High school was a true learning experience. I realize it's supposed to be a learning experience but for me it wasn't the learning experience that was probably intended. I learned about human interactions, the power of personal insecurities and how to exploit a position of power. I learned how people can stab each other in the back and still pretend to like each other for social gain. I learned that people that feel a need to get even for how they were treated in high school do so by becoming high school teachers.
A small town school has three basic types of teachers. The first are people who always wanted to work with kids and become educators and care less about their career than the fact that they can be doing their lives dream. The second type end up in a small school because they just aren't good enough to teach anywhere else or didn't have the spirit to move up. The third type looked around a class room one day while they were still a student and said "I'll show them one day, I'll run this school and then they'll be sorry". I guess there's something to be said to sticking to a plan and having passion but it didn't make life any better for the students.
My schools tended to a majority of the second two types. The school district was basically where teaching careers came to die. Since the average lifespan of a teaching career can span a few decades we had the added bonus of having teachers our aunts, uncles and parents had. If this has happened to you with siblings then you know that this means if your older sibling was better in sports or mathematics you were then expected to achieve their high standard. That never happened to me. Instead I had to get the shop teacher my uncle had punched and the gym teacher that had been bullied by my grandfather in grade school. I knew these things because they had made it a point to tell me on multiple occasions.
Older kids and family had told me horror stories about high school and for some reason it affected me. I felt intimidated even though I had breezed through middle school academically and had survived the induction to the naked friends club in the gym showers. Besides the fear of teachers that had suffered abuse at the hands of close relatives I was concerned I wasn't smart enough for the advanced classes in high school. So when it came time to choose what classes I would take I chose the the easiest ones I could. General Math instead of trigonometry and physical science was set aside for general science.
My first day of classes my freshman year I knew I had made a mistake. General Science was held in what we referred to as the old high school and in what could only be considered a basement. The shelves were lined with poorly maintained jars of animals and various parts of animals floating in sickly green and brown shaded formaldyhyde. The jars were old and a few weren't sealed well and half the liquid was gone. It was probably circulating through the air around us mixing with the asbestos and lead causing any number of lung and brain disorders. Some were so cloudy you couldn't see what was in them unless you tilted the jar like a macabre version of the lucky 8 ball. "Will I ever find true love?" .. answer: Pig pancreas.
By this point I had gone to school with the same 200 or so students for nine years and knew something about all of them including who was dumb and who was smart. As I watched the other kids slowly filtering in I realized I was in with the dumb kids. I sighed to myself realizing it was going to be a boring class and when I was bored I was usually in trouble. At least there was stuff to look at in the room. (If you're reading this now and realize you were in that class with me I don't mean you were dumb, I mean the other kids)
Just before all the seats were taken someone surprising walked in. Her name was Crystal and though she wasn't one of the cheerleader type popular girls she was very pretty and very smart. I didn't know much else about her except that she had moved into the area about 5 years before so was still considered a "new girl".
She stopped just inside the doorway and looked around the room for a seat and to see who was there. She sighed and a "I'm with dumb people" look came across her face. I wasn't very popular with the "dumb people" (probably for referring to them as the dumb people) so the chair next to me was empty. "What are we doing here?" she said as she dropped her book back on the table next to mine." We"? I was flattered she put me in the same category as herself. I was so flattered I realized I would do anything for her. "well" she said looking at the jar of dessicated rat fetuses I'd grabbed from a shelf , "at least you'll make it interesting". I now had a mission.
Throughout middle and high school if I liked the teacher I was the class genius and if I didn't like the teacher I was a nightmare. I had no pity for people I thought I was smarter than and teachers were no exception. Whether I actually did know more or not wasn't really relevant. The school counselor once asked me why teachers had such a wide and varied opinion of me. I didn't have an answer but I did picture them sitting around the smoke filled teachers lounge discussing me like I was a mental patient with dual personalities.
The Teacher for that general science Mr. Fleet and he wasn't a real teacher. He was instead a Gym teacher fulfilling the rule that every teacher had to teach at least one real subject a day. PE didnt' count. Since he probably wasn't qualified to teach much of anything he was given the easiest class available. And even though he was a new teacher he made a point that first day to tell me he had heard about me. Later when the other students asked me what he meant by that I tried to be mysterious so I would shrug and say "I'm famous".
