With my hands behind my back, I take a step away from the desk, move away from the podium, and slowly walk to the front of the room. Before me are five rows with five desks each. Ten of them support the bodies of students who claim they want to take a summer seminar about cultural criticism.
For two hours a day, Monday through Thursday, over a period of six weeks, I get students who sit here during the best time of the year only to end up wasting my time.
Well, shit. We assistant professors have other things we’d rather be doing too.
Plus, it’s been a week and still no call from Joshua. I haven’t been back to the theater since and my “fever” is back with a vengeance. I’d call him, but why? It’s probably for the best. I need to keep focused.
I started at Bellingham College five years ago, and after a year as associate professor, I was made an assistant professor and have been on the tenure-track ever since. I can’t afford to let myself get distracted by trivial things like daydreaming about sex. I need to exploit my mind not my body.
A strand of hair escapes the confines of my French roll and tickles the base of my neck, as if scolding me for making it behave so primly. I tuck it in and return my attention to the classroom.
I take off my glasses, close my eyes, and repress a moan. The hum of the electric clock on the wall behind me and street sounds seeping in between the window panes are the only things breaking the silence. Putting my glasses back on, I look straight ahead and out of the windows at the back of the classroom. It offers me a picturesque view of the green lawns of Bellingham College. Outside, the tree branches bloom and dangle above the heads of my students, but the branches are not the only things above their heads. I sigh.
“Let’s try a simpler approach. Those of you who’ve never seen I Love Lucy, hands up.”
Six out of ten hands go up.
“I will repeat the question. Hands up for those of you who have not seen I Love Lucy—ever.”
Three out of six.
“In your entire life.”
All hands stay down.
“That’s what I thought. See how important it is for you to think before you answer? Let alone listen.”
Silence, except for the birds in the trees chirping like the nagging mothers these kids thought they left behind.
“Anyway, since you all love, or at least like, Lucy, you may or may not know that Lucille Ball was older than Desi Arnaz and only a few years younger than Vivian Vance—that’s Ethel Mertz.”
I back up against the blackboard chalk tray and sit on my hands to prevent chalk from dusting my rump. Crossing my legs at the ankles, I get a sharp pinch at the top of my thigh. My garter strap is twisted again.
“Since the A/V Department messed up my request to have a TV and DVD player set up, we’re going to do this next exercise the old fashioned way. I want you all to close your eyes and visualize scenes with Lucy and Ethel together.”
A few students scan around anxiously, but most of them comply. Ah, the blind faith students place in their teachers. I wait a moment before proceeding.
“Now that you have images of Lucy and Ethel burning your frontal lobes, compare the two women while keeping in mind what I said about their real ages. What do you see?”
Several of them breathe deeply. If they mistook this exercise for naptime, they’ll be sorry.
When faces start to twitch and eyebrows rise in wonder at their new perspective of the comedic duo, I know I have their attention.
“Note their clothing and how much makeup these women have on. Lucy is more stylish, isn’t she?”
I walk around the classroom. The slow heel-toe-heel-toe clap of my high heels on the tile floor is evocative of a stalking Gestapo officer interrogating a prisoner and I enjoy the sense of power.
“Now compare images of Lucy from earlier episodes to those of her toward the end of the series. I don’t care if it was shot in black and white, there’s a definite increase in the amount of powder and make up on Lucy’s face.”
This prompts a few snorts of laughter and nodding heads. I’m now at the other end of the classroom. My teaching assistant, Neil Hollister, sits at a desk in the corner with a smirk on his face. He did this exercise last year. I wink at him before turning to look at the backs of my students.
“Don’t get me wrong. Lucille Ball was one of the best comediennes in the world, in my opinion, but why the elaborate need to suspend the audience’s disbelief? Had they bit off more than they could chew? Remember, not only do we have an interracial couple, but a wife who, in real life, was older than her husband.”
One student puts her head on her desk.
“It’s the 1950s, people!” My sudden increase in volume makes Miss Sleepyhead sit up. “What they did took balls. . . . Hey! I made a funny!”
Nothing—except a polite chuckle from Neil. He heard the same joke last year too. Oh well. I give him a shrug.
“You may open your eyes.”
After navigating my way through an aisle of carelessly deposited backpacks, I reach my post at the front of the room.
“Now—before you ask—I don’t teach entire courses about I Love Lucy like some people. These are simply observations I’ve made. I can’t say for a fact that they did this on purpose, but what could Lucy and Desi do to draw attention away from their interracial marriage? To what lengths will people go to create an image acceptable for conservative 1950s society?”
I search my students’ faces for signs of life. Nope.
“They can change their ages, of course, on the outside at least. In this case, present Lucy as a younger woman. The Ricardos are a young married couple in contrast to the Mertzes. But what also becomes an issue in conjunction with age?”
I scan the room again to see if I’m striking a chord with anyone.
“Hint, hint! In case you’ve forgotten, today’s topic is Aesthetic Manipulation. What do people associate with age?”
Finally, a hand slowly rises.
She shrugs. “Maturity?”
“Yes! Thank you! What else?” I gesture gimme-gimme-gimme with my hands, urging for more.
“Image,” says Henry McGuinness, one of the three boys in my class. He’s the Harris Tweed type and would bring that up. The second boy, Brady Thompson is a slacker on his best day. The third boy, what’s his name, is absent, again.
I nod. “Okay, Henry, but can you be more specific? What aspects of image do you mean?”
“Well. . . I dunno. Clothes?”
“Excellent. Many articles have been written about clothes and prejudice. If you saw me for the first time, what would you think?”
I model for them. Today I wear a grey lightweight skirt suit. The skirt is short, stopping just barely above the knee, but still professional. Little do they know that when I get home, I will take off these monkey clothes and slip into my favorite batik sarong—if I decide to wear anything at all considering how warm the weather is.
But Henry’s shoulders slump. “I dunno. I guess you’re a pro?”
“Henry, ‘pro’ could mean prostitute.”
“No! I mean you are a professional.” He smoothes his shirtfront nervously.
“What? And prostitutes aren’t?” Neil quips from the back of the room. Some of the girls turn in his direction and giggle.
“Thank you, Mr. Hollister. OK, so I’m a professional. That means I must be. . . ?”
Stereotypical answers, eventually, come forth: mature, responsible.
“Boring. Dull,” adds Hollister to the delight of the class.
“D’you think?” I challenge, giving him a pointed look. He returns it with a mischievous gleam in his eyes. Chancellor’s nephew or not, I’m going to have to have words with my esteemed TA after class. “Anything else?”
Nothing. Their euphoria is gone quicker than an acid flashback. An impatient hand goes up as if yanked by a puppeteer’s string.
“Put your hand down, Thompson, I’m coming to my point.” I rub my hands together. “When you write your next paper on either Morrison’s The Bluest Eye or She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb, remember our talk about Lucy Ricardo. Playing the race card is an option, but it’s a no-trump.” I sigh. “No pun intended. I want you to connect society’s perception of feminine beauty and propriety and how it affects people’s judgment. More specifically, how it affects your opinion, if at all.”
I move behind the desk and grasp the sides of the podium. “This will end our section on the second half of the last century. Have attitudes changed at all? Try to convince me, whatever you do.”
A hand goes up again. I roll my eyes.
“How long does it have to be?”
They reply in unison and with less energy than a bulimic after a purge: “Five to seven pages, one-inch margins, double spaced, three outside sources. Annotated bib for extra credit.”
“Thank you, class.” I preen. “See what happens, Mr. Thompson, when you choose to participate through borrowed notes alone?”
How do you like them apples, smart ass?
I glance at my watch. Only ninety minutes left. Resting my chin in my palm, I observe at the sea. . . the puddle. . . of less-than-eager faces.
I have seen into the future—and was unimpressed.
Trying to get these kids, these young adults, to understand the importance of digging beyond the surface to find gold is hard to do when they’re bombarded with airbrushed, silicon-packed images of so-called perfection. Why should they waste time in here when they could be the next mega-idol or culture “influencer” and see themselves go viral on the Internet? If the students of Bellingham College are dissatisfied with something, they can simply charge it on their—or their parent’s—credit card. No need to work for it.
This is what I am up against. It gives me a headache.
“You guys, I’ve never missed a day of teaching, but I’m not above dismissing class early once in a while.”
Happy smiley faces brighten the room. Some of the really happy students have their books packed and ready to go.
“You have until the start of class on Tuesday to turn in this assignment. Any earlier, put it in my office mailbox. Any later—”
“And live to regret your GPA,” they finish.
“You are so good! I am breaking through! Get out.”
They bolt for the door.
