While we were together in the army, Craig Johnson and I had agreed that we would room together when I got out. Since he got out a year before I did, he had already found a place to live. On my return, he warned me that of the two roommates who were going to share our apartment, one, Paul----, was rather different. Of course, having been at school already 4 ½ years, I was used to “different” roommates so that didn’t bother me at all.
I actually met Paul the day before school when we were both walking to our new apartment from campus. He informed me that, although he realized that the apartment was small for four fellows, that he would need to install a rather large safe in the apartment. I immediately protested. To say that the apartment was small was an understatement. We were paying only $25 a month, but we were getting no more than we were paying for. Our bedroom consisted of the two sets of bunk beds and exactly enough space for one person—one rather thin person--to walk between them. At one end on the room were two sets of dresser drawers, at the other a small closet. The living room consisted of a small table, a couch and two chairs. The kitchen was so small that only two of us could sit at the small table at the same time. The bathroom was situated in the unfurnished half of the basement which the landlord used as a storage room.
“Maybe you could put your safe in the landlord’s storage room amongst the old boxes and shelves of bottled raspberries and peaches,” I suggested, trying to be helpful.
“Too dangerous,” he responded. “I need the safe to store my gold and anybody could go into the storage part of the basement and steal.”
“Your gold?” I asked incredulously. “What are you doing with gold at school? If you have that much gold, why don’t you leave it in the bank at home, or even here?”
“I need to have immediate access to it. That’s what I do. I buy and sell gold.”
It turned out that he was convinced that he would soon be a millionaire selling gold. It turned out that Paul was so sure that he would soon be rich that he had registered for only one class—ballroom dance, so he, along with Craig could be on the ballroom dance team. But in order to do that he had to be a full-time student, so he had paid full tuition and registered for 16 hours of audit credit. I soon learned that our new roommate was definitely different than the average student. It soon became apparent that our soon-to-be-a-millionaire roommate was exceedingly tight with his money, so much so that he was always last to pay his share of the bills and complained the loudest at having to pay them at all. But it was in his dating that he was the most different and to understand it, I must digress for a moment..
Before I was drafted I had dated (very briefly) Jill Hunter. I was much enamored of Jill, but so were many others and it was very difficult to get a date with her. When I returned, she was still unmarried so I resumed my courtship—or, more accurately, attempts at courtship--where I had left off, and with even less success than I had before going into the army. This discouraged me but I did not give up. The one thing I could always do with Jill was to go over to her apartment on Sunday afternoons. There, along with all the other would-be suitors and her roommates’ boyfriends, we would sing songs, chit chat and usually, one of the girls would bring cookies for treats.
But, of course, being almost 30 years old and still not married, I felt that it was incumbent on me to date, at least once, and preferably twice on every week-end. Craig felt the same way. So early in the week we would begin stewing, moaning, and asking ourselves and anyone who would listen, “who can I ask out this week-end?” I was a little puzzled why Craig would ask that, as I will explain in the next segment dealing more with him, but basically, it was because he was on the ballroom dance team and there were, therefore, plenty of girls he could ask out. In fact, on most week-ends he had at least one date with a girl who had asked him out.
When, however, I would ask Paul who he planned to ask out, he would simply reply, very flippantly, “I never think about it until the night I want to go out.”
“But,” I protested, “you can’t do that. All the sharp girls will already have been asked out by then.”
“I simply tell them to break their dates and usually they do,” he responded, with what seemed to me was a bit of overconfidence—even a bit of—and maybe more than a bit of ego. But after a few weeks, I discovered he wasn’t kidding. He really would call a girl up, usually less than an hour before the intended date and say something like, “Hi, Babe. Tonight is your lucky night. I need a date to the movies, so naturally I thought of you.” If he got a response like, “Who is this?’, he, in turn, would respond with, “You’re kidding, of course, but just to humor you I’ll tell you that this is Paul.” After the obligatory, “Oh hi, Paul. I’d love to go but I can’t. I already have a date.” He would say, “Cancel it. This may be your last chance to go out with me.”
