The women who want to drag you down

            

A previous outtake from my memoir The Accidental Terrorist ended with these lines:

Women wield a strange power over the male missionary—even women who don't exist. Perhaps especially women who don't exist.

There's another scene in the book that addressed what I was alluding to there—at least, I thought there was. When I went looking for that scene, I couldn't find it. I had to dig way back to the second draft of the book to locate it, and now I'm not sure what possessed me to take it out. Believe me, it's going back into the latest draft.

Names, of course, have been changèd.

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The following story is an outtake from my memoir The Accidental Terrorist. The names of most of the other participants, including relatives, have been changed to offer some small measure of concealment.

When I was eighteen, my father and I drove from northern Utah to Los Angeles for my cousin Delia's wedding. I had recently put in my application to become a Mormon missionary, and I had yet to learn where I'd be spending the next two years of my life. It wasn't for the sake of one last road trip with my father, though, that I agreed to tag along. I was hoping to meet Danny Elfman.

After the wedding—a brief affair in a tiny chapel like a sugar-frosted cake—the entire gathering moved down the road to the Arcadia Women's Club, a large banquet hall for rent, where a shaggy trio played jazz on a spare proscenium. A dozen long tables were set up in ranks across the room, and we enjoyed an abundant feast of cold cuts, casseroles, and cakes as the music played. "Hey," I said to my aunt Deborah, who sat across from my father and me, "I thought Oingo Boingo was supposed to play."

"All Delia and Sammy's friends are musicians," she said, "so lots of different people are playing. I don't think they're on until later."

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In my junior year of high school, I signed up for an advanced humanities class that encompassed history, literature, art, music, and drama from the beginning of recorded time. This daily seminar was presided over by the legendary Mrs. Vivian Beattie, an extraordinary teacher amongst what for a public school was a remarkable slate of extraordinary teachers. (Remind me someday to tell you stories about my math and computer science teacher, Lenzi Nelson. When you ask, tell me you want to hear about the teacher who threw chalk.)

We adored Mrs. Beattie, a ferocious old iconoclast whose demands on her students' intellects and attention pushed most of us as far as we'd ever been pushed by a teacher in our lives. She asked us for all we had, but in return she conferred upon us the gift of critical thought, not to mention the kind of respect most adolescents never feel from adults—the respect that says you are a worthwhile generation, no matter what anyone else tries to tell you.

That's usually how it worked, anyway.

If there was one thing Mrs. Beattie would tolerate, it was muddy thinking. I ran afoul of her cruel, casual dismissiveness in this regard one morning during our unit on 19th-century art. The topic was visual composition, the subject under scrutiny Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres's famous portrait of a nude harem girl, "La Grande Odalisque." Surely you've seen it—it's Ingres's best-known painting. The Rubenesque slave girl (the titular odalisque) reclines amid the various appurtenances of a fantastic Turkish harem—veils, silks, furs, pipes, jeweled belts, feathered brushes—with her inhumanly supple back to the artist and her face turned to gaze mildly back at him over her right shoulder. The ripe globe of one breast can be seen in partial eclipse, shadowed by her right arm. The painting was reviled in its time, but is today considered a masterpiece of French neoclassical portraiture.

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