Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

 Gentlemen Songsters

 

 

Casey stood in front of the full-length mirror looking at himself. Yes, that was him. 

Of course that was him. It was just that he had never seen himself dressed that way before, as if he were a movie star or something—the shiny black of the tux, the frilled front of the pinkish shirt, the cummerbund. No red carnation in his lapel yet. But that was coming. That was for sure coming. She would pin it on him—probably in the front hallway of the sorority house.

Not bad, he thought, looking at himself. Passable. More than passable. Well, thin body, of course. He had always been thin. But that tux. It filled things out.

Because tonight was the night.

Exactly how it was going to happen wasn’t clear. But it was going to happen.

Because that guy in his Foundations of Literature class had said, “See that one? Half the guys on this campus are getting into her.”

“Yeah?” Casey had said.

“Hell, yes,” the guy had said.

“Yeah?” Casey said again.

Now Casey looked at his watch. Half an hour. Plenty of time.

So?

What if she pulled out a cigarette? Girls like that, those kinds of girls, the easy ones, usually smoked. Or he guessed they usually smoked. She just might pull out a cigarette and wait for him. Was he going to light her up or not.

Where had he put that Zippo? Probably in the hiding place under his bed.

Casey knelt down and pushed the two suitcases aside and reached way under for the box where he kept the magazines with the pictures of naked women. Yes, there, right next to the two packs of cigarettes, he felt the Zippo.

As he stood up he imagined his date had already pulled out her cigarette and holding it between her fingers waiting for him to do something. Was he going to light her up or not? Casey flipped open the lid of the Zippo and snapped his thumb across the roller. The flame caught. “Here,” he said, easing the Zippo in her direction. 

Wasn't that when they put their hand up over your hand, the hand that was holding the lighter? Didn't they touch your hand lightly as you were doing it? Or was that only if you struck a match and held the match out? Maybe girls didn’t do that if you had a lighter. Especially a clunky lighter like a Zippo.

Or, maybe he was the one who was supposed to carry the cigarettes. What if she asked him for a cigarette?

Down beside the bed again and again pushing the suitcases aside and opening the box with the magazines with pictures of naked women and taking out one of the packs of cigarettes. Chesterfields. He’d bought those two packs a month ago just in case a girl came up to the room and she was one of those easy ones who wanted to smoke.

Not that there was any hope of that. Fat chance. Mrs. Janklow, his landlady, had made that clear: no girls in the rooms.

Well, still, you had to be prepared.

Casey looked at the pack of Chesterfields. A problem. She’d see right away the pack hadn’t been opened, that maybe it had just been sitting around under his bed.

So Casey got hold of that little, thin golden band at the top of the cigarette pack, pulled it around the rim, pried open the tinfoil and pulled two cigarettes out.

Right. Now his date could see the pack had been used.

What else?

The flask! Of course! The flask! How could he have forgotten that?

Casey opened the door of his closet and fished behind the dirty clothes hamper and found it. Jack Daniel’s. A small flat bottle with a curved back. That was so you could put it in your hip pocket and it would kind of fit in against you.

So, twenty minutes ’til D-day. He’d better get going.

For the last time he looked at himself in the mirror. Yes, that was him, all right. Not bad. Not bad at all. With that tux jacket hanging down you couldn’t see how thin he really was. And no bulges for the Zippo lighter or the cigarettes. And the flask of Jack Daniel’s was around behind so you couldn’t see that either.

The corsage! He’d almost forgotten about the corsage! My God! What if he’d shown up at the sorority and he hadn’t brought the corsage? That would be like her forgetting his red carnation.

Out the door and along the hallway to the refrigerator where some of the other roomers kept their food. Casey opened its door, pulled the corsage out of the vegetable tray and held it up. A wrist corsage. The man at the flower shop had asked Casey if he wanted a regular or a wrist?”A regular or a wrist?” Casey had asked.”Better play it safe,” the man had said.”Most of the girls are wearing strapless gowns these days.”“Strapless?” said Casey.

