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Poster Boy

GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

OK, so in an entirely different life I used to have, I attended the University of Michigan Law School, right. And when I was there, I wrote a column for the school newspaper, right, kind of crack wise, whatever, make the folk laugh, dispensed with my deep thoughts of the day. I just wanted to be funny. The law school community was small so everyone read my column. And I dissed on the professors and stuff without having to mention them by name. And one week I wrote a column questioning how a black man can get his educational monies worth when one Professor Blowhard decides to prove how important he is by moving his loud, ridiculous, boring conversation to the supposed quiet room right where I'm studying. Everyone knew exactly who I was talking about. But funny was hard, and Michigan was cold. And school was tough. And the column just got harder and harder to write. And I was making my deadline by mere hours and then by mere minutes. And nothing is funny in the middle of a Michigan winter.So it's a Thursday night, and I've got to have my column in by 9 a.m. the next day. And I've got nothing, nothing. I'm fooling around at the computer lab supposedly writing. I get up from my 39th bathroom break. I go to the restroom and from underneath the stall I see a guy come in. I see him walk around and then leave. And all of a sudden I've got it. I leave the bathroom lickety-split, jump on the computer. This column is going to be hilarious. I make this story up about going to the restroom, seeing a time written on the side of the stall. Underneath of it says, meet me here at 1 a.m. for a very good time. I looked down at my watch and realized it's 12:58.

But I don't want to meet anyone. And I certainly don't want their good time. Then hijinks ensue, and I probably escaped the bathroom just in the nick of time. Hilarious. I give it to the school newspaper editor early - a first for me. The newspaper goes out. And I see people reading my column and laughing, sharing it with friends in the library. Funny. Funny. It's all I really wanted, right, just to spread a little bit of funny around. The next morning I'm walking into the law school with a friend for a study meeting. And when we open the doors of this huge magnificent building, all the walls are plastered over with posters.

Every poster has my face on it, and everyone calls me a name - homophobe. For a moment, I'm frozen. I can't move. No one is there, just me and my friend. And she says, Glynn, we've got to rip these down right now. I can barely hear her. And I'm sick, and I'm angry. And I run to start tearing the posters down, but I stop. I'm thinking, whatever I do in the next few seconds, whatever it is, it's going to mark me forever. I know this. I know this. I know this as if the voice of God is shouting it in my ear. And I tell her, no, don't touch anything. That would be worse. I leave the building. I walk across campus. I sit down in front of a computer.

I start writing the column to end all columns. It's witty. It's cutting. What? Can't take a joke? I don't hate anyone. That's the problem with our discourse today. Grow a pair. This is a law school. Battle me with ideas not with name-calling. I'm typing with a fury with the righteous indignation - how dare you. A homophobe? A hater of gay people? I am not that guy. How dare you. Whoever you are, how dare you. And when I finish, I was sweating like a prize fighter. I read what I've written. And I read it again. I read it one last time. I take a deep breath, and I hit delete. Deep down - and I haven't let myself examine this part of me yet because it hurts too bad - but deep down I know I'm guilty. Yes. I went for the easy laughs, and it hurt people. And that was my fault not theirs, mine. I walked to class. When I get to the room, I see the woman I sit next to every single day. She looks over at me, and there's no way she's going to let this slide. I can barely look her in the eye. But I look her in the eye, and I tell her I'm sorry.

And she's like, Glynn, don't be sorry. Do sorry. So that night I write another piece. And this time, I save the venom for myself. I announce the death of my column. I thank the poster welcoming committee for pulling my head up out of the sand. I tell my readers that if you're looking for anymore bullheaded, oafish, ill-informed claptrap, don't come to me because I'm going to be on lockdown for a while. And if you don't mind, please everyone, let's keep this instance, my failings, amongst just ourselves here at the law school. I swear, I wish I still had a copy of that piece. I wish I did, but I do not because I know without reservation and with absolute certainty that that last column was truly and genuinely funny.

(MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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