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[Many thanks to my volunteer editor, LadyVer, whose considerable investment of time made this a much better story.]
* * *
Most people reading this story only know a world where limitless amounts of erotica and pornography are merely a mouse click away, and most of it for free. The concept of going on a date to see a skin flick in a theater doesn’t even exist today.
In the late 1960s, movies were still fairly conservative although scenes with nudity and simulated sex began appearing in films other than foreign art house releases. My story takes place during what is now seen as a transition period: roughly between the Best Picture Oscar being awarded to the then X-rated mainstream filmMidnight Cowboy in 1970 and the release ofDeep Throat and other porno chic titles in 1972.
It’s the story of how I found myself on a first date with Sheila, a woman I barely knew, watching a film with non-simulated sex acts. Real sex, between a man and a woman, up there on the screen.
Fans of the movieTaxi Driver would jump in here and say everyone knows what happened when Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) tried to take Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) to a Times Square porno movie on their first date. She abruptly stomps out of the theater as soon as she sees the lewd images on the screen. But keep in mind,Taxi Driver wasn’t released until more than five years after the time of my story. I just didn’t know any better.
I’ve called my story “Sometime Sweet Sheila” as an homage to one of the movies that Travis and Betsy never got to see:Sometime Sweet Susan. (The one they saw about ten seconds of wasSwedish Marriage Manual.)
* * *
It was the third time I’d hung up the phone before dialing the last number. What a coward I was. I’d never been comfortable calling a woman for a date. Even ones I had already gone out with before. The fear of rejection was overpowering.
At that point in my life, I had phoned quite a few women socially; so it should have been easy. Only a few disappointments over the years: several rejections, a few broken dates—nothing too damaging to my psyche. It still gave me intense anxiety, though.
Sheila Clarke. I stared at the little scrap of paper she had given me two days ago in City Park. Was this actually her phone number? That trick had been pulled on me before.
I appreciated what an easy time I’d had during the years I was in college. Women were everywhere—easy to meet, easy to find shared interests. Asking them out face to face wasn’t a problem since it was usually someone I already knew from a class or a school activity. Or I had friends in common that eased the way.
That privilege had expired.
I was surprised at how quickly I felt like an outsider on campus after I picked up my diploma. Almost like an inmate hanging around the prison after his sentence was up. I had little experience trying to meet women out in the real world, except for my many fruitless attempts at City Park.
I had regularly visited the park with my buddies while we were at school. We’d wander around, trying to chat up groups of women we didn’t know. Offer them some weed to smoke or try to invite them back to our place. For all the times we went there, nothing much ever came from it in the way of long-term relationships; but it was fun anyway.
This was the first time I’d gotten a woman’s phone number from any of those visits. I was shy and risk averse, and normally I would never have had the nerve to ask out someone like Sheila.
Here’s what happened that day.
* * *
There were five of us who walked up to where Sheila and her three friends were sitting. The pretty boy of our group, Steven, wasn’t with us that day. He had gone to the lake with a gal he’d met recently, so it felt odd not to be in his shadow. Sheila was more attractive than the women I usually felt comfortable pursuing. Steven would have made a beeline pendik escort for her had he been there, so the rest of us were unsure of how to handle ourselves without his grabbing the cutest one by default.
We were invited to join them, but none of us chose to sit next to Sheila. Her body language seemed uneasy when her friends asked us to sit down, and no one was bold enough to come onto her right away. That was Steven’s job.
The other three were easygoing and talkative. It wasn’t long before we were all laughing and acting silly. Except for Sheila. She’d occasionally join in the conversation, but she seemed timid and unsure of herself. I’m always on the lookout for interesting, tell-tale signs when I meet new people. She intrigued me.
Sheila was attractive; but her friends were less so, which stood out. Women usually keep a tight range of prettiness among a group of friends. I had my eye on one or two of the other ones that were more typical of the kind I usually dated. But I couldn’t figure out where Sheila fit in with that bunch.
I made some superficial observations about her friends. Tina had big boobs that her bra was struggling to contain behind her tank top. Linda was braless under a peasant blouse with a loose front that gave anyone a full view, nipples and all, each time she leaned over—which was often. Pam had on the least amount of clothing: a tiny leather halter top, that looked like it was half of a bikini swimsuit, and very short cut-offs.