So, now really time to go.

Back in his room, one more look in the mirror, not bad, not bad at all, then checking his pockets: the corsage, the Zippo, the pack of cigarettes, the flask, and, of course, the tickets for the dance. He pulled the tickets out of his side pocket and, yes, there it was printed in big letters right on the face of the tickets:”Tommy Dorsey.”

Casey closed and locked the door to his room, went down the stairs, opened the front door of the house, and stepped out onto the porch. Down at the end of the street, he could see the Sigma Chi house, where Frat Row began.

Sigma Chi. Someone had told him they had special rooms up in the attic. Where you could take a girl. And special parties. Spiked drinks. You brought two drinks. They both looked the same. But one was spiked and one wasn’t. Of course, you kept track of which was which, and you handed her the one that was spiked. After a girl drank one of those drinks, maybe half an hour later, or maybe after only twenty minutes, she really wanted it. Really panted after it. Even asked you for it outright, maybe if the two of you couldn’t do it right now. That was where those rooms came in.

He knew this much, thought Casey, as he walked toward Frat Row: As a freshman he couldn’t pledge a frat yet. But for sure next year, the fall of 1951, he would. Probably Sigma Chi. Because as a Sigma Chi he would have scored by now. He would have scored long before now. For sure he would have made use of one of those rooms.

As he got nearer the Sigma Chi house, he could hear music coming from the windows, Frank Sinatra belting it out, having it his way, and out on the front lawn the guys were climbing up onto The Pig. The Pig was an old Cadillac stretch limousine that was almost always parked on the front lawn of Sigma Chi. It had seats fitted on top of it, and it kept getting painted different colors—tonight deep purple with the Greek letters for Sigma Chi scrawled in yellow on its side.

As the limousine pulled away from the lawn over the curb and out onto the street, more and more guys pulled themselves up to the seats on top or clung to the sides. Three big guys sat right in the middle of the hood leaning back against the windshield. Casey recognized the guy in the middle: Butch Huntington, the university’s all-American football player. Last season he had set a record for the number of pass interceptions.

In fact as The Pig passed Casey, Butch Huntington raised his fist and yelled “Bung ho!”

“Bung ho!” shouted Casey back.

The guys up there on The Pig were already drinking from bottles of beer. Most likely they had been drinking for some time.

Actually, when Casey thought about it, when he really thought about it, these guys were like little kids. Like little stupid kids. Like little stupid kids with zits.

That’s if he really thought about it.

The Pig was well down Frat Row now, and as Casey followed in its direction he began to pass the other fraternity houses, Sigma Nu, Tau Kappa Epsilon, Theta Chi and the others. Each house had loud music coming out of the upper windows, and as Casey walked down the street, one song merged into another.

Until the music died away. That was because he had reached Sorority Row, or as it was sometimes called, Hen Row, Delta Zeta, Alpha Phi, Pi Beta Phi and the others. And the sororities didn’t play loud music out of their upper windows. 

Lots of couples were coming out of the sorority houses, the girls wearing evening gowns in different pastel shades, and the guys, just like himself, in black tuxedos and white or slightly pink shirts, cummerbunds and red carnations on their lapels. And the man at the store had been right: most of the girls were wearing strapless gowns and wore their corsages on their wrists. Thank God he had gone for a wrist corsage and not a regular.

Ahead of him he saw the Tri Delt house. That’s where she was waiting for him. Right now. Well, probably not just waiting for him— as if she were down at the front door looking out or something like that. But up in her room putting on the last of her makeup, studying herself in the mirror like girls do, with the red carnation on the dressing table beside her.

What luck to have gotten a date with her. After all, she was older than he was, and girls usually liked guys older than themselves. But, then, to be honest, well, she wasn’t the best looking girl in the world. Not fat, but certainly chunky. But the guy in his Literary Foundations class had pointed her out and said, “Yeah, that one.”

