Yolanda opens by explaining that she and her sisters have a tradition of telling each other stories at night to determine who was the "wildest." For a while, at boarding school, Yolanda's "vivacious" personality attracted many callers. When she reached college, though, she found that most of her relationships did not last because she refused to sleep with her admirers. Her Catholicism had lapsed, as had her "Old World" background, yet for some reason she felt uncomfortable about sex. She explains that she is telling this story in order to work out why she never slept with Rudy Elmenhurst.
Yolanda describes one of her first English classes, in which she came over-prepared and felt out of place; she refers to feeling like an "immigrant" or "greenhorn." This feeling is linked to her lack of social experience, her awkwardness with the English language and her family's idiosyncrasies. Rudolf Brodermann Elmenhurst, the third, is the only student absent from the class, and she feels a connection with this unknown person because he, too, seems an outsider. When he breezes in ten minutes late to class, completely unprepared, it turns out he is very comfortable in most social situations and experiences none of Yolanda's acute discomfort. She is too embarrassed to ask that he return a pencil she lends him, and flees the classroom right after class. At 10:30 that night, he knocks on her door, offering the pencil back. She has been working on the love sonnet assigned for the English class, and tells him she’s doing homework. She does not trust Rudy, feeling that she "had nothing in my vocabulary of human behavior to explain him" (92). However, she agrees to have lunch with him the next day. At lunch, they talk nonstop until dinner, and are soon dating.
Despite his insistent coaxing, however, she refuses to have sex with him. She helps him write his love sonnet for English, and is surprised to discover in class that all of the images have hidden sexual meanings. She is so ignorant, in fact, that Rudy has to draw diagrams of her reproductive organs to explain why she will not necessarily get pregnant if she sleeps with him. Ultimately, however, she is troubled by Rudy's careless attitude towards language, sex, and even other symbols like the American flag. She wants sex to be elevated, as she believes language should be. After he insults her about her unwillingness to sleep with him, she leaves his bedroom and holds herself aloof for the next few weeks. She fantasizes and dreams about him helplessly, but makes no moves. Finally, at the spring dance, she sees him with another girl and realizes this girl has been the beloved of all his poems for their English class.
Yolanda resumes the story five years later while in graduate school in upstate New York. She has become bohemian, taken lovers, dropped acid, and is on birth control. One night she receives a call from Rudy asking to come over. He brings a fancy bottle of wine, but again his crude, casual attitude towards sex infuriates her and she throws him out.
Throughout this chapter, Yolanda relies on language to guide her personal and moral choices. The story is an attempt to tease out her troubled relationship with Rudy Elmenhurst and with language. She hopes that putting the events into words will help clarify her own decisions. Ultimately, she concludes that she refused to sleep with Rudy because she saw his irreverence for language and sex as implying lack of respect for herself.
Rudy and Yolanda speak different languages, literally and figuratively. Rudy's native English and his personality give him a freewheeling attitude that Yolanda lacks. She senses that the Americans around her seem more comfortable in their skin, just as they are more comfortable with the language. Yolanda, meanwhile, cannot use English casually, nor can she shed her belief in the sanctity of sex. She is troubled by the crude terms Rudy uses for sex and by his irreverence for symbols she respects, such as using the American flag as a coverlet.
Yolanda metaphorically compares Rudy's physical gestures to a language and complains that Rudy fails to understand the importance of suggestion, connotation, and varied vocabulary in bed. Though his body is instinctively sexual, he does not see how two types of kisses may be as different from each other as "screwing" is from "making love." His failure to appreciate the subtler aspects of language is ironic given that the two have poetry class together, where they interpret texts in which every word choice can alter the meaning.
Yolanda, meanwhile, is deeply sensitive to the world of symbols. She respects symbols, including language, signs of national pride such as the flag, and of religious belief such as her crucifix. She sees continuity between the world of symbols and the physical world, sensing that one's attitude toward a symbol reflects and influences one's attitude toward the thing itself. Speaking about sex casually therefore amounts to treating sex casually—and by extension, lacking consideration for herself.
Yolanda's trouble with sexual liberty and language is also linked to her confusion about her mixed identity. Her parents are stiffer and more conservative than her American classmates' parents are, and she has not grown up with the typical crude jokes or slang that offer the first step to being at ease with one's body and sexuality. Yolanda recognizes that one's way of talking about something can influence one's attitude towards it, and her discomfort with English—revealed in her overly grammatical speech and her feeling that she's "imitating someone else" (95) when she uses coarse language—affects her feelings about sex.
By the end of the chapter, Yolanda has become sexually active, yet still refuses to sleep with Rudy. After Rudy leaves, Yolanda struggles to uncork the wine he brought, an action that may be read as an allegory for releasing her sexuality. Yet she still takes an ironic tone when she compares herself to a "decadent wild woman" (103), remaining self-conscious and distanced from her body. She recognizes that drinking from the bottle suggests oral sex, and uses her imagination to take power over an otherwise embarrassing and upsetting scene.