David Vanders and the Dead Poets Society

Iíd first met David Vanders when he was in eighth grade.

No, thatís not exactly correct. Thatís the first time I remember seeing him.

You see, David was in the same grade as my half-sister, Danielle. My senior year, she had a choir solo concert at which she was performing. I donít remember why, but Mom asked if I could take her. I didnít actually mind, since it would give me a chance to watch some middle school boys.

David was one of the boys performing there. He was not only wearing khaki slacks and a light blue, Izod button-down, but also wore a hunter green cloth belt and topsiders. He was definitely preppy and was also nice looking, but I canít really say he was cute.

While David wore his medium brown hair, which was actually lighter than his dark brown eyes, in a boyish fashion that was basically a short Beatles cut, he had a very strong bone structure and a slightly hawkish nose that just kept him from being cute. He was already very good looking, though.

At home that night, I told Danielle that he was the type of boy she should be trying to date. She scoffed at that remark, pointing out that he was not only a prep, but was both a brain and a goody two shoes. Iíve never been quite sure why dressing nicely, staying out of trouble, and having a chance at making a good career should be considered negatives, but knew better than to pursue the issue.

That probably would have been the end of it except that, after I graduated, I would spend the occasional weekend judging debate tournaments for my old coach. Since a number of my friends had been younger than me, that gave me a great way to stay in contact with them. It turned out that David was also a debater.

I didnít make the connection between the boy I met in debate and that choir singer at first. One day I happened to mention him, and Danielle reminded me of having seen him perform. The next time I saw him, I mentioned that to David, and he blushed as he admitted that had been him. While heíd been an okay singer, he was much happier in debate.

David really was a nice kid, and he was also good-looking and just a bit shy in some ways (considering that he was both in public speaking competitions and very outspoken and active in a group setting, he could be charmingly shy in smaller groups), which was very attractive to me; however, I quickly learned something to his detriment (at least as far as I was concerned).

It happened on a trip to a tournament in Louisiana. For trips to Dallas, and even the occasional one to Fort Worth, weíd go back home on Friday night. All other trips we stayed in hotels. One of the reasons that we didnít stay in hotels for Metroplex tournaments was that our coach felt it took us so long to settle down in hotels as a group that we didnít get any less sleep going home, and did save money.

Well, on this one particular trip, I was coming back from the vending machines, planning to put a Coke on ice for the next morning, when David came out of his room wearing nothing but a pair of gym shorts. At 14, that boy was hairier than I was at 18. He wasnít very tall and had a great build, but yuck! Thatís just not to my taste.

Of course, as a college freshman, I really didnít have any plans to molest a high school freshman whom I barely knew. On the other hand, he was nice looking and smart, and I did enjoy talking to him, so I came to know him over time, and learned something very important about him: he played Dungeons and Dragons.

My old D&D group had broken up over time as we went our separate ways. Some of them quit playing and some went off to college. Working at Comics and Stuff, Iíd met new players, but it was always hard to get a group together.

It must have been just before Thanksgiving, because we were all going to be out of school, when one of my friends said we really needed to do at least one long role-playing session. There were three of us there, and I started looking around for other players. Too many people had family plans that would keep them gone for the holiday, but my old friend Danny would be home from college and happy to play. Then I thought of David and his friend Sandy, who also played. It took a few phone calls, but everything was finally arranged.

Iíd like to say we had a great game, but the honest truth was that Sandy had a mouth on him. I have to admit he was pretty darned funny, but he didnít know when to shut up. Not that it kept us from having a good game; and in some ways, he probably made it better. I guess the best way to describe it was, he tried too hard.

I think weíd started playing at about 10am, and we decided to wrap up about 9pm, which was only a bit earlier than weíd planned. That was as much because theyíd already finished most of what Iíd planned out as because Sandy was starting to get on peopleís nerves.

We straightened things up a bit, then my friends left, and I took Sandy and David home. Sandy was a pretty mediocre-looking kid, and I wasnít attracted to him in the least, even though I did like him (when he wasnít being annoying). Because of that, I took him home first.

Both boys lived out in the country, so it was a decent little drive. After saying goodnight to Sandy, weíd gone less than a half-mile when David showed he and I thought a bit alike.

"Sorry about Sandy. Heís not usually like that."