“Yeah?” said Casey.

So Casey had gotten up his nerve after one of the classes and just stepped in next to her as she was walking along the sidewalk.”Hi, how are you?” he'd said. Things like that. And then he’d gone and done it. He’d asked her if she already had a date for the Tommy Dorsey dance.”Well, not yet,” she had said.”Would you like to go with me?” he asked. And she didn’t say, no. She said something like, “I don’t know yet. Why don’t you call me?” Then she’d actually pulled out a piece of paper and written down a phone number.”That’s the pay phone on the top floor of Tri Delt,” she said.”You’ll have to ask for me.” Then she said her name. Donna Bona.”But just ask for Donna.” A week later Casey had gotten up his nerve and called the number and asked for Donna, and when she came to the phone he said, “Hi, how are you?” and all that kind of stuff, and then finally came around to asking her about the dance. Had she made up her mind yet? He couldn’t believe it. She’d said, yes.

He was thinking those thoughts when he heard singing. Beautiful soft singing floating across the evening air. An all-male choir. The Whiffenpoof song:

 

To the tables down at Morey’s

To the place where Louie dwells

To the dear old temple bar we love so well . . .

Sing the Whiffenpoofs assembled

With their glasses raised on high

And the magic of their singing casts its spell . . .

 

Sigma Chi’s! Casey saw The Pig parked in front of the Tri Delt House and all the guys lined up in three rows on the front lawn. They were the ones who were singing. The girls sat in their evening gowns on the sills of the upper windows listening.

How could the Sigma Chi guys sing like that, thought Casey, so beautifully? Kids with zits? They’d been drinking since God knew when. Shouting “Bung ho!,” things like that.

Yet they were singing beautifully, now even softer about how they were poor little lambs who had gone astray. Then suddenly very loudly:”Gentlemen songsters off on a spree.” Then quietly again.”Doomed from here to eternity.” Then extra quietly, really a whisper.

 

Lord have mercy on such as we.

Baa, baa, baa.

 

Silence from the girls at the windows. Then they began to applaud, but a quiet, muffled kind of clapping.

Suddenly the guys, all together, as if someone had given a signal, dropped to their knees and held their hands out, palms up, and starting chanting,”Please! Please! Please!” The girls at the windows began to laugh, some of them ducking away, then more ducking away, the others coming back. Casey couldn't quite believe it. The panties started floating down. And the bras. The guys cheered and broke out of their three rows to grab the things out of the air. Casey watched Butch Huntington snag five panties. But then he had broken a record for interceptions last season.

Suddenly Butch Huntington started shouting:”Donna! Donna! Donna!” The other guys took up the chant:”Donna! Donna! Donna!” Some of them got down on their knees again and held their hands out, palms up.

Most of the girls were laughing. A flurry at one of the windows and a new girl appeared. She was smiling a bright smile and holding out her arms as if she were the queen of England, or something.

That was his date! That was Donna Bona! Doing that bright smiling!

All the guys, including Butch Huntington, were back down on their knees.”Please! Please! Please!” they chanted together.

Donna Bona kept smiling that bright smile, then, turning to her girlfriends at the window, she put one of her hands up to her chin as if she were trying to decide on something, should she or shouldn't she? The guys all started shouting, “Now! Now! Now!” She covered her mouth with one of her hands as if to say, you really want me to do that? The guys shouted, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”

And what was this? Was she actually reaching under her evening gown? Casey couldn't tell because his date had backed off from the window, and the sill of the window hid her lower body, but it appeared, it seemed from her motions, how she dropped her arms and the way that she wiggled her hips, that she was actually reaching under her evening gown, all the way under there, and was pulling at something, her panties, because there she was right up at the window again, and look! She was holding the panties out away from her by two fingers with the guys going wild down below. Then she let the panties drop. They floated down, turning this way and that way, until Butch Huntington snagged them out of the air and passed them under his nose. He pretended to faint and his buddies pretended to catch him in their arms.

