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

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Vapor, Wind, And Hot Air - A Proud Yalie Banging On About Doing Good Until God Took Him Off

Henry Martin couldn't seem to help himself when it came to the climate.  Every shift in weather patterns set him off on a tirade about the ignoramuses in Washington, the fools in the heartland, and the indifference of his own kind - Yalies, Yale men, men of substance, career, and good judgment increasingly indifferent to the existential crisis, the big one, the defining issue of the day.  Here they were, tending to second homes in Rimini and Palm Beach, sailing, skiing, and acting as if the planet would survive forever. 


"Now, Henry", began his wife Vicki, herself a longstanding social justice warrior but a loving partner who, seeing the bolts on her husband's emotional chassis loosening, was concerned about his well-being. "You know you're doing all you can, dear", but he knew he wasn't and knew that relaxation leads to diffidence which leads to indifference on the smoothly paved road to hell. The grip on what mattered had to be kept white-knuckled. 

Vicki, however, had reached a turn in the road, and had begun to think more about a chaise lounge and sundowners than her particular hobby-horse, women's rights, a cause for which she had fought since a graduate student at Columbia where she sat in the President's chair during the occupation, marched on Washington, burned her bra, and got arrested in Connecticut for spending the night with homeless women.

Somehow the light had changed to yellow, twilight in suburbia was a little softer, and January in Winter Haven or St. Bart's had become more and more appealing.  She never before had winced at her husband's fury - righteous anger had always been part of his persona, and the energy generated had always fueled a commensurate response from his followers - but his exuberance had become more of a St. Vitus's Dance, a Tourette's barking and snapping. Not only were his bolts loose, he was becoming unhinged. 


The Reunion will either cure him or kill him, Vicki thought, being together with his old classmates, all now well into old age. They would calm his frazzled nerves, set him on the right and proper road to a final goodbye to a life which was but one of many, no more nor less. 

All started off on the wrong foot, however, as Henry's classmates began squabbling about who would present what at the poster sessions - women, gays, blacks, and climate change had been the offerings suggested; and there were simply too many eager candidates and too few places on the roster.  The website chat room was the place for discussion, and to the reunion organizer's surprise, it became as nasty as any on social media.  

At first the remarks were genteel and respectful - after all, these were classmates not anonymous trolls - but soon they descended into hostile anarchy. Stem cells battled with gender reassignment, Stephen Douglass with Donald Trump, and nuclear winter with climate Armageddon. 

"Break it up, guys", said the organizer, Class Secretary, and former CEO of a major corporate chain; but the sniping and backstabbing continued.  If he didn't put an end to it,  the bloody poster sessions would end up taking the entire three days of the reunion. 

Henry, the Class Emeritus, principal spokesmen for social justice, climate action, and government reform, took the floor, and the chat room quieted to listen; but in his recent febrile, agitated state, he made none of his usual sense and banged on about Judgment Day.  He ranted like a megachurch preacher, Bible in hand and turning to an unseen cross for divine guidance, yelled about the end of the world and its fiery conclusion.

The debate went on for weeks, until finally the organizer closed up shop, the agenda was set, and a predictable potpourri of issues was on the docket.  Given the age profile of the attendees, there were none of the post-modern topics familiar in academia.  'Tainted Pussy - Gender Reality In Queerdom' and 'Buggers, Balls, And Cunts - The Aftermath Of Historicism' were absent, and 'The Gender Divide - Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee, And Rosalind' took their place, old chestnuts about emergence, patriarchy, and equality.  

What should have been a grand old time, a final old geezer get-together to enjoy a few days in what for most would be their last decade on earth, was little more than seminar city - endless exchanges about the miserable state of the world.  We seasoned, experienced, thoughtful men are not intellectual supernumeraries, the class insisted.  Freedom Rides, Selma, Berkeley, and Chicago are seminal, historic events in the march to a progressive future and must be accounted for. 

Of course the poster sessions were little more than old men talking to each other.  How much more could possibly be said about the melting icecaps, the plight of the black man, and transgender reality? And besides that, who cares?  These are young peoples' issues, left to the new generation's idealists. Alte kockers should be thinking only about their own demise and preparing for it.  The idle gossip about secular, transparently temporal issues has nothing whatsoever to do with the end of one's own life cycle. 

However, the old guys simply could not get enough, and there was standing room only for most sessions.  Henry who was the headliner started off with a bang, reminding many of Vincent Scully, famous and well liked History of Art professor who was a wild man on stage, yelling about the priapic, thrusting peaks of Cnossos.  Henry raised the Devil with his talk about the coming end of the world, and everyone knew that he had finally gone 'round the bend into no-man's land, nutty as a fruit cake. 

The rest of the sessions could not match Henry's for bombast, but they were well attended. Classmates wanted to be sure they had missed nothing in their parsing of race, gender, ethnicity, and the climate. 

Social hour, abbreviated as it was and sandwiched between day and night sessions, was fun and what the whole reunion should have been, catching up with each other, sharing thoughts about the short future that awaited them mixed with ga-ga grandparent stories.  

The weekend ended too quickly for most and bear hugs were given.  'See you in five' was never mentioned except with an ironic Insha'Allah. For all the fol-de-rol and reformist hoopla, it was a good deal, glad-I-went kind of affair 

Henry faded away and most thought dead or institutionalized, but, goddam, what a character! 

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