Great literature often concerns self-discovery through encounter with the Other. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow meets Colonel Kurtz and realizes that a thin line separates the values of civilization and insanity. In Moby-Dick,this guy's chasing around a big whale, but the whale is really a part of him, or at least that's what my Cliffs Notes say. In the Famed "street person episode" of "Diff'rent Strokes," Arnold encounters an epileptic homeless mime, and learns that deep inside, we all have motor co-ordination problems. All of these characters learn and grow through their brush with the unknown.
When I came to college, I eagerly awaited my own encounter with the Other. I remember when an admissions officer came to our high school and told the assembled group of hopeful applicants about Harvard's legendary diversity. From the moments on, I was sold on the Harvard mystique. I assumed I would spend my college days shmoozing with everyone from Nicaraguan royalty to Azerbajani pesants. I Guess I was also hoping that Winona Ryder would be in my class. Imagine my disappointment when it turned out that everyone in my freshman entryway had gone to the same summer camp in New Jersey. The Other could not be found in Thayer South.
Although I managed to branch out a little in my sophomore and junior years, I have never felt like l've come face-to-face at Harvard with anything that could remotely be considered the Other, except for the Society for Creative Anachronism. So I recently looked at myself in the mirror and said "Mike. It's time to broaden your horizons." I decided that I had to spend the last few months of my educational career drowning myself in the vast river that is Harvard's diversity, hoping, like Marlow, Ahab and Arnold before me, to transform myself in the process.
Unfortunately, Archie Epps turned down my application for the Harvard Mediation Service because I "sounded like a pansy" and, for some reason, the Hasty Pudding Club, that legendary bastion of international diversity, never returns my phone calls. So I would have to search on my own, encountering the Other with nothing but my own wits and brawn.
Day 1. I convince my close personal friend Missy De Claflin '94 to cue me in on the location of the top secret Bee Club building. The Prospect of female final club on campus has always appealed to me; like most other ethnic nouveau riche types, my fondest fantasies in volve being fedgrain alcohol and molested by a horde of rich, WASPy field hockey players. I arrived at the Bee with my nicest Brooks Brothers tie and my biggest lacrosse stick. But these women final clubs are really going to have to learn something about good hostessing if they want to corral in the studs, as my less-than-seductive reception on the steps of the Bee house illustrates:
BEE# 1:Can I help you?
ME: Hi girls. Ready to party?
BEE#1: I think you have the wrong house.
ME: Hey, uh, weren't you in my class at Groton?
(BEE # 2 approaches)
BEE #2: Are you the pizza guy?
ME: Howyadoin', baby. Wanna see the head of my Charles?
(BEE #1 Slams door)
As my personal culture hero Argus Aardvark recently commented, "Chicks. They're always giving you the wrong signals." Day 2. Girls, shmirls. Who needs 'em? I decided my next encounter with the Other should be wholesome and asexual. The Unofficial Guide to Life at Harvard describes the Outing Club as "dedicated to outdoor fun and adventure." Just like that whale in Moby-Dick. I head over to club headquarters to pick up a 'dopesheet' describing upcoming outing opportunities. One of the trips listed is a "multi-day ski-backpack-camping trip to Mt. Bond in the Whites." Mount Bond in the Whites. I liked the ring of that. It sounded like an exotic aperitif. Unfortunately, I don' know how to ski. Or backpack. Or have fun. And as far as hiking goes, I get winded walking up the two flights of stairs to my room. I decide that the Outing Club is, so to speak, 'out' of my league.
Day 3. My final attempt to conquer the Other brings me to Harvard Hillel. I have always been fascinated by Jewish culture. Many of my friends are Jewish, and most of those who aren't can do pretty funny imitations. I head over to Hillel for dinner to learn more about life and culture among the displaced tribes of Israel. Fortunately, I run into my old friend Dan, who is more than willing to answer my questions:
ME: What's that thing on your head, Dan?
DAN: It's called a yarmulke.
Jewish men are supposed to wear them.
DAN: It says so in the Talmud.
ME: I see. Why don't you eat pork?
DAN: In order to obey God's dietary laws, Jews may not eat pork, or any other meat that was once attached to cloven hooves.
ME: Why not?
DAN: It says so in the Talmud.
ME; Interesting. And What's the deal with this Passover thing?
DAN: Passover is when Jews celebrate the exodus from Egypt. We prepare a ritual feast and eat it along with recitation from the Haggadah.
DAN: It says so in the Talmud.
Ifelt that I was beginning to grasp the complexities of Jewish thought and culture. Perhaps my engagement with the Other was reaching its climax. "Thank you," I said to Dan. "Through your careful explanations, I feel like I have finally experienced Harvard's diversity."
"But Mike, "Dan replied, "you're Jewish too." I realized that he was correct, and that, in fact, we had gone to the same Jewish summer camp in New Jersey. Memories of my past crises of faith came flooding back to me, such as the time Yasser Arafat crashed my Bar Mitzvah, and the time I tried to sue my parents to return my foreskin. So much for my epiphany. I had met the Other, and he was me. At least Ahab got to fight a whale.
I've temporarily halted my search. My frustrated efforts have left me spiritually drained, unable to continue my relentless self-examination. Also I have a big midterm coming up. Don't think that I've given up for good, though. No stone will be left unturned by my ontological quest for being. (Well, if it comes to going to an a cappella concert I might wait until grad school.) I'm not going to graduate from this place until I've had a consciousness-altering encounter. I'm probably not going to graduate from this place anyway, because I forgot to take Expos. If you can help me find the Other, drop me a line. Time is running short.