— Chapter Eighteen: It’ll be worth the wait! —
Comedy of Errors may also be purchased from Main Point Books in Wayne.
By the time Stewart caught the train back to Philadelphia, he was at once elated and fearful. Part of him wanted to avoid the whole idea of making his cartoons a commercial enterprise, and truly considered the option of building a life based on a steady income and relegating cartooning to an enjoyable avocation. Unfortunately, the dream of finding success in business was limited by what he thought had been a mediocre education and by being a junior designer at the chewing gum factory. He also didn’t have the training or most of the skills necessary to manage people or payrolls, or to develop the products or services that would cater to the needs of industry or the public.
He could see why Whitney had an obsession with horse racing, but Stewart also recognized that Whitney could afford to take chances that he himself couldn’t. When he looked into the future he could envision multiple versions of his life with a family, friends and financial security, but he also could see himself taking risks that he wasn’t capable of sustaining that would lead him to repeat the failures of his father, who had deluded himself into imagining non-existent dreams that ignored reality.
At lunch, Whitney had outlined a proposal that seemed more than fair to Stewart: a two-year contract based on a hypothetical number of papers taking on his Kafka series, with a marketing effort to support it and which might dovetail into the publication of The Cargyls series. By industry standards, the price per cartoon would be set low at first, and would remain so until the syndicate could justify increasing the payments to Stewart. At the end of the two-year contract, the syndicate could end its relationship at any time, thus releasing Stewart from any of the contractual agreements they had imposed on the young creator. Stewart would then be free to market the cartoons on his own, or to try to get a better deal with another syndicate. But, as Whitney pointed out, the success of the cartoons in the future would require Stewart to negotiate agreements, and to forge his own contractual relationships with newspapers or magazines to maintain and sustain his income.
“This is a very special offer I’m making,” said Whitney. “It’s based only on my willingness to financially guarantee your relationship with Field, so that they will take you on with little proof of your performance and only my opinion of your work. If I’m wrong about you, or the work you create during the two-year contract, I lose... both my credibility with the company which purchased our syndicate, and financially by my personal agreement to back you.
“But if you achieve success, and create a market that adds to the bottom lines of the newspapers under contract with the syndicate, you win, and I win. If you then decide to go off on your own, you must pay me back for my investment and guarantee me, or my estate, 20% from any profits you make from future earnings from newspapers, books, greeting cards, t-shirts, etc. based on the cartoons you have published during your contract with Field, and up to the time of your departure.”
At this point in the discussion, Stewart’s head was about to explode. In the short term, he’d be funded and allowed to further develop the cartoons he’d already created, but after two years he could either be forced out by his own failure, or he might have to negotiate new terms... with no guarantees.
Despite the seductiveness of the offer, Stewart realized that what Whitney was proposing required a full-time commitment to a job that might only last two years, after which all bets were off that he would have enough talent and grit to keep up the pace and quality of his product for enough years to secure himself financially.
He returned home shortly after dinner and spoke to his parents about his meeting and his day in New York City. In the telling, Stewart thought of E. B. White’s story, Stuart Little, and how, at the end of the small book, nothing was resolved for the tiny mouse/man, but he had grown from an experience that had expanded his sense of the universe.
His parents were encouraging, and his mother was dazzled by her son’s meeting with Whitney, who was a man known for his acumen in politics and business, as well as for his position in New York society.
Stewart then called Carol, but got her mother, Margaret, on the line, and found it necessary to introduce himself and to explain about his working relationship with her daughter. Margaret then recounted her story of majoring in illustration at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and her hopes to pursue her career after the completion of her studies.
“I enjoyed sketching in pencil,” said Margaret, “and my family supported my pursuits, but after working in the field for a couple of years, I realized that there were many things I enjoyed more than art, so I pretty much gave up on a career. I married early and devoted my life to my husband and Carol. And since Andy died, I’m thankful that I’ve been able to be there and provide support for her through this difficult time.”
After Margaret finished relating her story, she called Carol to the phone.
“So how’d it go, Stewart?” she asked brightly.
“Better than I expected, but I’m still reeling from the decisions I have yet to make.”
“But it was successful, right?” asked Carol.
