In the morning, as if by unconscious agreement, we pretended that I hadn't shoved Eugene off my bed when he woke me with a French-kiss during the night, and once we washed and dressed (fortunately, he didn't seem to be ogling) we clumped down the stairs to the hotel's breakfast room.
I immediately spotted a girl with blond, chin-length hair, a button-nose, and thick, tortoise shell-framed glasses sitting alone sipping coffee and reading the International Herald-Tribune. Except for her dowdy seersucker dress, she looked like a typical American college student. The three of us exchanged glances but didn't converse, and by the time Eugene and I started eating, she had taken her newspaper and left.
Not mentioning the previous night's "incident" made it difficult for Eugene and me to find anything to talk about, and I was glad when he stroked his towering "Afro," said he'd meet me later and went searching for a barber shop.
After finishing my coffee I returned to our room and started War and Peace. But barely four days after cramming for finals I was too restless for such heavy reading, and went for a walk instead. Noticing the IHT at a newsstand I bought a copy, sat on a park bench, read the latest on Israel and Vietnam, and caught up on the Red Sox who – just my luck to be hitchhiking around Europe for three months – were in the thick of the '67 pennant race. Suddenly I heard someone with a mid-western accent say excuse me. I looked up and recognized the button-nosed blond.
"Sorry to bother you," she said, "but I noticed you at breakfast and could tell that you're an American."
Raising my eyebrows as if to say, and who are you to talk, I invited her to sit down. She launched into an explanation about how she was at the American University in Beirut finishing her junior year abroad when Israel and the Arabs started fighting, and the university administration, afraid the Israelis would bomb Lebanon, gave her five minutes to pack before putting her on the first available flight out… She'd been in Amsterdam less than twelve hours.
"Scary," I said, "when are you going home?"
"End of August."
"Not till then?"
"My boyfriend's coming from the States in July. We'd been planning all along to see Europe together and then go home for our senior year."
"Sounds like the worst is over. Pretty soon Lebanon will be a distant memory."
"Never!" she said. "The Middle East's a part of me now. It's just how fast everything happened – not saying goodbye, leaving all my stuff behind – but enough of that for now… tell me, where are you from?"
"Boston… I just finished my freshman year at Harvard. Or should I say that my freshman year at Harvard just finished me."
"You flunked out?"
"Don't know yet, but I doubt it. Unless you really screw up, you get a gentleman 'C'... Where are you from?"
"Where do you go to school?"
"My favorite high school teacher went there."
"Well, that's reassuring."
"Doug and I are getting married after we graduate. Then I'm going to teach and help put him through med school."
"What's your name?"
"Becky. And yours?"
"That's a good Christian name."
"Not exactly," I said. "Hey, do you have any plans for today?"
"Not really. I thought I'd just walk around. I've got some clothes-shopping to do."
"Care for some company?"
"Absolutely," she said, "but what about your friend?"
"Eugene's getting a haircut. And with the size of his 'Afro' it'll take a long time."
"It is huge," she laughed, "but he's one of the best looking Negroes I've ever seen."
"I haven't really looked at him that way," I said.
We walked around the park and admired the flower beds, then took to the streets to check out the narrow, old buildings, bridges, and houseboats on the canals.
"Does Eugene go to Harvard too?"
"That's where we met – basketball tryouts."
"Basketball! You guys are in great shape but you're not that tall."
"Notice I said 'tryouts.' He was cut; I made the team... but barely. And I've got a rear end full of splinters to prove it."
"That must be a sight."
"Yeah, about as good as that one," I said, pointing down to a used condom floating in the water.
"You'd never see that in Beirut. Life there's more puritanical."
"Yeah, like my roommate had never even heard of masturbation."
I tried playing it cool but in reality was amazed. I'd never heard that word spoken by a male, never mind a female, and the fact that she used it made me think that skinny little Becky was loose and probably very horny.
"Could I take you out for lunch?" I asked.
"No," I laughed, "Jewish actually."
We found a café that was more a bar than a restaurant. I wanted to search for something nicer, but she insisted that it was good enough, that she didn't want me spending a fortune. She ordered the une Speciale, which turned out to be raw ground beef. I was grossed out and wanted to send it back, but she said that it was steak tar tare and gave it a try. I couldn't bear watching her eat, so of course she kept teasing me, pretending that the meat was the most delicious thing she'd ever put in her mouth. I ordered the Uitsmijter, and though I made Becky snicker by the way I pronounced the word, I wasn't crazy about ham, pushed it aside and only picked at the bread and fried egg.
