The Gallery Electric

High School Story

Jay Boersma

I first met Linda when I was still going with Lynn. Lynn and I were at that pancake house on 95th street after seeing a movie and Mark walked in with this really nice-looking girl. I remember it because it was the first time I'd ever seen Mark with a really nice-looking girl. So I called to them and Lynn moved over to my side of the booth and they sat down across from us. Linda was wearing some kind of print dress that had no waist and was pretty short and dark hose and every time she raised her arm to scratch her head or anything, the dress would go up to about the middle of her thigh and I wondered what she was doing with Mark. He was acting cocky as hell and smoking those imported black cigarettes that he bought in Old Town six months before and had been saving until now, and he kept lighting them with his new silver butane lighter and looking around like he's bored out of his mind.

"Don't they have anything here worth eating?" Mark said as he looked at the menu. He was trying to sound sophisticated and superior but he really sounded like the high school drama coach who everyone thought was kind of peculiar. I was tempted to say, "Look man you've sat there across from me in this place at least once a week for the last year and a half; you ought to have the stupid menu memorized by now," but I didn't. Why spoil his show?

So instead I said, "The cherry pancakes are pretty good," and I pointed to them on the menu. The menus at the pancake house had been through a lot. They were sticky and had all these little pictures of the food and the prices had all been scratched out and increased at least three times. The picture of the cherry pancakes showed a huge stack of fluffy-looking cakes smothered in fresh cherries with an elaborate design drawn on the top with whipped cream. What you really got was two pancakes with about the same number of cherries and, by the time it got to your table, the whipped cream had melted into a circle of white liquid around the edge of your plate. It was still the best thing on their menu. The worst was definitely the swedish pancakes.

"Where are you from, Linda?" Lynn asked. "I haven't seen you around school."

"Oh, I just moved here a few weeks ago," Linda said. "I used to live in Georgia." She pronounced it Joe-ja. The waitress came to our table and poured four cups of coffee.

"Why did you move to Chicago?" I asked.

"Well my daddy is a career man in the Army and he got transferred up here. I lived on a military base in Georgia for the last four years."

"A military base," I said, "I bet that was weird."

"Well, it has its advantages," Linda said. Our food had arrived and Linda, being new in town, had ordered the swedish pancakes. She was pretty quiet for the rest of the night.

The next time I saw Linda was at The Lamp and she was with Mark again. The Lamp is a "church-sponsored" coffee house with folksingers where volunteers from the church wear black turtleneck sweaters and keep sitting at your table with you and trying to "relate to youth." The only problem is that by "relating to youth," they mean talking about religion which is pretty much a drag most of the time. The Lamp wasn't bad, though, if you were a regular because then they'd recognize you and leave you alone and it was the only place around where thirty-five cents would buy you a cup of coffee and entertainment and you could sit around all night and not get kicked out for loitering. Anyway, Mark and Linda came in and waited by the door for the entertainment to end. The folksinger was a kid from some other high school who had a blonde crew cut and sang about being on chain gangs and working in coal mines. He didn't look like he had much first-hand knowledge about either and, when he finished his set, Mark and Linda came over and sat down. Mark was smoking a pipe this time which kept going out on him and Linda was wearing a bare-midriff outfit that completely took my mind off of Mark's pipe.

"Hi," I said to Linda's navel.

"Hi," she said, "How's everything going?" Her southern accent had totally disappeared. She ordered capucino, Mark ordered espresso, and we talked and listened to railroad songs for an hour or two. We agreed that the folksinger had more dues to pay.

The following week Mark stopped by my place and from there we went to the Red Wheel for coffee. He seemed excited and said he had something that he had to tell me. We sat down in a booth.

"Well, I did it," he said.

"Did what?" I asked as I shook a pack of sugar and tore off its corner.

"I did it!" he said.

"What the hell are you talking about?" I asked as I emptied sugar into my coffee.

"I got laid!" Two women in the booth across from us stopped talking.

"I got laid," Mark repeated more softly.

I didn't believe him and I told him so.

"I seduced her," he said, leaning forward, "I honestly did. It worked just like it says in Playboy. I got some wine and we listened to some jazz albums..." Mark was talking fast and gulping his coffee between sentences. "And, you know, I did this, and she did that, and then I did this and she did, oh man, and, before I knew it, wham!"

"No shit," I said. I was amazed. I couldn't imagine Mark getting laid by anyone, let alone someone who looked as good as Linda.

"And you know what else? It was her first time!"

Mark sat back in his seat. He seemed very relieved that he had finally told somebody about it and there wasn't much else to say so we paid our check and left. As we walked to the car Mark said, "It sure beats doing it yourself" and immediately wished he hadn't.

I didn't hear much about Linda after that. I assumed she and Mark were still seeing each other until one day I ran into Norm. He was washing his car in his parent's back yard and I drove my car in next to his.

"Why don't you wash this one, too while you're at it," I said as I jumped out.