By the 4th day of class my prediction that it would be a boring class was proving true. I was in for a very long year. General Science was really remedial science and every lesson was an insult to my intelligence. Crystal and I didn't really become friends but we did develop a relationship similar to prisoners sharing the same cell. We entertained each other and knew we were the best option for intelligent human contact in the class. In the free world outside of science classes we didn't even acknowledge each other.
Mr Fleet was a dumb jock to his core so rainy days always put him in a rotten mood. One particular rainy day the class was rowdier than normal and I had the distinct impression Fleet was hungover. It's hard to say for sure though, since I was a little buzzed from cocktail I had that morning in the parking lot. The class was supposed to be quietly reading the textbook but instead Crystal and I were discussing Golden Girls and I was laughing entirely too loud.
Fifty minutes into class Mr Fleet had reached his limit and decided to say something. He slammed his palms on his desk and stood up slowly and said "Mr Berger, Why do you think it's ok not to study in my class?". I knew this tactic all too well. He was trying to embarrass me in front of the class. He didn't realize I was from a family that embarrassed me so much I was building up quite an immunity. What an amateur.
I don't know if it was something in his dramatic gesture, the forced pitch of his voice or the fact that I had been charged with making the class more interesting but whatever it was it triggered my response. "Mr Fleet why do you think it's ok to be named after a brand of enema?"
At that moment I experienced something very similar to a religious epiphany. Time stopped. I could hear the drums of my ancestors pounding in my ears. My senses became extremely acute and from the back of the room I could see his face flush red all the way to his ears. Time snapped back then as if to catch back up and he virtually flew to the back of the room to confront me. I stood then to meet him or more precisely in case I had to run. There was no sound and he leaned slightly forward as if he were going to reach for me. His fists clenched with the want of my my neck in their clenches. Then he actively forced himself to calm. It was obvious to me that other people had made this joke before and possibly his entire life. My classmates however had not heard of Fleet brand enemas before and thought it hysterical but couldn't allow themselves laugh out loud.
Since Fleet suppressed his urge to attack me physically I could in turn repress my instinct to run away. He forced a calm look to his face that anyone could see was fake and said "you will not pass this class if you don't read the book" outwardly ignoring my comment about his new nickname. The drums in my head beat faster and my buzz was gone. He had decided since he couldn't hit me it was best to try to spar with me verbally. Excellent. For years the only weapon of self defense I had was verbal. I had honed my words to be as sharp and as efficiently deadly as a dagger in the night. I was a verbal ninja and he didn't realize he was practically unarmed.
"Maybe you would need the book to pass this class but I don't" and I picked up my book and handed it to him raising one eyebrow in challenge. Then to enhance my disdain turned my back on him and sat down. If this were any other kind of confrontation this 25 year old redneck jock would have jumped on me fists flying I'm sure. He stood there with his face as red as his neck and his mouth slightly open in a look of surprise. Like I had just knocked a sword out of his hand with a butter knife.
The gods of Timing were on my side that morning and the bell rang before Mr. Fleet could regroup. I gathered my things but left the textbook and hurried out of the room. But not so fast as to appear scared. Once outside the door I was past the point of immediate retaliation and thought I had won.
By fifth period word had spread and everyone in school had heard the story about "Coach Enema". A name that haunts him 'til this day. A few of the jocks didn't think it funny but at least respected the testicular fortitude of the encounter. I came to find out I was admired, hated, feared and also suspended. I thought this was a petty retaliation. Why couldn't he just take his loss like a man?
After a week of sitting in a time out room in the library instead of going to science class I was allowed to return. He started the first period I was back by saying "Mr Berger please come up here and get your book". I couldn't believe he was starting in already!
"No thank you Coach ene... uh Fleet. I really don't need it". Of course almost calling him Coach Enema was not a true slip of he tongue. I was too proud of his new name not to acknowledge it just a little.
"Fine, it's your grade" and he never mentioned the textbook again. I had won this mini battle but the war wasn't really over.
