First Sandusky at Penn State, then Bernie Fine at Syracuse. People are shocked. I just asked the man on the street. He said, “I’m shocked.”
It feels like deja-vu to me.
Anybody remember Ted Washburn? I didn’t think so. He taught seventh- and eighth-grade English at Buckingham, Browne and Nichols.
He had these assignments called Slide-Tapes. Students were allowed to pick a slide, choose music to go with it, write a blank verse poem and record the whole thing in his a recording studio to be mixed and then played for the class on Fridays over the awesome stereo. There were different rules for different Slide-Tapes. In one, you couldn't use the verb; to be in any form. It was straight description. Mr. Washburn wrote his own textbook. We read Lord of the Flies and Dandelion Wine.
He also molested some of the boys and maybe the girls, I don’t know. Gave them Penthouse and Hustler to read. Got them all hot and bothered and suggested ways he could help them feel better.
It went on for years. Twenty years.
The reason it’s deja-vu is that Ted Washburn also coached the Freshman Crew at Harvard. Perhaps it’s not Division I football but in Cambridge, Massachusetts, rowing is a big deal and Harvard rowing is bigger by a magnitude of about ten.
It was buried. My school swept it under the rug in the principal’s office. The Boston Globe ran some articles on it but mostly what they reported was the story of a man who raped little boys and got away with it because his father was famous (Brad Washburn mapped the Grand Canyon, Everest and, more or less, started the Boston Museum of Science). Mike Barnicle’s column was the exception, sort of.
What I remember of Ted Washburn was that he was a really gifted teacher but I have mentioned that already.
What I also remember was that I was invisible to him. At the end of the year he gave out awards. The El Toro Award, given to the boy whose voice had dropped the most (Seth) consisted of a plastic bull standing about eight inches tall with a shriveled balloon dangling between its legs. The Land O’ Lakes Award was given to the girl whose breasts developed the most. Did you know that you can cut around the little box held by the Land O’ Lakes Indian girl to make a little flap, then cut out her bare knees and paste them behind the flap so when you look behind the butter it looks like she’s baring her boobs? Well, that was the trophy. Valerie won. She seemed thrilled at the time. I found out later that she was anything but.
There were lots more awards. But not one for every kid. Of course, being the paragon of mediocrity that I was in seventh-grade, I didn’t even get an honorable mention. Nothing.
So I lied. I was good at that. I came home and proudly announced to my parents that I had won the Bullshit Award. The fact that I did not have the trophy, a spray can with the word Bullshit stenciled on the side, did not keep them from buying the lie hook, line and sinker. Problem was, they were not impressed. My father particularly. I don’t remember how many times that lie came back to bite me as it would take years for me to live down the bullshitter label.
Which is worse: to be a bullshitter or to win the award? Although Mr. Washburn didn’t know it, I was probably the most deserving student he had.
But here’s the thing. When the news about Ted Washburn finally dribbled out, I was, unlike the man in the street, not shocked. Although I had no idea what was going on, there was still something off about Mr. Washburn. The emotion I felt was very complicated. You see, Mr. Washburn did horrible things and ruined several boys’ late childhood or early adulthood. But Mr. Washburn chose the popular boys, the smart boys, the good-looking boys. In some strange way, hearing the news that Mr. Washburn was a pedophile wasn’t as hurtful as knowing that I was not one of the boys that he wanted.
Saved by mediocrity. It’s about as mixed a blessing as there ever was.