“I believe so. Mr. Whitney, the man I went up to meet with, seems to be a fine person, and I think I trust him, but I still need to run his proposal by my lawyer to see what he thinks.”
“That’s probably a wise move, Stewart. So when do we go out to celebrate?”
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to wait until I actually have an agreement in hand, but if you’d like, we could go to a movie and stop for a pizza afterwards, if you’re up for it. I’ve already looked up the movies playing in the area and have two suggestions: The Odd Couple’s at the Tower, and The Thomas Crown Affair’s at the 69th Street Theater.
“I haven’t seen either,” answered Carol. “But I think I’d prefer to laugh than to think, so can we do The Odd Couple? When would you like to go?”
“Saturday night?” asked Stewart. “The movie starts at 7:00... with pizza at Pica’s afterwards?
“But I’d rather not bring this up at work,” continued Stewart. “If you don’t mind?”
“I definitely agree,” said Carol. “Especially since I’m the hussy who’s cheating on her dead husband.”
Stewart chose not to comment on that and then added, “I’ll pick you up at 6:30, but I don’t know where you live.”
“152 Copley Road.”
“That’s practically around the corner from me,” said Stewart.
“I know!” responded Carol.
“I’ll tell you more about my trip on Saturday. And, I guess I’ll be seeing you tomorrow at work. Have a great night.”
As they had previously discussed, neither Stewart nor Carol spoke of their upcoming date to anyone at the office. Saturday was just two days away and when the day arrived, the weather was pleasant. Stewart drove the short distance to Carol’s house, from which they would walk to the theater, a distance of less than a half mile. He rang the bell and Carol answered, and though it was to be a casual date, he was pleased to see that she was wearing makeup, was dressed in a pleated skirt he’d never seen, and had let down her hair from the pony tail she always wore to the office.
When they left the house, Stewart pointed to his car parked near the corner of her street and said that it made sense to leave it there instead of trying to find a parking spot near the theater.
Along the way, the two spoke of projects at work and the limits of creativity imposed on them by management.
“The cartoons on the reverse side of the Swell wrappers are stupid,” announced Carol bluntly. “Jules is lazy, and he just finds his jokes from published books, and I do what I can with the trading cards, but basically, they’re cast-offs.
“Doug doesn’t seem to be motivated to change anything, but I try my best to make them look as good as possible.”
“But it’s steady work,” answered Stewart. “I’m just happy to have a job away from engineering. I’ve taken an idea to Doug for a card with a Sports Hero theme, but he seems to think that it’s too complex and costly for the firm when buyers are paying only a dime for six cards and a stick of stale gum.”
“I can’t complain,” said Carol. “On nice days I take the bus to work and walk about a mile to the plant. When Andy and I were together, we rented an apartment at Lawrence Court, and I’d walk almost every day. It took less than a half hour for the whole trip to there and back. But once he was drafted, it wasn’t practical for me to maintain, so I moved back home.”
They arrived at the theater early, bought popcorn and Cokes, and talked quietly in their seats until the previews.
“Tell me about Andy,” said Stewart.
“He was quite a guy,” said Carol, smiling at the thought. “He and I went to Beverly Hills together, as well as Upper Darby High afterwards. You probably never met him, as you had never met me, since we both were three years ahead of you in school.”
Stewart was surprised that Carol would freely admit the age difference between them. It was only three years but, unlike Debra, she wasn’t the least bit concerned about withholding information.
Carol continued, “I dated Andy through high school, and got pregnant in my junior year. Fortunately, it was in the late spring when it was confirmed, and my parents helped me get an abortion during the summer before becoming a senior. No one knew about it but Andy.
“I was a wreck through the whole thing. I knew that there was no way I could care for a child, but my emotions were so messed up that I cried about it both before and after the procedure.”
Before Carol had time to finish her confession, the lights went down and the previews of coming attractions began playing.
Carol smiled at Stewart and, while grabbing a handful of popcorn from the box, turned to the screen and said, “I’ll tell you more about it later.”
Although Carol was content with leaving the conversation unfinished, Stewart was distracted by Carol’s frankness about her pregnancy. After dating Debra, who admitted nothing about herself, Stewart was surprised that Carol didn’t hold back, even if he wasn’t quite ready to hear the entire story, and he kept wondering just how graphic she’d get in her admissions.
