The First Few Friends

Published by: Harper & Row, 1981

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Copyright © Marilyn Singer 1981

The First Few Friends

(excerpt from Chapter One)

August, 1968

My ass really hurts.

I’ve been on this damn plane for nearly fourteen hours.  It’s almost midnight.  Five a.m. in London.  We were supposed to have arrived at five p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.  It figures that just when I’m coming home after being in England for a year, there’d be an airport strike.  We circled Kennedy Airport for three hours, flew to Toronto to refuel, flew back to New York and have been circling for almost three hours again.  Any more circling and I’ll have permanent vertigo.

Oh God, there goes another poor slob staggering to the loo.  That’s toilet in English.

Come to think of it, I’m not feeling so well myself.  I don’t think that Scotch and soda helped.  I hope my parents don’t smell it on my breath.  I can hear the comments already–“You went to England a teetotaler and came back a wino,” “Our daughter a boozer!” et al.

Was it really just yesterday Gwyn killsed me good-bye in Victoria Station?

“Don’t see me off at the airport,” I’d begged.  “I couldn’t bear it.  It’s too final.”

“Nothing’s final.  I’ll come to the States within a year.  I promise you I will,” he answered seriously.  Then he got that mischievous glint in his eye that I love so much.  “And I’ll thrill your friends with my British charm and perfect manners,” he said and pinched my bum–or ass, as Americans call it.

Oh Gwyn.  Oh God.

Why do I have to come back to New York?

“Please fasten your etceteras.”

I must have dozed off.  I wonder who’s waiting for me at the terminal.  My parents, of course.  What will they think about me now?  I’ve changed a lot in a year, a year spent at Reading University learning about literature and life.  A hefty hunk of life.  I’m twenty (almost).  A grown-up.  So my parents can’t pretend I’m their little girl anymore, can they?  Things have to be different A.E. (After England).

Will the Whole Sick Crew be waiting too?  I hope so–at least then I’ll have some people to talk to.  We had a lot of good times before I left–Aviva, Dorrie, Nancy and me, the Whole Sick Crew.  I remember how Aviva dubbed us that.  We were going out to Nathan’s on Long Island to consume large quantities of hot dogs and Cokes and to show off Dorrie’s bike to the Rebels, a motorcycle gang we heard hung out there.  That was Avi’s latest craze–motorcycles.  Avi had lots of crazes–poker, blues clubs (for which we made trips to strange corners of Manhattan), learning and riding the entire New York City subway system, and Tolkien.  And we went through all of the crazes with her.  After all, they were fun.  The one thing she’d always stuck with was singing (even though the type of music changed), just as I stuck with my writing, Dorrie with her sculpture and Nancy with her violin.  Anyway, this time Avi’s craze was motorcycles.  She was too young to own a bike, so Dorrie bought one instead, a used BMW that ate up most of her savings.  Dorrie looked great on that cycle, with her strong, hard-muscled arms, crash helmet and dark shades.  And Avi looked good too, sitting on the back.  Sometimes Dorrie let her practice driving it.  Nancy and I couldn’t afford motorcycles–or drive them for that matter–so we just followed along in my old Chevy.  When we reached Nathan’s there were the Rebels and their girls in their jeans and black leather jackets with the chains and the studs and the name Rebels written in bold red letters.

The Rebels were knocked out by Dorrie and Avi and offered us beer and rides on their bikes.  One of them, Tiny, who was 6’5″ and 280 pounds or so, as a supreme compliment lifted up Dorrie and Avi together as if they were two little birds, set them on his bike and told them to take it for a spin.  Dorrie and Avi loved it.  We all did–even though rounding those sharp corners and heading through those dark streets made me and Nancy a little nervous.  When we finally left, beer bloated, exhilarated and slightly woozy, a silent gloating passed between us.  We were tough, it said.  We were any man’s equal.

Then, back in Dorrie’s room, we shared some leftover rice pudding and exchanged imitations of the Rebels’ pungent speech until we collapsed laughing.

“Look at us.  The Whole Sick Crew?” Aviva said.

“The Whole Sick Crew?  Did you make that up?” I asked.

“No, I got it from this weird book called V.  The Crew is a bunch of lethargic, decadent romantics.”

“That’s us, all right,” Dorrie said.

“There’s a character in it, Benny Profane, who hunts alligators in the sewers of New York.”

“Are there really alligators in the sewers of New York?” Nancy asked.

“Sure, but they’re disguised as rats,” Dorrie answered.

“The Whole Sick Crew.  I like that,” I said.

And so that’s who we became.

The Crew made life at Queens College bearable.  Maybe they can make this year bearable too.  If anyone can.  Anyone besides Gwyn.