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

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

The Folly Of Overeducated Old Men - On Death's Doorstep And Still Worried About The Planet

It was Howard's 60th Reunion and no time to waste, the presentation calendar was filling up, and the problems faced were more troubling and the country was as unappeased as ever.  Not only that, the most destructive, evil-minded, careless and insurrectionist-supporting devil was in the wings.  'We still can make a difference', Howard wrote to reunion organizers.  We, the former best and brightest, can alert the nation through our voices, our presence, and our will, to the dangers afoot. 

Of course nothing could be farther from the truth.  Old men, most of whom were as dodgy as the President, as stale as old loaves of bread forgotten long ago in the pantry, had only caresses in familiar courtyards to make sense of the end of days. 

Howard remembered the resonance of the college anthem sung by hundreds in the vast, neo-Gothic hall of his university, all male, all proud, all well-to-do, and said, 'We are indeed the chosen'; but again he was far off the mark, because for all the whingeing, whining, hectoring, and commandeering, the world was still the same old place it had been since the Pleistocene, as violent, unsatisfied, territorial, and uncivil as ever.  The idealistic reformism of the day hadn't been worth a spit in the ocean, and here were hundreds of old men convinced that it was. 


Bobby Marker, a classmate from the good old days had made his bones on the freedom rides, cheek by jowl with black men marching across the Pettis Bridge; but when he brings up the subject, the young people in the audience smile indulgently.  What bridge exactly and what buses? All these ingenues could think of when it came to black people was the nasty and persistent dysfunction of the inner city, the crime, the surging violence, the gang thefts of Vuitton and Dior, and the ceaseless bang-bang of Uzis and Glocks.  It wasn't exactly that Bob was supernumerary - he still meant something to those who had ridden with him, and of course his children - but he was an old plug put out to pasture. 

To say nothing of Arnold Platte,  Harvard lawyer who had turned down Wall Street for Chicago community organizing, heady days withSaul Alinsky and the young Barack Obama; but whose pleas for more compassionate policing, more inclusive government, and a more tolerant, respectful distance for those accused of crime fell on deaf years.  Chicago was a mess, an unruly, ungovernable place of indifference. 

Or Peter Kentner, the climate change guru of the class who had waited for, prayed for a quicker melting of the Ross Ice Shelf just to show the deniers how ignorant they were.  He had become a man obsessed, checking weather reports from Patagonia to Irkutsk, fluctuations in the Humboldt current, variations in the Southwest monsoon.  It had to happen, he said to anyone within earshot, it was happening, and prepare!  He had become a parody of the crazed streetcorner preacher waving a The End Is Nigh placard on Times Square.  Yet he was Ivy League pedigreed, double Harvard-Yale, the very summit of academics and political passion. 

So why was it that the student body of both universities became Jew-haters or rather finally had the chutzpah to shout out their anti-Semitism with pro-Palestinian slogans? Their concern about warming waters, hotter deserts, rising tides, and the changing ecosystem was absent.  Palestinian victimhood at the hands of the Jewish oppressor was far more satisfying that the incremental changes in the Southern Ocean.  He spoke to empty auditoriums, and ate alone at the Sheraton.  

And so it was that these old men, hooked off the stage by their vaudevillian handlers, shuffled with trousers rolled to empty quarters. 

Until the reunion! A chance to once again for Howard to show the colors to an appreciative, applauding audience.  

Getting there was another thing altogether.  Each and every one of his classmates pushed for first shot at the lectern, and the line was long - climate change, misogyny, racism, capitalist oppression, international adventurism, pharmaceutical autocracy, environmental rape, transgender reassignment, and much, much more.  And that was only the old chestnuts.  The line extended to genetic research, AI, virtual reality, stem cells, hypothalamus replacement, and so on.

It was a bit ironic to see these codgers elbowing for a place in line to discuss topics only understood by younger men; but they wanted to give it a go - one last go, if fact, for this would undoubtedly be their last reunion and chance to show what they were worth. 

Only one classmate held up the line, and asked what on earth were these men at death's doorstep, ready to meet their Maker or face the vast unknown doing elbowing their way like Jews to the corned beef at a bar mitzvah? Wasn't it time, he said, to put secular concerns aside and face the one, only, absolutely meaningful moment of their lives? 


He was met with disdain. His request was too Biblical, and they had no time for fundamentalism, the root cause of American ignorance.  And, they went on, who said it was our last decade, we're good for another two or three.  And the world needs us. 

The reunion organizer had been an enforcer of sorts.  A former judge who brooked no nonsense in his courtroom, a Biblical figure of imposing rectitude and legal reasoning, he was the right man for the job of taming the unruly lot of classmates pandering for access.  So the docket got filled with applicants getting at least a clip - a darshan the Hindus call it, a glimpse of a holy man bestowing grace; or a sighting of the Pope at St. Peter's square - so like all compromises no one leaves the room happy. 

The reunion was a success, so everyone said.  The old men had their say, schmoozed and drank, reminisced about the good old days and went home satisfied but with lighter pockets.  The real purpose of reunions is to engender a warm sense of camaraderie and belonging and to give generously thanks to it. 

Most importantly, someone finally had listened to Howard, and he was very, very happy. 

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