Sean was in love – not, however, with Lenny, but with Lenny’s friends, especially Kathleen. He knew now that Lenny was gay, and that he wanted to share more than an apartment, yet he didn’t feel threatened by that. Life had suddenly become an adventure, a big party-cum-camping trip for Sean. Never having had friends who weren’t brothers or sisters or cousins, Sean was having the time of his life. There were parties and trips to the beach with Lenny’s college buddies, who seemed to accept Sean right away. The beach was suddenly a lot more fun. There were Frisbees to catch, and balls to bounce back and forth over nets and rock ‘n roll: funky, loud, and full of sexual rhythm. Sean loved it all.
There was Scott, who played the best Scrabble games Sean had ever seen. He missed the games he had played for so many years with his brother John. Scott, a grad student in economics, took the game seriously, plunking down seven-letter words several times a game, and teaching Sean how to go for the big scores.
Bill and Lucy were married, but they threw the best damn parties Sean had ever been to. Bill, a phone company engineer, played Alice’s Restaurant on his guitar, and everybody sang. Sean didn’t go home for Christmas that year, he went to Bill and Lucy’s, learned how to string popcorn and cranberries, and helped un-trim the tree of miniature bottles of Chianti, Seagrams-7, or Jack Daniels.
Jim was the strangest of the group. He was in the Air force, and had flown helicopters in Nam. The stories he told convinced Sean never to go there. Jim would show up at most parties with a supply of Jimi Hendricks’ albums – ‘Scuse me while I curse the sky – get as stoned as possible, and just sit in a corner playing air guitar. Sean wanted to know about Vietnam.
“You know how they interrogate prisoners?” Jim would start off with, “We would take suspected VC…”
“What’s a VC?”
“Vietcong. The communists, ya’ know? Well, the Lieutenant would have us take villagers up, and hang ’em out the door until they talked. You should have seen ’em squirm, and beg, and pee themselves.”
“And what if they didn’t talk?” Sean asked.
“Then he would kick ’em off anyway. Some of the guys just loved to watch the gooks go splat.”
“But what,” Sean asked, “if he or she weren’t VC? or if they didn’t know anything?”
“Then they got dropped anyway. The next guy we took up would usually talk.”
Jim said he’d never go back there again, and he wanted to get out, but “the Air Force still has my ass for a while.”
There was no escaping the war those days, and Sean knew he could still be drafted. He was going to have to decide what to do pretty damn soon.
But right now, what Sean really loved to do was go to Kathleen’s parties. She was brash and beautiful, with long brown hair flowing over a lean sensual body. Sean loved to watch her dance. She was a librarian. She wrote poetry. Her favorite musical groups were the Doors, and Simon and Garfunkel, so Sean bought their music and became a fan. She was a reader too, and he read the books she read. At a party one night, she exhaled a lungful of smoke from the joint passing around and told Sean: “Hey man, I’ve got a book you should read.” It was Atlas Shrugged, and he immediately became a fan of Ayn Rand: champion of absolute individual freedom. He visited Kathy, discussing individualism, and Capitalism, and the war in Vietnam, but she didn’t take Sean’s attentions very seriously. She considered him “still wet behind the ears,” and besides, she was in love with Brian. Brain, a teacher, was engaged to be married to Margaret. Kathy didn’t like that much, but she lived in a fantasy world where she was Scarlett O’Hara, and Brian was Ashley, who really loved her, not the woman he was marrying.
Sean was part of this family now.
“What’s wrong with you Sean? Don’t you know Kathy’s in love with Brian?” Lenny was fond of reminding Sean.
“Yeah, but I think she’s great.”
“Um, well, maybe because she’s a beautiful, long-legged, college-educated, beer-drinking poet.”
“You’re a hopeless case.”
“Maybe. Are you any better?”
“Oooh, you’re a nasty one, aren’t you?”
“You’re strange, Lenny.”
“I’m strange? And just who are you? You don’t even know what your future is, much less care.”
“I’m know I’m not going to Vietnam.”
“Why don’t you get out of it? Couldn’t you get a letter from your doctor or something?”
“Maybe. But I don’t think that’s the way to do it.”
“Then what is?”
“I don’t know. Revolution maybe.”
“Revolution? You shouldn’t talk that way, the walls have ears. You want to overthrow the government?”
