Do you have memories of parties you've been to in your life where you remember certain events but have no recollection of whose house you were at and could never find that house again if your life depended on it? I was at one of those parties in Memphis one fine summer evening. As my friends and I sat in the elegant living room of someone's house, two girls came in with an air of Faulknerian drunkenness. One was somewhat heavy and had on a black dress, cut very high on the thigh. Her friend was in an expensive pants outfit, and the first thing the friend said was, "Tell them your poem!"
Being the gentlemen we were, we all turned to the lady with the poem and looked on in that way that men look when they are expecting to be entertained. She kicked her shoes off, and seemed to grow a couple of inches taller.
As she stood there, barefoot and elegant, throwing her head back to stare at the ceiling with a look normal folks reserve for God himself, she blurted out the first line of her poem.
Her Southern drawl was more pronounced than most, so the syllables were many. And the "uni" in "universe" was more like "you-ni." I would have fallen in love with her had it not been for the rest of the poem and some personal history. Oh, the poem wasn't that godawful, but the fact that she'd obviously spent hours upon end memorizing not only the words but also the overly theatrical delivery: That made me realize that this was one of the Southern Belle Cotillion Cadre of Crazy Co-eds which Can seriously Compromise not only your sanity but lead to your inCarceration if things go just the least bit wrong.
* * * * * *
It reminded me of a day, not that many years ago, when I was driving a cab for a living in a college town. I got a call one spring day to pick up a fare at one of the old antebellum homes in that town. When I got there, I blew the horn, although the house was several yards from where I was parked on the street. I feared that no one would be able to hear me, but just as I was getting ready to get out and walk up to the house, here came this blonde running to the car. She jumped in the front seat (which was somewhat presumptuous, as you know if you've ever been a cab driver) and somewhat sullenly asked me to take her to her psychiatrist. When we got there, she asked me to wait on her and take her home. This involves running the meter and charging the customer for the time, but she didn't mind, she said.
When she came back out, she seemed happier than before, and chatted me up all the way back to her house. When we got to the house, she instructed me to pull in the driveway. Then she asked if I'd like to see her room.
I then noticed that there was a pure bone structure to her face. It was one of those faces which wins beauty contests, and when I told her this, she lost no time in telling me that she had been Miss Alabama a few years earlier. I did not doubt it for a minute. In fact, I was becoming quite concerned that I'd not noticed her loveliness previously. Was I going blind?
No, I was not. In retrospect, I had realized from the first minute she got in the cab that she was of the above-mentioned Cotillion. I was acting out of pure self-preservation not to notice her. It was the right thing to do. So why did I let myself get lured out of my cab and into her ante bellum home?
Who can answer these sorts of questions? I followed her into the back door of the house; a house with some of the highest ceilings I'd ever seen in my life. She took my hand and led me past some rooms with open doors. From one of those darkened rooms, an older female voice called out, "Pamela, is that you?" She said, "Yes, I've got a friend here. Don't bother getting up." It dawned on me that the voice wouldn't be getting up anyway. It was mid-afternoon and the room from whence the voice came was dark and the voice sounded drugged and barely aware. No, this was some sort of Truman Capote, Flannery O'Connor, Tennessee Williams house where time stood still and the inhabitants did not relish dealing with the outside world. Isolation was the prime directive.
And, yet, here I was walking into Pamela's room. The girl was in her late 20's (at least) but her room was decorated with a pink canopy bed and dolls everywhere: Those big old dolls with the expensive outfits. She seemed half ashamed and half excited to show me all of this. But when she sensed that I was just a bit spooked (the Southern gentry were used to raising horses and the ladies can tell when a man is spooked as well as a fine horse) she suggested that she show me the attic out above the garage.
Did I mention what the lady was wearing? It was a summer dress with a sleeveless top and a skirt which hit at the knee. It was light blue with a white trim; a light dress for a hot day. As she took me out of the house to the garage, the voice came again from the darkened room, "Are you leaving, dear?"
"No, momma; I'm just showing my friend the rest of the house." We walked out into the bright sunlight, across the yard to the garage. She lowered some stairs which were hidden in the ceiling of the attic. Then she looked me straight in the eye and said, "Follow me."
The stairs were steep and when she was up about ten steps, I did follow her. And, in following, I looked up to see where I was going. Oh, did I see where I was going. She had on no undergarments whatsoever.
There was a couch in the attic.
* * * * * *
Yes, it would have been so easy to fall in love with the slightly overweight girl in the black dress giving it her all as she recited her poem about the Universe . . . had it not been for the experiences which I'd suffered after following an unstable girl into an attic, a few years prior.