Ruminations of a Red Dirt Hussy

November 27, 2011

Offense taken

Community colleges bring together people who might otherwise have remained strangers. That very quality is what attracted me, but I’ve found it to be a blessing and a curse. I mean, you can shop at a different grocery story if your last cashier wore a T-shirt that said “Forget the baby seals. Save the baby humans,” and you nearly bit your tongue off trying not to respond with “You’re lucky I don’t take a club to you.” Not that I ever would. Not twice, anyway. But that’s a whole other rant. The point is, I can’t just line up another class when mine becomes mutinous.

I love my job, but I remain haunted by one of the first semesters I taught full time. I had the usual room full of 18-year-olds, but I was pleased to see a young man in his twenties and an older man, probably mid-fifties. Olaf was the younger, and he fit the name perfectly—blond, stout, hair thinning on top but leading to curls to the middle of his back, an earring.

The older man, whose name I honestly can’t remember so will call Dick—for no particular reason so get your mind out of the gutter—seemed pleasant, polite and talkative, and I left the classroom that day feeling good about the coming semester.  Oy—I should have listened to my mother—hope for the best, expect the worst.

I had chosen two or three movies and a number of readings for that semester, and everything seemed to be working together to create a good class. Then I did it. I showed To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. The tale of three drag-queens headed from New York to California to compete in a Drag Queen of America competition, the film was rated PG-13. The only “profanity” was a very mild use—once—of the word “dick.” It contained very little violence and was a fun comedy. I mean, I looked it up, for crying out loud.

We watched half of it the first class period, planning to watch the rest the next class. Before that day arrived, however, I received an email from “Dick,” cc’d to my associate dean, my provost, the college president, and our state congressman. In it, he said that I was “promoting” homosexuality in my class and said he had been mortified to sit through the first half of this movie and hear the word “dick” used in the presence of mixed company.

To say I was shocked is an understatement. However, while I intended to complete the film during the next class, I didn’t want to cause offense to those who might object, at least not those who would object that strongly. I emailed all students and told them that if they were in any way offended by the movie, they would not be penalized for not coming in to watch the remainder.

Dick was the only student who didn’t show up. I quizzed those who did to make sure they had received my email and were aware that they had a choice. They all looked at each other and me as if I had lost my mind. We finished the movie. Nobody died. Nobody became a homosexual. Nobody asked me to pray.

Dick remained a thorn in my side the entire semester. He didn’t like the quotations I used to teach MLA documentation (“Religion is the opium of the people”—V. Lenin; “Special-interest publications should realize that if they are attracting enough advertising and readers to make a profit, the interest is not so special”–F. Leibowitz; “Arguments are to be avoided; they are always vulgar and often convincing”—O. Wilde).  He wondered where I found such drivel. Books, I told him.

He disliked my car (a Subaru), my bumper sticker (Imagine Whirled Peas), my grading practices (punitive), the poster on my office door (Eric Clapton), and just about every word that came out of my mouth. I was glad to end the semester, and glad, too, to see that he caused the same upheaval in his subsequent classes. Thank God it wasn’t just me.

And what of Olaf, the quietly intelligent guy in the back row?

He received his master’s degree in English last spring. He says I inspired him.

I don’t know whether it was my gnashing of teeth, wails of “Why me?” or failure to give in and jump off a bridge. What I do know is that the Olafs of the world make it possible to overcome the Dicks of the world. And it’s always worth it.

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9 Comments »

  1. OMG, I love this!

    Joan

    Like

    Comment by Left-Brained Business for Write-Brained People — November 27, 2011 @ 6:55 pm | Reply

  2. I never tire of hearing this encounter. And, you are correct….it’s always worth it.

    Like

    Comment by Pam K. — November 28, 2011 @ 7:31 am | Reply

  3. I find the Dicks outweigh the Olafs, buy a bushel and a peck, but still worth finding and cherishing. You are my Olaf!

    Like

    Comment by lottie — November 28, 2011 @ 3:09 pm | Reply

  4. It was my first semester of college. I was horrified that I would flunk out. You taught me that college was a place where ideas were explored, where we could learn form our differences, and where we could (except the Dick’s of the world) find some common ground. More importantly, you told me I had potential and that I was a good writer. John Mercer might disagree that I’m a god writer (teasing you Doc), but you inspired me to try something new; you inspired me to try a Literature course.
    I went to college to be a physical therapist and make a lot of money, you helped me discover my love for research, and my love for teaching. It was odd in 2008 when I taught my first Comp I in the classroom you taught my Comp I class. Guess what movie I showed.

    Thank you for everything,

    Olaf

    Like

    Comment by olaf4 — November 29, 2011 @ 10:05 am | Reply

  5. I knew you were a good teacher the first day. I just didn’t know how good. Thank you for doing what you do, how you do it, Carol. Btw, I’m sporting Whirled Peas myself.

    Like

    Comment by Michelle — December 1, 2011 @ 6:48 pm | Reply

  6. Whirled Peas? I don’t get it. Is it a gay thing or something?

    Like

    Comment by Rick Gee — December 16, 2011 @ 3:15 pm | Reply

    • You are such a dip. World peace? Whirled peas? I’ll swear. I try to speak proper English, and what do I get?

      Like

      Comment by vadasmaker — December 27, 2011 @ 2:22 pm | Reply

      • In all my many years, I’ve never been called a dip. I’ve taken a dip and snacked on some dip, but that hardly qualifies me to be called a “dip” unless it is an abreviation for “diplomat.”
        It was satire; I swear.

        Like

        Comment by stinky pete — December 27, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

      • Like I didn’t know satire when I saw it. *snort*

        Like

        Comment by vadasmaker — December 27, 2011 @ 3:07 pm


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