Where The Boys Are


          Life is like a long blind date. The Social Chairman of a boysí dorm calls the Social Chairman of a girlsí dorm and says he needs some flesh for Friday night, no foul balls, nothing too brainy, all queens and amenable, can she supply? And she says yes, she can, but what about the boys, the girls will want vital data and stuff. To which he snorts what for, theyíll be seminal, and hangs up. You are some of the flesh supplied. You wonder what the boy will be like, what will happen on the date, where youíll go, what youíll do, will it be great or the all-time fall-through, and Friday night you tear around like wild getting ready to be beautiful. The buzzer rings. You make an entrance and meet him. You go somewhere and do something.  Maybe you have a real ball, maybe itís hell, maybe both. But no matter what, before you can really know each other, you and life or you and your date, youíve mingled or said no and itís over. Tuggle and I did a dance because the pavement was burning our bare feet with our arms full of beach towels and tan oil, etc. The thing was, we couldnít cross Atlantic Boulevard for the traffic, so we waited until about a thousand cars passed packed with tourists staring at us in our swim suits and finally we made it and ran till our feet hit sand and there we were and everything was!
          All that Atlantic honest-to-john Ocean and genuine ships sailing on it and sky and sunshine and actual palm trees and miles of true beach and thousands of wonderful live-it-up kids!
          In my entire life I have never been as way far out.
          You may be very sophisticated and have been to Florida before but let me clue you. Iíd never seen the ocean before or ships or palm trees except in movies and magazines. Neither had Tuggle.  Iíd never been further south in the winter than Indianapolis to visit my aunt. Our Senior Trip in high school was supposed to be in Washington D.C. on the train but two hoody boys in our class put on a race one night with their cars full of kids and smashed up and the school board made a large odor; you know how things are in a small town; and cancelled the trip. The semicolons in the preceding sentence are probably wrong. Frankly, my big mechanical trouble is semicolons. Our English teacher was always telling us dashes were a sloppy piece of punctuation and to save them until we needed them with the result that I am still saving them for hell knows what and trying to make do with semicolons. When I am old I shall mourn not for a misspent youth but a whole slew of unspent dashes. So donít plan on too much in this, punctuationally at least. 
          Anyway. Here we were, Tuggle and I, after nearly two thousand miles, with everything about to begin, and I want to describe it in detail. I am fairly sharp at description. First, the ocean.  If you come from the Midwest and have never seen it you are really clutched, that is, seized by an emotion. The finest thing about the ocean is that it isnít illimitable. At the horizon it simply stops. To me it proved what Iíve been made to prove, that the world is flat. Gads, think what we could do with edges! Line up the generals and admirals from everywhere and forward march. Inform our congressmen and cabinet members and the pols of all countries in fact that they are going to be in a parade. Build the loveliest drag strip in history and put our hot-rodders on it. With no strain we could drop into infinity overaged movie stars, Greek shipping tycoons, the complete cast of the Mickey Mouse Club, the premiers of Russian satellites, Texas oil men, presidents and faculties of state universities, missile count-downers and buttonpushers, football coaches, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the men who make cereal and deodorant and cigarette commercials for TV, South American dictators, sports writers, Bing Crosbyís boys, and all the assorted scourges of the world. Letís face it, the globe would be much more interesting and convenient flat.  Plus I think it would be good for men to know they have limits. The ocean was like an enormous fat man with a bland blue face. Once in a while he would open his mouth in a wave and grin foam. There were ships sailing to and from romantic places like Cuba and Port-au-Prince and Galveston and coming over the water, if you listened creatively, you could hear the sounds of gourds and voodoo drums and steel bands, though from Cuba it might have been firing since it seemed to me Iíd read they were putting on a revolution. Itís difficult to keep upon current events in college because there isnít time     and also because theyíre so damned current. The sky was as blue as the sea. Above were small clouds clipped and haughty as poodles being led along on leashes. An airplane putzed past trailing a sign which read ďGo, Man, Go to Pokeyís!Ē But the really fabulous thing was the beach. Wide and sloping, it was like a white and endless Band-Aid protecting the land from the ocean, except that the sun changed the white to gold and there on the gold, sitting, lying, standing, walking, as far as we could see, about twenty thousand of   them, were the prospectors.
          Grinning at each other as though we had at last aced life itself, Tuggle and I joined them.
          If you enroll at any school in the U.S. east of the Mississippi you hear very soon about spring vacation in Florida. Everyone goes who can afford it and whose folks will let them. If you never go you are really out of it. Spring vacation at most schools coincide, falling the last weeks of March or the first weeks of April, halfway through second semester or just as winter term ends. Anyway, from all over the Midwest and East they blast off for Lauderdale by plane, train and bus but mostly by the carload. Iím not sure why they started coming to Lauderdale but Life has even done a picture story on the whole deal. So now itís a tradition.
          Why do they come to Florida?
          Physically, to get a tan. The weather up north is simply unknown that time of year; snow and slush and cold and Gothic; the perfect climate for exams and suicides. Also they are pooped. Many have mono. 
