The Previous Monday....
The taxi dropped me off in the big traffic circle on the west end of the UC Berkeley campus. I'd looked up where McCone Hall was, and started walking that direction. Jane had already told me when her instructor for Geology 101, Professor Hodges, would be at lunch. I was timing it so I'd be there right before class got out, so I'd be able to go in and speak to the prof in private.
The timing was good, only a couple minutes of standing in the hallway outside the correct door before students began pouring out. I stepped in as the last of the students left, stopping just inside the doorway to survey the place. A medium lecture hall, with tiered seating. A weaselly-looking guy was just standing up from a desk at the front. I made sure the door was closed and approached him.
"Professor Hodges?" asked.
Hodges eyed me curiously. He was about forty, had thinning hair slicked straight back with gel, a beak of a nose, and eyes which seemed to dart around like he was trying to spot a loss prevention worker inside a Nordsrom's. "Here I am," he replied. "May I help you?"
"I believe you can. Please, have a seat again."
He didn't sit down, just standing there and watching me approach. I arrived and reached across the desk, giving him a good, bone-powdering outlaw biker handshake. "Leonard Schneider," I said. "I believe you have a student named Jane Osborne in one of your classes."
Hodges was unable to suppress his amusement. "Oh, you'd better believe I do. Are you looking for her? She's in an afternoon class...."
"Oh, I know. No,it's you I came to talk to."
"Really? What is it regarding? Jane's marks so far have been fine, this class is not a challenge for her at all."
"Again, I'm quite aware. Rocks for Jocks shouldn't be intellectually taxing to anyone who doesn't have a history of head injuries. That's why Jane took it, she can sleepwalk through this fucking class, fulfill a requisite, and keep her mind focused on more important things."
Hodges bridled at my dismissive attitude towards his class. "What more important things?" he asked.
I grinned. "Like being a student at Haas. Jane is a business major. I know it's rare for a freshman to declare a major so quickly, but Jane has goals she sets for herself, and many of her long-term goals require she have an innate understanding of how business and money work. That's where her brain power is being focused."
"Are you a relative?" asked Hodges.
"No. Again, my name is Leonard Schneider. Me and my wife were Jane's unofficial guardians for the last couple of years. She's a throwaway kid from Florida. Her parents kicker her out when she was sixteen, so she rode Greyhound out to San Diego and looked us up. We'd met her a couple years previously while on honeymoon, and continued a correspondence. We took Jane in, helped her get legally emancipated from her parents, enrolled her in high school, and gave her love and support. We still do. Jane is.... Our relationship is a bit complex, but I love Jane, and I make it a point to make sure she is protected, and happy, and she has no unneeded sources of stress in her life. That's why I'm here."
We were sitting across from each other. I was keeping a friendly smile on my lips, and my eyes boring into Hodges' face. This made him uncomfortable. He asked, "I'm not sure I understand."
I leaned forward some and explained, "It seems that on the first day of class here, you had the students provide a bit of biography about themselves, as an introduction. They said what they'd done that summer. Jane answered truthfully --- a habit I encourage in her --- and this seemed to entertain you greatly. Yeah, Jane made four hardcore porn loops over the summer. She made them for the studio I run, Inana Productions. All right, an unusual bit of part-time employment, but a valid one. Professor Hodges, Jane and I feel you are far more entertained about this little aspect of Jane's life than you should be. She says you routinely bring the subject up, for no real reason, and during class.
"If your goal is to embarrass or humiliate Jane, it won't work. If she had any sense of shame about performing in adult video, do you think she'd have mentioned it at all? The pasty, anal-retentive, suburban, spoiled little honky motherfuckers here at Berkeley may find Jane's method of raising a but of fun money to be scandalous. Well..... Shit. It's not Jane's fault they're all sheltered little brats. I can pretty much guarantee none of them know a goddamn thing about the adult film industry, just the bullshit and lies passed on by the media and their parents and pastors. So Jane's announcement probably made them view Jane in a negative light.
"See, the problem is that if the subject had never come up again, this negative view would fade, as they got to know Jane as a person. But you keep the fucking subject alive, for whatever reason. I can speculate about why you do. You may be a judgmental, pious little asshole, who feels that Jane should be shunned by her peers for doing such naughty things. You could be a vicarious sadist, reveling in the knowledge that her classmates hold a low opinion of her. You could be a manipulative piece of shit, and you like to play students off against each other for fun. You could just be a bully, and you like picking on Jane, the weird chick in your class. Or, you've got a bit of lust for Jane, which you know you shouldn't have, since she's a student, so you try to exorcise your lust by humiliating Jane.
"Really, the reasons don't fucking matter. I'm looking at you, and I'm seeing a rather weak and shallow man. You've got tenure in the UC system, your career is set, you'll be comfortable until you die.... And you're subconsciously aware of what an empty little life you lead. So, you pick on the weird girl in class for whatever reason. You did, anyway. You're going to stop."
Hodges' mouth was open a bit. His lips flapped as he tried to formulate a response. Finally he said, "So you're saying Jane lived with you in San Diego? And not only did you allow her to make porn videos, she did it for a, uh, a studio you run? Are you kidding me?"
"Not at all," I responded. "You know who Becky Page is, right?"
"That's my wife. I'm getting another hunch. That hunch is you are as ignorant about the adult entertainment industry as your students. Have you seen any of Becky Page's movies, or any of Inana Productions' other features?"
Now Hodges got a haughty look. "I don't watch movies like that."
