You are currently browsing the daily archive for October 31, 2012.

I keep utterly forgetting that today is Halloween.   No punkin’ yet carved.  No decorations.  No plans to walk any of the gels round the neighborhood.  No particular thoughts on ghosts, ghouls and goblins.  It’s as if all the recent storm-centered brouhaha has knocked the spirit of the day base over apex.

Not that I was ever much of an enthusiast to begin with, at least as far as “adult” celebrations go.   On the other hand, I’ve always enjoyed indulging in the sense – based on the all hallows tradition underlying the day – of the temporary suspension of the Rules and the blurring of the lines between the living and the dead.

Today?  As I say, not so much.   All I really want to do is get back on the regular track.


UPDATE:  Help me, Count Floyd! You’re my only hope!

Poking idly about the overflowing tables in the Port Swiller library during the recent storm, Robbo stumbled across a book he had not noticed before: True Prep: It’s A Whole New Old World by Lisa Birnbach.

Heaven knows how this book came to be in the Robbo collection.  I’d heard of it before, but never had any particular urge to buy it.  I can only suppose, judging from some suspicious looking tape marks on the binder, that Mrs. R picked it up at one of the library used book sales which she is fond of haunting.

Birnbach is, of course, the author of The Official Preppy Handbook, which came out in 1980.  This latest opus (from 2010) purports to be an updated version of that immensely popular tome (at least amongst potential imitators) describing [insert Robin Leach voice here] the lifestyles of the old guard power elite.

Well, Robbo spent about five minutes idly skimming through it, which is about all he needed to form his opinions.

In the first place, “It’s A Whole New Old World” is just about right.  A social scientist, I think, would be mighty interested in the way in which this book illustrates the change in the societal power structure (or at least its perception) over the past 30 years.  Gone are the last vestiges of the old, low-key, stuffy W.A.S.P. ethics, values and tastes.  Instead, the BoHo’s now are running the asylum.  One sees throughout a tone comprised of a militant progressivism; a strident “anything goes” family/social structure; naked political pandering; exhibitionism not just in consumption but in philanthropy, career and other areas; and, finally, crass commercialization.  There also is about it a certain edge absent from the previous edition, a feeling that failure to embrace the “new” orthodoxy will land you in a reeducation camp faster than you can say “visualize whirled peas”.

Birnbach herself seems to heartily approve of these changes.  You may judge for yourselves what ol’ Robbo’s opinion might be.

In the second place, the book’s various lists of “musts” are remarkably shallow and, at least where Robbo is any kind of judge, seem to have been thrown together without much consideration.  (Full disclosure: This may be true of the first book, too, but it must be 20 years since I last saw a copy.)  Take the list of “must” reads.  The only Evelyn Waugh work listed is Brideshead, which is hardly emblematic of the rest of his novels.  And do people of this sort actually not see the strong religious message of the book? Or do they just ignore it?  (Or do they just buy the book because Jeromy Irons was in the teevee show but never get round to reading it?)  And who among the young bohos reads Buckley’s God and Man at Yale these days?  The entry for Tom Wolfe includes some of his old essays, together with My Name Is Charlotte Simmons, probably the weakest of his novels to date.  There are no entries whatsoever for P.G. Wodehouse.

In the third place, I noticed something about the various schools discussed.  Despite the fact that there are actually fewer such entries than last time around, an entire page is devoted to singing the praises of Hamster-Squidney Hampton-Sydney College.  This really rayther astounded Robbo.  HSC, at least when I knew anything about it, while priding itself on preserving the concept of the Southern Gentleman, was also one of the last bastions of recalcitrant Confederate sympathizers left in the country.   This hardly seems to jibe with the solid blue tone of the rest of the book.  Either the school has changed entirely in the twenty-odd years since I knew anything about it, or there must be some other force at work here.

Which brings me to two related stories.

The first has to do with Birnbach.  If you still have your old, dog-eared copy of TOPH sitting in the basket in your downstairs loo, you will see that among the many schools profiled, no mention whatsoever is made of Washington & Lee University, Robbo’s grad school of record.  (This I do remember.)  You might think this omission odd, as Dubyanell seemed to have every quality necessary for inclusion among the “elite”:  Strong social traditions, a storied past (both Robert E. Lee and his horse Traveler are buried on campus), a reputation for heavy drinking, etc.  And many of its neighboring schools were mentioned:  HSC, Sweet Briar, Hollins, etc.  Well, the rumor that I heard some years later was that Birnbach was dating somebody in the Dubyanell administration (in the admissions office, I believe) whilst she was assembling that book.  The relationship apparently went south in a distinctly ugly manner.  Birnbach retaliated against the fellah by blackballing the school.  I’ve no idea whether this is true or not.  But I note that Dubyanell didn’t make the new book, either.  On the other hand, as I say, Squidney – its longtime rival – got a page all to itself.

