Kind of pathetic, really…

When I was a sophomore in college, I stopped into a theatrical prop store off campus one day, and picked up a large prosthetic nose that actually looked a little like a penis.

With this prop as a central figure, I assembled a cast of friends and directed the famous balcony scene from Cyrano de Bergerac, which we performed at the “night of scenes” for budding directors at the on-campus dramatic society.

During the repeated practices, I confess that I started to develop — if I’m being both modest and polite — strong feelings towards Helene, whom I had recruited to play Roxane (the only female character in my one scene; feel free to criticize me for my non-adherence to any Bechdel Test standards, but that’s not what this blog entry is about).

As director, I had a position of power over her so I knew better than to act on those feelings, even at age 19 or 20. Furthermore, I learned that this is actually quite common for directors: developing some form of — I hesitate to call it “love” but most people do use that word as a substitute for whatever it really is — for cast members whose gender happens to be consistent with the sexual orientation of the director. For a straight, male director like me, that would be the women… (Or later, when I was in community theatre performing for a gay male director, he expressed similar feelings towards me and my male cast mates).

It doesn’t help that acting, like most arts, require a fair bit of passion in their execution.

When my soon-to-be former congressman, Pat Meehan, was all of the news a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of how I fell in love with Helene all those years ago. For a quick summary of the scandal that enveloped him, he was accused of sexual harassment of one of his employees, fired her when she rebuffed him, and paid her hush money from a public funds.

If that were the full story, there wouldn’t be much to tie in with my Cyrano de Bergerac scene. It’s the interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer and other news stories that make allow me to make the connection. When you look at what happened in the lead-up to her firing, he felt the same things I felt all those years ago: he spent a lot of time with her, they talked a lot, made what he felt were undoubtedly real connections with her, intellectually and emotionally.

(I don’t know how many times I ate a meal with Helene in the cafeteria before and after classes in that time, but it was undoubtedly multiple times. It didn’t help matters for me that she came from Harry Chapin’s home town.)

The big difference, then, between me and Meehan, is that I knew that, if there was a foundation for anything more serious than friendship between me and Helene, it was made of sand and could crumble easily and quickly. I’m not even sure I ever told her what I felt. And I have no reason to think my non-verbal cues made her uncomfortable.

Meehan, on the other hand, told her they were soul mates and that he was in love with her, despite being married to someone else. His words were — again, if I’m being my most polite — juvenile. And if I could tell that my emotions were little more than a byproduct of the circumstances of my being with her a quarter century ago, I would hope that Meehan might have been more introspective than he was.

So yeah, he was pathetic. Even without a prosthetic nose that looks like a penis.

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Marching again

It’s weird what and who you think about when certain conditions are right.  I’ve been thinking about Mr. Hanlon, who was my physics teacher my junior year of high school.  

I cannot understate the damage he did to my overall intellectual growth and natural curiosity.  He was the reason why I didn’t take a science senior year of high school.  

On the first day of class, he walked in and asked us why we were all taking physics.  The simple answer to this question was that it was next in line after biology (freshman year) and chemistry (sophomore year).  His response to being told this?  “Wrong!  Physics is everything!”

In fairness to Mr. Hanlon, there’s nothing wrong with being enthusiastic about science (or whichever field a teacher teaches).  What he didn’t seem to understand is that the students who don’t share his enthusiasm need to appreciate the topic on their own terms in their own time.  

That’s not what he did, though.  He had a way of talking down to students like me who had the aptitude but not the interest.  He had the misfortune of timing being a teacher of mine after I had just come home from Penn State’s Summer Intensive Language Institute where I learned German and realized that I wanted to study languages.  

I acknowledge having the aptitude.  There was one lab report, for example, where he came out and shook my hand in front of the whole class because what I’d written was more or less what he wanted to see.  I had let other people copy my report and I guess they went a little too far in paraphrasing what I had written.  

But as the year went on, he made his opinion clear: I’d be wasting my life if I didn’t declare that I wanted to be either a physicist or engineer.  At one point, I got so pissed off at his attitude that I wrote a lab report up in French.  (For reference, I learned then that the French word for “wave” is “vague”.  He made a lame joke about the repeated use of this word in my report before he gave me an A on it.)

In college, I took my mandatory “hard” sciences, and studied the science of linguistics, which started to rekindle things but it wasn’t until my kids were born, that I started to read scientific books again.  Thanks to George Hrab’s podcast, I discovered the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. And now I am a booster for science.  

Keep in mind that I don’t like most science fiction because they still skimp too much on character development, and I can’t imagine starting to watch TV shows like Star Trek, Dr. Who, or CSI    

I don’t know what happened to Mr. Hanlon.  If he’s still alive, though, I imagine that he might have been marching this past weekend at one of the many rallies in the March for Science.   

I did just that this past weekend in Washington, DC.  It’s unfortunate that it was needed, but the anti-science attitude of much of the federal government, needs to be called out and put right.  There are stories that allege that Donald Trump was shaken by it.   I hope they’re true and that he might change things for the better.  Stopping climate change is the most important issue we’re facing.  That’s only one thing, though.  

We need to follow the evidence in public policy, pure and simple.  And if the current administration and the current congress refuse to do so, they need to be voted out and replaced by people who will.