On the Bus to New York

By E.S.White

It had been quite the party, once again. Jonny Woods drove through his hangover to the bus stop in front of the department store by the only McDonalds in New Hope. Riding shotgun was Gus Knight, who lived in nearby Solebury, and in the back was Ben Covington from Denver. It was late October 1982. The three young men had been spending the short ride from Gus’ house in Solebury to nearby New Hope joking around trying to lay claim to the worst hangover. 

Gus and Jonny compared their present situations to Ben’s hangover description of being similar to the experience of being stuck inside of a Blue Whale Cow’s hot and wet vagina during mating season, fighting off Bull Blue Whale phallus thrusts and holding one’s breath while being showered with what must be buckets of Whale jism. Jonny described his hangover as being nothing less than being dropped into a public toilet in China with Chairman “Dung’s” revolutionary army soldiers repeatedly dropping their intestinally processed sweet and sour, stirred fried, steaming dumplings on him, while loudly screaming “Wei renmin fu!”

None of them had had any experience with Blue Whale vagina squatting. However, they had a friend who had just spent a year in China and had graphically described the smell and filth of public toilets in Beijing. He had also told them of the cacophonous practice of revolutionary soldiers lining up in the Forbidden City, waiting for their turn to scream “Wei renmin fu,” meaning “Serve the People.” This act of communist devotion occurred nightly, with companies of young soldiers, individually, one after another, loudly into a microphone to be broadcast  by loudspeaker throughout the evening. It was a competition in sincerity with each young soldier displaying his true measure by trying to be louder than the one who screamed before him. 

Gus had a more sophisticated style of metaphor making, in that he stayed clear of sexual or scatological lower body referencing. Instead he likened his hangover experience to being forced to live in a oven and jackhammer store. His store had all ovens all turned on to the highest temperature. The jack hammers were turned on to full speed while hanging in display from the ceiling, but low enough to hammer an impenetrable and unbreakable concrete flooring. They finally all agreed to respect each other’s descriptions of hangover hells with no one being declared the winner, or loser.

The weekend was over and Gus and Ben were heading back on a Sunday afternoon to New York City to start classes at Columbia again on Monday morning. The bus left at four thirty and was to arrive in the city sometime before seven. Jonny was the only guy with a car so he was usually tasked with chauffeuring his drinking buddies around. He didn’t like the situation, but what could he do. He also had the biggest bank account among the three, and actually the other two never had more than one hundred dollars in their account even after receiving their college work-study checks every two weeks. Since none of them were twenty-one years old they had once again driven over the bridge to New Jersey where they could buy alcohol because the drinking age was twenty. Of course, Jonny had had to drive and put up most of the money for a ten dollar case of Pabst Blue Ribbon, PBR, that would make them feel like the obnoxious middle-class rebels they saw themselves to be.

Ben and Gus met freshman year when they found themselves living in single rooms next to each other. They weren’t assigned rooms in a regular Columbia dorm. The university had rented out two floors of a nurse’s residence that was across the street from campus on the Amsterdam Avenue side, and the freshmen hardest to assign roommates were given single rooms. The single rooms were all provided with sinks and mirrors as well as the buildings’ maid service. This might sound like a perk except all the maids did for them was knock on their doors every morning around seven to seven-thirty yelling garbage in Puerto Rican accents.

The two of them had nothing much in common except that they didn’t belong to any of the quickly forming residence hall factions. The jazz musicians started hanging out immediately and secretly smoked doobies or broke out their favorite bongs behind closed doors, because they couldn’t be sure who was “cool,” yet. But if you liked jazz and played jazz it was assumed you weren’t a narc. The boys who played sports got together and found out they all loved Bruce Springsteen. When they started their loud Springsteen gatherings all the locals who worshiped the Boss came out and joined the new group of Long Island or New Jersey accented greetings disguised as put downs. “Hey ya big fag!,” they yelled at each other smiling. The premeds all got together and discussed which classes were “gut,” or easy A’s. They would never actually form a group because they didn’t listen to music and they didn’t smoke pot. They were the kids too busy studying to ever “party” together. 

