Friday, November 18, 2011
Swan Song XVII-Guilt that goes on giving
I'm innocent. I wasn't stalking anyone, simply minding my own business, buying apples probably or something as undemanding as cole slaw. I know the depth of my own sin, but let me make perfectly clear that I would have made a lousy Nazi.
But there they were, two of them, right in front of the wine at the grocery store, one of them my own student. For the last 35 years I've been a teacher at a Christian college, a college where drinking--a plague on some college campuses--has always been, well, a no-no. I mean, you can get stung for being "in possession," as they say, stung badly, even tossed. Way back when and now.
But there they were, at that moment, red-handed, even if the cork hadn't been pulled. I sauntered over and tipped my head menacingly. "I'm writing you up, you know," I told them with all the cool of Law and Order.
I think they knew well and good they weren't going to jail. Besides, these days, students live in a whole different era. Guilt is penny-loafer ancient. Those two young women had to be of age or they'd have never left the store with the goods.
Then, suddenly, I had one of those horrible senior moments when you feel like you stepped in it and went in up to your hip. I mean, those two young women never even thought of what they were doing as sinful, as something this ancient prof might condemn. I'd made absolutely no sense to them--that's what I thought. I'd tried to be funny in a modern way to a couple of post-moderns, and they left the store with that bottle and another completely baffling story about old Prof. Schaap.
That's what I thought.
Because things have changed. Trust me.
In the early days, if you wanted even a breath of beer, you had to go into a dive so wretched and so male that only women of ill-repute dared enter. Doc's was, back then, as male as a barber shop, a downtown bar purposely designed for sinners, a place where the old man could finally get the heck away from the old lady and tip back a couple of cool ones. If you wanted a six-pack to go, the bar tender would put it in a bag and you could sneak it out the back door.
Docs was an institution designed to marginalize sin, sort of like Amsterdam's famous red-light district--put all the liquor in a place so seedy that only apostates would dare cross the doorstep, even if they come in through the back door. Men only. Keep women out and you got a place you can swear and spit and buy a hunk of sausage you cut off yourself with a knife the bartend cleans with his apron. You know.
Back then, Docs was hard core, and the only place to buy beer. Wine meant a trip to Alton, where the truly dissolute lived.
But things changed. I remember, years ago, walking into grocery store with an old friend from Grand Rapids and buying a six-pack or two right there.
"You can just do that?--a Dordt prof?" he asked when we got out in the parking lot, assuming I lived in a Calvinist police state.
"Not only that," I told him, "but the young lady who took our bucks was BJ's own granddaughter." She was, the granddaughter of the college pres. In Sioux Center, we were suddenly "of the world." Free at last--thank God a'mighty, free at last.
Fifteen years ago at least, on a Friday night, I stopped in at Casey's to get a six-pack. It was busy. I stood in line, goods in hand, and was suddenly surrounded by a half dozen of my own students. There I stood, massively guilty. They thought catching me was just about too cool. I thought it was funny too. I didn't stay to see what they hauled up to the counter.
Way, way back, in 1966, when I was a student, a couple of years before we were old enough to buy a beer at Docs, we used to head west to Hudson, South Dakota, to a place called the Buckaroo, an equally dark and lovely den of inquity, where the only lights were Grain Belt signs and whatever glow arose from long rows of Budweiser Clydesdales up on the wall. I'd never hung out in a real tavern before, but at 19--well, maybe even younger--you could drink 3.2 beer in South Dakota. Somehow, sinner that I was, I managed to find my best college friends among those who took a real shine to getting out of town, crossing state lines, and bellying up.
But all of that is ancient history, so far back that I just figured such public sin and righteousness didn't mean a thing to the two young women picking out a perfect Merlot at Fareway.
So I mentioned it in class yesterday. Didn't make a big deal out of it. We hadn't yet come to order, and the chief transgressor sits right there in front of me, first row, so I told her I did what I'd said I would--I told her I'd written her up. She knew I was lying.
But she didn't quite dare look at me. She said she had told her accomplice in crime, right before they walked into that grocery store, that they could get caught--"what if someone sees us?" she'd warned, she said.
Just like that, Prof. Schaap appears, the grim reaper in sweat pants.
Honestly, she couldn't look at me. She fairly swooned with guilt, right there in class. I swear. I honestly think she'd been scared--well, shaken at least.
And me?--I'm greatly relieved. I didn't make a fool of myself, making a joke nobody gets. That happens often enough these days. Those furtive eyes she showed me when she talked about being there, red-handed, could well have been my own almost a half-century ago--classic Calvinist, after all--the very idea that someone, somewhere is having a good time.
What I'm saying is that there was some considerable guilt there. Isn't that just great?
Cute. Really. I feel like a kid again.