The following weeks rolled by and the class was mind numbing. It was 4 days of 20 minute lectures followed by time to read the book I no longer possessed and a test on Friday. The test was only 10-20 questions that I could finish in about 5 minutes, I would then allow the rest of the class cheat from my paper. I didn't talk much. Crystal and I would sometimes pass notes but for the most part the classroom entered a tense peace. Or more precisely a temporary cease fire.
The second major battle happened during the classes on genetics. as Fleet was explaining the passing of traits to offspring. This was slightly interesting to me so I was actually listening to his lecture this time. He pointed out that if you have a male with brown eyes and a female with blue eyes then mathematically the offspring would have a 25% chance of having blue eyes with no recessive trait for brown, a 25% chance of brown eyes with no recessive trait for blue, or 25% chance of blue with recessive or brown with recessive.
So I raised my hand. He saw me but didn't acknowledge me. My hand stayed in the air. After his internal struggle he finally called on me. I asked "so is this for every trait then?". The class tensed in anticipation since I hadn't said anything to him I didn't have to in weeks. It was an
"yes" he replied with just a hint of suspicion.
"So if they both had blue eyes then the offspring would have a more pure trait of blue eye color right? superior and stronger?"
"Exactly" he replied getting excited that I was actually getting into the subject matter for a change. Or maybe he was happy he finally knew something I didn't. His happiness was short lived.
"Well then. The only way you could be such a stud of man with such a pure masculine trait is if both of your parents were men"
The happiness on his face melted like a cheap candle. "Sit down Mr Berger" was all he could say out loud. I knew he was rattled because I wasn't standing up. He shot me a look that clearly said "I could beat the shit out of you". I responded with a smirk that said "I'm 15 years old and I know you wouldn't dare try it". I won again.
He didn't suspend me this time but he did refer me to the school counselor. Mr Hopkins was a wiry little guy not much bigger than the students he counseled. He would walk through the school very quickly giving him the appearance that he was trying to look busy. His head moved in quick jerky movements when he spoke. All of these traits combined gave the impression of a plucked chicken.
His job was usually about helping the students choose a career. And by career I mean helping them chose which factory they'd work, what they would raise on the farm or whether or not to go into the military.
"So Steve, I understand you're having some problems with Mr. Fleet". The Chicken Man had left me sitting across from him while he scratched around his office for several minutes before he perched on the edge of his desk. His statement made me jump a little because I had become hypnotized by his movements.
"No not really" I replied ".. I think he has a problem with me that's why he sent me here and not the other way around". He just stared ahead for a moment while I watched him work out the "other way around" part of what I had just said. It was the first time I had seen him completely still. If he were a true Chicken Man this would be when he laid an egg.
Mr Hopkins didn't really know how to handle the situation so he just made me promise not to bait Mr. Fleet anymore and sent me back to class with some brochures for the army.
I kept to my vow of not opening my science book and finished the year with 100% on every test but one. The test was a fill in the blank diagram of a dissected frog. There were arrows pointing to the various organs and a line next to the arrow for the answer. The one answer I couldn't get had the arrow pointing to the frogs groin. I panicked since this would be the only answer I'd miss for the entire class! I looked to Crystal who was busy copying my answers to her page to spread to the rest of the class. I couldn't come up with the proper answer but I could at least not leave it blank.
I was always first to turn in my exams and Fleet always grabbed it right away to grade it. I knew he did this hoping I'd made a mistake. That fateful day he got his wish. He bellowed to the back of the room "Mr Berger.. can you come up here and tell me what you wrote for #10?" Again he thought he would embarrass me. Seems our teacher was a slow learner.
"Certainly" I said and walked up the front of the room looked at my paper on his desk like I really needed to read it to see what he meant and said "Frog Pecker". Over half the class has copied from my paper and knew what was on it already but this was the opportunity for them to laugh out loud about it.
"No" he corrected "it's called the cloaca" This was a boon for 90% of the class that wasn't finished with the test. So now Cloaca is a term I never forget but like much of what I learned from Coach Enema it is also a term I would never use again for any practical purpose.
