Trippin’ Through The ’70s Chapter Five
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 17, 2008
Sean found a room to rent, from an Indian doctor, closer to the University where he worked and attended classes. For twelve dollars a week, it was OK, he thought. He shared the upstairs floor with a real quiet cabdriver, John, who mostly watched TV or sat in a stuffed chair by the window overlooking the street, newspaper in hand, and a strange little old lady who always wore white gloves, expensive-looking dresses, lots of makeup, and a puffed out hairdo. A smell of Indian spices drifted up from Dr. Thakkar’s kitchen all the time, but, the aloof Dr. Thakkar never offered the use of it. Without a kitchen upstairs, Sean would eat out on paydays, and then he lived on peanut butter and jam sandwiches and jars of grapefruit slices. The little old lady, Just-call-me-May, had a hotplate in her room for tea, and hundreds of mementos of her life. There was a silver tea set, and knickknacks, and clocks, and framed pictures, and more things that Sean thought possible to cram into one tiny room. She was friendly and nice, but even older than Sean’s grandmother. He couldn’t believe anyone could be that old. She was wrinkled and wattled, and smelled old. The cabdriver never talked, and May talked too much, so Sean spent most of his time alone, reading or studying.
The machine clattered along, pap-a-pa-pap, pap-a-pa-pap, ching, pap-a-pa-pap, sometimes for fifteen to twenty minutes, unattended, which gave Sean time to wander through the lab. He spent eight hours a day there, turning dials, flipping switches, and moving an x-ray detector back and forth. The machine he operated could measure the physical length of an x-ray, or it could use those values to measure the spaces between atoms in a crystal of some mineral. It had all seemed very exciting to Sean, fresh out of high school, but the novelty was wearing thin. Every day he moved dials along the “great circle” at the base of the instrument, and pressed buttons to send information to the teletype, which punched out coded rows of holes – pap-a-pa-pap – in rolls of pink or purple or yellow paper. He took these rolls to the computing center at the end of every day; a machine there turned them into piles of rectangularly holed punch cards. He added a small stack of cards to the top of the stack. That was the program to interpret, average and print the data points he’d collected all day. He left the stack of cards there on a counter, to be fed by hand into the great computer, which would turn it into rows of data points, averaged and printed in tabular format.
Wandering through the lab, he came upon the glass case where the bomb fuses developed for World War II were on display. These were not the kind of fuses one could light, but instead were clever mechanical devices that used a mercury switch to prevent an artillery shell from exploding too soon. After that war, Sean’s boss had turned to measuring x-rays. Dr. Bearden was out of the lab, as he often was. Sean went into his office to look around.
The molecular models were interesting, but the bookshelves were even more so. There were stacks of papers dealing with Dr. Bearden’s research into the nature and use of x-rays, and papers on a variety of topics in Physics. A high school kid could think up some of these, Sean thought. With a Physics book in one hand, and a funding request in the other, he could imagine himself making a career out of Physics research. I want to investigate what would happen if I did this to that, under these conditions, he fantasized. Growing the perfect Crystal, by Sean Lee Emmet. Or, The Structure of Compound X, by Dr. S.E. Emmet. It wouldn’t be too hard, he imagined. But how much of all this goes into new and better weapons? he asked himself. I’m going to be just as much a part of the war machine as anyone in ROTC, or the people in the weapons factories. Why does this war just go on and on?
Even without Lenny’s interference, his relationship with Plask never went any further. One day he received a letter from her, a Dear-Sean letter. He ripped the envelope open. On the top was a nude sketch of herself. Sean stared at it. He had never seen her nude. It was a good likeness of her face, so the rest of it looked to be accurate too. Under it was written, in a banner trailing under the feet: “All I want from living is to have no chains on me.” Next to that was neatly printed: “Look at me. 18, Naive, and Vulnerable,” The rest of the page was written in a clear, flowing script. Sean read down to the end of the page. She had written that Sean was too serious, that she didn’t want to be tied down, and that, “I think it’s for the best if we don’t see each other anymore.” Sean read the letter again, and traced the nude with his fingertips. Then he called her.
“Oh. Hi Sean,” she answered, lightly. Sean hoped she would say that she wasn’t serious.
“I wondered, Plask, why you don’t want to see me anymore?”
“Oh, you got my letter?”
“Well, I tried to explain. I thought you would understand.”
“No. I don’t. I want to see you, to talk to you.”
