So, there was this guy. Kind of a warmed over activist or something. Wouldn't surprise me if he got gassed more than once during the Sixties, but didn't actually remember it, what with all the various consciousness raising and lowering agents.
I guess he signed up to teach this particular class because he could imagine, or had experienced, the clientele. I mean, Feminism and Revolution -- not a big stretch. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.
Most of the students that first day were people I knew, many from the previous semester class on Language and Gender (L&G). And something like half of them lived on our floor in the dorm. The Powers That Be thought segregating upperclasswomen, we few, we happy few, who were still in the dorms, from lesser beings (by class or sex) would be a good idea. OK, so I farkled the sentence, but you catch my drift. This is not an essay for class, thanks. I concur, by the way, but not, at all, for the reasons they imagined.
Well, sure, the place was quieter. Susan B Anthony Hall, han the freshpersons' dorms. More fresh women, too, which was kinda the point, from my perspective at least. The Susies made a nice tight little society, pretty much self-contained, except for faculty interactions of various kinds, and assorted other intrusions.
And Annie. She was certainly one reason I liked the place; a reason the Powers That Be hadn't reckoned on. Or with. Neither had Dr. H.
It was an interesting class. Being a physics major, I got kinda used to being in classes full of guys, with a decrepit grey-haired man for a prof, usually with an airline ticket hanging out of the pocket of his tweed jacket. And a few scorch marks, from pipes carelessly left lit while being put away in those pockets. I'm surprised more of them didn't maroon themselves in parts unknown, by igniting their return tickets. And the eyes. Let 'em look, if they have to; the campus is physically a pretty safe place. Pity all the night lighting blotted out the stars, though.
It was, as I was saying, an interesting class. I have a suspicion that Dr. H. was partly feeling out for potential recruits for his nefarious leftist schemes. Sometimes I thought he was so far out on the left wing as to be around behind the Speaker, someplace in the bleachers where some of the more violent advocates of change could be found.
When you're an undergrad, things seem white and black, or, in our case, shades of brown, and so his arguments were strangely attractive. I figured out much later that he was just good at finding our buttons, and manipulating them. But there's plenty of revolution to be had, and plenty more arguably needed, some of it in places where students actually in the class had come from. The thing about foreign students is that more than domestic ones, they tend to live in the dorms. As Annie put it once, a toilet has flushed in Susie Hall every day for the past thirty years. A lot of the girls had no place to go for holidays, so they let them stay.
So we have a setup. I typically try to write fiction by creating a mood and a situation and a character or two, and then just try to keep up, writing down what the character does with the situation. Doesn't make for scintillating plots, but hey. In many ways this is a typical and derivative ana-story, looking at lesbian feminism in the academy. And the character isn't exactly new; Ed Hulver could be the same one in my other Ed Hulver story, or CBBs stories even. And the narrator is, or could be, the subject of a blog-novel I've been working on for years now. I changed the name, but the innocent are unprotected. This one's extrapolated back to a more care-free time in her life, as an undergraduate.
I'm glad this isn't being graded; I seem to be writing around in tight little circles. Or curls or something. Like the hair of perhaps half of the students in F&R: curly and black. To match our eyes.
At this point I looked up, hit the word counter, contemplated the story, said to myself, "this isn't going anywhere good," but was so involved in the situation I couldn't leave it alone. So, on we go. With the disclaimer that would work well in a diary, but not so well in a story. I should have just gone back and filed the rough edges off the prose.
There was a day that spring. I got off to a late start; I often do when I'm not in my own bed. Annie had been up late, and, um, had her hands full, shall we say, so I slept in Jan's (the handfull's) room, so that, um, like, y'know. So come morning I snuck quietly into our room, and what I came away with was a sundress. Every spring I would discover that this particular garment was rather more, spring-like? than I might have liked. Hey, I was late, it was clothing, problem solved.
ooOOooo, implied boobies.
Well, not so fast.
First stop, E&M. The physics prof seemed quite distracted from his usual working out of differential equations and boundary conditions. We were just getting to the interesting part of a development he'd been working on for a week; the part where the smoke of theoretical electricity and magnetism as encoded in Maxwell's equations suddenly clears away and the prof stands back and says "Let there be light!", having written the wave equation. Poor Prof. K. flubbed his one good line.
Been there, done that. Not a whole lot of humor to be had in a science class other than the misappropriation of technical jargon, and then when it does come up, you flub it. The custom of calling Electricity and Magnetism (typically a junior undergrad course) "E&M" led me to abbreviate the character's other classes with two letters and an ampersand.
The next class was F&R, predictably on the other side of campus. So I'd usually hurry out of physics to make it to Dr. H.'s lecture in time to get a seat up front. Being short sucks sometimes, and sitting behind somebody else is one of those times. This particular day, though, Prof K. wanted somebody to commiserate with over his flubbed line. One thing led to another, and I was quite uncomfortable before I got him to back down. I think he was uncomfortable in a different way, but hey, his sexuality is Not My Problem.
Perpetual problem: lonely inept professors and nubile students. Always a tension, and often it's the student that has to restore civility.
I literally ran into Annie during the rush to F&R. What with being my roomie for a while, and, um, stuff, she recognized the tear running down my nose for what it was. So despite having someplace to go, and despite having had a handful of Jan the previous overnight, she dropped everything and insisted on coming with me, as a kind of moral support or something.