She hadn't really done that, had she? thought Casey. Not actually? She hadn't really reached under her evening gown and pulled off her panties? Because if she had, that meant that she didn't have anything on under there right now.

Could that be true?

The guys started calling out the names of different girls and the girls called back, and the guys started going in the front door of the Tri Delt house.

Casey followed, but slowly. He was still trying to figure it out. She had to have been pretending, he decided. The other girls had told her what to expect, and she had brought an extra pair of panties with her. So that meant she was still wearing her real pair of panties under there.

“Good evening. And how are you? So nice to see you this evening.”

That was the housemother standing at the door greeting everyone. Every sorority house and fraternity house had a housemother.

“Good evening to you, young man,” said the housemother to Casey when it was his turn.

“Good evening,” said Casey.

Casey didn't quite know where to stand with all the confusion going on, the girls coming into the hallway from the stairs, the guys giving the girls corsages, the girls pinning red carnations on the lapels of the guys, the couples beginning to leave. Most of the girls wore strapless gowns and Casey could see the beginning of their breasts, but only a tiny bit.

“Hey, doll!”

That was Butch Huntington. His date had just come in. She had long blond hair and a long, slim back. Butch kissed her on the lips— right there in the hallway not all that far from the housemother. As he kissed her he brought one hand around behind her and laid it under the curve of her rear end. 

“Butch!” said the girl, pushing his hand away.

But the housemother hadn't seen this because she was at the front door saying goodnight, have a wonderful time, enjoy yourself, things like that, and occasionally saying to a girl, “Remember, dear, one-thirty, no later.”

Then everyone was gone.

“Well, my goodness,” said the housemother seeing Casey standing alone, “have they all gone off without you?” 

Casey explained that he was here to pick up Donna Bona.

“Oh, yes, of course,” said the housemother.”Donna. Well, I'm sure she's almost ready.”

The housemother went to a little black phone that sat on a small table in the hallway, lifted the receiver, and dialed a number.

“Hello? Donna? This is Mrs. Penn downstairs. There's a very handsome young man waiting for you. Yes, I'll tell him that. Yes, of course, Donna. Thank you.”

The housemother explained to Casey that Donna was running just a little late but that she would be down in five minutes 

“Why don't you wait in here, Mr. . . .? Mr. . . . ?

“O'Brien,” said Casey.

You can make yourself comfortable here, Mr. O'Brien.”

The housemother showed Casey into another room. It looked as if it were an exhibit in a museum. All the chairs looked uncomfortable, each covered with purple satin. Casey chose one, sat down on it, and when he was pretty sure the housemother was around the corner, he reached for the flask in his back pocket. One more look over at the door and Casey unscrewed the lid of the flask and took a swallow. He felt the whiskey going down his throat and then spreading around in his stomach. 

Yeah! he said to himself.

He took another swallow and again felt the whiskey go down his throat and then spread in his stomach.

That had really been something, thought Casey, his date reaching down under her evening gown and pulling off her panties and holding them out by her two fingers. Although that had probably just been acting. Although maybe not. And the Sigma Chi guys singing the Whiffenpoof song. That had really been something, too. How quiet they had gotten when they had sung, “Doomed from here to eternity, God have mercy on such as we . . . .” 

“Hi, there!” 

Donna Bona stood in the doorway of the living room in a light green strapless gown smiling brightly at Casey, the same kind of smile she had smiled out of the upstairs window just minutes ago. Well, it was true: She wasn't the most beautiful girl in the world.

“Hello,” said Casey getting to his feet. Just looking at her he couldn't tell if she was wearing panties or not.

“Nice to see you,” she said. Then she laughed.

“Nice to see you, too,” said Casey.

She came across the room toward Casey and extended her hand. She wanted to shake his hand. Shaking hands was more for meeting guys, wasn't it, not girls?

But Casey put out his hand.

“How are you?” he said.

“I'm fine. How are you?”

“I'm fine.”

