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THE SEA OF DAMES / Cynthia Shearer VAN CLEVE USUALLY GOT the best women. It was a given. It started when he and Harry Durrance and I were classmates at West Point. Harry and I would meet our Brooklyn or Bronx girls at Penn Station, but Van Cleve would usuaUy vanish for a while and show up later with some pale blonde who you could smell the money on. Some girl that would fix her icy blues on the view outside the cab window just so, and ride all insulated by her nickname and her good fur. And she'd pointedly not speak to us—or even to Van Cleve— which never seemed to matter much to him. This would be standard for the entire night as everyone got drunker and drunker. Durrance's girl would be in her cheap rayon dress fresh from her job at a five-and-dime and my girl would have on some fierce fire-engine red lipstick that she wouldn't be allowed to wear at her bookkeeping job. They ought to name that shade of red "1940" and restrict its use to girls twenty or under, like our girls were then. Van Cleve's girl would never speak to Durrance's girl or my girl. And it would get to Durrance. You could see him itching to get revenge on the society girl in some way. But we'd all dance, and only if Van Cleve was feeling mean toward his girl would he insist that she dance with his good friend from the Deep South, Durrance, or with his good friend from the Bronx, yours truly. And on those occasions, his piece of ice would just stare over your shoulder and wait for the song to end. Durrance's girl or my girl might dance like a frostbit rag doll with Van Cleve, with a look of fear or worship on her face, depending on her intelligence level. I'll never forget one time, Durrance had dragged us into this dive of a place in Harlem. He had a knack for that. That son of a bitch could ferret out some of the best music you ever heard, and not always in places you could confess to your mother. This one time he insisted that we go to this little joint in Harlem. We get there, and there is this enormous black man, Sgt. Joseph Caliban, playing the trumpet. Caliban was the trumpeter for the 367th Infantry out of Fort Riley, and he was home on leave, playing a few sets with his old buddies. One look at that body The Missouri Review · 9 and you knew that it was the trumpet that got him past the army physical. The music was Uke nothing I ever heard before, better than what you'd get on a record. Van Cleve when he was whistled was not much different from Van Cleve when he was sober. He was sitting with his lanky legs crossed, his face looking Uke it was aU some grand anthropological expedition he was making. Like he was just passing through this lower Ufe on his way to great statesmanship. And Durrance was sitting there sUghtly whistled, with his head cocked just so, Uke he always did when we were being briefed before takeoff, receiving some serious flight instructions. Van Cleve's girl that night was a Bryn Mawr girl. She was sitting there more than a Uttle miffed because she had wanted to go to the ViUage because she knew that was where the clubs were if you wanted to drop names later Uke Thelonius Monk or Bird Parker. She knew that much about music, the right names to drop. And the other two girls, our girls, were probably wondering why in the hell they were wasting their time on guys who wouldn't take them to the Rainbow Room, or they were worrying how the heU they were going to powder their noses in the black chicks' lavatory, but basicaUy enjoying being in a place that they couldn't teU their mothers about. That's the place I remember most fondly, and we had access to the best in those...


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