“Why not? It sucks. The air’s polluted, rivers and lakes are dying – hell, the Patapsco River is dead – and the land is being sterilized by chemical fertilizers. Our food is not even safe to eat anymore.”
“That’s no reason to overthrow the government.”
“It’s not? You want more? Look at all the people dying in Vietnam. What about racism, and poverty? Our own government’s part of the problem.”
“Jesus Christ! You’re a nihilist!” Lenny’s face was turning red.
“What’s that?” Sean asked.
“What?” Lenny was pacing the room, but he turned to Sean and said: “You mean you haven’t read Nietzsche?”
“No, I haven’t. Who’s that? Somebody you read about in college? And I’m supposed to be all impressed?”
Lenny pointed a finger at Sean, “He’s one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived, and you never heard of him?” He started waving his hands in the air and shouting. “You don’t know anything about the world. You don’t know who runs things, or the power they have. You’re going to change the world, and you can’t even get laid.” He started pounding his fists on the table for emphasis. “You’re so incredibly naïve.”
“And you’re psychotic.”
Lenny reached over and grabbed Sean, and they rolled onto the floor and wrestled for a few minutes. They started laughing, but Sean suddenly realized that Lenny wasn’t just playing around. He was using the wrestling as an excuse to get his hands on Sean, and Sean pushed him off.
Sure I’m a virgin, Sean thought, but I’m not desperate. He was getting nervous living with Lenny. He wasn’t sure if he could trust him any more.
Sean finally met someone at a mixer. His job, in a research lab, was at a rich private university, Johns Hopkins University, and the mixer was for its freshman students and the students of an exclusive women’s college, Goucher. Sean took a bus out to the dance, which was at the women’s school. He was anxious to meet someone by now, and he was hoping that he could overcome his shyness. When he arrived, however, he saw that people had formed into cliques, and none of the women wanted to dance or talk with him. He was about to despair, feeling out-of-place and stupid amongst these rich-kid elites, when he noticed the girl playing the records. She kept changing the music, and urging people to dance. Sean watched her ponytail bobbing as she bounced around the room. She didn’t appear to be with anyone.
He forced his legs into action, and went over to her. “I like the music you’re playing,” was all he could think to say.
“Let’s dance,” she urged, smiling. Her name was Sue Plaskowitz, and she wore a Russian peasant blouse over faded blue jeans. “Call me Plask,” she said, “Everyone does.”
Sean was fascinated. She played great rock and roll, and she danced with a fervor that exited Sean as much as her erect nipples showing through her blouse. After awhile someone else took over as DJ, so he and Plask took a break for air. They walked along the grounds and Sean tried to think of something to say. Nice moon, he thought of saying, and, I like the way it shines on your face. But he didn’t say it. Too corny, he told himself.
Plask helped him out: “Hey, have you ever seen Hair?”
“No, I never did. I wanted to, but it’s kind of hard to get away to New York just to see a play.”
“Well, you know what? I’ve got the ‘pink’ album.”
“Everybody calls it the pink album. It’s the original cast recording.”
“Do you have it here?”
“No, but I have it in my room.”
“Well, let’s go listen to it.”
“Oh, no, we’re not allowed to take men to our rooms,” she whispered conspiratorially, “Why don’t we go to your place?”
Sean was surprised, more like shocked. He never would have thought to even ask her. He had, after all, come on a bus. “Sure,” he said, “But you know, I took the bus out here.”
“That’s OK, I have a car.”
Again, Sean was taken aback. She’s beautiful, sexy, and she has a car! I would have been happy if she’d just agreed to date. I hope Lenny stays out late like he usually does.
They put the record on as soon as they got to the apartment, and sat down on opposite ends of the couch.
“I like the songs,” Sean said, “They’re not the same as the one’s I’ve heard.”
“That’s because it’s the original cast, before it went on Broadway. The songs changed after that.”
“I never heard this one,” Sean began.
…a planet where the air is pure, the river water’s crystal bright…
“Doesn’t sound like this planet.”
…total beauty, total health. No government, no police, no wars, no crime, no hate.
“Sounds nice,” Sean said, “I wish it could be true.”
“Well, there’s all this pollution, racism, and this damn war the government keeps throwing money and bodies away on.”
“Will you be drafted, Sean?”
“Of corpse,” Sean said, but Plask didn’t laugh. “They’ve got me down as 1-A: grade A US-prime cannon fodder.”