They shook hands.

She laughed. 

“It's so nice to see you.” 

“It's nice to see you, too.

She laughed again.

“Here,” said Casey.”I brought you something.”

He handed her the corsage.

“Oh,” she said, “Oh, how lovely. Shall I put it on now?”

“It's for your wrist,” said Casey.

“Thank you ever so much.”

While she was putting the corsage on her wrist, Casey looked her over and saw that he could see more of her breasts than he was able to see with the other girls. Maybe that's because her breasts were just bigger and there wasn't as much space for them to fit in. Or maybe it was because she was one of those girls. 

“So,” said Casey pulling his eyes away from the beginning of her breasts before she looked up at him and caught him looking, “it's nice to see you. I mean, here.”

“Yes,” she said, and laughed again.

“I mean, here where you live. The guys say Tri Delt is one of the best sororities. Actually, the best.”

“Oh, yes. Tri Delt is the best.”

“That's what the guys say.”

The housemother was standing at the front door.

“Now, the two of you just have the best time of your lives.”

Casey walked down the sidewalk and his date walked beside him. A few other couples were walking in the same direction out in front of them, but nothing like the number of couples as before.

Suddenly a thought came to Casey: His date hadn't given him a carnation for his lapel! He had given her a corsage, but she hadn't given him a carnation! Had she forgotten, or what? Didn't she know she was supposed to give him a carnation? Of course she knew. All girls knew things like that. So maybe she'd simply forgotten. In the excitement of everything. The Sigma Chi's calling for her. That panty stuff.

Well, it wasn't too late to go back and get it. Should he ask her about it?

Just as Casey was thinking about that, whether to suggest going back for the carnation or not, they came to The Tunnel.” “The Tunnel” wasn't really a tunnel. It was a lane which went in through some overhanging trees and just looked like a tunnel. The seniors always walked down this lane on their way to graduation ceremonies. It was also the shortest way to the gymnasium where the dance was being held.

“I guess we could go this way,” said Casey, still considering whether he should ask her about the carnation.

“Yes, I guess we could,” she said.

She laughed.  

It was much darker once they turned into The Tunnel.” Casey could barely make out a couple walking in front of them. Well, the girl was easier to see because she was wearing a light-colored evening gown. But the guy in the black tuxedo almost wasn't there.

“I think it's nice walking here,” said Casey.

“Oh, yes, it's nice.”

“It's one of my favorite places on campus.

“Mine, too.”

Casey didn't know if he was supposed to take her hand now or not. Did she expect him to? Did she want him to? Or would she be offended if he did?

Or maybe now was the time she would ask him to light her cigarette. If she did, well, he was ready. He'd whip out that Zippo lighter. Then she'd touch her hand over his hand. Barely a touch. And that's how it would all begin. Everything else would follow.

But so far she hadn't asked him to light her cigarette.

“So,” she said, “what are you going to major in? I mean, I don't know much about you.”

“History. I was thinking of majoring in history,” said Casey.

“Oh, history?”

“Well, I'm not all that interested in history. Not just for itself. Not just dates and things like that. But, see, I want to become a lawyer. And most people think that history is the best pre-law course to take. Because it teaches you analytical skills. How to take lots of events and make sense of them. To analyze them.”

“Oh, yes,” she said.

“Of course I won't go to law school here. Maybe Harvard or Yale or Princeton. If I can get in. Because those are the really good law schools. And it's not just that they're the best schools, but, see, it's the other students. The ones you meet. Connections. For later on.”

“Oh, I see.”

She laughed.

“Or maybe even the University of Pennsylvania. As a backup. Most people don't know this, but the University of Pennsylvania has a really good law school. Almost as good as Harvard. See, my uncle's a lawyer and he told me.”

“That's very interesting,” she said.

They kept walking. Again Casey wondered if he was supposed to take her hand. If there was any place on campus it was all right to take a girl's hand, it was probably “The Tunnel.”

Then he had an idea.

