Jive and Prejudice

enhanced-buzz-5008-1375426913-1Coincidentally today, on my 38th wedding anniversary, we finished Pride and Prejudice in the 10th grade Brit Lit survey course I teach.   I’d like to think that over the thirty years I’ve been teaching P&P, I’ve managed to come up with ways to make it engaging for the students, even for some of the boys, who, if they read at all, prefer action-packed fare like Fight Club or sci-fi/fantasy titles like Fine,We’ll Do It in My Spaceship Tower. Unfortunately, for them, in Pride and Prejudice, Napoleon’s troops don’t invade Merton and shish kabob Mr. Wickham, only to be repelled by non-commissioned Darcy and Bingley looking fabulous on their prancing steeds.

Anyway, to prepare students for the pleasures of P&P, you first have to get across that the novel is prototypical, that it’s the mother of modern romantic comedy. [1]

Once that’s established, I concentrate on the characterization, and what a rich array we have. It takes a rather humorless drudge not to find Mr. Collins funny and a very unobservant one not to have encountered an asshole like Mr. Wickham somewhere along life’s escalator ride.

Anyway, today, we looked at the last few chapters, especially the tete-a-tete between Elizabeth and Darcy in “Chapter 60” when she asks him “to account for his ever having fallen in love with her.”

He replies that he couldn’t “fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation,” which could very well describe my own falling in love with Judy Birdsong.

Like Darcy, “I was in the middle before I knew that it had begun.”

Judy jokes that we have a “marriage made in Milwaukee” because we met in graduate school as bartenders at the student union bar – the not quite immortal Golden Spur — back in those halcyon days when 18-year-olds could drink legally. I must have first met Judy B right before the Spur opened for the semester in a meeting conducted by University employees in charge of the Russell House. I cannot say that it was love, or even attraction, at first sight.

In fact, alas, these are the very first words I said to her after she had benignly asked me how it was going.

“You can call me ‘Wesley’” I said, “or ‘Rusty,’ but don’t call me Wes.”

Call me FitzWilliams.

Truth is, I didn’t take much note of her or any of the other neophyte bartenders because I was pissed off. I, the only returning employee besides the manager, had to jump through the hoops of the work-study application process to get my old job back.


I do remember on opening night we had a reggae band and the manager assigned Judy to exclusively work the cash register, which was really stupid and unfair. I felt sorry for her stuck there  for six-plus hours frenetically ringing up Schlitz Malt Liquors and Lays Potato Chips.

That was in August, but as the weeks progressed, I found myself looking at the schedule hoping that Judy would be sharing my shift. On the surface, we had very little in common. I dabbled in contraband; she didn’t. I had spent a night in jail; she hadn’t. She made straight As; I had racked up an impressive string of Incompletes. She supported Gerald Ford; I supported Jimmy Carter. Her family had a considerable amount of new money; my family had a considerable amount of debt. In short, I was wild, rebellious, immature, and penniless, and she was stable, a conformist, mature, and well-to-do.

Yet, over those weeks I came to appreciate her more and more. I remember one evening when I was checking IDs at the door.  She stopped, and we chatted, and I felt ill at ease. I remember feeling a longing and loneliness bordering on hopelessness as she was leaving.

Miss Judy Birdsong

Miss Judy Birdsong

Unbeknown to me, the crush was mutual, but I could not imagine such a nice, attractive, clever girl being interested in a lout like me, nor did she think that a rogue like I-and-I would be interested in a nice girl like her. However, we started to flirt and “pretend” to have crushes on each other. In fact, I remember coming into the Spur when I had a date with an ex who had dumped me the summer before and Judy’s standing behind the bar with a theatrical frown as she pantomimed wiping away imaginary tears.

What a dumb ass not to figure it out!

The good news is that it didn’t take an elopement and rescue a la Lydia and Darcy to bring us together, but merely alcohol, the liquid Cupid. Although the University was closed on election night in 1976, the Spur was open, and Judy and I were behind the bar, which closed at one, but the staff and a couple of regulars stayed on to continue watching the returns. Somehow after Carter had been declared the winner in the wee hours, one of us  made a move – we can’t remember who – but somehow we found ourselves sitting there on stools at the bar holding hands.

As it turned out, like Darcy and Elizabeth, we had more in common than we had thought, and despite some of Judy’s friends’ reasonable advice that marrying the 1978 version of me was a mistake, she did, and it’s by far the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me or that will ever happen to me.

7 thoughts on “Jive and Prejudice

  1. I remember so well the first time you brought Judy home to Summerville. Such a fun time watching you two sweet kids. And then being able to attend your wedding was just the best. Love you both so much and wish you many more happy years ahead.

  2. You know I always loved the juxtaposition of your lives. Your relationship had an extra dose of romance to think it might have been forbidden in another era. I will never read or watch P and P again without remembering the time I was visiting and you treated her like a jerk because you didn’t think you were good enough for her. You broke up for just one night and I was glad that red haired boy with the clever repartee was sticking around.

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