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The Student:


Probably it was when he caught up with Norm Pearson clearing off a table at the cafeteria of Billings Hospital that the deal was cinched. "Did you find out about the room?" he asked, and Norm said, yes, he talked to Bill and Bob King; it's O.K.; go talk with Bob, he's there now. "How much is it?" Seven bucks a month, plus the electricity. "Swell." Norm hustled off to clear another table. "Hustle" was his word, viz. "I have to hustle off to class." He was big and awkward, but he waggled his fanny and flapped his hands and hustled. It was lunchtime; the four busboys on the floor had all the work they could handle. There was another one in a little room cleaning the aluminum trays and carrying stacks of them out again, still another dishing out ice cream and tending to the beverages. Roughly the same number worked the breakfast and the dinner shifts. These were the students, who worked part-time; the rest of the help, both men and women, were full-time employees, none of them students. They all got along fine.

He found the old red brick apartments just two blocks away at 817 East Fifty-eighth Street, and climbed to the third floor. Bob let him in and showed him the room. It was the smallest of the four that had beds, besides which there was a bathroom and at the rear a kitchen looking quite unused and a rear porch of no perceptible value unless you wanted to sit there on a warm evening and look upon the Midway and Cottage Grove Avenue, which obviously was not the case. This could be called the southwest tip of the campus, since the University owned it, quiet, isolated. The deal was a giveaway, and it was on as soon as Bob grunted hello and waved his hand to say "Well, this is it," and as soon as the two animals exchanged glances and sniffs and felt they would get along. He would have the small room at the front, Bill King had the next room, Bob the central room, Norm the rear room. Everything was old-fashioned about the house, but it all worked, and when they felt the need for a bath -- he showered daily at the swimming pool so did not -- the hot water poured out amply and with excellent pressure from the thin fancy brass spigot like the fixture in his childhood bathtub on Hill Street.

No one ate there, which is why the kitchen looked so bare and dusty, for they had jobs as busboys at the cafeteria of Billings Hospital and ate in the cafeteria employees' dining room there. Herein lay the next objective of the Student, now that he had a bed. There was a special reason why the three worked at Billings.

The pay rate at the cafeteria for students was 40 cents per hour, the going rate around campus for hourly workers. Full-time kitchen and dining room help had a separate pay system. The student workers presented problems of discipline, eccentricity, and lack of training, but they could be hired to work a couple of hours at any time of day or night, during the busy meal periods and at night or on holidays. More than the work or pay, Billings offered an unparalleled deal to a poor and ravenous student, the employee's dining room, holding a dozen long tables and served by a steamtable behind which stood a lady. She would plump on your tray anything you asked for and you could help yourself to one two or three glasses of milk and cups of coffee and orange juice and all the bread you could want, in short all you could eat three times a day and for only fifty cents per day! They were fond of students, Ethyl, who first served out the food, but who retired, and then Grace, younger, buxom, with a twinkly grey eye: the students were likely to say unusual things, hand out a compliment, or act silly, or dress up nutty, or come dashing in at the last instant pleading to be fed, or be arguing vociferously and laughing outrageously among themselves, hanging around until ousted by the broom of the clean-up man.

Fifty cents! Representing only an hour and a quarter of work! Incredible! The Student hustled off to Jack, who had been pointed out by Norm as he hustled among the tables. Jack was the full-time employee in charge of the busboys. Jack, said the Student, do you need an experienced hand? Not right now, said Jack. Not even for an hour and a half a day? Or all day Sunday? No. I'll let Bob King know if I do, he said. That wasn't good enough. Is it O.K. if I talk to the head dietician? Go ahead, if you want to, I don't mind. That's a good guy, thought the Student. And he went to see Miss Haenger.

