After we were able to determine the status of my cousin Herman's medical condition (says Warren), his son and I dragged him to a corner of the room and covered him with a tablecloth. Being the next closest male member of the Borman family, the responsibility of giving a toast to the bride and groom fell to me.
Unlike my cousin, I have never shrunk from an opportunity to speak in public. Some of those who know me -- although certainly not all -- say I can be highly entertaining. That evening I exceeded even my own standards in holding forth on the virtues of my cousin's only son, pausing only momentarily on an incident when an uncontrolled bowel movement on his part put a damper on the solemn tone of my grandfather's funeral. The lad was two if he was a day and should have known better, but I gave him credit for likely having learned from his mistake.
"I don't care what anybody else said, Cousin Warren," Thurman told me when the revelries had concluded. "I don't think you talked too long. It gave the busboys a chance to get the tables cleared and set up for breakfast. You really have a unique style of speaking your mind."
Modesty forbade me from agreeing with him.
"Listen," he continued, "I want to make sure you're coming to the bachelor party. It's in the Versailles Room downstairs. With Pop being ...well, indisposed, I don't have a father figure to be there.
"I'm afraid that parties are not ..."
"There's going to be a keg."
"Ah, wonderful. Only domestic beer isn't ..."
"And a girl jumping out of a cake."
"A sight not to be missed to be sure, but at my age ..."
"If you can't come, I think Great-Aunt Wilhelmina would like to talk to you. She's bloated with gas and needs someone to drive her home."
I looked into his eyes. They were eager with the prospect of the bliss of a lifetime of uninterrupted attention to the same woman every day for the rest of his life.
"Perhaps," I said, ignoring the shrill call of Aunt Wilhelmina from the doorway, "I'll join you for just a short while."
The hotel employee who christened the party venue "The Versailles Room" must have enjoyed a peculiarly sarcastic wit. The area was nothing but an 18-foot by 18-foot section of empty space sectioned off by flimsy partitions. Folding chairs lined the entire perimeter with the exception of a space for a large metal beer dispenser and a table of food digestible only to those under thirty. A well-used banner tacked to the wall read ALL THE GIRLS ARE REALLY HARRIED SINCE THURMAN IS GOING TO BE MARRIED, with the word THURMAN inserted with a dry erase marker.
Despite the bleakness of the ambience, young Thurman seemed determined to make the most of the event and introduced me to his comrades: Jay, Jason, James, Jamie, Jim, Jimmie, and Hymie -- all of whom looked well prepared to pretend they were enjoying themselves.
I took it upon myself to expound on a variety of subjects pertinent to the subject of the Married Man, including the correct response to the question, "Do these pants make my butt look as big as the brown ones?" (The reply being you remembered you need to be somewhere else immediately.)
"For a guy who never married, you sure know a lot about women," said Thurman, offering me a piece of fried corn meal containing twice the adult daily requirement of sodium. "Have you ever been in love?"
That, of course, is a question best answered when one has at least several hours to devote to a thorough reply. I had just begun with the tale of Priscilla, the young lady in my pre-school class who seduced me into obtaining for her the entire contents of the teacher's Christmas candy bowl, when there came a raucous noise that faintly resembled music.
Two brief men in white uniforms rolled a cardboard cake about four feet tall into the Versailles Room. For about a minute nothing transpired beyond foot tapping -- the youths to the beat of the music, mine in loss of patience. Then, when it seemed as if we were going to spend the rest of the evening staring at each other across a mass of faux chocolate frosting, the object exploded.
Life sometimes reveals itself, not as a random flow of circumstances, but fraught with wisdom. If my cousin Herman had been conscious enough to attend his son's bachelor party, the imagination boggles at what might have transpired. For out of the cake emerged a creature with the head, saddle, tail, and hooves of a horse linked together by a scantily clad female torso that surpassed in splendor anything the Greeks considered the epitome of human form.
It -- or rather, she -- removed several pieces of frosting from her mane, pranced several times around the room then, announced, "Neigh, neigh, who's the boy whose last free day is today?"
Thurman brought his hand to his chest and the creature trotted over and sat in his lap. In doing so, she made every effort to display the marvelous curves with which nature had endowed her.
