Blair O’Day had been around enough to know he did not want his only son to suffer the humiliations he had endured, simply because he hailed from the state of Iowa, and not New York nor Pennsylvania. The elder O’Day, despite these inane parochialisms, had achieved much success in business, for he was a hard-nosed son-of-a-bitch, whose sheer force of will propelled him to lofty heights and financial security. But, like so many fathers before him, he hoped his son’s path would be eased. The way he figured it, Buzz would be sent to the finest schools. And when the time came for young Buzz to make a go of it, no Yalie, nor some half-cocked M.B.A. from Wharton, would be able to scoff at him. No. Buzz O’Day was going to be one of them.
For Buzz’s part, it was okay with him. Having endured the dreary, to say nothing of insufficient, public school system in Davidson County, North Carolina, Buzz was ready for a change. Any change. How the O’Day’s found themselves relagated to this back-water is another story. Suffice it to say, without Buzz’s proficiency on the basketball court, he would have been as alien as any other Yankee unfortunate enough to find himself transplanted in the rural South. Forget, that Iowa did not fight for the Union. That’s of little relevance. For, they certainly did not fight for the Confederacy.
Thankfully, in the summer preceding Buzz’s senior year at West Davidson High School, Blair O’Day managed to get himself fired as President of Coble Dairy, a cooperative of farmers from the Carolinas and Georgia. The Board of Directors hired him to come in and shake things up, especially their faltering revenues. He did as much, but apparently the shaking was a tad too rough. The senior O’Day lacked the Southern touch. Dare we call it subtlety? Anyway, it was a blessing in disguise, because the family soon moved to Philadelphia. Blair had a new dairy to run–the venerable Abbott’s–and Buzz, much to his relief, had a new school to attend, new friends to make, and a much improved shot at academic respectability and admission into a top college.
Chestnut Hill Academy had never in its glorious one hundred and forty two year history admitted a boy for one year only. Quite frankly, one year was insufficient time to indelibly stamp the schools values onto the malleable brains in their charge. This was all explained with much delicacy, at which Blair O’Day rose and plainly said, “Come son … Perhaps The Haverford School would be more receptive to our tuition money?”
The Headmaster recovered quickly for an academic, “Sir, I mean no offense. Why don’t we talk this over in private?” Buzz stepped out, and looked with feigned interest at the plethora of framed images of classes past, adorning the walls in the outer office. Due to the student uniform and use of black and white photography it was hard to discern much difference in the class of ’82 from that of ’52.
Buzz’s leisure opposed his father’s intensity, just the other side of the wall. As he wrote numbers on two checks, one for tuition, and another for the improvement of athletic facilities, Blair O’Day felt no remorse for succumbing to tactics. In fact, he did not see it that way. One does what is necessary to improve one’s station. That is all.
Chestnut Hill Academy is an all boys day school. Kindergarten through Form VI. The senior class, of which Buzz O’Day was now a member, included but thirty six young would-be scholars. For balance, the neighboring girls institution–The Springside School–shared classes in the upper grades. A little real world experience couldn’t hurt, the respective faculties figured. Buzz hardly cared what the motivations were, he wanted to know more about the girls he’d seen strolling the well maniucred lawns. These girls seemed an entirely new species from those left behind in North Carolina. For one, they all wore plaid skirts, which gave Buzz an instant and lasting respect for dress codes.
Buzz was the first new boy in his class in over two years. This fact was lost on no one, particularly the Springside girls, who, on the first day of class inspected him as if he were a diamond bracelet, not a boy. The bold ones approached and asked questions, the obvious ones over and over, until by the end of the day every girl knew the pertinent data. He was from Iowa originally, moved from North Carolina recently, and would, due to his placement tests, be included in the advanced sections in history, English, biology, but not in math.
One girl, Buzz noticed over all the others. She was not the best looking, but there was something about her that invited him to look closer. She wore white socks with cordovan penny loafers, had the requisite skirt, although hers appeared to be shorter. She had on a man’s oxford cloth blue buttondown with frayed edges. Her hair was thick and brown and hung to her shoulders. She was not shy exactly, for she held his stare, but refused to do more. She was not one to prod him for answers, although she was desperate to know them, as every girl, attached or not, was inclined to be. Buzz liked her all the more for her reserve. The attention was nice, but he wasn’t a bull, and these girls, despite their champion lines, were not cows.
Buzz was assigned to twin brothers, Dean and Gene Bidwell, whose duty it was to help initiate the novice. After class, the first day, Buzz dressed for soccer practice. He’d never played the sport, but it appealed to him over the proletariat game of football, so important in his home state. The coach figured he’d make a decent second string goalie, for he was certainly an impressive specimen at 6’4″ and he was quick from years of basketball. As the boys dressed, Buzz asked the brothers, “You know that girl in English? She was sitting next to the black girl…”
“Sonia?” provided Gene.
“I guess,” said Buzz.
Dean said, “You don’t want to mess with her.”
Gene said, “Yeah, that might interfere with Dean’s plans.”
“Oh shut up,” Dean told his brother.
Buzz asked, “What’s her full name?”
Dean looked troubled. Gene said, “Her name is Sonia Scarborough. And she’s a free woman, as far as anyone knows. Although, you never can tell if they’ve got admirers from Germantown or Episcopal. Most of them do. They got together a few years back and conspired not to date any of us. Not that it matters. Were as sick of them as they are of us.”
Buzz O’Day was not sick of them. He’d never met a girl like Sonia. She fascinated him.
Dean Bidwell thought this guy’s got some nerve. He’s been here eight hours and already he’s got designs. He was intent to steer the conversation elsewhere. “So where’d your parents go to school,” he queried.
“They met at Iowa State.”
The answer could not have pleased Dean Bidwell more.
Sonia played field hockey, but was bookish nonetheless. Her mother taught second grade at The Shipley School, and her father, since remarried, was a computer scientist. Mother and daughter lived in a humble row-house in the working class section of Chestnut Hill. This fact was embarrassing to Sonia, but downright disgruntling to her mother. Mrs. Scarborough (her maiden name, quickly readopted following the divorce) had grown up in grandeur on The Main Line. She had gone to Smith and in her senior year there, anxious to be taken care of in the fashion she was used to, made the terrible mistake of consenting to sexual intercourse with a man from M.I.T. This miscalculation was repeatedly taught to Sonia, given up as an example of what not to do. Sonia recognized in her mother an unhappiness based on loneliness and diminsihed stature, and determined that her life would never fall into such ruin.
Oddly, her ambition was not to realize success on her own. That type of ambition was outside her world. That was what “regular” people did. Her fortune had to be gotten through proper association. That is, she would, unlike her mother, marry well.
When Buzz O’Day phoned her and asked her to dinner Saturday night, she was overcome with relief. No other C.H.A. boys had asked her on a real date. Sure, she kissed some of them, but none of them inspired even a degree of passion in her. Buzz was different. He was immaculately dressed. His thick blond hair would be like velvet to run her hands through. His blue eyes were inviting, yet slightly wicked, for there was intent in them. Intent that had not been voiced, but it was plain to see, just the same.
And Buzz O’Day was clearly spoiled. In fact, he carried in his pocket a Gold Visa card in his name, and was free to use it liberally, without worry about the pending bill. In fact, he never saw the bills–they went directly to his father.
Abbott’s Dairy maintained a condo on Rittenhouse Square in Center City and this is where the O’Day’s resided. Chestnut Hill was half an hour’s drive to the North and West along the Schuylkill River and Wissahickon Drive. Blair O’Day preferred large American made automobiles, and it was in such a car–an Olsmobile New Yorker–that Buzz made his way each morning and his return each evening.
Buzz picked Sonia up in the big car and drove it back into the city to Antonio’s, an Italian restaurant near enough to South Street to be safe, yet far enough to be truly ethnic. Due to Buzz’s ever-present coat and tie, and commanding presence, both physically and in demeanor, he had no trouble ordering wine. The waitress hardly cared what his age was, as long as he wasn’t obviously under-age, which he was not. A couple bottles of Chianti Classico meant a much improved tip for her, and a decidedly more enjoyable evening for the two diners.
Sonia adored the way Buzz deftly handled things. He was experienced beyond his years. He’d been places–no matter that they were far off provinces with no meaning–and he knew how to handle himself. He was good looking and charming. He liked her and she liked being liked by a good looking young man with money to spend.
Her mother had been cool upon discovering their date. She had even been rude, reminding Sonia, “No one from Iowa could possibly be our kind of people dear.” Sonia, deep down agreed with the assessment, but her girlish excitement at being wanted over-ruled. She said to her mother, “You’re just jealous. When was the last time a man asked you out.”
