Chapter 11: Passion Overcomes A Plaid Suit and Onions.

Summary: Aggie reconnects with Frank Dazey just before he joins the Army and heads for the Mexican Border.***********

I acquired a beau. “Albert” was a writer on the Thanhouser staff. He was fifteen years older than I, fat, and very unhandsome. Mama was all for him because she thought he was respectful. When he called on me, he always spent some time engaging her in conversation. Little did she know that when we were alone, he pawed me sensuously. I refused to let him kiss me on the mouth. I would kiss no man except Frank Dazey. That is, if I ever saw him again or he hadn’t married that girl from his hometown.

Albert took me into New York for the monthly meetings of the “Ed-Au Club.” This long forgotten organization held its gatherings at a “red ink” Italian, table d’hôte restaurant. The members were supposed to be motion picture editors and writers, assembled to discuss ideas. I’m sure most of the writers came in the hope they might get jobs or sell stories to editors. The editors seldom showed up.

At one of the meetings, I saw Frank Dazey two tables away from where Albert and I sat. His back was towards me but I recognized him immediately by his hair, which was in its usual rumpled, standing-on-end state. I tried using mental telepathy to make him turn around and look at me. I’m afraid my psychic powers were weak. All he did was run his hands through his hair, making it look wilder than ever.

Finally, I told Albert I had to “powder my nose,” which was the excuse a girl used for going to the ladies room. On the way back, I sauntered past Frank Dazey’s table. To make him notice me, I swung my arm and almost stuck an elbow into his eye. When he cried out, “Why hello, little Aggie!” I pretended to be vastly amazed at finding him there.

I sat down in the empty chair next to his and, following the technique of “ask a man questions,” soon had him talking about himself. He told me that since leaving Vitagraph, he’d been through many experiences, including a nervous breakdown. Now he was freelancing, writing stories for movies on his own time, and offering them for sale to the studios. I asked where he lived, hoping he’d ask me the same, but he only said he was staying at the Harvard Club. He made no inquiries about me whatsoever.

Albert came storming up, puffing furiously. He’d had to eat the soup and spaghetti courses by himself while I’d been chatting with Frank. He seized my arm and led me firmly back to our table. Frank left early. I had no other chance to talk to him.

Now I had a predicament. I had to see Frank again. Should I write and ask him to call? No, that would be too bold. All one morning, when I should have been giving my best to Thanhouser, I mulled over the problem. Inspiration came: Over our expensive dinner in Brooklyn, while we discussed our family problems, Frank had recited a poem he’d written on divorce. I’ll never forget the last verse.

“So the woman was given a balm of gold

And the man he might live free

And a faith was killed in the judgment hall.

For mother and father and God are all

Of a child’s divinity.”

With my heartache about the trouble in my own family, this poem had made a deep impression. I wrote Frank at the Harvard Club and asked him to send me a copy. I gave him the address of the Dirty Faced House.

In a few days an envelope came. Inside was the poem typed out on a torn piece of paper and under it a scrawled note in pencil, “Can I come out Sunday night?” I wrote right away that he could.

For the evening, I made a pitcher of iced coffee and baked some special cookies. When Frank came, I proudly pointed out the refreshments. But Frank looked askance and said, “Nice of you to go to all that trouble, Aggie,” he said. “But, hell, let’s go get ourselves some beer.”

Meekly, I grabbed my sailor hat and, evading Mama’s disapproving eyes, went out with Frank.

We found a smoky rathskeller and Frank ordered the largest pitcher of beer I’d ever seen. Now, I consider beer—which I can’t drink anymore for fear of gaining weight—the most romantic of drinks. Champagne or cocktails may take you out of yourself, but in a real romance, who wants that? Beer simply mellows and warms. It is the drink of friends. And true lovers should be the truest off friends.

As the gold foaminess of the giant pitcher slowly lowered, Frank and I talked and talked and talked. He told me how, after he left Vitagraph, he moved to Metro Pictures, a newly formed picture company. His first scenario there, “The House of Tears” for the stage star Emily Stevens, had been based on that poem he’d written about divorce. It had gone over so well that the head of the studio raised his salary to $100 a week, but he also pressured Frank to work twice as fast. Frank said it was the strain of those 10 crisp $10 bills in his pay envelope every Saturday as much as the work that had given him the nervous breakdown. He’d had to go first to the John Foster Riggs sanitarium in Boston and afterwards for a long rest with relatives in the South.

I asked about the girl in his hometown.

”She married another guy,” he said with a little grin. ”One who has a steady position and makes lots of money.”

My heart sang at this turn of events.

By now the incredible pitcher of beer was empty. Frank and I walked home, holding hands. As we neared the Dirty Faced House, he suggested we go down to the beach. From the look on his face and the grip of his hand on mine, I knew that would mean spooning. But Mama had lectured me about spooning. “Disgusting… cheap… Nice girls don’t do it… If you’re too easy a man I will not respect you.” So I told Frank I was afraid the beach would be to damp. I decided if I held him off this time, surely it would show I wasn’t ”too easy.” He had already asked if he could come out next weekend. I promised myself that things would be different then.

It was Thursday when he phoned me at the studio.” Hey, Aggie, guess what? I’m in the Army. I’ve joined Squadron A.”