Thurman, as he had inherited the well-known Borman sense of modesty, flushed a spectrum of vermillion hues. Once the boy was utterly and completely humiliated, the creature leapt to her hooves -- or rather, her feet -- and performed a remarkable dance, demonstrating considerable skill in making her tail twirl in a perfect circle. Finally, synchronized to the final bars of the accompaniment, she removed her headgear, her saddle, her hooves, and her leather bikini top, revealing a sight so indicative of the perfection of the Creator that no words can suffice.
After the raucous applause of Jay, Jason, James, Jamie, Jim, Jimmie, Hymie, and Thurman died down, the lass trotted over to the empty chair next to mine, sat, and wiped a dainty hand across her brow.
For a moment I found myself not only unable to speak, but unable to move any part of my body, particularly my eyes. Her face, next to which Helen of Troy would have been mistaken for an Australian blowfish, bespoke a soul with unfathomable depths.
"Hot in here, ain't it?" she said.
Once, in my adolescence, I had been persuaded to trade my last fifty cents at a seaside amusement park for an opportunity to undertake an experience entitled "The Gullet of Hell." After a tedious lift in a rickety chair to the summit, the normal pull of gravity was suddenly replaced by a descent that thrust the entire contents of my stomach into my mouth. It had been years since the incident, but when the lass spoke to me, so without duplicity, so without guile -- or, indeed, so without a shirt -- I immediately experienced the identical sensation of a lapse of the laws of physics.
When I regained control of my voluntary muscles, I asked if she would like something to drink.
"Yeah," she said. "Why not?"
Indeed, what were the objective, philosophical underlying reasons she should not? I was flabbergasted at the existential implications of her question.
Within moments I had accosted someone -- anyone -- in a hotel uniform and ordered a glass of the most costly refreshing beverage on the premises.
I hurried back in hopes my seat next to the exquisite goddess was still available. It was. Jay, Jason, James, Jamie, Jim, Jimmie, Hymie, and Thurman were engaged most enthusiastically in the consumption of a low-cost malt beverage and punching each other in the shoulders.
"My dear," I said in my most gallant voice, "you are a consummate terpsichorean."
"You dance well."
"Gosh thanks, mister, but I wish this was the last time I ever had to do it."
"No!" I was aghast. "But you are a danseuse premiere."
She sighed deeply with the most amazing results. "I really hate bein' a cheap stripper. What I really want to do is style hair."
I brought my hand to my head, ensuring that I had maximum coverage over the exposed areas of my scalp. "Wonderful! A truly a noble aspiration. Just think where human civilization would be today if we were constantly tripping over our own head growth."
"The thing is," she said, "I'm really a good stylist. Only ..."
I waited for her to continue but her ravishing eyes became lost in the distance.
"Only what, my dear?"
She turned at looked at me with such genuine imploration that I felt a weakness in my legs. "Only on Monday I got to take the state stylist exam to get my license and ...and ..."
"The thing is everybody says, 'Madeline', because that's my name, Madeline. They say, 'Madeline, you're too dumb to pass the state stylist exam. You're so dumb you think a hockey coach has four wheels.' Hey, mister, how many wheels does a hockey coach have anyway?"
I pondered the question. "I'm sure I don't know, either."
"So I guess I got to put on a silly costume and get all cramped in a cake and flash my knockers for the rest of my life. Or," she added sadly, "until I start to sag."
The tragedy of the situation pierced my heart like a six-inch stiletto. We both sat in contemplative silence until the waiter arrived with her libation.
"Thanks," she said to me, taking a generous gulp. "Nobody's ever asked me if I wanted a drink before. Most guys only ask me if I want a ride home."
It was at this point, remembering I was merely a guest in town staying with my cousin, that an extraordinary thought occurred to me.
"Madeline, it's possible I may be assistive in your academic dilemma ... or, to put it another way, I might be able to help you pass the test."
Her eyes brightened and she sat up straight up -- again with delightful results. "Gee, really? That would be awesome. How?"
I scratched my ear. This, I realized, would be a risky endeavor, phrasing the explanation not a small part of its difficulty. "Let's just say that my cousin has invented a line of drinks ..."
"Oh, he's a bartender?"
"Well, in a way, my dear. His drinks can alter the way organisms express genetic psychological idiosyncratic traits." My heart was touched by the way her mouth drooped open. "Rather, I think he's got something that can make you smarter."
