’s reaction, after all that had happened to her, was that she felt sorry for him, hoped things worked out. They didn’t as the family held him in seclusion for a number of years afterward and Josie was not quite sure what had become of him except that he was no longer the king hell king of the latest trends in sociology, especially after it came out that the experiment that he had initiated in the 1950s had been compromised since about half the subjects, gathered through a university-wide ad, had known each other a question that the good Professor had not bothered to ask about in his interviews and only came out because one of the subjects was in McClean’s with Potter and spilled the beans in the patient’s lounge and some sharp-witted young doctor overheard the conversation.
A half a dozen years later now safely in the profession, now with the designation name doctor in front of her name and after having at most had a few dates with men after the litany of failures, of dead-beats and the cruel, nothing substantial, noting that ever worked out past a few dinners and concerts, nothing that would have led anywhere she met the human dynamo, Peter Grogan. A financier he called himself when she had met him at Jack’s where she occasionally stopped for a solo bar stool drink before heading home after a busy and trying day setting up the first group of contracts for consulting work with some local universities and colleges as a reward for that doctor designation that she hoped would finally pay off after abandoning first love, English lit and second love sociology. It had been a while since she would go to Jack’s with a date, or fellow workers to see what new small stage acts were working out their routines before heading to bigger venues, or bust since the demise of an active and larger enough folk scene to make it worthwhile for the ownership of Jack’s, Jack himself to book such acts. That dynamo part was right since he swept her off of her feet with the force of his personality.
Half Irish wit, half smooth operator, half, wait a minute that is too many half, so part guy who knew two thousand facts about lots of things, and a little about her bailiwick social psychology although that would only come out later after he was long gone. That was Peter Grogan in a nutshell. He did not come on strong though, was rather tentative about asking if the seat next to hers was open, it was and so were half the seats at the bar so there was a little mischief brewing in her when she said yes. Maybe it was just her time to get back in the ring but she fell hard for him like some drunken sailor pining for some faraway hometown girl. That took a while though since that is where the Peter smooth part came in. He hooked her by being the very soul of modesty, she had had to when they time came nudge him into her bed (she wasn’t aware until later that his preoccupations were not about sex but about other things and so bedding her was presumably far down on his list-smooth though on its face since Josie had decidedly given up on rushing to bed with every guy who did not seem going in the sheets like a mass murderer).
Here ’s where things went awry though after several months, after he had hooked her good, Peter kept insisting that he could set her up with a nice institute, a place where she could do all the research she wanted. Naturally a person, a woman with limited personal resources looking to break from the parental financial stranglehold which they held over her like a sword would listen attentively to such an offer, an offer which dovetailed with her dreams. Here’s the come on though, although having very little experience with serious con men she was not wise to that world when he said he just needed some dough to tide him over on a deal and could she lend him some few thousands to close the deal and then they would be as he said “in the clover.”
She, the fool, took his words as good coin and lent the bum the dough even though it would take a serious chunk out of her cash reserves. And lent more money a couple more times until her account and stocks (given by her father to be saved for a rainy day) were almost depleted. Even then he had flim-flammed her enough that she was not suspicious when that deal that was supposed to be a piece of cake to close kept keeping more, rather than less, complicated. Then while she was away at a two week conference/retreat in San Francisco she let Peter use her place while she was gone, for a business deal he said which couldn’t be concluded at his office, or his home. When she came back from Frisco the whole place had been denuded of every saleable item, and to boot Peter had tried to sell the condo she owned to some poor snook who gave him a $5000 down payment. When they caught up with Peter in Rhode Island it turned out the only financing he was doing was financing various losing horses at local race tracks with whoever’s money he could grab (well over a quarter million dollars at least that was the total from those who were not too embarrassed to keep quiet about their loses).
Yeah, Josie sighed as she bundled up Peter’s debris, a few clothes, a couple of books, some utensils, to be thrown away in the garbage with her love, she had crumbled up a thousand man thoughts over her life to find one truth-a good man is hard to find, very hard to find.