In the classroom there was a natural competition as to who were smarter. With the notable exception of Sam Taylor, it was the girls who by far outshone the boys. In the spelling bee, the competition was really only between Susan Hinebaugh and Marcie-Anne Lebovich. The rest of us, although we tried valiantly to stay in the game, were soon sidelined. I can’t remember who won, whether it was Susan or Marcie-Anne but in either case, this represented defeat to the boys in the class. Later on, although both Marcie-Anne and Susan left the school, their parents having been transferred elsewhere, the mantle was taken up by Susan Goldberg and Genie Bowers to name just two. It seemed to us that we had no chance of winning.
All this did not matter to us in the least. With a near unanimous ascent, it was agreed to by us that although the girls were smarter in the classroom, this had nothing whatever to do with their basic intelligence but was a result of their having spent so much time doing the homework while we were attending to more important things. They excelled in book-learning but when it came to the application of it in real life, they, the girls, were out of their depth and needed us in order to sort things out. What went on in the classroom and what were posted as grades and rankings at the end of the term, in no way, had anything to do with who was smarter. We, as boys, were placed in an unfair predicament in which we would have to exhibit ungentlemanly behavior if we showed off our superiority. We would also be remiss in our duty and contradict our natural inclination towards chivalry if we did not defer, at least in form if not in substance, by giving the girls the illusion that they were smarter than we were.
The highlights of the weeks were the parties that were held either at school or at the home of various students. The parties at school were most effectively supervised by Mr. Bishop, and some of the other, less intimidating teachers. Now, if Mr. Bishop was there and he usually was, there would be no thought as to the testing of limits. This is a concept which had absolutely no basis in reality while Mr. Bishop was principal. No, it was best to maintain as low a profile as possible and to fly under the radar, way under. At the dances, there was not even a single altercation that I can remember. Those who would sneak out to smoke, for example, would do so at considerable risk. Does the name Bob Parker evoke memories? And, if you were foolish enough to do so, it was best not return to the party. You could always claim that you had to leave because of a sudden attack of appendicitis. Exhibiting a fresh and lengthy scar on the right side of your lower abdomen, just above the groin area, and having the medical records sent over from the Kaisei Hospital could have been helpful but chances are that they would be inadmissible as evidence. There was no fooling around here. If Mr. Bishop sensed that something untoward was brewing, he would turn his all-seeing, clear blue eyes on you, and any thought of anything would vanish. Cross his path and you could be sent off to Siberia, or worse, be invited to a private question and answer session in his office. You needn’t have worried if you were not possessed of an inquiring mind, your part would have nothing to do with the asking of questions. You, my dear, would be providing the answers.
The parties in homes were chaperoned by the parents of the student giving the party. These were dance parties and there was a great deal of excitement when it came to them. In those days, the boys from Marist Brothers had the reputation, often deservedly, of being “bad boys.” Things have not changed so much that bad boys do not hold a fascination for those sheltered high school girls who are curious as to the difference between good, which they sometimes think that they have had quite enough of, thank you very much, and bad, which hangs as tantalizing as the forbidden fruit, more accurately, fore- bitten , you could say, by Eve, with us, fairly or not, having to bear the consequences ever after.
Cookie Jarmain gave an annual party, one that was most looked forward to and not, under any circumstance, to be missed. To this party, with the permission of Cookie, I invited to come along with me, Richard Melson who was a student at Marist Brothers. Therefore, through no fault of his own, and I am not defending him in the least, the reputation of being bad, as they all were, preceded him. He also had something of a reputation of being smart by occupying a place at the head of his class. I knew that being bad was attractive to the girls but I wasn’t sure about being smart. Certainly it could be a liability and one should be careful about letting it get out. Also, being at the head of the class in a boys’ school could be discounted by at least fifty percent because there was no real competition for academic standing coming from the girls.
We arrived at Cookie’s dressed in jacket and tie. This, although not customary today as it was then, gave us the appearance of being well-behaved, which, in retrospect, we were not but which, by modern-day standards, we were. It was unthinkable to attend a party not property dressed with shoes shined, shirts pressed, ties in place and hair properly combed and slicked back. The girls were also formally attired in their party dresses and looked most appealing. Snacks were served as were drinks, none of which were alcoholic, and music was played from a record player which, today, would be best described as a museum piece. I remember that the “Everly Brothers,” had just come out with a new LP (long playing record), a black, vinyl affair, similar to a pizza dish, flat but without the lip that goes all around, on each side of which were recorded eight or ten songs. Cookie was the first to get it and we were all eager to listen and to dance.