“Look what I've got here,” he said stopping. He pulled the bottle of whiskey out of his hip pocket.

“Oh,” she said.

“Say, you don't mind if I have a slug, do you?”

“Oh, no, not at all.”

Casey unscrewed the lid, held the bottle up to his lips, took a swallow and again felt the whiskey go down his throat and spread out in his stomach.

“And you?”

He pushed the bottle out toward her.

“No, thank you.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, I'm sure.”

“You're really sure?”

“Oh, yes.”

She laughed again.

Casey slid the bottle back in his hip pocket and started walking. His date walked beside him.

“It's a nice evening,” said Casey.

“Yes,” she said, “it is.”

“It's a really nice evening.”

“Yes, it's very nice.”

“Although it rained yesterday. Sometimes it rains a lot here.”

“I hate it when it rains.”

“Do you?”

“I just hate it.”

“I do, too.”

They kept walking.

“You don't mind if I have another drink, do you?” said Casey.

“Oh, no, not at all.”

Casey stopped, pulled the bottle out of his hip pocket, unscrewed the lid and had a good swallow. Again he felt the whiskey go into his stomach.  

“And you?”

“No, thank you.”  

Now, Casey told himself. Now was the time to do it. To take her hand.

He took another swallow.

Do it! he said to himself.

He started to lift his hand toward her.

But she said, "Look!”

Casey pulled back his hand and looked. Well, what about that? They had reached the end of  “The Tunnel” just across from the gym. And of all things, there was The Pig, the Sigma Chi stretch limousine. It had just pulled up to the curb. All the guys on top of it were climbing down, Butch Huntington leaping to the street and opening the doors for the girls inside the car and even bowing as they stepped out.

“Oh!” Casey's date said. Then she said, “Come on, Casey.”

And she took his hand and led him across the street. They ended up near The Pig.

“Hey, babe.”

That was Butch Huntington. He waved in Casey’s direction and then Casey saw his date wave back and blow Butch a kiss.

“Wow!” called Butch pretending to duck,”that one almost hit me!”

“Damn,” said Casey’s date.”Next time!”

“You be careful, babe!” said Butch.

The Sigma Chi guys were lining up in three rows on the steps in front of the gym and looked like they were getting ready to sing again. The Sigma Chi dates were going up on the steps of the gymnasium and were turning back to listen to the singing.

“You stay here, Casey,” said Casey’s date as she went up the steps and joined the other girls.

Butch Huntington stepped out in front of the three rows of Sigma Chi’s, gave a signal, and they began to sing.

To the tables down at Morey's

To the place where Louie dwells

 

One guy at the end of the third line pointed at Casey and motioned a come here.”

“Me?” Casey almost said out loud.

“You!” the guy indicated.

Well, why not? thought Casey. Just why the hell not?

He went over to the end of the line, and when the other guy put his arm around Casey's shoulder, Casey put his arm around the other guy's shoulder.

They were getting to the part of the song where Casey knew the words and so he started singing very loudly.

Gentlemen songsters off on a spree

Doomed from here to eternity

 

  

Then very quietly though the rest of it, especially quietly on the:

God have mercy on such as we

Baa, baa, baa.

 

The girls up on top of the steps, including Casey’s date, started clapping, and Casey, including all of the other guys, waved at the girls.

Well, these Sigma Chi guys were really okay, Casey now saw. Of course, they might have their rough edges, kids with zits, things like that. But basically, actually, they were really nice guys. So, next year, he would definitely pledge Sigma Chi.

“Want a slug?”

The guy next to him was holding out a flask for Casey.

“Sure,” said Casey, taking the flask in his hand and lifting it to his mouth and taking a good swallow. Well, whatever that was, it sure didn't taste like Jack Daniel’s. But it burned down his throat the same way. Down in there.

“Wow!” he said.

But when he looked up to the top of the steps, more or less reorienting himself, that is, getting the gym side straight and the street side straight, he didn't see the girls up there anymore. Gone!

