In my fantasy life (a very rich and rewarding one, I will have you know), I receive the Academy Award. I am dressed terrifically in a tux and I get up out of my seat to the music I wrote to the film I both starred in and directed, and I go up to the stage, where I deliver my acceptance speech. I thank no one. Instead, I give raspberry to everyone who thought I would be a failure.
"To Mrs. Dolan, my fifth grade teacher, who said I would amount to nothing . . ." and here I make the sound of the raspberry -- pftpftpfrrrrr, or something like that.
"To Mr. Tietze, my high-school grade adviser who said I would be better off in vocational school, so "at least you would learn a trade" -- pftpftpfrrrr.
And to Mr. London, my Spanish teacher in high school who told my father on open-school night that the trouble with me was not that I was inattentive, but rather that I was stupid, I want to say. . . ." -- and here I make a face.
I could go on, and in my fantasy life, I do. The audience loves it because it is something everyone wants to do. It is why we all go to class reunions and bother to attend family get-togethers. There is this urge in all of us to prove that we have, against great odds, amounted to something.
I thought of this the other day because someone I know slightly, Donna Shalala, has been named president of Hunter College. Shalala is an assistant secretary of HUD, Hunter College is in New York, and none of that is important. What is important is the fact that I attended Hunter. I went there for seven years -- mostly at night -- setting some sort of record and failing to graduate. My first instinct was to write her a letter of congratulations. Then I remembered my acceptance speech.
Now what I want to do is write her a letter listing the names of teachers to be fired. I do this, you understand, not out of malice or a desire for revenge, but merely to improve the educational system and, in this modest way, the nation as a whole. I must admit, however, that most of the teachers on this list are the ones who flunked me. This is a coincidence.
First on my list is the French teacher who divided the room in half, sat the men on one side, the women on the other and put an empty row of seats between them. This was not the only silly and ludicrous, it also was a real handicap to me since it is well known that men are not good French students. There was no one to cheat from. I flunked.
Second on my list is the hygiene teacher, a lady deep into her dotage and by now, possibly, gone to her reward, who taught, I swear, as if the class were all women. (Hunter had once been a woman's college.) I learned not to wear high heels or a girdle when I was what my teacher called "unwell." This was very useful information which I wrote down, as required, in my notebook, which was discovered by my mother. It left her quite shaken. If that teacher is still around, she should be fired.
My letter will be terrific. It is the closet I will ever come to that recurring dream I used to have in the Army about how I would come back to Ft. Dix as Secretary of Defense in my personal helicoptor, land in the middle of the company area, and ask for Sergeant Gonzales. I would say "I understand you are abusing the men." He would begin to shake with fright, and just before climbing back into my helicopter I would add: "You're confined to quarters -- PRIVATE Gonzales." Then I disappear into the sky.
Back to my letter. I will tell Shalala about the dean who flunked me out, but let another student with a lower average remain just because God had made him taller and that much closer to the basketball net. I would also mention my art teacher, a lady with a French accent and a squeaky voice who, by turning out the lights and turning on the slide projector, could put an entire class to sleep. I flunked that one, too.
I would tell her about the basketball coach-athletic instructor who, when I came up to him in the middle of the gym on my very first day of college and told him that I was in the wrong class, draped a sympathetic arm around my shoulder, blew the whistle hanging from his thick neck, and displayed me as precisely the sort of jerk who would not be tolerated at the college level. I forget his name, but I am willing to look it up.
My list, it is fair to say, is endless since this, for a time, is also what my college career seemed to be. I was at Hunter so long that I used the faculty restrooms and I feared I would be the first student to be granted a tenure. But eventually I moved on, first to the Army and then to another university and finally, as they say, to the real world. There, I spend some of my time -- head back, feet up on the desk, dreaming my little dreams.
The envelope, please.