Bill Todd -- A Harvard Story
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 Chapter 25


Tom was still auditing some of the courses he had begun in September, and one was a history course taught by the hyper-active Charles Mallott. Mallott was a bit of a star, known for introducing statistics into history, and his favorite subject matter was the French Revolution. He would pace frenetically back and forth, his scrawny body taking on one improbable posture after another, as he shot forth statistics from memory, sometimes scribbling illegibly on the board with both hands.

The main point about the French rev, and the subsequent Vendean counter-rev, was that, on several measures, the most revolutionary districts were neither the most backward agricultural ones nor the urban ones in the forefront of progress. They were the districts in which new ways, economic and social, came into conflict with the old. There was then set in motion a kind of turmoil which, in the end, came to favor the most radical changes.

It wasn't clear to Tom exactly why and how the mixture of old and new produced revolutionary sentiments. Was it that leftists, confronted with reactionaries, became so incensed that they killed off their opponents? In any case, Mallott's enthusiasm tended to carry all before it. Not only that, he claimed that just this mixture of the old and the new was the necessary and sufficient condition of all revolution.

The really odd thing was that contemporary America brought the old and the new into juxtaposition more thoroughly, probably, than did any society in history. The war had brought people out of the countryside by the million to work in the munitions factories. People who had never had bank accounts and were so deeply immersed in subsistence farming and the barter economy that they had hardly seen a five dollar bill were thrust into the middle of the big cities. Some hadn't had electricity, and, by the light of lanterns swung from trees, they had practiced wildly picturesque, and even primitive, religions. None of this prevented them from working with people of almost every ethnic group in the factories, or doing yard work for Harvard-trained lawyers who went to concerts and hardly had any religion at all. There hadn't been the least glimmering of a revolution.

Not only that, the whole history of America was that of waves of immigration, sometimes from the poorest and most backward regions of the world. And, yet, there still hadn't been any revolution in the land since the Civil War. There were, for example, virtually no communists. Even Senator Joseph McCarthy hadn't been able to find any real ones. How could anyone think that mixing the old and the new inevitably produced revolution? Unless, of course, Mallott was so fixated on the French Revolution that he ignored what was happening in his own country.

As an undergraduate auditor in a mostly graduate class, Tom didn't like to ask questions, particularly ones that might seem hostile. He thus hoped that someone else would raise the issue.

Unfortunately, it had already become clear that most of the other twenty or so students were devoted followers of Mallott. They were engaged in a joint crusade to make history more scientific, and, even if he lapsed from science, they didn't seem likely to question him.

Tom put his point rather gently, but got a good number of hostile stares. Mallott's upper body jerked backward with his pelvis coming forward, and there was a broad, if somewhat malicious, smile on his face. He replied,

"America is unique in that representatives of the old order immediately give it up when confronted with the new. Hillbillies embrace indoor plumbing and Irish potato farmers eat steak as soon as they can afford it."

"Then, the question would be why French peasants didn't do the same thing."

The man to Tom's right whispered to him,

"Because they were French."

Mallott answered,

"French peasants may have been backward, but they thought they had a culture worth preserving. And they fought for it in ways which, despite their intentions, promoted revolution. But the hordes who come to American cities, either from the hills or from abroad, have already decided to abandon any parts of their culture which don't fit the new world."

Tom let it go at that. At least, the hypothesis had been qualified. The remaining kernel seemed to be that, where the old not only met, but resisted, the new, it resisted in ways that caused it, not just to fade gradually away, but to be violently dispatched. That might be true.

Later, when he told Eric about Mallott's position, the latter said,

"Academic people often aren't very rational. Once they hit on a position and get identified with it, they're likely to defend it with a faith that would surprise a religious zealot."

"He does tend to qualify his position in the face of argument."

"That's good. If he keeps doing that, he may reach the age of retirement defending almost nothing, but doing it with great ferocity."

"I wonder if it would do any good to resolve not to become like Mallott."

"The people who worry about becoming something are usually the ones who would never have become it anyway."

"I hope that's true. Anyhow, I'll tell Sharon to kick me if I ever sound like Mallott."

"It seems as if you're getting pretty close and permanent with her."

"Everything but sex."

"Well, I'm doing things that bother me in that area."

"But it'd be okay if you married Ann?"

"She doesn't want to. Even if she did, I'd be under an obligation to try to have children."

"And Ann wouldn't want them?"

