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I DON'T KNOW who Paul Cowan is, or was, but I do know that on November 25, 1959, he wrote an editorial in The Crimson.
Cowan's piece told the tale of an apocryphal Harvard student named Gene Robertson. The story went like this: After losing a game of checkers, Gene decided to spend a few months in his room--not because he was sick, but because he wanted to do something daring. So he read all of Marlowe's plays, and Jane Eyre, and a book by Erich Fromm. He stayed in bed, emerging only to touch his toes 10 times, do seven push-ups and eat Chinese, Armenian, French and Greek food.
Eventually, after a faculty meeting, four of Gene's professors, who sounded like television announcers, came to visit him. They urged him to attend their lectures. Gene agreed. And "for the rest of the term, Gene was the best checkers player in his Houses."
It's the day before Thanksgiving why are you still here?
I don't. Maybe there was a moral to Mr. Cowan's story--"Read Erich Fromm," or "Play checkers," or "Eat Armenian food," perhaps--but for the life of me, I couldn't find it.
But I must say, I wasn't surprised that Mr. Cowan's saga made so little sense. November 25 was the fourth Wednesday of 1959. And on the day before Thanksgiving, The Crimson's editorial page always sucks.
BY THE TIME you read this, I hope to be sitting at home in Long Island, sleeping, blowing off work, dealing with pre-Thanksgiving relatives. Then again, you probably won't read this. I mean, you obviously will read it, but there will be very few of you. Most of you--OK, probably not you--will be sitting at home, too.
I am writing this editorial with great reluctance, not to mention great speed. To tell the truth, I want out of here as soon as possible. My classes are getting annoying, I'm a bit stressed about my future plans, I'm down to my last few pairs of under-wear--I need to get home to Mommy.
But it's my job to make sure this page gets filled with superlative prose and, quite frankly, nobody else would agree to slap together 30 column inches for today's issue. I was going to co-write this piece with Associate Editorial Chair Tara A. Nayak '92, who often makes snide, irritating comments about my social life even though SHE HAS NO SOCIAL LIFE OF HER OWN, but Tara was too busy. No hard feelings, of course.
So I had to come up with something myself. I didn't need something witty, or something well researched, or something intelligible. I needed something, period. Here were a few of my ideas:
1. What The Fuck Did The Phillippines Ever Do to God? Volcanos, tonados, hurricanes, mudsliders--it seems like this place gets hit by a new, original natural disaster every week. Why? Is it the shoes?
PROS: Timely. Focuses on rarely--discussed region of the world. Uses curse word in headline.
CONS: Possibly insensitive to Filipinos. Definitely insensitive to the deeply religious. Headline could get me Ad Boarded.
2. Strange Bedfellows. I just returned from the IOP debate between the Straight White Men of the Left and the Straight White Men of Peninsula. I must admit, I was rather surprised to hear Guardians Brady and McDonald insist that "Sex is great--inherently great," except when the participants are members of the same sex. How do they know? Have they tried it both ways?
PROS: Timely. Offers yet another chance to rip apart poorly reasoned naturalistic fallacies. Provides obvious opportunity to take George Michael's "Sex is natural, sex is fun, sex is best when it's one-on-one" lyrics out of context.
CONS: Again, insensitive to the deeply religious. Again, headline could get me Ad Boarded. And I'm bored stiff with this Peninsula thing anyway.
3. Harvard's Elite and Me. Football coach Joe Restic once challenged me to diagram a 5-2 defense. (I did it.) Athletic Director Bill Cleary once screamed at me for a half hour about a column I wrote. (He hadn't read it.) Dean of the College Archie C.Epps III once called me to complain that our cartoonist was taking shots at him. (Two days later, our cartoonist began taking shots at me.) Presidenstine Rudenstein took me out to lunch once. (He drew a lot of graphs on the tablecloths.) And that's not all.
PROS: The few people who read The Crimson today are undoubtedly fascinated by Harvard's elite.
CONS: Those same people couldn't care less about me. And Harvard's elite could get me Ad Boarded.
4. Brilliance Through Osmosis. All three of my roommates were inducted into Phi Beta Kappa last week. Could this mean that someday I'll get smart, too?
PRO: Should strike a chord among insecure Harvard students surrounded by intimidating intelligence.
CON: Too good an idea to waste on a day no one will read it. Stay tuned.
I'LL BET Paul Cowan whipped off his nonsensical little parable in less than an hour. Same goes for Joshua M. Sharfstein '91, last year's editorial chair, who used last year's Empty Wednesday to write a scintillating analysis of his trainrides home for Thanksgiving past.
This piece took me a bit longer, mostly because I heroically dug through some old Crimsons in order to chronicle the Empty Wednesday exploits of my lofty predecessors. (Or maybe I was just searching desperately for an idea. I forget.)
Occasionally, they wrote about politics. In 1966, T. Jay Matthews spewed out some incoherent ramblings about the governor of California. Matthews's "argument":
The governor "promised to do something about student radicals," but most observers think he won't, but restrictions on activism may be on the way, if California's Board of Regents is willing, which it probably is, although it usually doesn't get involved in this kind of thing, which is probably fine with the governor, because he sometimes expresses a "curious sympathy for student radicals," although he "rarely hides his distaste for anti-Vietnam protests," and so on.
Let's just say this convoluted diatribe did not ruin the political career of Gov. Ronald W. Reagan.
In 1974, The Lost Ed Page contained a Crimson staff editorial about the Middle East, urging Israel "to state that it is willing to sit down, not just with any Palestinians, but with the PLO." Good thing nobody saw it.
And why are you reading The Crimson's editorial page?
Usually, though, the Tree Falling In The Forest Ed Page gets filled with inane commentary on less weighty subjects. In 1987, for instance, Alvar Mattei wrote about his recently developed pinball addiction. Mattei acknowledged that as a child, he preferred to "vaporize little green monsters" and "blast space rocks."
Now that's an editorial best left unread if I've ever seen one.
The greatest pre-Thanksgiving piece I came across was David Edelstein's 1981 discussion of Halloween II, which began thusly: "Women can be very frightening. Sometimes I panic in the middle of talking to them; sometimes I can't even get that far. Sex is too complicated; relationships too difficult. I'm losing touch with my fellow man; I have an urge that creeps like chocolate syrup up my pant legs when I see a woman I can't have: to take out a big bowie knife and cut and cut..."
Wow. If I were ed chair at the time, I would have saved that beauty for the Monday after.
ALL RIGHT, that's 30 column inches. Can I go home now?
Editorial Chair Michael R. Grunwald '92 knows that the best thing about writing for the pre-Thanksgiving ed page is that you don't really need to write a conclusion.
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