I was sitting in my apartment near Robertson and Palms one day when the phone rang . It was a girl I knew from college . She and I used to go out for a time . She was a year ahead of me in school and when she graduated I didn’t see her again . Five years had passed by the time of the phone call . Our romance had passed five years before , too , or had never really developed , more likely , but we parted as friends .
I was surprised and pleased to hear from her . It was one of those little suddenly- appearing sparks that can light up an otherwise drab day . Turns out she lived not too far from my apartment . She was teaching elementary school . I was teaching , too .
” I was looking through the school yearbook , ” she said over the phone , ” and I saw your picture , ” she said , ” and so I decided to call . ”
This was a nice cozy explanation for the out-of-the-blue call except for the fact that my picture wasn’t in the yearbook . I never waited around for the graduation ceremony , either , or sat for any graduation photos or wore any cap-and-gown or threw any mortar-board in the air .
The school mailed my degree to me instead of handing it to me . Well , actually they mailed it to another guy with the same name as mine who had graduated fifteen years ahead of me . Well , his middle initial was different from mine and no other facts of our lives matched ; but , you know , school registration clerks sometimes make mistakes . This other Dan was good enough to send my certificate along to me with a short note telling me what had happened .
She asked me if I would like to come over to her place for a visit . Sure . I was thinking of some time in the future ; maybe next week . She said , ” What about tonight ? ”
So I went . I was in my old car cruising over to the address in Santa Monica before I knew it . On the way I , naturally , was dredging up memories that I might use as conversation starters . Ah ! The Neil Young concert ! Of course ! That would be a good topic to begin with .
She and I had gone to a Neil Young concert at Royce Hall at UCLA . Rambling Jack Elliot had opened for Neil . What was it , 1972 ? 1972 , give or take a year . It was a great concert . Tickets were , I think , only two dollars , but they were limited because Royce Hall has limited seating . The idea was to wait all night outside the ticket office on campus to be sure to get tickets . That idea was shared by hundreds of us , and people were drinking wine and partying all night until the ticket office opened the next morning . It was fun . She and I were there in the crowd . I thought that this would be a great memory to share to begin the conversation !
She met me at the door to her apartment . We said hello and then I immediately mentioned the Neil Young concert . Start off strong !
Her features twisted up into a sour look . ” I’ve been trying for five years to forget that concert , ” she said .
” Huh ? ”
” Don’t you remember how we drank wine and partied all night until the ticket office opened ? ,” she said .
” Yeah . ”
” And then when we got to the window that morning you bought two tickets and turned to me and asked how many I was going to buy ? ”
” No . I don’t remember that . ” I had absolutely no memory of that at all .
I hadn’t even stepped into her apartment yet , but I was already defeated , already chewed up into little chunks just waiting to be spit out . I knew , as odd as it was , that she must be right in her recollection . I quickly tried to dredge up from my mind muck a more accurate memory of that moment than the one that I had been harboring for all of those years ; but I had no luck whatsoever . I just didn’t remember it like that at all .
It gets worse .
” And I don’t know who that girl you were with was , but I had to sit three rows behind you and see you all through the concert , ” she said .
” I was with you , ” I said . Dumb thing to say , I know , but that’s the way I remembered it , and so I tried foolishly to push that version a final time . My desperate and pathetic defense , of course , didn’t fly .
” I’ve been trying for five years to forget that experience , ” she said again .
It was probably high time to turn on my heels , climb back into my old Chevy , and go back home , but she invited me in , like the spider to the fly , and in I went .
We talked awkwardly for a few minutes , mostly about the ins and outs of teaching . Teachers are always willing to talk about teaching . And then her phone rang . She took the call in her bedroom , closed the bedroom door . I sat out in the living room with my mineral water , or my tea , or whatever she had served me , if anything , and I waited .
I didn’t hear the words of their heated discussion , but I got an earful of the tone of the conversation . It seemed to me , and I think I’m correct to think it , that she had had a fight with her boyfriend . Temporarily lonely , or perhaps in some silly strategy to make the guy jealous , she had called me and invited me over . Maybe I was down toward the bottom of a list of guys she’s known . I hope that I was toward the bottom of the list , for her sake .
Anyhow , the guy called while I was there in her place . I’m sure that’s what was happening . It took them a long while arguing about the details of their spat , but they eventually came to some mutual settlement over the phone and called a truce . Of course I’m making all of this up ; but I think I’m right just the same .
Her problem now was obvious : Dan is still in the room . Bad enough before ; but now : really awkward .
When she finally emerged from the bedroom she immediately asked me if I had to get up early to go to work . I made a show of looking at my watch . ” Oh , it’s that late already ! Sorry to run off ,” I said , ” but I have to get up early in the morning . ” I should have thanked her for the convenient prompt . And I was off .
Early mornings for me then, by the way ? No . I lived ten minutes away from the school where I was teaching in those days and didn’t have to be at work until 8:00 am. —— Yet , an acceptable justification to bug-out of a bad situation is an acceptable justification to bug -out of a bad situation . I would use the term face-saving , but I’d already lost that option at the front doorstep , and the only option left was to cut and run as soon as possible .
Some of us were sitting around the dinner table when the subject of invitations that didn’t work out too well came up . I thought of this one .
I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once . —— Thomas Mann