So while I was working on Henry James I bumped into a woman who had gone to my college. I said, hey aren’t you…and then I couldn’t remember her last name, but that didn’t make any difference because in the four or five year interim she had married and had a child and so her last name was different. I don’t think I had said even two words to her at college. She was not in my crowd, though I didn’t have a crowd exactly. She had been heavy duty into the sorority-fraternity scene that dominated the campus, and she was very popular and home coming queen material. I say that because she was like the runner-up to the home coming queen one year or something like that.
We hung out some and had coffee and I was a year or so ahead of her with the TA gig and showed her the ropes. One day, she asked me who I thought she had been back in college and I said, I really didn’t know though I thought she had been part of the fraternity and sorority crowd. And then she asked me who I thought I had been, and I said, a hippy, I guess. And she said, crap, because she was pretty direct. I had been, she said, a “turkey.”
Turkey was a sort of pre-cursor term for nerd. It meant I was a “gobbler,” or studying kind of person, and as usual the study type person, the person who goes to college to learn something, is cast in the negative maybe because they make it rough for the people who don’t study. I had to allow though that she was right. The beard and long hair hadn’t fooled anybody. I mean Rasputin had a beard and long hair and he wasn’t a hippy. I wasn’t either though I didn’t think I was a turkey as much as I was fucking troubled.
We struck up a sort of friendship. A couple of times she called me, and nobody called me, and I would come up from the basement and she would read something and say, Now, guess who wrote that. And I would say Henry James since that was who it was and you knew it was Henry James even if you hadn’t read it before. We would chat a bit and I began to figure that a person, even though she was a sorority person and her husband was making good money, who would call a guy living in the basement of his parents’ house to cheer him up a bit couldn’t be all bad. So once I even called her and I don’t call anybody, unless my battery is dead or something like that, and got her husband, who didn’t seem too friendly, and read a bit to her:
“The dream of acquisition at Weatherend would have had to be wild indeed, and John Marcher found himself, among such suggestions, disconcerted almost equally by the presence of those who knew too much and by that of those who knew nothing. The great rooms caused so much poetry and history to press upon him that he needed some straying apart to feel in a proper relation with them, though this impulse was not, as happened, like the gloating of some of his companions, to be compared to the movements of a dog sniffing a cupboard. It had an issue promptly enough in a direction that was not to have been calculated.”
Henry James, she said laughing. Now how did you know that? I said.