"I will for five bucks," he said. He rinsed a large sponge in a bucket of water and began washing his hood.

"Bullshit," I said, "For five bucks, I'll do it myself."

"It's a deal," he said.

I pushed myself up onto the rear fender of my car and lit a cigarette.

"Hey," I said, "where'd you get the fancy flowers?" I noticed that Norm had several plastic roses stuck in the holes on his car where a hood ornament used to be.

"Oh," he laughed, "Linda put those there."



"You mean the Linda who lives over on Elm?" I asked.

"Yep," he said, "That's the Linda."

"You mean the Linda who was going with Mark?"

"I guess she went out with Mark a couple of times," he said, "Why?"

"Oh, just curious," I said. I slid off of my fender and squatted down next to Norm where he was washing a wheel cover. I flicked my cigarette and the ash hissed when it hit the soapy water on the ground.

"So," I said, trying to sound casual and confidential at the same time, "How's it been going?"

"How's what been going?" Norm asked flatly.

"You know," I said, "you and Linda..."

"Look," he said, "Linda's a good kid and I'm not the kind of guy who goes around bragging about things."

"I know that," I said, "and I'm not the kind of guy who asks about this stuff without a reason. You know I'm not going to tell anyone."

"Yeah, I guess that's true," he said. We stood up and he threw the sponge into the bucket and wiped his hands on his jeans.

"I just don't want this to get around because Linda was a virgin before we started dating and I've got a lot of respect for her."

"I understand," I said.

Norm told me about "the evening" with Linda and how it "just sort of happened" while they were watching television. Norm's "this's and that's" were identical to Mark's. I walked back to my car as Norm began hosing the soap suds off of his.

"Sure you don't want yours done for five bucks?" he asked.

"My whole car isn't worth five bucks," I joked, but I was kind of preoccupied.

When the third person told me about his experiences with Linda, I began to wonder who was seducing who.

Rick and I were driving home from school and, during a lull in the conversation, he said,

"I went out with Linda last night, you know."

"No, I didn't know that," I said, "Where'd you go?"

"To the Halsted Outdoor. They had a triple horror show, Psycho, Dr. Sardonicus, and Horrors of the Black Museum."

"How was it?" I asked.

"It was pretty good, man, but I'd seen Psycho before. You know that part where what's his name jumps out at the top of the stairs? Well Linda just about climbed inside of my shirt with me!"

"That's not what I meant," I said, "I meant how'd it go with Linda?"

"Oh," he said, over-exaggerating his sudden comprehension of my question, "You mean 'how' did it 'go' with 'Linda'?"

"Yes," I said, wishing I hadn't brought it up. When talking to Rick, anything even remotely having to do with sex brought on an endless series of winks and sly glances.

"It went just fine," he said, "in fact, it worked like a charm just like it always does."

"That's what I thought," I said dryly.

"And you know what? I never did it with a virgin before. At least not during Psycho, anyway."

First Mark, then Norm, now Rick. All in less than two months.

"I don't believe it..." I said.

"No, it's true," Rick said, "not during Psycho."

That night I couldn't get the whole series of events out of my mind. Linda had systematically bedded all of my best friends in less than two months. Not only had she bedded them, which really wasn't much of an accomplishment, but she had managed to convince each of them that she had been a virgin until that time and that each of them had been the very first guy to make love to her. Incredible. Apparently, she was out to set some sort of high school record.

For some reason I decided that I could not sit by and let my friends be made fools of and I resolved to bring some honesty into these relationships. The next day I drove over to Norm's. He had just finished putting a new carburetor in his car and was sitting on the back steps of his house cleaning his hands with a rag. As I walked up, he popped the top off of a Coke and dropped the little metal tab down into the can.

"Some day you're going to swallow one of those things." I said.

"Chance in a million," he said, taking a long swallow.

"Say, Norm," I said, "You remember what we were talking about the other day?"

"You change your mind about me washing your car?" he smiled. "For fifteen, I'll wax it too."

"No," I laughed, "I'm broke. I mean about Linda."

"Yeah, I remember. You didn't tell anyone about it did you?"

"No, I didn't tell anyone but a lot of people have been telling me things..."

"What kind of things have they been telling you?" Norm asked.

"Well," I said, "I know it's none of my business but I just thought you should know that Mark's been telling people that he made it with her and..."

"I know all about Mark, " Norm interrupted. "Linda and I talked about it and they never did anything. Mark's just shooting his mouth off because she's new in town."

"I don't know, Norm. I talked to him and he sounded pretty damn sincere."

"Mark hasn't been sincere since he learned to talk," Norm said, "and if he doesn't quit saying all that bullshit about Linda, I'm going to shove a pack of those stupid black cigarettes down his throat." He glared at the ground momentarily, took another long drink of his Coke, stopped suddenly and spit the pop top out onto the ground.

He stood up abruptly and said, "If that's all you've got to talk about, I've got things to do." He walked up the stairs and into his house leaving me sitting on the bottom step, wondering why I bothered to get involved. I walked over to my car and headed for Mark's.

