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Taboo or Not Taboo?
“He fingered my hot, moist cunt until I was moaning and twisting on the bed, squeezing and pawing at his rock-hard dick, but when he slid his stiff, thick, quivering cock into my loose wet hole, he came so quickly I didn’t have a chance to get my own, and I was left with only his smelly white goo dripping out of me while he rolled off and fell asleep. The bastard. I had to take the vibrator to my clit. It was always this way with Brian, my pussy begging to be fucked and fucked and fucked for hours on end, and then him getting his little tingle and squirt and falling asleep, satisfied, not giving a shit if I was or not, leaving me panting and dripping.”
Roger Castleman listened impassively while Mandy Clark read her short story, aware of the restiveness around him, shock and titillation palpable in the classroom air. Mandy had big tits that she liked to display in tight, low-cut blouses, frequently made of sheer material beneath which her black brassiere lurked like an underwater predator. She wore her hennaed hair in a crew cut that she brushed back with her hand, and dark lipstick. Her poetry dealt with breaking boys’ hearts, the crushed puppy look in their eyes when she broke up with them. This was her fiction project she was reading from now.
Castleman was going to get an earful from Laura Dudley or Mary Ann Brody. Mary Ann had complained several weeks earlier when Mandy had read her poetry with the phrases, “spreading my wet thighs,” “feeling you inside of me,” “lifting my ass to meet your thrust.”
“I’d been thinking of bringing my daughter to class,” Mary Ann had said, shock and disapproval dragging her eyes down her face. “I’m so glad I didn’t.”
“Maybe I’m old-fashioned,” Laura added, “but some things you don’t talk about so – in such a – I mean, she makes it all sound so cheap and vulgar.”
Both in their thirties, Mary Ann and Laura were a good ten to fifteen years older than most of the students, kids fresh out of high school getting their feet wet in higher education at the community college. Laura had sent Castleman e-mails expressing her disgust and suggesting that as teacher, he was obligated to silence Mandy.
“I pressed the humming vibrator against my wet swollen knob, shivering with the sudden sensation, and shoved it again and again between my spread legs, slapping it hard the way you knead dough when you’re making bread,” Mandy read, and Mary Ann, looking stricken, rose from her seat and went to the classroom door. Castleman pretended not to notice. Mandy glanced up briefly but plowed on, reading about the narrator’s moaning climax, falling off the bed her lover slept on, painfully slamming her elbow on the floor.
“Have you got a title for this, Mandy?” Castleman asked when she finished reading the section. Work-in-progress. It just sort of stopped after the narrator told about how she’d contemplated beating “Brian” with the “slick, sticky” vibrator.
“How about ‘Sloppy Seconds’,” Tim Collins piped in. Tim was the class clown, a boy into the Beatniks and eastern religions. He wore a purple derby and a matching sports jacket. A few titters poked holes in the classroom silence.
“I’m still thinking about it.” Mandy ignored Tim.
“I think you use too many adjectives,” Castleman offered.
“Well, I have to describe what happened.”
“The basic rule is show, don’t tell.” But Castleman knew he’d been shown something he wasn’t quite prepared to deal with.
“The things she writes,” Laura said after class. “It’s just appalling.” After Mandy had finished her reading, Laura had gone quietly out into the hallway to retrieve Mary Ann, who still looked shell-shocked. Castleman intended to speak to her after class, but she had scurried away before he’d had a chance. He felt a pang of regret. Was it his fault that he permitted such talk? Was he just squishy? A moral center like a marshmallow? Did the students just walk all over him?
“I don’t know. I find it more embarrassing than anything else. She’s just got to learn for herself that that kind of shock-language doesn’t really work. Shock quickly turns to schlock.”
“I feel like I ought to say something. Somebody ought to say something.”
Stung by Laura’s somebody, Castleman tried to minimize the offense. “It’s just language,” he said. “It’s not harming anybody.”
“Well, I feel violated,” Laura said, and Castleman knew he had to respond in some way that would mollify her. Only two more weeks left in the semester; he’d hoped he could just ride them out.
“Well, if it comes up next time, it might be good to stop the reading and have a discussion of taboo language.”
This seemed to mollify Laura, though she looked suspicious. Whose side was he on, anyway?
Castleman thought that if he hadn’t seized the day and confronted Mandy in class while she was reading – embarrass the girl, shame her – the next best thing was to send her an e-mail.
Mandy, you add a lot to the class by way of your outspokenness, but could you cool it on the cunt and dick sucking talk? I don't mind it personally -- language is just language -- but I'm sensing some people are uncomfortable with it. So for the sake of harmony, try to be more circumspect, okay?
But speaking of "dirty language," it does get old after a while. I went through this period of writing very graphic stories about fucking girls who were having their period, very anatomically detailed. It didn't win a big audience. I think it was the shock of it that excited me, you know? It's probably this shock that makes some people nervous about it as well. Those people may be called parents, is what I think. They probably feel guilty about it, wondering what their children would say.