Now my nephews have to put up with Coach Fleet with the added bonus of my history with him his first year of teaching. They have a bit of protection that I didn't though since they're jocks and my brother-in-law is also a teacher at that high school and one of the Enema's friends. They're not allowed to call him that of course so I recommended they refer to him as Summer's Eve.
I have to point out that I wasn't just a contrary kid that didn't get along with authority figures. I just never gave them authority just because they happened to be standing in front of a classroom. My fued with Mr. Fleet made sense. He was a hyper masculine womanizing jock and besides that we were polar opposites. I doubt we'd have gotten along in any situations. Especially any situation where he assumed he was superior.
That same year to balance out Coach Fleet I had two very gay teachers that I got along with just fine. For History I had Mr. Gray. He had been my mothers history teacher 15 years before and she nearly had a panic attack when she found out he was to be one of my teachers. My mother was horrified when she found I had been assigned to the teacher that used to maker her cry and give her nightmares.
My mother was very shy in school and when called upon to answer a question she would often speak very quietly or not at all. Mr Gray tried to break her of this habit by bellowing at the top of his lungs "PRO- JECT". This made her cry. She told me if I ever had problems she'd go to the school and throw a fit until they moved me to a different class. I liked him already.
I excelled in History because History class is essentially story telling and Mr. Gray's style of oration was hynpotizing. It wasn't his voice since everything was delivered in the same beige monotone he'd developed over the last 20 years. It wasn't the effeminate flourishes of his hands It was his perspective on the situations and his own commentary. You could tell he once found this personal input clever but it had been repeated so many times it was now void of all depth and flavor. I laughed anyway. Maybe this is what made me his favorite or maybe he sensed I was gay like I instinctively knew he was too.
Another reason I liked Mr Gray was that nobody else did. Especially my mother. Normally I didn't talk about school at home since I learned in 4th grade neither my mother or stepfather were very useful when it came to helping me with my homework. However I would often mention how much I just loved History class. I would talk about how clever Mr Gray was with his commentary. Or I would retell a story about him yelling at someone that was not not paying attention. Or the time he compared me to Matt Dillon (which history has shown I no longer resemble) This greatly upset my mother. I never found out if it was because he had made her cry when she was in his class, because she didn't' like me emulating someone she hated so much or if she was worried I would pick up his feminine yet monotone tendencies.
He was also unshakable. Nothing every threw him off balance. When a girl would cry because she had forgotten her homework he would look at her stone faced and unmoved by her tears. During class one day I turned the page on my notebook showing a clean piece of paper. He thought I hadn't been taking notes which meant I hadn't been paying attention.
"Oooo oo ooo ooo ooo " he would say with each "Ooo" somehow both escalating and monotone at the same time . "Mr Berger are you paying attention to my fabulous story about Louis and Marie?" He could go from lecture mode to conversation or admonition mode so smoothly it took me a moment to even realize he was speaking to me and not weaving my name into the French Revolution.
When I recovered I responded to him in his own monotone and pitched perfectly "yes Mr Gray your fascinating and wonderful story has my full attention and I could not be more interested"
A few giggles escaped the mouths around me but in truth half the class still hadn't realized the conversation had shifted.
He wasn't phased. "Mr Berger it would behoove you to come to my desk and show me your notebook so that I can confirm the veracity of your statements." I stood eagerly knowing I was in the right. Whenever I've been thought of as guilty and my proof of innocence is at hand it's better than Christmas.
I walked my notebook to the front . "Ooo oo 000h ooo .. Mr Gray you will see that my notebook is in order and there will be no further reason to waste our time away from your engaging dissertation" Though I was only 15 years old I watched a lot of Marcus Welby reruns and knew a lot of big words.
My notebook was in order.. he thanked me, apologized and continued as though nothing had happened He didn't even compliment me on my perfect mimicry of him. But as I was walking away did I see some sparkle in his eye? was it approval? was it appreciation of my wit? I never found out.
The best test to his unshakability came months later though. You see Mr Gray though obviously gay was also married. His fairly masculine and horse faced wife was our school librarian. She never talked much and I guess since it was the library there wasn't really a reason to. I tried to picture their home life. Him sitting in a lazy boy reading a book on Fashions Of the 14th Century Despots and her watching women's tennis hoping he'd be the one making dinner. I could never picture them referring to each other as "honey" or "darling" or even by their first names. She was such a cold woman I couldn't really imagine her in a relationship with anyone other than a disinterested cat that would run away if it wasn't so old.