"Wow," she said. "That would be just the nicest thing anybody ever did for me in my whole life. How much would it cost?"
"Not a thing, my dear. I can arrange for you to have some this very night. By Monday morning you'll be well on your way to becoming a hair stylist."
She suddenly folded her arms over her chest. "Hey, is this some sleazy way to slip me a knock out?"
"Young lady, I assure you ..."
She smiled and touched my hand. "Nah. You don't look like the type."
The type, I assured her, was utterly what I was not.
In deference to my borderline high blood pressure, Madeline donned a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and we bid farewell to Jay, Jason, James, Jamie, Jim, Jimmie, Hymie, and Thurman. In short order we were entering my cousin Herman's private laboratory, greeted by the merry chirps of the iguana. Fortunately, Herman had the good sense to label his concoctions and it took little time to locate the shelf that held a blue vial marked "IQ."
"What's this goop taste like?" she asked, scrunching her face into the most delightful grimace I had ever beheld.
I found an eyedropper. "I don't think that you'll need much. I hazard that a modicum will suffice."
"You're a nice guy, Warren, but you talk really funny," she said, scratching her luxurious locks with a long-handled Bunsen burner lighter.
"Perhaps a nice tumbler full," I said. "Drink up, my dear. I'm sure the bitterness will subside after the first couple of swallows."
I waited in eager anticipation throughout the rest of the weekend and the following Monday. One minute after five in the afternoon I phoned her but was routed to her voice mail.
"Dearest Madeline," I said. "I was calling to enquire as to the results of your stylist examination and ...well, to put it bluntly ...to see if I could, ah, in a word ...invite you go to dinner with me. I would be most willing -- enthusiastic, even -- to pay for both meals including the requisite tip. I hope to hear back from you soon. Your faithful servant, Warren Borman."
It was not until Wednesday that I received a postcard.
"Let me tell you what it said," says the man in the blue sweater. "She took too much of the magic potion -- or whatever the hell it was supposed to be -- and she got so smart, she was too smart for you. I'm dead right, aren't I, Borman?"
"Quite so," says Warren, flagging a passing waitress to refill his cup of coffee. "That is precisely what occurred. Not only did Madeline pass the state examination, but due to the remarkable perspicacity displayed in the essay portion of her test, she was unanimously appointed to preside over the board that set the statewide standards for her profession. In less than twenty minutes after the results were posted, Madeline was offered the position of head stylist at the most prestigious salon in the city.
"The postcard I received went on to express her eternal gratitude for being the agent of her success, but stated that from now on she would only date men who were her intellectual peers, as it would be unfair to trifle with the affections of those who would only end up boring her."
The man in the black sports coat leans back in his chair and begins to chew on the mint-flavored toothpick supplied by the restaurant. "Reminds me a little of 'My Fair Lady' only with a bad ending instead of songs."
The man in the blue sweater makes a rude noise in the back of his throat. "Borman's stories always turn out bad. It's his way of explaining why he's a loser with women." He turns over the paper napkin he had written on and reads aloud. "Quote. Borman meets some weird woman and falls in love at first sight. Then, while he's trying to win her over, something goes wrong and in the end he gets dumped. Unquote. Okay, Warren. This time you lose. Pay up, pal. And don't forget you've got to get our buddy fixed up with the broad in the fishnet stockings."
As the man in the blue sweater grabs the four dinner receipts, Warren clears his throat. "My friends, once more it appears you have assumed my story is finished."
"Huh? What do you mean? Of course it's over. You got shot down again. You said so yourself. Very funny story, I'm sure, to somebody who's easily amused. But ..."
"If you recall, I was, by way of an example, explaining the dangers of misuse of medication. It was not only I, but Madeleine as well who had to live with the consequences of my rash act."
"Speaking of which," says the man in the black sport coat, "can you give me back my chill pills? My mother-in-law is visiting this week..."
"Can you guys hurry it up a little?" The right leg of the young man in the red polo shirt is moving up and down so vigorously it begins to attract the attention of nearby diners.
"I promise it will be more than worth your while to hear me out to the end," says Warren.
The man in the blue sweater rubs his eyes. "This is a good hour of my life I'll never get back," he groans.
Part Two of Three