After the bruschetta, linguine with white clam sauce, wine and spumoni, Buzz drove the black, eight-cylinder car with automatic everything, back to Chestnut Hill. He stopped the car on Sonia’s street, a few doors past her house. He dared to kiss her. She met his dare with an open mouth. Sonia was hungry for more. Buzz offered her all the things she was lacking. Attention. Nights on the town. And most important, a new-found respect at school. This was too good to be true. Nothing this good had happened to her in all her years at Springside. She was always the brain, but with Buzz on her arm, she was now more than that. She was desirable. Maybe even popular. These things did not have to be calculated or reasoned. As she kissed him she simply knew this was all true. And she knew she would have to do more than kiss him to seal her fate, and keep things going her way. She lowered her attention to Buzz’s throbbing lap.
Buzz had lost his virginity six months earlier, but this was new to him. He rather appreciated the wonderful sophistication of city girls.
Next morning Blair O’Day quizzed his son, “How was the big date?”
“I really like her dad. She’s not like any other girls I’ve known. She’s smart. She’s going to Princeton next year, if she gets in,” he added, although Buzz felt her application was merely a formality.
“Really,” the old man said, “that’s something.”
“You bet it is. I only wish I could go with her.”
“Well, of course you can son. You have to have a good year is all.”
“I’m afraid it’ll take more than that dad. You know how low my S.A.T. scores were.”
“Sure, but you’re taking it again. And again, if need be. Don’t worry son. We’ll get you in to the best school.”
“It’s not going to be as simple as writing a check this time.”
Blair O’Day looked a little hurt. How did Buzz know? He hadn’t said anything. “Son, few things in life are that simple. But, I know you, and I know you’ll pull through.”
Buzz O’Day worked harder than ever that year. He had never had teachers with Ph.D.’s before. He never had to read from the Norton Anthology. He never had to be prepared to answer in-depth questions concerning the writings of John Donne. He never had to write coherent essays.
What was familiar, was the general scorn he provoked in other boys. Down South it came from the fact he was a Yankee; that his family was well-off; that he was a splendid athlete; and often smarter than his teachers. At Chestnut Hill a new twist was played upon. His peers had equal degrees of money, but it had been inherited, and that was infinitely superior to money gotten by toil. Further complications arose from what was perceived to be a certain gloating about Sonia. Perhaps, she was not the ultimate catch, but she was a lot better than one’s tired right hand. More importantly, she was clearly “one of them,” and they hated to see her despoiled by an outsider, from The Midwest no less.
Then there was the undeniable fact that Buzz O’Day was intelligent. And in this fiercely competitive environment, where one’s college choice defined one’s entire future, his being smart meant Buzz would get a slot in a top school. A slot that prior to his arrival would have gone to someone else. Someone more deserving. These feelings were, except in the bravest boys, latent. They were private musings shared among themselves, in order that they might hide their own inadequacies in the form of blame.
Sonia took a large portion of the sting away. In Buzz’s mind, he could not be all that far removed from the inner workings of Philadelphia society as long as Sonia stood at his side. Sonia’s inner world was full of turmoil, yet she maintained a placid exterior. She recognized that Buzz really didn’t get it. The subtleties of her world were like a foreign film to him. And her mother was unflinching in her stand–that young Mr. O’Day, was unfit to be so serious about. She raved continually, “Dearest, the boy is Irish for starters. Before you know it he’ll be an alcoholic. Plus he’ll want a million kids …”
“He’s Protestant mother. Episcopalian, no less.”
“Sonia, don’t be fooled. No true fortune has ever been built on milk.”
“Please mother, like you’re one to talk about fortunes.”
“Indeed. Don’t let these surroundings lull you to sleep child. The Scarborough name is well respected in this city.”
“No thanks to you,” Sonia accused.
“Watch your mouth young lady. If you’re not careful, you’ll make the same mistake I made.”
To ensure against just such a situation, Dot Scarborough insisted her daughter be fitted for a diaphragm. Sonia found the plastic disc obtrusive, and she’d be damned if she was going to materialize it in the heat of the moment. Sonia had other ways. Her method was to service her man orally, and to be quite generous about it. But, when Buzz begged for a tighter fit, one with no hard enamel, Sonia held tight to her convictions. The one thing her mother had taught her well, was no matter what precautions were taken–the pill, rubbers, or the forsaken diaphragm–there was no guarantee. And that fact alone, kept Buzz from her inner sanctum.
