THERE'S REALLY not much in Cambridge for the social critic. Where Oscar Wilde had the stuffy yet elegant mannerisms of the Victorian British upper class to sharpen his quill against, his Cantabrigian counterparts have nothing more than faded rebels and pseudo-punks as the objects of wit.
With time on my hands and shoes on my feet, I wander around, hoping maybe to stumble onto something, like a mugging maybe, that might be turned into an "About Men" piece for the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Occasionally I'll wander over towards the Science Center at Harvard. I figure if there's anything new going on it ought to be there--they don't give away Nobel Prizes for retro art deco coffee tables.
Usually I'm disappointed, though. The day-to-day stuff seems to consist mainly of premeds discussing problem 3 on the hourly they just got out of, or maybe a brief encounter or two downstairs in the men's room. There was that one time when radioactive gas escaped from the Chem lab and wiped out an entire section of freshman Math students, of course. But I didn't feel that would be an appropriate subject for a humor piece. Math and comedy just don't mix.
SOMETIMES WHEN the weather is right I'll check in on the Cambridge City Council. This is really scraping the bottom of the barrel. I keep on hoping that one day they'll make a mistake, like misfiling some documents and banning Honduran refugees instead of nuclear weapons. But it hasn't happened yet. It would be unethical to create a furor merely for the sake of writing about it, so I couldn't submit a proposal to outlaw chrome-and-nylon eight-wheeled baby strollers. Maybe I will anyway.
If I'm in the mood for ice cream or an electronic banking transaction, I'll head into Harvard Square, a place which, like a piece of pop kinesthetic art, suggests vigor without actually exerting any. The eternal question here seems to be: if Cambridge is such a progressive city, how come half its population keeps alive by collecting the Soho All-Natural Ginger Ale bottles that the other half throws away?
Less eternal questions engendered by a trip to the Square include: "How bored does a 16-year-old have to be in order to willingly spend half of its time leaning against a telephone pod?" and "Why do people eat cheddar cheese pizza?"
For a while I thought I might have a story on the the subject of the world's most pretentious donut shop. Only Cambridge, I thought, could boast a java-and-danish nook with a ridiculous French name and prices four times the normal exchange rate. But no one else seemed to notice any irregularity, and by the time the "Au Bon Pain" and "Vie de France" explosion was over, "patisserie" signs were as common as lesbian poets on the streets of Cambridge. It just wasn't news.
WHEN I'M really in the mood to waste some shoe leather I'll make my way over to Central Square. On the map Central Square is shown as part of Cambridge, but in reality it is a separate fief, administered by the Federal Bureau of Urban Blight; Cambridge proper actually ends at the eastern end of the Mt. Auburn St. used book store zone, a retail no man's land where no one ever ventures.
THE DIFFERENCE is not merely administrative; economically and culturally, Central Square plays Mexico to Harvard Square's United States. The major industry is subway construction, and those who do not labor in the bowels of the earth must chase the total dollars brought in by slumming Harvard Square Yuppies. All this is supervised by the overlords at the Central Square Police Station, an imposing fortress surrounded by an army of black and white cruisers which are used, should the occasion arise, to fill up any empty parking spaces.
More often than not, I give in to the weariness that Cambridge engenders in this thinker's heart, and instead sit at home scanning the TV dial in search of major international disasters. The rest of the time I spend trying to think of gimmicks for the Crimson Ed page. My best idea was to have a contest where the reader who sent in the most drugs (Rutger Fury, c/o Harvard Crimson, 14 Plympton St., Cambridge, MA 02138) would win $10.
The powers that be nixed the idea, but I'm still in favor of it. If any of you feel like taking part, I'll pay the prize money out of my own pocket--but please, no narcs and no heroin with Parkinson's disease in it. Losing entries will not be returned.
Rutger Fury, the former national political correspondent for The National Enquirer and a one-time Harvard square punk, is a friend of Jeffrey J. Wise.
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