Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Lady Chatterley and Me, Revisited

Left to my own devices, which is seldom a good idea, I decided to bring Lady Chatterley’s Lover to school to share with my friends. I had read the newly released, previously banned novel one otherwise slow weekend early in my senior year in prep school. Perhaps read  is too feeble a word. In truth I rooted through the book like a pig searching for truffles, mad to unearth its thirteen sex scenes and sixty-six “dirty” words, from a for “arse” to “c” for the c-word.

“Damn,” I thought as I rummaged through the book. “Too bad the sex scenes aren’t printed in red like the words of Jesus in the Bible.”

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published privately by its author, D.H. Lawrence, in 1928 because he didn’t think any publisher would touch all that sex and foul language. Thirty-one years later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled thatLadyChatterleywas fit for general consumption. I put the book on my summer reading list immediately, alongsidePrideand Prejudice, The Great Gatsby,and the other usual suspects.

UntilLady Chatterleycame along, Peyton Placehad been the only hot-off-the-presses, hot novel I took to school for show and tell. It was published during my freshman year and was passed from pillar to post, from eager hand to eager hand, some hands underlining passages of exceeding inspiration or leavingbons motsin the margins. We young scholars were gobsmacked by its tales of incest, rape, adultery, sexual gymnastics, and other diversions. That was 1956, remember, a boring year in the middle of the most boring decade in this nation’s history. To be a teen-ager then was to be butt-fucked by boredom, especially if you were a teen-ager who attended an all-male prep school–Archmere Academy in Claymont, Delaware–with a total enrollment of 144. The mascot of that school is the Great Auk, a large, extinct, flightless bird, a fitting symbol for my would-be sex life.

In light of the standing ovations Peyton Placehad received, I was eager to be the first kid to bringLady Chatterleyto school. I introducedherto my friends on the school bus one Monday morning. Later she lifted her skirt at lunch and in the library that afternoon. I lost track of her for a while, but occasionally I passed several students huddled around the warmth of a book.

“You guys better be careful,” I said. “Reading too much of that shit will make you go blind.”

“I’ll quit when I need glasses then,” one jester replied.

Friday at lunchLady Chatterleywas returned to me. If only she could have talked. I tossed her into my locker on the way to afternoon classes. There she remained during the weekend.

The following Monday my homeroom teacher told me to report to the headmaster, Father Diny, during study hall that morning. Imagine my surprise when I saw a well-fingered, scruffy-lookingLady Chatterleylying on the headmaster’s large, don’t-fuck-with-authority desk, looking as if she had been ridden hard and put away wet. (I hadn’t even noticed the book was missing until then.)

“Are you reading that, too, Father,” I asked cheerfully.

He wasn’t amused. Nothing much amused him apart from tormenting students.

After lecturing me about idle minds, impudence, devils’ workshops, and sins of the flesh, Father Diny gave me a choice between two hours in detention that afternoon or a parent-teacher conference that week. I chose detention. I didn’t ask him to return my book.

The next day I arrived at school with a virgin copy ofLady Chatterley’s Lover, which I buried in the bottom of my locker. I didn’t tell anyone what I had done, but come the following Monday,Lady Chatterleyhad gone walkies again. “Don’t those mother-fuckers have anything better to do on the weekend?” I thought.

My friends were impressed by my latest “fuck you” to the fathers of St. Norbert. “That took some balls,” my best friend, Nick, observed as he shared a cigarette with me behind the gym during lunch period. “Too bad JED’s gonna cut yours off.” (JED, his initials, was Father Diny’s nickname.)

If that was JED’s intention, he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get cutting. Earlier that morning, through trig, English, study hallok instead of physics), and fourth-year Latin, I waited for the hammer to fall. Nothing.

As soon as classes had been dismissed, I bolted for the parking lot, hopped into my reconditioned, red-and-white 1953 Willys, and didn’t stop until I was safe at home–or at least at first base–on my girlfriend’s couch. (She guarded home better than Yogi Berra.)

The next day during lunch period JED appeared in the doorway of the cafeteria, scanning the room with a lean and hungry look on his 6’1″ person. I slid under the radar underneath my lunch table, which was at the far end of the cafeteria. My heart was beating faster than it had when I read the interesting parts ofLady Chatterley.

The following day, Wednesday, I bought potato chips and a TastyKake on the way to school, then ate them behind the gymnasium at lunch time. By then several of my classmates were making book regarding my punishment when JED finally caught up with me. When a small crowd around me gathered, I began to feel like Jesus before the crucifixion.

“Just tell him somebody else put it there,” Larry Owens suggested.

“Your honor,” said one future defense attorney, “my client, Mr. Maggitti, found that disgusting book in the cafeteria and confiscated it so no one could read it. He fully intended to dispose of it later.”

“I put it there,” is what I told JED after he had pulled me out of study hall, marched me into his office, and hissed like a passive-aggressive cobra, “How did this filth get into your locker again?”

“What were you trying to prove? he continued. “That nobody’s going to tellyouwhat to do?  If that’s the case, maybe you would be happier pursuing your education elsewhere.”

The ball was in my court. My balls were in my throat. “Oh shit. He’s threatening to drop the E bomb already. Is he really going to kick me out?”

When I got the idea for this piece, I downloadedLady Chatterleyand read it again. I figured it was OK to steal it because I had already bought two copies all those years ago.

Maybe loveislovelier the second time around, but the second time aroundLady ChatterleyI was thinking she lefta lot of desire to be desired up front. Indeed, her lover is not introduced until page 56 out of 388 pages. I was surprised at this because, as I remembered it, or thought I did, or wanted to, the novel had only thirteen pages thatdidn’tcontain sex scenes. Of course those scenes were the only parts I had read before, so I might be forgiven for confusing the holes for the sum of everyone’s parts.

Those “good bits” were still present, but not as omnipresent as I had “remembered” them. What I hadn’t remembered were interesting discussions of English social structure, the nature of male-female relations, art, literature, religion, commerce, the very (stuff) on offer inPride and Prejudiceand other books on my long-ago summer reading list, some of which I haven’t read yet. Surprisingly, I enjoyed those other bits ofLady Chatterleybetter than the so called “good bits” the second time around..

Was I getting old? Going soft? Had I become been-there-and-done-all-that jaded? Why had I risked  expulsion from the garden of Archmere  over this book anyway? Would I do it again?

As my penance for my second transgression, I had to tell my parents what a pervert I had become (cue the clichés); then I had to drive down to school one Saturday for a counseling session with Father Reilly, who, as my luck would have it, had been to our house several times for dinner.

I recall nothing about that conversation except that it was cordial, we laughed a lot, and I enjoyed it. Unlike JED, Father Tim didn’t have a stick up his ass. I do recall that when our discussion was over–and I had made my case for a student’s right to privacy–I told him I enjoyed talking to him because it wasn’t every day that I got to talk to my intellectual equals at school.

P.S. I asked above if I would do it all over again if I had it to do all over. In a word, fuck yeah. Six years ago the USPS suspected that I was having drugs sent to my house. I was. They basically said to cut it out, so I rented a post office box in one of those mail centers and had the shit sent there instead.

As JED was fond of saying, “You are what you are by the time you’re eighteen.”

I guess the old fart was right about that at least.