When Sonia told her best friend Missy that she sucked his dick all the time, Missy gasped like it was some horrible thing.
“For god’s sake Sonia, you have a diaphragm,” she said.
“So what? I could still get pregnant,” the rationalist decalred.
Missy thought Sonia was totally paranoid and that she would fuck him in a heartbeat. Sonia didn’t like her attitude.
One night, when Dot Scarborough was out of town, and Sonia and Buzz had the unaccustomed luxury of her bed, instead of the usual car seat, Buzz was almost there. And Sonia wanted him there. But control came screaming up her spine just as his thick head began to enter. “Stop,” she screamed.
“Come on Sonia, we’ve been together six months,” Buzz implored.
“I want to. Really, I do. You know you’re the one I want to lose it to. But, I’m not ready.”
“When will you be ready?” Buzz, more than a little put off, questioned.
“I’ll be ready, when I’m ready, that’s when,” she said with a woman’s skill at communicating finality.
Sonia was accepted early decision to Princeton.
Buzz, upon recommendation of his adviser, wasted no time, money, nor hope on any of the eight Ivies. “Nothing to be distraught over, young man,” Mr. Hastings said with an air of detachment. “Plenty of top notch, second tier schools will be begging for your attention.” While Buzz had only recently become acquainted with the schools to which he made application–Hamilton, Middlebury, Franklin & Marshall, Colorado College, Bates, Washington & Lee, and out of a need for a degree of familiarity, Grinell College in Iowa–he was assured by Sonia, whose words meant more to him than those of any person at C.H.A., and even more than his father’s, that any of these schools would be, “excellent darling, truly.”
“I don’t know,” Buzz pondered.
“Come on, don’t be a bore. It makes your face rather frightful, I must say. Anyway, it’s a marked advance from where you were last year.”
While that was true, did she have to remind him of so recent a misplacement? Buzz was quick to adapt to his environment, and to him his past was not his at all. It belonged to another person entirely. He felt it was his right, as it was the right of Dean and Gene Bidwell, Harrison George, and all the other “performers” in his class to casually show up in New Haven, Cambridge, or Ithica come fall. “Easy for you to say,” he said.
Sonia did not answer. But, internally, she said, “What gall. I’ve spent my entire life pursuing this goal, and now I’ve finally attained it, and he has no appreciation whatsoever for the effort I’ve put in.”
April dawned and Buzz had a choice. Colorado Springs or Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He opted for F&M for the irrational reasons that are the private reserve of an eighteen year old in love. Amtrak ran trains, multiple times each day into Philadelphia and then north to Princeton.
“That’s splendid darling,” she said, with no affectation. However, Sonia had already begun her distancing. It was not perceptible to Buzz yet, but it was there all the same. Sonia, out of respect for Buzz’s agitation, and a disposition inclined toward ennui when it came to such things, kept quiet about the grand schemes she was planning for herself over the next four years. For her, all was neatly on track. Princeton was an excellent place for finding the right man. And Buzz, unknowingly, had prompted her, for without his dutiful attentions, Sonia would have only a fraction of the confidence she now harbored.
Had he known, Buzz would have thought it incredulous to go to Princeton on a man-hunt. He would have accepted that the results could be such, but not the intentions. For he was a developing modernist, one who saw no reason why women could not ascend to the highest positions in business and politics. It would be several years before Buzz would come to fully understand that ambition was too common for a woman like Sonia. Ambition simply had no place in an old-money family. For what need was there to be ambitious, when such mundane problems were settled generations ago?
The beginnings of erudition in these matters took form for Buzz the following fall, when during a visit to Princeton, he regrettably recognized that Sonia had a veritable stream of admirers, that like humidity in a swamp, could not be shaken. And to a person, they sized him up, as the C.H.A. boys had done.
“Where are you at school?”
“You don’t say?”
“Where did you prep?”
“Excellent…So you’re from Philadelphia, then. Where in Maine do your people summer?”
“No? I thought everyone from Philadelphia had a place on the rocks.”
“Well, perhaps we could play squash when you’re in the city, next?”
“What? You don’t play squash?”
©1996 David Burn Some rights reserved