WILLIE AND THE BRAIN - short story
Those who are not fans of the late Sir P. G. Wodehouse might as well keep on truckin' down the old info highway. This story is my homage to the great "Plum" a master of light humor who wrote something like 100 novels. He is probably best known as the creator of the irredeemably dim and unflaggingly affable, Bertie Wooster, and his invincible valet, Jeeves.
This story is based on the Wodehouse analysis of the male-female relationship which he first propounded in his novel, Uneasy Money:
"At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies."
Willie and the Brain
by Bill Fullerton
"If only the good die young, that crew will live to a hundred.” This unflattering rumination came from one, William Jackson “Willie” Sinclair IV. The target of his jaundiced assessment was the Iota Fraternity test procurement committee. Its entire membership was currently passed out in a back room of the Iota house amid a sea of card, chips, and empty beer cans.
What prompted Willie’s unkind assessment was their failure to obtain any copies of his upcoming tests. This dereliction of duty meant he faced some serious book time.
Casual observers, unaware of the fortitude possessed by the scion of the Sinclair clan, might have expected him to quail at the prospect of real study. For it is true that not unlike the lily of the field, young Willie spun not, neither did he weave in the groves of academe. It is, therefore, to his credit that young Willie’s resolve was unshaken. This stouthearted attitude was due, in no small measure, to the proximity of a certain, Ms Edwina Toupes.
Known to her small but loyal band of friends and admirers as, “Etta,” she was an acknowledged campus brain. Willie’s surprising inclusion in her circle of acquaintances was due to his sincere appreciation for Ms Toupes' remarkable mental capabilities and her unfailing willingness to share that gift with him.
It is true, that he sometimes overheard certain Iota brothers making gross references to her grade point average far exceeding her bosom's measurement. But like most other thoughts, ones about her figure seldom troubled his mind. To him, the important point was not the modest number assigned to Etta's bosom, but the even more modest figure that now represented his own grade point average.
For Willie, Ms Toupes' attraction was spiritual and intellectual, not physical. It was an appeal not of the flesh but of the mind. In short, he knew no one was more capable than Etta of helping him overcome his very real academic shortcomings.
This profound appreciation of Ms Toupes' scholarly qualifications was commendable. But when it came to noticing the young lady's physical attributes, he was a total failure. For a worldly-wise Iota Assistant Rush Chairman, the oversight was surprising. It is true that even charitable observers described Etta as petite, even slender. However, those same individuals also noted with approval her large brown eyes, pert button of a nose, brilliant smile and long, rather shapely legs.
The condition of Etta’s legs was a combination of favorable genetics and her participation on the school's new women's track team. She mentioned this membership during their most recent extended social intercourse near the end of last semester.
Etta’s involvement with varsity athletics troubled Willie. As a key member of the football team, he held on point-after and field goal attempts, he knew how physically demanding sports could be.
He was also bothered by her recent adoption of "Ms" as her preferred title. This might be the ‘70’s, but Willie's views on social norms were of an old-world, antiquarian bent. However, he credited himself with being tolerant enough to overlook Etta's recent faddish excesses. This forbearance reflected both his cosmopolitan appreciation for the capriciousness of the female of the specie and his current academic imperatives. As a result, he had no problem curbing his natural instinct towards brotherly remonstration.
Willie felt justified in this decision. After all, Etta was an intelligent girl, in a bookish sort of way. Sooner or later, her basic good sense would overcome these impulsive gestures toward modernity. So it was with a clear conscience that he hopped in his car and exited the Iota house parking lot in search of Ms Etta.
The automobile in question was a dilapidated model rich in years. To the uninitiated, this might seem surprising. Willie was sole heir to the Sinclair family fortune, the limits of which had been perceived by few and then but dimly and at a great distance. But Willie considered, "The Heap," his fond name for the car, a thing of joy and satisfaction.
The Sinclair’s did not amass a rather large pile of liquid assets by being spendthrifts. The cautious use of money was preached to young Willie from his earliest days. The Sinclair’s were, as a rule, extremely frugal. Willie proved to be a glaring exception that made the rule.
The Heap was the chief, some would say only, evidence the sermons of his elders had not been totally in vain. Willie had it from a good authority, his mother, that its presence was all that kept his allowance checks rolling in. Now he guided The Heap in an unusual direction, toward that natural habitat of Ms Edwina Toupes, the school library.
Etta had just reached the library steps when Willie once again staged an entrance into her life. Since it was test week, this meeting came as no surprise. Willie had been staging these raids on her with tidal regularity since their freshman year in high school.
One unwanted by-product of her periodic attempts at academic resuscitation was the solitary “B” that kept her from having a perfect 4.00 average. But Etta had a remarkably sanguine attitude toward Willie’s reappearances.
Since their first meeting in ninth grade, she’d been fascinated by Willie Sinclair. In her opinion, he was a force of nature, but with a quiet charm most people overlooked. He also very good looking, which was nice, and possessed many things she lacked, such as money and self-confidence.
Over the years, Etta had come to realize she had things missing from Willie’s make-up. High on that list were common sense and self-discipline. However, time and self-awareness had not lessened her fascination with Willie. Therefore, she greeted him warmly. "Willie, what's a guy like you doing in a nice place like this?"
"Just trying to improve the image of this den of learning, Ms Toupes. What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be off burning a bra or some such?” Willie couldn’t believe what he just said. It wasn't a very smart thing to say when about to ask for a favor. But most of all, in light of her endowment, or lack of the same, it was downright rude.
"Sorry about that, Etta. I didn't mean to get personal like, you know. I mean, politics is one thing but friendship is another, uh, don't you know." Willie squirmed. Apologies weren't his strong suit, few things were, and he’d hashed that one to the max.
