Last week, I heard an outlandish announcement: the famous Seattle schoolteacher who ran away with her seventh grade student— and eventually bore his children in wedded chaos— was, after all these years, sponsoring a "Hot for Teacher" night at a local Seattle bar, featuring her husband as DJ.
Mary Kay Letourneau's story has been exploited ad nauseum— mostly by people other than herself or her family— but it is truly an unusual tale.
Her dad was an extreme right wing Catholic politician who ran for President on a "nut-job ticket." Her mother was a rabid acolyte of Phyllis Schafly. It was a "What-Goes-On-Behind-Blonde-Doors" sort of thing.
She married at 22 and had four kids with her husband Steve, before she first met the 13-year-old, Vili Fualaau, who decided she was hot— and whom she, at 34— couldn't say "no" to.
She and Vili had a torrid affair right under people's noses for some time. It finally blew up, a triangle with Vili's mother pulling the trigger after a period of "watch and wait."
Next, MK was given a lenient jail sentence— but blew the terms of her parole by meeting Vili on the sly— where they conceived two children. The two kids were initially raised by his mom, who continued to either sue or defend Mary, depending on the week.
Mary was under a court order to never see Vili again, after her stretch in the pokey. Seven years is some hard time.
After sleeping with a bunch of other people and getting busted on DUI's, Fualaau came of age and successfully petitioned the court to see Mary again.
They got married a tabloid-sponsored million-dollar affair. If you had told me Tonya Harding was the maid of honor, I wouldn't have been surprised.
But I was surprised by this: they stay married. They have two daughters. Even stranger, Mary's oldest son by her first marriage lives with them, and her second-eldest comes to visit most every weekend. The two youngest are not of age and still live with their father, the mysterious Steve. He seems to be the only person who hasn't said something about this to the press, which makes him look rather sterling. It's certainly one of the greatest cuckolding stories of all time.
I recount these observations as part of the fractured fairy tale, not as a defense or cause celebre. It's unfair to strike a moral posture on The Letourneau Affair, because their story defies all predictions.
The couple seems to live in a delicate but impermeable bubble. They live off of, and yet apart from, their infamy. Those who know them, find the couple "warm," "real," "down-to-earth." They fit, in their set. If you watch these videos, you get a glimpse of that.
Those who don't know them are grossed out by the recorded history. They think she's crazy, deluded, and reckless— and that he must be hot mess who'll dump her as soon as he grows up but will never dump his damage.
In interviews today, MLT seems strangely doll-like and submissive after all these years — like she wouldn't last seven minutes in prison, let alone seven years. Vili still sports the same machismo and juvenile "I can rationalize anything" affect he's had since middle school.
MK remembers how great it was when Vili turned 21 and they could both go out and order a drink. Is the whole family just swimming around at the bottom of a glass? I have no idea.
They don't "influence" anyone outside their intimate orbit, as much as they insult propriety. MLT is not leading a trend or setting an example for anyone. The two of them are outliers.
When I was a young teacher, leading classes of college students not much younger than me, I was terrified of their crushes. I didn't find them attractive; I found them threatening. I felt as if they could flip a switch from adoration to fury with one wrong look. I wanted as much detachment and authority as possible.
On the other end, I always had teacher crushes myself— a little transference here, a little swooning there. I don't think I caused anyone worry, if or I did, they never let me know. I think the fantasies were a gesture of "looking up" to someone, idealizing a mentor, of wishing to grow up.
I liked having teachers on that pedestal; I didn't suffer the distance. The couple of teachers that I ended up having post-grad friendships with, evolved over many years, with our intellectual rapport leading the transformation. If they are a little parental with me now, I enjoy it.
I asked my friends on Facebook if any of them would trot out to "Hot for Teacher" night and report back. I didn't ask for any political ID. Two people, Professor Tom and Litsa Dremousis, filed quite different reports.
Their one area of agreement? Apparently Miss Mary has spectacular gams. And neither of them could stand the gig for more than half an hour.
Mary Kay LeTourneau Fualaau appeared to be a sweet, happy, gregarious, vision of beauty with an aura of compassionate, motherly care.
The event went like this: "She served her time for the crime and now that we're all adults, it's time to PARTY."
Vili seemed like a young man who has found a pot of gold. He spun hits for the massive crowd in a pro DJ style that could've been pumping in any one of the steamy clubs of downtown Pioneer Square.
These days we all carry cells and Pods as a prop— so instead of standing there with a drink, the infamous couple (mostly Mary) were surrounded by people holding their devices up in the air, trying to capture that rare image or sound bite— or calling their friends and streaming online.
Vili didn't rap or talk to the crowd of well-wishers but kept a hand on the mixer and laptop sound system. He was animated, smiling.
Mary was tan, slim in a strapless short black dress, and heels. She has great legs. The T-shirt for the event didn't show her golden-blond straight hair, beautiful complexion, or bright red lipstick.
She did not address the gathering of her fans from the mic, but she did hold center stage with a genuine smile while everyone hugged her and got their picture taken.
She bubbled more like a giggling schoolgirl than any schoolmarm.
I talked to a guy who said he was Vili's friend and that Mary is always around (presumably kickin' it) and is very happy— a regular person.
A woman from San Diego told me she might go to hell for being here tonight— or for accepting these folks for who they are. She said it was unthinkable for her nine-year-old son to experience this at age twelve.
Not everyone knows that MK and Vili didn't get caught in the van in the school parking lot by the security guard. The police didn't respond for a year to eyewitnesses. It was Vili's mother and aunt who finally insisted the case be heard. This was in a closed door, upscale, quiet neighborhood.
So much for our educational institutions turning out cookie-cutter worker drones for the military industrial complex.
