Spats for Sinistrus
The first thing Wallace Denby after walking into the Student Welfare Board meeting room was to offer us all cigarettes. That's when I realized we were REALLY in trouble.
There were five of us there just before 10 a.m. on the Friday of Homecoming Weekend at Vanlandingham College. I'm Sandra Martinet, and at the time this happened -- fall of 1973 -- I was president of the Vanlandingham chapter of Pi Delta Lambda (PDL). I had two of my sorority sisters, Rosie Cule and Glencora Xenoves, with me. Our fellow defendants -- I use the term advisedly -- were Lance Blasing and Terry Hendricks from Rho Omicron Delta (ROD), the least dorky fraternity on campus. The previous night, just before midnight, a campus cop had busted the five of us while we were trying to smuggle a case of beer onto the campus to use at the joint Homecoming Bash PDL and ROD were going to throw Friday night after the bonfire. (Fortunately, we'd already gotten the other five cases into safekeeping.)
Yeah, I know -- beer. Even back then, there was lots more serious stuff for colleges to worry about. LSD, for example. The new Dean of Students, Dr. Helen Wheels, however, was very down on alcohol abuse and word was she was determined to take names and kick ass.
So here we were waiting for the Academic Dean, Ralph Watson, and Dr. Wheels. Together with Denby, who had been Vanlandingham's in-house lawyer for close to forty years, they made up the Student Welfare Board. Wags sometimes called it the Student Farewell Board, because it was the last thing you saw at Vanlandingham before you were formally expelled. I didn't think five seniors with otherwise clean records would get anything quite that bad, but when Denby offered me a Chesterfield I began to think we might be in for something pretty rough. I hadn't smoked since before track practice began the previous spring, but you'd better believe I took the cigarette.
I was glad to see Denby. In his seventies, he always wore a navy blue three-piece suit, a white shirt, an old-man-from-Philadelphia formal tie, a white pocket handkerchief in his breast pocket, and a gold pocket watch. He was by far the most human cog in Vanlandingham's administrative machinery. He didn't waste any time confirming my fears.
"You five are good student leaders," he said in a reedy growl that could be real intimidating until you got to know him. "Your organizations acocunt for most of the positive school spirit at this place. You police drinking by your members, and you drink responsibly. But a lot of students don't drink responsibly. They become alcoholic, or drink away a semester or a whole year or even their entire college career. That rule you flouted is a damn good rule. You deserve to be punished and you will be punished. But you don't deserve the punishment that I think Dr. Wheels has in mind for you."
"What are the chances?" I asked.
"Not good. I'll try to head her off, but she's brand new and Dean Watson will be reluctant not to accept her recommendation on something this important to her. So with most lawyers, your position would be utterly hopeless. Fortunately, you have me, so it's merely desperate. Well, technically, the college has me, but I'm on your side. The combination of my institutional memory and razor-sharp legal mind has produced a card that you can play as an absolute last resort."
He told us what it was. We all swallowed hard. Then Watson and Wheels strode in, and the hearing began.
"A report from the campus police says that you five were found on campus grounds, just over the wall, around midnight, with a case of Miller High Life," he said. "What's your side of the story?"
I stood up and cleared my throat.
"Speaking for all of us," I said, "the report is true. We're guilty. We broke the rule. We have no defense and no excuse."
Watson looked like he might be impressed with this no-bullshit approach, and offered what might have passed for a smile. Wheels, on the other hand, could have been playing poker at the $25-a-chip table at Vegas. Watson then said that the only remaining issue was what sanctions to impose and, as promised, Denby jumped in to try to preempt Wheels.
"These five are good students with clean records," he said, "but this is a serious offense. There were twenty-four cans of beer in that case. I think that if these five miscreants each spend twenty-four hours before the end of the semester picking up cigarette butts and cleaning vomit and urine from the steps of frat houses and dormitories where students have over-indulged, they might develop a more acute appreciation for the wisdom of the rule they violated."