“Can’t you get a deferment?”
“How? I only take a couple night classes, I can’t afford to go full-time. Even if I could, I hear the government’s going to start drafting students.”
“Will you go if they draft you?” Plask looked concerned. Sean felt like he was getting somewhere, she had moved a little closer.
“No way. I don’t think the government has the right to be fighting this war, or even drafting me.”
“Couldn’t you be a conscientious objector?”
“Nah, that’s only for religious people. You’ve got to be Quaker, or something like that. Seems like most religions support the war anyway, you know, ‘God is on our side’, and all that crap.”
“Sean, what will you do?”
“God, I don’t know.” Sean moved closer to Plask. She was leaning closer, and Sean’s arm was on the couch behind her. The record finished, and the stereo clicked off. Sean put his arm around her and pulled her close, but she pulled away and sat up.
“Uh, not so fast, Sean.”
“I’ll put another record on, OK?” Sean asked.
“I have to go soon.”
“This is a record I like a lot. Surrealistic Pillow.”
“Yeah. It’s great. I’m gonna turn the sound up.” He turned the lights way down and sat as close to Plask as he could. He put his arm around her, and leaned back. She relaxed as well, and the Airplane sang: Don’t you want Somebody to love?
“So what if they draft you?”
Sean put his head back. “Do you think I should go to Canada?”
“What choice would you have?”
“I could go to jail.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“I wouldn’t, believe me. Did you hear about those priests?”
“Yeah. The ones that poured blood on draft files?”
“More than that. They made napalm from a recipe in a government handbook, and then they burned draft files with it. I liked that, it was real symbolic, you know, it’s the same stuff our troops are burning people with.”
“Well, it does seem like a better use for it.”
“Sure does. Anyway, I think if they could be prepared to go to jail for their beliefs, then so could I.”
“I hope they never call you to go,” Plask said, and she leaned against Sean. The album got softer and slower, as the Airplane played a love ballad.
Today, I feel like pleasing you, more than before.
Today, I know what I want to do, but I don’t know what for.
To be living for you, is all I want to do.
To be loving you, it’ll all be there when my dreams come true.
Sean brought his hand close to Plask’s face. Her hair seemed erotic between his fingers. He stroked her cheek and felt heat on his hand. Plask felt her face flush. Sean kissed her.
“Oh, hi!” Lenny said, as he flipped on the lights. He took in the scene on the couch and grinned. “Well, who’s this?” Plask pulled away and sat up as if she’d had an ice-cube down her blouse.
“This is, uh, Susan,” Sean said, “Sue, my roommate, Lenny.”
“Nice to meet you,” Plask said, “Sean, I really have to go now.” She grabbed her album and headed for the door.
“Wait. I’ll walk down with you. Let’s go this way.” They walked down the back stairs, which was really just the fire escape. “Private entrance,” Sean said, and, “Do you have to go right away?”
“Well, no, I suppose I could stay a few minutes.” They got in her white Dodge Valiant. Sean noticed a peace symbol in her rear window. He reached over and kissed her again. This time they didn’t stop until they had to breathe. Sean pulled Plask over onto his lap.
“Why do boys always want girls to sit on them?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Doesn’t it feel good?”
“Well, it’s alright.” She put her arms around him. They kissed again, and again. Sean closed his eyes, and felt his body warming. Plask’s body felt so good against him. He felt comforted and loved, and alive. But Plask did have to go home, and they kissed one more time, and once again and said good night. Sean got out of the car and came around to the driver’s side. He said good night and kissed Plask again.
As he climbed the stairs, Sean found the answer to Plask’s question. My pants are wet. Jesus Christ! I creamed in my jeans! Lenny was waiting for him in the kitchen.
“What happened, Sean? Did I scare cutie-pie away?”
“Jesus! What did you have to turn the lights on for?”
“Did I interrupt something, Sean? I’m so sorry.”
“You know you did, and you’re not.”
“Aw, that’s too bad, Sean. Did your little girl leave you all horny? I can take care of that.”
“Fuck you, asshole.”
“Ooh, I’d like that. I like assholes, don’t you? Does your little girl like it in the ass?”
“Shut up, damn you!” Sean shouted, and went to bed. It wasn’t the last time they would fight.
