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September 07, 1978 - Image 23

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The Michigan Daily, 1978-09-07

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The Michigan Daily-Thursday, September 7, 1978-Page 23



knew Susie

By Jeffrey Selbst

twisting her hands. The
clock struck one, then*
S HE SAT AT the table,n
two, followed' by three;
four was close at hand.
She didn't know what to do,
so there at the table she sat. She
twisted her hair into ringlets, and she
looked at the clock. Night wore-'
Paul ripped the sheet out of the
typewriter savagely. No good. He felt
defeated. He'd been working for five
weeks and had no real idea for the short
story due in class the next week. And if
he didn't turn one in, his grades would suf-
fer accordingly. But grades, hell-Paul
was going to be a GREAT novelist, and
he needed all the work he could get on
his writing. But if he didn't produce
He tore the onion skin slowly,
methodically into little pieces of confet-
ti, then walked over to the bunk where

Class assembled promptly at nine.
Steven smiled tightly and passed out
the day's amusements, and set to work.
He slid his glasses far down his nose
and began to read the first poem.
"The sun was shining on the sea
As bright as bright could be
But this was scarcely odd for it \
Was still a quarter to three. "
He put on his best scornful look. "All
right," he said. "Come on, fess up,
Who wrote this?"
A timid hand was raised in the
back, as Steven turned his baleful glan-
ce upon the fortunate. "Derivative,"
was all he said. Then, after a pause.
"Doesn't scan either. If you're going to
cheat, do it right. D+. Next?" He
looked about the class, licked his
chops, and began to read the next
poem. The class members regarded
each other warily.
After class, it had become the prac-

"I got my idea for this piece during
one of your soliloquies."
"My what?" said Armand, raising an
"One of your midnight monologues.
You were talking about this girl at a
party who helped you to the bathroom."
"That's funny," said Armand, "but I
stayed.home that night. I didn't go to
the party, but I had a dream that I did. I
was probably narrating my dream to
"Seems likely," said Paul, and tur-
ned his attention back to the work.
The'class met three days a week, and
on Friday Paul turned in the work. Ex-
pecting that it would need but a cursory
glance from the mysterious Professor
to' merit an A+, he floated out of the
room, and home to have lunch with
Armand talked incessantly of women
over lunch. Those he desired, those he

It -was unusual for Armand not to be able to persuade Paul to do the
sorts of things he liked to do on any given evening, either playing bridge, or
seeing a movie, or simply hanging out. But Paul was like one possessed. He
had a vision of a girl. She was a honey blonde, and she had great legs:.

his best friend and roommate A
was sleeping. He threw thec
lightly into the air, where some o
tied on Armand's face, who pr
tossed and moaned and began to
his sleep
Not that this was unusual. Pau
to hear the inchoate fantasie
pilling of the subsconcious whi
place whenever Armand would
his sleep. That night was no exce
Armand spoke of a girl he'd n
party. She had honey-gold ha
slim, tanned legs. This was the
party where the punch was mad
forty-two kinds of liquors and li
and Armand . had reeled
somewhere_ around eleven.
Whereupon this lovely vision had
him into the bathroom, wher
passed the remainder of the eve
Paul sat back on the foot of Ar
bed. The song ran through his h
he couldn't remember anything
the part that ran "If you knew Su
I knew Susie..."
That was it! He raced back
typewriter, inserted a sheet i
roller and began to type the title:
'SUSIE: The story of a gir
with Great Legs.'
by Paul Hersch.
He worked far and feverishly
night. But when he came upon
ficult turn in the plot, and lay
his bed. At last he was on his
warm feeling of satisfaction s
him as he climbed into the upp
(taking care not to step on his
mate), for he knew that at last
on his way. The story that had
him so long was coming down on
The following morning, ov
orange juice they customarily
before classes, Armand read
Armand glanced drily over
friend as he leafed through the
odd pages. "Paul," he said.
"What?" said Paul, dressing q
S"An exposition of your fantasi
be all right for Dear Diar
this-this is Art?"
"Perhaps not yet," the w
author conceded.
"Not yet?" Armand echoed.
a wet dream, Paul. You really o
start over."
"Well," said Paul tartly, "th
for your opinion."
Armand shrugged. "You ask
said, and they both left the ro
went to class.
The only class Paul was requ
attend that day was, as luck wou
it, Creative Writing. This was
run by a teaching assistant
Steven, and graded by a mys
professor whom none of the s
ever saw. The professor prefe
this way. Steven would give inst
and the Professor would gau
results. Steven resented being a
and he took it out on the class.
Principally by requiring t
mimeograph one of their oeuvr
month, whereupon he would pas
copy to each member of the clas
the work aloud in a sarcastic to
explain very carefully why it w
plete and utter nonsense. The
was dismissed. Paul usually do
He would have skipped, but Stev
to grind it in. He took attendance