Ben went out to buy a six pack the first day and he invited Gus over for a beer. But they didn’t go to Ben’s room because he didn’t have a record player. They drank three beers a piece that first night while listening to Gus’s record collection. Gus liked reggae, funk, and soul music. If the musician was black he was probably in Gus’s collection. Ben was only slightly familiar with black music, but he thought it would make him cool to like it. Coming from Colorado he had thought cool music was FM radio stuff like Steely Dan, the Doobies, and Firefall, but to his credit at the extreme for him lay a slight acquaintance with the Ohio Players and Earth, Wind, and Fire. He was going to have to expand. Somehow Colorado western clothing, jeans, jean jackets, sweatshirts, and adidas sneakers, and stereotypical white middle class tastes weren’t likely to win him any friends in this new land of alligator shirts and topsiders. At least Gus swore by hi-top Chuck Taylors, T-shirts, and hoodies.

Freshman year Ben and Gus sometimes went out together after paydays. They both had work study jobs that didn’t pay much more than minimum wage and they were lucky to have twenty free hours a week to work. Their paychecks topped out at a hundred dollars every two weeks, but it was usually less. Fortunately, both of them had received grants and some scholarship money, but Columbia was only affordable to them because the financial aid they received was needs based. They were both required to sign up for some kind of meal plan and so the school didn’t have to worry about them starving in New York City.

Therefore, the maximum hundred dollars went to going out to cheap local bars, like the one made famous by Jack Kerouac in his Columbia days, The West End. But there were others. The one that attempted to appeal to college kids the most was The Third Phase. Only rarely would a native of Morningside Heights be found patronizing that place. It featured cheap pitchers of beer and cheap and large pizzas. This was back in the day when the Columbia student was much poorer than they are today, and stores, restaurants, and bars in the Morningside Heights area still catered to working class budgets. Gentrification of the Upper West Side was only in its nascent stage.

Old man bars and New York laborer and construction worker bars dominated uptown Broadway. The choice of local dive bar frequented said a lot about the identity of the crowd in which one was associated. Ben and Gus preferred The Marlon Café, because it had a dark atmosphere with wooden booths. Boxing was the bartenders preferred television programming and quite often there would be a platter of sandwiches featuring baloney and salami, only occasionally ham or turkey, on special occasions. Ben spent his first Thanksgiving sitting alone at the bar, eating turkey sandwiches and drinking beer. He had money to go home at Christmas, but not Thanksgiving and Christmas. Furthermore, in his first ten weeks in Columbia he hadn’t warmed up to anyone enough to be invited to a classmate’s house in a neighboring state.

When those nights at the local cheap bars ended at last call, usually at two in the morning, if there was enough money in the wallet it was time for an all-night diner. Enough money was about five dollars. There were two choices within six blocks of campus. One was Tom’s Diner, made famous both by the Suzanne Vega song and the Seinfeld comedy series. On Seinfeld they would show Tom’s façade without showing the name, but it was Tom’s Diner. The other early morning option was the Broadway Restaurant which featured a feisty fat old Greek waitress who insisted on being called “Mom.” It also featured a large and juicy cheeseburger with home fries that was priced for the poor drunk student. Once again, the choice of local diner depended on what social group you fit into at Columbia. Both the preppy and jock crowd that frequented the Columbia owned and operated dance club called The Pub also patronized the classic drab looking Tom’s Diner. The offbeat kids who weren’t planning to go to Med, Law, or Business schools, and who preferred bars like The Marlon Cafe would always choose The Broadway Diner.

Ben had been fascinated with the idea of first New York experiences when he arrived in late August of 1979. He had taken a red eye and flown through the night from Denver’s Stapleton Airport just before his eighteenth birthday. On the flight as he was looking through his Columbia entrance material when a guy sitting two seats away asked if he was going to Columbia. Ben said yes and the guy said he was a senior in the engineering school. They talked a bit and the good thing that came out of it was they were able to split a gypsy cab from JFK to the Columbia campus. He arrived too early to be allowed into his room and had to spend a couple of hours in a stuffy front room parlor with ancient chairs and sofas. He didn’t sleep, he was too excited having arrived in the city that had the reputation of being the most important and exciting place in the world.

What he had seen of the city from the windows of the cab had been fascinating to him, even if they were mostly scenes of piled up garbage and packs of rats feasting on them. It was late August and the city was a warm wet blanket of humidity. The New York City that Ben first encountered was the New York City of films like Taxi Driver and TV shows like All in the Family. It was gritty and it was dirty, and it was as Travis Bickle said, “venal.”