"No. Besides which, I never know where I am with cancer. It may be okay, but it may not. I don't think it'd be responsible to have a child."

"The Catholics would say go ahead anyway, wouldn't they?"

"If we were married, they would. But I'm only Catholic in some ways. Enough to feel guilt about sex outside marriage, but not enough to have children regardless of consequences."

"Can you stay where you are with Ann?"

"I imagine so. She says she's happy, and I am too. I shouldn't complain."

The expedition to Portsmouth the next Saturday included Sharon as well as Tom, Eric, and Jimmy. Since the wrecked K- Entry car hadn't been replaced, they took a large Olds belonging to Sharon's father and driven by Sharon herself. The acceleration was impressive, and, even though she drove in a reasonably controlled manner, Tom, in the front passenger seat, found himself being tossed around a good deal. Sharon volunteered,

"My driving's improved a lot. Once, just after I started, I went down a narrow street bouncing off parked cars on one side and then the other."

Tom asked,

"Did you stop?"

"Of course not. Daddy was so used to my side-swiping telephone poles that he hardly raised any fuss at all."

Tom found it fascinating to watch her feet, back in high heels, as she quickly worked the pedals. Only very occasionally was it necessary for her to thrust hard at the brake.

The topic of discussion veered to a rather painful topic. Sid, Howie, Steve, and Peter had all decided to move to a four-man suite which had just become available in one of Winthrop House's main buildings. There had been no unpleasantness, nor had any reason worth mentioning been given. Of course, Tom knew that Peter was less than enthralled with him, and would welcome a chance to move. Eric, sitting in the back seat behind Sharon, said to Tom,

"In his freshman year, Peter wanted to become an intellectual, and he thought you might help him. Now that he's given up, having you around only irritates him."

It was an interpretation of the rift that was mildly flattering to Tom, and he didn't dispute it. But, not being able to imagine what was motivating the others, he said,

"The timing makes it sound as if it were some sort of reaction to Kent's death, but I don't think they were as close as all that to him."

Jimmy suggested,

"Sid and the other downstairs guys may not have wanted to be assigned a room-mate they didn't know to replace Kent."

That sounded reasonable, and Sharon asked,

"Did they give that reason?"

No one had heard any such comment, and Eric concluded,

"They would have said so if that were the reason. I guess there just wasn't as much K-Entry coherence as we thought."

Jimmy replied, rather surprisingly,

"I never thought there was as much as you seemed to assume."

Sharon said,

"When I visited K-Entry, I was expecting to find a hotbed of philosophy, or perhaps mathematics or literature. Then, when I got there, it seemed that a good many of the residents would never be interested in anything that didn't have practical applications. In fact, it was hard to imagine that it was a part of Harvard at all."

Tom replied,

"Sid likes to give that impression, although he actually has a reasonable amount of scientific and sociological curiosity. But Howie and Steve are totally focussed on medicine."

"What about Peter?"

Eric answered,

"He wants to make money and live well, and he'll rely mainly on his charm and attractiveness. He'll be a businessman of some sort, probably with the emphasis on sales."

"So you three are the only intellectuals?"

Eric replied again,

"I suppose, now that Kent's gone. Although I don't really want to be thought of as an intellectual."

Tom rejoined,

"The Oceanic History professor, Albion, had a little aside about that the other day. He says that he identifies more with seamen than with Harvard professors, and doesn't like to think of himself as an intellectual. But the lobstermen and fishermen he knows consider him to be one just the same. He said that, if society puts a particular tag on you, it's useless to try to object."

"Must society always be right?"

"Not about some things, but it knows how to categorize and classify its memebers."

Sharon asked,

"Do Sid, Peter and the others consider you to be intellectuals?"

It was agreed that they probably did, and Sharon concluded,

"Then most other people would, too. Just about anyone in my former high school would. I myself can admit to being intellectual because it's not inconsistent with being feminine. A girl can wear big thick glasses to read philosophy, and then put on a pretty dress to go to a dance. You guys must think intellectuals aren't masculine enough."

There was a little laughter, which perhaps amounted to a tacit admission, and Tom said,

"We certainly won't give up sports, but we may not talk and think about them quite as much in the new K-Entry."

"Will they send you replacements?"

"Probably sophomores who haven't been able to get into houses."

"So you'll be able to mold them and set the tone?"

Eric replied,

"I guess we'll have to sit down at some point and decide what tone to set."