Fortunately, the movie was quite funny, and they both enjoyed a lot of laughs listening to Neil Simon’s script through the hilarious performances of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon. After the film was over, the two walked back past Carol’s house to Stewart’s car parked at the corner. During the walk Carol completed the story of her breakup with Andy and a string of romances she’d had after entering art school.
“I got on the pill in ‘65, since I didn’t want to go through the torture I’d put myself and my parents through during my pregnancy and the abortion. It was extremely difficult to find some place legitimate that would do the procedure, but my parents, although Catholic, were committed to ending the pregnancy and both maintained the belief that I should finish school and not be forced to either keep a child at my age or give it up for adoption. Although abortion has long been considered a moral evil by the church, it was one tenant of belief my parents could just not tolerate.
“As soon as the pill was available, they insisted that I begin taking it as prevention that was more morally suitable to my parents than abortion, and I had already proven that I couldn’t be counted on to use condoms or wear a diaphragm.
“In my senior year at Philadelphia College of Art, I reconnected with Andy, and we were married shortly before he was drafted last year, and we lived with my parents until we got the apartment and he went to boot camp.”
“That’s some story, Carol,” said Stewart, who had never heard any girl speak so frankly about sex. At this point, he hadn’t gone much past second base with a girl, and was shocked to be told by a girl he barely knew about her whole sexual history.
The two drove the mile from Carol’s street to Pica’s, where they had to wait on a list for a booth to be cleaned. During that time, Stewart told Carol a condensed story of his life, and spoke only a little about his relationship with Debra, her secrets withheld from him, and his talk with her mother after Debra stuck out her tongue out at him and embraced and kissed a man she apparently barely knew outside her house.
After telling Carol that Debra was 30, Carol burst out laughing. “She makes me look good. I have no excuse that I was only just 16 when I got pregnant, but as nasty as I may have become at times to my parents and those around me during that period, I never acted that childish.”
The conversation lightened after Stewart’s own confession about Debra, and the two shared a pizza and enjoyed root beer floats. Carol began to discuss her hopes and the path she saw for herself.
“I really enjoy graphic design, and I’d love to be an art director, but as a girl, it’s tough to get a decent-paying job in the industry. Most of the girls I went to school with are either teaching art, or doing paste-ups, like I am.
“You’ve seen what I do every day, Stewart. You aren’t even educated in my field and you have a better chance of making an impact on the world than I ever will.”
Stewart thought about what Carol was saying and asked. “If you had the opportunity I’ve been given, would you quit your job and take Whitney’s offer?”
“If I had your talent, Stewart, and was a man, I’d take it at any cost. But being a woman, I’m not sure it would be best for me. There are hundreds of me out there, like plastic dolls stuffed into the bins at the five-and-ten. Many have a great amount of talent and someday it may be easier for more of us to get ahead and make decisions important to the world. But it’s too soon now. I know that what I ultimately want is to be a mother and wife, and that if I had the chance you have, I might muff it by getting married, just to have children and security.
“So obviously, I’m not the right person to ask.”
Stewart was quiet again, and then indicated with a nod that they should get going, He paid the check, and as they walked to the car, Stewart stopped abruptly, at which point Carol asked, “What’s wrong? Did you leave something back there?’
“No, Carol. I just feel sad for you. Do you still miss Andy?”
“More than I can say, Stewart. I think of him every night, and pray for him, for whatever that’s worth. He was a good man, and always kind to me, even when I screwed up.
“But I also understand that Andy’s no longer alive, and nothing I can do will bring him back. So I can’t lock myself away from the world or from everyone in it.”
“I can understand that,” said Stewart. “By the way, I’m almost 21 and I’m still a virgin.”
Carol broke into a big smile and laughed, “You mean even after dating a 30-year-old woman....for how long?”
“Almost a year.”
“Well, Stewart, as soon as we can find a quiet and secluded place, I’m going to help you change that status.”
They drove back to Carol’s parents’ house, and after he parked the car she reached over and gave him a long, deep kiss, and then, before leaving the car, she reached down and felt his cock rise.
“No, Stewart. We’re not doing that here. I’m going to be sure you get the full treatment from a lady who’s been waiting quite some time to again enjoy and be enjoyed by a man. I promise you, it’ll be worth the wait.”