It was a completely different culture, and Ben might as well have been a foreigner from a different country. Sometimes he wasn’t even sure if they spoke English there. He was often asking people running local shops and restaurants to repeat themselves. It took him time to get in tune with the speed of speech and the use of idioms. He couldn’t even order a sandwich correctly, or at least without fear of being made to look like an idiot. One of the student favorite food stops on Broadway was a deli named Mama Joys. Ben had never been to any deli before. He was sure they were few and far between in Denver. Besides that, in Denver if he ate out he went to a fast food restaurant with school friends, or some family priced place with his parents, and he never had any difficulty ordering. 

At Mama Joys he decided to have a roast beef sandwich. It was a popular place so he had to stand in line, but in New York he had to stand on line. The sandwich makers were not ones to dawdle. When it was Ben’s turn he asked for a roast beef sandwich. The guy behind the counter stared at him in disbelief. It seemed like a lifetime to Ben before the guy spoke up. “Whaddaya want it on? You want a roll? You want cheese? You want mustard or mayo? Hurry up!” Ben asked for a roll and mayo, and got the blandest sandwich he had ever had in his life. The next time he would be ready, but this time he was defeated and humiliated by the new cultural expectations of him.

He had just turned eighteen and he found that suddenly he was expected to know how to live as an adult on his own. Most of the students on his floor had come accompanied by some relatives who brought them some furniture and then took them shopping for what they realized they had forgotten. Then they were taken to dinner. Ben brought a stuffed army duffle bag. His footlocker and typewriter had arrived by mail a day before he did. His first New York meal was a slice of thin greasy pizza. It made him feel like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and he loved the flavor. He had never eaten a pizza without pepperoni or sausage on it before, and he realized that those were unnecessary ingredients. He had never eaten pizza from a restaurant that was a chain store. He felt more of a New Yorker each time he went into a pizza joint and ordered “a slice and a soda.”

Anyway, after the start of Freshman year, it’s fair to say that the friendship between Gus and Ben had had ups and downs, and had been off and on for two years. It would also be fair to say that Ben had a rocky time trying to find what made himself interesting. After a year and a half at Columbia, out of a sense of futility at school, he decided to transfer to the University of Colorado. 

Gus spent a few months at Ben’s Boulder apartment on his way to San Francisco when he also took a year leave of absence from Columbia in what would have been his Junior year. Ben had decided to go back to Columbia after one year at CU, and that summer before they were to return to Columbia Gus invited Ben to stay at his parents house in Solebury, and so he did. Ben lived in his own room, down the hall from Gus. He had driven his own car from Colorado and got a job at a New Hope restaurant. He had also brought his own beer bong, which became a must use for everyone at the many keggers he attended that summer. His homemade beer bong was his claim to fame and his way to get in good with Gus’s friends, first of all, Jonny Woods.

After that summer was over he got a small unfurnished Single Room Occupancy apartment in New York City with Gus and occasionally he would go home to Solebury with Gus for blowout weekends trying to recapture the summer of debauchery. Ben had sold his car when they moved back to the city that fall so the bus was the only option they had to them take back and forth to New Hope. They could have taken Amtrak to Trenton, but that would still require a long drive that would inconvenience someone, and it was much more expensive than a bus ticket.

Ben had first met Jonny about a year and a half earlier just before he had decided to transfer to Colorado. Gus had taken Ben and another dorm hall friend Danny Berger back on the bus to Solebury for their first time in the Upper Bucks environs. They both stayed overnight with Gus at his parents’ house and the evening’s partying was joined by Gus’s best local friend from high school, Jonny. Jonny was actually one year younger than Gus and so Gus had that kind of senior versus junior aura over him, but Gus never acted anything more than an equal. But you could tell that Jonny was careful, at least at first, to not directly insulting Gus’ “college” friends, at least not too much. Jonny wasn’t too excited about meeting what he thought were the two new dorks from Columbia, but he did want to see Gus again and try out some of his new sarcastic criticisms of Solebury society and the jerks his age who were overbearing because they went to college and he didn’t.

