Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sugar or Ammonia

It hasn’t always been easy being spectacularly good-looking and charismatic. Even when I was in elementary school, even in those years when the two sexes viewed each other with befuddlement or even contempt, I think my male classmates knew instinctively that I would one day get effortlessly something for which they would have to fight and connive and deceive, and hated me for it. On multiple occasions, one of them would glue my head to the desk moments before we were to be marched out to lunch, or steal my trosuers. Having no idea how they would one day eagerly drown each other’s kittens to be the one with whom I was seen walking down the corridor of the History building, the girls would chortle derisively at my predicament, and our vice principal would send letters to my parents begging them to consider home-schooling me to prevent more such disruptions.

In the fourth grade, I had a teacher called Miss Gabby, at whose portrait the producers of Mad Men were apparently looking when they cast Christina Hendricks, Jimi’s great-niece, in the role of office sexpot Joan Holloway. She had the identical red hair, milky complexion, and lush figure. It was said on the playground that she had eyes only for Mr. Isenberg, the fifth grade teacher who looked a lot like Dodgers lefthander Sandy Koufax, but on the first Thursday afternoon of the school year, when she asked me to stay after class, I found that wasn’t the case at all. I remember getting dizzy from her perfume as she sat down atop the desk in front of my own, took forever getting her long shiny legs crossed, and asked if I’d consider making a tentative date with her for a decade hence, when I was 18. When I said I’d have to ask my parents, she sneered more alluringly than I’ve ever seen anyone except Sophia Loren sneer, and said, “Yes, by all means do that.”

I told Mother and Pop about the whole thing, but in those days you’d no more have accused a schoolteacher of sexual impropriety than a clergyman, and they insisted I’d imagined the whole episode. It was pretty clear, though, that I didn’t imagine the broken arm I suffered when Mr. Isenberg, seeing me riding my bicycle home on Manchester Blvd., lost control of his Thunderbird long enough to send me flying onto the sidewalk. When other kids broke limbs, their classmates would cover their casts with little drawings and endearments. The sentiment expressed most commonly on my own cast was Serves you right, asshole, in several cases with all four words misspelled.

In middle school, Mr. Dutton, the English teacher, took up where Miss Gabby had left off, claiming he was studying massage therapy to supplement his meager salary, and constantly inviting me to drop by his classroom after school so he could practice his rubdown techniques. Meanwhile, the school lotharios took turns waylaying me in various dark places and twisting my arm up behind my back, at least until they realized that you attract more ants with sugar than with ammonia, and that they might get farther being my friend than my tormentor. On the condition that I introduce them to their favorites of the dozens of girls who’d written my name or even drawn pictures of me on their looseleaf binders, they became my protectors.

Mr. Dutton’s very eloquent eulogy was delivered by girls vice principal Mrs. June Gerber, who was forever scolding us at the beginnings of school assemblies for being immature, the last syllable of which she pronounced tour, and who I realize in retrospect might have shared some of Mr. Dutton’s erotic leanings, except with her own sex, if you see what I mean, and you don’t, because you simply can't. If Miss Gabby is still alive, she must be 75 by now, but of course Mamie van Doren is around 102, and looks awfully good on her Website.

Maybe tomorrow I will talk about the trouble my spectacular good looks got me into in high school, and then in adult life.

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