Thursday, March 04, 1999

Is there more to thong than meets the eye?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Several years ago, I heard about a teacher at a local high school who returned to her classroom after a restroom break with the back of her skirt neatly tucked into the top of her pantyhose. Turning to write something on the blackboard, she exposed her mistake for several long moments before shrieks of laughter alerted her.

        Someone told me she raced from the room and applied directly to the witness protection program.

        That I understood.

        I did not understand the Miami University professor who is insisting on exposing his buttocks. On purpose. Even after he was notified that onlookers are not charmed by the view.

Hot cross buns
        G. Roger Davis, 49, a bodybuilding professor of music, sued the university this week because he has been forbidden to wear a thong-style swimsuit at the campus pool. This piece of clothing covers his genitals, but bares his buttocks.

        “He's very fit. He's proud of that,” says his attorney, Scott Greenwood. So, what if these buns belonged to the Pillsbury Dough Boy?

        “This is a battle for individual rights,” the attorney says. “This is a First Amendment issue.”

        I tried to look at the big picture. I really did. But I just couldn't get past the little picture, the one of a university professor demanding to be the butt of a joke. This is a man who is not only a teacher, but a gifted composer and musician.

        During the '70s, his band opened for The Doors and the Allman Brothers. He just finished a piano concerto that the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's keyboardist-in-residence Michael Chertock calls a “work of unbelievable brilliance. Sensational. Intelligent.”

Ruining the fun
        So why would this intelligent man square off with the university over a skimpy swimsuit? This is sensational, all right. But it doesn't seem brilliant.

        It's complicated, Mr. Davis says. “If you can pull back from the initial gigglies, you might even think I'm a pretty brave person to do this.”

        Uh-oh. Now I suppose I'm going to hear some sort of rational explanation, plus he sounds very nice and I'll probably end up liking him. Or, worse, admiring him.

        I hate when that happens. I was looking forward to making fun of him.

        First, there's that bodybuilding thing, which I am suspicious of in ways that only we confirmed lardbuckets can be.

        “I got kind of chunky when I was working on my doctorate,” he explains, “and my wife suggested lifting weights. I liked it, and eventually felt better about myself.”

        He is 6 feet tall and weighs 150 pounds. He can leg-press 800 pounds and bench-press 200 pounds. He tells me that his body is only 7 percent fat. “This is the result of a lot of work over 11 years' time. It has become important to me.”

        He grew up in Appalachia, he says, “an abused child in all kinds of ways.” His family was poor, and “I spent a lot of my life feeling stupid and ugly. Now I think I look pretty good. I refuse to let anybody make me feel stupid and ugly again.”

        Describing himself as a “modest person in my behavior, a gentleman,” he says he digs in his heels when he thinks he's being shoved around.

        “And isn't a university supposed to be a place where there is freedom of expression? Sameness is stupefying. It dulls the intellect. A thong bathing suit is perfectly legal, and it doesn't harm a soul.”

        Right now, the tab for his “freedom of expression” is about $10,000. “But I expect that it will cost many times that. We could dance around the fire for a very long time.”

        He says he'll pay the price. “I'm a middle-of-the-road kind of person. But I am convinced that this fight, as silly as some people might think it is, is about the First Amendment. Sometimes important principles get made with small points.”

        Sometimes personal liberty hangs by a thread. Or a thong.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at or call 768-8393. She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio and on NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine. Her book, I Beg to Differ, is available at (800) 852-9332.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at