Two Slices of Life by Lionel Luttinger
Lionel Luttinger was born and raised in New York City. He earned a B.S. from City College of The City University of New York, a Ph.D from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and a Post Doctorate from Yale University in chemistry. After a successful fifty year career in science, during which he wrote and published over one hundred and fifty technical articles in scientific journals and achieved many patents, he has returned to his first love of writing prose and fiction. He has recently completed his memoir titled, A Radical Childhood, concerning his life in Greenwich Village among the artists of his time, and a book of fiction titled Mean Stories from which these two short pieces are excerpted. For the past six years, he's lived in Byram, New Jersey, and has raised five children, a businessman, a doctor of biology, a doctor of mathmetics, an environmental scientist, and a physician. He is a founding member of Skylands Writers and Artists Association, Inc.
HOW THREE SCIENTISTS DATED VIV POLCHLAPEK
When I had completed my education, I took a job with a large chemical company located in southern New England, the "American Episcopal Corp." The research lab I worked in, employed about fifteen hundred people. There were machinists, an in- house medical staff, secretaries, and above all, scientists, among whom, we hundred or so PhD's, were the top of the pecking order. Most of us had assistants, usually at the Bachelor's or Master's level. At that time there were very few women scientists employed. Minorities such as Jews and Italians were largely absent.
Our Central Research Department was named and organized in close imitation of a similar division of the DuPont Company, a much larger corporation, the largest in the industry. Whatever DuPont did, "American Episcopal" quickly imitated. When DuPont decided to staff their Central Research Department with PhD's from "the best" universities in the area, i.e., Yale, Harvard, MIT, Columbia, Princeton, etc., "we" soon followed. That may be one reason why I was hired.
A year later, when DuPont began recruiting new assistants for these men from the women's Ivy League Schools, we did likewise. Soon most of us had a fresh-faced twenty-two year old assistant, eager to work in the real world of industry.
Most of these new employees, like the ones hired earlier, were of Wasp background. Our new male scientists soon surprised me with their seeming self contained indifference to the women at work. For example, in our company cafeteria, the men and the women sat apart. They rarely spoke. It appeared that this emotive separation of the sexes carried over, as far as was possible, to the work situation itself. Clearly, this was the men's doing: the young women seemed more eager.I was assigned a new Radcliffe graduate, Viv Polchlapek. She had been a scholarship holder at school, and was a hard worker. Alas for her and these other young women, they had all been poorly trained at these all-woman Ivy League Schools. It was as if the old maids who taught there, had been fearful of damaging the minds of these young women, with quantitative information, such as how to calculate the percent yield of a chemical reaction, or what common chemicals really looked like or smelled like. The result was that, essentially, we had to train them, almost from scratch, on the job.
Viv was a plain-looking, somewhat overweight young woman, who had done well at school. She had had few, if any dates during college, and was now looking forward to a more adventurous life. She soon attracted the attention of several of the middle-aged bachelors at work.
A good many of the young and middle aged scientists who worked for "American Episcopal" were, at this point, bachelors. Lonely, they tended to hang out together. Once, after a fight with my wife, I rushed out of the house and took dinner at a restaurant which turned out to be where many of these men ate. As soon as I saw these lonely bachelors, I felt bad, and contritely went back to my wife as soon as I finished eating.
Three of these men, more or less at the same time, began dating Viv. These were Tom O'Donovan, Stan Vlasic and Carmine Ginsberg. All three were in their mid-thirties. To my surprise, all three owned up to still being virgins, and of course, these particular men were not even Wasps. Tom had an excuse: he was a religious Catholic. Stan appeared to be sickly -- a lack of vitality, very low-key. What about Carmine? Like Tom, he was a large, strong man, but his posture was poor, and there was something about him that seemed to say: "Don't bother me or expect anything from me! What I want is to be left alone!"
After work, Carmine spent much of his time in the machine shop of a high school, learning to use lathes, automatic screw machines and other stuff he would never make any real use of. Carmine was shaped like a knish, and I thought of him as a "knish- embodied intellect" (when I was a child, my mother would sometimes refer to me as a "disembodied intellect" ( an appellation which I greatly resented).
Since Carmine was a very good scientist, and knew my brother Quin,a physicist,I spent much time with him in scientific discussions. Above his desk he had some unusual pictures, such as one of the president of American Episcopal with his eyes picked out. Another was of his scientific mentor, Professor Wooden, now of Harvard.
Due to my wife's prompting I had earlier tried to interest Carmine in young single women we knew. He soon made it clear that he resented these suggestions. He would respond with something like, "I don't want your worn out old whores" - this about a pretty, vivacious young woman who certainly did not fit this description.
In any case, the three friends began to date Viv. However, they dated her, all three together. They would arrive together at her house, take her to dinner, go to a movie or a play, and, still all together, return her to her home, with perhaps a chaste kiss goodnight.
For about three months, Viv loved it! To be courted by three men, at least one of whom was an outstanding scientist, and none of whom appeared jealous or tried to make demands incompatible with her Catholic purity. It was too good to be true.
However,about four months into this relationship, Viv began to be puzzled and peevish about it all: Where was the follow-through? Obviously she couldn't marry all three.
I believe that they all owned up to loving her, whatever that meant, but apparently, marriage was never discussed. Then one day, Viv came to work,her old self but more sparkling! She held up her hand. She was wearing an engagement ring.
To my surprise, the lucky fellow was not one of the three mouseketeers. He was the maitre'd at one of the towns' fancy restaurants. Viv was wildly happy.
Not so the three mouseketeers. Collectively, and in the presence of their friends, they grieved and mourned greatly. " How could she do this to us?", was the cry. They were stunned, shocked, disappointed. It was even hard for them to believe: their Dearest Viv . . .
Viv was soon married, and, as far as I know, had no regrets. The three mouseketeers attended the wedding, and gave unusual gifts. Stan, for instance, who smoked little cigars, gave her a cigar butt encapsulated in clear acrylic.
Copyright © Lionel Luttinger. All rights reserved.
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