Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Travels among the elite
On Friday I was speaking at SUNY-New Paltz, the university known in culture-wars circles as the place that launched Candace de Russy’s career as a professional wingnut. Janet and Jamie came with me; the plan was for them to drop me off in New Paltz while they visited various Lyons in the great Lyon state of Connecticut. But one detail after another went awry: my hotel lost my reservation, so my hosts put me up in a local B & B; Janet was too tired to drive the rest of the way at 10:30 pm on a Thursday, so we asked for a room that could accommodate the three of us; I learned that my B & B reservation was for only one night, even though I was also giving a presentation on Saturday; and so on.
But the B & B was beautiful, and the pair of talks on Friday seemed to go well. Janet and Jamie left that morning and promptly got stuck behind an accident on I-87 that transformed their 90-minute trip into a three-hour trip, but they eventually arrived safely. And I was treated to a lovely dinner and driven to a gorgeous lodge in the mountains for my Friday night stay.
The point of this post, however, is the ensuing Saturday Adventure. I told my hosts that I would need to leave the faculty retreat by 1 to catch a 1:30 train in Poughkeepsie, and they assured me this was no problem. My plan was to hop the MetroNorth down to Grand Central, grading papers all the way, then catch another train to New Haven, grading papers all the way. At noon, however, I was informed that someone was driving to New York and would be happy to take me. “Uh,” I replied, “thanks, but I don’t really want a ride—I was planning on grading papers on the train.”
“Great,” came the reply. “You can leave with him just after 12.”
“Well, no,” I persisted, “if someone could just drop me off at the station in Poughkeepsie. . . .”
But that was the problem, of course: no one could drop me off at Poughkeepsie. So I wound up being driven to New York and chatting along the way with three very personable and entertaining young faculty members from New Paltz as they went down to the city for various fun weekend things. It occurred to me, as we inched along behind an accident on New Jersey’s route 17, that I had not had breakfast, and that I was now missing lunch; it also occurred to me that I wasn’t grading any papers, either. So when the New Paltz crew stopped at one of those New Jersey package stores that are about half as expensive as New York package stores (they were stocking up for Halloween parties), I got myself a block of Havarti cheese and ate a few slices of it as we made our way over the GW bridge.
But now my fellow travelers were late to their gig, so I suggested that instead of dropping me off at Grand Central, they could drop me off at Union Square on their way to their 4 pm thing. I quickly learned, upon threading my way through the teeming masses of the Union Square markets, that my wheelie suitcase wasn’t securely closed; but after gathering up the student papers that had fallen onto the sidewalk (none of which, I am happy to say, were trampled underfoot), I completed that leg of the trip without incident, and caught the 4:07 to New Haven. And graded a few papers.
By six I was good and hungry. Unfortunately, however, I was informed by the Lyon train-pickup crew in New Haven that we would be going first to Fashionista, the bargain vintage-clothing place run by Janet’s younger sister Todd. Very well, I knew what that meant—an unspecified and unspecifiable amount of time trying things on and having a good old time. For Janet and Jamie and the rest of the crew, that is. (I should add that Jamie got himself a porkpie hat in which he looks terrific, and that he wore it to school today.) But by seven I was getting a bit restless, not to mention faint with hunger. So Todd gave us directions to Thali, a fine Indian restaurant downtown, and promised to meet us all there once she closed up shop.
I had my doubts about showing up at a downtown restaurant at 7:30 on a Saturday night and asking for a table for seven, and you know what? My doubts were well-founded. One of our party attempted to order drinks at the bar while we waited for the rest of the crew, but I rudely insisted that I was, in fact, interested in eating some actual food sooner rather than later, for although I had eaten food on Friday, I remained curious as to whether I would eat any real food on Saturday.
When Todd arrived, she assured me that there were many restaurants within walking distance, which indeed there were: a Chinese place down the block with many open tables, and a Japanese place across the street that was packed to the rafters. Todd and Janet, being Todd and Janet, preferred the Japanese place, because it would be more complicated. Actually they argued that it would be more fabulous, and Todd, who reviews restaurants, knows whereof she speaks. The extra complication was just a side benefit.
So Todd went to speak to the owner of Miso, the Japanese place, telling him that she had a party of seven including one very grumpy hungry nasty man, and asking him if he could squeak us in. The kind soul assured Todd that he could find us a table in about ten or fifteen minutes, which I took to mean “please stay in my restaurant and order drinks for an unspecified and unspecifiable amount of time.” But lo! The kind soul was truly a kind soul, for, taking pity on my now feeble and withered frame, he showed me to a seat at the far end of the bar and promised me a nice bowl of miso soup to tide me over.
Well, that was right neighborly, I thought. And as I took my seat at the end of the bar, what—or, rather, who—did I see, sitting not fifteen feet from me over my right shoulder?
“If that’s not John Bolton,” I said sotto voce to my sister-in-law Sarah, “he’s got a bunch of Halloween gigs coming up, working as a John Bolton double.”
But, in fact, it was John Bolton. Yes, my day’s long and winding road had led me to a seat right next to a member of his security detail. For it was Parents Weekend at Yale, and from what I could gather, Ambassador Bolton and his wife were taking the occasion to dine out with their daughter.
Well, as you might imagine, now I was really pissed off. First, and most obviously, because Ambassador Bolton did not hail me and proceed to grant me an exclusive interview, as he did with one of the right wing’s most notoriously lunatic bloggers when he should have been . . . oh, I don’t know, doing a heckuva job in Lebanon or something.
But most of all, I was angry that Ambassador Bolton was sending his child to a bastion of leftist orthodoxy like Yale—a school which, as you’ll remember, once refused a generous $20 million dollar gift simply because it would have required the university to teach the Great Books for a change. Eating at a fine Japanese restaurant in a Northeastern city, sending his kid to Yale—here was John Bolton, behaving just like a paid-up member of the liberal elite! Behaving, to be more precise, just like me!
Yet more evidence, as if any were needed, that the Bush Administration is not truly conservative—and that America will not be safe (from terror, from immigrants, from Yale, from sushi) until we have truly truly conservative leadership in Washington. For as Candace de Russy herself notes,
This country is now in a civil cultural war and the radical, secular, ‘progressive’ left may well destroy our traditional principles and institutions, and notably our education institutions, which is seminal to the rest of the institutions.
Indeed. And which side is John Bolton really on?