I took a deep breath. Twenty-four hours of menial service to the college community, as it was formally called in the student handbook, was pretty stiff. It would crimp our style a bit. But we could handle it. I'd barely exhaled, however, when Dr. Wheels weighed in.
"I can't agree," she said. "By next semester I hope to have a zero-tolerance policy in place for alcohol abuse, which would result in automatic expulsion for offenses like this. We don't have that yet, but I believe these offenders should be placed on social and academic probation for the remainder of this semester and the following semester."
I gasped. No extracurriculars. No dates, for that matter. I'd be out as PDL president. No participation in the Homecoming activities that we'd each devoted dozens of hours to preparing for and working on. The rest of our senior years would be a long, dreary, gray procession of compulsory study halls and weekends in our rooms.
Watson frowned and I thought for an instant that he might almost be capable of independent judgment, but then he shook his head.
"In a matter of this gravity," he intoned, "I feel I must defer -- "
"Dean Watson," I interjected desperately as I played Denby's card of last resort, "I respectfully request spats in lieu of administrative discipline."
"What?" Wheels demanded, looking at me as if I'd said that the square root of 2 was blue.
"Spats," Watson explained, blushing. "Swats. With a paddle. On the bare bottom."
"Miss Martinet," Wheels said, turning the full glare of administrative outrage toward me, "this is NOT a parochial grade school or a junior high in the rural south. This is a college. Our mission is the education of adults. Our regulations make no provision for the administration of corporal punishment under any circumstances."
"The regulations don't, that's true," Denby said, sighing as if he regretted having to impart unwelcome information. "But the customs, usages, and traditions of the college do."
"What's he talking about?" Wheels asked Watson.
"Well," Watson stammered, "er, there have, ah, been occasions when, uh, if the football team would have, ah, been deprived of the services of, ah, certain players for key games because of particular infractions, the, er, players, you see have been, ah, permitted to choose, uh, paddling instead of the normal punishment. The technical term in college lore is taking spats in lieu of administrative discipline." He looked pointedly at Denby and continued. "I'm surprised that Miss Martinet knows about it. We haven't used it in five or six years, and I didn't think anyone but the football coach and certain senior administrators was familiar with it. But there it is."
"Fine," Wheels snapped. "But I don't think we'll need any of these five for any football games. I say request denied."
"Unfortunately," Denby sighed, "it's not that simple. Title IX just became law. The football players are all male. If we deny coeds a disciplinary option that we make available to football players, there could be a plausible claim of gender discrimination, imperiling our federal funding. Time-consuming and distracting investigation. Need to hire expensive outside counsel. And we might lose."
I could tell from the look on Wheels' face that she knew she was beaten. No college administrator has any answer to the one-word argument "money." I could also tell, however, that she was calculating furiously about how to deal with the new development. As it turned out, she thought fast and shrewdly.
"Very well," she said in clipped tones as a dangerous-looking glint came into her fiercely determined blue eyes. "The requested punishment will be administered at 2:15 this afternoon in the gymnastics room on the second floor of the old gym. Twenty-four strokes for each offender. And since the request for spats is collective, the punishment itself must be as well. If any student fails to take the full punishment, then all offenders will be subjected to the normal sanction already prescribed. Clear?"
We all nodded as Watson banged the heel of his hand on the table to indicate the end of the hearing. Even in my distress, which was substantial, I had to admire the diabolical cleverness of the set-up Wheels had improvised. We would have to wait four hours in agony for the dreadful punishment we were to receive. By 2:15, the entire school would know that we were to be spanked like children. The windows on the second floor of the old gym couldn't be closed, and anyone who wanted to could gather outside and get an ear-full of the paddlings. And that wasn't the worst thing. The worst thing was that the Homecoming Game Pep Rally would start at 3:00 p.m. in the fieldhouse. If everything went perfectly -- if all five of us took our licks without chickening out -- we'd still have to walk into that pep rally immediately afterward, with every single one of our fellow students knowing that we'd just gotten spankings.