Back in the fifth grade, I fell in love with my teacher named Heather Danniker. This was about 1970. Heather looked like Ali McGraw from The Getaway. She was young for a teacher— probably fresh out of college— but that was older woman for me.
There were times at the end of class when I had to come up with a reason to stay seated to avoid embarrassment from a protruding encumbrance brought on by studying the color, texture, light and shadow of Ms. Danniker's pantyhose.
I'll never forget her sitting in a chair with a book in front of the class where I would patiently wait for her adjust her crossed legs one way or another providing a glimpse of natural science.
-- Professor Tom
“Really?" my cabdriver asked, sensing I’m not the type to
frequent Seattle’s cheesy downtown sports bars. "Why are you headed to
“I’m going to 'Hot for Teacher Night,' that thing with Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau,” I replied— referencing the infamous convicted Level 2 sex offender and her onetime underage victim, now adult husband of the past four years.
“I’m covering it, though. It’s
not like I plan to make new friends tonight.”
“I don’t know,” the driver said. “If you look at the fact they started over a decade ago, they’ve lasted longer than most marriages I can think of. They really seem to want to be together.”
True, they had been “together” in some form for over a decade, no small feat. But most great love stories don’t involve one party’s family suing the school district and police department for failing to protect their son and for child support of their two children.
We arrived at Fuel; I paid my fare and hopped out. A truly vile dance mix of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” blared from inside and engulfed the sidewalk, drowning out the commotion gathering outside the entrance. A man in his 40s wearing a softball shirt and wire-rim glasses yelled at three security guards while two local television stations filmed the exchange.
“She’s a child rapist!” the man shouted. “You’re making money off of sexual assault!”
“She served her time, man! She served her time!” the security guards shouted back, all bald and clad in black leather.
“You guys could have had One Dollar Beer Night instead! There are other ways to get a crowd!”
Two of the guards lumbered to their motorcycles parked on the street and summarily revved them as loud as they could, obliterating the man’s words and ruining the stations’ footage.
The man moved a few yards away. The guards, none of whom seemed to realize the extent of their clichés, finally ceased the revving and menacing. I asked the protester if he would like to discuss the evening’s theme. He said his name was Joe and that in the course of his career as a police officer in California, he had worked with dozens of sexual assault victims of both genders. “This whole evening is an atrocity toward domestic violence and rape. They’re profiting off the pain of others.”
I thanked him for his time and got in line. When I arrived at the front, I saw a sign reading, “No media or press not approved earlier this week.” A guard asked for five bucks and my I.D. “I saw you talking to that guy. Are you a reporter?”
“No,” I fudged, neglecting to mention that, also, I thought he was an asshole.
“Then why were you talking to that guy? I saw you asking him stuff.”
“I felt like talking to him. That’s allowed, isn’t it?” I replied, my sarcasm thick as his skull. A second guard checked my bag and eyed my notebook suspiciously. I met his gaze and said, “I carry one sometimes. So?”
Stumped, they took my money and let me in. Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” blasted from the sound system and I edged towards the mostly-empty dance floor and spotted Fualaau onstage with his MacBook, ostensibly serving tunes but mostly providing spectacle.
Patrons sporting a stunning array of crunchy and outdated haircuts crowded the bar and U-shape of surrounding tables, viewing Fualaau as if he were a zoo act. He didn’t look up and appeared almost timid, as if he weren’t quite sure how to proceed.
Letourneau was nowhere to be found and I asked a table of college girls with a giant inflatable pink penis on their table what they thought of the evening so far. “We’re just here for my bachlorette party!” one of them replied, adjusting the strap on her pink shiny halter dress. “We thought it would be fun!”
A thunderous cheer tore through the crowd— not quite the kind that met Barack Obama on the campaign trail— but more than, say, Jimmy Fallon might expect to elicit.
I turned and saw a woman with almost-daffodil yellow hair and superb legs. It took me a second to realize this was the once-frumpy schoolteacher I’d seen in countless hours of news footage. She beamed as dozens of camera phones flashed like popcorn-ing rhinestones.
“Mary Kay!” an older woman in walking sneakers and capri pants yelled. “Make sure and tell Vili I’m the one who sent the baby book!” Letourneau smiled and returned the hug when the woman embraced her.
A nearby reveler pointed at Mary and asked his friends, “Can you
imagine if she had been a guy teacher? Alcatraz, baby! Al-ca-traz!” His
female companion answered, “I know it sounds weird, but I always thought
she was hot.”
The bachlorette throng rushed Letourneau as if she were a long-lost friend and the woman who launched a thousand punch lines responded in kind. On and on it went, each customer more rapturous than the previous. A Fuel employee sold autographed “Hot for Teacher!” t-shirts and posters at a nearby folding table, looking slightly queasy. “How much is the merchandise?” I asked.
“Seven dollars for a poster and twenty for a t-shirt. We’ve sold a lot so far.”
“How do you feel about them making money like this?”
“I’m dating the owner’s cousin. He asked me to help out tonight and I couldn’t tell him no.” She paused, as if concerned someone would hear our exchange. “I’m neutral about Letourneau, but you don’t say ‘no’ to family.”
A half an hour later, I was back in the cab riding home— and the driver asked me, 'Hot for Teacher' Night? What’d you go to that thing for?”
- Litsa Dremousis
Litsa Dremousis’ work appears in The Believer, BlackBook, Bookmarks, Esquire, Filter, Hobart, McSweeney's, Monkeybicycle, MovieMaker, Nylon, Paper, Paste, Pindeldyboz, Poets and Writers, Seattle Magazine, Seattle Sound, the Seattle Weekly, and on NPR. She is writing her first novel and blogs inconsistently but with great good will at http://theslipperyfish.blogspot.com/
Thanks also to Litsa for her photos!
Professor Tom is at large in Ballard.