Sunday, September 27, 2009

And now, a look back at Hot for Teacher Night (yes, that one):

The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, I covered Hot for Teacher Night at a craptastic sports bar in Seattle's historic Pioneer Square district for sexual anthropologist, Susie Bright (Esquire, Rolling Stone, Salon), of whom I've long been an admirer.

Said night featured the infamous Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau and its announcement received nationwide attention. Bright and I are Facebook friends and she asked if any of her Seattle compadres would be willing to attend and report for her blog; I tossed my hat in the ring and was one of two she chose.

I've attached the link (see below) to the version that ran on Bright's estimable site. Also, I've included my original, longer piece, which Bright herself suggested I post here. (When you read her intro, you'll see why elements of mine became superfluous.) While I observed the festivities, as it were, I experienced a twinge in my shoulder for the second day in a row. And when I wrote the following evening, I developed the most excruciating headache of my life. I thought perhaps it was akin to a migraine or maybe something worse. One could make a case I should have gone to the E.R. immediately, and if it had occurred during 2004 to 2007, when I had dozens of pieces come out in rapid fire, I would have. But due to the perniciously long recovery time from the pneumonia in '08, this was the first deadlined assignment I had taken on in over a year and I was so fucking furious that my health presented yet another obstacle, that I plowed through and handed it off to Bright a mere hour late. Of course, by the next day, a rash had developed along the pain's neural pathway and when I told my mom she said, "Honey, you've got shingles. Get to Dr. Harris' office immediately and I'll meet you there." And there went most of summer of '09. Hence, not posting this sooner: like most aspects of my life, it got lost in the shuffle of what transpired next.

Bright and I reached somewhat varying conclusions regarding Letourneau and Fualaau's relationship, but she was a joy to work with and is a perfectly delightful human being, to boot.

The version that ran on Bright's blog (the headline is not mine):

My original version:

A blonde woman in garnet red lipstick, a black strapless dress and gold flip-flops laughs and poses for pictures with a cadre of drunk college girls. She is toned and tan and appears younger than her 47 years as she waves to a man onstage in his 20s wearing a backwards cap and gold medallion who cues Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll” on his MacBook under the auspices of DJ-ing. A nearby reveler points at the woman and asks his friends, “Can you imagine if she had been a guy teacher? Alcatraz, baby! Al-ca-traz!” His female companion answers, “I know it sounds weird, but I always thought she was hot.”

“Really? Why are you headed there?” my cabdriver asked, perhaps sensing I’m not the sort to frequent Seattle’s cheesy downtown sports bars, Fuel.

“I’m going to Hot for Teacher Night, that thing with Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau,” I replied, referencing the infamous convicted Level 2 sex offender and her onetime underage victim, now adult husband of the past four years. “I’m covering it, though. It’s not like I plan to make new friends tonight.”

“I don’t know,” he said contemplatively. “If you look at the fact they started over a decade ago, they’ve lasted longer than most marriages I can think of. They really seem to want to be together.”

For the rest of the ten-minute drive, I mulled over what he said. True, Letourneau met Fuluaau when she was his second grade teacher in 1990 and, according to court testimony, first sexually assaulted him in 1996 when he was 13 and she was 34 and married with four kids, after having been Fuluaau’s teacher again, this time for seventh grade. They began what they viewed as a relationship and even during her second subsequent prison stint, she was held in solitary confinement for six months after caught smuggling letters to him.

So, sure, in the aggregate, they had been “together” in some form for over a decade, no small feat. But most great love stories don’t involve one party’s family suing the school district and police department for failing to protect their son and for child support of the two children the couple in question now has.

We arrived at Fuel; I paid my fare and hopped out. A truly vile dance mix of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” blared from inside and engulfed the sidewalk, nearly drowning out the commotion gathering outside the entrance. A man in his 40s wearing a softball shirt and wire rim glasses yelled at three security guards while two local television stations filmed the exchange.

