I met pre-med Samuel in an experimental psychology class. He thought he needed my help studying, and probably he did. As much as help, he seemed to need a buddy, something he was accustomed to from his years as a medic in Vietnam and, I suspect, from growing up in the Montana ranch country.
His wife worked nights as a nurse. Samuel stayed in, with their baby. I drove from Fullerton to their bougainvillea-covered Laguna Beach bungalow. In winter, houses and apartments in beach towns rented by the month at their summer weekly rate. During February’s heavy rains the barranca between the road and their cottage filled, and they worried whether rushing water would overflow the driveway bridge.
Our habit was for me to eat supper with them. Then Samuel and I studied while his wife napped and then got ready for work. She left before Johnny Carson came on, and we sat up watching TV way beyond when I was ready to stretch out on their living room couch, as I did almost every night. Samuel stood in their bedroom doorway in his T-shirt and boxers sharing late-night confidences, such as, “I love blondes, and I’m married to a brunette.” I barely kept my eyes open. I never allowed myself to be attracted to him. I must have blocked those feelings.
One afternoon somewhere near Cal State Fullerton, I glanced from Samuel’s Beetle as a shirtless jogger came toward us and passed. “We need to find you a girlfriend,” he said.
His wife and I both thought it strange that he wanted to spend so much time with me, although to my knowledge neither of us ever said so. I knew he wasn’t attracted to me. I don’t know what his wife thought; whatever it was–perhaps simply that he wasted too much time paling around with me–she put her foot down and declared me persona non grata.
The last time I saw Samuel, I arrived at my folks’ house to find him sitting with their baby on his knee, his wife beside them, in the living room talking with Mom and Dad. I hadn’t seen them for months, having been banished from their lives, and resented the drop-by visit, although I knew they meant well. My folks liked them and for months afterward Dad asked after Samuel.
Recently, as I read through all of Paula Fox’s novels, I savored an earlier L.A. than I knew– pre-War–in The Western Coast, which includes a period where the protagonist is a waitress in Laguna Beach, which brought to mind the winter when I spent so many nights there.
Photo above of Laguna Beach in the 1960s from light-headed.com.