As the board members were leaving, Rosie, Glencora and I joined hands, closed our eyes, and said in unison, "Sinistrus." You see, one of PDL's traditions was to have a member of our sorority deliver the Latin declamation at commencement each year. Rosie was minoring in Classics so that she could be the one. She'd told us the story of a brave Roman in the early days of the republic who had been captured trying to assassinate the leader of an army besieging Rome. The bad guys threatened to torture him to make him reveal who his co-conspirators were. To show his contempt for such a threat, he thrust his right hand into a burning brazier and left it there until the hand had burned completely off. The bad guys were so impressed with his courage that they let him go and lifted the siege. He became a hero, and his buddies gave him a new nickname: Sinistrus -- or, as we would say, Lefty.
On his way out, Denby murmurred to us, "Congratulations, I think. I hope when this is over, you'll feel that I did you a favor."
The three of us took a deep breath and repeated, in unison, "Sinistrus." We were going to need plenty of that kind of courage -- and, maybe, plenty of that kind of stupidity.
We got to the gymnastics room on the second floor of the decrepit old gymnasium at five minutes until two. Watson was there, trying to look bland and neutral and succeeding rather well. Denby was there, grim and sympathetic. Nurse Phillips from the college dispensary was there with a medical bag. Also on the scene, I was disgusted to see, were Lisa May Quisling and Greg Humboldt, the co-chairs of the Pan-Hellenic Council and members of PDL's and ROD's bitterest rival sorority and fraternity. (Remember, this was 1973. People took things like that a lot more seriously back then.)
Finally, of course, Dr. Helen Wheels was present. She wore a very academic gray tweed jacket and skirt number that nicely complemented her ash-blond hair, fiercely determined blue eyes, and New England aristocrat manner. She was holding a wooden fraternity paddle that Watson had presumably dug out for her. The blade was over two-and-a-half feet long and at least half an inch thick. The Greek letters burned into one side of the blade were Sigma Pi Alpha Nu Kappa. Very funny, I thought. I thought that just before I almost lost my last meal over the idea of what that piece of lumber could do to our tender fannies.
Just to tighten us up a bit further, Wheels reviewed the rules: two-dozen strokes each, on the bare bottom; if anyone failed to take the full punishment, then all five of us would suffer the much harsher discipline of social and academic probation for the rest of our senior years; Quisling and Humboldt were there to observe on behalf of the Pan-Hellenic Council and make sure our rights weren't infringed (yeah, right); Nurse Phillips could apply antiseptics if needed, but not pain-relievers.
We all nodded. I, for one, couldn't have spoken if I'd had to. I hadn't been spanked in six years, I'd never been paddled, and I was as scared as hell.
"All right, Mr. Blasing," Dean Wheels said then. "You're closest to the beginning of the alphabet, so you can have the honor of the first spanking. Stand forth."
Lance stood up and walked with reasonable resolution over to the pommel horse.
"Pull down your pants," Dr. Wheels ordered. Lance dropped his chinos and underpants, and then without further instruction bent over the pommel horse.
"On the balls of your feet, if you please, Mr. Blasing," Dr. Wheels said, tapping his bottom with the paddle. He complied, and his bottom came up about two more inches.
Gauging the distance carefully, Dr. Wheels brought the paddle slowly back, paused, and then swung it swiftly and decisively forward. SPAT! filled the gymnastics room as the paddle collided with the lower half of Lance's bottom. I'd say it was as loud as a pistol shot, but I've since heard plenty of pistol shots that didn't make as much noise. In my ears at that moment, the sound seemed shocking and gut-wrenching.
My first instinct was to close my eyes, but I willed myself to gaze steadily at the punishment instead. My boyfriend, who was in pre-law, had told me that if you can get a jury to keep looking at something really horrible, like a mutilated corpse, the reaction to it will eventually dull and it won't have the same impact. That's what I hoped would happen here.
