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

Saturday, July 6, 2024

The Conscience Of A Hysteric - When Doing Good Drove A Yale Man Crazy

Bob Marlowe grew up in a modest Long Island town - nothing to write home about, just a warm fire, Mom in the kitchen, Dad a shop owner downtown.  He was a good boy, a good student of modest intelligence and some promise, and respectful to his elders. 

Adolescence came and went without incident - no joy-riding, drinking, or carousing.  He went to dancing class, summer camp, and Bible school, and he was accepted to Yale on a legacy scholarship - despite his parents modest history, great ancestor Hiram Higgins Marlowe had been a benefactor of the university in its early days. H.H. Marlowe had been a shipbuilder, financier of the lucrative Three Cornered Trade, and founder of one of the biggest investment banks on Wall Street. 

Bob's family had been unaware of Hiram's prominence, and were surprised when the acceptance letter from Yale arrived, welcoming Bob as a descendant of one of Yale's most important alumni. He packed his bags, settled in his room on the Old Campus, and began his life at one of America's finest universities. 

It was in his sophomore year that he woke up in what he later described was 'a moment of clarity'.  In one month he met the Reverend Holmes Norton, Chaplain of Yale and civil rights activist, Freedom Rider, and champion of black people; and discovered that his ancestor, H.H. Marlowe had been a slaver. His ships, his money, and his bloody rigging had brought African slaves from Angola to the Caribbean

No one in 18th Century New England thought anything about the Three-Cornered Trade.  The transshipment of slaves from Africa to the New World was no different than the New England ice and lumber trade - needed, valuable commodities which offered opportunities to a burgeoning economy. Even those who had some reservations about the enterprise, quickly demurred - slavery, after, all had been common in Ancient Greece and Rome, human society had always been a matter of civil and tribal warfare, and the exchange of land, wealth, and slaves was at the heart of empire.  

Bob said that on March 13,19-- he had been reborn.  Here he was enjoying academic life in the heart of elite, aristocratic, capitalist America with the sons of the country's barons, economic czars, and social potentates, all of whom, like his ancestor H.H. Marlowe had risen to promise on the backs of the poor, the disadvantaged, and the colored. 

The Reverend Norton had of course known of Bob's particular and peculiar legacy, and decided that he would be the ideal student leader for civil rights activism. If he, descendant of one of the North's worst slavers and capitalist greed mongers, could speak out against privilege, elitism, and white oppression of the black man, students and faculty would listen. 

Now, many Yale students had equally suspect backgrounds.  If one were to open the portfolios of the Whitfields, Harpers, and Longworths one would be sure to find investments in the predatory firms of the early industrial era.  The Harper family was linked to Andrew Carnegie - big steel man whose brutal response to labor demands in his steel mills was as well-known as his ingots and bars.  The Whitfields had been associates of John D. Rockefeller, the Robber Baron of American history, and the Longworths like the Marlowe's financiers of the transatlantic cotton trade.


Yet none of these students with the exception of Bob Marlowe paid any attention to their legacy.  Life was a matter of privilege and fortune - some had it, others did not - and there was no shame in enjoying inherited wealth whatever its origins. 

Bob on the other hand became a whirling dervish of aggrieved passion and purpose.  Rather than quit Yale, he would be, as the Reverend Norton had planned, a campus spokesman for reform, rights, and justice. He was a firebrand, an eloquent speaker, and first on the busses to Selma and Montgomery where he walked happily into the bull whips, Billy clubs, and axe handles of white, fear-mongering Southern racists.  His cuts and bruises were his red badges of courage.  He had found himself and his calling. 

Thanks to his patron, the Reverend Norton, the university graduated him despite his poor academic record.  Bob had given up on classes and exams, and spent all of this time preaching, freedom-riding, and protesting; all noticed by the newly emerging political Left who embraced this child of privilege who had come to his senses. 

Berkeley was a natural place for the young Marlowe, and there he cut his teeth on real radicalism and anti-American revolt.  Although he eschewed the violence that many of the Left were advocating, his passion and unique communitarian skills stood him in good stead. 

By this time Bob had been thoroughly transformed.  Every living, breathing moment was one of anger, hostility, and increasing madness.  The world simply, absolutely had to change, and he would put his life on the line to make sure it did. 

He was not a pleasant person to be around in those days.  Even a piece of toast was subject for his anger.  Wonder Bread was a brutal, spineless company that enslaved its workers, soaked the public for profit and ill-gotten gain, and invested in industrial bakeries in the Jim Crow South.  The butter, the cutlery, the chairs, the carpets, everything fell to Bob's increasingly hysterical mania.  

He became peripatetic, a St. Vitus dancer, and showed up at every confraternity of lesbian women, black activists, socialists, communists, and the poor.  Every progressive issue became his, every social ill on his docket, every injury, insult, and crime against humanity became his own. 

When the environment and then climate change became causes celebres he became even more agitated and wild.  Civil rights were nothing compared to environmental Armageddon  The world itself would self-incinerate and end in a fiery end of days if something wasn't done. 

That did it.  Bob had gone around the bend, was lost and mad.  He had been loosed from all rational moorings, no longer had any ties or tethers to reality.  He had become a Union Square streetcorner evangelist, a wild-eyed, possessed, incoherent outlier. 

He disappeared.  Yale reunion organizers tried to find him, return him to the fold to no avail.  His righteousness had done him in.  

'He should have known better', said classmate Harrison Cabot of the Boston Cabots, happy, contented heir to a fortune, Secretary of his class, scion of old world values and the Old Yale who said 'Don't bother' when an associate mentioned the missing Bob.  'He was always....' Here Harrison stopped, collecting his thoughts and looking for le mot juste. 'supernumerary'. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.