“That’s not a good idea, Sean.”
“Look, Plask, I need to see you. Can’t you explain it to me in person? I don’t understand.”
“Well, alright. Can you come over to my grandma’s?”
“How about Saturday?”
“Just this once, Sean.”
Sean got off the bus, and walked over to Plask’s grandmother’s. He had never been there before. The neighborhood seemed unusually quiet, until the dogs started barking. Sean imagined that everyone was looking at him from behind their curtains. As he walked up to the door, he could hear yelling: “God damn it, I’m her father. She’ll do what I want, not what you say.” Sean hesitated. The yelling moved away from the door. He knocked.
“Who the hell is that,” Plask’s father yelled. Sean heard Plask say: “I’ll get it,” but her father yanked the door open. His face was beet-red, and his eyes glared accusation.
“What do you want?” he demanded of Sean.
“I came for, uh, Susan?” Mr. Plaskowitz turned and yelled for her, and left the door open. Plask came to the door and motioned for Sean to go out into the yard. “I’ll be right outside, daddy,” she called in, and she closed the door behind herself.
“What’s going on, Plask?”
“You came at a bad time. You heard my father yelling?”
“Hard to miss.”
“We’ve been fighting.”
“Why?” Sean asked, and they sat down on the iron lawn chairs.
“I can’t explain. My father is the reason I moved away from my house. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Should I leave?”
“No. Oh, no. Let’s talk out here.”
“Plask, I don’t understand. Why is it exactly that you don’t want to see me?” Sean asked, desperate to hear a reason, any reason. Just then her father came out. He walked clumsily over to Sean, and Sean smelled alcohol, lots of it.
“You stay the hell away from my daughter.”
“Listen, you long-haired punk,” Sean’s hair just covered the back of his shirt collar, but Plask’s father grabbed it and jerked him to his feet. “I don’t like you, and I don’t want you coming around here, understand?”
Sean was confused. He wanted to punch this drunk in the face, get his clammy hands off of him, but, It’s Plask’s father. She’d never forgive me. He tried to pull away, but his hair was wrapped tight in the older man’s fist.
“Daddy!” Plask screamed at him, and he released his grip. He turned toward her, fists clenched. Sean moved to intercept him. He’s toast if he touches her, he thought.
Her father pointed a finger at her, “I’ll talk to you later.” He turned back to Sean and told him to “Get off my property.” Then, the old woman, Plask’s grandmother, and the mother of this strange man who so little resembled the man Sean had met earlier, came outside and talked to him by the door for a few minutes. Sean looked over at Plask, but she avoided his eyes. “You’ve got five minutes,” Mr. Plaskowitz yelled over.
“Jesus,” Sean said softly, “What was that all about?”
“Let’s go for a walk, OK?”
Sean took Plask’s hand while they walked. His hand was sweaty around her cool fingers. “Plask?” he began.
And Plask cut him off with, “Sean, I’m sorry about my father.”
“Oh, that’s OK,” he answered her, “I think I understand.”
“No, I don’t think you do.”
Sean stopped, took hold of Plask’s other hand, and looked at her. He looked at her lips, compressed into thin determined lines, and he shuddered. He felt alone, and hurt. He pressed her hands tight and looked into her eyes. She looked back at him, and he thought he saw the face of the happy, lively coed he’d first danced with. He could almost feel the impression of her lips on his and her arms around his neck. Her eyes are such a beautiful brown, he thought, and so friendly, so alive. He wanted to kiss her eyes, but she suddenly looked away. “What do you mean?” he asked her.
“You don’t understand family, Sean,” Plask said, turning to him.
“Didn’t you tell me that you don’t want to see your parents anymore?”
“Well, yes, but I don’t see – ”
“How can I explain it to you?” she asked. “Don’t you see? My family is important to me. My priorities are too different from yours. I can’t be that way with my parents.”
“Doesn’t look as though you’re getting along real well.”
“That’s family business. But we’ll take care of it. Do you understand how different we are?”
“No. I don’t. That’s the way my father is too.”
“Sean, we can’t see each other anymore, OK?”
“Well, no. It’s not OK. But if that’s what you want, I don’t think I have much choice. Can I call you?” he asked.
“I don’t think that would be good idea. Look, Sean, I told you that I had a boyfriend who went to school in Michigan?”
“Well, he’s wants me to come up there.”