Jimmy asked,

"Can't we just be ourselves?"

Eric smiled and said,

"That's the hardest thing of all."

It might have been because Sharon had her head turned to talk with Eric and Jimmy that they almost crashed into the car in front, but they screeched to a stop just in time. The man in the car they almost hit jumped out and began shouting, but Tom got out and pretended to inspect the cars for damage. The man stopped shouting at Sharon and said angrily to Tom,

"She missed me by a couple of feet. What are you looking for?"

Tom replied,

"Sometimes there's action at a distance."

The man gave Tom a look and got back in his car before zooming off. When Tom got in, Sharon, who had heard the comment, remarked,

"Philosophy has its uses."

"Yes. You can confuse people, or make them think you're crazy, or both."

When they started up again, and Sharon had assured Eric that she could talk with him without looking at him, they spoke of the forthcoming visit with the Suns. They planned to go out on a double date plus Eric that evening, and Sharon asked about Elaine. Jimmy said that she was very glamorous, which no one disputed, but added,

"I've begun my little class for Elaine and her friends. She's just beginning, I hope, to develop some notion of what education consists in."

Tom said,

"She's having a great time masquerading as a nurse, and that must seem more exciting than Shakespeare just now."

Sharon asked,

"Does she give injections and things like that?"

Jimmy replied,

"The Suns don't do injections, but she keeps the records, gives advice which isn't always consistent with her father's, and gets patients ready to be examined."

"What does that consist in?"

"She takes our clothes, except for our underpants, adjusts the headrest on the table, and so on."

Sharon then remarked to Jimmy, with only a quick partial turn of the head,

"So then you get dressed and take her out to dinner. That's a rather suggestive arrangement."

"Yes, in a way. But she treats it as perfectly natural."

"Will she undress me?"

"I suppose so. Is that okay?"

"I'm a little shy, even in front of women, but I'll manage. Elaine can give Jimmy a detailed description of me without my clothes, and then Jimmy can tell Tom and satisfy his curiosity in that regard."

Eric remarked,

"Sharon, I think Tom must have been very bored before you came along."

"I hope he won't ever be bored again."

When they arrived, and Sharon was introduced to Elaine, the latter looked thoughtful and scheduled them all for separate appointments with Eric first and Sharon last.

Having wandered around the town while others were being treated, they were all gathered in the waiting room when Sharon came out and announced,

"I feel wonderful!"

Elaine was smiling in the background, and it turned out that she had given Sharon her massage, with help and advice from her mother. It had long been clear to them that Elaine was being groomed to eventually take over the practice, and Tom supposed that it was only a matter of time before she would be wielding the acupuncture needles that her father now used on Eric. Jimmy said,

"They're planning on sending Elaine to medical school so that she can legitimize the whole operation with an MD."

Eric replied,

"She's going to have an amusing impact on a medical school when she arrives there with her own brand of medicine."

As they waited for Elaine to get ready to go out to dinner with them, Tom and Sharon took a short walk in the neighborhood. She said,

"I was glad in the end that only women saw me."

"Dr. Sun is actually quite sensitive. He must have decided that this was the time to turn Elaine loose."

"I thought she was very good at it."

"She's probably been trained since babyhood."

"There was only a little coaching from her mother."

"As we've worked it out, her mother is just as competent as her father. It's a remarkably cohesive family, apparently dedicated to a single goal."

"Not much like my family. But I thought out some things about my mother while I was being treated. She's actually the one who's troubled, and it rubs off on me."

"How is it now that you're at home again?"

"The same as always. I get on well with Daddy in our peculiar way, and something's always a tiny bit wrong with my relation with Mother underneath the civility. But it's her fault rather than mine, and I shouldn't take responsibility for it. On the other hand, out of the goodness of my heart, I can do some things to help her."

"What is wrong with her?"

"Underneath, probably all sorts of things that no one understands. On the surface, the trouble is that she can't take credit for her artwork, which is good. She also feels inadequate because she hasn't produced a brood of healthy normal children who function as football players and cheerleaders."

"Could even a psychiatrist get someone to take credit for some things and not worry about others?"

"It's probably hopeless, really. But I thought I might bring her up here. The massage will buck her up, the way it does everyone else, and it'll give us something to do together."

"We'd be delighted to have her come with us."

"She's got a good social sense. Whatever her reservations about me, she'll be good company."

Bill Todd -- A Harvard Story
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