How I Fell for Selma


It all started a little over twenty-five years ago, in the fall of 1969 on a Saturday in the middle of November. I was sitting in the snack bar/lounge in the basement of the Student Union at Hiram College, playing cards. One of the others at the table was my occassional roommate, Josh Shaw, whom I had not yet dubbed "the Warthog", but that's another story. While we were playing, Josh's girlfriend Susie Saunders (already known as "the Cream Cheese") showed up with a friend in tow. I wasn't very fond of Susie, and her friend lived down to my expectations -- a drab girl in a frumpy oversized coat. I was engaged at the time and didn't even get the friend's name.

The reason that Susie's friend was visiting that particular weekend was that the drama club's first production of the year, Marat Sade, was premiering that night. Both Susie and I were crewing. I didn't see either Susie or her friend again that afternoon. After dinner I went over to the auditorium to help with final setup for the play.

Somehow I managed to land the questionable honor of being the one to hang the asbestos curtains on the auditorium windows. This is a lot of fun. You climb to the top of a twenty foot ladder dragging a huge drapery woven from rock. Normally it takes two or three people to hoist the damned things up there, but we were short on both crew and ladders so when I got tired of waiting for someone to show up to help, I started doing it myself. Getting the cloth curtains down wasn't too bad, and I even got the first asbestos curtain up without a lot of trouble. The second one was another story. I was tiring and it fought me every bit of the way.

So here I am, at the top of what, under the load of one 128 pound guy dragging a couple hundred pounds of tangled curtain, is beginning to feel like a really rickety ladder. I've just managed to get the second hook into the curtain and am wondering if two can hold the weight so I can have two hands to untangle it, when I feel someone come into the auditorium. Desperately hoping it's someone who can give me a hand, I twist to look back over my shoulder and there she is... an absolute knockout! I've no idea who she is, but she's looking my way and smiling a bit like maybe she recognizes me. I have about enough time to get in half the details -- a brightly colored blouse, long straight shiny golden-brown hair tied with a bright pink scarf around her head and legs that just never stop -- when I miss my step on the ladder and start to descend.

Not wanting to end up hanging from the curtains or to tumble them, me and the ladder in a heap across the auditorm seats, I let go of the curtain and grab the sides of the ladder. The two hooks are strong enough to hold the curtain. That's one piece of good luck. Unfortunately, I can't manage to find a decent footing, so I decide to make the best of it and pressing my feet and hands against the sides of the ladder, I try for a controlled, if rapid, descent. A word about the construction of this ladder. Since it has to reach up twenty feet, and remain stable, it is tapered. It gets to be four or five feet wide at the base, so there is a third support that runs up the middle for the bottom six feet or so. I hit the top of this at rather high speed. It caught me in... shall we say a most sensitive spot.

A quick glance showed that the gorgeous gal was headed my way, so I swallowed my pain and put on the best smile I could manage and took stock. The ladder was still standing. The hooks were still holding the curtain. I was standing on the arm of one of the auditorium seats. Behind me I could hear her moving through the seats toward me. I turned around, smiled at her and stepped down onto the seat... which flipped up, dropping my foot into the crack between it and the seat back. I staggered to the ground. The only reason I didn't fall flat on my face was that my right leg was firmly trapped in the seat. I didn't have time to do more than give it a tug before she showed up.

She said something like, "Hi. You're Jim, right? I'm Selma... Susie's friend... from this morning?" I can't recall exactly what she said, as I was more than a little distracted by:

Somehow, I've no idea how, I managed to get my foot loose from the seat, and to find my tongue long enough to ask her to the cast party after the play. She said yes, and we agreed to meet.

The play went very well, and we met to go to the party, along with Josh, Susie, and four other people all in one car. Three could get into the front seat, but two of us in the back seat would have to have people in our laps. I quickly and cleverly arranged to have Selma ride in my lap. It wasn't until we were actually in the car that I remembered my encounter with the ladder a couple of hours before. Unfortunately, I was reminded rather forcefully, so the car ride was something of a mixed blessing.

When we got to the party, it was very noisy, smokey and full of people neither of us knew. The only room that wasn't crowded was the bedroom where the coats were being left, so we ended up in there talking. After a while, standing got to be a bit uncomfortable for me, but there was no place to sit except the bed. Rather than sit on everyone's coats we ended up under them. We managed to hollow out a little cave and stayed there for an hour or two, giggling and chatting.

Eventually, Susie or someone found us and told us our ride was leaving. On the way back to campus, it became rather clear that it would be really convenient for Susie if Selma didn't have to stay in her room. At the time I had no roommate, so there was a spare bed in my room. I offerred it to Selma. Seeing as I was engaged at the time and had been a gentleman under the coat pile, she accepted the offer. We ended up on my bed, fully clothed, with her lying on my chest, her hair hanging down all around, forming our second little cave of the night, and we chatted and kissed a little. I guess we must have slept some, but I really don't remember.

Six weeks later, my fiancee and I broke up, and I ended up spending New Year's at Selma's folks' house, but that's another story. Our twenty-second anniversary was June 16th, her birthday.

June 16, 1995