Friday, September 28, 2018

Sex, Drugs, and Nominations

So there I was, at 17, newly ensconced in a dorm room in Caroline Hall on the southwest corner of the University of Maryland College Park campus, and all I could think was "good god, these people are immature." A bit over four years later, I was the recipient of a fresh diploma, having moved, for various reasons, to the opposite end of campus, where I had a room on the first floor of Cambridge Hall, where, with only four rooms, it was possible for us to control our roommates reasonably well, once we got rid of mine. Mark, whose last name I will elide, was, not too put to fine a point on it, a complete jerk. He had peed out the window at the end of the corridor, I seem to recall him puking on the floor of the room from drink (although this happened enough different places that they tend to blur together), and on his departure smashed an entire bottle of peppermint schnapps on the floor, which he did not clean up. His peak jackassitude came when, as a relief from dining hall food, the fellows in the next room prepared spaghetti and meat sauce over a hot plate. Mark had somehow managed to talk someone at the dining hall into giving him an institutional sized can of oregano, and as the sauce about to be complete, he abruptly poured about a cup of the herb into the sauce. We managed to choke down the bitter result, and yet.

But he was exceptional only in the effort he put into offensiveness. I mentioned drink: well, back in those days, when it was still legal to drink at college age, the amount of beer consumed was very frequently herculean, as if my dorm mates were to swallow a sea of beer, like the first of the five Chinese brothers. Unfortunately, like him, they apparently could not keep it down forever, leading to the aforementioned messes. Nonetheless the "40 Keg Beer Bash" was a regular, ordinary occurrence, and I recall one evening when there was a keg on the corridor, and one fellow put away three iced tea glasses of its contents, and then went across campus for the then-standard three beers for a dollar, and somehow managed to make it home and sleep it off without further event. Those events included the water fountain across from my room being torn off the wall twice, and a fire in the trash chute in another dorm, this latter event being common enough that they shortly thereafter sealed them all off. At the southeast corner of campus stood the Rendezvous Inn, a dive notorious as a supplier of campus drunkenness, so that regulars kept a pair of "'Vous shoes" which could be allowed to be ruined by the scum of spilled beer. Of course, marijuana was also everywhere, and while I could associate with my fellows without drinking myself insensate, it proved impossible not to avoid the occasional contact high.

And as to the sex: earlier in the year, I wrote of my experience sharing a room with my roommate's girlfriend, not that she lived there, but that the two of them coupled every night. I was chaste for a variety of reasons, ranging from the moral to the practical to the simple dearth of women with whom I wanted to go beyond simple friendship, but there were plenty of cautionary stories being acted out all around me. And around of all of this, the constant noise: in my first years I tended to spend a lot of time in the undergraduate library (which had an all-night study area) simply because it was quiet.

I say all this as a preface to an examination of Kavanaugh's testimony, for the contested event would have happened the year after I graduated from this carnival. I had arrived there from one of those high-end Protestant boarding schools whose prestige Georgetown Prep could only aspire to but not achieve, and where, for various reasons (chief among them its isolation), extracurricular drinking and the like were limited (and at the time dealt with harshly), though one of my 9th grade classmates managed to get expelled by drinking himself into a coma. Said surroundings, in any case, apparently pushed me to a sort-of adulthood against which the antics of my fellow collegians were not cast in a favorable light. Rumors eventually reached me, though, of a huge drunken party held off campus the year after I graduated, and I am given to understand that the school has had to relax some of its rigidity. But I knew none of this at the time, and managed to muddle through without any significant disciplinary blots, or for that matter much temptation to risk getting them.

Thus, when I see "BEACH WEEK" heavily written in on an old calendar of the period, it takes no great imagination to work out what was involved: a drunken debauch accompanied by casual sexual interactions of all sorts, many of which could only be called consensual in the sense that two blotto youngsters in the same room allowed their uninhibited gonads to take the reins of the encounter. I was not invited to any such party back in the day. In the first place, I didn't travel in that kind of social circle, nor was I that terribly interested in spending time in such a disorderly crowd; also, my impression is that the institution of a week-long parent-free beach party was a few years in the future. Ironically, my best friend's family did have a beach house, to whose premises I venture every year for a weekend party whose riotousness cannot compare to those more youthful efforts; I did visit it a few times in my salad days, but even then we were a sedate, family-friendly crowd-- perhaps because the whole family was present.

Or to put it another way: I was, by and large, the sort of person that Kavanaugh has tried to paint himself as having been at the time. I was temperate and chaste and apt to be something of a wallflower at parties, and certainly not a threat to the women around me, which perhaps explains why I retain so many among my closest friends. On campus I eventually settled in with the medievalists and avoided the frats, whose reputation has not changed one whit over the decades. Every document of his youthful life puts him as a perfect candidate for their "lifestyle", if you will pardon the euphemism, just as it emphasizes how out of step he was with the way I lived. And it puts a certain color on his presumed vote should Roe v. Wade or its ilk come up for consideration. I was a co-op student in college, working as a programmer at a local navy lab, and one of my various office mates was a Catholic fellow, old enough to be my father; and when we discussed the subject at one point, he opined that the typical American RC position was "I am absolutely opposed to abortion, and if my daughter needs one, she's damn well going to get one." If Kavanaugh did not hold to that position, having not yet been presented with the moral dilemma, he certainly lived in a wealthy suburban milieu in which knocked-up daughters damn well did get their abortions, and I have to imagine that the sort of restrictions that will try to get the court's approval would not have much an impact on wealthy suburbanites today, and that when his daughters are old enough, their unlucky classmates will have their lapses dealt with discretely and without difficulty.

All this is to say that it isn't so much that I do not believe Kavanaugh's denials, but that everything about him argues that he was the sort of guy who could have done such a thing, and that he hung around the the kind of guys that did do such things, and that he comes across not such as reformed as in denial, at best. His is the world of Risky Business (which was released one year after the alleged incident), and if he was not the Joel Goodsen of that paean to adolescent probity, well, his friends were Goodsen's friends. And if the promiscuity of the age has been dampened by AIDS if nothing else, society of all sorts is not about to try to put the randy genie back into the bottle of pre-1960's dating rituals, and never mind Dad with the shotgun. With Trump as its flag bearer, the Republican Party of the present is, increasingly, the party of flagrant amorality, and the concerns which supposedly drove the selection of Kavanaugh are not in the least convincing.