Rock Island, IL
You can imagine the scene. If not, I’ll describe it. The hour is bit late for the morning rite. A quarter of noon. Baccalaureate is over and done with—an ecumenical affair suggesting that we believe in pretty much nothing. (It was Muggeridge, I think, who said ecumenism is for those who agree on much because they believe in little.)
This means that august figures in gay regalia, learned men and women, doctors of the academy and their spouses, will soon be arriving chez Bar Jester for Post-Baccalaureate Bacchanalia, a compressed affair of intense high festival. That solemn soporific somnambulant ceremony known as Commencement commences at three o’clock; it will put a quick and terrible end to my purposeful misbehavior, so there is no time to waste.
I arrive first to find Mrs. Jester in her summer whites. She looks as if she has just stepped off the cover of a magazine. I take a quick gander at my watch. Damnation! Not enough time. But off go the flowing robes anyway. On go the cargo shorts. In no time at all I’m lighting the peanut oil. The traditional turkey will soon fry and, while frying, be given a ceremonial name. Whom do I and my friends like least at the end of this academic year? Whose hot air has scorched us the most in faculty meetings? Who filibustered the most egregiously? Who believes most assuredly that he or she is too good for this place? With so many deserving candidates, renaming this tom will not be easy.
The guests arrive, smiling. We all love this one. Dishes appear on the tables, bottles on the counter, cans and bottles in the coolers. The sound of popped corks, of ice clinking against the sides of glasses, the smell of lime wedges, gins and tonic, baked brie, artichokes, and maybe even the under-whiff of sebum and sweat. (We have, after all, some of us, been secreting under our long flowing monkey suits.) No matter. We’ll dry off ere we start secreting again.
We’re all in excellent spirits, and by their means we’ll be in better spirits still. There’s time for improvement.
But, as God is my witness, I’m as sober as synagogue beadle. So, to rectify the offense, I mix myself a little concoction and stand there in my own kitchen, the very lord of the manor, the ecstatic patron of recurrent light.
Lo! A colleague’s wife, half-way into a G&T, is already pronouncing the party a success. So I go serious. “Tell me,” I say, taking a long pull on a very spicy bloody mary, “don’t you find it very satisfying to have a great big B.M. in the morning?”
I drink again.
She’s a ready wit, by my troth. Swirling her G&T, she takes up the gag with aplomb. “Well, maybe not so satisfying as you find it,” she says, “my own preferences running toward a modest GT, but, yes: a big B.M. in the morning can be very satisfying, or so I’m told.”
I turn to my wife and pose the same question: “How about you? Do you like to have a big B.M. in the morning?” She rolls her eyes, turns, and resumes a conversation with someone else. What splendid shoulder blades she has!
(Her showing them to me in the way she just has can mean only one thing. But she already knows this, so there’s no need, dear reader, to mention it to her.)
Let us take a closer look at, let us undertake a more intimate investigation of, the morning B.M. It should be an event of considerable magnitude. It should be a burning viscous affair. I myself begin with a spicy bloody mary mix, which, of course, is usually not spicy at all except when compared to plain tomato juice. (Some mixes, because of their names, are to be preferred above others.) I then proceed to improve upon it: two large spoons-full of hot mustard, a torrent of some kind of hot sauce (Tabasco sauce will answer nicely, of course), a deluge of Worcestershire sauce, salt, freshly-ground black pepper, the squeezed juice from a large lime wedge (plus the lime wedge), and, of course—and here I break one of my rules—cheap rot-gut vodka, a liquor otherwise used for cooking only, not for drinking.
I stir vigorously, add ice, and feel the relief.
Okay. You can add a celery stick or a long column of skewered olives if you must. Cajun spice around the rim of the glass is a nice touch. It’s all good. No argument here.
I stand at the counter peppering tom and injecting him with melted butter, a long involved process that lasts for a whole B.M.
I make another at 11:59 a.m. There are two days a year a man may reasonably take a drink in the morning: this day, and Saturday of the British Open. Luckily the two days have so far never coincided.
I step out on the deck. Here’s a delicate creature, wife of yet another colleague. She’s carefully placing on a table the salad she made. It’s lovely. She’s lovely. We’re all lovely. She looks at me as I sip my bloody mary. I smack my lips and say, “let me tell you about the B.M. I just had.” She knows me of old. Her husband is even more juvenile than I. She shakes her head, rolls her eyes, and returns them to the task at hand. I move off the deck, my words trailing behind me: “It was most satisfying. I assure you.”
Out to the oil. Temperature is almost 360. I want it a little hotter when the bird goes in, because tom or whomever we name him for will cool the oil some, and 360′s the magic number. About three or four minutes per pound at that temperature, and you’ve got yourself a fried turkey. You can’t do one faster in a volcano.
The house buzzes with year-end complaining, rejoicing, bitching, bad-mouthing, and doxologizing. We’re here to launch the summer properly: with the exquisite mixture of disillusionment and euphoria. We’ll eat well, drink well, and gossip well. We’ll sit in the shade, pronounce judgment on the baccalaureate speaker, complain about colleagues, students, wages, benefits, administrators. We’ll tell jokes—I certainly will—and we’ll take surreptitious glances at our watches, for the sad and bitter truth, the dark cloud above this day of obligation, is that this party is life in miniature, life accelerated: it will make us ache with joy, and then, too soon, something unpleasant will bring it to an end.
We’ve settled on a name for the fried bird: a certain someone who—ah, best not say. He or she has spent about forty-five minutes in the oil and is crispied-o’er with the pale cast of grease. And now I’m stabbing him or her with my steely knife.
We throw ourselves on the various foods (look at us celebrating diversity!); we float in the afternoon warmth, held aloft like airy spirits on the spirits’ airy wings.
And then, almost of a sudden, we downshift. There’s a two-hour ceremony to endure, to stay awake and not pee during, and probably, when it’s all over, a few parents to greet with obliquely set visages and, if we’ve remembered them, breath mints. At once we’re cleaning up. Without knowing it I’m changing back and putting on the flowing monkey suit, another school year’s promise come and gone.
Time was my pal M—, who, as a mid-level administrator didn’t have to march, would stay behind and help with the heavy cleaning (and no doubt flirt with the hostess), but he was untimely ripped from this and all parties by the swift hand of death. And my pal C—, who made all parties better, would get lubed and talkative with anyone in earshot, but weary retirement took him hence. And, this year, my pal D— graces us for the last time. He’ll descend into administration at another institution.
The changes are unbearable, but, having no choice, we bear them—we bear them until life itself, to its own great satisfaction, bears down for good, and we ourselves, no doubt betimes, go too soon among the wastes of time.