We were late. Dr. H. didn't like people being late. He didn't mind auditors, if there were enough chairs, and on this particular day, there were. I think a bunch of people were out Frolicking in the Sunshine or something. I remember it being a really nice day. Since I was late and flustered, he picked on me. He's one of those lecturers who tries to draw like half of his points out of audience participation. Which works well if people are willing to talk, or if he can get them angry enough. But, um, even the Susies were beginning to notice that, under the long grey curly hair and tweed, there was a seriously cute guy. So they were getting shy.
And of course the feeling is mutual sometimes, which merely complicates the situation when it isn't.
I opened my mouth. Serious mistake. I tried protesting that he was picking on me, but he wouldn't have it. Everybody is responsible for all the answers. "Besides, Ms Cohen," he said with what I suppose must be a twinkle in his eye, "You're like a scab, you're so pickable."
There certainly are people who can't resist reopening a wound, and walking wounded into such a shark cage is asking for trouble. Except, of course, that it's also required.
Annie boiled over. "Ed," she said, violating his unwritten rule against using his first name, "May I call you Ed?"
His mouth opened. His face got a shade or two redder. His mouth closed, unused.
"I wouldn't expect someone like you to understand this," Annie continued, standing up, all four feet eleven of her, and beginning to walk along the side of the classroom, toward the front. "But Rachel is one of my favorite people, and she's already having a bad day. These things can be kind of contagious, you know? And I'd hate for someone to try to scratch your other eye out today."
Nice, straightfoward, clichéd. Should have rewritten this part at the very least.
Sure enough, Dr. H. had a scratch on one side of his face, and a splodge of blood on collar and jacket to match.
But he was harder to flummox than that. I was trying to shrink into the floorboards, and, I think, in the process, I managed to compromise what there was of my sundress in the general direction of the podium. Dr. H. was unsure whether to ogle at me, or to address the more immediate threat of a petite harpie closing on him.
Ah yes, that dress. Almost a character in its own right.
People who think they understand things tend to stereotype lesbians of the more aggressive varieties as large people. Bull dykes, for example. And those with gender issues who grow up to be men of significant character. Annie was tiny and thin. She had the tattoo, the short haircut, and tended to dress in leathers and boots. Today, in a multi-colored T-shirt, with some of the colors of the rainbow long since faded out. But she also had The Eye.
Waaaay too blunt. Perhaps the whole first half of the paragraph could be excised. It's intended to be a physical description of this Little Person, but ends up being a page out of a sermon we've probably heard too many times. Might have been somewhat novel to the narrator, I suppose. But I liked the faded rainbow.
Things came to a kind of balance, Annie looking up at Dr. H. from perhaps ten feet away; he looking down at her, carefully avoiding her eye.
It seemed to me to be an unstable equilibrium, so I intervened in the direction of nobody getting physically injured.
"Um, Annie?" No sound.
I found my voice at last.
"Um, Annie? It's OK, really it is."
There was a flicker of doubt across Annie's face. Dr. H. flinched slightly.
"He's not harassing me, just teasing. It's OK. He's a lesbian."
Hey, what's a girl to do at the spur of a very awkward moment?
Both combatants turned to look at me, each with an eyebrow raised. The class tittered.
"Besides," I told her, "Yours is bigger than his, any day."
This seemed to break the spell. They examined the fit of each other's jeans. "And you'd know that, how, exactly?" they said together.
"Trust me," I said, trying to be enigmatic.
Just what, exactly, is she saying here? The author is stumped. I bet Annie wanted to know, too, afterwards.
It seemed there wasn't going to be anything further to learn that day, so I retrieved Annie's hand and walked her toward the door.
"Oh," she said, turning back to the classroom. "Thought you'd like to know that I did some searching, and you're not Ed Hulver, Ed. He disappeared under mysterious circumstances in Munich a few years back. But I'm sure there's a reason you'd want to use his name and his record."
Ed's otherwise ruddy face faded.
"See you around, Ed," said Annie. She made a point of kissing me in the doorway on our way out.
My version of Ed Hulver is an activist or maybe a kind of nefarious guy who's been there, done that, and retired. But his past keeps catching up with him. You'd think a nice university town would be safe, but most universities are built over the black holes in the political continuum, and getting involved in something is almost irresistible for those inclined in the direction of making people do stuff by force.
We didn't see Ed around, though. The History department chair took over, and the class was seriously boring after that. This was a guy who thought teaching within a stone's throw of Susie Hall was enough feminism for a lifetime.
Annie dropped out after our junior year, and I never heard from her again. The Susies graduated in their turn, most of them married and raised kids, all their ardent revolutionary feminist spirit sublimated to the biological clock.
I've since learned a few things from the hard science side of the campuses where I've studied. Enough to put some of Ed Hulver's crackpot ideas into motion. If Ed he be. But I'm not going to do it. Not anymore. Annie and Ed helped unbutton me, you see, so I'm not really susceptible to the kind of manipulation he used.
So there you go. The department chair thing is a little too Dead Poets Society, and I'm not sure we need the epilogue at all. I'm fond of desensitization as "unbuttoning", though, with all its multiple entendre.
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