A serialized novel of terrorism,
treason and Republican treachery
in SAECULA: (Click for Episode One)
Note from Bart:
Alfred hadn’t changed in 20 years. On a beautiful spring day, it was a charming echo of the 1920s. Today, overcast and blustery, with even the birds seeking cover, it had a depressing, needful look about it. Congressman Jack Stibik suspected the windows in the Collegiate restaurant, where he was patiently awaiting his check, hadn’t been washed since it opened in 1984, when he was a sophomore at the University.
The whole place had an incongruous feel to it. A college town; really not more than a three-block Main Street running through a valley between two steep hills with colleges, also both named Alfred, clinging to each one. On the Alfred Ag and Tech campus, a two-year unit of the New York State University System, the trees had finally matured to disguise the ugliness of its 1970’s institutional architecture. But Stibik’s eyes were directed toward the four-year university across the valley, where he had majored in Political History and Theory. He was returning today -- incredibly -- to collect an Honorary Doctorate of Letters degree. Although, he noted wryly, it was being bestowed on May Honors Day, not at the big shebang the next day at Commencement.
It’s amazing, he thought, what a little thing like being selected ranking minority member of the House International Relations Committee can do to improve how your alma mater regards you. Well, after all, he had mellowed since giving his valedictorian speech at graduation. Presumably, so had AU. The school had passed through several presidencies over two decades, and the well-scrubbed public relations director who had met with him in his Washington office to set up the final details of this dog and pony show would have been about ten at the time. Only the tenured faculty remained to imbue the place with institutional memory and immortality.
In fact, Jack was sure it was Professor Gar Reynolds who initiated this whole thing. Over the years, Reynolds had followed his career from Annapolis city alderman to state senator and finally to his upset election as the first Democrat in 32 years from Maryland’s heavily Republican 1st district; the last sneaking in for two years in the midst of the Vietnam antiwar protests. Reynolds was about the only thing Stibik remembered with any fondness and generosity on the few occasions he did bother to think about his undergraduate years. The chancellor at the time had recently come from Michigan State where he was vice president for university relations, a euphemism for fundraising. He set about running the place like Wal-Mart, putting a happy face on everything from budget disasters to plummeting admissions standards. As student government president, it was Jack’s expected duty, as well as his inclination, to confront the administration on a regular basis. He came to hate dealing with the equivocations and mealy mouthing. The president wouldn’t have said “shit” if he had a mouth full, which he usually did.
Jack looked forward to his first trip back to campus if only because it offered him the chance to reconnect with Reynolds at dinner following the afternoon ceremony. Before the anticipated evening’s conclusion, Stibik’s itinerary looked to be as full as one of his normally adrenaline-packed days on the Hill: A meet and greet with the president and deans in Carnegie Hall, and the requisite tour of the campus that he could already see had doubled in size since his undergraduate days. Lunch in the new, to him, Stuart Smith Campus Center with some of the current PHT majors should be fun. Then, off to the ceremony and his acceptance speech in McLean Center, site of his infamous harangue so many years ago. And finally, finally, cocktails in Howell Hall. Take a breath, Jack.
“Jack, you look terrific! I see you’re pulling your punches a little more now that you’re a congressman,” Gar Reynolds chuckled as he first grasped Jack’s hand then proceeded to give him an unexpected bear hug. And, a bear hug it was. At 6’6’’ and over 280 pounds, Reynolds still enveloped the not unimposing Stibik, whose own nearly six-foot frame gave 80 pounds to his mentor. “That was an articulate and gracious homecoming address.”
“Professor, thanks, and you don’t look a day older than you did in Senior Seminar,” Jack responded sincerely.
“Possibly true my lad, but, of course, you thought I was old and senile back then. Jack, it was good of you to accept this invitation. It pleases me that you have done so well. And, here you are! And, please, it’s ‘Gar.’ Can I get you anything? Another drink?”
“You can save me from any more smiling and small talk. Let’s go outside for a minute or two. It’s stifling in here.”
“Fine with me. I always hated these things. If God had wanted people to attend cocktail parties, he would have given us four hands so we could hold our plates, eat, drink and still shake hands.”
“So tell me Pro…Gar, how’s Marilyn? I’m surprised she’s not here. Will she be joining us for dinner?”
“Marilyn is no more,” said Reynolds. After seeing the expression of shock on Jack’s face, indicating that he assumed she had passed away and had made a whopper of a faux pas, Gar quickly added, “we split up.”
“I’m sorry, Gar. I didn‘t know.”
“No need to be. It was long in coming. Except for the boys, I would have done it years before. Actually, she’s down in your sandbox, as they say, married to a man I suspect you’ve heard of, C. Dory Clevenger. Ring a bell?”
“You mean the big money guy for the Republicans? You’re kidding!”
“Not at all. The spiteful woman. I consider it her final act of revenge for being dumped. Shacking up with the enemy. She should be hanged for sedition.”
“I’m floored,” exclaimed Jack. “When did all this happen?”
“Actually, nearly ten years ago now; ‘97, ‘98. I had enough of her bitchiness and moved out. She caught the first train south and had her lawyer scalp me, but every time I take a deep breath and don’t feel my stomach churn, I realize it’s been worth every cent.”
“But Clevenger? How in Hell did she hook up with him? She was always a good looking woman for her age, but they sure don’t run in the same social circles.”
“I understand from the boys it was actually because of you.”
“When you ran for reelection the first time in 2002, you remember the opposition believed that your opponent, ahh…”
“Bensonhurst, Anne Arundel County Executive.”
