A TEMPERING OF DREAMS is a novel: pure fantasy with imaginary characters, and no effort whatsoever at historical accuracy. It is based on remembered images of a bygone time, and has no particular purpose beyond enjoyment. It will appear serially as each chapter is completed; there is no schedule. MG,Jr.
A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 1
8 May 2022
A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 7
21 May 2022
It is wonderful feeling free. You can walk through whatever weather, at whatever time, and just exalt in the freshness of the experience. Sergio had that feeling as he walked into Campus Green on the way to class. The Green was usually an idyllic scene of Ivy League college life, as if torn from the pages of ’This Side of Paradise.’ But today it was a scene of seething ferment, people were criss-crossing its expanse like a chaotic swarm of startled bees. Many were scurrying toward College Hall, which was once again occupied to overflowing, its many wide front stone steps jammed with people funneling their way toward the entryway. A trickling counterstream of people was tortuously weaving its way out of College Hall through the incoming crowd, and on emerging from its density below the steps exploded into fragments shooting off in every directions, like the shards of a thin glass crashing onto the pavement.
Small clusters of men were scattered about the Green, sitting on its grassy cold dry hard ground, and murmuring amongst themselves in their subdued huddles. Any energy that Sergio saw being displayed was all in a convergence of Brownian Motion into and out of College Hall, and a divergence of frenzied uncoordinated rectilinear motions beyond it. He skirted the Green, walking around it on the far side from College Hall, by the Library, and went on down Locust Walk to the Engineering Building. Class was nearly empty, and after only a few minutes Professor Abel said, “Let’s call it off for today. We’ll pick it up on Friday, when everybody can be here.” It was soon apparent that this was going to be case with every class that day, at least those with men in them. So Sergio wandered back up to Campus Green. He spotted Joe and Bernie sitting off by the Library, and joined them.
Bernie: “How’d you do?”
Joe just nodded at Sergio without smiling. “It must be bad,” thought Sergio, “with no smile on Joe.”
Sergio: “I got 362.”
Bernie: “Wow! that’s great! Really glad, man!”
“I really like this guy,” thought Sergio, who replied, “Just dumb fucking luck. How ‘bout you?”
Joe, ruefully: “196.”
Sergio: “Ughhh…fuck!, man.”
Joe: “Student deferments have vanished overnight, and now we have the stampede you see before you, charging into the Registrar’s Office to change majors into something the Army will pay for besides carrying a rifle,”
Bernie: “and heading down to recruiting offices to sign up for 6 year hitches, getting the Army to pay their tuition and keep them out of the fighting.”
Sergio: “Yeah, but who the hell wants to work at what the fucking Army wants you to do?”
Joe: “Options are limited.”
Bernie: “Over half the men in our class are now going to be doctors or lawyers,”
Joe, ruefully: “or dentists,”
Sergio: “or Canadians,”
Bernie: “if they can’t afford F. Lee Bailey to find them bone spurs, to get out,”
Joe: “or prefer the hospitality of American prisons,”
Sergio: “or the war ends and we pull out.”
The other two looked at Sergio in silence, for voicing the one wish everybody had.
Bernie: “Nixon won’t pull out, he’s got a hard-on for fucking commies.”
Joe: “I would so much rather that he fucked Henry Kissinger.”
Sergio: “Pat Nixon might prefer that, too.”
Sergio: “Elena! What are you doing?”
Elena: “It’s just crazy! Everybody’s running around, nuts! The Art and Architecture Department effectively shut down because so many of its guys have fled to other majors. The University has an emergency ramp up of pre-med and pre-law programs, up to doubling them or more, ‘cause so many guys are looking for deferments. There’s so much happening right now! I’m trying to write about it for the Gazette.”
Sergio: “Elena, these are my friends, Bernie,” pointing to Bernie, “and Joe,” then pointing to Joe.
Elena: “Oh, guys, I hope you did alright.”
Elena: “Oooh! I’m so happy for you Serge!, but it’s all so unfair! What are you guys gonna do?”
Sergio: “That’s what we’re discussing.”
Elena: (to Bernie and Joe): “I’m so sorry,” (to Sergio): “let me know what you’re all gonna’ do, call me to tell me” (to all): “I gotta’ go, I’m running everywhere after the story!”
Bernie: “Nice meeting you.”
Sergio: “Thanks. I’ll call you.”
Elena scooted off, and Bernie and Joe looked at Sergio with “what about her?” looks on their faces.
Sergio: “Yeah, she’s just someone I met. She’s always bopping around, being a news reporter, bumps into a lot of people. — Hey, you guys want to do something tonight?”
Bernie: “I’m gonna be taking a little trip with the rats tonight.”
Joe: “I think a solitary evening of quiet reflection is what I need.”
Sergio: “Okay, guys, I’ll see you around.” And they each then drifted away separately to mull over their new futures.