Danny Berger was just looking for a different way to spend a weekend. In his second year at Columbia, he was already bored of the city and wanted to go home to his Boston suburb and attend the nearby Berklee School of Music to play jazz piano for hours every day. All he really cared about was playing jazz, and smoking marijuana. But Danny always felt that smoking marijuana was supposed to be a daily social event, so he cultivated Ben and Gus as dope smoking partners even though they weren’t jazz musicians. 

Danny didn’t mind letting them smoke from his stash for free, so sometimes out a sense of guilt Gus or Ben would show up with a nickel bag of skunkweed. They usually bought this suspect but effective week from the pot store a few blocks away in Harlem that was poorly disguised by a sign advertizing Hi-Variety Records. The three record albums hanging from strings in the front window backed by plywood so that no one could see inside was a dead giveaway. Also, the fact that when you pressed the buzzer and the door opened after an eye could be seen in the peephole, and your only option was to slide money under a small plywood gap on top of a narrow counter and await a small envelope, was also a pretty good clue to an illegal operation. Maybe the set up kept the cops at bay, but only because the extent of the crime wasn’t considered worth their effort.

When Danny and Ben went to Solebury with Gus that fall of Sophomore year, Danny didn’t give a damn what Jonny thought of him and ignored his rudeness. Ben on the other hand didn’t want to aggravate Gus and so he did his best to placate Jonny and join him in his negative critique of the world. They didn’t meet again until Ben showed up at Gus’ place the following summer. But they would eventually find that with Gus checked out of the social scene because of his Tracy in California fixation, they spent more time together that summer than they did with Gus.

So on that Sunday in the autumn of 1982 Jonny was tired of chauffeuring the two transcient young drunks and was glad to drop them off at the McDonalds to wait together for the Doylestown to New York City bus. It was already early November, halfway through the fall semester of junior year and the two of them found themselves once again comparing hangovers while dreading another week of class. The bus was on time as usual, and the two of them payed the driver something less than ten bucks and then they moved toward the back and easily found two seats together. The bus to New York was never crowded.

Ben: “How’s the jackhammering? Ovens still roaring?”

Gus: “Of course! How’s the whale vagina?”

Ben: “Snug and wet, and especially stinky!”

“That must feel nice!” Gus said with a big sarcastic smile.

“By the way, how’s the forearm scar! Are you feeling as smart as I am now!” Ben replied sarcastically. 

Sarcasm was the standard way of talking for them. Being straightforward and serious was equated with stupidity among their crowd. The forearm scar was shared between them since yesterday night. Gus had seen some movie where two guys dropped a lit cigarette between their two arms pressed together and the guy who moved first was a pussy. Since neither one would move and the cigarette was burning them, and it really hurt, they decided “wisely” to press their forearms together to put the cigarette out. It worked and they had the scars to prove it.

When Gus wasn’t drunk, or suffering from a hangover he was in constant state of depression because he was love with this older woman Tracy that he had met and left in San Francisco the year before. She was maybe four years older and a San Francisco Art School graduate, and a San Francisco Zen Center drop out. In other words, she was a waitress in her mid-twenties who had no choice but to love the hippie/artist lifestyle and was not going to leave it for gritty New York City and someone with less money than herself. The attraction and the affection and the desire to be together was mutual, but not strong enough on her side to leave a life in San Francisco, and he still couldn’t completely disappoint his parents by giving up being a New York college boy. 

Ben had a crush on a busgirl he met at his dishwashing job in New Hope. She was all of sixteen years old and didn’t need a twenty-year old desperate Columbia student stalking her. But she didn’t have a vote. It was just the way it was. Poor Julia McQueen! Julia was in love with a high school student Bobby, who was in a band. He was a total dick, but you can’t help who you love, especially at sixteen. She certainly wasn’t in love with Ben, but she didn’t want to announce that important fact. She was flattered that this Ivy League college guy was always trying to flirt with her, but that didn’t make anything real happen between them. She wasn’t interested and she was actually too nice to brush him off properly. Ben knew she was too young anyway. So, Ben went girl hunting elsewhere, hoping that by the time she was legal she would also be single.