“Where are they?” he said to the guy.

“Powder room,” said the guy.

“Right. Of course. Powder room.”

And now, look what was happening. The Sigma Chi guys were starting up the steps to the gym, and Casey told himself to follow along. No, following along wasn't quite the right way of putting it because, in a way, well next fall anyway, he already was a Sigma Chi.

All of them, Casey and the Sigma Chi's, came to this table past the door, and Casey felt into his pockets, and guess what, there was that Zippo lighter and the pack of cigarettes, Chesterfields. But that wasn't the right pocket. Probably the other pocket. Casey reached in the other pocket and, yes, found the two tickets.”Tommy Dorsey,” the printing said right on the front of the tickets.

Casey handed the tickets to the ticket taker, and the ticket taker tore the tickets in half and handed the torn half back to Casey.

Casey was careful about it: He didn't put the torn tickets in the same pocket with the Zippo lighter and the Chesterfields. That wasn't the correct pocket. He put them down in the other pocket.

But still no girls. He and the other Sigma Chi guys were in a hallway, and Casey looked down the hallway but didn't see any of the girls.

So he stepped inside the door to the basketball court and had a look. Wasn't that Tommy Dorsey! Actually Tommy Dorsey? That man standing there down at the end under all the blue red and white bunting hung from the ceiling up by the scoreboard? Not a fake Tommy Dorsey? But the real Tommy Dorsey? It was! Himself! My God! How many times had Casey heard Tommy Dorsey on the radio? Millions of times. Well, thousands of times. And seen him in films. Lots of times. But there he was! There he actually was! Not someone else! Casey could go right over and touch him if he wanted to!

Yeah, thought Casey. Yeah, yeah, yeah!

And he also thought: Anything can happen tonight! Anything! Just minutes ago he had almost taken his date's hand. Something had stopped him, he forgot what. But you could be damn sure that some time tonight he was going to do a hell of a lot more than just take her hand. A hell of a lot more!

Yeah!

One more look at Tommy Dorsey actually standing there, and Casey came back out into the hallway and saw that the Sigma Chi dates were coming back down the hall in little groups of two's or three's, and the Sigma Chi guys were meeting them and escorting them into the gym. Except, where was his date? Not in that last little group of girls. So where was she? Probably spending more time in the ladies room. Not the ladies room. The powder room.

One girl stood alone in the hallway. And Casey recognized her all right: Butch Huntington's date. Looking so beautiful with her long blond hair falling over her slim back.

Casey wished he had a girlfriend that beautiful. Hell, he wouldn't mind sliding his hand down her backside and then down around . . . .

Well, some day. Soon. At the beginning of next school year. After he pledged Sigma Chi. See, they had those rooms upstairs.

But in the meantime, why not?

Just why the hell not?

“Hello,” Casey said going up to the girl. 

“Oh, hello,” she said.

Such a soft smile, such a soft warm smile.

“Where's Butch?” he said to her.

“Oh, he's coming, I think.”

“He hasn't deserted you?”

Casey tried to say this as a joke.

“Deserted me? Oh, no. I don't think so.”

“Well, my date's not here, either,” said Casey.

“I'm sure she'll be here soon.

Again that warm, soft smile.

“You want to know something?”

“Oh, sure,” said the girl.

“Tommy Dorsey's in there.”

“Oh?” she said.

“I mean, that's really Tommy Dorsey. It's not a fake. It's really him.”

“I see,” she said.

“You know, it's strange . . . ,” Casey started. He wanted to tell her about having listened to Tommy Dorsey on the radio and seen him in movies and now, here he really was, himself, Tommy Dorsey, right there at the end of the dance floor. He wasn't somewhere else, but here.

But suddenly Casey saw the girl look away and saw her smile that sweet smile, and Casey followed her eyes and saw Butch Huntington coming down the hall. He looked like an all-American.

“Hi, Doll.”