Of course, I had always heard that there were those types of lovers—or, more accurately, daters—out there, but I assumed they were pretty much confined to the movies or TV shows. The fact that there might be a real person out there that actually talked and acted like that had never occurred to me. And I would have assumed that this was all merely the same sort of braggadocio that assured us that within the year he would be a millionaire except for two facts. First was the fact that on at least some occasions this approach actually worked, albeit, not always, and I don’t think, from what I observed, even most of the time, but occasionally, it did. The other, and more critical, convincer, for me at least, that Paul actually did work some sort of charm over women, was the fact that Patty Duke seemed not only to like him, but to be crazy about him. Patty was in our home-evening group and was easily the cutest and most vivacious girl in the group. What was more to the point, for me at least, was that she was a junior, and, therefore, I felt, a dating possibility. But, she exhibited little interest in me, and a great deal of interest in Paul, so I decided that there must be something more than mere braggadocio to his self-affirmed charm. (Parenthetically, I must say, that well into the semester, I asked Craig why he did not ask Patty out. “I am not in the habit of asking 16 year old girls out,” he responded. “Sixteen!” I exclaimed, “how could she be sixteen? She’s a junior.” ((It turns out that by the time I asked she had actually just turned 17)). He explained that she had graduated from a private school in Canada and had started college at an unusually early age.)
At any rate, I was beginning to think that there was more to Paul’s ability to attract women than I could readily see.
Well into the semester I had just asked Jill Hunter out for the umpteenth time and been turned down and was, therefore, obviously in the dumps. Paul said, “I don’t understand it. Why do you keep asking that girl out the same way. You need to change your approach. Treat her like I treat the girls I ask out. Don’t ask her several days before the date. Call her up an hour before you want to go out with her and just tell her you’re coming over to take her to the movies.”
“That wouldn’t work,” I responded, “she would already have a date by then.”
“So what?”, he said forcefully, “Tell her to cancel it and that you’ll be over to take her out.”
“That may work for the girls you date,” I said, implying that his dates were somehow “easy”, “but it wouldn’t work with Jill.”
“My eye!” he exclaimed. “I’ll bet I could get a date with her any day of the week at a moment’s notice.
“I don’t think so,” I said skeptically.
“I tell you what,” he added helpfully, “when you’ve pretty much given up on that girl, I’ll go over with you on you Sunday afternoon visits, meet her, and within an hour or less, I’ll have her licking my boots. That will give you an opportunity to see how it’s done with the next girl you’s like to date.”
Well, of course, at first I rather declined to be involved with that kind of an experiment, but after a few weeks of being turned down and listening to Paul’s subsequent tauntings, I threw in the towel.
“Alright,” I said, “why don’t you go over with me this coming Sunday night?”
“Now you’re sure you won’t be bitter or angry when she falls at my feet and begs me to take her out?”
“No,” I assured him. “I’ve finally given up with her. Besides, I really would like to see you in action. Maybe I could pick up a few pointers.”
So it was agreed that on the following Sunday I would take Paul with me to the weekly sing-along at Jill Hunter’s house. It wasn’t really her house in the sense that it was where her family lived, but she and about four other girls were renting a rather nice house on 5th East between 4th and 5th North.
After we knocked, Jill answered the door. “Oh Merrill,” she said enthusiastically, “We’re so glad you came. We always like it when you come over. And who is this that you’ve brought with you?”
“This is Paul, my roommate,” I said as we stepped into her front room.
“Why on earth did you bring him?” she asked almost disdainfully. I was shocked. In all the years I had known Jill she had never said anything negative about anyone and to make such an unkind remark was absolutely baffling. It was also very embarrassing because it seemed almost like I had warned her that Paul had boasted that she would be licking his boots after just a few minutes of contact. But I had not said a word to her about him, or even told her that I was bringing a roommate. I had brought other friends before and she had always been the very soul of kindness and even enthusiasm that I was bringing a friend over. It was most puzzling.
After a few minutes we gathered around the piano, as we usually did, with Jill playing and the rest of us singing. After a few bars Jill stopped playing, turned around a said to Paul, “You sound terrible, sing softer—much softer—or preferably not at all.” Again, I was floored. It was so completely out of her character, or at least, as I had always known it. After singing for a few minutes, Jill left the piano playing to a roommate and disappeared into the kitchen. After a few minutes she came out carrying a plate of cookies. She handed them around and offered me some and Paul reached over to take one.
