Truth would quickly cease to become stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it. – H.L. Mencken
In my column of September 18th I told y’all about Ralph, who “was one of the most singularly unattractive people it’s ever been my misfortune to meet; he had odd, asymmetrical features, a serious case of acne, greasy hair, terrible posture, a high, shrill voice, pungent body odor and irritating mannerisms. As if that weren’t enough, he wore ill-fitting and unfashionable clothes and was wont to show off his high mathematical intelligence.” He was a virgin and asked me for advice on how to get girls to like him, but wouldn’t accept anything I had to say! Several readers expressed an interest in knowing the rest of Ralph’s story, and I promised to tell it sometime this month; since one year ago today I published my column about Linda and her many idiosyncrasies, I figured it was as good a day as any to introduce you to several more eccentric New Orleans characters. I promise that, with the exception of the obligatory name changes and a few details edited so as to simplify what would otherwise be an incredibly lengthy and complicated story, what follows is the absolute and unvarnished truth; one simply can’t make stuff like this up!
As I reported previously, all my friends got to know Ralph, and he especially grew to admire my cousin Jeff, of whom I’ve written many times. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that after rejecting my counsel, Ralph decided to ask Jeff…who promptly suggested he ask me instead. Ralph explained that he had asked me, and when Jeff asked what I had told him and received the answer, he told Ralph that it all sounded like good advice to him. Jeff didn’t tell me how Ralph reacted to that, but one can imagine. Still, it seems to have sunk in a little; his hair soon became noticeably less greasy and more neatly groomed, and he must’ve found an anti-perspirant which better agreed with his body chemistry. But other than that, he was still the same nigh-hopeless case and his complaints about his virginity grew ever-bolder until everyone in our circle was sick of hearing it. Then one day, Jeff and I had a conversation which went something like this:
“What are we going to do about Ralph?” he asked.
“We?” I replied. “Please don’t tell me you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking!”
“Well, he wouldn’t be the first mercy fuck you’ve given.”
“Yes, but…you don’t understand. It won’t stop with just sex; he’ll get attached, and I’ll never be able to get rid of him. There’s no such thing as ‘no strings’ with needy guys like that.”
He realized I was right, but a couple of days later I mentioned the conversation to Philippa and to my surprise, she volunteered to break him in. I asked if she was sure, and reminded her of his clinginess, but she pointed out that her being ten years older than him, a divorced mother and a grad student who lived out in Kenner would make him less likely to attach to her than to me. The theory was good, but neither of us had allowed for Ralph’s self-defeating obstinacy; rather than gratefully accepting her kindness, he insisted on trying to negotiate MSOG and multiple hours! This of course infuriated Philippa and she withdrew the offer. Next, one of Jeff’s friends set Ralph up with a “sure thing” from the friend’s home town in Mississippi; he did go out with the girl, but (for some reason which nobody could adequately explain to me) that didn’t work out, either. Then one of my high-school girlfriends met him and decided to turn him into a “project”…also to no avail, though I think that was more her fault than his because she was notoriously flaky.
By this point, I had left the dorm for an apartment of my own and turned my very first trick; it was the spring of 1985 and one lovely Friday afternoon I was over at Jeff’s (there were no classes at UNO after noon on Fridays) when there was a knock at the door. I couldn’t believe what I saw when I opened it; there was Ralph, soaking wet and reeking of beer, with a giggling blonde hanging on his arm. He asked Jeff if he could take a shower and borrow a change of clothes, explaining that the girl (whom I‘ll call Lily) had spilled beer on him at an engineering department keg party (Jeff lived only half a block off campus, but Ralph lived miles away with his parents). Before too long he was clean and they departed, and I said to Jeff, “You’re not going to believe this, but that girl is sweet on Ralph.”
“She told you that?”
“She didn’t need to. Wasn’t it obvious?”
He had to admit she seemed remarkably affectionate toward Ralph, but he could scarcely credit his impression because this girl was seriously hot. I am not exaggerating; she had lovely legs, flawless white skin, a tiny waist, a beautifully-shaped bottom and enormous natural mammae. Her face wasn’t gorgeous but it was pretty enough considering everything else, and she certainly seemed fun-loving if a trifle indiscreet. I was certain she could’ve had any man in the science or engineering departments she had wanted…but for some reason she wanted Ralph.
Soon they were doing everything together, and though I quickly discerned that she was using him to get away from an abusive boyfriend, that hardly seemed to matter because she was giving him sex, and quite a lot of it as I understand. She made no secret of being a masochistic submissive, and that made sense in light of my impression that she had chosen Ralph not in spite of his repellent characteristics but rather because of them (though his clothing and complexion dramatically improved under her influence). It could’ve been a match made in heaven, except for one thing: as time rolled by, it became increasingly obvious that Lily was a psycho. Her friendly, even giddy façade soon peeled away to reveal a narcissistic, obsessive, jealous, amoral, thoroughly dishonest and possibly delusional bitch. She was also incredibly manipulative; I was not yet familiar with the term “topping from the bottom” but she sure taught me what it meant as she played Ralph like a violin. Within months she had managed to get him thrown out of his parents’ house, and because Jeff had a spare bedroom he temporarily took them in until they could find a place of their own.
By this point I found Lily repulsive; her horrible personality had destroyed any attraction I had felt to her, and her face was now always so twisted with anger and malice toward me (presumably because I was another beautiful girl Ralph liked) that I almost forgot I had ever seen her as pretty. But one afternoon during their brief stay at Jeff’s I learned a lesson I have never forgotten about the effect of personality on beauty. I had come over on some errand, and found her asleep on the living room couch; to my amazement, she had the face of an angel. In slumber, she was untroubled by whatever demons drove her while she was awake, and her face relaxed into its natural and lovely contours. But when she was awake that same face was twisted by her poisonous emotions into an ugly mask; the transformation was as profound as something one might see in a horror movie. To this day I remember that moment every time some feminist whines that it’s better to be valued for intelligence than beauty.
There’s not much left to tell; Lily led Ralph from bad to worse. He was expelled from UNO for stealing expensive lab equipment (to pay Lily’s bills), and she drove a wedge between him and his friends and family; the two of them even spread nasty rumors about people who had never offered them anything but kindness. A couple of years later I heard through the grapevine that they were still together and had good jobs, and then sometime in the early ‘90s Frank and Olivia (Frank had met Ralph before) ran into them at a Halloween party thrown by a certain famous New Orleans horror writer; Frank said that though they didn’t mention me, they were still badmouthing Jeff many years after having last seen him. This didn’t really shock me because it was obvious from early on that Ralph was starting to take on Lily’s personality characteristics; as I explained their story to Jack (whom I hadn’t met until about a year after Ralph’s expulsion), I remembered something that Jeff used to say about him: “Ralph is a minor character in his own life.”