place and can polish up the rest of the chapter, which is longer
than average. So --
"I still don't know why I have to go to this thing," I said, getting into the car.
"Because," said Aaron, pulling out of the driveway. "You're my partner. We were both invited. This is supposed to be a get-together for the faculty and their wives -- or significant others."
"And I'm extremely significant," I add.
"More than significant!" Aaron leered. "Exemplary!"
Aaron and I were already forty-five minutes late for the picnic, but it didn't matter. These faculty functions were open-ended affairs, with people coming and going, a buffet table that was always filled, and, I hoped, an open bar. I also hoped it would turn out better than the last picnic we'd attended -- the disaster at the neighbors' house.
Aaron let me wear my 501's and the black wifebeater. That surprised me. I thought he'd say it was too trashy or even too faggy. Aaron is Mr. Sensitive about keeping up the right image. But he was in a good mood after our afternoon screw and let me wear it. I liked the way I looked and felt in it. I didn't give a shit if some of the men were turning up their noses at me -- well, fuck them! The wives were openly checking me out. Maybe a few of them liked it a little too much -- one touched my arm and gave it a squeeze when we were introduced -- but that was okay. They knew the score. They didn't push the issue.
After the intros were concluded, Aaron was carried off by the chairman, Professor Raskin, and a couple of his bowing minions. Raskin was a tall man with a lion-like head of hair he was obviously proud of, although he needed to get rid of the brown polyester pants. Polyester pants are ubiquitous in this part of Indiana. If the house was any indication, he could certainly afford a better wardrobe -- the place was like a mansion and the grounds were large enough for a swimming pool, a tennis court, and, further back, a pond. A marquis tent was set up, but that seemed reserved for VIP's. Of course that's where they took Aaron.
I got a hot dog and a plastic cup of red punch and found a quiet place to sit. Folding chairs were set up all over the backyard and I snagged one under a shady tree. It was another boilingly hot day, but the air-conditioned house was off limits. The best I could do was try to stay cool while I waited for Aaron to finish being fawned over and then we could go home. I still had plenty of preparation to do tonight and tomorrow before classes began on Monday, not to mention the momentum I was building up to finish my book.
"So, are you the wife?"
I looked up to see a tall woman with frosted hair peering down at me. She had classic features -- she must have been striking when she was younger -- but they were stretched too tightly over her face and the lines on her forehead were etched into a permanent frown.
"Excuse me?" I said, taken aback.
"I mean the wife of Golden Boy, our new Endowed Fellowship in Bullshit! Professor Blumenthal, who else?" The woman was more than a little intoxicated.
"And you are?" I asked, trying to be polite. For all I knew she might be the chairman's wife.
"Millie, honey," she slurred. "Millicent Douglass, Professor of Media Studies, along with your husband, or whatever the hell he is, who right now is kissing the ass of our departmental chair, Sid Raskin, so fervently that you ought to get jealous. I'm Film Theory and Feminist Films. Not that you give a shit."
"Nice to meet you." I extended my hand, but the woman ignored it. "And I'm no one's wife. I'm Shea Desmond, English Department, Aaron's partner."
"Partner, wife, call yourself whatever you want. So tell me the truth, Professor Shea Desmond of the English Department: is your husband going to last out the year -- or will he be gone with the wind before Spring Semester begins? Because I wanna know! I think that we, the Media Studies peasants, have a right to know so we can make plans!"
"I don't know what you mean," I said, knowing exactly what she meant. This woman, and apparently others in Media Studies, could see what the Administration of EIU could not, or would not, see: Aaron heading out the door and off to Los Angeles as soon as he got the red light.
"Come on!" she said, pulling up a lawn chair and making herself at home next to me. A little too close for comfort. "You can't be that dumb! So don't play on the stereotype."
"What stereotype is that?" I said coolly.
"Is there a queer equivalent of the Dumb Blonde? Because I don't think you're it, no matter how pretty you are. And you are pretty, my dear. You know what? I read your article on 'Cruising' in 'CineAction.' I thought you were right on the money about it. So I know you aren't dumb."
"I didn't realize I was required to be dumb," I replied, inching my chair away. "I'm too busy teaching my classes. And writing my articles, like that 'Cruising' piece -- which I'm glad you enjoyed. Or a Warhol essay I have coming out in 'Critical Inquiry.' Or the book on John Rechy that I should be at home working on right this minute instead of sitting here allowing myself to be insulted."
"Touché, honey!" she roared. Her plastic cup, which seemed to be filled with vodka, sloshed dangerously. "Boytoy! That's the term I was trying to think of! Are you a boytoy, honey? If so, then your hubby is a lucky bastard!"
"I'll let him know you think so," I said, looking around. Where the hell was Aaron?
"So what's it like living with His Highness? Do you know that I had to give up my office because he wanted it? And he got them to put in Stickley furniture and an Oriental carpet and fuck-all! I couldn't even get them to fix my broken file cabinet and I've been in this department for fifteen goddamn years!"
"I'm sorry about that." What did the woman want me to do? Tell Aaron to give the office back?
"And I lost my Senior Seminar in Independent Films because they gave it to your fucking husband! I bet he'll have the TA's do all the work! His HIghness will just show up to turn on the video player!"
I almost laughed because that was a pretty fair description of Aaron's teachng method, but I couldn't let her know that. "Aaron is a filmmaker, not just an academic."
"Maybe so. They're all sucking up to him because of that Academy Award thing. I say he must have blown someone really big to get that piece of tripe into Oscar contention. Or maybe he had someone else do it for him? Someone much, much prettier? Any idea who that might be?"
Okay, that was enough. No one could suggest that Aaron wasn't a talented documentarian. His films stood on their own merits. I pushed back my lawn chair and got to my feet. "I think I've had enough of this. And you've certainly had enough, Professor Douglass. And I mean enough to drink."
"Oh, my dear, I haven't had nearly enough!" she hooted. "If I were you, I'd drink more than that awful punch Raskin is serving. There's a real bar inside the tent. Have you been invited in there? It's only for the privileged few, like your husband, but they've got the best booze. Believe me, you won't get good stuff like that in the English Department. They're cheap bastards over there, especially when you're only a spousal hire!"
Spousal hire. That one hit me right between the eyes! What was with this woman? I didn't want to get angry, but she was asking for it. "I think my status in my department and my relationship with my partner is none of your fucking business!"
Millicent Douglass's eyes widened. "You're feisty devil, aren't you? I bet you're a real handful in bed! Do you ever give the other side a try? Because I'd give you a run for your money, honey!"
I stepped back. I wouldn't put it past this woman to make a grab for my dick. "No, I do not!"
"Oh, why not try it? You might like it with a woman who knows what she's doing. And I know what I'm doing, honey!"
"I'm gay, Professor Douglass. End of discussion."
"Jesus!" the woman snorted. "I was gay, too, in the 1970's! I was the biggest dyke in town! It was the only way to get ahead in the Feminist Film Collective back in the day. But if I survived eating pussy, so could you, pretty boy!"
"Goodbye!" I said, taking a hike. I could hear her cackling like a madwoman as I sprinted off, on the lookout for Aaron.