of it set-
talk in
l loved
s, that
ch took
talk in
net at a
ir, and
sort of
le up of
e he'd
ead, but
isie like
to the
nto the
into the
n a dif-
down in
way! A
er bunk
he was
er the
at his
es may
y, but
'This is
ught to
ink you

tice of a few of the members to gather
in the hall outside to gasp and complain
about Steven's excesses. Talk of
protests and committees always cir-
culated, but no one ever did anything.
That morning they all decided to go
out and get coffee. Having nothing else
to do, Paul joined them. Several people
he recognized from the class, but there
was one woman whom he didn't know at
all. She seemed a bit older than the
others, and a bit aloof. Likely a transfer
student, he thought to himself, or had
only recently added the class.
Paul had, so far, nothing to complain
about. Truly, Steven's behavior was
abominable. But he had not yet himself
felt the barbed da'rt. Anyway, Steven
wasn't grading them, so it didn't matter
much. No one has a more fragile ego
than a writer. So he listened to the
gripes, nothing new really, same old
ones, drank his coffee and went home.
And wrote. And wrote.
And wrote.
It was unusual for Armand not to be
able to persuade Paul to do the sorts of
things he liked to do on any given
evening, either playing bridge, or
seeing a movie, or simply hanging out.
But Paul was like one possessed. He
had a vision of a girl. She was a honey
blonde, and she had great legs.
Three of four days of this, and
Armand was very bored. "Are you
nearly done?" he asked Paul one
"Nearly," was all the answer he got,
and Paul went clacking away at the
keys. Armand kept standing by the
desk, arms folded across his chest.
Paul turned to him suddenly.
"Don't be annoyed," he said. "You
should be pleased."
"Pleased? That you've become ob-

met (which usually were one and the
same) and those about whom he fan-
tasized. Paul was silent, lost in thought.
Usually, he joined right in the sexist
discussion of anatomy, but today he
was silent.
"I have a love," he said dreamily,
"that can never be fulfilled."
Armand looked at him with contem-
pt. "You what?"
"I'm in love with-with-"
"Yes, I know. Eat your tomato soup."
"-With Susie!" he said, eyes
"You're a jerk," said Armand, and
not too kindly either.
Mondays will, and
Paul waited eagerly
to hear. He went .to
class, and Steven
read the usual bad
poetry in the same sneering tone and
made no reference at all to Paul's
great love story. Paul was, naturally, a
bit deflated and went up to Steven after
class to ask what had happened.
"What do you mean, what hap-
pened?" said Steven. "The Professor is
reading your story at the moment. It's
out of my hands." The tone, if not the
words themselves, indicated that Paul
was dismissed. He backed out of the
In the hall, the congregation was
assembled as usual. Tiey agreed to go
out for coffee. That woman was there,
too. The transfer student. Paul walked
with his peers, a few steps behind. Con-
sequently he was the only one to see the
woman fall on the steps, and the conten-
ts of her handbag spilled on the walk.
Paul stooped to help her pick it all up.
"Thank you," she said, smiling war-
mly. He scrambled after her compact,

her Kleenex, and her wallet, which had
opened, all the contents therein flap-
ping in the breeze.
"Oh, help!" she cried in frustration.
"My driver's license!"
He gathered up the little slip of paper
and was struck immediately by her
name: Susie Whitlock. Paul scratched
his head, and slowly handed the paper
back to her.
Susie Whitlock.
A common enough name, one so
common that, in fact, it was the name
of the woman who had Great Legs.
"Would you like to join me for cof-
fee?" he said.
She smiled her reply.
On Wednesdays, Steven gave back to
Paul his copy of the story. "Needs
work" was scrawled across the top of
the first page, and that was all there
was for comment. So Paul went home to
work on his masterpiece.
Susie and he were having dinner that
night, for he had been taken with her
immediately. They'd spent hours Mon-
day having coffee and talking about
themselves, only with Susie Whitlock,
Paul got the feeling he'd heard it all
He had, in fact, invented it all before.
It was strange.
She had told him all about her up-
bringing in the Midwest, with her stern
tyrannical father and her alcoholic
mother, and somehow Paul knew all
these details as well as he knew his own
Over dinner, Paul asked, as non-
chalantly as he could, innocent
questions about her family, her past,
her life, her hopes (and discreetly
noticed her wonderful Legs). It all mat-
ched. It was amazing.
The next day, Paul worked on his
manuscript some more. Some changes
were needed, as Paul was planning for
higher things. The Hopwood Award
beckoned. That prestigous award for
writing excellence handed out twice a
year by the University, along with Cash
Remuneration. Paul had no moral ob-
jections to Cash Renumeration.
But the coincidence between the love
of his literarly life (Susie Whitlock) and
his newfound friend (Susie Whitlock)
} was too amazing. This wasn't, after all,
fiction. So he changed a few facts. No
one needs an advanced case of
cognitive dissonance.
So he changed a few details in the
story, made Susie's background
Eastern (Boston, to be exact) and gave
her a slightly chipped tooth. That, plus
a few substantial changes, and he was
ready to reconcile his writing with his
personal life again.
He turned in the story to Steven, who
glowered at him (but this was
customary, as is by now evident). Ar-
mand received the high privilege of
being allowed to read this, the second
draft. He snorted, and went out to play
pinball by himself. "Hmph," said Paul
to himself. "Doesn't appreciate art."
The door was just open enough for Ar-
mand to hear as he disappeared down
the hall. "Art?" he heard Armand
bellow back. "Art is tits! The hell with

