You Will Study, Or You Will Suffer

     My little special snowflakes have been slacking, so I had to put on my Mean Mommy hat and do a pop quiz on the assigned readings.  I then graded the quizzes while the class was in session, which got everyone’s attention in a hurry.  

       On top of the humiliation, I added a pinch of guilt: “You know, I really tried to do everyone a favor by making photocopies of the readings instead of making you all purchase the $130 textbook.  I know what it’s like to spend $600 at the bookstore every semester.” 

       I continued to grade, wincing audibly.  

        One boy meekly raised his hand.

        “Yes, Mr. Smith?”  I call my students by their last names when I’m handing out lumps.  I used to call them by their last names all the time, but the student body at my college is so ethnically diverse that I often can’t pronounce their names, so first names it is (nobody likes hearing their name mispronounced, and if it’s done more than a few times it becomes disrespectful).  

         “Uh…how much is this quiz going to be worth?”

         “I haven’t decided yet.”

          “That’s kind of harsh,” he said.

           I gestured toward the syllabus, aka my 17-page legal document covering my ass.  The syllabus says that pop quizzes are administered at my discretion, typically as a mechanism for me to discern who is doing the reading and who is shirking.  

           Everyone looked miserable.  I saw a few of them exchanging sad glances.  

           I finished the grading and stacked the papers in a pile in front of me.   You could have heard a pin drop.

           Time for more another portion of shame:

           “I’m very disappointed.  These quizzes make me sad.”

         It’s a feminine tactic, but manipulation via guilt is often more effective than wrath.  

        Then, to restore the goodwill and rapport between us, and make them feel gratitude towards me instead of anger: 

        “Look, guys, I’m not going to grade these this time.  I want you to do well, and you can’t do that if you don’t do the readings.  I don’t want you to flunk the midterm.  I want you to get a good grade so that you can graduate and get out of here.  Please do the reading.  You’re killing me over here.”

           Like the Supreme Court, Instructor Adler giveth, and Instructor Adler taketh away.  My students visibly relaxed.  Big smiles.  

         “Thanks,” said one of them, completely forgiving, and forgetting, that I had just been torturing him.

           “My pleasure,” I said.

             Then everyone wanted to participate in the classroom discussion.  It was great.  

              See?  That wasn’t so harsh, Mr. Smith.  Would you like to see harsh?

           I’d give my last personal slave, No. 29, homework assignments, all of which were constructed to improve him and cultivate his understanding of servitude.  He was responsible and a pretty good student–his grades were better than mine when I was an undergraduate, actually–so he usually did the assignments and showed up ready to discuss them.  

          One time he didn’t, and furthermore, he lied to me about it.  Big no-no.  Bad idea, No. 29.

         I figured it out when I was quizzing him and he couldn’t answer my questions.  He was giving me ambiguous, vague answers.

        I went to my gear bag and retrieved a heavy-duty leather hood, the type that laces up the back and has removable pieces for the eyes and the mouth.  It was really an awesome hood, great for sensory deprivation, and best of all, the removable portions and the hood itself could be locked on the wearer with little masterlocks.  I miss that hood.  I lost it in a taxi cab in Las Vegas.  

        I picked the hood because No. 29 was mildly claustrophobic and he didn’t like the hood.  Oh no, No. 29 didn’t like that hood at alllllll.    

        “Keep talking, my boy, while I hood you like a falcon,” I said.

Property.  Waiting to be Summoned.

           He rambled while I laced the hood up tightly.  I left off the blindfold and the hole for the mouth.

           “You’re not making any sense, No. 29,” I said.  “Tell you what.  Give me the author’s three major points.  They were the entire premises of the article.  You couldn’t have missed them.”

            He was visibly frightened.  I could see it in his eyes, the set of his mouth.

            “Do you have anything you want to tell me?”  I asked.  Last change, No. 29.   Just admit you didn’t do as you were told.  I’d still punish you…but not with the hood.  

             “All right,” I said.  I put the leather attachment over his mouth, and then affixed it with a masterlock.  The sound of the lock clicking shut was very satisfying.  Then I attached the blindfold, and locked that.  Then I locked it around his neck.  There was no way for him to get it off without the keys.  