Hoping to salvage our meal I ordered two cups of hot chocolate. The drinks were delicious – hot, creamy and sweet – and it was nice to see Becky laughing and feeling relaxed, but I started to worry that Eugene might be waiting and told her that I needed to check back at the hotel. She didn't want to be alone and asked if she could come along. Dodging a constant stream of mopeds and bikes as we scurried across the street, Becky grabbed my hand and didn't let go till we reached my room. Eugene wasn't there but had left a note saying that he'd be back in the late afternoon.
"Nice room," Becky said. "Mine's only the size of a walk-in closet but there's a radio that picks up English rock stations."
"Have you heard any good songs?"
"There was one about a girl named Lucy."
"You'd never heard 'Sgt. Pepper' before?"
"Hardly listened to rock 'n' roll the whole time I was in Lebanon."
"I feel stoned just hearing the Beatles in my head."
"You use drugs?"
"Not drugs… just pot and sometimes a little hash. At school now, everybody does."
"Let's go listen to some music."
I followed her upstairs to her room, which was small like she'd said, and since there were no chairs I automatically sat next to her on the bed. She stretched her arm towards the extra-wide window sill that served as a night table and turned the radio on, but only static came through.
"It worked last night," she said, grabbing a pack of Rothman's. "Want a cigarette?"
"I don't smoke."
She lit up, took a long drag, and as she exhaled said in a teasing sort of way, "Except for your drug habit."
"Oh, cut it out, I'm no addict. I've never even bought my own stuff."
"What's it like?"
"Being stoned… you just feel relaxed and all your senses are sort of heightened – music sounds better, food tastes better, you notice how nice certain things feel…"
"Well, sometimes for me, it's like an aphrodisiac."
"I don't know. It's not the sort of thing I'd talk to someone about."
"But with me you are?" She took another drag and blew a perfect smoke ring.
"I guess... I mean, I just did, didn't I."
She crushed out the cigarette in an ashtray, put her glasses on the sill, kissed me lightly on the lips a few times, hugged me and then slid her tongue into my mouth. As we French-kissed I had to work hard to get her lunch and Eugene's tongue out of my mind, but before long Debbie and I were lying down making out.
"I haven't made love in over a year," she said.
"You win," I conceded. "For me it's only been six months."
She laughed, stood up, stepped out of her navy blue flats, took off her dress and put it carefully on the floor.
"It's the only dress I brought with me," she said. "I don't want it to get all wrinkled."
And then, clad only in plain white panties and bra, she came back to bed and lay beside me.
"I know they're tiny," she said apologetically, shifting her head on the pillow so she could look into my eyes.
"What's a little breast between friends?" I teased.
Her giggle sounded appreciative, maybe even affectionate, and I felt that inflated sense of well-being I often experienced after making an especially nifty pass to a fast-breaking teammate. I kissed her a few times and started fondling her. She let out a tiny moan. Not widely experienced in the sounds of love, I didn't know if she was expressing pleasure or telling me to cool it, so I rested my hand on her belly.
"Don't stop," she said.
"I thought you might be having second thoughts."
"Why should I? I'm sure Doug hasn't been a saint while I've been away."
After we finished Becky lit up one of her Rothmans and lay back in the crook of my arm. The dark hair of my armpit looked like a tiny yarmulke on top of her blond head.
"You seem tense," she said.
"I'm a little nervous that you'll get pregnant."
"I won't," she said, "I just had my period."
"You don't believe in bad luck?"
"You're a worrywart, Paul. I'm as regular as clockwork."
My arm was beginning to feel like pins and needles so I moved it from under her. Becky sat up and put out her cigarette. "I'm dying for a bath," she said.
"Me too, I haven't had one since I arrived in Amsterdam."
She wrinkled her nose: "I can tell."
I felt embarrassed and must have looked it. She leaned over and gave me a reassuring peck on the cheek. "Go," she said, "I'll meet you in your room when I'm done."
"And then dinner?"
"Of course," she replied, and as I was heading down the hall she called out, "invite Eugene; I think it'll be lots of fun."
I found Eugene lying on his bed reading the Let's Go guide to Europe. His hair was about a quarter of an inch long. Bread, cheese, fruit and a few bottles of wine were piled on top of the bureau.
"Looks like you've had a productive day," I said, sitting on the edge of my bed.