But back to Steven. Paul was
anxiously awaiting his reaction, and he
gave none. So Paul asked. "What did
you think of it?" he faltered.
"Not as bad as everyone else's
work," he grudged. This by way of a
compliment. Paul brightened a great
deal. "But still crap." Paul sank back
into a forced smile, and crept away.
He and Susie had lunch that day,
disdaining the Amalgamated Gripers
and Bad Poets Convention that was
going on to have coffee and complain
about Steven (as they had no other
palpable subjects of discussion). He
and Susie were just about to launch into
large sandwiches when she told him.
"I - lied to you," she said.
"What?" said Paul, mustard drip-
ping onto the placemat from the
upraised edible.
"I don't want any relationship of ours
to get off on a bad foot," said Susie
Whitlock (who was already presuming
a great deal). "I didn't tell you the
truth. My family is from the East
Coast, not the Midwest."
Paul's heart sank.
"I thought you wouldn't like anyone
from the East Coast. You know that
Midwesterners sometimes have these
silly prejudices," she pleaded.
''Forgive me.
"From where?" said Paul, smiling
"Boston," she said. There was a
silence. "Shall we-have lunch?"
"Good idea," he said, raising his san-
Susie Whitlock removed the cap from
her tooth, to reveal one of her upper
front teeth with a large crooked chip. "I
don't want to take the chance of
swallowing it," she said.
Paul just stared.
* * *
T NO LONGER mattered what
Paul wrote. Did she have
blonde, hair? He changed it
to brown and Susie met him
the next day-she decided to
to stop bleaching it. Did she
have green eyes? He made them blue
and found that Susie's were iridescent
and changed from blue to green almost,
it seemed, at will. Paul was almost to
the point of believing in things like
And at the top of each of his many
drafts of the story, there would be just
the simple words, "needs work."
And work he did. The thing possessed
him, as did the woman. Susie and Susie
became one. The story took on its own
life, as Armand sank further and fur-
ther from the picture.
At last the story was complete. Paul
felt as though he'd given birth. It could
go no further. His monument, his
testament to true love, devotion, the
human spirit, and all that sort of thing.
He turned in the story; Steven smiled
at him. "About time," was all he said
And Paul waited.
Susie disappeared, as suddenly as he
had met her. No longer to be found in
the classrooms or in the halls, it was
almost as if she had never been. Paul
resumed his old existence.' He played
bridge and pinball with Armand, and
waited to hear.

The story came back.
He went to class that fateful day and
sat in his usual seat. Steven held a stack
of papers in his left hand and sat at the
desk, the usual contemptuous smile
plastered all over his face.
With a swift motion he dropped all the
papers on the floor.
"Come and get 'em," he said.
Everyone scrambled like rats, picking
their papers up from the floor,
swooshing them around-in the dust as
they fought each other to be first.
Steven sat with a superior smile.
Paul walked up slowly, and with
His was the last one remaining.
Filthy and tattered, he turned to the fir-
st page. And in bold ink he saw the
single notation, "E."
In red ink.
Deflated, he picked it -up and walked
out the door.
And there in the hallway was Susie.
"Susie!" he cried, and ran to her.
She stared back coldly at him.
"What's-what's the matter?" he'
said, bewildered.
"It was only worth an E, at that," she
said crisply.
"But you've never read the story.
How would you know?" he screamed.
And then dawn camne.'
"You bitch! " he hollered.
Susie, or whoever this was, was the
* * *
T WAS ALL a cheap, nasty
come-on," said Paul to
Armand later. "I knew it
all the time really."
"Why?" said Armand.
That's the part I never under-
"Why is anyone cruel?" said Paul.
"Go figure. He fingered his check. "The
hell with her."
"I agree," said Armand. "Now what
are we going to do with the money?"
For Paul had won the Hopwood with
his story of Susie, the chameleon girl
with Great Legs.
And he was holding in his hand-Cash

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