          Psychologically to get away. They have just finished mid-semesters or finals and they have personal problems to escape from or try to solve and besides, what else is there to do except go home and further foul up the parent-child relationship? Another thing, they need to recuperate from our new national disease, peopleosis, which is to the spirit what mono is to the student body. For example, at the U, where Tuggle and I go, the enrollment is about twenty thousand and most of us live in dorms. Everyone has a number. Mine is 181226. In our dorm, dear old East Swander; named after Eliza Hickok Swander who was the first woman prof at the school back around 1870 or 1900 invented a spray to protect snap beans from the black blight or something and also left a swad of money to the U as the result of picking up a lot of prime real estate adjacent to campus; there are a thousand girls divided into eighteen precincts, or cell blocks, and hutched three to a room in rooms designed for two, which enables alma mater to pay off the mortgage on the dorm faster.  Three girls to two desks and two closets and one phone buzzer and one window and  you begin to be as claustrophobic as the clown walled up alive in ďThe Cask of Amontillado.Ē How can you have solitude? How can you have dignity? You cannot even contemplate in the bique. Perpetual buddy-buddy is enough to make anyone a misanthrope. But the most spastic thing about East Swander is that you have to maturate simultaneously with a thousand other girls while every species of adult yammers at you to get the show on the road. With their proverbs and hard-knocks diplomas and homilies on conduct parents can be dismal enough but profs, tossing out a challenge per lecture, are the absolue bottom. To them students are rats which can be trained to jump at certain doors for food and ideas. Once trained, change the symbol on the door from a Cadillac or a cross to Piltdown man or other-direction and see what the little rodents do. Our noses become so bloody from banging on the wrong doors that if we react at all itís reflex. Sure, sometimes we wait till class is over and give a secret leap in our souls but in general we are responsed out. As I said, here are all these girls having to become instead of to be, with all the attendant tears and rashes and flashes, which I assume is also true of the boys in their dorms. What you have then is twenty thousand kids running in relays the gauntlet of growth. Living in this is like being in the belly of a pregnant pig, with the whole wriggling litter squealing to be born, while outside, in the pen, society kicks hell out of the poor sow to speed up the process.
          Biologically, they come to Florida to check the talent. By that I mean to inspect and select. When a Time reporter asked one girl why she migrated she said because ďthis is where the boys are.Ē  Youíve seen those movie travelogues of the beaches on the Pribilof Islands up by Alaska where the seals tool in once a year from the Bay of Fundy or someplace to pair off and reproduce. The beach at Lauderdale has a similar function. Not that reproduction occurs, of course, but when you attract thousands of kids to one place there is apt to be a smattering of sexual activity. And the terrific thing is that many of the boys are from the Ivy League: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, etc. A lot of them go to Bermuda and Nassau to snob around with girls from Eastern schools but the intelligent ones, having heard about Midwestern girls, tear down here to see if itís true. So if you are a girl and want to meet the authentic Ivy League article; and who doesnít; Lauderdale is where to go.
          It took Tuggle and me a long time to find spreading room for our towels but finally we did and began oiling each other and observing. We were stuck, unfortunately, amid a pride of girls, a real Amazonia. I have never been so conscious of female flesh. Letís face it, American girls today are big; busted and footed and hipped and shouldered and bottomed. A group of them in tight swim suits looks like a football squad in shape for a two-hour scrimmage. Had the Sabine women been stacked on their scale thereíd have been no Rome. Of course I may be generalizing to justify myself. I am five-nine in heels and  I weigh in at one thirty-six. My statistics are 37-28-38. I wear an eight and a half B shoe. I may not be feminine but I am damn ample. We all are. It is ridiculous nowadays for girls to strain to be seductive. Companies go on advertising creams and mists and gossamer underthings when what we should really be in the market for is stuff like electric razors and Charles Atlas courses and jock straps, etc. 
          Incidentally, my name is Merrit.
          And speaking of flesh, it is time I said something about sex.  This is not going to be one of those Riviera-go-rounds by smutty little girls. Whatís immoral about them is that they donít enjoy either writing or bedding. Or one  of those campus comedies in which the kids listen to jazz all day and mattress all night and never go to class. Most kids do go to class. But I admit sex is very important in a book today. You watch people in a drugstore, turning the pages with that bored yet hunting expression. They are not looking for literature. If Iím anything, itís realistic. To be read you have to heat it up. So if this book is ever published and you are browsing around in a bookstore or drugstore I hereby announce that the sex in it will be found exclusively on pp. 16-17, 41, 110-114, 160, 163-165, 199, 242-248, and 311. Also pp. 74-78 and 219 and 331. So if sex is what you happen to be interested in you may turn at once to these pages and save your money but if you are deeply concerned about such crucial topics as The Influence of Walt Disney on Religion, Large Families, Education, Virginity, The High IQ, Faith, The Luck of Henry Thoreau, Stimulation, How Society Makes It Tough for Kids, Love, etc., and a slew more, and would also like to read an account of what is probably the most gallant and selfless and inspirational deed ever attempted by young people, at least in this era, buy the book.
          I want serious readers, not a bunch of BB-stackers.