It's funny, but even as Lance's first, strangled "OOF!" exploded from his mouth, my incongruous thought was of how beautiful the oblong stripe left on his bottom by the paddle was. Not only beautiful, but appropos: it was exactly the shade of pink champagne.
With vigor and enthusiasm, Wheels brought the paddle whistling forward again. SPAT! This produced an "AAGGH!" from Lance, who managed to stifle it into a gasp instead of a yell. Although this smack landed on the lower half of his bottom as well, the champagne pink stain now spread to the upper half, and the lower half took on the hue of a sunrise on a day due for storms. (I've seen sunrises after all-nighters, and I know what I'm talking about.) SPAT! This time his knees buckled, and the sound the paddle ripped from his mouth was a not-so-whispered "AIEEE!" SPAT! His legs started churning, without his feet leaving the floor, as if he were locked in a slow-motion drill with a blocking sled.
"A bit more (SPAT!) than you bargained for (SPAT!), isn't it, Mr. Blasing (SPAT!)?" Dr. Wheels demanded. "Not like some (SPAT!) fraternity initiation (SPAT!), is it? No (SPAT!), this is the (SPAT!) real thing (SPAT!). Be careful what (SPAT!) you ask for (SPAT!), Mr. Blasing (SPAT!). You just might (SPAT!) get it (SPAT!)."
By now Lance's entire bottom was the deep, unhealthy red of overripe cranberries. Purple splotches on each cheek announced the beginning of memorable bruises. I could see his face under the pommel horse, and his cheeks, ears and neck were also bright red. Tears were streaming from his eyes. If he was still making any effort to stifle his yelps, it wasn't succeeding. Each SPAT! now got a full-throated, loudly screamed "YEEOWWW!" from him.
To her credit, Dr. Wheels didn't go after the bruises or try to find especially tender places to spank him. She just applied the paddle, SPAT! after blistering SPAT!, until she'd reached twenty-four.
"Very well, Mr. Blasing," she said then, lowering the paddle so that the end rested on the floor. "One down and four to go. You may go over and stand with your nose against the wall while your confederates get what they asked for, as you just have."
Mechanically, Lance levered himself up from the pommel horse and shuffled over to the wall. He hung his head, hiding his face from hus, as his body shook with barely suppressed sobs.
I squeezed Rosie's hand, murmuring "Sinistrus." She squeezed back, then stood up without waiting to be summoned. She walked over to the pommel horse and said, "I'm ready for my spanking, Dr. Wheels."
"All right," the Dean of Students said. "Assume the position over that pommel horse, with your skirt up and your panties down."
While Rosie complied, Dr. Wheels leaned the paddle against one leg of the pommel horse and removed her tweed jacket. Lisa May Quisling jumped forward with pathetic, sycophantic eagerness to hold the jacket for her. Dr. Wheels picked the paddle up then and addressed herself to Rosie's bottom, which was by now well presented. The back of Dr. Wheels' blouse was already sodden with sweat from shoulder blade to shoulder blade.
The first SPLAT! for Rosie added an element that hadn't figured in Lance's paddling. Rosie had a very nice, All-American build -- the kind that red-blooded American boys like even if foreign fashion designers don't. Her bottom boasted plenty of well-rounded flesh, and it compressed visibly as the paddle laced into it. For some reason, that seemed to make the swat far worse even than the strokes Lance had endured.
Rosie screeched long and loud. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Glencora and Terry looking anxious: If Dr. Wheels was getting heart-rending yelps on the first lick, how was Rosie going to take two-dozen? I'd heard something, though, that actually gave me some confidence. There was a tone in that screech that was pure Rosie; not just of pain but of indignation. How DARE that paddle hurt so much? This was an OUTRAGE! You get Rosie mad and lots of things might happen, but Rosie backing off wasn't one of them.