“You can’t have any, “ she said pulling the plate away from him.
“Why not? You gave them to everyone else, “ he demanded to know.
“You don’t deserve any, “ she responded cruelly and walked out of the room with her plate.
“I think we better go, “ I said. “I really don’t understand it,” I continued, “She’s never been like this with anyone before.”
“I agree we should go,” he said, “but this girl is weird.”
“I think we better go,” I said when she came back into the room.
“Already?” she said in a surprised voice. “You just got here. But know that you are welcome any time, but don’t bring him with you next time,” she added pointing to Paul.
“That does it, “Paul exclaimed as he planted himself directly in front of her. “Since I got here a few minutes ago you’ve been nothing but rude and mean to me and I demand to know why!”
“You know very well why,” she said putting her hands on her hips and looking defiantly at him.
“That’s crazy. I have never seen you before in my life. If you think I’ve ever done anything to warrant the kind of behavior you’ve exhibited toward me, you’ve got me confused with someone else.”
“You and I were together at Ron Smith’s party last night.”
“I was at Ron Smith’s party but I don’t remember seeing you there. I’m sure I didn’t speak to you, much less do anything to justify the kind of behavior I’ve been subjected to here today.”
Jill grabbed her hair, which was long, flowing almost to her waist, and bunched it up on her head. “ I was wearing my short-hair wig so I looked at little different,” she started to explain but before she had even got that far, Paul was pointing at her excitedly.
“You, You! You!” he gurgled excitedly and then without saying anything else, he made a mad dash for the door, threw it open and ran out without bothering to close it behind him. In the same instant, Jill was after him, pausing only to pick up the hatchet laying on top of the wood stack at the door. She raised the hatchet over her head and ran after Paul like an Indian on the war-path pursuing someone with the intent to scalp him,
The front porch was a three-quarters waist-high enclosed that required a fast left turn in order to go down about 5 steps onto the sidewalk. Paul didn’t make the turn. He simple leaped over the porch railing and ran into the night. Jill, unable, or unwilling, to leap the railing ran around the side, descended the steps and chased him into the night.
The rest of us, Jill’s roommates, the other boyfriends, and I remained in the house looking through the open door dumbfounded. Shortly, Jill came back.
“He got away,” she announced with obvious disappointment. “Merrill, where on earth did you pick him up anyway?”
“He’s my roommate,” I repeated from the introduction.
“Oh, yeah, I forgot. Well don’t ever bring him back here again.”
“But, I don’t understand,” I said, more baffled than ever. “Whatever could he have done to cause you to act that way toward him?”
“Last night we were at a party together. He kept coming up to me and saying things like, ‘Hi tots, why don’t we hang out together’. When I told him, very politely, that I didn’t care to he kept saying things like, ‘you know you’re dying to get to know me better’. I told him to please leave me alone, but he kept bothering me. Soon he was trying repeatedly to put his arm around me and when I pushed him away he simply refused to give up but kept trying to put his arm around me so I decided that the only way to get rid of him was to bite him. So I did. He is a first class jerk. I don’t ever want to see him again.”
“I’m sorry,” I said sincerely. “I had no idea.”
She assured me that she still liked me and that I was welcome to come over anytime and I took off. About a block or so away from her house, I saw someone lurking behind a tree in front of me. I was a little nervous but I decided to proceed bravely forward. As I got close to the tree I heard a loud whisper, “Merrill, is that you?” It was Paul so I relaxed.
“What happened at that party?” I asked.
“Oh Merrill, you are well rid of that girl,” he said vehemently. “She is a witch if ever there was one. I was at a party last night. I was doing absolutely nothing, just minding my own business, when out of the blue, she comes up to me and for no reason whatever, she bites me!”
“That is strange,” I acknowledged, refraining from repeating her side of the story.
“Strange? That girl is a witch if ever there was one.”
We continued our walk home in silence, with me with some effort suppressing the desire to remind him of his boast that she would be licking his boots.