By Friday, the seismic shift to college life, jolted into motion by Monday night’s lottery, had settled into a new complex of routines. Sergio found himself the only guy left in his Spanish Literature class, since all the other men had jammed themselves into different classes needed for their new pre-med and pre-law majors, and a bunch of his fellow engineering students had signed up with the National Guard, in the hopes of only having to defend the United States from within the United States, and not right away. He felt lucky and he didn’t feel guilty, so he didn’t say anything about it nor criticize anyone for their coping mechanism or escape plan. Elena had been right: it was all so unfair, and the only truly good way to fix the whole damn mess would be to end the fucking war. How long would it take for that to happen? No matter how soon, it could never be soon enough.
Sergio spent his time outside class immersed in his studies, and making much headway in them. His friends were off, embedded within the urgency of their personal concerns, and not in the mood for casual goofing off, so he didn’t disturb them. Even Fred was preoccupied, working away at his reading and freshman English papers. He wanted to get a degree in English, and wanted the profs to recognize that. So one early evening, walking back from the Computer Center by Hill House, Sergio thought to see if Elena was in, and he called from the phone by the reception desk.
“Hey, Elena, I just thought I’d call like you asked, and tell you about the guys.”
“Ooooh! I’ll be right up!”
He’d thought he would just be chatting with her over the phone, like most of the girls did with casual callers, but this would certainly be nicer. When she arrived he suggested they walk to the nearby Underground, and catch up.
“I read your article in the Gazette, you covered a lot of ground, and some good quotes.”
“What are your friends going to do?”
“Well, Joe is now aiming to become a dentist. He says the crowd waiting to register into pre-med was so huge, and medical school is so hard, that going over to the Dental School and registering there for the pre-dentistry program was easier, there’s less competition. Still, it’s a tough row to hoe. He’s kind of on the edge of how far up they’re likely to draft. Bernie, on the other hand, doesn’t want to change his major because he’s doing just what he likes. So as far as I can tell, his plan seems to be to hope at flunking the physical — or try to — and then go to Canada if he doesn’t.”
“Oh, wow, bummer. And what are you doing?”
“I’m just doing my science thing, reading, writing a little poetry.”
“Show me some.”
“Well, all I got with me now is a translation I worked up for Spanish Lit class. We’re studying poetry now, and write interpretations. I picked a poem by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, and did this with it,” opening his poetry journal and placing it in front of her on the table, she saw the following.
Rima LXIX — Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836-1870)
Al brillar un relámpago nacemos,
Y aun dura su fulgor cuando morimos:
¡Tan corto es el vivir!
La gloria y el amor tras que corremos,
Sombras de un sueño son que perseguimos:
¡Despertar es morir!
Rima LXIX — Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (a translation)
In a stroke of lightning flash life births anew,
Yet before its aura fades death will ensue:
Life as brief as breath!
That glory and those loves we grasp onto
Are shadows within dreams that we pursue:
Waking is our death!
Elena concentrated on the poem reading it over a few times, then looked up him. “It’s beautiful. Your wording even made the Spanish verses clear for me. I pretended they were in Sicilian and my mother was reading them to me.” This opened them up to exchanging their personal stories, and they decided to eat dinner together at The Underground, ordering cheeseburgers, so they could take their time to talk. Elena’s family lived on the coast, at Asbury Park, where her father managed a marina. His grandparents had come from England. Her mother was Sicilian, so Elena had learned some bits of morphed Italian from listening to her mama.
She put her hand in his as they walked back slowly and wordlessly in the dark on Campus Green, and as they neared one of the big trees, Sergio stopped, turned into her, and gently drew her in by slipping his right arm around her waist in back. She fell into his embrace, bringing her arms around his neck as he slid his left palm down across her shoulder blade. They pressed each other into themselves for a slow kiss. Her body was relaxed and receptive in his embrace. After a few minutes they disengaged a bit to look into each other’s tranquil faces.
“Can I call you tomorrow. Maybe we can do some things together.”
“Yes. I would like that.”
So they walked arm-in-arm back to Hill House, where they parted after a sweet goodbye kiss.
After that night, Sergio and Elena spent almost every evening together after dinner, studying at the Library when the academic pressures were high because of papers and problem sets due and impending tests, or listening to music and making out in Paine-103 when the academic pressures were lower. Elena really liked Ella Fitzgerald. Christmas Vacation — officially, “Winter Break” — was coming up at the end of December, and they would each go home for the two weeks, returning soon after New Year’s to then charge into the week of final exams for the Winter Semester. After a short respite from the academic rigors, the Spring Semester of 1970 would begin near the end of January. Knowing what was coming up for them separately made their present time together all the more precious. Elena began spending her nights in Paine-103.
