Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Straight and Narrow

My first day ever as a teacher in September 1972, I encountered s student named Larry Davis. Larry arrived to my class at Central High School in Providence a little late. Then he noted my name where I had written it on the blackboard.

“Mr. Good Guy, eh?” he said. “Do you take drugs?” (I said no.) “Smoke a little weed?” (Again, no.) “Drink booze?” (I admitted to a little.) “Fool around with the girls?” (Not really.) Then he gave me a slight shove and said, “What kind of good guy are you? You don’t do nothing!

"Mr. Good Guy"

I was reminded of this exchange last night while Audrey and I attended a workshop at the Manhattan Theater Club, where we have been subscribers for many years. The workshop was designed to help us understand beforehand some of the themes and drama techniques that would be evident in a new play called Airline Highway, which opens in a few weeks at MTC.

In a brief introduction, the workshop leader told us that many of the characters in the play are unconventional; they live “on the edge.” To help us better understand the emotions of the play’s characters, the leader had those of us attending the session split up from the partner we came with and work with someone we did not already know. The assignment: Discuss with your partner a time in your life when you pushed the envelope or did something risky or unexpected.

A time when I pushed the envelope and was unconventional? Larry Davis could tell you how easy that assignment would be for me. I’m “Mr. Good Guy,” remember (or not that good a guy).

My partner in the activity, a woman approximately my age, had no problem coming up with a tale. She immediately confided that she had been “a child of the sixties.” “I tried some drugs, took a trip or two, and lived in a group house, which my mother thought was a commune. I didn’t exactly practice free love, but I did make love in some unusual places, including a snowbank.”

A snowbank? Did I just shiver?

I replied that I, too, was a child of the sixties, but my experiences were pretty much drug- and free love-free. I was so un-sixties-like that one of my college classmates once dubbed me “Straight Louie.” I just didn’t break the rules. Yes, I smoked at dorm parties, but what I smoked was a pipe filled with Cherry Blend tobacco, or the like. Now I’m not proud of this, but it’s true. And now I was being asked to remember a time that I acted outside the lines, and, dammit, I couldn’t come up with anything that would even mildly shock my partner.
A Goodman family pot party?

I thought about the time in high school that I had taken a date out riding after a dance or movie. We drove out Abercorn Street in Savannah when that thoroughfare was just being opened up. We turned onto Tibet Road, which was pretty dark and empty. We stopped. Yes, we were parking, but we were talking and not kissing. I promise. Nevertheless, a police car pulled up alongside, and the officer got out and shined his flashlight in the window. He told us to move along. The girl and I told friends about the incident, and somehow they began spreading a rumor that we had been busted by cops while making out. To my shame, I did not really try to squelch this rumor, nor did my date. And when high school classmates gave me a small standing ovation in the halls on the following Monday morning, I just smiled.

Somehow, I could not share this story with my workshop partner, who had just described braving frostbite to make love out of doors. Instead, I described the time that I almost became part of the radical SDS on my college campus. The operative word here is almost. Of course, I didn’t join the SDS, but I did have to answer questions posed by an FBI agent once and I did get tear-gassed twice one evening during a major protest on campus—but that’s another story.
I wasn't a yippie, but I did get tear-gassed at a yippie rally.
So how did Audrey do with this activity? She also had to admit her conventionality, even to a stranger who could not have contradicted even the wildest story.

“I told her that the biggest risk I ever took was taking my first modern dance class at age 39,” Audrey recalled with a bemused smile.

Maybe we should be known forevermore as “Straight Louie and Straight Lucille.”


1 comment:

  1. Mike, long known you were a guy from the straight and narrow. Liked your story