Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Temperance is Fun! (Part I)

I wrote this in October 2006, my junior year of college, as part of a midterm for a class on the history of American thought. We were given a list of essay topics and one, written by the TA, went something like this: “Jane Addams and Edward Bellamy attend a Temperance is Fun party where some ne’er-do-well has spiked the punch. Losing her inhibitions, though none of her sharp intellect, Addams proceeds to verbally assail Bellamy for his book Looking Backwards.” Quite naturally, I couldn’t resist. We had also read that supremely hopeful and uplifting tome The Modern Temper by Joseph Wood Krutch, a veritable paragon of Modernist despair over alienation and meaninglessness. I couldn't resist that either.

The end result was a very odd time travel tale also involving Einstein. It was divided into three parts, which will be serialized here over the next three days. (And yes, I got an A.)

A Terrible Victory

It was perhaps the final nail in the coffin, the lone man thought as he surveyed the party from his perch against the wall. That science had stripped modern life of all value and shattered the pedestal of humanity he had come to reluctantly accept.

But this on the other hand . . . this.

Upon falling into the vortex he had had no choice but to come to terms with this latest scientific development, if such a mild phrase could be assigned to an achievement of this magnitude. Not only had science destroyed God it had almost literally a replaced Him! Humanity, thought the oddly-dressed stranger, has thoroughly kicked itself loose of the heavens: there is nothing neither above nor below us, no authority to whom we can appeal in the name of good or naught. We first subjugated the earth, have now breached the fabric of time . . . what next? Oh God . . . what God? What? Terror seized him, then intensified past the threshold to a deep freeze that encompassed his entire being. The restaurant walls seemed to close in and the crowd blurred, its chatter muted. The second I return to 1934, I swear to . . . I swear that Einstein . . . Beneath the suffocating weight of moral horror, a small active part of him began to delight in fantasies of just what he was going to do to that wretched German.

The image of Albert Einstein being drowned in one of Otto Diels' exotic concoctions stirred him from his stupor and enabled him to again study the denizens of 1897. Temperance is Fun, what a ridiculous idea. Only in 1897 could someone conceive of something so naive and hopeful. He thought of the great disaster that had been Prohibition and shook his head. Maybe he ought to warn them. . . His head snapped up and his eyes widened. He, Joseph Wood Krutch, possessed a power to make even the gods of old tremble, to singlehandedly attain a feat unheard of in the annals of divine record from the Bible to the Book of the Dead. To alter history! That one ordinary man could do such a thing! It was glorious, it was astonishing, it was terrible, it was insane . . . look at them! Just look at them! So confident in the power of science! Everything was going to be all right, the scientists will cure what ails you, welcome to the void! All the way from 1934! Krutch was laughing. People were eyeing him nervously and backing away. The Harvard Physics Lecture Series always did have such excellent brandy on hand and gentleman though he be, he was nevertheless always unable to resist slipping some into the flask he carried in his suit coat. Some vague part of his mind whispered a warning of consequences and the time-space continuum, but Krutch wasn't listening. He was dimly aware of the room hushing and of a solitary female voice and everyone turning towards her, eager for her words. Krutch made his way to the punch bowel. Even in his fuzzy state it was hard to miss its bright magenta among the muted color scheme. With the guests' backs facing him, Krutch poured in the brandy. Temperance is Fun!

To be continued. . .


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