I was wrong though. Mrs. Gray did in fact have a relationship it just wasn't with Mr. Gray. One day she woke up and decided she'd had enough with being married, enough with working in a tiny library in a backwater school and packed up and left town with the love of her life. The Girls Gym teacher and volleyball coach. That really changed my image of her. Now I had no problem picturing her in a relationship! The two of them at golf tournaments, photography museums and remodeling their 1890 townhome! I know that's stereotypical but so is a librarian running off with a gym teacher so technically they started it.
Good gossip like that has a life of its own and a need to be known. Within a day everyone in town new Mr Gray had been abandoned by his wife and should be reeling in grief at finding out his wife was a lesbian. All those students who felt haunted by his stare and tortured by his lectures may even get to see the old man cry.
But true to form it was business as usual in History Class. We were still in Europe and the lecture was on the royalty of Northern European countries. Joey Miller was caught talking and Mr Gray called on him "Mr Miller is there something more important than my description of the Dutch Monarchy?"
Joey wasn't one of the smart kids and didn't have an edge for snappy white trash responses like I did, so he did the best he could "yeah I heard your wife left you for Mrs. Bates".
A few people giggled but most of us held our breathes waiting for an explosion of some sort. Mr Gray didn't blink, He didn't even pause "I lived with Mrs. Gray for 17 years and she never mentioned being related to the King William the third. And Until Mrs. Gray is considered Dutch royalty she will not be on the test so I suggest you pay attention to my fascinating story, Mr Miller."
Perfect. Beautiful and to the point. The timing and delivery of a comedic genius with decades of experience with the hecklers. If there was any doubt before Mr Gray had my respect now.
At the end of class that day I took my time getting my books together so that I could be the last one out. Mr Gray never watched us leave. He was always looking at his attendance book or taking some note. When it was just him and me in the room I turned and said "Good job".
Then the unheard of happened. He looked up from his papers, looked me square and the eye and smiled. "thank you, Steve... I thought so too"
I never told any of my peers about that moment. It was like seeing bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. Nobody would have believed that Mr Gray had any emotions much less show them and I would be ridiculed and maybe lessen the experience. Besides if anyone believed me it may diminish the persona that I then realized he had crafted on purpose.
I had started hearing whispers about my other gay teacher in eighth grade.
"I hear they got a queer teacher now"
"Yeah he teaches drama but them drama types are always meat gazers or lezzies"
Of course after hearing this I had to sign up for drama class.
Taking over our drama department in rural Missouri was Mr Gibbons' first job out of college. I first saw him while I was still in Eighth grade. The big kids were putting on You're A Good Man Charlie Brown and he brought them to do a scene for us during lunch. Like most high school productions it was loud, over acted and turned the stomach slightly less than school lunch chili. Mr. Gibbons shined as though the middle school just witnessed their first brief glance at Broadway.
Mr Gibbons was young and looked even younger. A blond beard was grown to add some age to his face but it didn't quite work with his features. He often wore mirrored aviator sunglasses giving him the appearance of always being in disguise. If 70's porn star could be considered a disguise. If this didn't make him stand out enough he showed up wearing a sweat suit. A pale pink oversized sweat suit. "yep" I thought "that's a queer".
I knew then that I'd be in drama class. I would be one of those loud kids with poor skills and bad skin butchering classic theater in front of farmers and factory workers. I didn't crave the limelight since I'd had enough of that in my younger years and I wasn't particularly interested in live theater. I realized it was just something I had to do. Some type of instinct would draw me there. I also wanted to be next to this new teacher. I wasn't sexually attracted to him but I wanted to be around him. I thought I could learn something important though I didn't know what. I still don't know.
As a Freshman I wasn't eligible to take drama class so I had to take the alternative, Theater One. Calling this class "Theater" was false advertising. It was held in a classroom and nowhere near a stage. We learned a lot of terminology and history and once in a while a few make up tips. I wasn't very interested and didn't pay close attention to the class. But I didn't have to really. Much of the test material was subjective and I miraculously got all E's. Which is the equivelant to an A in the rest of the world.
