Sunday, January 31, 2010

Perv.

This week I read an article about some high school teacher/coach who called a girl into his office before laying a hundred dollar bill on the desk in front of him and saying, "I'll give you that if you take your clothes off slowly."

My first thought was ew, and then my second thought was wait a second. That sounds familiar.

Back in high school, one of our history teachers was a notorious pervert. He'd been around for a while. In fact, he'd also been my mother's history teacher back when she was in high school. In her old yearbooks, there he is, a younger version of himself with wet-looking hair and a thick mustache. The look he is giving the camera makes it seem as if he's counting the minutes until he can go home, slip into his smoking jacket, light a cigar, and put on some Burt Bacharach. In short, he looks like a big, fat pervert.

"Oh, he was a big, fat pervert," my mother told me when she found out I'd be having him for a teacher. "He wasn't even sneaky about it. He announced at the beginning of the semester that he was going to put all the most attractive girls in the front row. The so-so girls went in the middle, and then the guys got stuck in the back of the room."

"Oh my God!" I said. "That's disgusting!" Then I paused. "Okay, where were you?"

My mother? She was in the front row.

I was fairly certain Mr. Hardy wouldn't still have such a blatant ranking policy anymore--tenure or not, that was the type of thing to get a man fired from teaching honors history in the 90s--but that didn't stop me from spreading the gossip to my friends, and we all laughed when Mr. Hardy organized the seating chart so that the class outcast and one of the smartest boys got placed directly in front of him.

"Maybe Mr. Hardy's tastes have changed over the years," we joked.

But, really, they hadn't.

One afternoon I dropped by his classroom during a planning period to hand in a short essay extra credit assignment he'd circulated to the class.

"I'll read this while you're right here," he said. "We'll take care of the grade right now."

I stood behind his desk, next to him. I read my words over his shoulder. It was a dynamite little essay, and I was proud of it. I waited patiently for him to finish it and praise me.

And when he finished, he took up his pen and he hovered it right above the paper. "This was good," he said.

"Thank you," I said. I watched his pen very closely. I was waiting to see the good grade he was going to trace on the paper. But the pen just hung in the midair.

"I'll tell you what," he said. "I'll give you a choice."

I turned my eyes from the pen to his face. His hair and mustache were the same as they'd been in my mother's yearbook, but they were gray now. He still looked like he couldn't wait for a patterned silk jacket, a cigar in his fist. He looked like the type of old man who would say to a girl, "Hi there, Kitten. Why don't you come sit on my lap?"

"A choice?" I said. "What do you mean?"

"Well, I could give you a hundred points," he said, "or I could give you a hundred dollars because you're wearing that skirt."

I looked down at my outfit. I was wearing one of those numbers that was popular in the early 90s: plaid school girl skirt, navy knee-highs, chunky Mary Janes. It was my favorite outfit, and I always felt pretty good about myself when I wore it. The boys on the bus--the only boys who had crushes on me--went crazy for that outfit.

"Uhm, I'll take the points," I said.

"Okay." Mr. Hardy laughed and finally put his pen to the paper. He scratched a 100 at the top of my essay and handed it back. He made a notation in his grade book. "You're all set," he said. "I'll see you in class."

I wanted to tell him, "Listen, buddy, you're disgusting." I wanted to say, "Get a grip, pervert." But there was another part of me that wanted to thank him. I was not a pretty girl. I wasn't like the popular girls in our grade, the ones with high, perfect pony-tails and mega-watt smiles. I'd just recently stopped perming my hair, and I had a wardrobe filled with crocheted sweater vests. My nickname was "Chassie," short for "Chastity." The boy I loved most dated the skinniest cheerleaders at school, and I would eventually join the squad for two months in an effort to make him look at me. He never did. It would be years before I got my shit together.

Beyond my parents, not many people stopped me to tell me I looked nice, looked good, looked pretty. And I knew having a fifty-something history teacher tell me I was pretty wasn't going to solve any of my problems, and I knew there was something really disgusting about what he was doing, but for just a few seconds that day I let myself feel a little bit less like I was doomed to be a girl on the periphery forever. And then, minutes later, I hated myself for thinking like that because a teacher had just vaguely hit on me. I knew I should be more scandalized than I was, but at fourteen I was looking for anything to hang my hopes on, and I needed to take whatever I got. And what I got was Mr. Hardy, who never again said anything inappropriate to me. We made it through the rest of the year discussing world history, and I got my good grades, and I sat in the second row, and I tried not to think about what a horrible pervert was standing at the front of the room, smoothing his mustache and looking out at the girls in his class and thinking, Yes, yes. If only.

3 comments:

Jason said...

That's the nastiest thing about guys like that--they know who to pick on. He may not even have been smart enough to know how he knew you'd be conflicted by his comments, but he figured he was safe.

Yuck.

Kristin said...

Ugh. Sick bastard. We had one of those too, though he was a younger guy - not cute though. He enjoyed looking at my chest (which was huge by the way). I'm kind of ashamed to admit that I used it to my advantage - low-cut shirts for an A in physics. I was terrible at physics.

KNC said...

My algebra teacher. One day he wrestled a cheerleader to the ground and sprayed her with the spray bottle he'd use on the kids who fell asleep. All in front of the entire class. It was disgusting.