Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"The Best of Friends at Farmington" 1966

In 1966, my dad, newly divorced and 30 years old, moved into a small apartment a block from Union Square.
His date book suggests he didn't spend every night sitting alone mourning his failed marriage. I'm guessing he went out on dates with young single women not unlike Linda Bates and Bitsey Turner, two characters in a short story published that year in Mademoiselle.

Though they were roomates at Farmington (Miss Porter's School), Linda and Bitsey attended different colleges and have drifted apart. Both work as secretaries but while Bitsey has a busy social life, Linda lives alone with a cat named Kafka and a TV set. After promising to get together for months, Bitsey finally visits Linda for drinks. Bitsey brings two young men with her. When she steps out of the room Linda overhears a conversation:

"Let's get out of here," Austin said.
"Soon," she heard Bitsey answer. "We have to stay a little longer. I promised her we'd stay for a while."
"But it's been almost thirty minutes."Austin protested.
"I thought you'd like her," Bitsey said.
"She's probably very nice, but..."Austin said. "Look, Bitsey, we have little secretaries like her all over the bank. I just don't want to see them after hours too. I thought she would be different. She went to Farmington with you. I thought, since she's been your roomate, she'd be different, that's all."
"Well, she's changed since then," Bitsey said. "She used to be a lot more fun."

The story strikes me as owing an awful lot to the New Yorker stories of his step-father, John O'Hara. O'Hara was the master of finding moments that revealed the fragile egos of his characters.

Dad in 1966

"The Best of Friends at Farmington" is also depressing as hell. Linda is sentenced to solitary confinement, to loneliness, by her so-called friend. I'm guessing, even when Dad had evening plans with the Lindas he met, he wasn't very happy.

Until today, I had never heard of this short story. I'm guessing Dad never felt it was one of his best. I think there were some other short stories in that box as well. One of the sixty-seven in my attic.

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