April 22, 2021
I read the headlines in the local paper quickly today. The Pelicans are still having problems: the search for bodies from a downed Gulf workboat came up with one more. A teacher was accused of grooming young girls and raping one at Lusher Middle School in Uptown near the riverbend. I hate these stories and didn’t read further.
An hour later, our family WhatsApp was blowing up. My daughter went to Lusher for junior high school, and she and mi companera had read the Lusher article front to back. It turns out that this was a story from the 1990s when Blake Bailey was her English teacher as well. Seeing the back and forth, I ran downstairs and read the whole article with nightmares of Vladimir Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert and his grooming in Lolita rushing through my brain. It turned out this story was huge, and in the midst of blowing up — and not only in my local paper.
Bailey was a teacher at Lusher Middle School in New Orleans in the 1990s. Numerous former students have recently alleged inappropriate and manipulative behavior by Bailey while he was their teacher, claiming that he “groomed” them, then pursued sexual relationships with them soon after they graduated. One former student, Eve Crawford Peyton, also accused him of raping her when she was 22, in an interview with the Times Picayune/New Orleans Advocate.
What the frick!
I have never been a real fan of Philip Roth’s work. Sure, I read Portnoy’s Complaint and maybe another book or two of his, but that’s about it. On the other hand, I had read most of the reviews of Bailey’s 900-page doorstopper and some of the other pieces surrounding its publication in The New Yorker and the New York Times. This was that guy!
My daughter remembered some of the creepier things about Bailey, including the fact that he took pictures of one of the hot, hardly-teenaged girls in her class and chased her around the room in an end of semester “party” at the school. Mi companera remembered him viscerally, since she had demanded a meeting with him because he was grading on grammar, but wasn’t teaching grammar. She pushed him back and in her inimitable way had threatened him that she would be back in his face if he kept it up. Later, at the end of the semester, he reverted to his bad practice. Now, she wondered if this was part of his strategy to force these young girls into meeting with him to groom them for the future. My daughter is madly texting all of her buddies as they compare notes.
Certainly, we ask, where were we as parents? Luckily, one of us was spot-on to this guy! But where was the principal, where were his supervisors? I read a book recently by the daughter of a co-worker who had a difficult and similar experience being Lolita. Heartbreaking! This is not a new phenomenon. Lolita was published in 1955. It’s a classic. How could any middle or high school principal worth their salt, not be on the lookout for these kinds of problems? Why is there no special training and supervision to guard and protect young boys and girls from classroom predators?
Bailey and his spokespeople claim innocents. The Lusher authorities claim innocence. Nobody wants the blame. No one wants to accept the responsibility. Bailey’s publishers have stopped shipments, but the book has been critically reviewed, so it will stay on the shelves as a definitive treatment of Roth, regardless of Bailey and his protestations.
None of this really helps the girls that were victimized. All of this needs to force a reckoning with the responsibility of the people in authority at this school and others to assure accountability to prevent this in the future and reconcile the past.