Miss Haenger was in her office, imposing upon it a forbidding presence, grim-faced, hatchet-nosed, tight-lipped, black-haired, stern-browed, plaster-white face, black-eyed, maybe there was a glint of response in them when he explained that he would work as little or much as needed, and work well, but he wanted most to eat in the cafeteria because he couldn't afford to eat anywhere else. You might talk to Miss Jones, she said. He went next door to see the Assistant Director, Miss Jones, who was all red as Miss Haenger was all black, red-cheeked, red-haired, russet- eyed, with a feminine voice and figure as Miss Haenger had a masculine body and way of talking. Miss Jones had little reason to say no: I'll mention to Jack that you need work, should he be having something.

The upshot was that within the week the Student was to be observed in a clean starched white jacket swooping down upon a table of dirty dishes, loading them onto a tray, dodging artfully through the seething scene, unloading them into a wagon, and wheeling the stacked mess out to the fuming wash room where they were showered and dried automatically, thereupon repiled into wagons to be pushed out and reissued at the long serving counter of the cafeteria. And he was to be found an hour later with his own tray in hand at the employee's cafeteria down the hall, helping himself to milk and bread and the surplus from the preceding day's menu of the main cafeteria. And he seated himself and hogged it down, lending an ear to the strangers at the table, mostly a variety of students, who were easy to talk to when the moment arrived.

He had everything tied down now: an average of 12 hours of work at Billings each week, paying him $4.80; a job as Assistant Band Manager to Chuck Towey paying him $20.00 a month, or about the same; the work of helping to set up the Symphony Orchestra and similar chores at the Music Department that was thought to compensate the University for the half-tuition work scholarship that he had been awarded because of his grades of the year before, all in all about 22 hours of paid labor per week. The cash earned went a long way. His food cost $3.50 per week, his rent came to $1.75. Savings from his summer employment at the Mills Novelty Company had been about $100.00, enough to pay two-thirds of the cash tuition fees that remained after he paid off in labor the balance. The remaining $50.00 due in the Spring term accumulated slowly from the change left after paying for the rent and meals from the $4.40 per week of the Band and the $4.80 weekly from his Billings work, slowly I say, because his residual of $3.95 a week had to be siphoned, too, for carfare, laundry, postage, books, snacks, a movie a month, small extra fees, an occasional 20-cent haircut at the trembling hands of old foamy-dentured Mr. Fox down Maryland Avenue a few houses, valve oil, face soap, razor blades, shaving cream, shoe polish, toothpaste, overdue book fines, and clothing, this last consisting of filling out, rarely nicely, a basically hand-me-down and hand-over wardrobe from Sebastian or anybody else within range and the Mom's forays into Goldblatt's Bargain Basement and Montgomery Ward's Employees' store (using a friend's pass) in pursuit of pit-Depression markdowns.

Nonetheless, he passed for being decently dressed, partly because his figure did not invite his clothes to slop around over him, partly because of the touch-ups effected by the Mom's clever fingers, and then too because the University of Chicago student body as a whole did not pretend to sartorial elegance or even adequacy.

Most people ran around the community in the dead of winter looking like escapees from a Stalinist gulag, even and especially the hundred registered Stalinists, like pretty little Smudge, who if she weren't already red as a beet, physiognomically I mean, apart from ideologically, would have been as red as a beet from underdressing in the cold. Bill King, raised out of the deserts of the Punjab, tromped around in the Chicago winds negligee. The flock of medical students and interns and nurses and orderlies and indeed the white-cloaked myriad down to the august physicians of pulmonary diseases braved the campus winds as if their thin coats guaranteed a territorial immunity.

Take then the Student, possessor of a heavy Band maroon sweater that saved him, and a Band overcoat that would in half a century become chic but was then a monstrous flapping navy blue woolen you wouldn't wish to be found dead-frozen in. He needed nothing else nor did he have it, except that wine-colored sharkskin sharpie fin-shouldered three-piece suit of Uncle Joe that I mentioned earlier. With the Student, changing clothes constantly at the pool all the time among well-heeled (and ergo well-toed) fraternity brothers, maintaining holeless socks was de rigueur, not the same, say, for Bob King who grew holes in all his socks and would sit on the edge of his bed looking dolefully at the holey ones he is removing and the holey pair he has to pull on, wondering whether it is worth the effort, "What the devil, in India the people go mostly barefoot," which, too, it goes without saying, he did at every opportunity; he was never more Indian than when fussing with his feet. He had the finest set of arches to be seen on campus, and feet marble-hard; you'd think he was born from a Sherpa of Mt.Everest. He liked to rub his feet, and smell them to be sure they were tolerable. They were not large, if anything small, considering that he shot up, gaunt, even slender, beyond the six foot mark, with fine shoulders that could deliver a devastating tennis serve, alas -- or happily to the Student as opponent -- all too often off-bounds.