My plan to create some commeraderie with Mr. Gibbons never quite worked out. He would whisk into the classroom after the class was all seated and start with the lesson. With arms flailing and wild gesticulations he would give his disjointed lectures rapidly in short bursts. Much like the monkey he was named after. By the end of the semester we were allowed to be stage crew and do make-up for the plays the older kids. But this meant we took direction from a Senior student and not our teacher. He was everywhere all the time during a play production and the older kids got to call him "Mark".
I ended my Freshman year knowing very little about Mr Gibbons and only slightly more about the theater. My greatest accomplishment was that I was the only kid in my class to get an E+. I've had them before but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I did not earn this one and this made me feel warm inside.
When it came time for sophomore year I signed up for the real drama class. This was the first class you could take and then be eligible to be in any of the school productions. I had also signed up for the Forensics team. I originally looked into it because it sounded like something with crime scene investigation from Marcus Welby MD. . I realized later it was really about an acting and speaking competition. I stuck with it anyway since the coach is always the drama teacher. I had done everything I could to make that connection with "Mark".
Our first meeting of the Forensic Team was before our actual classes started and we all found out that two years in Missouri was too much for Mark and he had quit during the Summer. The new drama teacher's name had been printed in the local paper so we showed up at school to meet Cruella Audley (I'm not one hundred percent sure I remember that name correctly but I assure you it's very close) What a name! this conjured up all types of movie star types in my head so I stayed on even though the reason I joined the team in the first place was now gone.
As it turned out Cruella didn't look like some sexy and sultry Disney villainess. Instead she was rather rough looking with heavily pock marked skin, wearing denim overalls and hair like a chemical burned hair that looked like a dehydrated poodle. I realized she was a woman with no real flare at all. The school system wouldn't burn her out. It had already happened.
I decided to make a concious effort to be nice since I was already signed up for drama class and she was now all I had. At our first meeting of the Forensic team I said "Hi Cruella!". Now I thought I was being friendly and making her feel at home in her new job by using her first name. Mark would have appreciated it. She thought otherwise. The look she shot me was one that wasn't hard to figure out. "don't use my first name, I hate men, I hate you and this is going to be a long and painful class for you".
I interpreted that look perfectly. That next semester was miserable for me and the few other boys in class. Cruella seemed to have the philosophy that drama class is for no talent fat girls that were probably just going to get knocked up before prom anyway. I had a feeling she was getting back at all the men that had dumped her over the years. Or maybe a man did that to her hair.
I thought I had her all figured out when I noticed her having lunch with a male teacher that also started the same year. His name was Mr. Johns and he was short, dumpy and had skin as bad as Cruella's though without the benefit of stage make up. At first glance I thought he might be wet because his skin was always so shiny. Cruella and Johns would huddle down when they ate their lunches and always looked like they were plotting against the students and possibly the other teachers. Whatever they were talking about I was convinced at least half of it was about me.
The Next semester I had Yearbook and School Newspaper classes back to back. This was my opportunity to meet Mr. Johns. He saw me come into class and shot me a glance I read as dislike but with a bit of fear. They had been talking about me. I instantly disliked him for taking Cruella's side and automatically disliking me. Johns was a brand new teacher and didn't have a lot of self confidence and that was something I knew I could exploit. I'd get back at Cruella through her only friend and it started today. "Hi Johnny" I bubbled from the back of the room . Johnny was already on the defensive and mumbled something about respect. Maybe his face turned red it was hard to tell through the shine. I had him now and he didn't have a chance.
As bad as Drama class was for me my yearbook and newspaper classes were great. I maneuvered myself to be in charge of advertising and so had the benefit of assigning who had what advertising accounts for both classes. This meant I took the companies that advertised every year for myself insuring I really had no work to do the entire time. The school had an open campus policy which meant I could show up for class and then disappear for 2 hours supposedly selling ads. If Johnny got mad or suspicious I'd just bring him donuts.. you can't go wrong bringing a fat teacher donuts.
