|A 19th century Obsessive Reader|
It was 1969 and my high school in the hills had only that semester opened its segregated white campus to African American students from the flats due to the district's court-ordered integration program. There were so few of us; I was the lone black student in many of my classes. I interpreted Mrs. Protter's negativity toward me as a sign of inexplicable personal animus; she was picking on me, and I didn't know why. My wiser parents believed that forces of ingrained racism, personal and institutional, were at work. They demanded a meeting at my school with the teacher, dean and school principal. After the heated session, I think everyone believed, however subtly, that Mrs. Protter's animus toward me was the result of a disturbed shake-up in her distorted racial views. But, I wonder. Both my brother and sister behind me had classes with Mrs. Protter, and experienced no such conflicts. And, in my senior year, as my independent study advisor, she gave me an A on an ambitious but garbled paper on D.H. Lawrence that showed, I know now, that I was too young to tackle his challenging world view. Perhaps what I experienced in the 10th grade was what people call a personality clash. Or, could she have been transformed by the cauldron of events? Did her confrontations with me change her? I don't know the answer, but I am more sensitive regarding what it may take to be an adult charged with teaching young people the wide-ranging humanist and aesthetic concerns that are the enterprise of literature.
Narrator: Our story begins in Pottsylvania, the home of that terrible trio, Boris Badenov, Natasha Fatale, and Fearless Leader. Since it is overrun by spies and a villain who wants to take over the world, the place is very dark and dreary. Which explains the lush plant life, wildlife, bright sunlight, and... wait a minute, what is this?
Natasha: We are in a jungle, narrator dollink.
Narrator: Okay, but what are you doing in a jungle?
Boris: Our boss told us that one of his spies found a secret formula here. It is so top secret that we are not supposed to tell anyone.
Fearless Leader: Badenov, you numbskull! What have I told you about secret formulas?
Boris: Uh, telling someone about them doesn't make them secrets anymore?
Fearless Leader: Exactly.
Raskolnikov! Boris Badenov (whose name is another joke, of course, on a real life tsar from Russia's misty past immortalized by Pushkin and Mussogorsky) had just uttered the word as if it was an oath, a curse. Raskolnikov! I knew who that was! The reluctant, impoverished, spiritually desperate murderer created by Dostoevsky. I had just read "Crime and Punishment," one of the masterpieces of literature. In front of the TV set in 1969, The Obsessive Reader laughed with recognition at the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon, filled with a delight Mrs. Protter could never take away from me.