The click of the SEND button made Castleman feel he’d made a decisive move. But no reply came from Mandy. The next week she did not show up in class, and several of the other students read their work. Laura’s was about two girls who met in kindergarten; their friendship continued through elementary school, despite some troubles along the way. The climax was when one of them was hit by a car, and the other friend fell apart. Another student read a fairy tale; a third read a parable about war. Castleman left class feeling let down.
“Mandy didn’t show up this evening,” Laura observed, walking out to the parking lot with him and Mary Ann.
“I’ve been out of school so long I just figure this is the way they talk nowadays, and I just have to face up to reality,” Mary Ann said. But she was clearly relieved that Mandy had not come to class.
“I wonder if she’ll show up next week,” Laura said. “I’d still like to give her a piece of my mind. Maybe get her to see things differently.”
“Somebody should have drawn the lines for her when she was growing up,” Mary Ann added, nodding sagely.
Castleman resented their assumption that he was on their side in this.
Castleman decided to talk to a colleague about classroom obscenities, see what her take would be. He found Milly Spaay, the department chair, in her office, feet propped up on her desk in knee-high boots. Milly was a big woman, strands of gray streaking her hair. All she needed was a cigar, he thought.
“This isn’t a matter of freedom of expression,” Milly said when Castleman finished his story. “It’s about manners. Considerate classroom behavior. Tell her not to do it again. Period. And in your syllabus next semester address the use of bad language in the classroom.”
“Well, this is Creative Writing, Milly,” Castleman objected. “I don’t want to muzzle them.”
“Creative writing! Oh, bullshit, Roger! She’s just trying to see what she can get away with, how far she can push you, and you know it! And how far is that, Roger? Don’t you have any balls?”
“I don’t think it’s a matter of balls, Milly.”
“You are so naïve, Roger! Don’t you see the risks? All this cunt talk is creating a hostile sexist atmosphere. You, the department, the whole university are at risk. Already some women in your class feel so offended they’re walking out of the room. It wouldn’t surprise me if somebody brought a lawsuit against us, against you and the whole damn college!” .
“Maybe you’re right,” Castleman said, but he didn’t feel convinced, and he left Milly’s office feeling as if he hadn’t explained the situation adequately, before she completely exaggerated the situation.
Back when he was a senior in high school back in Kansas, and he’d written a book report on The Brothers Karamazov. The teacher had questioned whether he’d actually read the book, implying that he did not have the brainpower to comprehend it. Hurt, he’d written his next report on a cheap pornography book, Insane Desire, an act of revenge.
“This book is about sucking dicks,” he’d written. “It’s about women wrapping their lips around men’s cocks and running their tongues up and down their balls. It’s about men coming in women’s mouths and fucking them in the ass.”
Unfortunately, he’d left a copy of the report on the coffee table in the living room, and his mother had come across it. She’d called Mrs. Phillips and begged her not to do anything about it. Mrs. Phillips said she was going to have Roger suspended. Roger had been forced to apologize, without being allowed to explain why he had written the report in the first place.
“I don’t care why you did,” Mrs. Phillips said when he started to explain. “There is no excuse for this kind of behavior. I’m only keeping this from the principal and letting you back into class for your mother’s sake. Do you understand? Not you. Your mother.”
“Mandy Clark didn’t come to class last week,” Castleman mentioned to his wife as he was preparing to leave for the final class. “She dropped out of her other classes. Apparently she got into a fight with Milly Spaay in her Intro. to Lit. class for saying the word ‘bastard’ out loud. You know Milly. She doesn’t go for insubordination.”
“And she can smell it a mile away. What was the context?”
“A character in a novel they were reading. Their Eyes Were Watching God.”
“So she felt she had to point out the character was a ‘bastard’? Just had to say the word outloud. Sounds like something Bart Simpson would do. Flirting with the technicalities of the law, like throwing down a gauntlet.”
“And Milly snatched it up and flung it back at her.”
Castleman flipped on the lights in the dark classroom on the final night of class. The room was cold; it was mid-December and a snowstorm was brewing. Usually when he arrived for class, one or two students were already there, often Laura or Mary Ann, but this time nobody showed up for five minutes, and he began to wonder if maybe nobody would show up at all.
But then they came, in groups of two and three, Sue and Jennifer and Rebecca and then Tim and Brad and Randy. Laura and Mary Ann came in together and then Cindy and Clare and Jeremy. Finally, Mandy came in, bearing a huge tin of cookies and a wrapped gift.
“There she is,” Castleman blurted, wondering how that sounded to the class. But it appeared that nobody actually noticed that he’d said anything.
“This is for you,” Mandy said, giving the gift to Castleman.
“Suck up,” Tim wisecracked.
