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I was 23 years old when I came out from New York to San Francisco in the 1960’s and, looking back, was even younger as regards experience of life. I knew one person in San Francisco, Gil Foreman, a UC Berkeley graduate whom I’d met in the Army. Gil had become a copywriter in one of the local ad agencies and with his help I was hired for the agency’s small research department.
Gil and his Berkeley friends were a partying crowd and in my first few months in San Francisco I went to more parties then ever before in my life. At one of these parties I first saw Rad. The party was at a Pacific Heights apartment shared by four girls (nowadays we’d say “young women”). At the time, Gil was taking out one of the girls. I saw a very attractive blonde (yes, across a crowded room). She had a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other and was surrounded by four or five guys.
I asked Gil who she was. “Oh, that’s Rad,” he said.
“Yeah, Nancy Radford. She was at Cal for a couple of years, then dropped out.”
“What does she do now? Does she work?”
“I don’t think so. She doesn’t have to. Her family is loaded.”
“Can you introduce me?”
“I can, but I wouldn’t get too close too her, A lot of guys have been burnt.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll find out.”
Gil didn’t get around to the introduction until later. We more or less had to force our way through the guys still clustered around her. She still had a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. Gil said, “This is Arnold Gray I’ve told you about.”
She looked me up and down and said, “So you’re Gil’s little friend from New York.” She didn’t seem impressed.
I was impressed by her throaty, sexy voice. I tried to think of something witty to say but settled for “So you’re Ron’s friend from Berkeley.”
One of the guys around us said, “You’re Jewish, aren’t you?”
“Just like Sandy Koufax,” I said.
“Who’s that?” he said
Rad turned to the potential Jew-baiter and said, “Just a great pitcher, you jerk. Now fuck off. In fact, all of you can fuck off. You’re boring me.” She took my arm and led me to a sofa that was unoccupied. “Okay, tell me why you left New York to come to this hick town,” she commanded.
I told her about having to live with my parents in the Bronx because I couldn’t afford the high New York rents, about having to endure the subway ride into Manhattan jammed into a carful of people so I couldn’t move, about the expectation that I find some nice Jewish girl, marry and raise a family. I ended by saying, “I don’t think San Francisco’s such a hick town.”
“You’d be surprised,” she said. “Everybody knows everyone else’s business. Now get me a drink.”
By the time I returned with her drink, Rad was again surrounded by another group of guys and that was the extent of my conversation with her. Of course I phoned her the next day. At first, she didn’t know who I was, or pretended not to know. On the phone her voice was even sexier. Finally, she said, “Oh, yes, that Jewish fellow.” But when I asked her out, she laughed, a sexy laugh, and said, “I don’t think so.” When I pressed her she was quite definite. “You’re mother would never approve,” she said. "Go and find that nice Jewish girl.”
I was deflated. I knew that Rad and I were not exactly compatible and I knew that sooner or later I’d be looking for a nice Jewish girl. But that was for later, much later. I was only 23. I wanted a little adventure first and Rad was the girl for it. Besides, I couldn’t get her out of my mind, probably because she was unlike any girl I’d ever known.
Besides the weekend parties, Gil and his crowd, of which I’d become kind of an auxiliary member, went to places in and around San Francisco like the Buena Vista, where supposedly Irish coffee originated, Telegraph Hill, home of many bars and coffee shops and, when the weather was good, Sam’s in Tiburon, where we could sit outside in the sun, eat our Samburgers, drink our beers and enjoy a great view of the city. Rad was a semi-regular on these excursions, sometimes with a guy, sometimes without.
I found out that, as had been evident at our first meeting, Rad smoked and drank a lot. She could hold her liquor as well as anyone, probably better. She was outspoken and didn’t hesitate to use foul language. She also was knowledgeable about sports and could talk about baseball and football like “one of the guys.” She was reckless. At one of our parties, she’d opened a window and had gone out on the ledge, just to “see what it felt like.” In my mind, I associated Rad with what I’d read of Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda, who also liked to drink and who was famous for diving into fountains and dancing on tables.
When Rad wasn’t there, she was a prime object of gossip by others in the gang. The rumor was that she’d dropped out of Berkeley to have an abortion. She’d once been a promising junior tennis player and was a crack skier. Once she’d disappeared for three months in Mexico and no one ever knew what she’d done there although there was much speculation.
When Rad and I talked to each other during this time, which wasn’t too often, we kept up a kind of banter in which she kidded me about being a bachelor roaming around San Francisco, undoubtedly seducing any number of women. It was the quiet ones you had to watch out for, she told everyone. Of course I hadn’t told anyone, not even Gil, that I’d asked her out and had been rebuffed.
Here I’d like to digress from my narrative for a moment; you’ll soon see why. There’s a movie called “The Wedding Crashers” in which two guys go to weddings to pick up girls. I’ve never seen this movie (which sounded like another one made for adolescents), but my experience is that there’s something about a wedding that does stir the sexual appetite of the participants. This at any rate was true of Gil’s wedding, which took place later that year. After Gil and his bride had left (to go to a hotel and then for a week in Hawaii), there was a rush to pair off. I’d taken out a couple of the girls at my ad agency by this time but hadn’t asked any of them to the wedding so I was by myself. I was on the point of leaving when Rad approached me. Her date had passed out, she said, and would I give her a ride home? Of course I would.
On the drive to her apartment, Rad was quiet. She had had her share of drinks, too; but, as I’ve mentioned, she could hold her liquor. Her place was close to Nob Hill. The building looked expensive and so, when we entered, did her apartment. It had a view of the Bay and I was about to comment on it when she leaned against me and kissed me. Before I knew it, we were in her bedroom. I guessed that, like the other women who’d paired off at the wedding, her sexual appetite had been aroused. That was the last thought I had for a while.
When I awakened the next morning, I reached over for Rad but she wasn’t there. I got out of bed, dressed and found her in the kitchen. She was making eggs and I could smell coffee. Somehow this was not what I’d expected. Rad was in a short white robe. She had no make-up on and looked freshly scrubbed. She looked younger and, I guess the word was “softer.” Unfortunately, it was a Monday and we were overloaded at the agency so I felt I had to go in. I asked Rad if I could call her. She told me she’d be gone the next two weeks. She was going to her parents’ place in Tahoe. It was a command performance.
“How about when you come back?”
“Are you sure you want to?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
Two simple little words but when I left the apartment I let out a whoop of joy.
As promised, after two weeks I called her, but there was no answer. I kept on calling but still no answer. I told myself she’d probably stayed an extra day or two with her parents.
The next morning Gil stepped into my little cubicle. “Did you hear about Rad?” he asked.
“She had a skiing accident. She was killed.”
I was as stunned as if he’d hit me over the head with a club. “You’re not joking?”
“No, she was always a reckless skier. I guess you didn’t know her all that well, but she was quite a gal.”
© Martin Green December 2009
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