"They scalped me!"
"It looks great. You're not just a mountain of hair."
"The barber spreckt no engels and obviously never trimmed an 'Afro' before."
"You know that little blond we saw at breakfast?"
"No… but I bet you do." He closed his book and placed it on his chest.
"How would you feel about the three of us going out?"
"Relieved," he said. "I thought you and I might be going our separate ways."
"I have to say, I can't believe what you pulled last night."
"Sorry," he said, "I could never quite figure out how to tell you."
"But how can you be sure? You spent half your life in a Catholic seminary. I bet you've never even been with a girl."
"I know by how I feel… and by my fantasies."
"Then you shouldn't have become my friend."
"As if you'd never be friends with a girl who turns you on…"
"That's different. A girl would know that sex might be in the cards."
"Is it my fault you're so naïve?"
"If you really cared about me you'd control yourself..." Suddenly, I went dead silent.
"What?" he asked.
"This really sucks. I sound like my old girlfriend arguing with me about sex… Look, the main thing is, I don't want to have to be on guard all the time."
"You won't, I promise."
"That's exactly what I used to say. And I'd really believe it. But on our next date, I'd still be trying to get into Sandra's pants."
"Why don't we give it some time? If you're uncomfortable we can always split up."
"Okay," I said quickly shaking his hand, as if performing this manly ritual would somehow guarantee that we'd only be friends, and therefore was too important to delay.
"I feel like a pig," I said. "I'm going to take a bath."
I gathered underwear, socks, blue dress shirt and beige chinos, towel, my toilet kit and scooted down the hall to the tub. By the time I returned Eugene had changed into clothes identical to mine, and he and Becky were sitting cross-legged on the floor drinking from the same bottle of wine with the bread, cheese and fruit laid out in front of them.
"Ugh," Eugene said. "Me see'm pale face from one of lost tribes."
"How," I said, raising my hand.
"With your mouth," Becky explained, handing me the bottle.
I took a swig as if I were drinking beer, and the sweetness made me cough.
"Pale face used to Manishewitz," Eugene said.
Becky took the bottle as I cleared my throat and sat down, and while I chuckled at the way Eugene was mangling the bread with his multi-bladed pocketknife I caught her smiling in my direction, provocatively tonguing the bottle's rim. Ravenous, I grabbed the bread and started tearing pieces off, freeing Eugene to attack the Gouda with his knife. Becky snatched some cheese, stuck it between two hunks of bread and after saying "Yummy" to the first bite asked Eugene if he'd seen anything interesting during the day.
"Lots of seedy areas," he said, "I doubt they'd interest you… but I did go to a museum."
"Which one?" I asked, munching a wad of bread and Gouda.
"The Rijksmuseum… and oh, I meant to tell you, there's a Rembrandt there – Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul. I swear Rembrandt looks like he had a black ancestor."
"I thought you were going to say he looks like me," I said.
"No, you look like the guy in The Jewish Bride."
"His hand's on the bride's breast."
"That definitely sounds like you," Becky said. "Maybe the guy was your great-great grandfather."
"Very funny," I said…. "You know, Eugene thinks anybody with talent has black blood. In fact, he's getting so radical he's beginning to think he's black himself."
Eugene quickly swallowed what he was chewing.
"Speaking of which," Eugene said, "I found a nightclub that plays soul."
"Oh, I want to go," Becky said. "I haven't danced all year."
Reaching into his knapsack Eugene took out a pipe and small chunk of hash wrapped in aluminum foil.
"Better if we smoke'm peace pipe first," he said.
Becky glanced at my crotch and quickly arched her eyebrows a couple of times.
"Let's wait till we get back," I told Eugene, and after we all pitched in putting away the food, Becky and I, like two little Indians, followed our chief into the night.
The club was "a clean, well-lighted place" (to borrow a phrase from Hemingway, my favorite author at the time), modern-looking with a medium-size dance floor surrounded by chrome-legged tables and chairs. Eugene insisted on paying for the first round of drinks – Cuba libres – "too heavy on the Coke," he complained, and because he couldn't bear listening to the European rock 'n' roll without the benefit of alcohol, he pushed his glass aside, strutted over to the disc jockey, convinced him to find some soul music and proceeded to put on a show while Becky and a crowd of lock-kneed white folks looked ridiculous trying to imitate him.
