September 06, 2010
From the 1979 Archive: Fear and Loathing on the Long Island Singles Scene
[In the summer of 1979, between my junior and senior years at Princeton University, I had a plum job as an intern feature writer for Newsday, a major daily based in Garden City, New York. After the summer I wrote this piece for the September 12, 1979 issue of the Princetonian, for incoming freshmen. The anxiety in the piece about driving and gasoline reflected the gas crisis of that summer, which led to long lines at gas stations. My harebrained efforts to conserve gas and limit driving in my 1971 AMC Hornet got me into ridiculous situations. I’ve added bracketed explanatory notes to flesh out the last 31 years of life experience.]
Once school had ended last spring, but before my summer as a reporter on Long Island began, I immediately immersed myself in the cathode hot tub of American culture. On any evening in early June I hunkered down in front of Colonial Club’s TV, deliciously slack-jawed while advertisements played the summer hard sell, showering this winter shut-in with scenes of beach frolic, the open road and heavy, heavy socializing. [Colonial Club was the eating club to which I belonged at Princeton.]
The message fit nicely with the brochures sent to the Newsday interns. TV said WHAT to do, while the booklets and maps told me WHERE to do it. (With WHOM was the problem.) Equipped with my first car, the Newsday social calendar and, of course, lots of gasoline, I was bound and determined to enjoy myself, even if I nearly killed myself in the process.
My main outlet for this urge was the Long Island singles scene. Various groups ran notices in Newsday, and, as a total stranger to such activities, I decided to investigate some of them. Beneath my thoughts then was an image of the mythical summer romance, a way of celebrating and sharing the first season of being truly independent.
As things transpired, Murphy’s Law – if something can go wrong, it will – became the organizing principle of my adventures, as the bubble of expectations shrank rapidly after continual prickings. Like a surfer who paddles farther and farther out to sea in search of the perfect wave, I wasted a lot of time looking for something that wasn’t there, while missing the lesser but more accessible possibilities for diversion. Once I shed the Mr. Goodbar mentality, things improved. There’s nothing wrong with watching the Yankees with neighbors.
So there were some lessons to be learned, or relearned in some cases, over the summer. Mainly, I realized that in life, unlike sports, you don’t have to score to win. To make a deliberate search for the love of your life – whether at singles’ bars or their collegiate equivalent, club parties – is an exercise in futility. Friends are made, not captured.
Freshmen should keep that in mind as they pass through the swirl of introductions and forgotten names this week. More than high grades or a superficial social visibility, the friends you make and the experiences you share will give Princeton a meaning and fullness that will remain with you long after academic matters have slipped into the past. [Incredibly enough, this pathetic attempt to rationalize socio-sexual failure turned out to be true.]
Different adventures yielded different lessons. For freshmen and others who prefer to experience such things vicariously, the following vignettes should suffice.
1. You’re your own best transportation. You invite disaster when you must rely upon the good will of other people to meet your transportation needs. Nobody ever wants to leave when you do. Once, to get to a church singles dance, I left my car at the Hicksville train station and patriotically rode the fabled Long Island Rail Road to Carle Place and saved a few precious ounces of gas. Nobody at the dance knew when I could get a train back to Hicksville. A young woman had offered to drive me back, so I didn’t worry. My easy state of mind lasted about as long as the dance did. Gee-whiz, the wood-be driver said, as she primly wrung her hands, she couldn’t give me a ride after all, because I was a strange man and her parents wouldn’t want her to give potential weirdos rides at one in the morning. She was adamant, and even an offer to let her examine my press card was to no avail. Finally, after considerable waiting and cursing on a chilly train platform, a member of the clean-up crew took me to my car.
2. Quality does not assure compatibility. This is just a rephrasing of the King Midas Dilemma. Why else would I have gotten intensely bored as the only male in a singles group’s post-movie trip to that noted eatery, the Syosset Restaurant? The women – two fairly young, two others better described as “matronly” – were nice enough, but the conversation moved into areas we never explored in Philosophy 200, or even during Freshman Week’s beery confessions. Husbands, ex-husbands, baby-sitters, startling propositions and the ultimate truths contained in the movie Manhattan made me very, very sleepy.; My rather obvious foot-tapping was both a signal for somebody to take me to the parking lot where the group had gathered, and a means of combating waves of grogginess.
3. When opportunity knocks, don’t close the door. If you do, try not to catch your fingers in it. This became apparent one Saturday evening at the Lone Star Café, a Fifth Avenue hangout for visiting oilmen, Gucci cowboys and people who crave Pearl Beer and guacamole dip. While waiting at the bar for two other journalists, a young woman, a teacher, began talking to me. Like a light in the control booth at Three Mile Island the word “contact!” began flashing in my mind. We chatted, but when one of the friends I was expecting arrived, I turned my attention to her and felt no allegiance to the teacher whose acquaintance I had just made. After a while the teacher left. This didn’t really bother me, because two others had replaced her, and social Nirvana, I was sure, was dawning. As it was, I saw neither of these two again, a state of affairs that made me ruefully appreciate the teacher even as memories of the brief encounter faded. [I can still picture the woman sitting with me at the bar. I think her name was Carol and she might have been a lexicographer. Not for the last time did I miss an opportunity. Where is she now?]
4. Look for a catharsis. The most effective way of dealing with the feelings of frustration and listlessness that strike everybody at one time or another is to lay them on the table, confront them and then move ahead. Talking with my landlady always helped me. [My landlady in Old Bethpage was a Newsday librarian and I have very fond memories of our summer. As I was leaving for a post-internship trip home to Texas, I surprised her with a going away gift, the just-published Sophie’s Choice.] Once you realize that the great cosmic forces are not thumbing their noses in your direction, the malaise becomes less intense. One Saturday, in a particularly superfluous mood, I walked past a movie line near Greenwich Village. The crowd had just started moving in, and the marquee bore the names of films by Ingmar Bergman, whose work I had never seen.
There followed an evening of Liv Ullmann and rollicking Scandinavian angst. It was just what the doctor ordered. After three hours of Autumn Sonata and Cries and Whispers, I felt great and practically bounced up to Penn Station.
Van | 09/06/10 at 01:52 PM | Categories: Life and how to live it
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Anonymous | September 6, 2010 01:52 PM