“Maybe, I don’t know. But even if I stay here, he doesn’t want me to see anyone else. You do understand, don’t you?”
“Sean, I have to go. I have to get back. Good-bye,” she said, and she kissed Sean lightly on his lips. He kissed her cheek and she turned and ran back to her house. Her cheek had been wet, and Sean couldn’t forget the salty taste that remained on his lips from her cheek. He started walking towards the bus stop, but later on that night, as he was undressing for bed, he suddenly realized that he couldn’t remember what bus he had taken or who had been on it.
Sean wasn’t a quitter, however. Fantasia, with Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, was playing in movie theaters at the time. Sean hadn’t ever thought to ask Plask to see it because it was a kid’s flick, but now he called his mom.
“Hey, I was wondering is the kids would want to go see a movie with me.”
“Probably. What movie?”
“That new Disney movie? Fantasia? ”
“Well, it’s OK with me. I’ll ask them. Hang on. Kathy! Karen! Brian! Betsy! Get in here!”
Sean could hear her talking to them. They got excited. They missed their big brother a lot, and he didn’t visit. He missed them too.
“OK, they’re excited. How are you going to take them?”
“Oh, I think my girlfriend will drive us.”
“A girlfriend, huh? ”
“That’s all you’ve saying?’
Sean called Plask the next day.
“Listen a minute, OK?”
“I want to take my sisters and youngest brother to see Fantasia. I can’t take them on the bus, and I really want to spend some time with them. This is real important to me. Would you be willing to take all of us?”
“Well, I guess.”
“Great!” How about Saturday afternoon?”
“That’ll work. I have time if we go early. You know, I’ve been wanting to see that myself.”
“There’s a show at 3:00. I can meet you at your grandmother’s house.”
“No, that’s OK, Sean. I’ll pick you up.”
Saturday came, and Sean was as excited as he could get. Maybe there’s still a chance, he thought. Plask drove him to his parent’s house, but waited in the car. “We have to hurry, Sean,” she said. “If I go in we’ll end up being late.”
They were ready. Betsy jumped right up on Sean, clumsily. Sean didn’t know what to make of that. He didn’t think they’d been that close, since she was the youngest. She gotten bigger in the last year, and he couldn’t just pick her up like a baby. She calmed down. Kathy and Karen looked excited. Brian was a little sullen looking, but he wasn’t going to miss out on something the others did. It was, after all, an adventure. They’d never gone anywhere before without the parents around.
They drove downtown. Sean introduced everyone. None of the kids said more than hello. Like Sean, they’d been trained to not talk to strangers, or ever discuss family business outside the home. They seemed surprised to see Sean with someone else, but didn’t have much to say. No one in that family ever talked much. Plask seemed animated and really happy to be around the kids. Sean was ecstatic. He hoped to sit next to Plask at the movie, hold her hand, maybe put his arm around her, but she shooed all the kids in behind her so they had all four kids sandwiched between them. After the movie, they drove the kids back to their home. She and Sean drove away together. Sean asked if she wanted to go get something to eat, or maybe some ice cream.
“I can’t, Sean. I really have to get home now. I’ve got studying to do. And my boyfriend is going to be calling, so I need to be home when he calls.”
Sean was crushed. He had hoped and hoped beyond reason. He looked at her, and sadness spilled out across his face.
“Look, Sean, I told you we can’t see each other anymore. I agreed to help you see your brothers and sisters, but that’s all. ”
“But, but you said family was real important to you. Family is real important to me too. I wanted to show you.”
“Sean, Sean, Sean. Is that what this was all about?”
“Well, I really wanted to see you. And, I do love my brother and sisters.”
“Sean, I don’t want to talk about it anymore, OK.”
She dropped him off at his apartment. No kiss. He never saw her again. Except. Except, one night, many years later, long after Star Trek had been resurrected as Star Trek: The Next Generation, he happened to catch the closing credits on an old repeat, and one of the Klingon women was played by a Susie Plakson. He looked up the actor on the internet, but couldn’t find any information about her except for her appearance on that Star Trek episode. They did, however, have a picture of the Klingon character she had played. It just might be, he thought but the alien makeup was thick and dark. Damn, but she looks good, if that’s her. I’ll never know. Plask, Plask, Plask. If only, if only.
UPDATE: Found out who played the Klingon woman, and there’s no way it could have been my Susan Plaskowitz. Internet searches come up empty for her , so I’ll never know what happened to her, or what she did with her life.