You Are So Beautiful to Me!: The Case of the Gay A!
|by Dave Frederick|
Thirty years ago in the dead of winter I slept on a slatted bed minus the slats. My mattress was thrown on the floor and a bed frame was erected around the parameter. It gave me a sense of security like a cat sleeping inside a wicker laundry basket.
My roommates, Hog Body and Pigpen, had more sense than to schedule a class in English Literature at 7 a.m. a few weeks past the winter solstice. But like Eve in the garden, I was turning over a new leaf and had decided to come out of the cerebral closet.
I stood up and rubbed my eyes, turning back to look at my bedding. We had something in common. We were both unmade.
I trudged southward down Walnut Street to the campus of West Chester State. West Chester was a phys ed school and most of the women walked into daybreak carrying hockey sticks and wearing shin guards. I have a basic rule. I never mess with a woman who can throw me out trying to stretch a single into a double. I was a sort of flunky intellectual athlete moving from college to college. West Chester was whistle stop number six on the enlightenment train to spiritual nirvana and I was majoring in Psychological Anthropology. I chose that major because I admired Professor Marshall Becker, a snippy little bearded bastard who enjoyed ripping the smiles from faces of education majors. "Dopey little education majors," Becker called them. Back in 1968 Becker offered a grade of A to any male in the class who would wear a different dress to campus for a solid week. It was Beckers way of making a point about cultural accoutrements.
Some round-shouldered, hairy backed, odd duck in my class wore a formal gown the following Monday. He sat in the PIG (Purple and Gold) cafeteria, drinking coffee by himself before class. The boy showed no behaviors expressing what sociologists call "role distance" (like riding backwards on a hobby horse); the mother-humper just wore dresses for five days and got his A. But for this guy it was not cultural courage; he was just a misfit, as they say in the clothier business.
My English Literature professor was 15 minutes late the first morning of class and it was freezing and still dark outside. I slouched with my head resting in my left hand supported by my elbow. Most of the class was filled with older women side stroking back into the educational mainstream. I was an oddity, an athlete with an attitude with a distaste for the dry and mundane. I was about to receive a "rouge" awakening.
First I heard the singing and then the slipping and sliding of skipping feet. A tall angular young man in a three-piece suit and slicked back hair came skipping into the classroom and up and down each isle. And then he "pranced" out into the hallway and tippy-toed back inside. Dr. Romanelli then appeared to do this free interpretive snowflake dance around his desk while singing opera.
And then it was on to J.R.Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings trilogy and some book called The Hobbit that was to be read first. "Have you read The Hobbit young man?" Romanelli asked with a sigh, looking directly into my face. "Hobbit Long Cassidy," I answered with my customary smirk. "Hobbit Long Cassidy, Do Tell," Romanelli countered, making me feel a bit uncomfortable.
Becker was out of the blocks and sprinting down the scatological shock track one afternoon in Physical Anthropology class and I was hanging onto his every insult. "A species is simply defined as infra-fertility," Becker said softly with an air of academic pomposity. "The only reason man and chimps are still separate may be lack of experimentation." Prize student Joe McCloughlin, from working class West Philly, practically flew out of his chair. "My friend Rico will experiment. Would you like his phone number?"
Becker did not hesitate. "Tell him to go over to Cheney State (black school) and practice!" Two dark skinned Afro-headed women looking like Angela Davis with a lifeguard tan just bugged out their eyes but never said a word. I thought Becker was definitely an academic "bad ass." He was a common, low down, insensitive, academic bandit. Thats why I admired him! I found Romanelli entertaining and amusing but for 1968 when the slogan was "Better Blatant than Latent" he was way beyond gay; he was downright exuberant if not ebullient.
"Id like to see Dr. Romanelli," I told the office secretary one late afternoon a week before the final exam. "Just follow the opera aria," she said sarcastically. "Look for his head peering above one of the cubicles. Hes acting particularly silly today, even for him."
I hadnt been to Romanellis class in weeks. I had taken no tests and submitted no papers. Every dark morning I just curled up in a tight ball when the alarm went off. I could even make my head disappear like a real Tom Cat.
"Dr. Romanelli, I havent been to your class and I havent done a thing because Im basically a prisoner of my own bad habits. So I was wondering if you would just give me a D and well forget the whole experience." I looked for a human reaction to my obnoxious and outrageous request. "Did you say D? Is that what you said, D? You want me to give you a D? I should just take out your computer card and pencil in the letter D? D, as in Doctor?"
"How about I as in Einstein?" I joked. Romanelli smiled. "I am definitely not giving you a D. No way Im giving you a D. You dont deserve a D." "Youre right," I said. "Good luck with The Hobbit and his mythical friends!" "Im giving you an A!" Romanelli screamed as I left his cubicle. "And why would you want to give me an A?" I asked turning around. "Because youre beautiful," he said. "You are just so beautiful!" Later I grabbed a tankard of coffee and sat down next to Joe McCloughlin and Becker at the PIG, slightly dazed from my Romanelli experience. "See that boy in line by the cash register," McCloughlin asked. "Dont you think hes biologically attractive. Forget about sexuality, Im just talking about intra-species attractiveness."
"Sure, I guess so. Hey Joe, do you think Im beautiful?"
Becker spit out his coffee. The intellectual McCloughlin gave an emphatic "No!" But I have a transcript that proves otherwise. I also bagged an A in Physical Anthropology I didnt deserve. What was that all about? Why couldnt my professors just like me for my mind? After all, some of them just hated me for it!
Dave Frederick is a Sports Writer for the Cape Gazette and a teacher at Cape Henlopen High School.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 8, July 2, 1999