When Eugene and Becky returned to the table I gave them a short round of applause and then ordered some ice cold Heinekens which they promptly guzzled down. Suddenly a guy, probably in his early twenties, came into the nightclub soliciting donations for Israel. Incredulous, Becky turned to Eugene and me and said, "Money for Israel! Yeah, right, so they can buy more bombs and kill more Arabs."
"Maybe it's for medicine," I calmly suggested.
"If anybody needs money for medicine it's hardly the Jews."
"Everybody suffers in war," I said.
"Everybody suffers when Jews steal land and kick Arabs out of their homes."
"From what I've read..."
Becky wouldn't let me finish.
"I know," she said. "Hitler killed six million and it's the poor Arabs that have to pay."
"That's just the way it is, don't you think?" Eugene said directly to Becky. "Germany, Israel, Watts… somewhere, somehow, someone's always paying the Jews."
I pointed my finger at Eugene: "That's b.s. and you know it."
"Jesus, take it easy," he said. "I was just being facetious."
He grabbed Becky by the hand and made a beeline for the disc jockey. In a flash Eugene was doing the Boogaloo, Becky and a crowd of clapping admirers had encircled him, and I was plodding back to the hotel obsessively rehashing the argument; but preoccupied as I was, I still had the presence of mind to dart into an apotheek and buy my first package of condoms – from a druggist who, mercifully, looked nothing like my pharmacist father.
They found me lying on my bed staring at the ceiling, sulking.
"We were worried about you," Eugene said.
Becky sat by my side while Eugene, standing by the window, struggled to uncork a bottle of wine.
"Look," she said, "I'm not mad at you for what you think, why should you be mad at me for what I think?"
"Because it's one thing to have a different point of view; it's another to insult people who see things differently."
"I didn't insult you."
"Your anti-Semitism's so ingrained you don't even recognize it."
"Now who's doing the insulting? Look, I don't have anything against Jews. I just think Zionism is racist and imperialist."
"So do Brezhnev, Mao, Castro, Nasser and Ho Chi Minh."
Before Becky had a chance to respond Eugene warned her from across the room: "Better give him the last word or you'll be arguing all night."
Becky clenched her teeth and shook her fist at me in a way that was both serious and comic.
"So it's not that I might be right," I shot back at Eugene, "I'm just too stiff-necked to be worth arguing with, huh?"
Eugene stopped trying to free the cork from the corkscrew tool on his pocketknife.
"Paul," he said looking up, "you're too damn paranoid to have a rational discussion with right now."
"That's not true," I said.
"Just let it go, man…"
Eugene suddenly sniffed as if he were a hound hot on the trail of a wild beast.
"This room smells," he playfully scolded. "It's either dirty socks or the extra-extra-aged Gouda."
He opened the window, took an enormous breath, and then using the bureau as a workbench began slicing the hash with his knife.
Becky was still twittering over Eugene's silly performance.
"So tell me," I said to her, "why not two states? One for the Jews, another for the Arabs. That's what the U.N. recommended twenty years ago. Ben-Gurion accepted. The Arabs refused. Wouldn't that be better than war after war?"
"Oh, come on," she said, "let's stop arguing, we'll just go around in circles." She waved for Eugene to come sit next to her on my bed, which he did while handing her the pipe.
Becky inhaled and exhaled as if she were smoking tobacco.
"Hold it in longer," Eugene instructed.
She took a second puff, did it right this time and held the pipe out for me. I took a long drag and passed it to Eugene. Now the priest, no longer the Indian, he said "Pax vobiscum" and gasped a few times as he inhaled a stream of smoke without breathing. I angrily avoided his eyes.
While we got high we coughed and soothed our throats from the same bottle of wine, but no one talked till the hash was gone and kissing me Becky said, "This afternoon was so nice. Sounding distant her words didn't make sense right away, but once they did I gave up all pretense of spiteful resistance and parted my lips.
Most likely assuming that Becky and I wanted privacy, Eugene placed the pipe on the night table and tried to stand, but she coaxed him into lying down and squirmed into the narrow space separating him from me.
I secretly hoped he'd put a move on her or at least respond to hers. Maybe something magical would happen that might turn him on to girls and help get my friendship with him back on track. But he lay perfectly still – with the same doomsday expression I noticed when he was cut from the basketball team.
Becky rolled onto her right side, maneuvered Eugene onto his and molded herself to his body. In the same way I molded myself to her, and snuggling together like a litter of newborn pups the three of us fell asleep.