“She’s a child rapist!” the man shouted. “You’re making money off of sexual assault! If the genders were reversed, there’s no way you’d be hosting this thing!”

“She served her time, man! She served her time!” the security guards, all of whom were bald and clad in black leather vests, shouted back.

“You guys could have had One Dollar Beer Night instead! There are other ways to get a crowd!”

Two of the guards lumbered to their motorcycles parked on the street a few feet away and summarily revved them as loud as they could, obliterating the man’s words and ruining the stations’ footage. “We own the sidewalk in front of the club and I’m telling you right now you have to get off it,” the third guard said, the threat implied.

The man appeared sad and disgusted and moved a few yards away. The guards, none of whom seemed to realize the extent of their cliché-addled douchebaggery, finally ceased the revving and menacing and I asked the man if he would like to discuss the evening’s theme. He said his name was Joe and that in the course of his career as a police officer in California, he had worked with dozens of sexual assault victims of both genders. “This whole evening is an atrocity toward domestic violence and rape. They’re profiting off the pain of others.”

I thanked him for his time and got in line. When I arrived at the front, I saw a sign reading, “No media or press not approved earlier this week.” A guard asked for five bucks and my I.D. “I saw you talking to that guy. Are you a reporter?”

“No,” I fudged, neglecting to mention that, also, I thought he was an asshole.

“Then why were you talking to that guy? I saw you asking him stuff.”

“I felt like talking to him. That’s allowed, isn’t it?” I replied, my sarcasm thick as his skull. A second guard checked my bag and eyed my notebook suspiciously. I met his gaze and said, “I carry one sometimes. So?”

Stumped, or maybe deciding it wasn’t worth the hassle, they took my money and let me in. Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” blasted from the sound system and I edged towards the mostly empty dance floor and spotted Fualaau onstage with his MacBook, ostensibly serving tunes but mostly providing spectacle. Patrons sporting a stunning array of crunchy and outdated haircuts crowded the bar and U-shape of surrounding tables, viewing Fualaau from afar as if he were a zoo act. He didn’t look up and, surprisingly, appeared almost timid, as if he weren’t quite sure how to proceed.

Letourneau was nowhere to be found and I asked a table of college girls with a giant inflatable pink penis on their table what they thought of the evening so far. “We’re just here for my bachlorette party!” one of them replied, adjusting the strap on her pink shiny halter dress. “We thought it would be fun!” she added, a bit of slur to her words.

Momentarily, a thunderous cheer tore through the crowd, not quite the kind that met Barack Obama on the campaign trail but more than, say, Jimmy Fallon might expect to elicit. I turned and saw a woman with almost daffodil yellow hair and superb legs and it took me a second to realize this was the once-frumpy schoolteacher I’d seen in countless hours of news footage. She beamed as dozens of camera phones flashed like popcorn-ing rhinestones. “Mary Kay!” an older woman in walking sneakers and capri pants yelled. “Make sure and tell Vili I’m the one who sent the baby book!” Letourneau smiled and returned the hug when the woman embraced her enthusiastically.

The bachlorette throng rushed Letourneau as if she were a long lost friend and the woman who launched a thousand punch lines responded in kind. On and on it went, each customer seemingly more rapturous than the previous one. A Fuel employee sold autographed “Hot for Teacher!” tee shirts and posters at a nearby folding table and looked slightly queasy. “How much is the merchandise?” I asked.

“Seven dollars for a poster and twenty for a tee shirt. We’ve sold a lot so far.”

“How do you feel about them making money like this?”

“I’m dating the owner’s cousin. He asked me to help out tonight and I couldn’t tell him no.” She paused, as if concerned someone would hear our exchange. “I’m neutral about Letourneau, but you don’t say ‘no’ to family.”

After another half hour, I left, deadened at the notion that in this room, it was verboten to suggest a convicted pedophile might not be worthy of affection or accolades.

On the cab ride home, the driver asked me, “Hot for Teacher Night? What’d you go to that thing for?”

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