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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The Surprising Sexual Turnabout Of A Small Town - Where Women Were The Serial Adulterers

Amy Lord grew up in New Brighton, a small New England town known for its industrial past - the hardware and armaments industries served the Union Army well in the Civil War, and the Remington repeating rifles saved many a doughboy in WWI - and thought she would never leave.  There were the Sandersons, close friends of her parents, godfather to her brother and champion golfers; the Reitbarts, celebratory Catholics who served at St. Joseph's; and above all the Parkers.  

Barrington Parker (Barry) was the most attractive man she had ever seen, more handsome than Gary Cooper, Alain Delon, and Clark Gable all put together. A man with charm, wit, manners, and generosity that her mother flirted with, that Mrs. Carlson had had an affair with, and that all the women in the West End bridge club talked about. 


The gossip about Parker and his assignations made the rounds so many times that they became epic, far beyond any man such was his allure and desirability.  He had what these proper, well-tailored, settled women wanted in those days - a man who paid attention, who showed genuine interest, who cared. 

Take Penny Lord, for example, wife of Ardmore Lord, Vice-President of the Burritt National Bank and Trust, a dull man, dutiful in his attentions but desultory in his affections.  She, mother of two children, logged in to housework, tea parties, and golf, wanted only some reference - some clue to the fact that she was a woman, not just some disposable unit; not love necessarily, nor sex, just more than a common denominator. 


There was Herman, the plumber who said he would 'fix her pipes', the breadman who offered her an extra loaf of rye, the pharmacist who suggested drugs, and a lawyer who said he would defend her in a divorce; but all these men were just incidental distractions. 

She finally took her intentions and ambitions elsewhere - to the big city where men were many and available and sexual indifference the rule.  That is to say, while not interested in becoming a Belle du Jour, patrician legatee to a family fortune with untamed desire and free afternoons, she was not adverse to some sexual liberty; and so it was that on Tuesdays and Thursdays she took the New York, New Haven & Hartford to the city and sat with a glass of sherry at the Oak Bar of the Plaza until she was noticed. 

It was only a matter of time until word got back to New Brighton about her New York dalliances, but by that time she didn't care.  Her husband Ardmore had hardly noticed that she was gone two times a week, and rumor had it that had his own little cinq-a-sept with a boy from Branford.  

A marriage of convenience, but all in all an unusual one for the likes of conservative New Brighton - a part-time escort and a gay man sharing the same bed seven nights a week both hoping for some kind of reprieve from the shameful duplicity of it all.

Norma Levin never thought she would have sex out of the faith.  Born and raised a conservative Jew, celebrant of weekly shiva, temple attendant, and volunteer for the Hartford chapter of the United Jewish Appeal, affairs were for Shiksas, not for a nice Jewish girl like her; and besides, her husband's furrier business would suffer if anyone found out.  If all the hook-nose, money-counting, hunchbacked Merchant of Venice caricatures weren't bad enough, imagine the Jezebel,  Delilah Jewish temptress remarks which would follow her. 


Yet, she was not an unattractive woman, and was noticed in company.  There were not a few men who wanted to bed a Jew, and since marriage, divorce, or even a long term paramour relationship were never possibilities, assignations could be ended as easily as cutting a bolt of gabardine. 

So she surprised herself with her sequence of lovers - none particularly unique or sexually inventive, but adoring in their own way; and by and by became part of the trade. She had little in common with Penny Lord, the Catherine Deneuve Belle du Jour. They lived in different worlds but shared this surprising life of anonymous sexual favors. 


If a Jew and a patrician New Englander could end up in the same West Side day rooms, what did that say about sex...or class for that matter? 'Women are like that', offered one of New Brighton's alderman when the other life of both women came to light. 'Othello', he said, reminding us of the general who killed Desdemona to save men from yet more female perfidy.

All women of New Brighton were definitely not like that - or at least not to that extreme. Infidelity among the wives of the community was de rigeur, almost a rite of passage.  In an ironic turnabout of classic male adultery, the Stepford Wives of the town left their homes every afternoon between three and five and came home to cook dinner.  It was the men who were faithful in New Brighton. 

'What's going on here?' asked the men at their weekly Rotary Club meeting. 'Are we sheep?' but as each member shared his experiences - obliquely it must be noted given male ego - the group knew that something was indeed up. Sexual dalliance was their territory, their prerogative, not their wives'.

The New Brighton Rotary Club became a venue for male bonding.  Men who had been cheated on, cuckolded, formed a natural, indissoluble bond; but for all the unity and resolution, the train had left the station and they could only look on from the platform. 


Amy Lord, the young woman so attracted to Barry Parker, the Casanova of New Brighton, who despite her romantic interests was one of the few women of the town who kept her own counsel, an outlier, a 'One of a kind', said the Rotary men reflecting on how their town, once a redoubt of male privilege and place, had become a place of sexual indiscretion and female errancy. 

Yet herd mentality and the dynamics of small towns being what they are, Amy had been spotted on the 10:13 headed for New York, an innocent trip to Bonwit's or Saks perhaps, but that, the women of the town concluded, was as unlikely as a trip to the moon. 

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