“You’re nuts!” I cried.

“I know it,” he said cheerfully. ”But I’m a cavalry man now. They’re rushing us off to the Mexican border. Sorry about the weekend but they won’t give us any leave. If I can get a little free time before we entrain, I’ll phone you. Maybe you’ll come to camp and see me.”

“Oh yes!” I shouted. ”Any time. Anywhere”

The horror of the war in Europe had weighed on me. But it was so far away and the thought of it so dreadful, I put it out of my mind as much as possible. I knew we were having some trouble with Mexico and soldiers had been sent down “to get Pancho Villa.” But what the trouble was seemed vague. Certainly it was a spot furthest from my mind that Frank would be a soldier, to shoot and be shot at.

I read every line in the papers about the new recruits going south. Would Frank get some free time and call me? I was afraid to be away from a phone. When I left the studio, I would tell the switchboard operator that I was expecting a very important call and that, if any came, the caller was to be told to try me at home. Then I’d run every step of the four blocks to my house and wait for the phone there.

At last the call came to my office. Frank said his outfit was leaving for the border the next morning. By trading sentry duty, he could get a couple of hours off in that evening. It was not enough time for him to come out to New Rochelle but if I cared to come to the camp in Van Cortlandt Park, we could get together.

“Yes! Oh yes!” I almost shrieked.

I rushed into Mrs. Thanhauser’s office and begged her to take me into New York in her car when she drove home that evening. As I told her about my soldier, her eyes sparkled with sentimental interest. She would not only take me, I could leave for the rest of the afternoon so I could change my clothes and pretty up for my beau.

Luckily, Mama was in the city. She would never have approved of my going alone to a soldiers’ camp. I tore around my room, yanking clothes and hats out of my closet. I decided on a new suit I’d just bought. The material was a large yellow and black plaid, simply horrible looking when I think back. And later I got it out of Frank that he thought so, too. But it was new and I can never tell about clothes until I’ve worn them. Thinking that I should eat before I left, I found some leftover potato salad in the icebox. I gobbled it so hastily, I didn’t realize it was full of onions.

At the soldiers’ camp I went up to a sentry, as Frank had told me to do, and asked if I could speak to ”Private Frank Dazey, Troop A.” Yes, Frank was really in the army. He loomed up from out of the dark in a badly fitted uniform. From his shambling walk, I guessed he was very tired, but his voice was cheerful.

“Hi Aggie! Swell of you to come. I’ve got an hour and a half. What do we do with it?”

“Anything you want, Frank. Anything!”

“I’d like to take you into camp and show you my horse but civilians aren’t admitted. We could just stroll around the golf links. There really isn’t anything else to do and it’s a nice night.”

It was a tremendous night. The stars shone kindly. The grass was a velvet carpet under our feet. Everywhere soldiers walked with their girls, usually hand-in-hand, sometimes with the soldier’s arm around the girl’s waist.

Frank told me how he happened to enlist. He’d been walking down Fifth Avenue with a friend, Phil Meany, when they chanced to see a column of troops, flags flying, and band playing.

“Hey, that looks pretty good,” Frank said, kiddingly.

“If you like it so much, why don’t you enlist?” growled Phil.

Frank couldn’t let this challenge pass. ”I will if you will.”

Phil was never one to let Frank have the last word. ”Let’s get a move on,” he said.

I could just see the two crazy kids trudging up to the recruiting booth, each too proud to say to the other, ”Let’s call the whole thing off.” Frank said it wasn’t until after they’ve been sworn in and the Major gave them a long look and said, ”Well, boys, you’re in the Army now,” that he began to appreciate the full seriousness of their prank.

As Frank and I walked, I leaned against him and was glad when our hands came together. We must have wandered further than the other couples because we found ourselves alone near a bunker.

“How is this?” Frank asked.

“Perfect,” I said. I knew what was coming and was happy. We sat down and, when his arms went around me, I didn’t pull away but snuggled close so he could find my mouth more easily. The night swam around us like a warm sea. I could feel his heart pounding. His heavy breathing matched mine.

Suddenly he gave a small groan. Then he stood up and pulled me up after him.

“That was swell,” he said. ”But we better get out of here.”

“Why?” I ached for more kissing.

“I’m overdue at camp right now. And, Aggie, if I ever hear of your going out to a lonely place like this with another guy… Well, I’ll sure be sore,” he ended lamely.

“I won’t,” I promised. “I could never kiss another man except you, ever!”

When I got home and Mama found out where I’d been, she was highly shocked.

”Why Agnes! Going to a soldiers’ camp. And at night, too. You must have been out of your mind,” she said. “You’ve cheapened yourself with Frank.”

I wondered. Was mama right? Frank has certainly never said anything about loving me. But the kissing… oh, I couldn’t have missed the glory of that. I was happy. Passion had triumphed over a grotesque plaid suit and an onion breath.

Frank sent me a postcard from the Mexican border signed “best ever.” I wrote him back immediately and, a few weeks later, I wrote again. No answer. Had I cheapened myself? I was heartsick.

But soon my career got an upjolt that, partially at least, took my mind off my broken heart.

* * *

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