Much later I found out later that Johnny was having an affair with one of the male students. I had walked in on them having an argument once and after that he was forever afraid I had caught on and would bring it up. I knew the argument looked different but I never put the two together. One I didn't want to think that shiny whiney teacher was gay and two I could never think of him in any sexual situation ever. The student was 17 and Johnny was about 23 or 24 best I could tell. I'm not sure if it was illegal since women got married at 15 all the time in Missouri.. of course that entailed her being pregnant so the rules are gray at best.
To Kill a Mockingbird was our next school play and because of the lack of students in drama class I was able to get a part against Cruella's will. I thought the book was brilliant and had read it at least a dozen times so learning my part took about two minutes. This meant for the rest of rehearsal I had a lot of sitting around time to deal with and Cruella hated this. This was my stage premier with a speaking roll but I was already bored and tired of it. The boy playing the judge made every statement like he was Paul Lynn and so all I could think was how she was turning this play into a Southern version of Bewitched. Which in retrospect would probably have gone over much better.
Not much exciting happened for that play until a week before we were to perform. I was lounging around in the seats while Cruella marked the stage and the Freshmen took turns painting black face on our Tom Robinson. And then, Cruella had a visitor. Walking down the theater aisles up to the stage was a boy I had never seen. He looked about our age, wearing overalls hiking boots. In his left pocket was a wallet with a chain running to the loop normally used for carrying a hammer or a paint brush. In a town where most people knew each other it was odd to see someone your own age you didn't know. Especially if he's cute.
As thihes boy walked over to Cruella she handed her a different wallet, this one without a chain. As he reached forward I saw the outline of a bra and breasts. This wasn't a boy at all. This one of those girls that looks like boys. I guess Cruella and I had something in common after all.
Part of theater training is learning how to project and Cruella regretted teaching us that when one of the girls bellowed "Who was that? But it wasn't the polite "who was that" as in.."my it would be wonderful to make that persons acquaintance" it was "Who was, THAT!" as in "how could you bring something like that into our school?". Cruella wasn't ruffled she simply replied "that was my roommate, she was bringing me my wallet" Everyone exchanged odd looks. Whether it was because her roommate looked like a boy or because she admitted she carried a wallet I'm not sure.
The steel look on her face is one I've come to know and have used quite a bit myself. It was "this is me and it's a non-issue" it was "I will not let anyone look down on me for what I am" and it was "If I keep going on as though nothing has happened nobody will say anything". She was convinced it was working and the rest of the students were going back to what they were doing. Then her eyes met mine. I had been staring at her and so she stared back with a blank look. I did learn one thing from her that I use to this day and that is how to convey a feeling with just your eyes. I smirked and gave her the look that said "I know your secret and I'm just letting you know that I know" She should have given me a passing grade just from that.
Though I was brilliant the play was a terrible flop. Cruella had no problems telling us that either. She blamed us for not knowing our lines and for not following the direction and over acting. It was a lot like a coach yelling at his team. Though she didn't say anything specifically to me about my performance I was really tired of hearing her yell even though she did make some of her former pets cry. So I sailed in to the rescue. "Cruella this is an award winning script from a brilliant author and you still couldn't seem to pull it off, I really think this is more about you than it is about us. Mr. Gibbons always had great plays" I lied.
Her face turned so red some of the heavy make ups she used to cover her pock marks started to slide off leaving cracks on her face like a dried up lake bed. "Mr Gibbons also ran off with three thousand dollars from the theater account" she said through gritted teeth, the split ends of her dried out perm quivering around the edges.
Well that ended the mystery of why Mr Gibbons left After that I gave up on drama class and theater because I knew that as long as she was in charge I didn't stand a chance. I never bought her excuse that she was under funded instead of under talented and would let her know from time to time. I coasted through the rest of the year with an average grade and no real chance to cash in on the knowledge that she's a lesbian.
At my ten year class reunion I found out Mr Gray had retired and moved out of town. Cruella and Johnny still worked there but had more or less segregated themselves from the other teachers. A few of whom were my classmates in her class. I hope she's mellowed some and gotten better information on hair care. I also hope she's no longer crushing the dreams and talents of the other small town gay boys coming through her class.