The class I hated the most in high school was Public Speaking. I didn't mind the speaking -- it was rather fun having an audience. But the teacher, Mr. Blowfish!
Actually Mr. Lundquist, he was a prissy, snippy, ultra-swishy little gordito, balding, with a villain goatee, who lived to impress upon students that they were worthless. He swept over the classroom, making condescending, sarcastic, and insulting remarks in his overmodulated, oversophisticated voice.
"Try speaking English. Eng-Lish!"
"I have an idea. Let's try to get it right."
"You can't be that stupid. You must be putting me on."
"God, your parents must have been morons, to have you."
More than one student was reduced to tears, whereupon Mr. Blowfish would sneer "It's called real life. Get used to it."
The whole class hated him.
I remember one piece of advice he gave us: When you're invited to a party, find out who's coming, and research their interests, so you'll have something to talk about.
Wait -- this miserable, mean-spirited little troll was invited to parties?
I eked by his class with a C-, which was pretty good. No one got higher than a C, except for the two A's given to girls who, we assumed, were his relatives.
The years passed. I graduated from high school, moved to West Hollywood, then New York, then Florida. When I came back to Rock Island to visit, I asked around the gay community. No one had ever heard of Mr. Blowfish...um, I mean Lundquist.
Still, the little Truman Capote wannabe must be gay. He probably never met anyone because he was too disagreeable to be with for more than ten seconds.
Back in Rock Island in the summer of 2003, I finally got around to looking up Mr. Blowfish: he was now living in Washington, Iowa, about 70 miles from Rock Island.
Now, finally, I could find out if he was gay!
I called and gushed, "You were my favorite teacher in high school!" Naturally I got an invitation to visit.
On the hottest day of the year, I drove my sister-in-law's car to Washington, to a very nice grey-brick house with dormer windows.
27 years had passed since I took Mr. Blowfish's class, but still, I recognized the man who answered the door: a fat, bearded bear in his sixties, a mass of thick white hair on his ample chest. He was wearing only a swimsuit and flip-flops. I couldn't see a basket.
"Mr. Davis, how nice to see you again!" he said, offering a limp handshake.
"Dr. Davis, now."
"I know, I know! Isn't that marvelous, even if you did go to a third-rate school! You must be using the skills I taught you every day, or do you hide behind those -- what-do-you-call-it -- Powerpoint presentations?"
"Sometimes," I admitted.
"Cover-up for academic incompetence, I always say. Well, why don't we go out to the back? It's such a nice day."
Mr. Blowfish led me to the back yard, where there were lawn chairs, a little white table stocked with a pitcher of lemonade, and a children's wading pool amid miscellaneous toys.
My heart sank. "Do you have kids?" I asked.
"Oh, those belong to the grandkids. The boys are visiting just now. No matter where they go, they always visit at the same time -- safety in numbers, they say. Joking, of course. Stick around for a bit, and you'll meet them."
He sat his lawn chair next to the kiddie pool, took off his flip-flops, and plopped his feet in. "Oh, feel free to take off your shoes. And your shirt, too. You obviously spend a lot of time in the gym trying to forestall the ravages of age, so you might as well show off the results."
I took my shirt off, to see if his eyes widened. They didn't. "So, how old are the boys?" I asked, still trying to salvage my lifelong belief that Mr. Blowfish was gay.
"Oh, Thanh is 32 now. He was born just a couple of years after my late wife and I left Viet Nam. He lives in Des Moines, doing something dull with computers. Louie is 28. He lives in Michigan. He could have been a doctor, but he wanted to conduct low-paying research."
So Mr. Blowfish fought in Viet Nam? I couldn't imagine it. And when I was in high school, he spent his days berating, demeaning, and otherwise terrorizing his students, then going home to hold his five-year old and one-year old sons on his lap. Named Thanh and Louie Lundquist. The image was bizarre.
"...and Sam is 26. He just got a tenure-track position in art history at Cornell College. Not the good school -- the dinky one up by Iowa City. I told him to set his sights a little higher, but he wanted the liberal arts. "
"Grandpa, Uncle Sammy bought me an alligator!"
"We got ice cream, but we're still hungry for hot dogs!"
"Gross, your feet are in our swimming pool!"
While Thanh and Louie set up for grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, their wives busied themselves with salads and pie, their four kids and three dogs roughhoused, and Mr. Lundquist yelled for everyone to keep out of his flower bed, the youngest son, Sam, invited me for a walk down the silent, sizzling hot streets of Washington.
His eye-widening was unmistakable. Gay, not out to his family, but he was sure that they knew. No one had inquired about a "girlfriend" for years.
"Was Dad really your favorite teacher?" he asked. "A lot of people are turned off by his perfectionism."
"Well, maybe not my favorite. But I thought he was gay, so we had kind of a kindred spirit."
"You thought Dad was gay?" Laughing, he squeezed my shoulder. "That's so bizarre! After Mom died he was out with a different lady every night! He always said that his three favorite things in life were books, wine, and women."
"You called him Mr. Blowfish! I love it! Because you thought he liked...um...going down on guys?"
"No, no, because of his looks. I never thought of that other connotation -- until now."
Sam smiled, and briefly touched my hand. "That will be my nickname from now on -- Sammy Blowfish. Apropos of nothing in particular, are you busy later?"
I ended up asking my sister-in-law if I could keep her car out overnight, and then driving home with Sammy. He was short, slim, dark-skinned, with a beautiful physique and nice beneath-the-belt gifts. And he lived up to the Blowfish nickname.
This story continues in Son of Mr. Blowfish
See also: I hook up with my "Uncle"; Getting the Chinese Delivery Guy into my Bed.