I knew that Susan Hinebaugh would be at the party and she was my main interest. I told this to Richard in advance of our arriving so that he would know to stand aside and keep his paws off of her, while I attended to her every wish and whim. I told him, that for all I cared, he could have the rest of the field to himself. On the surface, this seemed like a generous concession but, in reality, it was simply big talk because I had no influence whatsoever over anyone. So, after making the preliminary rounds of greetings and trying to make a good impression on both Mr. and Mrs. Jarmain, I settled down to the business at hand. As our hostess played the first song, I jumped to my feet and boldly strode over to where Susan was sitting. With a flourish of misplaced self-confidence, I asked her to dance.
Susan politely left what one would imagine to have been a fascinating conversation, with Michele Buzzarte and Daria Morozoff, stood up purposefully and allowed me to lead her to the dance floor. There I had a shock in store for me, so much so, that to this day, it is as clear to me as if it happened yesterday. I put my arm around her waist and she put her arm on my shoulder. In her hair, I could smell the intoxicating fragrance of her mother’s perfume. Our other two free hands were clasped high in the air, the way we had been taught over at the Kobe Cotillion by the most appropriately named, and this is no joke, Mrs. Shufflebotham, pronounced exactly as it is spelled, dance teacher par excellence, not as you might guess, to the stars because there weren’t any among us, but to the socially inept adolescents of Kobe society. Susan looked me straight in the eye and said:
“Tony. You are the most deceitful, scheming and conniving person that I ever met.”
“Who? Me? No. How can you say that? You are mistaken. You must be confusing me with… with someone else. ”
“Stop, trying to weasel your way out. You know that you are and you know what you did.”
I mentally went through a long list. I did so many things I was wondering just which one she was referring to but I didn’t dare ask, trying not to get into any more trouble than I was already in. The rest of the dance passed in silence, me trying to figure out just how much she knew about my misdeeds and she knowing all the while just what she was doing. When it was over, disappointed, my head hung low, I sought the solace of my buddies. You might ask why I retreated so meekly. It was because I knew that she was right, but just why she had picked this particular moment to tell me, I couldn’t say. One thing was clear, I had been found out. I was weighed in the balance and found wanting and this did not bode well for a fun-filled night over at Cookie’s.
With me, out of the way, swept aside you could say, Richard Melson, with a flagrant disregard for our previous agreement, proceeded to ask Susan to dance. Here I must again heap further homage upon Sam Taylor who wisely pointed out in his column: “Ask Sam,” that in love and war, all is fair.” In contrast to the frosty greeting that I got, from the smiles on both their faces, I saw that both Richard and Susan were enjoying themselves as never before, to say “immensely,” would not be an exaggeration. The music played so that there would be one slow dance followed by one fast one. The fast dances were called the jitterbug and the slow dances were called, as they say in Japanese, chiku-dansu, or in common parlance, dancing cheek to cheek. To add injury to insult, Richard and Susan danced the night away while I, with my hurt pride, and I should mention that in those days we still had pride, sulked in a corner; long enough to gather sympathy and show how truly devastated I was but short enough to pursue alternative possibilities while the party was still in full swing. Guilty though I was, perhaps some other girl would find “bad and smart” to be somewhat humdrum, more of the same you know, and move on to “deceitful, scheming and conniving,” which could be thought of as being intriguing if not downright exciting.
On the way home, Richard gave me his theory of dance and of chiku-dansu in particular. He cited for my reference, Newton’s law of gravity and how natural it was for two bodies to be attracted to one another based on their mass and the distance between them. Richard, however, did not offer any explanation as to the anomaly of one body repelling the other which, from my point of view, was a more accurate description of the evening’s events. Furthermore, according to Richard, now warming to the subject, one must take into consideration the margin for error caused by the introduction of several, superfluous millimeters of cloth, something to do with static electricity and its interference with electromagnetic fields, that separate the two bodies when they come together during the course of chiku-dansu. Get rid of the cloth, he said, and you would have the ideal conditions for real scientific inquiry, one in which we would both validate Newton and which, given the proper protocol, would contribute to our understanding of nature. I thought this over for a bit, not fully understanding all the ramifications. It was a novel thought. Should we move the school dances to the chemistry lab? Could you trust Doug Moorhead with a Bunsen burner after you danced with Kathy Mcleod? As interesting as all this was, my thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the number two bus which would take us from Gokoku Jinja Mae to Kanocho San Chome from whence we would be in walking distance of home. As I sunk into the plush, frog- green velvet of the bus seat, it came to me that all that was being discussed here could not alter the grim reality. Having realized, only now, how easy it was for Susan to give me the boot and take on Richard, I had no doubt as to who were smarter. It was them? It was they? Whoever it was, and however you say it, you can be sure that it wasn’t us.