Sunday, September 21, 2008

Nights of the "Gypsy"

Gypsy - Suzanne Vega (mp3)

Songs are bookmarks in my memory. This one popped up on my iPod the other day, and I felt like offering the TMI on where it's been bookmarked in my brain. It seemed a fitting epilogue (or prologue?) to my Promise Ring banter from last week.

By the beginning of my sophomore year in college, my virginity had begun to feel like something of an albatross, a smelly dead carcass of  rotting birdflesh dangling around my neck, scaring away all of femaledom from drawing nearer to me.

Having been raised in church my whole life, feeling this way carried with it plenty of guilt. I wasn't proud of being overwhelmed by my own horniness. I felt like the human version of those water rockets you make from 2-liter soda bottles, where the pressure of my own body had built up to such dangerous levels that a disaster of nuclear proportions was inevitable.

I even returned to Chapel Hill early and volunteered as an orientation advisor for my dorm, Hinton James, in the wildly desperate hope that it might allow me a chance to meet someone who found me appealing. Some did it for the resume; I did it to meet girls. As one of my favorite quotes so aptly states: Desperation is a stinky cologne. (It's from "Super Troopers.")

Worse yet, the course of true lust never did run smooth, and my Wile E. Coyote-esque plans for getting laid backfired. Helping with orientation did indeed introduce me to many appealing and drool-inspiring freshman girls, many of whom I befriended quickly, none of whom were particularly interested in what lurked below my beltline.

One of these girls was a whirling dervish of sexual awakening. She could have been Bernadette Peters' daughter, with mega-kinky blonde hair and a compact, curvy body. I've always prided myself on being polite, on looking at a girl's or woman's face and in her eyes, not allowing my eyes to feel the pull of mammary gravity and to stare at what lurked below the feminine neckline, but as a 19-year-old in Erica's presence, I failed more often than I'd like to admit.

It didn't help that one of our first conversations included her confession that one of the first words her parents taught her to say was "vagina." She even had the audio cassette to prove it. (And hell yes I listened. And hell yes I was very confused about how to handle listening to a then-toddler Erica gingerly stutter the word "va-va.. va-jyee-nuh" into a tape recorder, especially as I kept looking over at her very maturely-developed 18-year-old body.)

While I oogled Erica from afar, my roommate -- never the one to let little annoyances like manners or decorum get between him and a hot female -- oogled her from up close. And Erica ate his attention like hot Krispy Kreme donuts.

It must've been 2 a.m. when she barged into our room in late September with a CD in her hand. We omigod omigod HAD to listen to this song she heard, because it was the best best best song she'd ever ever heard and she had to share it with two of the coolest guys she knew omigod omigod. Even though we'd just shut out the lights and crashed into our loft beds, we never in our four years of cohabitation turned away a female at any time of day, so we got down from our lofts and sat around the stereo.

Kevin and Erica had already snuggled together in a blanket, and I jealously imagined his hands roaming all over her 5'3" frame in the low LED lighting in our room. The minute I heard the opening guitar, I knew the song. "Ooooh, 'Gypsy,'" I said. "I love Suzanne Vega."

I immediately regretted my comment, because I could sense her annoyance. Here she was trying to share this supercool secret discovery with us, and I was already in on her secret. She was preaching to the choir with me, so she focused all her energy and bosomy attention on Kevin, seeking his face for reaction to the song.

So he got to hold her like a baby. She curled up beside him. He felt her through the heat.

A little more than a decade later, on the week of Super Bowl XXXV, I found myself in New York City at a conference. I had already spent several afternoon hours soaking up the glory that is The Met, journaling about the works that stirred me, when Erica and I literally stumbled over one another. What are the odds, right?

Although she was still exquisitely attractive and continued to ooze a particular sensuality, age had also torn her down a little. Erica had always been intelligent, so the lure of gaining male attention based solely on a killer bod and kinky hair had probably lost most of its appeal soon after that night in our dorm room, if not months or years before that.

By our 2001 run-in at The Met, I was married and preparing for our second child, so most of my virginal 19-year-old longings for Erica (and the other hundred-plus ladies I pined for at one time or another) had long dissipated. But if just listening to a song can often take us to moments in time, then seeing someone from our past, especially someone who symbolized very particular feelings in our memory, is all the more powerful a time-traveling device.

I ended up spending much of the weekend hanging out with her. She was in grad school at Columbia, and she'd been in The Met working on a research project. Apparently kids who learn to say "vagina" when they're small tend to be pretty smart, although I can't find any studies to prove this out.

We met up the next night for dinner and hung out afterward to watch the Super Bowl together. Sure, the Giants got clobbered, but it was still a unique chance to be in the same town as one of the Super Bowl teams, watching everyone go nuts in bars and stuff (at least until the end of the first quarter, when it started looking grim, and then people pretty much just got piss drunk).

Although it shouldn't have to be written, I had no more physical contact with her in 2001 than I did back in 1991. The only difference was that, by 2001, most of her lustre had worn off as far as I was concerned, and I got to enjoy her company as an attractive woman whose life I found interesting rather than a budding sexual powerhouse whose presence made me quaky with hormonal instability.

Erica was just one small shining star in a galaxy of reasons why I so cherish my college years. Pain, discomfort and uncertainty will never again feel quite that luxuriant.

"Gypsy" is from Suzanne Vega's second album, Solitude Standing, and is also available on her greatest hits Retrospective. Search out iTunes or for either album.


Bob said...

Billy, just promise us that when your virginity finishes its trek across the Arabian deserts and arrives at the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia to be lavished upon with a feast of juicy ripe figs and honey and nectar you will not share the story here.

Billy said...

How 'bout I wear a Promise Ring and promise to save my blog until it gets married before revealing how it was deflowered?

Or something.

Bob said...

We need Chappy to confound these metaphors even further.