Mentally cheering Rosie on, I watched and winced through nine lusty strokes and listened as Rosie's howls, even after she started blubbering, got louder and angrier. After the ninth, Dr. Wheels paused.
"Is this too much, Miss Cule?" she asked in a kindly voice. "Would you like to call this off?"
It was the perfect psychological moment. Nine was just enough to seem really horrible, without being enough to make you think you were almost home. I could easily imagine what was going through Rosie's mind: Fifteen to go! Fifteen! I can't take fifteen more! I can't take five more!
The inspiration of Sinistrus, however, came through for us. Rosie, our Latin scholar, choked back her snuffling long enough to give Dean Wheels a swift and unambiguous answer to her suggestion about calling things off:
"In somines tuas, canis!" she spat. (For those of you without the benefit of a classical education, that's Latin for, "In your dreams, bitch!")
"What was that?" Dr. Wheels asked, genuinely puzzled (for she had received all of her degrees from progressive institutions). Denby was the only person in the room besides me and Rosie who knew what Rosie had said, and he saved the day.
"I believe it's from Ovid," he said placidly. "I think a rough translation would be, 'Not in a thousand lifetimes.' I believe you may interpret it as a negative response."
Dr. Wheels' answer to that was a SPAT! followed by another and another, each administered with a little extra soupcon of energy and commitment. Again and again Rosie's bottom compressed under the arcing paddle's blade.
Again and again she yelped or screamed or cried. But again and again, as the echoes of her cry died out, she was still gamely in position, inviting the next stroke. Finally, the paddle descended for the two-dozenth time on a bottom that now looked like raw hamburger marbled with dark olives. Dr. Wheels sent Rosie over to the wall to do penance with Lance, admonishing her to hold her skirt up while she stood in disgrace.
As if in a daze I heard, "Miss Martinet?" It was my turn. I'd been pulling for everybody else. I'd gotten the others into this. Now I had to take my licks.
I rose on unsteady legs and willed myself to stride toward the pommel horse. My lunch was rising in my throat, and my lower lip was trembling. I don't think I would've made it if I hadn't been fortified by one thought: "Lance and Rosie took their punishment, and I can't let them down." Substituting anger for courage, I brusquely hooked my thumbs in my panties, yanked them down almost to my knees, flung myself over the pommel horse, flipped my skirt up over my waist, and found a metal cross-brace to grab tightly with both hands.
Nothing happened. Impatiently, I glanced under the pommel horse. Dr. Wheels was unbuttoning the right cuff of her blouse and rolling the sleeve up. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut. Now need for further desensitization. Either I could take it or I couldn't.
I heard a faint whistling through the air, then SPAT! felt a massive, searing, nettling sting that seemed instantly to spread across my whole bottom. Imagine one of those old-fashioned adhesive bandages that hurt like hell to pull off your skin. Now imagine ten score of them being pulled off at the same instant from every square inch of the tenderest part of your bottom. That's how it felt. "OWWWWWW!" I yelled, and I sincerely meant every consonant of it.
"I understand that you could have escaped (SPAT!) this unpleasant experience, Miss Martinet (SPAT!)," Dr. Wheels said as she administered one devastating, deliberate stroke after another and a dry, lacerating hat scalded my bottom. "You heard the campus policeman coming (SPAT!), escaped into the ivy, and (SPAT!) urged your co-conspirators to forget (SPAT!) the case of beer and make their escape (SPAT!) with you. But they were too slow (SPAT!), and when they were apprehended (SPAT!), you stepped forward and said that if there was punishment (SPAT!) to be taken, you would take your share (SPAT!). Very admirable, but when you make such a beau geste (SPAT!), you must be prepared to take the (SPAT!) full measure of that responsibility (SPAT!)."
