"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The Importance Of Being Right–Windbags, Dandies, And Fools

Harper Lane was a pompous ass and like many others had no idea whatsoever.  He was the darling of a small social media coterie who loved his faux intellectualism, academic paper trail, and marvelously eclectic smorgasbord of offerings, all of which presented the same tired, shopworn ideas of early 20th century progressive reformers in post-modern packaging.

His readers loved the wry deconstructionist irony of his poems, the recalling of Thoreau’s Utopian Transcendentalism seen through a New Age lyricism, and the incarnation of Donald Trump as Milton’s Satan.

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All of the verse was treacly and overwrought; the prose was windy; and the commentary predictable, shallow, and lukewarm. 

Harper Lane in real life was a dandy, his own particular version of Cole Porter rhyme and cuteness, foulard and tweeds, a St. Grottlesex accent and a social primness.  He wanted to exude the same witty irony displayed on his pages.  Life was always a bit humorous and chatty, never to be taken seriously on the surface, but deadly serious beneath. His media site was for the literati, the intelligentsia of his class, the men who had lived long enough to sigh with amused despair at the state of the world, but who had never lost the fantastical idealism of their younger years.

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Lane had attended Yale at a time when the Yale Fence was still an icon, a tribute to breeding, class, and noblesse oblige and when the student body was fully New England, Nantucket, and proper.  He was on the cusp of such social propriety, and had gotten in only because his father had graduated from Sheffield, an engineering school affiliated with and institutionally a part of Yale, but without the cachet or Wall Street appeal.  

Lane never mentioned this scratchy bit of family history, and like Jay Gatsby only said that his father was ‘a Yale man’.  At first Lane was a bit intimidated by the real thing, the St. Grottlesex polo and J Press crowd who summered on the Vineyard and skied at Gstaad; but soon he was able to channel them, and by the time he graduated he was convinced that he had become one of the swells of his class.

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His post-Yale career was not what he had expected. No investment bank came courting, his grades were too unremarkable for law or business school, so he accepted a job with Connecticut General Life Insurance Company in Hartford, and never left. He was ably suited for middle management, and by the time he was fifty realized that he hadn’t moved offices, positions, or titles in years. 

He fancied himself a Wallace Stevens who was also an insurance executive but never lost his poetry, his subtlety, and his calm, reassuring lines.  Lane scribbled verse when inspiration called and filled many notebooks.  He sent one or two of what he considered his best work, but he never got a response.  He went down the academic ladder and finally got a poem published in the West Arkansas Verse-atile, a bi-yearly publication of the Crowley’s Ridge and Hendrix College literary diaspora; but it was one and done, and with that discouraging note, Lane gave up poetry and concentrated solely on annuities.

Life changed for him after retirement when he started his website, ‘Up and Down the Lane’ which began as a small blogsite with contributions from friends, old classmates, and cousins, but grew into the eclectic, progressively driven showpiece that it now was. 

He hammered on, week after week, editing, confecting, and adjusting to fit the changing environment of the political Left. Verse, prose, and artwork fit the cause, one week on environmentalism and planetary health, the next on transgender rights and the rightness of the gender spectrum.  Since everybody was writing about these issues, Lane had to do some fancy footwork to keep ahead of the curve; and he was convinced that his own, special, ironic version of the truth would resonate loudly within East and West Coast progressives.

In the course of his pursuit of liberal ironic purity, he ran into an old classmate, Bob Mewling, a died-in-the-wool progressive socialist who had cut his teeth in the civil rights and peace movements of the Sixties, moved on to gender and environmental issues, and became a notable in the big tent of progressive causes.  In fact, there was no liberal cause that he ignored – all were important pieces in the big puzzle of the planet.  Women’s rights, gay pride, the health of the earth, the dismantling of greedy capitalism, and the championing of the Black Man were all worthy of his tireless efforts.

Bob was a regular everywhere, often a featured speaker, and the darling of roundtables and afternoon teas.  He was happy with his life, confident of his appeal, and gracious in his remarks.  Although he did not realize it, he too had turned into a pompous, self-important windbag who spoke in nostrums and peddled old chestnuts to admirers.  He actually had convinced himself that he had something to say, that he was creative, innovative, and revolutionary, while anyone outside of his coterie thought just the opposite.  He was a tedious bore who never shut up.

So it was by pure luck (a shared summer rental in the Hamptons) that Lane and Bob found each other and became partners.  Bob wrote airy opinion pieces on Lane’s site every other week, and invited Lane to appear with him at conferences of his choosing where he could promote his site and his ideas.  The idea of this ironic man, liberal to the core, but with a wry, disinterested smile appealed to him.  So the two of them, Tom and Jerry, Laurel and Hardy, the Bobbsey Twins of politics were never apart.  It was a marriage made in heaven.  Both were happier than ever.

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Thanks to a very involved and engaged Yale Class Secretary, Lane’s media site got mentioned a number of times, especially in conjunction with Bob Mewling who had made a reputation for himself thanks to his books on luminaries of environmental courage.  His work on Martha Vollenscheiss, an early German immigrant to the United States who at the turn of the Century, in a remarkable presage of latter day environmentalism, tied herself to a Douglass Fir during a particularly brutal Minnesota winter, sparing it from Christmas culling, and setting the tone for the protection of the natural vitality of the Northland.

Bob’s book tour took him throughout the country, his talks sparsely attended and sales desultory, but he banged on with enthusiasm about the call to action, the imminent environmental Armageddon, and the shameful neglect of ordinary people.  Not surprisingly his thuddingly dull talks, lacking in any humor, modesty, or inspiration were mercifully cancelled.  Arthur Paladin, the Class Secretary, was one of the few who paid him any attention and that because he was a classmate; and slowly but surely appearance on Harper Lane’s site was his swan song.

Bob continued to go to women’s conferences, now shuffled and shuttled about and given back row seating, ignored by the young racial environmentalists who had transmuted spotted owl and clean water issues into incendiary movements to promote black people and gays.

Eventually Lane’s site was his only occupation, and there he found accommodation and generosity.  Two over-the-hill Yale men in their intellectual lounge chairs, gurgling nostrums but never once realizing how supernumerary they had become or for that matter had always been.

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