A gauzy, colorful skirt revealed Sheila’s shapely long legs, but her demure blouse looked like something my mother would wear. She was definitely a tall woman. I wondered if she had played volleyball or basketball in school. She had nice muscle tone, but she didn’t seem all that comfortable in her own body. Her toenails were painted a soft shade of lavender, and a pair of Dr. Scholl’s sandals were sitting off to the side. Sheila’s large blue eyes peered out from the mane of blonde hair that swept past her brow on one side.
We broke out the jug wine hidden in a knapsack and filled Dixie cups for everyone. A joint made its way around the circle. Things got a lot friendlier and funnier after a few tokes and the second jug of wine was opened.
A sudden, uncharacteristic burst of bravado came over me. I got up and moved next to Sheila. Since Steven wasn’t around, I figured why not me?
I used the old salesman’s trick of asking questions and trying to get her to talk about herself. It was hard to keep the conversation going.
Sheila had just finished her freshman year at a cross-town college. Like most students her age, she didn’t know what she wanted to major in. She seemed reticent and shy, but I tried drawing her into the main conversation. I wondered if she was one of those attractive women that somehow thought otherwise when they looked in a mirror. Or maybe one that didn’t get asked out that much because guys were afraid to approach her.
Once the pot and wine had loosened everyone up, the group got rowdier. Tina and Pam initiated a version of the Twenty Questions game that seemed likely to make each player the butt of ridicule by everyone else. A team would come up with the most embarrassing thing about one of their players that he or she wouldn’t want the other side to know. It was the men against the women.
Since there were more guys than gals, our group started the game. I drew the short straw, so the other four guys came up with a fact I never would have revealed voluntarily. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that they picked something sexual. Linda actually figured it out. I was the last one to lose my virginity. In a way, some of the questions were more embarrassing than the actual secret. I was a pretty good sport about it—after all, it got them talking about my sex life.
As the victim, I got to pick the next person who was “it”; I chose maltepe escort Tina. I wanted to learn more about Sheila, but she hadn’t been an active participant in the first round. I wondered if she dreaded what we were going to find out about her.
Tina’s secret turned out to be the time she was at a backyard party, and an unexpected rainstorm caused her white shorts to leave little to the imagination about the abundance of dark hair between her legs. I’m sure it must have been traumatic at the time, but she seemed to revel in a bunch of new guys hearing about it.
Inevitably, we got around to Sheila. We were getting warm as we used up our guesses. It had something to do with topless sunbathing. I thought for sure it involved some unwanted creep getting an eyeful, but it wasn’t that. Even though we never got it right, Pam blurted out the secret anyway: Sheila is the only one who comes back from the topless beach with tan lines.
Roars of laughter all around—except from Sheila. She seemed genuinely mortified. Actually, some of the wrong guesses earlier had produced a fair amount of discomfort on her part, too. Sheila blushed profusely and lowered her head. I could see where joking about being on the itty bitty titty committee might be fair game among a group of female friends. But to highlight that in front of five guys she just met? It seemed wrong.
The laughter trailed off. Linda pointed to Mickey, the last guy in the game, and ordered us to start working on a juicy secret. I turned to see Sheila gazing up at the sky, blinking back a tear, and trying to take deep breaths. I leaned over and squeezed her hand. She looked at me with gratitude. I spoke as softly as I could.
“They should have picked a different secret. That wasn’t right.”
Her blue eyes thanked me silently. They seemed even bigger than before.
The last round of the game quickly lurched off into another direction when the women found out that Mickey had dated his stepsister. I knew it wasn’t technically his stepsister. His mother had been divorced before she met Mickey’s dad. It was the daughter of this ex-husband’s second wife—no actual blood relation. A lively debate ensued nonetheless: when is close too close?
I was still holding Sheila’s hand when I told her I wanted to see her again. “Maybe we could go see a movie?”
She smiled. “I’d like that. Here, I’ll write down my number.”
“I can find out what’s opening next weekend and give you a call. Are you free on Friday?”
“Sure. Here’s my phone and address.”
I took the slip of paper and recited her full name. I extended my hand. “Hayward. James Hayward. Very pleased to meet you, Ms. Clarke.”
