The sign on the Union's notice board attracted his eye. It had all the key words: "party," "free beer," "firecracker punch," and "Pine Manor." Walter made a note of the day and time. He had heard of Pine Manor, and he had heard it called Pine Mattress. The name aroused his baser instincts.
Walter was a frustrated freshman. He was lonely and he wanted female companionship, but he did not know how to get it. He was awkward with women--most of the time he did not know what to say. But whenever he decided it was time to speak and make himself noticed, he always blurted out some inane remark that set women on edge. His high-strung nature made him good at whipping through economics problem sets, but his inability to have a simple good time with people did not endear him to many. His laughter was forced and his jumpiness scared people off. He was especially self-concious around women, so he was even more jumpy around them, and they gave him an extra wide berth.
It was a dilemma that had been with him since puberty, except that during high school conditions had been kinder to him. A number of women had been involved in student political organizations he worked in, and he had spent enough time with a few of the women to forget his awkwardness. But each time his hopes ended in misunderstanding. He or the woman would express feelings that the other was not ready for, and things would fall apart. When Walter left high school he was cocky in his academic prowess, but his dealings with women were stymied by his nervousness.
Walter had hoped that his coming to Harvard would solve that problem. He thought the label "Harvard man" would be an open sesame to friendship. Most of all he hoped it would mean women would be instantly attracted to him without his having to get to know them. The name did arouse the interests of some women at home in Vermont. When he was home for vacations he would hang out at one of the few nightclubs in town and try to casually work into conversations the name of the school he attended. A few were impressed and talked to him more, but always when he got them alone they would discover he could not relax and talk to them on the level they wanted. If they had wanted to discuss issues in economics or government Walter would have been on safe ground, but they never did.
And Walter was uncomfortable talking about emotions or philosophies on life. So he got to know one night's worth of a lot of women. When he suggested they get together again he found that they were invariably busy for the next month, or that they had planned to wash their hair on whatever evening he proposed they go to a movie.
At Harvard the situation was worse. He found very few women who were impressed by the school he attended. The women in his dorm did not get excited when they saw his Harvard rugby shirt. He didn't even get one night stands. He got a lot of conversations that fell flat.
But Pine Manor--a women's school tucked away in surburban Brookline next to a country club--that held promise. Rumor had it that Harvard men were special there. The alleged magic of the school name might work. As Walter put it to himself in more rational terms, the probable benefits in companionship, when weighed against the necessary exertion to try for them, seemed to make the trip worth the gamble. He planned to make an expedition.
On the night of the party he had trouble convincing anyone to go. Everyone in his dorm had too much work, and the subway ride to Brookline seemed like a long trip. When he could get no one else he accosted Tom, who lived down the hall. Tom was interested because he was curious. He wanted to see what the people at the party would be like.
Tom was a very bright math student, but he was not well-versed in the ways of the world. Before he came to Harvard, he had rarely gotten to know people on his own. His parents were the only people he ever talked with at length until he was a junior in high school. Even then, his friendships were made on the basis of common knowledge--math. Tom had read many books and proved many theorems, but he had not known many people. He knew that he had not, and he wanted to know more. Walter's trip sounded like a way to learn how a new set of people thought.
The trolley left them at a deserted stop in the middle of suburbia, and it took them some wandering through the broad residential streets to find Pine Manor. After following a few dead ends, and raising a few homeowners' wrath by cutting through their yards, they arrived at a seven-foot high chain link fence surrounding what appeared to be college dorms nestled in the rolling, wooded campus. The terrain was carefully landscaped and the neat asphalt walkways beyond the fence were well-lit, although no one seemed to be using them.
Tom and Walter heard from over a green hill the high-pitched sound of women's laughter and the insistent beat of an old Rolling Stones record. It spurred them on; they were in the right place. Walter started to climb the fence. When he reached the top one pant leg caught on a sharp point of metal. Just then a car drove by on the adjacent road. Its headlights caught poor Walter on the top of the fence struggling to get free. The light scared him. He jumped down inside the fence, ripping a large hole in his trouser cuff. Tom laughed uneasily and climbed over after the car had passed.
Once inside they started to search for the party. They followed the sounds of laughter and music, and after a few false tries at the wrong buildings, they tracked down the affair that had been advertised in the Union. The cars parked outside told them there were not many inside who had come by the MBTA. Walter checked his hair and made sure his Harvard shirt was straight under his Harvard jacket. Then the two stepped into the party.
Inside, the gathering was a typical college party only more so. Everyone had Levis on, and the style in footwear dictated topsiders or Adidas. Almost everyone circulated with a beer in one hand. Hair was neatly styled. Shirts were happily-colored, although in a conservative way. The men kept on their nylon jackets, as though they had just arrived and might leave any minute. The jackets told people at a glance what college they attended.
There were some Harvard students, mostly curious freshmen, but Walter noticed that most of the men were from other schools. He wore his crimson jacket as though it were a badge of rank. He took his place against a wall, put one foot in front of the other to hide the hole in his pants, and waited for magic. He had all the right clothes on.
Tom had all the wrong clothes on. His pants were too short--they showed his argyle socks. His flannel shirt was too big, and he wore it untucked. Most people paid no attention to him, but he was interested in them. He wanted to find out what they were thinking. He had never been to a party like this before.