I want you to know that I did NOT receive this spanking with Roman stoicism. As the paddle blistered my bottom, I yelped like a scalded dog, belted out screams that could have been heard at the other end of the campus, cried hot, bitter tears, blubbered like a two-year old, and squealed like a cat whose tail had lost an argument with a rocking chair. But I never relaxed the death-grip I had on the cross-brace.
With the thirteenth stroke, I felt an insignificant little flick on the right side of my rib cage. I didn't know what it was, but it turned out to be a chunk of wood from the end of the paddle that had broken off from the force of the licks Wheels was administering. With the fourteenth SPAT!, the flaw in the wood that this lost chunk left sent a lengthwise split from the top of the paddle all the way to the handle. Dr. Wheels found herself standing there, holding what amounted to two oversized splinters.
"How annoying," she said. "I suppose now we'll have to suspend this punishment until we can scrape up another paddle from the football locker room."
That prospect filled me with dread, but Denby stepped forward without a word and without undue haste. He loosened a restraining strap from one end of the pommel horse and tendered it to Dr. Wheels. It was about thirty inches long, four inches wide, and three-eighths of an inch thick. (I was paying close attention.)
"I'm not at all sure that this is an equivalent," Dr. Wheels said.
If nothing else, the three of us who'd taken our punishment so far had managed to infuse some backbone into Watson, the Academic Dean. He now spoke up.
"Miss Martinet has just taken fourteen strokes of the paddle without coming out of position," he pointed out. "If you think you can take fourteen strokes of that strap without flinching, you might have an argument about equivalence."
"Your point," Dr. Wheels said in gracious concession. "But I'm going to have to take a rest. This is more strenuous than I had anticipated. Miss Quisling, as long as we've had an interruption anyway, why don't you do the rest of the honors for Miss Martinet?"
Oh boy, I thought, now I'm REALLY going to get it. My sorority, PDL, had lots of women athletes. Quisling's sorority had lots of cheerleaders. There was no love lost whatsoever.
I heard a terrifyingly swift Swish-CRACK!. The sharp, biting pain that slashed through my consciousness as the strap bit into my bottom confirmed my worst fears. Coming on top of the paddling, this wasn't only a qualitatively different kind of pain, but an exponentially greater one. My scream then dwarfed all the others I'd offered.
I tottered on the cusp of panic ans the strap smacked again across my abused and overheated posterior. Eight more! Don't think about it! Swish-CRACK! I can't help thinking about it! I can't take any more!
I desperately need some additional inspiration to see me through the rest of the spanking. And as if Denby had willed it and sent it by telepathy, it came: I DESERVE this. I knew the rule, I broke the rule, I got caught, I deserve to be punished. There's nothing wrong with this. The pain is rough, but it's appropriate. Nothing to be ashamed of. I'm getting what I've got coming.
Everything seemed clearer now. As the strap swished again and again, the searing heat from my blistered bottom began to spread as a soothing, thrilling warmth to my hips, my belly, my loins. I was still yelling good and plenty with each scorching stroke, but at the same time I was actually rejoicing in the administration of a proper spanking that, I now realized, I had well and truly earned on the merits.
"All right," Quisling said listlessly. "That's it."
"No!" I shouted impulsively in the intoxication of my emotional adrenaline rush. "You miscounted! That's only twenty-three!" And after everyone exchanged raised-eyebrow looks, I got that last Swish-CRACK! that, in a strange way, I really wanted.
I felt elated as I hobbled stiffly to stand in penance with my face to the gym wall. My elation lasted until I reflected that we still had a long way to go before we were out from under the thundercloud of social and academic probation. Two more chums still had to endure spankings -- and, I now realized, Dr. Wheels thought they were the two weakest links, which was why she'd manipulated the order of punishment. And then, if they did, all five of us had to walk into a fieldhouse filled with a student body that would know exactly what we'd just been through -- indeed, that would probably include a hundred people who at this moment were standing outside the old gym, joking about my weeping and screaming. We were a long way from home.