            “Now that’s your thinking cap,”  I said in his ear.  “A nice, quiet dark place where you can think.  Now you can remember the article and the author’s three major points.  I’m going to chain you up and let you think about it for a while.”

               Then I attached a chain leash to the collar and led him over to the wall, where different O-rings were sunk in at various points.  I have a thing I like to do when I punish or interrogate: I have the subject stand on a cinder block, and then I affix the chain leash at a level so that the subject is bent at the waist.  They can’t stand up because there isn’t length of chain to do so.  Sometimes I put them in a stress position.  I especially like to do this if they think that they’re young and strong.  Believe me, it cuts them down to size right quickly.  

            “I’ll come back and check on you in fifteen minutes.  If you fall off that cinder block, I’m doubling the time,” I said, taking out my stopwatch (time for the obligatory Frederick Taylor reference).  God, I love to time the suffering of slaves.  It’s a tactic I appropriated from Heinrich.  I like to quantify their pain, and play games with the numbers.  

           I left him all alone, in the dark, and watched from across the room.  No. 29 was a strong young man, 22 years old, but 15 minutes on the block reduced him to misery.  

          (Sometimes I like to flog or cane them while they’re on the bock, lecturing that they had better not fall off that block, or else they will be sorry.)

          I came back and unlocked his blindfold, and then I uncovered his mouth.  

            He looked like his was about to cry.  He’d started to sweat, and the muscles in his back trembled.  

           “Well?  Do you have anything you want to tell me?”

           He looked up at me, craning his neck.  I was enjoying myself, but I also felt a little empathy.  Empathy, but no sympathy.  I know what it’s like to be scrutinized and punished.  But you can’t let them off the hook.  You let them get over, and they lose respect for you.  You have to follow through.  Mercy is a treat to be given out rarely, randomly.  

            “Miss Adler, I’m sorry, but I didn’t do the reading,” he said.  He knew better than to make an excuse.

             “I know.  You should have admitted it sooner.  You did this to yourself, you know,” jangling the keys like a cruel prison warden.

             “I know.  I’m sorry.”

              I let him up.  His back popped audibly as he stretched out.

               I went and got the essay from my bag, and then I handed it to him.  

            “You can sit on the floor.  I’m going to take a walk.  I’ll let you out of the hood when you’re done reading it, and we’ll take off where we were.”

          No. 29 nodded, sat down, and started reading.

          And that, my friends, is how I really punish students who don’t do the reading.  There are worse things than I pop quiz.

          My little student snowflakes.  If they only knew. 

Meeting No. 29 (Part II): I am the Frederick Taylor of Pain and Suffering

            I leaned against the desk and leafed through the folder.  “So, I have a lot of information about you here, David.  I think we’ll have to talk about it.  I have some concerns.”  I kept my voice friendly, but when I looked up at him, I saw that his smile suddenly looked fake and his eyes were wider.  That was good.
           I took a sharpie marker off the desk and held it open over the top of the folder.  “I still need to assign you a number, David.”  I tried to write on the folder.  The marker wouldn’t write.  I sighed and shook it and tried to write again.  No ink. 
        “This sharpie doesn’t work!” I announced.  I made it sound like I was irritated.  “Go get me a new one.” 
          “What..?”  he stood there and blinked, confused and startled, like a mole thrust suddenly into sunlight.
          “Go get me a sharpie.  I need a new sharpie.”  I waved the pen in front of him.  “Like this one!” 
           After a pause, he asked, “Where…?” as if I’d asked him to fetch me something totally bizarre and arcane, like an autographed photo of Vladimir Putin.  I could practically see his brain emptying out in panic and confusion, which was exactly what I wanted.  
          “Well, Mr. Engineering Degree, this is Manhattan, so there is a Duane Reade every other city block.  I’m sure you’ll be able to figure something out.” 
          He paused and for a moment I thought that I was going to have to bark at him, but finally he turned to go.  When he opened the door, I called his name and he looked back at me over his shoulder.  I removed a silver-plated pocket watch from my front trousers and opened it in front of him.  The face was big and there were two chronographs on the dial. It made a faint clicking noise, although I doubted that he could hear it from where he stood.  I’d discovered that if I held it in my hand in a perfectly still room, I could feel it vibrate in my hand, as if it was a living creature. 
           I set the watch and pressed the button.  “I’m timing you, David.”
           His mouth dropped open and then he ran out the door.  I shouted at him not to kill himself on the stairs. I heard him running quickly down two flights of stairs, and then it was silent again.

Meeting No. 29

      “Hello, David!”  I welcomed him inside with a big smile.  “How nice to finally meet you!”
       He thanked me for inviting him and held out his hand.  We shook.  I saw him looking at my brown leather gloves, but he didn’t comment on them.  His eyes went from my hand to my waist to my face and back again.  “Woah, firm handshake!” 
     “Yes,” I acknowledged.  Men always say that to meWhy do men always say that? Is my grip really that unusual? Women never mention it.  
      I noticed that he wouldn’t look me in the eye for more than a moment or two.  His kept looking around, at my clothes, my boots, the room.  I myself seldom avoid eye contact.  I have a tendency to stare at people I am talking to, unless I am delivering bad news or confessing something shameful or difficult.  I look them right in the eye. I like to see their facial mannerisms, the texture and color of their skin. Dates and students have told me that it makes them feel uncomfortable, which bothers me because I don’t like to be rude.  Most of the time I’m not even aware that I’m staring. 
       I asked if he would like a drink of water, and when he said yes I gestured to a water cooler on the other side of the room.  I said, please help yourself, it’s nice and cold.  I watched him as he went, assessing his figure and the way that he moved.  I saw one thing that I like right away: for an athletic, medium sized guy, his tread was very light.  He didn’t thud and make the floor vibrate when he walked, and when he took a paper cup out of the dispenser, he only grabbed one instead or four or five.
  (aside: Good God, it aggravates the hell out of me when men thud and thump and bring their hands down hard on tabletops, rattling the cutlery.  It drives me nuts.  In my heart I’ve murdered a hundred men I’ve seen sprawling out in the subway, taking up two seats for themselves.) 
       David was wearing khaki trousers and a striped button-down shirt.  The khakis had no cargo pockets, patches, or pleats.  The shirt was neatly ironed but untucked.  His hair was short and bleached and gelled into some spiky figuration.  Freshly shaven face.  No jewelry that I could see.  He was wearing thin-soled brown leather loafers and patterned socks that were not white or athletic.  The outfit screamed “22-year-old boy going to Church,” and I realized, approvingly, that he had tried to dress up for me. 
        As he drank his water, I gestured around at the place, giving him a tour.  The studio was pretty self-explanatory.  One rectangular room, wood floors, exposed brick on one wall, large windows on the other.  The windows had both closed blinds and drapes.  There was a mini fridge stocked with refreshments and a trash basket beside the water cooler.  A small sink.          
        I asked him if he’d had any trouble finding the place.  We chatted about subway delays due to construction.  He was starting to get a little more relaxed.  Starting to openly look at my face.  Lord, he looked young.  Not movie-star beautiful, but quite pleasing.  There was something unusual, almost exotic–but very subtly so–about the cast of his face.  In time, I would learn that he had an Asian grandparent.  
     “I like the way you look, by the way,” I told him.  “You are a fine-looking boy.  Very attractive.”
      He smiled, both pleased self conscious, and I noticed his chest swelling up.  I knew that he thought that he was handsome.  He was counting on it when we started corresponding, hence the Spring Break photo of him in swim trunks. I understood this preconceived notion, his vanity, very well.
       Before he could respond, I said, deliberately (but in a casual tone of voice): “ I expect you’ll fix your hair color before you go to work in Washington.  You’ll want your new colleagues to take you seriously, after all.” 
      He froze instantaneously and completely, like a kid playing statues.  A taste of his discomfort for me, like a sip of fine wine.  Delicious. 
      Before the implications of my remark could really sink in, I said:  “I bleached my hair once as an undergrad.  Turned my hair bright canary yellow!  You did a more thorough job on yours. I see how light it is. My brother has the same kind of hair as you.”
       Relief and faint confusion on his face.  I turned away and motioned for him to follow me.  I said, “I’d like to review a few things with you, David, if you please.”  I took a seat behind the gray metal desk.   David stood in the middle of the room.  I liked that.  Is there another position of power dichotomy more universally recognizable than that?  
 I remember all this, and what I was thinking at the time, but the full flavor of it—the compulsion—is out of reach, until I’m in that state again.  It is very hard to explain to others. 
       It is more than aggression or competitiveness.  It is the will to control (and I realized that David was special because he evoked—strongly evoked—that impulse in me).  I am wide awake and focused, thrumming with kinetic energy.  ‘Control,’ to be honest, is an inadequate description of the desire I experience in these rare, precious episodes.  The truth is deeper and more unlovely.  Control is the euphemism my ego uses.  In therapy, when we took a spade to the hard, rocky soil of my subconscious, I faced the unpleasant truth of the basis of my urges in dynamics like this one, with David:  I want to oppress him.  I want to oppress and control everything about him.  I want to control and have access to his privacy, his dignity, his boundaries.  Mine mine mine.  My desire for him—to do this to him— is relentless and destructive.  Pitiless.