Sean and Plask continued to see each other. She invited him to have Thanksgiving dinner with her family, and drove him to her parent’s suburban home.
“How come you aren’t having dinner with your parents, Sean?”
“Shit. Why would I do that? I’m glad to be out of there.”
“I don’t understand that. I’d always want to be with my family on holidays. The only reason I moved in with my grandma is because it’s closer to school.”
Sean was impressed by dinner. He’d never had champagne before, and he was surprised that everyone drank, even Plask’s younger brother. As he expected, Plask’s father asked him about his job, and his studies.
“I’m interested in chemistry. It may take a while,” he told Mr. Plaskowitz, “but I intend to go to night school until I can afford to go full-time.”
“But you do intend to get your degree?”
“Of course,” Sean said, and something about the way Plask’s dad asked questions suddenly made him aware that he was being sized up as a potential son-in-law. I haven’t even known Plask that long. I wonder what she’s said about me?”
Plask drove Sean home after a couple helpings of pumpkin pie. She told her parents that they were going to see a play. They went to Sean’s apartment, to his room. He shut the door, and put a Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash record on:
Lay lady lay, lay across my big brass bed
Stay lady stay, stay with your man awhile
You can have your cake and eat it too
Why wait any longer for the one you love
When he’s standing in front of you.
They were sitting on the bed, and it didn’t take long for them to ease down into horizontal hold. They’d never had so much time alone before, and the champagne was helping to overcome their nervousness. Sean’s hands roamed over Plask’s supple body and she pressed herself closer to him. Their lips were squeezed together, and they tickled each other’s tongues, slowly probing and searching and experimenting with sensations.
“Hi guys! What’s happening?” It was Lenny, who knew exactly what was happening, since he’d been standing outside the door, and had thrown it open, pretending nonchalance. Plask stiffened in Sean’s arms and pulled away. Again! Sean thought. Lenny stood in the doorway. “Did you guys have a nice dinner?” he asked, and he kept on talking, as if everyone were just having a friendly little chat. Plask made her excuses and left. Sean was pissed.
“Why did you do that?”
“Do what? I was just trying to be polite. Didn’t you want me to talk to your honey?”
“Look, you stay the hell out of my life. Don’t you ever come into my room like that again.”
“No. This is my place. I found it, I paid the damage deposit, and I invited you here. I’ll come into this room anytime I want, in fact, I think I’ll come in now.” Lenny reached for Sean, and tried to put his arms around him. He was feeling horny now, after having eavesdropped on Sean and Plask. Sean pushed him off and punched him. Lenny put his arm up and Sean hit him again, and again, and even as Lenny backed off into his own room, Sean hit him, and was about to hit him again when he noticed that Lenny wasn’t even trying to defend himself. Lenny’s arms were over his face. He was whimpering, mumbling something that sounded like “mommy” to Sean, so he stopped and looked down at this huge bulk of a man huddled into a corner. He pitied him, and dropped his arms, gradually unclenching his fists.
“You just stay the hell away from me,” Sean yelled back at him as he turned away. He slammed the door to his room and locked it.
“I’m going for the police,” Lenny said a few minutes later, and he slammed the front door of the apartment on his way out. Some time later he came back in. He knocked on Sean’s open door.
“Sean. Sean. Hey, I’m sorry. You’re not mad at me, are you?”
Sean decided not to answer that one, so he asked: “So where’d you go to anyway?” Lenny looked at Sean and smiled.
“Oh, I just drove around. And I met somebody. Ooh, he was so nice. I like those young boys with their long blonde hair.”
“Where’d you find him?”
“You picked him up off the street?”
“Sure. I always do. We had a great time.”
“Where? In your car?”
“Why do you think I have such a big car? Eh, little one?”
“I thought your parents gave it to you?”
“Yeah, but they drove me down to the lot, and I got to pick out the one I liked.” Lenny turned and looked out the window, pointing out the car.
“Nice,” Sean said. The car was big, but hideous.
“Why didn’t your parents give you one, huh? Huh?”
“Because they have six other kids and hardly enough money as it is. That’s why.”
Lenny left the window, and walked over to Sean. “You need money? I’ve got money. I’ll give you the same I gave him, more, if you want.”
Sean stared. “You paid him?”
“You’re strange,” Sean said, “But to each his own, huh?”
I’m looking for another place, tomorrow, he thought.