Bob and Bill King has been born and raised in India, as their father before them. Unlike the English colonialist tribe, this sib of American Protestant missionaries had forged bonds of iron with the Indian culture, standing apart yet so sympathetic that they would indignantly defend Hindustani and Pakistani alike and unequivocally from the multifarious insults visited upon the great Sub-Continent by the Occidental. It meant nothing seemingly that they were as physically distinct from their brown brethren as Nature might allow, i.e. without their having two heads, for they were exceedingly tall, blonde, and blue-eyed specimens, and even differed in speech, going beyond the reasonable limits of taciturnity in an adopted land that boiled with speech and an aboriginal land, to which they were returning, that was becoming notorious for its volatility of tongue. Bob liked especially to communicate by grunt, usually friendly, sometimes disgustedly, these two being the emotions best developed in him in the course of his seventeen-year growth.

Bob King's job at the Billings Cafeteria became something special over time. He it was who every morning at six o'clock opened the door and the register of the Employee's Restaurant where his somnolent mates would in due course turn up for breakfast. He had a tough Little Ben alarm clock next to his bed, which, no matter how many times he knocked it down or shook it madly, would come back to the point, to wit, "rrrrrrrrrrr!!!, it's 5:40 A.M." He didn't bolt upright when it rang, like many do, or pretend it didn't exist, like others do; he raised himself stunned, like a reviving mummy levitating, crushed it into silence, and descended as he had arisen and as if he would never again arise. Still, unfailingly, at approximately 5:47, he would deliberately divest himself of coverings -- he slept naked otherwise -- stand up, clomp (he was a noisy walker, even bare-footed, those stone feet) into the bathroom, brush his teeth, draw blood from his chin with a filthy razor, put down the razor muttering "awh" disgustedly, pull on his socks and trousers, drag his dress shirt over his head, slipped on his hard leather oxfords and stamp out the door and down the stairs, hastening his pace by whatever percentage was needed to assure his arrival three minutes before the hour of six. The day had begun for the Billings Employees' Cafeteria.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (to coin a phrase), slumbering bodies turn over from the momentary discharge of one of their number, experience for better or worse their dawn dreams, squeeze their ever-infantile eyes against the inevitable light, sense their appetites and encourage the help of their stomach pangs, and in view of the visualized door-slamming threatened by even their very good mate Bob, still the mean minion of Black Frau Haenger and Red Jonesy, at the turning of the clock to 07:30, berated themselves into reveille, crowding genteelly one another so that all could have a fighting chance at the hour of 7:23 to go shooting out the door and down the three flights of stairs into the weather -- bitter cold or blasting hot, ignored -- twenty yards to the right, 200 yards diagonally across the empty lot, 150 yards of broken-building-running with enough breath for "Wait, Bill is right after me!" to prevent the premature portal closure, and a smile from ear to ear at the cluck-cluck and mince glance from Grace packing up the hot table. Bad cess to the wicked, who so often are rewarded, for at this moment, a tray of slightly hardened but delicious fried eggs could well appear, rejects from the main cafeteria.

Thus it has always been with man -- and boy: give them an inch and they'll take a mile, give them a finger and they'll take an arm -- all the phrases of pessimism and restraint in family, school, city, and nation. And at Billings. Here they were. The best deal you could have if you had to struggle your way through college. But you can't help yourself. You shirk sometimes. You cop a scoop of ice cream. You make fun of stern-trying-sweety-being Miss Jones. You steal candy bars or cigarettes. You come bombing into the cafeteria at the last minute, even knowing that this is your Mother that Feeds You. You should be down on your knees at the wide-open door an hour before closing, praising the glories of day-old chicken-a-la-king and unspongy sliced bread, then only afterwards, taking off your shoes, enter quietly, respectfully, thankfully. Not at all, these terrible American students, while down to their last dollar, acting as if they were owed it all, behaving as if doing a bit of work for their keep was more than enough to let them loudly criticize the total operation of the system.