"Your choice, it's a free country," I grinned. "You might be forgetting that. In a free country, like this one, anyone over the age of eighteen can perform in hardcore porn if they wish. There is no legal obstacle, and if the person performing has no personal moral obstacle, it shouldn't matter a ripe fuck to anyone else. Just because you find something personally distasteful, you don't get to inflict your feelings on others. Grin and bear it."
With a bit of self-righteous aggression, Hodges said, "And what prompted you to put Jane in videos like that?"
"I didn't. It was entirely Jane's idea. She'd been agitating to appear in my videos since she was sixteen. Both my wife and I discouraged her, but she was vehement. We finally agreed that she could try making a loop when she was of legal age, and she did. Not only did she perform well, Jane also thought it was a lot of fun. Everyone thinks making porn is fun, and everyone is wrong. But Jane did enjoy herself, so we put her on our production schedule a few more times. $750 each, maybe four hours work per shoot. Jane now has an extra $3000 mad money for her freshman year. Not a bad move, overall.
"Anyway, numb-nuts, I'm here to tell you what you're going to do. You're going to never bring up Jane's part-time job again. Not in class, not in the faculty lounge, nowhere. You are also going to privately apologize to Jane for your bahavior, and explain what your motivations were. She deserves to know, and she should hear it from you. Do you understand?"
There was a bit more gape-mouthed staring from across the desk. Hodges finally frowned and said, "I see where Jane gets a lot of her attitude from."
"What attitude is that?"
"Yes, I sometimes rib her about being a porn star. Just good-natured joshing. Instead of simply letting it slide, Jane will respond to me, challenge me. She's got quite a tongue on her, far more than she should be using on one of her college professors."
"Uh huh." I slowly nodded. "Well, a couple more traits my wife and I have encouraged in Jane are both a willingness to think independently, and also to not allow anyone, no matter their position, to challenge her honor. If George Bush met Jane and told her that the mohawk and nose ring were signs she was an immoral person, Jane would correct him, directly and sharply. She'd probably point out that a genuine sign of immorality would be the continued funding of the School of the Americas, the torture training camp the federal government runs. You challenge Jane's honor, by trying to make her fellow students think she's a bad person because she got laid on camera. Fuck you, Hodges, you're going to drop that shit, and you're going to apologize."
"Oh! So you don't think there's something wrong with a college freshman getting lippy with her professor? You don't think that protocols and hierarchies should apply in a student-instructor relationship? Jane should be allowed to say anything she wants to her professors?"
"Hey, you get it!" I applauded briefly. "No, see, Jane is not inherently disrespectful. She doesn't sass anyone for the hell of it. She will respect people until she feels they don't deserve respect. Guess how she feels about you.... And it's your own fucking fault. You wanted to pick on Jane like a junior high bully, and you expected no blowback. But Jane can give as good as she can take,and often a lot better. So you should be allowed to say shit about Jane in class, and she should just sit there and take it? You fucking asshole. You pathetic little insecure bully. No, Jane's not gonna put up with your shit. And yeah, that's something she learned from me.
"Anyway, I feel like we're flogging a dead horse. We've established a few things: you're a sad, bullying little bag of shit, you're a coward, you're going to leave Jane the hell alone, and you're going to apologize to her, and mean it. Are we clear?"
"You thnk you can come in here and call me names and give me orders?" exclaimed Hodges. "I should call the campus police and have you escorted off.... or arrested! So what happens if I don't start kowtowing to Jane?"
"You don't have to kowtow to her," I pointed out. "You only have to treat her like you treat everyone else in you class. I'm telling you to treat her with respect, not kiss her ass.
"Go ahead, have UCPD cart me off. They'll drive me down to Oxford Street and kick me loose. How would you have me arrested? What for? Think back over the last several minutes and try and find anything I've said or done which was illegal."
"You've been threatening me."
"Oh? How? When did I threaten you? Now, I can make sufficiently nebulous statements about how if you don't lay the fuck off of Jane, your life will become much more complicated than it is now. There may be some major calamities happening to you, some minor and annoying, some really major and tragic. But they would be the result of karma. You earned bad karma for treating s student poorly, and the universe bit you on the ass. There would be no connection to your personal tragedies and Leonard Schneider of Encinitas, California, none. It's pretty straightforward."
Now there was fear in Hodges' eyes. "What sort of calamities?" he asked.
I stared at the ceiling and said, "How should I know? I have no inside information on the workings of the universe. I mean, I could name all sorts of things that could happen, but they'd just be guesses. But I know karma can hit in any way, from any direction. You can't keep your guard up all the time, or watch all possible avenues. Karma will slip in like fog through a window, you can't stop it."
"Yes, I am. I absolutely believe in the power of karma."
"I mean about me leaving Jane alone, that terrible things will happen to her if I tease her again."
Showing a lot of teeth, I said, "I can pretty much guarantee that if you make Jane unhappy, karma is gonna make you unhappy, twenty-fold. Th universe can be a real vicious cunt."
Hodges took twenty seconds to stare at his desk, then say, "All right. I won't speak to Jane unless it's in regards to her class. And I'll apologize for the teasing." His eyes stayed on the desk.
"That's the spirit!" I exclaimed, slapping a hand on his desk. "I can already feel your karma improving. Well, good afternoon. Thank you for giving me an audience." I got up and headed towards the door.
I was almost there when Hodges said, "Just who are you, anyway?"
With a wolfish smile, I told him, "I'm a legitimate businessman. Capiche?"