This Great Society - Arts



Illustration: Joel Bentley

Christine Schoenwald: The Try Not to Do List
Illustration: Joel Bentley



I almost slept with Psycho Pete and by almost I mean I did, and by “psycho” I mean “bat shit crazy!” It was the summer of Lysistrata, the summer I made my stage debut at San Jose State University, the summer I had not one but two “I wish this didn’t count” sexual experiences.

Lysistrata was performed outside in the amphitheatre. Being cast as one of the Old Lady Chorus wasn’t type casting as I was young, attractive and didn’t need Depends. Mainly, I just chased the members of the lecherous Old Men’s Chorus, brandishing a large loaf of bread.

By the end of the summer, I already had two of my largest life mistakes behind me. Allowing the theatre department’s premier womanizer as my “first” was my first mistake. He seduced me by telling me I looked a lot like his cousin (what a sweet talker). His schedule was full with banging chicks, so we had to arrange a time to do it. “I have next Thursday free, if you want to rob me of my innocence then.”

I let my ride (my friend Daryl) go on without me. My parents had been told that I would be staying at Barb and Debbie’s house. They were the only people I knew with their own apartment. Walking with Sam to his boarding house, I giggled that I was losing my virginity on a street called “Pierce.”  Sam was half American-Indian, half Scottish-English and all college Casanova. He had a terrible under bite and didn’t have what you might call “movie star good looks,” but he was charming, I think. He had to have been, right?

Our encounter ended with him telling me about all his conquests in the theatre department, almost everyone, even – as he put it – “the ugly girls.”   “Hooray for me, I’m one of many!” That “Lysistrata” summer I wore a white fringe shirt that had the word “Heaven” printed above the right breast. Sam would pass me in the hall, point at it and whisper, “I’ll say.” Yuck. I was so repulsed by Sam I couldn’t respond.

With sex with SJSU’s biggest philanderer checked off my “Do List,” the drama department’s biggest freak was next. Pete was cute; he had that going for him – kind of boyish looking. His resemblance to Jared Leto certainly didn’t hurt.

He didn’t try to hide the fact that he was a lunatic. In acting class he told a personal story about masturbating with a vacuum cleaner in a closet and his father catching him at it. His attitude was shock and surprise at his Father’s shock and surprise. Pete certainly was open. We were sitting in a circle as he told his story, his penis falling out of his shorts like it was desperately trying to get some air. Although I was unsophisticated, even I could tell something was not right about Pete. Perhaps I wasn’t being fair. I should try to be more accepting. Don’t forget, he was a doppelganger for Jared Leto during the Prefontaine years.

Hanging out with Pete at his apartment was terrifying.  He lived with an alcoholic poet and an alcoholic mailman. I’d sit at their torn Formica table and watch cockroaches climb the wall. It was the first time I had ever seen cockroaches. They were gigantic and they zigzagged. Their apartment smelled of grease, rot and failure. Dressed in my pure white sundress, I’d pray that Pete’s roommates wouldn’t spill their Mickey’s Big Mouth beers on me. As the cockroaches got closer and closer to where I was sitting, I would start to feel the overall depression of the apartment and would push myself away from the table. Standing awkwardly and not saying anything, Pete would know I wanted to leave. Walking me out through the maze of security gates, Pete tried to shield me from the garbage and rats that congregated around it. Standing in front of his building, we would make out until my ride came. 

Eventually, Pete came to my house. As we were having sex, my very conservative friend Delores stopped by and rang the doorbell. I pushed Pete off. He fell from the bed, hard onto the floor. Coming to my senses, I kicked him out.

I avoided him for the rest of the summer, and then he went away to UCLA. He stayed at school, literally. He lived in the green room for years, using the make-up room shower and keeping his toothbrush in one of the cubbies.  He wasn’t crazy enough to continue living with the alcoholics.  Sometimes we’d see him at Denny’s where he worked as a waiter. He’d give us a free “Super bird” for the table.  I would tell people I “almost” slept with him.

Years later I heard that he was a college professor. Apparently his eccentricities were acceptable as the quirks of a theatre instructor. Pete had done well for himself.

I, meanwhile, ended the summer of Lysistrata a little emotionally bruised, and a little wiser, with the knowledge of how to fend off lechers while wielding a baguette.


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