“Right, Bensonhurst, big party man, would ride in on the President’s war coattails, and Annapolis could rid itself of your Democratic taint. Evidentially, Clevenger had a horse in the race and showed up at some fundraiser at the yacht club and met Marilyn. He was charming, debonair, conservative -- all the things I’m not -- and Marilyn made her play.”
“But, he’s a slime ball!”
“Ah, yes, but a rich slime ball.”
“How about the boys?” Jack asked over dinner at the Beef Haus in nearby Wellsville.
“Oh, they’re just great. It took us a while to get back on an even keel after the breakup, of course. They were shocked; never saw it coming; thought we were happy. You know. They never realized how much crap I took for them, deflecting so much of Marilyn’s hurtful anger away from them. But, enough of the bad old days. Tell me about yourself. How’s your family? And, whatever became of that twin brother of yours -- Marty, right?”
Gar and Jack caught up on their lives. Gar now taught only the fall semester and drove his motor home to Florida to escape the harsh Alfred winters and keep up on his tennis. Jack was married to Kate and had two daughters, Gracie, age 4 and Annabelle, 3. Kate ran a small public relations consulting firm out of their home in the old watermen’s, now mostly gentrified, Eastport section of Annapolis. Jack didn’t mention Marty, and Gar was astute enough to take the hint and not raise the subject again.
“Gar,” Jack said, “The real reason I accepted the University’s invitation was as an excuse to talk to you.”
“I hope you know, you could have called.”
“I was a little embarrassed. I didn’t leave under the best of circumstances, although I hope you know the remarks in my speech were never directed at you.”
“I know that Jack, and my comments…excuse me Jack.” Reynolds bounded up and hovered over an adjoining table, glaring at two diners, speaking loudly into cell phones. “Do you realize how rude it is to disrupt the people around you who are attempting to enjoy a quiet meal while you two scream into your phones? I tried to ignore it when there was only one of you talking, but can restrain myself no longer. I don’t eat in your phone booth. Please have the courtesy of not cell yelling at my diner table.”
With that, Gar abruptly turned, sat down and picked up his former conversation without missing a syllable…“to you afterward were not meant to be sarcastic or defensive. I saw your talent, Jack. I had from the first class you took from me as a sophomore. I didn’t want to see your dedication to truth-telling destroyed by unbridled passion. I’m pleased to see you’ve melded them in a most harmonious manner, using a little humor to get your point across without sacrificing your principles. I’m very proud of you, Jack.”
“Thank you, Gar. That means everything to me, especially coming from a man who just ripped two people new assholes.”
“I need to keep up my reputation as a curmudgeon. Once you let them see through the gruff exterior to my sweet, gentle soul, I’d lose all authority. Besides, I haven’t berated anyone for nearly four days.”
“Sweet and gentle, huh? Funny, I never noticed,” Jack said with a smirk.
“See, it’s working.”
“You’re still teaching the Saecula, I assume.”
“Of course. I don’t know anything else,” chuckled Gar.
Reynolds had become smitten by a book by William Strauss and Neil Howe. The authors describe seven 70 to 90 year consecutive periods, or “Saecula,” to argue that history, in one way, actually does repeat itself. Jack had fought Reynolds on the concept throughout his sophomore and junior years and right up into second semester of Senior Seminar. He had a strong dose of Jesuit education in prep school at Canisius High in Buffalo, located two hours north of Alfred. He couldn’t get past the traditional Catholic and Western European notions of linear history in which events kept piling one on top of another to undergird the ones that followed.
The idea that history started fresh every century or so didn’t compute for him. Then, in the second semester of his senior year, Jack had one of those eureka moments. He finally connected the impact of generational rotation on history as the reason Reynolds’ explanation proved so compelling. Once he got hooked, he was unable to look at the 9/11 attacks, that had dominated American political life for six years, in any way other than as the initiating event in the current Saeculum’s “Crisis Turning.”
“Gar, remember what you used to pound into our heads, that -- and his mentor joined him in saying aloud -- ‘The Saeculum Crisis Turning is inevitable; it is our choice how America responds to the Crisis that will determine a positive or negative end result.’ Gar, this administration is clearly on the wrong path in the Islamic War. You’ve been the leading proponent of Saecula as the expository theory of terrorism for over a decade. I was hoping to persuade you to testify at the joint hearings on the war this November.”
“Jack, it’s been years since Strauss and Howe’s
book came out, and, what?
“Maybe your testimony will revive interest in it.”
“I doubt that. Besides, my visibility in the Holy Trinity Campaign could backfire on you. You must know that taking on Trinity has not been a particularly popular stance.”
“Where does that stand now? I’m so immersed in this Islamic mess, I’ve lost track of how many states have ratified.”
“Thirty-four; four to go. And, they still have two years to get the votes.”
“Too close to call. These are desperate, vengeful people, Jack. They’ve got everything riding on Trinity. They want this bad, and I have no doubt they will play every deceitful morality and patriotism card they can devise.”
“I’m sure you’re right about that, Gar. I see it every day in the House. It’s government by tantrum. Instead of working with us to get a handle on some of the country’s real problems, they keep shoving their right-wing agenda down our throats. If they lose on Trinity, it’ll set back their efforts for years, and finally signal Congress that it’s okay to ignore their hate mongering. Maybe then we can get America back on center track, where it belongs.”
“Well stated, Jack. You can see why this matters so much to me. I’ve fought these Christian lunatics for years, and this -- to paraphrase one of Larry Lauer’s sophist quotations -- is the ‘final battle.’ ”
“I understand your concerns, but please promise
you’ll at least consider testifying. If the administration stays on its
current course in the war, defeating Trinity will only be half of our worries.”
Thursday in SAECULA: