Bledsoe at play in California

True—Harold Bledsoe had come to Torrey Bible Institute without much of a Fundamentalist background. Born to wealthy Bostonian Christian parents, he grew up in historic Plymouth Congregational Church, a stone edifice that honored its Pilgrim founders. Plymouth was big on social gospel, moral uplift; not so big on sin or the Cross. As a teenager in the church, Bledsoe bundled lots of undisciplined energy into his sculptured body and lifted weights several times a week. Plymouth’s pastor, Rev. Emerson Bodie, took Bledsoe on as his special project, confirming Harold at age thirteen—a ritual more like a tribal rite of passage than an affirmation of historic Christian doctrine. Bodie told him, “Harold; you’ll go far; God has his hand on you.”

Starting his senior year in high school, Bledsoe told Rev. Bodie, “I want to help young people like you’ve helped me.” But really, he wanted one thing—to get away, see the world.

“Harold, you want to help people and you like athletics. Why don’t you major in counseling and coaching? I’ll write you a college reference letter.”

So Bledsoe applied to Stanford (as far away from Boston as he could get), got accepted, and in the fall of 1948 drove solo to the West Coast. He loved breathing in the leather smell of his 1946 Cadillac convertible, a graduation present from his folks. With its three hundred forty-six cubic inch L-head V-8 engine, hydramatic transmission, fat bullet fenders and a spotlight, it turned heads.

When he arrived at Stanford, his roommate Jerry warned him, “If you’re a freshman, you can’t park a car on campus.”

But Bledsoe told the men’s dean, “Say, I need a car to take my disabled aunt to the grocery store a couple times a week.” The dean bought it—no one found out that his only aunt lived three thousand miles away—so Bledsoe got a permit to park on campus.

Stanford hit Bledsoe like a grenade. The war years had just past, and the pedagogues knew that education held the key to bringing peace to the world (ignoring the fact that educated Germans had just presided over the killing of six million Jews). Stanford’s entering freshman class planned for crazy—minoring in academics and majoring in fun, soaking up the easy living in the coppery California sun. A college degree guaranteed a job, so they studied whatever they fancied. Harold inhaled this West Coast world, a world where established custom, morality, traditional ideas, hung in a state of suspended animation. He signed up for ballroom dancing (for his phys ed major), English, modern sexuality and a film class. He studied casually, striving for the “gentleman’s C.” He wasn’t sure he really wanted a degree but he liked the ethos of Stanford, and he had no alternate plans. Besides, college would keep him out of the draft.

He loved hanging out and smoking with the other jocks in his genteel, testosterone-fueled fraternity. The guys would go to restaurants, beachcomb, body surf. His parents footed his bill, so he had money to drive his friends down along the old El Camino Real, where they hung out in Dinah’s Shack or Rickey’s Swiss Chalet, savoring the juicy burgers and fries.

And the California girls! They’d flung off the strict morality of their East Coast forebearers, along with miscellaneous articles of clothing. He wondered if they’d invented the saying, “Girls just wanna’ have fun.” He loved their impossibly long legs, painted toenails, their slim, tanned bodies and abbreviated two-piece swimsuits.

The beautiful Stanford girls invited Bledsoe to beach bonfires, drive-in movies. They relished riding in his black Cadillac convertible with its wheel skirts and white sidewalls, the wicked wind blowing through their hair. They loved his Boston accent. (Instead of California he said Californier).

In a word, Bledsoe was a chick magnet. He chased the girls and they chased him. He had an early liaison with a willing Mexican girl he’d met in film class. He told his roommate, “I love her Spanish accent, brown skin, black hair and eyes. I never knew any Mexicans growing up in Plymouth, Massachusetts. ‘Course I’m not thinking of marriage.”


Then came Bledsoe’s senior year at Stanford. By this time, his most exciting activity was reading Stag magazine. He didn’t broadcast his literary interest, rationalizing that it was private, harmless, and anyway, lots of other guys in the frat house read it.

Since he’d just turned twenty-one, he decided to celebrate with a drive down the coast to historic San Juan Capistrano. He was sitting in the Mission Grill sipping a Margarita and feeling good about life when a couple girls in two-piece bathing suits approached his table. They seemed hardly out of their teens—California-tanned, long blond hair, brown eyes, looking for adventure.

“Hi; are these seats taken?”

“Nope…. Are you guys in college?”

“Yeah; we’re both freshmen at San Diego State. We’re tenting down on the beach; wanna join us?”

An abrupt request, but of course he accepted. They jumped into his black Cadillac and let him drive them down to the beach.

The evening started out splashing about in the cold waves and continued with bonfire-roasted hot dogs on a stick washed down with beer. The girls joked with him, putting their arms around his neck, rubbing his back. He had no trouble reading the cues. Do they want what I think they want? he wondered.

The sky darkened, the moon rose, the fire died down. More beer, mixed with the taste of the sea-salted breeze.

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“Well, no. . . . I’ve got several friends but no girlfriend.”

In the fall, California beaches get chilly when the sun goes down, and the girls proposed that they retire. That night their two-person tent accommodated three, and the evening ended up with communal conjugation. Turns out, the girls were looking for a manage de trois with the next reasonable male they could find, and apparently he qualified.


The next day Bledsoe drove the several hours back up to Palo Alto, bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived, his head still spinning. He, a child of privilege, didn’t feel conflicted about the encounter, or indeed, about anything—he followed his emotions and animal desires. From the heady viewpoint of the broad sea-smell vistas along the California beaches, the high morality of his old Plymouth church seemed outdated.

6 thoughts on “Bledsoe at play in California

  1. No, Bledsoe isn’t autobiographical, except to the extent that many people share a common humanity, and that a writer usually draws on his/her own experience and on people in his/her life.


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