“There’s a movie I’d like you to see with me. The Film Society is screening it at the College Hall Theater on Friday night. Would you come?”
“Sure. What’s is it?”
“It’s called ‘On Dangerous Ground.’ It’s a black-and-white from ’51, in the film noir style.”
“Cops and robbers?”
“Not really. It’s about a bitter city cop whose gotten too rough with suspects, and is sent up state to cool off by working on a manhunt in the back woods. But it’s really about deep loneliness being overcome by the opening of the heart. I think it’s very poetic.”
“Yes, I want to see that.”
So they did. After, they stopped to kiss by their favorite tree on Campus Green, before wending their way back to Paine-103.
“I want to make love to you.”
“I’ve got what’s needed, for whenever you’re ready.”
“I know. Let’s go.”
The room was nice and toasty. Sergio hung up their coats, he shucked his shoes and she her tall zip brown leather heeled boots. She set her knit hat on the desk and unclasped her bunched spiral of twirled hair, shaking her head to loosen it into a glossy black-brown cascade falling down her shoulders and back. He put a record on the turntable and turned off the room light. She melted into his tight embrace wrapping her arms around his neck, and they kissed deeply. The first strains of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony swelled faintly into hearing. His hands pressing against her back slid around under her arms to caress the sides of her generous breasts, as she dropped her arms to glide her hands down around his neck and chest and undo his shirt buttons one by one. Sergio slid his hands in to cup the fullness of her firm breasts until Elena began undoing this belt, and he moved his hands down to undo hers. He slid his hands under her maroon sweater and then up to slide it over her head and off her outstretched arms. She pulled his shirt off his shoulders and he pulled his sleeves off to have it fall away, too. He let his pants fall and stepped out of them, but hers were too snug against the sensuous contours of her lovely rounded butt and elegantly thighed long legs, that she had to sit back in bed and let him pull them off her. She swung her legs into bed and he lay next to her. As they kissed he rolled her up on top of him and worked his fingers over her bra hooks, three of them, trying to undo them one-handed. She looked in his face with a smile that said: “You’ll never do it, use two hands.” And so he did. She sat up to discard her bra, revealing all the generous fullness and large nipple browns of her breasts. He was rapt by the sight of her in the half-light: a tall lithe woman of fresh full firm natural beauty.
Sergio transmitted his sexual desire and physical love by firm full-bodied and open-handed touch that was all one unhurried continuous caress. Elena transmitted her sexual desire and physical love by absorbing the physicality of his affection and the warmth of his emotion with her whole body stretching cat-like strongly into his embrace, as one single fluid mass of feminine sinew.
He took off his boxer shorts, and she slipped off her panties. They embraced again on the bed into slow passionate kissing, and then a caressing of deeper urgency. He was ready and pulled out a foil-wrapped packet from under him on the bed, and held it up for her to see. She nodded. He rolled over, sat up, tore open the packet, and rolled on the lamb-skin. He’d warmed it up by lying on it, to ward off any chills. He turned around and lay above her, and she put her hands on the sides of his face and drew him toward her as she arched her legs to enfold him into her acceptance. Their lovemaking was a crescendo of primordial energy bursting through into a diminuendo of transcendent peace. They were in love.
The light of Saturday morning woke them early, still aglow in their love, but hungry and needing to take the first pisses of the day. Sergio threw on some pants and a tee shirt for a quick whiz and a scouting out of the bathroom scene. The dorm guys should mostly be away for the weekend or sleeping one off, and the coast was clear. With Elena in his red velour bathrobe, they scooted down the hallway, and he stood guard outside the bathroom door while she was occupied. Just as Elena came out of the bathroom and turned toward the room, Fred trooped onto the hallway walking toward them. He momentarily stopped in surprise with raised eye brows, then thought to continue briskly out to minimize embarrassment. Elena was pursing her lips to keep from laughing, and Sergio finally surrendered to the ridiculousness of the situation, and dropped the pretenses.
“Fred, this is my girlfriend, Elena. Elena, this is Fred, a really good guy who helped me out when I needed it.”
“Ah, hi Elena.”
“So, Fred, it’s cool. Elena and I are trying to spend a lot of time together, so we’ll all probably see each other coming and going more often.”
“Okay. Yeah, it’s all good.”
“It was nice meeting you, Fred!”
Elena and Sergio went back to their room, and Fred continued out, wondering, “another one, how’s he do it?”
It is a fact that guys never believe that another man’s apparent girlfriend successes, especially if in rapid succession, could ever be outcomes purely of dumb luck. But for Sergio they had been. For him, falling in love had been the acceptance of serendipity offered to him by an unfathomable universe. A consistency of kindness is the essence of lasting love. After more than a week of honeymooning in Paine-103, Elena and Sergio parted to return to their parents’s homes for the Winter Break.
A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 9
25 May 2022