The previous night had been spent at a party at Jill Beamer’s house. The Beamer parents were out of town and they were rich with a big house that had a lot of bedrooms, and the three guys had heard about the party through the grapevine. All the guys in attendance brought lots of booze. Virtually every horny male got drunk or stoned and got together with some drunk or stoned horny female and did what horny drunk or stoned young boys and girls do. Except Gus. He did get drunk. He spent enough time to have a half dozen beers, a couple of whiskey shots, and a couple of bong hits. And of course, during all that partying he did his part in burning his and Ben’s arms, but then left early to go home in order to make a long-distance call to Tracy in California. After he left the party alone, Jonny and Ben had little other purpose than to stay at Jill’s until they found their partners in ignorance and lust.

First thing after Gus left, Jonny started talking to Ben about how whipped Gus was. Jonny said there was plenty of poontang available here for him, but Gus’s problem was that he was always too picky. For example, he said Maggy Grimaldi had been staring at him all night and twice tried to flirt with him only to be rudely ignored, both times. Jonny added that she was so stupidly in love with Gus that she would try again at the next party. “But,” Jonny advised Ben, “you should go for that tonight, seeing Gus just made her horny.”

“Poor Gus’ problem is that Tracy’s got his nuts in a box in San Francisco, and they’re locked up tight and turning blue!” He then sneered and half laughed, and encouraged Ben again to go after Maggie.

“Dude, she’s so horny she’ll do anyone tonight, even you, HA!” Jonny was very happy with himself when he could make a joke at someone else’s expense, or so it seemed to Ben. However, he thought there was some truth to what he was saying at least he started hoping there was. To Ben, Maggie wasn’t half bad, in fact, he thought she was hot. He also thought that his commentary on Gus’ testicular predicament was true if not a little too obvious for Jonny’s usual level of sarcasm.

Co-incidentally, Gus had some real physical testicular issues that he told Ben not to mention to Jonny just because there would be no ending to the sarcastic commentary. Just the week before after a Rugby practice that saw him in a violent collision, Gus had complained of a sharp pain in his testicles. The pain had been so disconcerting to him that he nearly pleaded with Ben, as they were walking away from the practice field in Morningside Park, to help him to the Student Health Office on campus. The doctor there saw Gus immediately. Gus emerged from the treatment room ten minutes later looking relieved, and had regained his calm, smiling demeanor.

He explained to Ben as they walked home that the Doctor had diagnosed his condition as having had a “partial testicular torsion.” This meant that one of his testicles had become twisted out of proper alignment blocking the blood flow. The Doctor went on to say that had the torsion been a bit more acute Gus would have required immediate surgery to save the organ. As it was, he had actually had a case of blue balls, just as Jonny had suggested, but for a different reason. What Gus really didn’t want to get out to Jonny was that the Doctor had considered prescribing a certain type of dressing and jock strap to ensure that the condition didn’t return. The Doctor’s note read that Gus had a “predisposition to a torsion” and that should it recur Gus would need to wear corrective underwear. Those words were never to reach Jonny’s ears! Gus actually made Ben swear himself to secrecy.

As Ben was smiling to himself thinking of Gus’ predicament he caught Jonny looking at him. Seeing the smile Jonny, thinking Ben was thinking about the chance of hooking up with Maggie said, 

“Strike while the iron is hot, Ben! And then tell me all about it at the Diner later on. Wait for me downstairs after the deed is done. Martha drove her mom’s car so she’ gotta go home right after we go upstairs.” 

The next day on the bus, Gus asked Ben about what happened at the party the night before.

Ben was happy to talk about the debauchery. “Maggie Grimaldi asked if I’d ever had hash under glass, I said no. So, she so she set up a little black muddy hash rock on a pin stand, lit it, put a glass over it, and we took turns sucking out the smoke. After that we started making out in the kitchen. Then she took me to a room upstairs and we made out up there.”

“Then what?” Gus asked. Ben answered, “Then she suddenly stopped, looked at me seriously, and asked, would you be mad if we didn’t do it now?”

“I said yes I would. Very mad.” Ben laughed as he told this to Gus.

“And then what?” Gus asked.

“Then we started making out again and got naked.” Ben smiled at Gus.

“Romantic.” Gus concluded with a smirk and sarcastic laugh.

“It was over pretty fast.” Ben lamented and shrugged his shoulders in a “whaddaya gonna do” meaning gesture.

