February 23, 1995

by jkatejohnston

Dear Max,

Last night during the break of my awful story class, I went into the bathroom, and there were two people in the bathroom stalls saying bad things about me! “Those questions! Venial sin!” whisper-whisper, scuffle-scuffle, flush! “And asking what was meant by language! Shhhh!”

I fled and went to the bathroom around the corner but couldn’t take a pee no matter how hard I tried. Oh, Max, they don’t like me! I don’t like them either, but they’re not supposed to not like me. I didn’t recognize the voices, so I did a quick check of the whereabouts of the three people whose opinions I care about and was at least sure that it wasn’t one of them.

But I still felt like an Unpopular Girl. And when the class resumed I had to give an oral report, which I think I actually gave with much more spirit and conviction because of having heard–bad things about me! I felt a fierce pride. I also knew that I looked very pretty, because in the bathroom–the second bathroom–I saw my pink cheeks, glowing with shame and surprise.

I suppose I should back up and tell you exactly what I did that they were talking about. One woman had given her oral report, and she kept saying, “La-la-la, and the way the writer achieves this is through language. Language provides the continuity in this work,” and so on with the word language–like a word in a catch–popping up again and again. When our teacher asked if there were any questions, I said, “Isn’t all writing language? I guess I just don’t understand how you’re using the word.” Well she explained by saying the word language several times with other words in between and then “I’m sorry if I didn’t make myself clear.”

“I’m sure it was clear to everyone but me.” I said this very cheerfully, because my meanness is always cheerful.  Naturally I wanted to expose her.

And then the venial sin thing.  Well, in the next report, that word came up, and when it was question time, I said, “What’s a venial sin?” And someone explained mortal sins, venial sins, hell, purgatory, heaven, and Catholic regulations generally. Very interesting. These were the only two questions of the evening.

So! Then two of them–I don’t even want to know which ones–went into the bathroom and said mean things about me, and then “Shhhh!” How stupid to say things like that in a public bathroom when you’re in a stall and anyone could come in and you wouldn’t know who it was.

It’s odd how unconscious I am of that very obvious thing: that people are observing and judging me just as much as I am observing and judging them. I think of myself as 1) Universally admired, 2) Passing through life absolutely invisibly.


Lawrence of Arabia was so great. Four hours, galloping horses, Peter O’Toole just as pretty as a peach, sold out Castro Theater with all that red and gold.

I was sitting next to a guy who I thought liked me. I was sure that he noticed me, but then it turned out–not. I was wearing a black body suit and a knee-length, bias-cut blue linen skirt: sort of Sophisticated Cheerleader. Good shoes too. Then the movie started and in one of the early scenes Alec Guinness, who plays Prince Hussein, is galloping around the desert camp on this terrific stallion, and bombs are falling and he’s waving his sword, and there are just horses and explosions everywhere.  “Stand and fight!” he keeps shouting. And I said, “Use the force, dude!” and this guy next to me really laughed.

You don’t get it do you? (Because, Max, you are ignorant!) Alec Guinness played Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, and that was his big line: Use the Force, Luke–very wise and plenty of reverb. So I said my funny thing and this guy next to me laughed–he and I were the only two who did–and naturally I thought: he likes me. I’m wearing this tight outfit, I said a funny thing, he likes me! And after the movie I was sure he would try to talk to me, but he didn’t. He just got up and left.

Teresa pointed out that he was probably gay–the only possible explanation. But then why didn’t he convert of the spot?