         In its most extreme form, in the rarest circumstances–perhaps half a dozen in my life–I go into a queer and alien state of mind: I have acute empathy for the subject of my attention (which thrills me–I won’t deny it)–but I have no sympathy.  Not an ounce, not a grain of compassion.  (This part of me frightens me somewhat, because it is so completely at odds with the rest of my personality and my understanding of myself…and in the world, I find oppression and exploitation to be unspeakably ugly.  I hate it; I find it intolerable.) 

       They can sense it in me, you know.  That capacity I have, the potential for crushing.  It is irresistible to them.  I know, because I can relate to their perspective, as well. 
        But here—now—in this space, this vacuum , David and I are able to safely express ourselves a little.  To move these aspects of identities closer to the front of our faces, closer to the skin, instead of keeping them far in the back.  

Making an Escape

A weekend mixer with dancing in SoHo.  I came at the request of some female friends.  Well, they aren’t friends yet—more like friendly acquaintances—but they could be my friends if I put in the effort.  If I spend time with them.  If I let them be. 
            The event itself was ghastly.  I don’t like loud noise and I would rather cut off my own arm with a chainsaw than attempt to dance.  I’m too uptight.  As you might expect, this can make socializing with my peers more awkward…but one of the true pleasures of being a grownup, in my opinion, is the freedom to be as strict as one likes with one’s preferences. 
            I found the other girls in the crowded space.  They all looked great.  The Swede was wearing a particularly impressive pair of black-sequined stilettos.  Standing in a circle of other women, I realized suddenly how tall I really am—the others only came up to my shoulders.  In my head, I made a conscious effort to shake off the rust.  Compliments all around.  Questions about wardrobe acquisitions.  Discreet comparisons of desirable men. 
            Eventually one of them, who was volunteering at the refreshments booth, asked me to stand in for her while she went outside for a cigarette break.  I ended up working there for most of the evening.  It gave me something to do with myself and freed me from the exhausting obligation of socializing with strangers.  And I really did enjoy helping out.  I like to feel useful. 
            At midnight, I excused myself and said goodnight to my company.  I said that I’d had a great time, which was mostly true, and that I had to get up and go to work early in the morning, which wasn’t. 
            I collapsed into the back of a yellow cab.  Instead of telling the driver to head east, towards my home, I told him to take me far uptown.  I relaxed against the leather seat, felt the tension leaving my body.  I felt like I was escaping.  Escaping what?  Who?  To go where?
            In a hotel room in Midtown East, a twenty-three year old Engineering school graduate was waiting for me.  I called him David.  The name was a gift I’d recently given to him.  Prior to that, he’d been No. 29.  He was visiting from Washington, D.C.  I’d left him alone in the hotel room earlier in the day.  I’d taken his cell phone and every stitch of his clothing in a brown paper bag.  His wallet and keys were locked in the hotel room’s safe. 
            I fished my cell phone out of my purse and called the hotel; requested the room. 
            He picked up on the first ring.