"He was getting a bit annoying by the end of the day," I mentioned. "Itís nothing you have to apologize for, and he was mostly okay."

"Yeah, he just gets like that sometimes. He really wasnít that bad today."

"If he really wasnít that bad, Iíd hate to see when he was. I guess his Dad must have to spank him pretty regularly," I added in a half-joking tone.

"Nah, his dad doesnít even try; just tells him to shut up or go to his room these days." He was quiet for a second, then added, "I donít think heís had a whupping since last year, maybe even seventh grade."

He was quiet another second longer, then looked over at me. "Not for that, though. I think he said his mom used to spank him for sassing her, but Mike always put up with it better."

After confirming that Mike was Sandyís dad, I was quiet for a couple of turns until we got on a main road, then casually asked, "What about you?"

"Iíve never spanked him."

"Smart ass," I said, affectionately. "How long since youíve had one?"

"Oh, I never really got spanked. My dad would smack me a couple of times when I was little, or sometimes heíll reach over and rap his knuckle on top of my head, but mostly he can just talk to me and Iíll behave."

"Must be nice," I replied, giving him a chance to keep the conversation going, but he steered it back to the D&D game.

David was basically the youngest kid in his grade. His birthday was a day or two before the cut off, which would have made him the oldest kid in the next lower grade. He was also the oldest kid in his family, with a sister, Billi, who was three years younger than himself, and a brother, Rodney, who was four years younger than her.

In 1987, David graduated high school and went off to college in New Orleans. He and I stayed in touch, and I even made a couple of trips down to visit him. Even after I started teaching, David and I would get together when he was home for the holidays to go see a movie or play some games, though D&D wasnít usually part of it anymore (just took too much time, so we turned to board games like Risk, Diplomacy, or Conquest of Empire).

DEAD POETS SOCIETY came out the first week of June, 1989. I remember that Iíd barely been able to see David since heíd come home from college because Iíd been busting my butt trying to finish the school year and have the store ready to open before Batman was released on 23 June. Iíd admitted to David that I was gay the year before, and he knew what I found cute, so heíd called me suggesting we go see Dead Poets Society.

Even with as much work as I had to do, I really wanted to. After all, Iíd seen what all work and no play did to Jack Nicholson in The Shining. So when school let out on 2 June, I called David and made a Ďdateí for the next week. I spent all evening Friday cleaning house and doing laundry. Saturday was just for me, and I spent the entire day out by the pool, catching up on some reading. Then I spent the next three-and-a-half days in a marathon session doing almost everything but sleeping at the store. When Wednesday afternoon rolled around, I was almost ready to open. After a long hot shower, in clean, fresh clothes, I left for Davidís house.

After David had left for college, there had been a few changes in his home. He actually lived very close to Toby Kirk, and their homes were very similar, though the Vandersí home was just a little larger. The biggest difference, at least so far as David was concerned, was that their home had a fourth bedroom by the garage, so he had his own room. The worst thing about coming home from college was, as soon as heíd left, his sister had taken over his big room, and heíd gotten stuck with the room over by his little brothers.

When I arrived, Billi met me at the door. She informed me that David had gotten home from work a little late and was in the shower, but that I could wait in his bedroom. I thanked her and left.

Like the Kirksí home, the two small bedrooms were just off the living room. As you stepped into the short hall, Davidís room was on one end, Rodneyís on the other, with a bathroom in between. I could hear the shower running as I stepped into the hall, but then I heard something much more interesting.

"Please, no, Dad. Iím sorry."

"And I donít care, Rodney. You know what you were supposed to do. If you donít want to make it worse, get them down now!"

Was it a moan or a groan? Iím not sure which, but either way, it must have accompanied him obeying his dad, because there was no further comment. Mrs. Vís car wasnít home, David was in the shower, Billi had gone back to her room, and apparently Rodney and his dad were both in his room, so I wasnít worried about being spotted. Even so, I felt nervous standing there, especially when it was so quiet.

And then the quiet broke.

The very distinct sound of leather smacking flesh was almost immediately followed by a loud, piteous, sobbing cry. After a few seconds, both sounds were repeated again. There must have been ten or fifteen seconds between each fall of the belt, but the length between the cries was quickly reduced to nothing.

Again and again the belt fell and the cries grew to shrieks, then to a constant howl, before the belt didnít fall anymore, and the howl quickly died away to loud bawling. Ten swats, and they must have been pretty good ones.

