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.