So, we got an e-mail from Random House the other day.
Meet fellow Wesleyan Steve Almond. The neurotic, pugnacious, witty author of the New York Times bestseller Candyfreak has completed Not That You Asked: Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions, a hilarious assortment of essays in which he provides his wry insight on topics from Kurt Vonnegut to baseball, fatherhood to politics, heavy metal to sexual failure—in general, his life as a misunderstood guy.
They sent us a PDF of some excerpts from the book. So I’m at work and thinking, okay, I have 20 minutes to read a chapter of some alum’s book, right?
Then I saw the words “Wesleyan”, “entitlement” and “Vonnegut” in the same paragraph and knew I had to share it with you. Bolding is mine, vitriol is his.
My own parents came of age during the 1960s. Both were early, vocal opponents of the war in Vietnam. My father helped undergraduates organize anti-war protests at Stanford, where he had taken a job on the faculty of the medical school. He was later arrested himself for taking part in a protest at a nearby air force base. His teaching contract was not renewed. What I am trying to convey here is that I am descended from people who suffered for their beliefs. I arrived at college eager to do the same thing.
But Wesleyan wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. It was, to be ruthless and candid, the world capital of Entitled Sanctimony, the kind of place where students staged protests to demand divestment from South Africa, then headed over to the dining hall to stuff themselves full of ice cream, where the lower-class troughs who played hockey and joined frats were considered dangerous misogynists, where kids in carefully torn polo sweaters gathered to chant grave, humanist slogans, then dispersed to drop acid on Foss Hill, where noblesse oblige had mutated into a kind of desperate narcissistic accessory.
I did my best to fit in, to obey, for instance, the elaborate protocols surrounding gender and race nomenclature. But it was impossible to ignore certain facts, such as that most black students wanted nothing to do with white students, and that the residents of Middletown regarded the lot of us as spoiled brats. I spent a few winter afternoons camped on the corners of Main Street, handing out pamphlets on nuclear disarmament, which the locals accepted politely, then deposited in the nearest trashcan.
It was also impossible to ignore the affluence of my classmates. They had new cars and elaborate stereo systems and Park Avenue apartments stuffed with high art. They spent vacations at beach houses and in tennis clubs, and their ease in these exotic precincts struck me hard; these were people born on the banks of what Vonnegut called the Money River.
I don’t mean to make my classmates sound like dolts. They were trying to care about the world, however indulgently. My scorn for them was an expression of my own guilt. I couldn’t shake the benighted notion that the best way to honor the family legacy was to suffer for my beliefs.
So I washed dishes in the cafeteria. I volunteered at a mental health facility. I endured the routine miseries of the unpaid internship. And I read Vonnegut voraciously, thought the long, muggy summer evenings, dripping sweat onto the pages of my yellowed paperbacks.
(The chapter is about him writing his senior thesis on Vonnegut.)