As usual, Etta was a good scout. "It wouldn't do me any good to go to one those demonstrations. Training bras are flame proof.” Just like Etta to let a fellow off the hook, he thought, experiencing an intense feeling of gratitude.
Much to his relief, Etta picked up the conversational ball. "Willie, according to my sundial, it's test week. Now if I hadn’t known you since the ninth grade, I might think you're just here for some mindless social reason, like asking me to the big Iota Valentine’s Day dance. But I bet you're here on a more serious, a more scholarly mission. Why, I bet going to the dance hasn't even crossed your mind, especially with me. The only thing you’re concerned about is how you’re going to do on your tests. Am I right, Willie? When you think of me, you think of tests, not Valentine’s Day and dances, right?"
Willie was not the worlds' strongest debater. To him, logic was illogical. When it came to diplomacy and negotiation, he was strictly of the, "Take it or leave it," school. However, even he could see his present position was precarious. Never strong at thinking on his feet, or seated for that matter, he now had to take quick stock of the situation and make a command decision.
He’d already given Etta a good reason to be huffy with that dumb bra burning joke. And while she’d been remarkably decent about that screw-up, he sensed it would be a mistake to presume too much on her sense of humor, especially about that subject.
What’s more, there were signs she might be coming around to the belief his visits were due solely to his sagging grade point average. Of course, that wasn’t true, well, at least not entirely. The timing had been purely coincidental all these years. Still, it had been a lot of years. Some of the egghead types he noticed hanging around her might have started questioning his motives.
Then there was the dance. Until Etta brought it up, he’d been able to put thoughts of the Iota Valentine’s Day dance out of his mind. Not that the dance by itself was unpleasant, in fact, it was something he rather liked. It was just that thinking about it reminded him of, The Sin.
Cynthia “The Sin” Bliss possessed the type of beauty, both God-given and enhanced, that tends to stop traffic. She was a tall, tanned, long-legged, blue-eyed, blonde. The generous proportions of her eye-catching figure brought to mind the extreme curvature of an hourglass.
The Sin and Willie had been a number for the longest, maybe over a month. While not actually pinned, the word was out. Then suddenly, Willie was out with, The Sin.
The woman had, of course, been totally unreasonable. The beginning of the end occurred when she took exception to riding in, The Heap. Willie tried to explain the reasons behind his affection for the car, such as low maintenance and steady allowance. However, she was firm as only a homecoming queen can be. It was either her or, The Heap.
The Sin was a bit surprised when he took, The Heap. She was not dismayed, just surprised. Willie had begun to grow on her. Unlike most of her dates, he was a gentleman. And she liked the stories of his family's financial resources. But his decision convinced her the stories of his monetary estate were either exaggerated or he was one really weird car nut.
The truth was, in the end, Willie picked the full figure on his allowance check over that possessed by, The Sin. It had been two weeks since, the great divide, and Willie was just beginning to recover from its effects. Now Etta had brought all those painful memories rushing back.
Questions of the heart aside, he also had to face an immediate crises regarding questions on tests. Etta's remarks indicated to even his slow wit that the strategies of the past might prove less fruitful than usual in conjuring up her cooperation. A simple question like, "How's about a Coke?" somehow didn't seem to be an adequate opening gambit.
Light rarely illuminated the intellect of Willie Sinclair with any measurable brilliance. In this case, however, his bulb was approaching searchlight candlepower. "The Valentine’s Day dance!" he exclaimed, breaking a somewhat protracted silence.
Etta continued to gaze up at Willie as he was once again lost to thought. He'd invite good old Etta to the dance. It had never occurred to him to ask her to any social event. Not that he didn't respect, admire and even like her. He just never thought about her as a date.
But taking Etta to the dance would kill several birds with one, somewhat tiny, stone. She wasn’t, The Sin, but then who was? Still, she wasn't a bad looking girl, if you thought about it. In fact, you might even call her cute in a healthy, perky sort of way. And having a date for the Valentine’s Day dance would show The Sin that William Jackson Sinclair's social life didn’t end with the great divide.
Going to the dance with Etta would also spare him the agony of taking Priscilla Rogers, the family favorite for his hand in matrimony. Unfortunately, Priscilla was neither perky and smart like Etta nor beautiful and interesting like, The Sin. Priscilla was to Willie as Oakland was to the poet who proclaimed, "There’s no there, there".
And his asking Etta to the dance would prove he wasn’t just interested in her academically. That should relieve any suspicions she might be harboring concerning his intentions at this pivotal point on the academic calendar.
"Willie," it was Etta breaking the second extended period of silence. "You said something about the Iota Valentine’s Day dance?"
"Yes, of course I did, I mean, you reminded me, you know?" As usual, Willie was having some trouble getting into verbal gear. "What I’m trying to say is, Etta, we've been friends for ages and I guess you heard about me and, The Sin. Will, I don't want you to think that I'm just trying to pick you up on the rebound but, like I said, we've been good friends for ages and I don't have a date for the dance. So I wondered if you'd like to go, you know, with me, to the Iota Valentine’s Day dance?" With a sigh, Willie completed one the longest orations in his intercollegiate career.
Although her heart performed an impressive high-jump into her throat, Etta didn't blink an eye, "That might be fun. But it depends on how well you do on your tests. After all, you’ve got to keep your grades up to stay on the football team. In case you've forgotten, I'm not just a brain anymore. I'm a jock, kind of like you, in a way."
She grinned and gestured toward the library. "So shake a leg, big fella. Let’s get a move on. If I know you, we'll have to hustle up to catch up. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Ya know what I mean?"