I didn’t go to UCLA to become an English teacher. My goal as I headed to Westwood was to be the next Francis Coppola (a UCLA alum), not the next Bill Lindquist.
But a curious thing happened near the end of my freshman year. I was taking English 10A, the first of the three weeding-out courses for English Majors (this being my fall-back position if I didn’t make it into film school). I had just turned in my first paper for the class (something about vegetation rites in The Canterbury Tales, if memory serves). It wasn’t my best work, but… [ego alert: I was a straight-A Valedictorian, with a combined 1410 SAT and a 5 on the AP English exam, so even not-my-best was going to be fine, right?In section, when the Teaching Assistant walked around passing back the papers, he put mine face down on the desk. Oooooh, not a good sign. A peek at the last page, and I–wincingly–knew why: D-.
That would have been bad enough, except I heard two students talking on their way out of section:
“Yeah, I heard they’re not allowed to give F’s on the first 10A essay.”
I didn’t know (still don’t) if that was the stuff of urban legend. All I knew was that it hurt. And I didn’t want anyone else to feel that way again. So what had been my back-up became my focus. I only halfheartedly applied to film school, and I remained an English major.
There were, in the early 80’s, few Shakespeare requirements for the English major… er, make that one. Pick either the early plays or the later plays.
I figured I’d take them both in order, and I remember taking that first one with my wife (now, but then girlfriend [or was it ex- at that point? who knows… Lisa does, probably]). It was an OK class, nothing special and nothing to note, save the fact that this guy gave the most ridiculous quizzes I’ve ever encountered. What was the name of Richard II’s horse? What was the name of Juliet’s Nurse? What the fuck? But we survived and I went on to take the other two Shakespeare courses offered: the later plays, and “Selected Subject”… both with Professor David Rodes.
I will need another entry to fully describe (and for you to fully appreciate) Prof. Rodes. Suffice (for now) to say that he was the best professor I had at UCLA (though Yarborough was pretty awesome in Modern American Literature, but that appraisal might be colored by the fact that he introduced me to my favorite book of all time, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon).
But Rodes… if Lindquist made Shakespeare illicit, then Rodes made it intense. I took two courses with him, and would have taken a third if his senior seminar class had already been full by the time I was making my choice.
Hueneme High was where I fell in love.
UCLA was where I was married (or if not married, definitely engaged).
I’ll tell some Rodes stories later, but I’ll leave you with this: I never felt so academically and intellectually alive as when I found his scrawl on one of my essays:
“A- May I have a copy of this?”
Even now, I smile just thinking about it.