The wine and pot had both run out. The parlor game had reached its conclusion. The guys all got ready to leave. I didn’t see any other numbers exchanged; perhaps I missed it while talking to Sheila. Before getting up, I placed a gentle kiss on the back of her hand. “I’m looking forward to Friday, madam.”
Sheila laughed at the anachronistic but chivalrous gesture. “And I as well, Mr. Hayward.”
I figured some Jane Austen era manners never hurt, even in jest. We bid the group farewell and headed home. I put the slip of paper in a safe place.
* * *
I need to come clean on something.
Yes, I was nervous about calling Sheila for a date, but what really caused me to hang up three times already was something else.
In addition to the usual mainstream Hollywood movies we could go see, I was thinking about asking her to see a dirty movie. Not some harmless, bare boobs, nudie-cutie Russ Meyer film. And not some moody, foreign language film with subtitles and brief, simulated sex scenes between marginally attractive people. No, this was a precedent-shattering underground movie that was rumored to show couples having actual unclothed sexual intercourse. And lots of other kartal escort things as well.
What possessed me to consider asking a woman whom I hardly knew to see a film like that? And someone who wasn’t that easy to talk to and whose personality was enigmatic and difficult to read. And how did I know about this very hush-hush cinematic offering anyway?
Let me explain.
All of our group were eager consumers of any movie that had sex in it. Our college town was large enough to have an art house cinema that played all the major foreign films. A watershed film of that era wasBlowup by Michelangelo Antonioni. It featured simulated intercourse, a female character baring her breasts to seduce the male lead, and a raucous nude romp between the male lead and two young women, shocking the audience with a brief display of full frontal nudity (female, of course).
At the opposite end of the spectrum of acceptability were the sexploitation films shown in seedy theaters or drive-ins. Some were fairly innocent movies that featured topless women in comedic sexual situations. And there were the sleazier ones that had lurid content like women in prison, biker gangs, horror, and revenge crime—and lots of violence along with the sex.
Since the late 1960s were an era of experimentation and anything goes, we saw films of every type. A lot of the time girlfriends or dates came right along, too. It wasn’t that unusual. One of the more popular naughty movies of that era wasThe Stewardesses: 3-D. Yes, an X-rated 3-D movie years after the original 3-D craze had died down. However, it was still simulated sex.
It was a phone call from an old friend, Barry, who rang me the day before my visit to City Park. Barry was a buddy of mine from high school whom I still kept in touch with. He had interned for the film critic at theEvening Bulletin newspaper while an undergraduate at Temple University. Now he was a cub reporter in the arts and leisure section. He had some important news he’d heard from his boss.
“James, you and your college buddies are the only ones I can talk to about this. Remember last year when we made that road trip up to New York to seeI Am Curious (Yellow)?”
“How could I possibly forget that? AndInga, too.”
“Oh, yes. Marie Liljedahl inInga! That’s kind of why I’m calling. There are two new movies opening in your town next weekend. My boss says they both show actual sex: a man and a woman fucking—naked! And blow jobs, everything.”
“No way! I thought that was against the law.”
“There’s a loophole now. As long as the film can be considered educational, you can show a lot more than you could before. They call them marriage manual films. They show people how to fuck, different positions, oral—”
“How can this be possible?”
“Some court ruling in a trial where they were trying to proveI Am Curious (Yellow) was obscene. It opened up an opportunity for harder stuff—almost like stag films. Some of the sexploitation producers jumped right on it. Have you got a pencil to write this down?”
Barry told me the film titles. I’ve long since forgotten them, but my research tells me they would have come from this group of four:Man and Wife,He but he was tall, muscular, and had a lot of charisma. He was jovial and friendly, an easygoing guy. I had my fingers crossed that Debbie would find him acceptable once they met.
I’d been on a few disastrous blind dates. I always tried to act like a gentleman, to be polite and courteous when the woman wasn’t to my liking. But I’d had a few where my date acted otherwise, sulking the whole night because I didn’t meet her expectations. It wouldn’t be a problem with Nick if Debbie was homely, or even if she shunned him. He could roll with just about anything. Since Sheila’s beauty was out of place in the group I met in the park, I couldn’t predict what Debbie would look like.
* * *
That Friday night, Nick and I were standing around in the living room of our apartment. It felt surreal. Two guys nervously awaiting the arrival of their female companions for the evening. Both of them first dates and one of them a blind date.
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