“Then I found Jonny alone in the kitchen drinking a beer and we went to the Diner.”

“Oh boy, the Diner!” Gus said mockingly. “Haven’t been there enough. Haven’t had enough shitty Diner food.”

“The hash made me hungry.” Ben said in his defense.

“Besides we had to brag about our conquests.” 

“Who bragged the best? Who pleased his woman the most?” Gus asked disinterestedly. He didn’t really care, but the conversation was a distraction from his oven and jackhammer store hangover experience.

“I think Jonny won easily.” 

“What was your story?” Gus wanted to know gaining a little interest in the topic. 

Jonny was known for getting around with lots of women and always had lots of sex stories with lurid details. Ben was quite the opposite. He was inexperienced in the sexual techniques and girl parts. He hadn’t had sex at all until a year previously. There might have been one kiss in high school, but it didn’t lead to a second one. But he lied to anybody who asked him about having had sex in high school. He lied because it seemed everybody else he met had.  It was clear that most of the kids, if not all who had attended Solebury School had. Many times at that, and with many different partners. He envied that about most of the kids he had met there last summer.

Ben sighed and started his story. “I told him that Maggie had been saying over and over that I was driving her crazy.” Gus looked at Ben wanting to laugh at him. He suspected that his story meant Ben wasn’t doing it well and Maggie was frustrated. Gus hadn’t been with Maggie but she was always flirting with him, whenever she could. It was clear to most people, Ben included, that Maggie would drop her panties if she could ever get alone with Gus. But Gus would have none of that. It wasn’t that Maggie was repulsive. Her face was pretty enough and she had a notable pair of breasts and shapely hips. What turned Gus off about her was the way she talked. She had the Philly accent with the elongated and twisted vowels, which he himself had avoided developing although he had grown up in the same area. But what he disliked more was that she also had this prep school manner of authority and condescension in most of what she said. Thus, the “would you hate me if we didn’t do it?” was typical of her manipulation of someone she considered stupider than she was. Also, he was good friends with her older brother Matthew, and Gus was careful not to cast any shadows on that relationship. Gus wouldn’t just go for a piece of ass because it was available, but Ben would.

Then Gus asked, “What was Jonny’s story?” Jonny had arranged to meet his current girlfriend Martha at the party. She showed up later than Jonny so he had plenty of time to chat up some friends and drinks some beers without a girlfriend weighing him down. When she showed up, he took her straight up to an empty room. Jonny spent several times more than the ten minutes or so that Ben had spent with Maggy. Ben continued, “First he congratulated me on my conquest, but I could tell he didn’t have the slightest interest in Maggie at all.” In fact, Jonny liked Maggie even less than Gus did. Only he didn’t avoid her as Gus avoided her. She avoided him. This was because if Jonny could say something sarcastic about any person he would. And he was usually especially rude to Maggie. He could hurt her feelings without even trying. However, in her case he actually tried and always succeeded.

Jonny congratulated Ben then not because he had got a piece of ass. He just wanted further verification of his idea that all women just wanted to get laid, and sometimes so much so that it didn’t matter who they did it with. He seemed to also enjoy the idea that sex was the great leveler. Everybody wanted it, and everybody got stupid when they did it. He thought it was natural and necessary, but he thought it proved how ignoble the human being was when he was being true to himself or herself. He hated any kind of pretension, and felt challenged to bring down anybody whom he thought was full of it, and that was most people. Something in his past had cast a dark shadow on his view of life, and that was the main reason he had opted out of college, even though he could have gone almost anywhere he wanted. At least that was Ben’s assessment.

Ben proceeded to tell Gus Jonny’s story. “He said that when he was doing Martha she…how did it go, I’ve got to get it exact. OK, he said she started talking in an African language that she made up herself!” That brought a smile to Gus’ face. “Yeah, I’d say he won.”

Reflecting upon Jonny’s story Ben thought it stood as evidence for his theory on Jonny’s contempt for humanity and his reduction of the best of human intentions to a pursuit of instinctive carnal pleasure. Ben had had to read Freud in his freshman Contemporary Civilization course. All the boys called this required course CC, and it was in CC that all the Columbia men were immersed in the classics representing white male self-importance. This was part of Columbia’s core curriculum they touted as the basis for the creation of the educated liberal thinking gentleman. The class was especially useful for developing the ability of dropping famous names and quotations to signal the level of your education, or the size of your upper middle-class penis. That was just a couple years before Columbia would finally go coed and guys like Ben would find it a lot harder to be admitted with all the new competition.