Butch Huntington leaned over and kissed his date—right on the lips.

“Hey, kid,” he said turning to Casey.”How ya' doing?”

“Great!” said Casey.

“Enjoying the evening?”

“You bet!”

“Where’s your date?”

“She’s coming.”

“That-a- way, kid.”

Butch Huntington took his date's hand and pulled her toward the door to the basketball court. And, yes, again slipped his hand down her back.

Leaving Casey standing all alone in the hallway.

So what was he supposed to do now? How come everyone else had his girl and he didn't? Because where was his date, anyway? What was she doing? The powder room didn't take that long.

So Casey began to walk down the hallway.

On each side of the hallway, he saw display cases of silver and golden athletic trophies backed up by photographs of athletic teams. Lots of young men looking out at him. All of a sudden Tommy Dorsey’s band struck up”Hoop-Dee-Doo.”

Then he saw his date. Past the last athletic display case. Donna Bona. She was sitting on the stairs with her knees pulled up to her chest and her head buried between her hands.

“Hello?” said Casey.

Donna Bona raised her head and looked at him. Her eyes were all wet. Anyone could see she had been crying.

“Casey, I want you to take me home.”

That was what she said.

“Home?”

“Yes, home.”

As he watched her, she stood up, picking up her small, white purse from the steps beside her and started down the hall.

He followed her, right behind her, past the athletic trophies and those young men looking out from the photographs, all the time the music from the dance floor,”Hoop-Dee-Doo,” growing louder.

“Donna,” he said, trying to get up beside her.

But she only walked faster. And she didn't turn toward where the music was coming from, but went the other way instead, right past the ticket table and out the front door of the gymnasium. Casey followed her down the steps. Out in the night only a few other couples were coming toward the gymnasium, the girls in their taffeta or satin strapless gowns with corsages on their wrists and the boys in tuxedoes with red carnations on their lapels. 

His date crossed the street, and as soon as she entered the lane called”The Tunnel,” Casey was able to walk up beside her.

“Donna,” he said again.

She suddenly stopped.

“I just want you to know, I just want you to understand, there’s nothing between me and Butch Huntington. Absolutely nothing.”

“Oh, yes, okay,” said Casey.

“Absolutely nothing.”

“Okay.”

Casey reached in his hip pocket, pulled out his bottle of Jack Daniels, unscrewed the lid, and took a good hit. He felt the whiskey go down.

“Want some?”

“No, thank you,” she said starting to walk again.

Casey hurried to get up beside her.

“No Jack Daniels?”

“I said, 'No thank you.'”

As he walked, Casey took another hit.

Then he slid the bottle back in his hip pocket and reached out and took her hand.

She pulled her hand away.

He grabbed her hand again.

“No, Casey!”

He held on. He more than held on. He pulled.

Suddenly he felt a sting on one of his cheeks. He hadn’t seen the swing from her other arm coming.

He let go of her hand.

“Casey, you needn't bother. I can find my own way home.”

He watched his date walk down “The Tunnel” until she disappeared into the darkness.  

Casey pulled the bottle out of his hip pocket again, brought it up to his lips, took one slug, then another, and then another, and still another until the bottle was empty.

And suddenly remembered! The red carnation!

My God! Everybody else, all the other guys at the dance, Butch Huntington, everyone, all had red carnations!

But not him!

“Gentlemen Songsters off on a spree!” he yelled, and gave the bottle a heave and heard it smash into pieces as it hit somewhere.

 

 

 


Karl Harshbarger is an American writer (living in Germany) who has had over 80 stories published in such magazines as The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, The Antioch Review, The New England Review, and The Prairie Schooner.  Two of his stories have been selected for the list of “Distinguished Stories” in Best American Short Stories, and twelve of his stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.  He was a finalist for a collection of short stories in the Iowa Publication Awards for Short Fiction, the George Garrett Fiction Prize for Best Book of Short Stories or Short Novel, and the Mary McCarthy Prize for Short Fiction.