The Way I Was

I called Mariana Moran, a freshman at Smith College, long distance from Dartmouth College to tell her that I was canceling our date for Winter Carnival. I told her that I had fallen in love with another girl, a sophomore at Smith named Joan Bryant, and wanted to take Joan to Winter Carnival instead of her.

The conversation was uncomfortable. I had to screw up my courage to make the call, but I did it. Mariana was gracious; she said politely that she understood and was glad I had called and told her. That was it. Not so bad, I thought cynically, “She’s gorgeous and will find another date.”

I had already invited Joan Bryant to Winter Carnival, so I didn’t have to make another call and invite her. Now, I had only one date and that one with Joan Bryant, the second love of my life at the time.

I had made a concerted effort to woo Mariana Moran, one of the most beautiful debutantes in Washington, DC, and one of the most elegant. She had gone to the hoity-toity Holton Arms School and was the most desirable girl on the deb circuit my senior year at St. Albans. She had been given the nickname of “Meathead Moran” by my pal Tyler Abell (or perhaps by Ralph Pagter) because, in typical teenage fashion, we tended to give nicknames based on polar opposites.

Mariana was gorgeous. She put the other debutantes to shame. Her father, as I remember, was Liquor Commissioner of the District of Columbia, and that alone would make her a sought-after date. He was Spanish or South America — a high-class patrician from one of the South American countries that was changing dictators all the time, so he was on the A-List socially, of course. He was an elegant, probably corrupt, father, and her mother was a beautiful, fussy American woman who dressed her daughter to the nines. In other words, a typical Washington, DC debutante in 1950-51.

Mariana was not only beautiful, but she was also smart, which we overlooked at that time because she was so great looking and dressed so well. All the guys said she was a dead ringer for Elizabeth Taylor, built like her and about the same age, too. Therefore, in the fall of 1951, I was a freshman at Dartmouth and she was also a freshman at Smith, and I had chased after her hard and copped a date for Winter Carnival. We had necked a lot; however, I had bigger plans for her for Winter Carnival. She was to be my date for the big event. Winter Carnival was even bigger than New Years Eve; it was the biggest event in the Ivy League.

I had met Joan Bryant in the summer of 1951 when I had graduated from St. Albans and was headed for Dartmouth in the fall. I had just come back from driving West with Tyler Abell and Bob Alvord and was working at the Republican National Committee. One hot night I went alone to a bar in Washington to hear some Dixieland jazz. I noticed a group of Ivy Leaguers at a table – three guys and one girl. I think I might have known one of the guys, but the girl was something special, and I fell for her instantly.I went over to the table and horned in. It was all in fun,or so the other guys thought. I drank beer with a purpose, to meet her, to get her phone number, and make her like me.

I was different. The three guys were all Princetonians and from the same class – preppie upper – which, of course, made me even more competitive. I drank them under the table, charmed her, and got her phone number.

Joan Bryan was tall, flat-chested, and had short blonde hair. She had a long, patrician face and talked with a modified lock-jaw upper-class accent that wasn’t as pronounced as were the accents of the three Princeton guys, who were stuffy, silly, rich, and naïve about why I was there. Joan had pale, white, lovely skin. I’ve read somewhere (Fitzgerald maybe) that “She looked like she was photographed through gauze” or “had translucent peach skin.” She looked like a blonde and narrow-faced Ingrid Bergman and reeked of class and old money. I later learned her mother was a Barnes and that her grandmother’s maiden name was Whitney.

When she stood up, I almost fell off my chair – she had gorgeous, perfectly formed, long dancer’s legs. As my dad would have said, “She was split up to her navel.” I loved those legs. The only legs I have seen like them were in a poster for a James Bond movie that was shot from behind and between two perfect legs (I later read a newspaper story about auditioning for the legs – I would have killed to have the photographer’s job).

I was hooked. I fell for Joan Bryant. She was my age (I was no good in school and was kept back a year at St. Albans, so I graduated when I was 19), but Joan was a sophomore at Smith and I was going into my freshman year at Dartmouth. I felt really inadequate (I’ve never told anyone that I ever felt inadequate or, worse, certainly never acted it). She had was upper class, patrician, sheltered, unsure of herself, not really beautiful, but to me fascinating. She had been at the jazz club the night I met her more as a pal of the guys and not as a date, as a social equal of these effete Princeton snobs, not as a date, more as an exclusive hanging out together. She acted like a pal and even said she wanted to be a pal and not have dates, but I knew that she wanted to date and be treated as a girl, not a pal. She wanted to be pursued and charmed.

But I must have felt inadequate, because when I first went down to Smith from Dartmouth, I naturally looked at the Smith facebook and picked out the prettiest freshman face to pursue – Mariana Moran – who I already knew from the DC deb circuit instead of looking for Joan. I pursued Mariana hard for the early weeks of my freshman year. But one evening in November, I went to Sessions House at Smith to wait for a ride back to Hanover and ran into Joan Bryant.

She was glad to see me. I couldn’t believe it. We talked and had a good time; we connected. From then on, every weekend I went down to see her…weekdays too. We’d go to Rahar’s basement rathskeller and sip on beers for hours at a time. I forgot about Mariana Moran. I even went to one of Joan’s dance concerts at Smith. All I remember is that I couldn’t take my eyes off her perfectly formed long, long, muscular dancer’s legs–large, well sculptured calves and thin ankles.

Joan had never been pursued before, I don’t think, and I wooed her to the best of my ability. She was great. She even wrote me thank-you notes in poetry. After I read her notes, I would jump around my room crazed and try to touch the ceiling. I asked her to Winter Carnival, of course. Eventually, it occurred to me that I had two dates for Winter Carnival, so I had to call Mariana and cancel my date with her.

I spent every weekend staying in Tyler Abell’s dorm room at Amherst. His roommates were Fred Werner, Pete Amacher, Don Lindberg, and Ralph Pagter from St. Albans. The room was in Pratt Hall, and I slept on the coach, often staying until Wednesday or the next weekend so I could see Joan.

While I was in Amherst the week before Winter Carnival, it was snowing. I bought a 1939 white Packard limousine for $150 to take Joan to Winter Carnival. We traveled to Hanover with Pete Amacher and Joan in the limousine, which was full of beer and great cheer and songs and her long legs.

I had canceled a date with a beautiful girl because I had asked Joan. And on a romantic whim, I had bought a 1939 Packard limousine to take Joan to Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival. I got what I wanted and I did it impulsively with romantic panache and without caring whom I hurt. That’s who I was – impulsive, self-absorbed, romantic, sex-obsessed, selfish, and thoughtless of other people – and I stayed pretty much that way for over 40 years.

If any story defines me in broad strokes, this one probably does. So now you know the way I was.

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