After a short pause, Dad started to say something, but it was too quiet to make out over the sobbing. And then the shower cut off. I would have liked to hear what was being said, but not enough to risk getting caught. I quickly stepped down the hall and into Davidís room, where I started to peruse his bookcase.

Rodney had never interested me that much. While his face looked like a cuter version of his brotherís, he was fairly chubby. David once confessed to me that heíd had the same problem as a little kid. Since he had a very sturdy build, I could see how it happened. Still, since David wasnít quite twenty yet, Rodney must have just turned twelve. Mrs. Vanders had been suspicious enough of my designs on her elder son that Iíd always been very careful not to pay any more attention to Rodney than was minimally polite. Still, when Iíd seen him on Spring Break, it had looked like he was starting to grow into his weight, and I did start to hope for a look at him before we left.

"Geez!" caught my attention, as I turned to find David standing behind me in apparently nothing more than a towel.

"Sorry," I told him. "Billi told me to wait in here."

"Thatís okay. You just startled me. Ummm.Ö"

"Donít worry," I assured him. "Iíll keep my back turned."

He smiled as I turned back to the bookcase.

David knew that not only I, but his best friend at college, were gay. On the other hand, when heíd been a younger teen, an old guy had made a somewhat forceful pass at him that had left him a bit gun-shy. He wasnít homophobic but was just a bit modest around both of us.

From the corner of my eye, I saw the towel flashing around and realized he must have been finishing drying offónaked, I assumed. Part of me would have liked to have turned. Iíd seen David in briefs dozens of times and knew he wasnít real well hung, but it still would have been fun to see exactly how well, and I was somewhat morbidly curious about how someone that hairy looked nude. Still, curiosity wasnít worth a friendship, so I started flipping through his junior yearbook, checking for all the boys Iíd known when they were freshman.

Finally, I saw David step over to his dresser and pull out a pair of briefs, and I decided to ask the question that had been interesting me most.

"It sounded like Rodney was getting a whupping when I came in," I stated in a matter-of-fact tone.

"Yeah, he decided to go to the mall with some friends today and forgot to tell anyone where he was going. Dad was pretty upset with him. Oh, you can turn around now. Thanks."

"Okay," I replied, turning to see him in a snug pair of Jockeys, as he stepped over to the closet. "It sounded like your dad was upset. Itís funny thoughÖ."

"Whatís that?"

"Well, that your Dad would spank Rodney when you never got spanked."

Iím glad I worked it in when he was still in just his briefs, because his whole upper body went bright red.

On the way to the movie, David admitted that what heíd told me had only been partial truth. When heíd been younger, his dad had just swatted his rear instead of spanking. Heíd left out the part that the swats had gone on until he was about ten, and that theyíd often been hard enough to lift his feet. Heíd also told the truth about getting the knuckle on the head for minor stuff, and that usually his dad had just had to talk to him to get him to straighten up. What heíd lied about was that, when he did something incredibly stupid or dangerous, heíd got the belt just like Rodney had.

"I didnít get it nearly as much as Rodney does. I only got it three times between about eleven and twelve, then one last time the summer beforeÖ."

He paused for a second and was obviously embarrassed, but swallowed and finally went on.

"The summer before I started high school. That was because Iíd taken the tractor out after he specifically told me I wasnít ready to drive it yet. That was the year we got it," he added in an aside. "That was the worst one I got, because when he caught me, he whipped me right there, then made me put it away."

"So you didnít get it bare butt that time?"

"Oh yeah! If Dadís gonna whup you, itís bare butt. Thatís why it was so bad."

Thinking about where they lived, it was good odds no one would have seen or heard it, but Iím sure it still would have been incredibly embarrassing.

"Anyway, thatís probably why I lied about it. Even though I only got it once after I was twelve, Dad still threatened me a couple of times.Ö Even when I was a sophomore. After that, if he got mad enough, he just wouldnít let me driveÖ. That was worse in a lot of ways, but not nearly as embarrassing."

After just a little teasing, I let him off the hook, and we had a great evening. Of course, David didnít enjoy the paddling scene in Dead Poets Society nearly as much as I did. Then again, that might have been partially my fault because of something I leaned over and whispered to him.

"I wonder if thatís what they do to boys who lie, too?"

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