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Thursday, 01 February
Vanishing Girl

The names in the following post have all been changed. Except for mine. I tried to write myself as "Kirby the Rad," but it didn't take.

Everyone remembers his or her freshman year of college, except for the really drunk parts. I remember mine chiefly for my massive and embarrassing efforts to utterly remake myself--to transform from an Idaho hick into a worldly sort of guy with lots of life experience. This illusion was immediately smashed when I met one of my dorm-mates, a very wealthy guy named Rick from southern California, who was Jewish, and another guy from the east coast named David, who was also Jewish, but not wealthy at all. Growing up in Idaho, I knew nothing about the Jews, and was puzzled by the exchange between them when Rick and David met. They shook hands, and then David exclaimed, "Nice Jew ring!" Rick stared thoughtfully at this big gold thing on his finger and said nothing. For my part, I was just confused.

They have rings? That's kind of cool, I guess.

I was an irritating little shit, of course, and was still trying to find my way, hyperactively describing anything within a sightline as "cheesy" and wearing aggressively horrible things like shark-emblazoned LA Gear shorts and bright red Ray-Bans. I also frankly had no idea what I wanted to study at school, apart from what I hoped were girls with impossibly lax standards. I was, naturally, a virgin. I did harbor vague ideas of entering pre-law programs, but that idea got dumped within a couple weeks, when no less than four people asked me, "Are you an actor?"

Sure! Why not? I signed up for a beginning acting class. Obviously, it took.

The professor was one of those guys who insisted that everyone call him by his first name, not "Professor Whatever." No, he was "Bob." Bob was a grinning little bearded thing, quick of tongue and obviously not quite grown up--and he regaled us endlessly about his acting exploits and his many near-misses on the big stage. He was charming in his rodentlike way, at the time . . . at the time.

Bob took an immediate shine to me in class, mainly because I was not untalented, and also because I was more than willing to take his smart-ass remarks and give them back to him; he was, in retrospect, dismissive and taunting towards the shyer, more tentative students. You see these kids in acting classes, stammer-mouthed and uncomfortable in their own skins, and wonder if taking an acting class is some sort of self-help regimen. But I wasn't tentative at all. We were all remaking ourselves, and I was gung-ho about the whole project. One of the requirements of the course was to audition for every show that was put on--you didn't have to accept a role, but you did have to audition. For my own part, I treated my very first audition as the most important thing in my life, and would have probably considered suicide if I did not get cast.

But I did, a couple very minor roles in As You Like It. Bob cast me after essentially deconstructing my initial disastrous audition read and telling me exactly what to do. Bob was on my side, and I felt that Bob was making me into the sort of person I imagined: someone who was nothing like the dipshit who didn't even know what the hell a "Jew ring" was. I was doing Shakespeare.

Bob drove a Grand Am, at least until he trashed it in some sort of accident. Then he bought himself a slick BMW motorcycle and leather riding gear. He had a blandly pretty wife at home, and midway through the year, they had a baby. Reportedly. We never saw a picture of the baby. His wife would occasionally show up at the theater building, but not often. Bob tended to his flock, and that was us. Me.

Bob was pretty fucking cool.

He was so cool, in fact, that he blew my tiny little Idaho mind in rehearsals by saying things like "I think it's pretty clear that Audrey has been sport-fucking William." Naughty! Also: "Skot, you know that William is a total pencil dick, right?" I laughed. We all laughed.

I lived for rehearsals, and I lived for acting class with Bob. He was a Stanislavsky freak (sigh), and so we'd have long discussions about "circles of intention" and then have exercises where we would cross the room, with our "energies" focused into our left knees, our foreheads, our right wrists and left ankles. Bob paid attention to posture, to alignment, to our bodies. He would think nothing of striding over to someone and massaging her shoulders, her calves, her arms. He never felt the need to adjust my position or gait, though; I interpreted this as natural talent on my part--I didn't need adjustment. I was just fine! The girls, however, needed a lot of help.

Bob had a generous open-door office policy. If you were stressed, or had some questions, or needed guidance about something, you could always find him in his office. I didn't really feel the need. Anything I needed to know, I could just ask him in class. He seemed to encourage it, and I was the brilliant student, showing off to everyone: I know how to ask the smart stuff. I positively shone.

Some of the girls didn't have it so good. Kelly in particular seemed to be enjoying the course, but she was getting moodier. She was one of the shy ones, a pretty girl, but short and short on self-esteem. She spoke her lines in a tiny voice, and seemed embarrassed bout her height as well as her zaftig figure, which she insisted on hiding with an assortment of sweaters.

I was doing excellently in the class, and got near-daily praise from Bob. I never felt the urge to visit him in his office, and continued to rise in his estimation in class; I was frequently praised, and glowed as Bob informed my classmates that I was "the guy to watch." On the other hand, poor Kelly seemed to be withdrawing more and more, and consequently was seen entering Bob's office more and more for help. I thought it was pretty cool of the guy to spend so much time helping out a girl who was having a hard time of it in a beginning acting class.

I have a very clear memory of hanging out in the theater office with my fellow actors, most of whom were smoking--this was still no problem in 1987--and watching Kelly knock nervously on Bob's door. "Kelly!" he boomed. "Come on in!" Then the door would close.

A little less than a year later, I was meeting with the Dean, who professed an interest in linguistics. "Can you tell me what 'sport-fucking' is?" she inquired. "And 'pencil dick?'" Am I being filmed for a comedy program? I wondered. For my own part, I had managed to persuade a couple of doubtlessly unsatisfied women to have sex with me. I stammered out some bunch of horrible garble along the lines of "Um, I guess it means having a really thin penis, like, unsatisfying," while the Dean nodded at me. I couldn't stop my mind from imagining what had been going on in that terrible, sterile office, with posters of Bob glaring down from the walls.

Kelly had filed formal charges. Bob was almost certainly going to be canned, and there were other murky legal issues twitching in the shadows. But Bob was going to fight this all the way, or so we heard.

I was told that I would need to testify in front of the disciplinary board. I would have to tell them about stuff like "sport fucking" and "needle dick" and classroom massages. I had to tell them all of it, about Bob, the guy who liked me, who challenged me and cast me and practically beat me with a tire iron to make me abandon the hideous fake British accent that I lapsed into when reciting Shakespeare. And the guy who, oh, right, screwed the hell out of Kelly on his awful gray office carpet.

I didn't want to testify against Bob. He had championed me and made me believe I had promise and talent. He was funny (though maybe not so much to others). I couldn't bear to think of crucifying him right to his face. There was some part of me that still considered him a good guy, and I dreaded the look of betrayal that would surely appear on his face when I spoke. Then I would think of Kelly's tiny hand nervously knocking on his open door. And Kelly, vanishing in the half moon of the closing door's arc.

I would have testified, you know. I was all set. There were a few of us with tales to tell. I guess he knew it too.

The morning of the hearing, I got a phone call. Bob had split town. He drained his family's savings account (over 50 grand), and left his young wife and infant with nothing. My testimony would not be required. I hung up the phone with a strange mixture of anger and relief. I traded phone calls with some of the other people who were set to appear, and we all felt like Thank God. Yeah. Lucky us.

The last I heard, LA cops were quite interested in tracking down Bob, who had apparently migrated south.

I never heard anything about Kelly ever again.

Note: Comments are closed on old entries.


Wow, back in the day when families had savings, instead of credit card debt.

Also, ick. I was fortunate enough to have avoided the scary professors in college. I made up for it by hanging out with the scary students.

Comment number: 011540   Posted by: Ian J on February 2, 2007 09:57 AM from IP:

Huh. I was a theatre major too and we had a prof just like that...and his name with Bob too. Seriously.

Comment number: 011543   Posted by: Ice Queen on February 2, 2007 11:58 AM from IP:

This is a beautiful telling of an ugly story. It gets at your own vulnerabilities, it stays entirely in your own point of view, it lets us figure out things gradually, it allows for the moral ambiguity of the world -- one guy can be a hero who enlarges our world and an exploiter at the same time -- and it contains compassion for people who were peripheral to your life. Really, Skot, you are a wonderful writer and I'm glad to know you (if by "know" we mean "read.")

Comment number: 011547   Posted by: Bill on February 2, 2007 01:47 PM from IP:

Ditto Bill.
Skot, you are a reall cool guy. That's all I have to say. Except we were all geeks, some of us got married at 17 and did go to college till, oh, 37, and I'm still a geek wanting to be cool.

Comment number: 011550   Posted by: Jezzie on February 2, 2007 03:18 PM from IP:

Nice! More of the embittered reminisences, please. Please note I MEAN IT. This seemed very thoughtfully constructed and at the same time retains the well-celebrated Kurruk hyukery.

Comment number: 011555   Posted by: mike on February 2, 2007 07:30 PM from IP:


Comment number: 011561   Posted by: JJ on February 2, 2007 09:38 PM from IP:

Really great story, Skot. I laughed so hard at the part about the girls needing "a lot of help" that my wife made me read it out loud.

Comment number: 011595   Posted by: Diesel on February 3, 2007 08:39 PM from IP:

Everyone thought I was the Kelly to my own Bob, but I did it cause I liked it and him.

He got canned anyway. I tried to tell my side of it but nobody would listen.

Comment number: 011609   Posted by: Linsey on February 4, 2007 04:21 AM from IP:

Yep, same ol' stuff in our Drama Dept. Our 'Bob' told friends of mine I wasn't right for a roll because my 36D chest wasn't "big enough" for the part. I thought that's why it was called ACTING...

Comment number: 011655   Posted by: myra on February 5, 2007 11:36 AM from IP:

Uh, Myra, please tell me you mean "role" and not "roll."

Comment number: 011749   Posted by: flamingbanjo on February 5, 2007 08:15 PM from IP:

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