“No, I just really enjoyed this class,” Mandy said, even though she’d missed about half of them – according to department guidelines, about triple what she was allowed. “Anyway, I quit my job at the mall this afternoon when my boss started giving me a bunch of shit, and I took this tin of chocolate chip cookies with me. Help yourself.” She tossed a cookie at Castleman, who tore open the cellophane wrapping and bit into it, and then the rest of the class took cookies for themselves. Stolen goods. Forbidden fruit.
“Okay, I’d like everybody who wants to to read their fiction, and then you can turn in your portfolios, and we’ll call it a semester, okay?”
They moved their chairs into a circle and went around the room; those who felt like reading read, and those who didn’t passed up the chance. Laura read her current version of the story about the two elementary school friends, and Clare read the changes she’d made to her fairy tale. When it came Amanda’s turn, she apologized for not having been able to write the past couple of weeks. She blamed it on her job.
“I wouldn’t have been able to come tonight if I hadn’t quit. My boss kept pushing things on me. That job really sucked. I’m so glad I quit.”
“But you’ve got your work in your portfolio?” Castleman said. He felt relieved but disappointed at the same time. There would be no show-down.
“Oh yeah, it’s all here,” Mandy said, waving the folder in front of her.
“Okay. Anybody else? Tim?”
Tim smiled slyly. The court jester. “Yes, I’d like to read mine.” He flipped through the pages of his portfolio and announced, “Death, Desperation and Dildos.”
The titter went through the classroom like a wave.
“‘Where the fuck is that damn dildo?’ Tammy squawked, going through the accumulation of junk on her table. ‘I knew I had it here somewhere.’ Ever since her husband Roscoe had taken to drinking whiskey, he’d been unable to get a hard-on for her and cunnilingus didn’t appeal to his tastes – and I do mean taste…”
Some of the girls rolled their eyes and Castleman squelched an impulse to interrupt, ridicule.
“Roscoe found himself in a B and D bar where the slaves were tethered to a post like pet dogs while their masters sat at the bar, drinking brews. Suddenly he heard a low moaning and glanced down the bar where he suddenly recognized Tammy’s kid brother, Denny. He did a doubletake to get it all in: tanktop tee-shirt, tattoos, earring, goatee, torn jeans, combat boots. A gay biker's fantasy. Denny was leaning over his bar stool, licking sperm off the bar while a hairy guy in brass-studded black leather shoved his fist up his ass.”
Castleman glanced sideways at Laura, who seemed to take this as her cue, or an encouragement. She interrupted Tim. “You know, there are some things that just –”
But nobody heard her, and Castleman spoke up, “Quiet, everybody, Laura’s got something to say.”
“I just wanted to say I’m disgusted by some of the things I’ve heard in this class. Maybe it’s just your generation. You all act like they’re just ‘acts’ between animals in a zoo. There are some things between a man and a woman that –”
“Oh, I’ve got feelings,” Tim hastened to say. “This is just a story.”
“But still,” Laura started to say.
“I think people are more into sex these days than they used to be,” Mandy interrupted. “In the sixties, that’s when everybody was having sex with everybody else, but then along came AIDS and STDS and it kind of cooled down, but I think there’s more of an interest in sex these days.”
“Man, you should see some of the sites on the Internet,” Jeremy said, and in no time the students were swapping stories of the outrageous things they’d seen online. Child pornography, bondage, animal sex. Castleman thought he’d better rein in the discussion.
“Hey, but Tim,” he said, “about your short story. You’re a comic is what you are. You aim for laughs in your writing.” He hadn’t thought much of the writing but he was not going to get into that here, on the final day of class. “But let’s talk about dirty words a second, okay? Taboo language. I mean, I have students in my literature classes who, when they come across the word s-h-i-t, won’t even say it aloud. They simply won’t say it. That’s one of the things Burroughs was getting at in Naked Lunch, looking at the thing quivering at the end of the newspaper fork, the journalistic euphemisms that obscure the vision. One of Burroughs’ aims was to actually say the words, get past the language police and attend to what they really mean.
What are we really saying?”
And that seemed to Castleman to sum it all up, the entire semester, even one’s entire life. What are we really saying? For a moment he felt some satisfaction.
“I don’t know about that,” Mandy said. “I think it’s more about actual fucking, having some guy’s dick in your pussy.”
“Are you talking about literature or life?” Behind him he heard a noise at the classroom door but didn’t pay it any particular attention. “It can be more liberating to talk about fucking than the actual fucking itself, you see what I’m saying? The dick and the pussy quivering at the end of the fork.”
Castleman noticed that the eyes of the classroom were fixed on a point behind him. Randy, Brad, Jennifer and Jeremy all seemed to be looking over his shoulder toward the classroom door. Castleman turned his head to see Milly Spaay, frowning, arms crossed, leaning in the doorway. How long had she been there?
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