Besides Miss Tuttle, the other teacher who seemed to feel I could write was Mr. Moore, my senior English teacher. He never said he thought I could write, but he did nominate me for that national essay contest for high school seniors. So maybe I can infer something from that.
He was a thin little man who wore sweaters and a bow tie, and like Miss Tuttle, who had gone to Columbia, Mr. Moore was east coast educated having been graduated from Princeton. He was a Captain in the Army in WWII and came back changed. This may explain his having ended up at a teacher at a nowhere high school in California. Or it could have been his drinking problem that started after the war.
Still, he rode me about my writing and graded me harder than anyone because he knew I was going to college. I remember getting a B+ on a long research paper. I had worked hard on that baby. It was supposed to be on some historical figure; so my colleagues, lacking any imagination, wrote about Washington or Florence Nightingale or Madame Curry. I wrote about Titus Oates, 17th century perjurer and sodomite, a man who according to a poll of British Historians was the “worst Briton of the 17th century.”
Maybe Mr. Moore thought I was being a wise ass by picking Titus Oates, but the name alone was enough to fascinate me, and I had come upon my interest legitimately. I had been pursuing one of the volumes of our 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica and came across the final lines of an entry that read, something like, whereupon he lived out the rest of his years in the country where his house became known for unholy and unnatural acts. I wanted to know more about this person and so first familiarized myself with Titus Oates and the gun power plot I believe it was called.
Titus started his career of crime by being dismissed from the Anglican clergy for blasphemous drunkenness and suspicion of sodomy. He established himself as a world class lier by concocting a whole series of lies suggesting that Catholics had intentions upon the throne and was first rewarded for his efforts with a 600 pound pension. Later, when power shifted, he was tried, found guilty and sentenced to repeated floggings that should have killed him. But they didn’t; whereupon part of his pension was restored, following a legal action, and he retired to the country to continue his unnatural doings.
So maybe I was being a bit of a wise ass.
Mr. Moore’s class also furnished me one of the few high school moments that I remember with any warmth. One Monday morning he turned to us and said, “And just who the heck are these Beatles.” This was in many ways an unprecedented moment. I don’t recollect a teacher ever having asked his students a real question, who asked it moreover in a spirit of curiosity and out of a desire to learn something about the lives of his students. We sat more or less dumbfounded. I could see he was going to let the question drop, but since it was my job in that class to answer all questions nobody else would or could, I raised my hand and said, “The best rock and roll band ever.”