In one minute the firefighter and the nurse met at a bar and in
the next minute they were in a motel room tearing each others clothes
off. That was quick, Paul Lerner thought. He and his wife Sally were watching a
television show. He noted that there was the obligatory glimpse of breasts;
also, throughout the program there were the obligatory f-words. The show, which
came with the usual warnings of violence, bad language and nudity, actually
wasnt too bad. It showed how much times had changed.
After the show was over, Paul asked Sally, Where was that
It was that place in Monterey, she said
Right. Theyd been seeing each other for how
long by then, six, eight months. It had been their first time. We thought
we were pretty daring.
We were. You ripped my clothes off right away.
What? I dont remember that.
Im teasing. We folded everything very neatly.
Shortly after, they went to bed. It was eleven. Most of the
other people in their retirement community were probably asleep by now. Many
were up by five or six in the morning. Paul thought of that motel in Monterey,
their first time, then, suddenly, of another first time. Her name was Marjorie
Stern. God, he hadnt thought of her in ages. Theyd met at high
school, in New York, the Bronx. He couldnt recall exactly how but it was
because of a book assignment in their English class. It was George Eliots
Middlemarch, pretty advanced reading for high school freshmen. At
that age, hed been almost pathologically shy so she must have made the
first move. However it happened, they both liked the book and also other books,
which theyd excitedly discussed together. So it started as a literary
Marjorie. She wasnt short but just below middle height, as
it was then. She couldnt be called pretty. She had a round serious face
and wore glasses. Her eyes were brown, no, gray. Paul wasnt that tall
himself and he also wore glasses. They started going to movies together. Maybe
the first one was based on a book theyd read, he couldnt remember.
After that, it became a regular thing, almost every week. Although they went to
the same high school, they didnt live close to one another. He lived in
the South Bronx, not yet the notorious battle zone it would later become, but
still not the best of neighborhoods. His building was pretty shabby. Marjorie
lived near the Grand Concourse, in a ritzy apartment building. They always went
to the Loews Paradise, on the Concourse, which showed first-run pictures.
He didnt know how long it took but he finally got up enough nerve to put
his arm around Marjorie in the movie house. She didnt seem to mind. In
the street, theyd walk hand in hand. They took it for granted that
theyd see each other every weekend. Theyd become a couple.
Paul didnt know anything about girls. To him, they were a
foreign species. Growing up, he knew that they were in general smaller and
softer than boys and that they didnt play the rough games boys did. The
one or two who did like to play ball were known as tomboys. He also knew that
when girls became teenagers they changed. He was aware that they developed
breasts and other things. He supposed he had a romantic view of Marjorie. He
treated her as if she was somewhat fragile, like a China doll. He opened doors
and pulled out chairs for her. He carried her books. He never used bad language
when he was with her. If anyone had assaulted her, physically or verbally, he
would have sprung to her defense. Sometimes he imagined her in some dangerous
situation, maybe trapped in a burning building. Hed come to her rescue.
At other times, he imagined the reverse, that hed been wounded somehow
and shed nurse him back to health. Shed hold him against her soft
In due time, Marjorie asked Paul into her apartment and
introduced him to her parents. The apartment was almost twice as large as his,
his parents, that is. Her father was, he recalled, an advertising executive;
his was a plumber. Her mother, as he could see, wasnt too enthusiastic
about her one and only daughter going out with a plumbers son.
Eventually, usually after seeing a movie, theyd go back to
Marjories place and engage in long necking sessions in the living room.
That was as far as they could go with her parents in the nearby bedroom.
At the end of the school term, Marjorie told Paul that her
father had been offered a great job in California, something to do with the
aerospace boom, and that they were moving to Los Angeles. She didnt want
to go, but she had no choice. Theyd write to each other of course. He
remembered that they had a tearful farewell. Then she was gone. They did write
to each other, once a week at first, then less and less often. Then, in the
middle of their second high school year, she wrote that shed met someone.
Shortly after that, he also met someone.
So, Marjorie represented Pauls first time. They never did
get as far as having sex, and this seemed a little absurd now; still it was a
first time and, looking back, he wasnt sorry that it had all been so
relatively innocent. He was glad that shed been something mysterious to
him and that he hadnt known all the ins and outs of her body. He was glad
hed felt that what they had was something special and not commonplace,
that his heart raced whenever he saw her, that he felt lifted up by her
presence, that hed known what the phrase walking on air: meant. He
was glad he looked upon her as a maiden in a courtly romance, someone who was
gentle, modest, feminine, and that he wanted to be her knight. Oh, well, that
was all in the past. He wondered if teenage boys nowadays felt even a fraction
of what hed felt way back then. No, of course not. He closed his eyes and
The next evening they turned on one of their favorite TV shows.
The show was well-written and the acting good. There was the usual violence,
bad language and nudity. Once again, the image of Marjorie Stern came into his
mind, then he became caught up in the action, a shooting, a sex scene, another
shooting. The image faded; it belonged to another time and another world.