Taking off my blazer and tossing it on my desk, I reveal a shell blouse and my skin breathes a sigh of relief. I swear that steam rises off me.
After meeting Joshua, I’m in heat so frequently it threatens to soak through my clothes. The extremely warm temperature doesn’t help. It’s making me cranky and making my sexual dry spell even more noticeable.
God, I need to get laid.
It is over eighty degrees outside and this Victorian building is resistant to twentieth century cooling systems let alone twenty-first. Rummaging through my purse, I search for my eyeglass case. Talk about aesthetic manipulation. I don’t need glasses. They just make me appear more studious and professional while separating me from the students.
The case is lost in the abyss of my purse, so I start erasing the whiteboard. Damn if that Joshua Delaney will not get out of my mind. Not his face, his voice, his cock—none of it.
I had googled him out of curiosity, along with the words “Denver” and “artist.” Apparently he is known in the industry for his work on several national ad campaigns, independent films, and video games. He’s had art shows at a few local galleries and in New York. One critic’s review said his studio work “focused on abstracting the human form while maintaining intimacy.” Whatever that’s supposed to mean.
But I only found a few online images available of his abstract studio art apart from some tiny-ass thumbnails on archived news articles, and this is despite some of Denver’s cultural elite owning or have commissioned his work. Apart from general praise, his official biography is a single line:
Mr. Delaney currently resides in Denver, Colorado.
“Excuse me, Dr. Cavell?”
I jump because I forgot I wasn’t alone. Turning, I find Neil Hollister standing inches behind me. Any closer and we’d risk breaking some archaic decency laws. His eyes linger on the V-neck of my blouse.
Standing just over six feet tall with an athletic hard-body—in training—short curly hair the color of corn silk, and puppy-brown eyes, Neil Hollister is a cutie. But he’s a frat brat with a gab so gifted, I have little doubt he’ll end up as the perfect wife in prison while serving a sentence for bank fraud or something—if he doesn’t get off on an Affluenza defense.
But I’m being too harsh. His claim to fame as the chancellor’s nephew makes him bold, but it didn’t save him from getting a D in my Women in Fiction seminar last year. That was one elective course I’m sure he wishes he’d taken it more seriously.
Before he became my student assistant, I thought he had more nerve than a bad tooth, but he’s changed his attitude and his other instructors have actually thanked me for it. Apparently, his grades have improved too, justifying everyone’s opinion that Hollister is very smart, but lazy.
I may have played to his ego by introducing him as my personal “aide-de-camp” and my “right arm” after he braved me for two semesters. He’s been indispensable helping me with my freshman survey courses.
Maybe I built him up too much. More often than not, when students file out at the end of class, Neil gets more than a few inviting glances. I see him wink at the girls every so often. One time I caught him, he saw me and smiled.
“It’s only 12:30.”
“What’s the problem? Don’t you like the idea of getting out early? On a Thursday? With no class on Friday? Do you have another class or something?”
“No, it’s not that. I was going to ask if you’d join me for lunch. Buy you a beer.”
“A beer, eh?” I take a deep breath, making my chest heave and the top button of my blouse rubs against his shirt. He doesn’t move away and I hold my ground. Finally, he takes a half step back.
I give him the once-over and he reciprocates. Unashamed, his focus starts between my legs, travels up over my midriff, and lingers on the prominent overhang of my chest before meeting my gaze. If he thinks he can flirt with me, I’m willing to spar with him a little bit.
“You make a tempting offer.” I say and his cocky grin swells. “But I don’t think so.”
“Aw, Teach,” he chides. “There’s nothing saying students can’t buy their instructors a beer.”
I lean back against the edge of my desk and look at him over the top of my glasses. He’s waiting for me to accept his invite.
“Tell you what. I’ll take a rain check on your offer until the end of term. Then,” and I give him a wink, “I’ll drink you under the table. My treat.”
“You got a date. . . Teach.” He nods and walks out of the classroom.
My skin is hotter than before. Neil is only posing but he’s tempting, which isn’t good considering my state of mind. I may have thrown him a bone, but it’s me in the need of one.
This is Joshua Delaney’s fault! Making me so hot and bothered! I don’t like being attracted to someone. It’s messy and it keeps me from thinking clearly. I’ll probably never run into Joshua again, but the thought of giving Neil Hollister private lessons has a risk I don’t care to take.