When students asked professor Perry Glasser for advice on the best lies to tell to get laid, he wondered where their education had gone sour.
Five senior students and I schmooze at a metal mesh table behind a wrought-iron fence on a sidewalk restaurant patio. It’s about four o’clock, the sun is shining, our last class ended hours ago, and we’ve retired to this local watering hole for pleasant company, not to mention the product from this microbrewery. The students are filled with chatter, a mix of bewilderment and anticipation. What’s next?
Graduation looms. Jobs are scarce. Their plans are vague. They ask about graduate school. They ask about resumes. These are bright 20-somethings, the products of a state college where mostly working-class kids have studied to buy a punched ticket to board the Middle Class Express—their diploma. No one plans a future at the family firm. They have no connections to Wall Street. They’ve already borrowed to the max, so don’t even breathe “law school.” I’ve been educating them to the difference between a job and a career. It’s what I do.
Cilla, the only woman with us on the patio, worked her way through school in a mere five years by serving pizza. If there had been a major in exotic toppings, she’d have been magna cum laude. Post-graduation, she’s landed a summer food service gig at a nearby yacht club. No one says “waitress” any more—too sexist. No one says sexist, either. Say: too gender-specific. Good luck trying to keep up.
Cilla figures her upscale customers will be generous tippers. She knows her good figure, broad smile, and blonde hair will pry open wallets. Twenty-two, an accomplished actress, varsity volleyball player, and a realist, she projects that she’ll earn a few thousand dollars by Labor Day. If nothing more develops, she’ll abandon Martinis to return to pepperoni while plotting her next move.
The guys at the table are smitten, of course—who wouldn’t be?—and that applies to the professor nearly triple her age. My affection is less about lust than admiration, but that’s not likely the condition of the younger men. These are nice, respectful, guys; they have known each other and Cilla for months at least, years more likely. They’ve navigated college together, and the finish line is in sight.
Cilla lives nearby, so when she needs to walk her dog, she adjusts her big amber sunglasses, finishes her one beer, thanks me for a nice semester, and leaves. Few students live on campus. Local landlords make out like bandits by renting units for three times what they’re worth to kids who divide the rent one too many times.
Once Cilla is gone, I feel like an anthropologist who has parachuted into a remote place where the tribe squats in mud-huts. Stir the fire pit. It’s time to talk. The prof will become the student. My lesson in guy-speak begins.
We seek your wisdom, Glassbrain, one of the guys tells me. They lean in, smiling. The nickname is one I hear all the time; it’s how I sign my emails.
What’s a good pick-up line?
“Say your name and ask for hers,” I say.
They laugh, knowing I must have deliberately misunderstood. But the semester is over. They are not allowing me to get away this easily.
To get her to go home with you, I mean, he says.
The others nod. There are smiles all around. One of the guys gestures for a second round.
“Just be yourself,” I say.
They hoot derision. This, they say, is hopeless. The semester may be over, but I insist on spouting the party line. I am Mr. Rogers at the entrance to the Roman orgy. These guys have been students for a looooong time. They’re done with that stuff. It’s time for the real deal.
I don’t want to get married; I want to get laid! Laughter all atound.
“Oh, you want to know what lies to tell?!”
They nod. Glassbrain is finally on the right page. They lean closer, and looking at their beer-brightened eyes, I wonder just when and how their education went sour.
Nearly two generations after technology separated sex and pregnancy, not to mention a social movement that elevated gender equality to a matter of law, after the marches, Supreme Court Justices, national female political candidates from the left and right, my guys—the pride of the college who will be laden with academic bling when they walk across the platform to accept their diplomas—ask me for the mysteries known to Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. Ring-a-ding-ding-ding.
Weren’t we supposed to be past that? But here we are again; Cilla has left us, and my guys transform into troglodytes. Give ‘em a club and a cave, they be dragging women off by the hair.
What the hell is going on here?
I sip my drink and think how The Campus (a universal place with indefinite geography) is arrogant about being the center of thought leadership. When it comes to gender relationships, The Campus is the bleeding edge. Usually the issues only make headlines on a slow news day in Silly Season, but yes, at one time you really could enroll in Madonna Studies at Harvard and write your term paper on the Material Girl. More importantly, dorms at most schools long ago went coed in some way or other. There are departments of Women Studies and departments of Gender Studies everywhere, high schools offer Herstory, and in the past few decades, even in traditional arenas such as English, the curriculum has been altered to de-emphasize DEWMs (Dead European White Males) while elevating all sorts of other perspectives, such as Queer Theory.
Silly or not, some progressive schools still try to legislate raging hormones, down to and including scripting permissible conversation or outlawing “ogling,” and more than a few scholars have railed indignantly at lookism, the idea that people who enjoy beauty are engaged in some sort of discrimination. If that attitude catches on, not only will it cut into Cilla’s income, but it will make Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and every ancient Greek sculptor a drooling bunch of male Chauvinist dipstick porkers. We’ll empty the museums and burn that shit.
So I have to wonder: Have my guys been indoctrinated or educated? Are they victims or oppressors?
If they were educated, we would not be having this conversation, so they must be indoctrinated. Indoctrinated, they parrot the positions their teachers demand—they just have never had to believe them. Give lip service to an idea and garner an A, but they never really need to believe a damn thing. On Campus, it’s the diploma, not the idea. You say what you gotta say, do what you gotta do, play the game, and move on.
Who can blame them? Instead of teaching students, their professors teach a subject. The profs with a late-blooming post-Baby-Boomer social conscience, who in their youth hid in the library until the protest subsided, delude themselves into thinking they are now forging social change, conducting a risk-free revolution with chalk and whiteboards. They conduct the vicious academic infighting that yields up jobs, tenure, enhanced reputations, and The Holy Grail of Academe, a lucrative endowed chair, meaning a position that pays a large salary for who you are, rather than what you do. Teaching’s for peons; thinking Big Thoughts is where the real money is.
But they leave my guys at risk. My young men are collateral damage, the victims of friendly fire in the identity wars.
My guys may never learn how to make the leap from being boys to being men. Where is the big thinking that will create decent male adults? We’ve got consciousness raising groups for women, assertiveness training, and support groups galore: but we are failing guys. These five are not 15-year-olds; they just sound like they are, and I fear they will sound like this until they are 35, and even then may be peering into a mirror and wondering why at their innermost core they feel isolated, inarticulate, unfulfilled, and inadequate.
I worry they are at risk for becoming lousy fathers who raise brutish sons, daughters starved for affection, and the lousy husbands to wives who hunger for intimacy. They risk becoming the guys who remove a wedding ring when on a business trip, the guys who sink into ever more sullen silence.
So I tell my guys what they least want to hear. “There’s no aphrodisiac better than sincerity.”
They laugh again. That Glassbrain, always with the jokes.
—Perry Glasser is also a contributor to The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood.