Our progress had started slowly, limited more by my mediocre typing skills than the quirkiness of our new relationship. Back then, in the days before pre-school kids had their own laptops, you learned to type by taking an actual class in high school. At Old J.E.B. Stuart High, the typing teacher was one of the assistant football coaches. Small schools had to be creative to find teaching jobs for assistant coaches, since PE always belonged to the head football/basketball coach. Typing was reserved for the backs-and-receivers coach, who tended to last about two years before moving on to take a head coaching job of his own. The line coach was a fixture, but with knuckles the size of golf balls from years of getting stepped on by cleats, it was impossible for him to hit just one key at a time. So he taught Sophomore English instead.
No, that isn’t a mistake, at least in the typographical sense. Sophomore English. We came leaping right out of Old Mrs. Harrigan’s frying pan, happy to be alive if a little scarred by the intemperate (albeit best-loved) gushing of Elizabeth Browning and the institutional cleverness of Alexander Pope’s couplets, and the first thing you know, you smelled something burning, and lo and behold, we were in Coach Jackson’s literary fireplace.
At least Coach Jackson didn’t do poetry, praise Franca. Oh, there were plenty of poems in our sophomore American Lit book—more best loved, I can practically guarantee—and he may have even assigned a half dozen of them during the year. The Raven, for sure. But we didn’t discuss them in class. Coach Jackson taught prose. Excerpts from Hawthorne and James Fennimore Cooper novels, short stories by O’Henry and Twain and Poe, essays by Lincoln and Jefferson. “Good ‘Merican Literature,” not those “namby-pamby Dickinson and Whitman shits.” Back in those days, all of the girls and most of the boys still tittered if a teacher said ‘shit,’ but we sure as hell weren’t going to turn him in. One of the oft-told legends of J.E.B. Stuart High School was the time that Meredith Agnes Wells, who wore a big silver crucifix between where her boobs would have been if she’d had any, reported Coach Jackson’s language to her mother who complained to the principal. When word got back to Coach Jackson, he assigned the class a research paper on the origins of the dozen most popular vulgarities in English and made Meredith Agnes read hers in front of the classroom. No, we weren’t going to complain. But mostly it was because we thought it daring to have a teacher who said ‘shit.’
Literature for Coach Jackson, like a good lineman, had to start low, get a quick jump off the ball, and drive the defensive player backward out of the hole before he regarded it as worthy to be taught to impressionable kids. Funny thing is, he probably was right. At least I didn’t come out of his class hating everything we read during the year.
But I was talking about typing, not literature; I’ll try to stay on track. (Notice how easily I get distracted when the subject of literature comes up, especially poetry.) Under Coach Ron’s indifferent tutelage—unlike Coach Jackson, back-and-receiver coaches were called by their first name—I barely managed to make the minimum thirty-five words per minute on an old Royal manual required to pass typing. Practice through college should have improved my skills, but I had practiced drinking a lot more than typing.
At first I started out by picking The Cup up, listening to a sentence or two, putting her down so that I would have both hands to type, picking her back up while I reread what I had just done so she could review what I’d just typed (she couldn’t read printed English), setting her back down to make any necessary corrections, and then repeating the process. That lasted about two paragraphs before I realized that unless we found a better way, I would be finishing the saga for my grandkids. Fortunately, we came up with a workable if offbeat solution: I tucked her stem between my big and second toe and off we went.
To make up for my unimpressive typing skills, I was by that time quite an efficient researcher. If you were born in the last thirty years, this will sound as hokey as the whole ‘we walked six miles to school in the snow’ line our parents fed us, but here it is: researchers filled out note cards. Wrote down the important facts, along with a quote or two to use in our papers (and ultimately our theses) on 3×5 cards and kept them in a box. So that’s basically the technique I used, only typing in draft (i.e., not taking time to make non-contextual corrections) on regular paper—distilling the story down to relevant information while transcribing some exact quotes to give flavor and historical perspective.
But by the time we got back to work after our trip to Cobweb and lunch, we had the mechanical part down as well as it was going to get. Now what slowed us down the most was me asking dozens of unnecessary questions instead of just letting her talk. In typical Bradley Schuster fashion—as demonstrated above in my diatribe about typing and literature—I get off track a lot (even now). Every time I realized what I was doing I got a little pissed off at myself, but that didn’t keep me from doing it the next time. But when I finally had time to think about it later that night, I rationalized that I wasn’t really in all that much of a hurry. So instead of trying to stop asking unnecessary questions, I stopped getting pissed off instead and just took whatever time it took.
It was the first of a lot of great weekends.
One unnerving feature I had to get used to was the constant reminders that The Cup had free access to the inside of my skull. For example, she began to make use of my own expressions and idioms. That part was okay, but I confess to being typically male in not wanting to share my emotions, the fears and the weaknesses as well as the lusts and other desires that skulked the halls of my head during waking hours and played tag when I was asleep. Particularly with a woman. All of a sudden, this damned artifact from a lost world knew things I would never consider telling Judy Blue Eyes. But by the end of that first day together, I was over it and our forced intimacy became less intrusion and more camaraderie. And who/what better to have for a drinking companion than a goblet?
It was after 10:00 by the time we got Razuni hauled before the king of Atlantis and Layla heading for parts unknown with parts well known. I had ignored the phone, which had rung three or four times during the afternoon. I’d even left the roach alone, although I admit to casting a longing glance in its direction as the evening wore on. But as soon as the ship left the dock, The Cup stopped.
After waiting an appropriate interval, I said, “Great. Where did you sail to?”
Tomorrow, dear boy. We’re done for the night.
“You can’t stop now and just leave me hanging,” I whined, sounding even to myself like a guy begging for sex.
Ah, the young. Don’t be so macho, dear. You’re exhausted from a long day, following a long hard night. The Cup didn’t like to pass up a bawdy dig. Plus you have other issues. Spend some time coming to grips with the fact that objects can communicate and magic is real. I’ll still be here in the morning.
I started to press the argument but realized she was right. My fingers, cramped as they were from their unaccustomed labors, were nothing compared with my bruised and battered psyche, which was gently asking me if we could start working on a new philosophy of life to replace the shattered fragments of everything I used to believe. So I stretched out on the couch with my fingers laced behind my head, the goblet safely out of reach, alone with my pirouetting thoughts. Until I fell asleep to troubled damp dreams of Layla’s liquid eyes and pouty lips—not to mention her ‘smug, sassy body.’