Go figure.

Speaking of Squidney,  I may have mentioned this anecdote before.  Prior to coming to the Great Commonwealth of Virginny for school, Mrs. R was pure Long Island/Connecticut and knew next to nothing about Southerners.  The story goes (this was before we met) that one night, she and a group of her Sweet Briar friends road-tripped down to Farmville to engage in merriment with the local scholarly gentlemen.  Eventually, a bunch of them wound up in some good ol’ boy’s dorm room.  She tells me it had the requisite huge rebel flag hanging on one wall, along with various other books and odds and ends dedicated to the War of Northern Aggression.  At some point, the conversation came  around to that War, with the fellahs arguing about what would have happened had Stonewall survived Chancellorsville, if Longstreet had flanked Round Top on the right and other might-have-beens.  Mrs. R sat for some time in puzzlement over all this and then finally blurted out in an innocent tone,  “I just don’t understand why you guys keep talking about the war so much.  I mean, y’all lost!”

Apparently, this produced an absolutely dumbfounded silence amongst the other revelers.

How Mrs. R escaped campus, I do not know.   Chivalry not quite dead, I suppose.

I do know that she never went back.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, I would say overall that the Family Robbo was spared too much trouble from Hurricane Sandy.  (Nothing at all compared to those poor people farther up the coast in Joisey and Noo Yawk who seem to have got absolutely hammered.)  A lot of wind, at times fairly fierce.  A lot of rain.  That curiously dampened thunder that accompanies strong gales.  A few branches and limbs down in the yard.  The power out for a little over twenty-four hours.  Eh.  Really, El Derecho was far worse this past summah when it came to call.  (I’ve a theory that all the damage it did actually lessened Sandy’s effects by culling out a lot of weaker timber.)

There is a great difference of opinion within the Family Robbo on what constitutes the proper response to an extended loss of power from bad weather.  Robbo, perhaps because he’s the only male, perhaps because he comes from a somewhat more stoic background, is of the belief that when it is cold and rainy out one should simply put on more clothes, bank up the ol’ fire, pour another glass of the crayture and hunker down with a good book.  (I went on a Charles Portis bender, reading yesterday his Escape Velocity for the first time and rereading his Norwood and True Grit for about the tenth each.)

Mrs. Robbo is of a different mind.  Her response is to light out for some place with an indoor pool and room service.   (I helpfully point out that this won’t do her much good in preparing for the Big One when there is no convenient nearby Marriott and we’re having to haul and boil buckets of water from the nearest source a half mile away.  She replies that she doesn’t care.)

The upshot is that I had Port Swiller Manor to myself last night and I duly snugged down in the library and followed the above-described programme.  (The power actually cut back in around eleven, but by then it really didn’t matter.)

I woke up some time in the wee hours from a truly bizarre dream (something about an illicit flirtation, the sabotage of a regatta by black-clad villains, a sudden inability to walk down stairs and losing my jeep in a parking lot) to hear the house adjusting itself to thirty-six hours of buffeting wind, soaking rain and seesawing internal temperature.  Lying there listening to an unfamiliar series of creaks, snaps and pops, I began to worry casually about structural integrity, wondering what actions I might take if the sound of groaning wood suddenly turned out to be the prelude to a wardrobe or bedstead crashing down through the ceiling.  (You laugh, but the house is 40 years old and ours is the second family to grow up in it.   When the gels are all on the loose upstairs, the place shakes and shudders as if a herd of mastodon had taken up residence.)

Concern about ceilings falling in always reminds me of my first adult house, which was one in which I had an apartment the last two years of law school in Metro-Lex.  I had the upstairs back.  Another student had the downstairs back.  The front, upstairs and down, was reserved for the landlady’s mother, who came down from Vermont for the winters.  The mother had the most vicious dog, which she kept tethered to the side of the house during the day and which always lunged slavering at me when I came or went.  Like Frau Dressler’s goat in Waugh’s Scoop, I knew that sooner or later it would break free.  The dog knew it, too.  Fortunately, the time he did get loose, I happened to be safely indoors.

At any rate, the main feature of my apartment, which was really quite nice as far as graduate digs went, was a living room of maybe 12 or 15 feet square.  The floor sagged so severely in the middle that unless the furniture was arranged just right to counterbalance the effect, one could get quite seasick just looking at it.  For myself, I generally tried to tiptoe whenever in that room.  I sometimes wonder whether it eventually fell through, maybe ruptured by some other student dancing in frustration over some assignment from the Groot Monster, Slamming Sammy, Phembo, Timmy Tax, “Papa” Brion, the Lash or Punchin’ Judy.  The last time I took a dekko at an overhead view of it on Google Earth, it looked as if the place had been worked on, possibly renovated, so perhaps it finally happened.


Blog Stats

  • 474,285 hits
October 2012