Meanwhile, yes, back at the Crooked Cross Ranch, the Nazis have now completely suffocated what may have been the greatest nation on Earth, the Depression is being attacked by measures that will eventually bureaucratize America yclept "the land of the free," the Japanese are showing in China that one slant-eyed race can destroy another just as readily as can hollow-eyed Occidentals, witness merely 1914 and 1919, when the Student was born, and what was about to happen again.

The liberal world to which the 817 gang belonged had no plan of action yet. There was no consensus about the Spanish Civil War because the anarchists and communists appeared so prominently in defense of the elective republic against Franco's Falangists. Two students were killed fighting for the Loyalists. Several returned from the Front. The communists defended what was becoming their takeover strategy in the Spanish Republic, hastened by the help from the Soviet Union and the neutrality of France and Britain. Ralph Bates, an English writer came to campus fresh from Spain and urged support of the dominating coalition. The Trotskyites, led by Ithiel de Sola Pool, denounced the coalition and brought in their own agitators. A thousand dollars was raised for an ambulance for the Republicans, to which, it must be said, the 817 gang (and most students) contributed nothing. By 1938, the Chicago Chapter of the American Student Union had arrived at rejecting the absolutely pacifist Oxford Oath that had been so popular in the preceding years.

The general run of campus types was hardly aware of any Nazi threat to democracy, nor were there serious demonstration on behalf of the persecuted German Jews. Or, for that matter, against the horrendous unending murders going on in Stalin's Soviet Union. In the Spring of 1938, comic Alpha Delts lofted a Nazi flag upon their fraternity house. Hart Perry had enough prescience and courage to reproach his Brothers and tear it down. A record of the Horst Wessel Lied, the Nazi chant, was procured and played loudly by several Betas, stolen by an Alpha Delt, and destroyed in a second assault by the intrepid Hart Perry. At International House, whose motto was "That Brotherhood May Prevail," permissive language was not enough. A professed Nazi came to school and moved in, a pleasant fool named Heinrich Pagels, who based his defense upon the vile treatment of Germany under the Treaty of Versailles. Dr. Joseph Franz, a Jewish refugee, denounced him and demanded his removal. Not to be done.

Clamorous meetings were held, Director Price refused to resign, his chief opponents were exposed for not being registered as students, and the overall and by now totally confused struggle ended in stalemate. Int House was at the other end of campus from 817, and it would be some time before the Student would tread those waters.

The 817 Gang wanted sanctions against Japan for its murderous assaults upon China; some girls on campus gave up their silk stockings, complainingly. The Gang approved sanctions against Italy for its unprovoked invasion of Ethiopia. They supported Gandhi and Nehru in the struggle to rid India of English rule. They were New Dealers. When Pearson moved out and Alan Greenman moved in, when Bill moved out and F. Elberton Smith moved in, and when Al moved over to let Sebastian move in -- all these the turnover of the end of the year -- ideologically it was la plus ca change, la plus c'est la meme chose. The gang was still liberal. Not highly politicized. Not organized for political action, nor even politically active as individuals, holding back their impulses though vehement in their opinions, and there was many a heated argument in the corners of the cafeteria when the work-pace slowed and at the meal tables.