Anyway, the African language Martha made up was explained by Jonny as a series of grunts and shouted syllables that were not complete words. The African meaning, of course, was his white racist condescension of the dark continent as representing primal humanity. In other words, his sexual technique had been so skilled and powerful that it had sent Martha back to her most primitive instinctive reactions. Jonny had a reputation for scoring, and also for his scores hanging around him longer than he wanted to score with them. Ben suspected Jonny knew what he was doing when he was with a naked girl. Ben was even more sure that he didn’t know anything that a girl had underneath her hood.

Ben then thought back to the previous summer that he had lived in Solebury. Once he, Gus, Jonny and Martha had rented a canoe and inner tubes to drift down the Delaware River for an hour or so of wet outdoor fun in the sun. Jonny and Martha stayed in the canoe while Gus and Ben floated on inner tubes alongside. There was of course a case of cold beer in a cooler in the canoe to make the cliché boy scout outing a little more squalid. It was a hot and sunny day with not a cloud in the sky, with the banks lined with trees thick with foliage. A perfect day and setting for this kind of activity.

It was so hot that Martha had to take off her top and sunbathe while reclining in the back of the canoe. Ben was stunned. Gus just grinned and chuckled. Jonny smiled and looked straight at both of the boys and said sarcastically, “she’s shy isn’t she?” Obviously, sexual inhibition and shame attached to the naked human body were not concepts she believed in. Many of the kids that Ben had met who went to Solebury school were like her. She wasn’t a rarity in that area. There was another young teenage woman whom he overheard bragging about earning her “golden eagle.” When asked what that was she said it meant her fiftieth guy. Ben once again wished his high school experience had been more like those of the kids in Solebury.

Gus wasn’t one to psycho-analyze his friends. Especially not Jonny, who been his closest school buddy for years. To him, this most recent story was just Jonny’s way of bragging about sex, and having a good time. The person he was thinking any least way analytically of was actually Ben. He thought their stories were typical and telling. Jonny was interesting and he could always make Gus laugh. Ben was boring, sometimes to the point of frustration. 

He remembered that at first Ben had occasionally seemed like an interesting guy, for a while. He was often fun to party with, because he was always up for drinking. Sure, Gus thought, they had had some good times playing drinking games at the West End Bar, especially on Monday Pitcher and Popcorn nights playing Motown classics on the old jukebox. Sometimes pizza and beer at The Third Phase had been fun, and sandwiches and shots at The Marlon had been lots of laughs. But recently, Gus had been feeling he had been hanging around with Ben too much. When they got back to New York he planned to immediately figure out how to spend more time in the library alone, or with friends that Ben didn’t know.

After the story about Jill Beamer’s party and the Diner, there was nothing to talk about and they sat in silence as the autumn afternoon turned into a chilly New Jersey dusk. When the bus made a stop at the Flemington Majors department store they got out and bought a six pack of Rheingold to secretly drink on the bus. Just as they were both finishing beer number three the bus pulled into Port Authority and they took the IRT back to 103rd Street Station near where their cramped unfurnished SRO awaited them. Upon arrival Gus immediately said he had to go uptown to Columbia to study for a Monday test. Ben went across the street and bought another six pack and a meatball parmesan sandwich to take back to the apartment in preparation for a lonely night watching Gus’ small black and white TV set. 

Ben wondered why Gus had taken off so quickly, it sounded more like a blow off than a serious study effort. He knew when Gus was trying to avoid him. It had happened the beginning of Sophomore year. But then, they both took time off and then met in Boulder and the friendship actually had grown deeper. Maybe Gus was actually secretly upset about him and Maggie. Ben thought Gus was happy that she wanted him, even though he didn’t want her. Whatever, he knew he had some things to figure out about his life starting immediately. He knew that things couldn’t keep going on like this in his life, directionless that is. He felt like he had been lacking direction since coming back to Columbia. Hell, for years before that actually! And the fact was, he had no idea how to solve this problem.