I found Mark sitting in his parent's living room listening to jazz records. For some reason, he was wearing sunglasses.

"Hi, Mark," I said as I walked in.

"Shhhhh," he said, "Wait until this solo is over." He was using the drama coach voice again. While waiting, I read the album liner notes and learned that the musician was "working to develop complex themes in an atonal and non-rhythmic framework." When the solo ended, Mark paused a few moments and said,

"I find it fascinating the way he works to develop complex themes in an atonal and non-rhythmic framework."

"Me, too," I said.

"Yeah, complex," Mark said. He removed his sunglasses and put them on an end table. With his glasses off, the drama coach voice went away.

"Mark," I said, "you remember that talk we had at the Red Wheel about you and Linda?"

"Yeah, I remember it. Why?"

"Well do you still feel that way?"

"What way?"

"That she was, uh, inexperienced before you?"

"Yes, sure. Why?"

"Well I've been talking to a lot of people and they've been saying things that, well..."

"Who have you been talking to?" he asked.

"Well, Norm and Rick," I said.

"Oh come off it," he said. "Rick is so full of shit that you can't believe anything he says about anything so I don't even give a damn what he says and I asked Linda about Norm and he's so righteous and pure that he wouldn't screw a hooker if she paid him. Linda just goes out with him because she feels sorry for him."

"I don't know about that," I said.

"Look man," Mark said, reaching for his sunglasses, "Don't bug me with this stuff. I want to listen to the other side of this album and I don't know what business it is of yours anyway." The record began playing and Mark leaned back, his eyes hidden by the glasses. As I left the room, he was tapping his foot non-rhythmically.

I was really pissed. Linda was trying to make it with every guy in town, maybe every guy on the entire south side of Chicago. This didn't bother me particularly but she didn't just make it with them, she made fools of them with her "loss of innocence" routine. Then I try to help out my friends by setting the record straight and they get pissed off at me. I imagined her smugly counting conquests on her fingers. Maybe it is none of my business, I thought. Maybe Mark and Norm are right. But if I hear one more person talk about Linda's virginity, I'm going to, well, I don't know what I'm going to do.

A few weeks later, the whole problem was solved without me doing anything.

Linda solved it by going out with Buz. His real name was Steve Busak but nobody called him that. Buz hung out at the bowling alley on 127th street, was a few years older than the rest of us, and was one link in an amazingly extensive grape vine. Within hours of Buz's date with Linda, she was well-known by virtually everyone at school.

And it was a big school.

The more well-known she became, the less my friends talked about her virginity—or about her at all.

I didn't see or hear of Linda for a long time after that. No one I knew was dating her anymore and I had nearly forgotten about her until one night several months later.

I was sitting in The Lamp, listening to a pretty young blonde girl sing the blues. I was alone, killing time on a Friday night and Linda came in, also alone. She was wearing the same dress that she wore when I first saw her with Mark and when she raised her arm to wave at me, the hemline went up just as it had then. She walked toward my table and smiled.

"Mind if I join you?" she asked.

"No, not at all," I said, "How've you been?"

"Oh, pretty good," she said with a noticeable note of sadness in her voice. She seemed to have a fragile quality that I had never noticed before. We listened to the singer and drank coffee. She got out a cigarette and I lit it for her and she held my hand to steady the match. When I dropped the match into the ashtray, she continued to hold my hand. The singer finished her songs and Linda and I looked at each other. We didn't speak for a while.

"You've probably heard a lot of things about me," she finally said.

"Not so many things," I said, "but some."

"Did you believe them?" she asked.

"Some of them."

She sighed and seemed to shrink a little bit. After another pause, she said, "I've always liked you."

"I've always liked you, too, Linda," I said.

She leaned forward, looked into my eyes and said, in a voice almost too small to hear, "I never made love with Mark."

I didn't say anything.

"Or with Norm or Rick. Or anyone."

I was silent.

"I wouldn't lie to you," she said.

"I know you wouldn't, Linda."

One of the volunteer workers from the church that ran The Lamp came over and sat at our table. He had a stupid little goatee and was wearing a black turtleneck sweater with a silver peace symbol hanging from a rawhide strap. He was new at his job and didn't know that I was a "regular."

"Hi," he said as he sat down, "Did you like the entertainment?"

"It was okay," I said.

"It was the blues, you know," he said.

"Yes, I know."

"Christ had the blues a lot..." he said.

I withdrew my hand from Linda's and looked at her face.

"I'm out of cigarettes," I said, "I'm going across the street to get some. Be right back."

She smiled at me as I got up. The church worker continued to talk. He had no idea how absurdly irrelevant he was.

As I left The Lamp, I felt Linda's eyes on my back. I wanted to turn around but didn't. Once on the street, I walked to my car, started it, and drove around the southern suburbs for several hours before going home.

I felt bad but I had to leave.

I believed her.