Thursday, May 28, 2015

Kept After School by my Science Teacher

Rock Island, November 1974

Mr. Peterson, who taught chemistry and physics, was the most physical teacher at Washington Junior High. Most teachers hide their bodies, trying to become pure intellect, but as he danced, ran, and skipped around the classroom, Mr. Peterson obviously had a chest and shoulders and biceps -- and, if you looked closely, a Bratwurst shifting in his slacks

He always wore his tie half-undone, as if his body was aching to burst out.

 When he walked down the row of lab tables to check on our work, you could feel his heat.

In the fall of ninth grade, Dan and I enrolled in his physics class, expecting discussions of black holes, teleportation, and Star Trek-style warp drive mechanics -- what could be more exciting?

Unfortunately, physics turned out to be deadly dull.

Levers and inclined planes and how pulleys work. Put this wire into that box.

Mr. Peterson tried to make it fun by singing songs and making silly puns, but still:

Gravity, friction, inertia. AC and DC currents. Calculate the velocity of a pitched ball.

Yuck!  We tweaked by with C's. And spent a lot of time whispering and giggling and making funny drawings in our notebooks.

One day we collaborated an elaborate picture of the ancient Greek view of the universe: a flat world surrounded by a vast ocean, with a dome of heaven above.  We labeled it "What we learned in Mr. Peterson's class."

We were so engrossed that we didn't hear Mr. Peterson approach and look over my shoulder.  "Looks like you guys have a lot of free time on your hands," he said with an incongruous smile.  "We'd better put you to work.  Report to the Chemistry Lab at 3:00 to wash test tubes."

Test tubes?

Five big boxes of them, a new shipment for Advanced Chemistry.  Before they could be used, they had to be soaked -- one at a time -- in a solution of hydrochloric acid, then washed in a special detergent and rinsed in de-ionized water.  Who knew it was such a complicated process?

Fun, though.  We got to wear goggles and gloves.

As we worked, Mr. Peterson tried the usual adult conversation starter: girls.  Do you have girlfriends?  What girl do you like?  Girls always go for scientists! And so on.

Finally I got tired of it and exclaimed "Girls are gross!"

Dan kicked me under the table.  In ninth grade, you couldn't express a lack of interest in girls.  The adults would say "Don't get smart!" or redouble their efforts to hook you up with "the girl of your dreams."

But Mr. Peterson said "Yeah, I guess girls are pretty gross," without even blinking in surprise.  "So, what do you like?"

I was too shocked to lie.  " with muscles."

"Muscles?"  He stared, but only for a moment.  "Right, physical fitness is important.  You guys like Bruce Lane?  Wow, he had some muscles on him!"  He began doing fake kung fu moves and singing. "Everybody was kung fu fighting..."

"Donny Osmond is cute, too," Dan said.  "He took off his shirt in Tiger Beat."

"When I was a kid, we liked Elvis Presley.  Did you ever see him in Blue Hawaii?  He spends about half the movie in a swimsuit!"

The three of us spent the rest of detention talking about cute and muscular guys, from Greg Brady to Tarzan!

Mr. Peterson framed his comments in heteronormative terms: "I bet the girls go for him!" or "He must get all the girls he wants!"  But grownups always tried to make everything about girls.  It was easy to ignore the side-comments, and just feel proud and happy to be talking about muscles.

When we were finished with the test tubes, he said,"You've been such good assistants, I want to treat you to a hamburger."

We didn't care that dinner was in about an hour.  He drove us to Mulkey's, and we sat in a booth on either side of him, close enough so our legs and thighs were inches away from his, and we could feel the warmth from his body.

When the waitress asked  "Are these your sons?", he said, "No, my research assistants.  We're scientists, conducting a very important experiment."

"On what?"

"Muscles!"  Dan exclaimed.  We all laughed.

Best detention ever!

We never got detention again, but we took Mr. Peterson's chemistry class in the spring semester, and occasionally he tapped my shoulder and asked "Seen any musclemen lately?"

My brother and sister both took his classes when they were in junior high, and he always asked about me.

Since he's on the list of Teachers I may have hooked up with, you're probably wondering if we did.

Answer after the break:

Not unless you count my fantasies.

I don't know about Dan.  Mr. Peterson hooked him on science.  He majored in physics in college, and finally became an computer engineer of some sort.  Maybe they reunited years later.

I was happy just to be talking about muscles.

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