The medical students were as individualistic but mostly conservative, against the New Deal, tolerant of anti-semitism and the informal and secretive quotas that were still effective in restraining the number of Jews on the Hospital staff and in the student body, inclined to "see some good" in Italian Fascism and German Nazism, and without much interest in the humanities, which implied suspicion and opposition to avantgarde movements in the arts. They worked in several laboratories and offices of the Hospital as well as in the cafeteria. One of them, a neophyte waiting upon table of an evening when the private dining room was the scene of a high confabulation of the surgeons, working alongside the Student, who explained in a rush how to serve, nervously dumped the worst possible, the schooner of French salad dressing, full down the front of a guest. He was a nice guy, too; he looked the image of a distinguished practitioner already; the Student grieved to witness his discomfiture. Too bad it couldn't be someone like Tex Larkins, who didn't like the Student's opinions on the world or on the running of the Hospital, and even lost his temper and attacked him once physically at the dinner table, with only ruffled feelings in consequence, fortunately. It did the Med students good to be among the 817 gang and its allies.

Among them the Mormons. An enclave of the University of Chicago's peculiarity among schools. There came from the Deep South and from the expanding Mormon Empire of the West and generally from Middle America and Texas a lot of characters from the older settings of American evangelism and radical protestantism. They and their kinfolk. And as often as not Chicago was their decompression chamber as they moved from evangelical to radical protestantism or from clerical format into secularism and social welfare work. Like the 17th century Levellers of England, every Mormon was considered a priest in his individual capacity. Stew Gallagher, one of the busboys close to the 817 gang, had already spent his years as a Mormon evangelist in China. The Cannon brothers, John and Hugh, were as close, and they had an affinity for the Kings as missionary descendants and because they, too, were residents of one of the missionary apartments. They were stalwart specimens. They were of a numerous brood and only distantly related to the most famous of the name, for the number of Cannons in Utah was legion (yak,yak,you know why!). They were graduated from Brigham Young University. Hugh was a great one for track-and-field and wanted to go to the Olympics to compete at hurling the discus; he needed somebody like the Student to help him practice and they went out onto the empty fields of the Midway a couple of times where he taught the Student how to hurl the discus part ways back to him.

There was an Ogden, a Mormon from Utah, as well, and a Bender, who bent the table when he crowded onto it; he was called Shorty, though he outreached the Student and Frank Zabrowski from Cleveland and most of them sitting around; he explained this was because he was the smallest in his family; they had to laugh and Frank popped his dental bridge in glee. Tall Bob Hawk was suavely amused, and was apparently still so thirty years later when he treated the Student's mother for angina pectoris: "Well, well, how are the boys, it was long ago, when we were all students here." Grace smiled from behind the steam-table at them and winked merrily at the Student.

But Shorty was dwarfed by a new full-time employee, Les, from the cornfields of Iowa, who had been introduced by his cousin, Jane, a dark Indian-looking girl working as an assistant dietician, handsome and shapely-hefty (the Student had his eye on her,but she left before he had more than a chance to corner her for a few jesting remarks and a suggestion about going for a walk sometime in the cool of the evening). Lester finally bettered the Student by a couple of trays in the competition whose champion the Student had imagined himself during the recurring trips to the washing-room with stacks of aluminum trays. He had a strong shoulder and had reached the carrying capacity of almost 100 trays at maximum, when Lester came along and, after some practice and failures to be sure, hefted a stack over the century mark. It was as well that he had this fierce competition with Les, and gave up building an ever higher stack, else he would have finally gotten a hernia. He admitted nothing, but really he knew when he was licked.

He could not but admire lasciviously another girl, Emma Forer, dark, with splendid eyes and bosom, and as pleasant as they come. She worked full time behind the food counter. They flirted with her. They jollied her. He asked her to play tennis one day, why that I'll never know. Possibly to be alone with her of an afternoon. Without the expense or obligation implied in an evening date. He borrowed Bob's rackets and balls. He dressed for tennis. She wore a long street costume, black, with tennis shoes. He brought her to a remote court. He was embarrassed by her appearance and hoped his friends wouldn't see her. Besides she couldn't hit the ball. What did he expect? Later, in the team locker room after Water Polo practice, a team-mate said, who was that girl I saw you with on the tennis court -- imagine the coincidence! -- and then said she was a good-looking one alright -- surprise!

