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Tantalus At Sunny Hills
By Paul Saevig, '67. October 11, 2022.







Tantalus At Sunny Hills

One damp morning in October 1963, a freshman boy from West Fullerton stepped off the bus and walked onto campus past the Faculty Lounge door to  the Quad. A rush of cool air enveloped him and a fragrant cloud of new wool, jersey, silk and cotton, bubble gum, lipstick, hairspray, deodorant, mascara, eyeliner, eyebrow pencil, rouge, dry cleaning fluid, Tabu, My Sin, Sea N'Ski, foundation, Clearasil, Dentyne, Certs, Sen Sen passed over him as a flock of Marshas, Dianes, Nancys, Anns, Sues, Barbs, Dawns and Marys walked by with peals of giggling and excited voices. He struggled to steady himself, shook his head to clear it and felt the new smile of intoxication spread over his features. He continued in the direction of the boys locker room for his PE class.

Two steps later he almost swooned when a gaggle of Cheryls, Louises, Marilyns, Lindas, Sandys and Beverlys pranced by, and he needed to hold onto a post to calm his racing imagination. Yet when he looked up again, he saw older boys with relaxed expressions, standing in groups or walking, as if nothing extraordinary were happening, indeed as if they were engaged in a typical day at high school, neither boring nor exciting but routine. Many of these young man stood somewhat close to these enchanted maidens and actually spoke casually with them, even -- in some cases -- touching their arms, hands, shoulders and from seated positions, their knees. In fact, last Friday the freshman boy had seen a young man wearing dress slacks, a white Oxford dress shirt and a sharp pin-dot tie actually kiss a girl for several seconds in what was called The Senior Center and subsequently whisper in her ear.

How could such things be?

Shaken, the freshman pressed on toward the large pillbox structure of the locker room, where inside, in a foetid mist of steam, latrine odors, and adolescent male sweat and invisible billowing Testosterone that floated and bounced from wall to wall, to a phalanx of hollow steel lockers where a dozen youths at a time pounded primitive rhythms with the palms of their hands, where pubescent boys tore off their clothing to wear simple athletic outfits and on their return from the playing fields, threw these sodden shirts, shorts and jockstraps onto the floor and naked as only teenaged boys can be, strode, scratching themselves, punching each others arms and shoulders, yelling and boasting of erotic excesses, stood under faucet heads of hot water that rinsed the lads somewhat before they seized starch-stiff white towels they snapped at each others' genitals in hilarious amusement before with dripping watery hair they yanked on their cardigan sweaters and bleeding Madras shirts to clothe their dampness and stampede for the doors with the force of Great Plains buffalo herds in the 1800s.

In sight of this Bruggelsian spectacle and dizzy with girl scent, the freshman started to move when a swarm of Karens, Debbies, Mariannes, Carols, Vickis, Julies, Judys, Janes, Trudys, Joans, Joans, Pattis, Jans, Terris and Connies blew past and left a wake of fecund olfactory narcosis that weakened his knees and shut off his rational judgment.

He gasped and a male classmate he didn't know looked at him and said, "You okay?"

"Yeah," he lied, and already he'd begun to fall headlong into a bottomless chasm of yearning and unfulfilled lust.

Somehow he was able to dress in his PE costume and join his classmates on the asphalt volleyball courts for a hollered roll call and a ragged series of proletarian calisthenics when his mind wandered and Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexual love and beauty approached him in the image of recently deceased actress Marilyn Monroe, wearing only a Sunny Hills letterman's sweater and nothing more.

She stood chest to belly with him and flirtatiously picked at imaginary buttons on his T-shirt,

"So how do you like it?"
she asked in her breathless cooing whisper.

"So many desirable girls everywhere! I guess I'll get used to it," he choked.

"Sure, you will!" she assured him, goosed him for emphasis and vanished in the moist air.

While he reacted to her visitation, he happened to notice a pod of girls in various shirts and sweatshirts, golden trunks and pointed white low-topped tennis shoes with white socks, a class about to play softball. He entered the trance that had become familiar and barely noticed the clean-shaven, balding coach who descended on him as an avenging angel and barked an interrogation and indictment of Not Paying Attention, jabbing his forefinger against the boy's heart, and commanding him to, "Take a lap!"

And so it was a new boy, a new being who obeyed the man's order, a boy cognizant of the growing lesson of 5th and 6th grade, of brutal Nicolas, the unalterable realization of Man's Fate Among Women.

He jogged across the grassy field where the varsity football team grazed, and on to the sandy running track, and he remembered Tantalus. A wind had come up: shuddering branches and leaves murmured: "So many, so hard! They're not easy! So many, so hard!"

When he ran back to join his classmates, he saw the girls again, playing catch with softballs, swinging bats, trotting on bare legs shimmering in the morning light. He caught their scent and with a sense of resignation, squared his shoulders and willed himself to look away,

The day would continue.



A figure in Greek mythology, most famous for his punishment by the gods: Tantalus was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a vine with low-hanging grapes, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink.