Just Like Romeo and Juliet

Maybe 25 years ago, when I was teaching English, journalism, and drama, “the balcony scene” took on new meaning. The school was undergoing a dreaded visit by an evaluating team for Southern States accreditation, when, early one morning, a teacher heard noises coming from the auditorium balcony. Entering, he found two students, one manifestly male and the other female, apparently on her knees in religious adoration of the pillar of flesh that rose before her. Some called it a “compromising” position; others called it by half of a number. Their being au naturel naturally raised the teacher’s suspicions, even before the male member and associated person bolted, awkwardly pulling up trousers as he—some would say” ungallantly”—bolted from the scene. The teacher grew certain that something was afoot—and something evidently was not, and concluded that the students were not participating in a recognized student activity. Well, he recognized the students’ activity, but it was not sanctioned by the drama department.

Calling upon a distaff faculty member to supervise the young lady’s rearrangement of clothing—and to guard against her joining the object of her ministrations in rapid retreat, the first teacher gave chase to the gangly youth. Despite the young man’s entanglements, the teacher, who had not had the same opportunity to warm up, was unsuccessful and the sprinter won what was later termed a one-sided three-legged race.

I heard the story at lunchtime. While some of the teachers expressed disgust and contempt, amusement lurked beneath their disclaimers and the discussion was among the most animated I ever heard in the faculty room. Despite the words, jealousy and envy pervaded the conversation.

The incident crossed my mind more than a time or two during the following class. I compared my sexual repression and backwardness throughout junior high and high school—and college and graduate school… and beyond—and was aware that my annoyance at the lack of self-discipline and judgment was tempered by some degree of amusement and an unhealthy dose of envy of their youthful passion. My Catholic condemnation vied with my admiration of their youthful passion and audacity. I was most troubled by the erstwhile Lothario’s abandonment of his lady love, leaving her to face humiliation alone. I could remember no equivalent tale of public display of amorous activity, other than the legendary tale of Tommy and Becky in the shallow end of her swimming pool—before the admiring eyes of her younger brother and his friends from a covert coin d’avantage.

As students worked, I circulated through the room and my eyes were drawn to a student who was intently writing what appeared to be a lengthy note. Two factors contributed to his drawing my attention: First, he was devilishly handsome and charming and not known for applying himself assiduously to his work, and the intensity of his writing was out of character. Second, he looked up too frequently with eyes filled with mingled innocence and anxiety. Innocents don’t have to keep scanning the area for observers.

I suspect that he saw my eyes light up. Notes are the single most exciting way for ageing and listless teachers to catch up on gossip. They give up the goods without forcing teachers to admit to interest in the lurid side of student life.

Gently sliding the note from the desk of the student, whose eyes now revealed something beyond abject terror, I told the young man that I would save the missive to savor at leisure. He released his grip and resignedly slid down in his chair.

During the next period, my planning period, I discovered the forgotten note when I opened my drawer. Making a student squirm for inattentiveness might break up the routine, but the thrill passes quickly, and I usually dispose of them unread. I drew it from the drawer and my hand hovered over the waste basket before curiosity moved me to open it.

The prose appropriately defined purple. In lurid and lascivious detail, Romeo revisited his most delicious memories from the morning’s tryst in the balcony. My non-sleuthing had revealed the identity of the (unsatisfied and fleet-footed) mystery cad. This was more invigorating than breaking up a fight between big girls. And far safer.

After reading the note a dozen or so times to be sure that it was the evidence I suspected of the, um unlawful entry—and to commit some of the better turns of phrase to memory to substitute for my own relatively drab and dull existence, I cut along to share the wealth with the administrator charged with investigating the balcony caper. (Who says that school is dull?)

He purposefully donned his reading glasses with his wonted air of resignation and bored tolerance. (He always purposefully donned his reading glasses, as if that were his stage direction to self: “”purposefully don reading glasses.”) I saw his eyebrows dance a quick jig and his eyes widened as drops of perspiration formed on his upper lip. His eyes flicked to me at intervals. I mentally reviewed the procedure for cardiac resuscitation, should the need arise

I believed that it was right—in fact, my only option—to share the note with administrator, but in my heart, I knew that I was sadly exhilarated at breaking the most scintillating case we had had at school in memory. HE was the only one with whom I could justify sharing it. Showing it to anyone else would have been unprofessional and inappropriate. I was aware that I felt more excited than was healthy, and visions of Major Burn’s sneering tattling danced a dirgeful ballet in the shadows of my mind.

When the initial excitement wore off, the administrator decided that both students should be extricated from school until the scandal died down and they had a chance to collect themselves, so he suspended both of them for ten days.

This must be scanned.

That it might be a mistake was evident from the moment the students were informed and the boy sat up straight and grinned, his dimples prominent. They looked at each other and, although they tried to suppress their glee, it was evident that the prospect of having to spend the next ten days alone together was not depressing their spirit.

They appeared eager to get on with their punishment with all due haste, and I doubt that it was coincidence that Romeo left the office with his literature book held in front of him.

Their return at the end of two weeks saw them as refreshed and happy as a couple fresh from their honeymoon.

The subplot of this affair had been keeping the accrediting team ignorant of the embarrassing incident. Faculty and staff had been warned not to breathe a word of extracurricular activity in the balcony. (The etymology of “obscene” sprang, unbidden, to mind.) Their visit was concluding, and we breathed a collective and metaphorical sigh of relief at our success in keeping the secret from the adults…visiting team.

The faculty gathered in the auditorium for a summary of the team’s findings. The chairman solemnly intoned that after considerable deliberation they had decided not to include a recommendation that cots be installed in the balcony.

There was the whoompf of a gasoline explosion as the faculty guffawed, and a slight crimson glow emanated from the tight-lipped principal.

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