Not long afterwards he decided to try to make love to Emma. It mattered not at all that, so far as he could tell, they had nothing in common to talk about: they lived completely different lives; but she was without question physically appealing -- dusky, soft, curvaceous, graceful, seductive in a cordial way. She had a funny chin and her teeth were a bit too large and crowded, but her lips were full and red.

He said he would like to take her out and she said she would like that, and they arranged an evening when he would come by her house to pick her up. He had bought from a musician some time before a condom, supposedly of the best type, a fishskin. It had acquired some wrinkles from its several places of storage -- pocket, drawer, pocket, drawer -- but he assumed that it must be serviceable. He tucked it in a pocket.

He duly appeared at the door of her duplex a mile south of the Midway at the appointed hour and, first of all, met her father, who no doubt had been told about the nice student who would be appearing; the father looked him up and down and said little one way or another. Lucky he didn't ask to search him. They walked out and he conveyed her to the edge of the Lake at Jackson Park, where, sheltered by the rocks, secluded from the world, under the dark sky, with the slight waves murmuring a few feet away, he proceeded to kiss her passionately, and she kissed him just as passionately. He was squirming like an eel; she was squirming like a lady eel: she felt even better enfolded in his arms than he could imagine from looking at her, smooth, soft, and yet, as the Lucky Strike ad went, "so fully packed."

He had now to persuade her to go all the way (to coin a phrase) and manipulate the long-treasured condom properly. There was no question of his erection being lost in the confusion of prophylaxis, it was there to stay. Nor was Emma putting up a great show of resistance. They may not have known one another for long or well, they had not built up this peak of romance with all the preceding dates and necking and exchanges of gifts and mounting excitement of little lovers' quarrels, or talk about making love sometime or their future lives together. None of this. But there was no question of the urge to copulate. It was strong, enormous, on both sides, two most passionate youths knotted together on a smooth rock, her skirts now high, her pants pushed down and off, his mouth to her breast and lips -- sure some fright, for the chance that a stranger might appear, for themselves and what she, not he, was doing, but it was blown away by the gusts of desire.

The trouble came with the condom. It was too large and stiff, it hung like a flag, and he could not at one and the same time keep it properly draped and find her vagina and bring themselves together, given the turmoil of emotions and writhing in the dark. He was in for a moment and out, or so it seemed but before he could loft the sail and get underway again he ejaculated. He was disgusted at his incompetence and she was ashamed of her passion and submission, and both were regretful of what actually they could not at that moment feel poignantly, that they were both, potentially, highly sexed and emotionally strong and compatible lovers.

He made no attempt to resume with her enjoying the stars, the sounding flickering waters, the warm evening, the unpeopled stillness. Almost distantly, speaking not at all of the love-making that had just consumed them and that should have at least been lending some exultation to their spirits, he led her out of the Park and onto a trolley car. Then, when they were approaching her stop, he said that this same car took him to his own home (7 cents saved), and might he not let her off and stay on it. She did not say a word of reproach. They said good-bye and she descended.

He knew he was a cad. He felt badly that he had seduced her without love. That he had let her go to her door alone. He reproached himself for what must now be her regret and loneliness. Two days later he ate dinner early, as the full-time help did, and did see Emma getting up to put away her tray. He went up to her. She stood still. "I'm sorry, Emma." He didn't explain for what and how and whether. Tears appeared in her eyes. She did not speak. He left her. He had no desire thereafter to be with her again. He treasured the experience as much as he was embarrassed by it. There was enough of the macho in him to even mention it, for which again he was remorseful.

It was to Norm Pearson, who one afternoon was extolling the beauties of Emma, and saying how he would like to make love to her but that she was a good girl, and the Student agreed that she was good but said to love her was not impossible. And Norm said what do you mean. And he said well I made love to her. And Norm denied it. And the Student let himself be denied having loved her, for he shouldn't have spoken of it in the first place. Better appear the braggart.

The fishskin condom, practically indestructible, was probably floating around somewhere out there, among others of its kind, that caused him to complain, upon his swimming trips to the Lake, about the pollution and the turds and the condoms and other garbage floating around.


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