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Boys and Men

In December 1979, at the end of my first semester at Johns Hopkins University, as I prepared for my ride home, the only question was whether I would avoid throwing up all over my friend’s father’s car.

As an ignorant freshman, I had celebrated the completion of exams by drinking a mix of different types of alcohol the night before. I don’t recall the specific concoctions, but at least three different intoxicants were ingested. I ended up awake all night, with a rising feeling of nausea and the knowledge that my friend had graciously offered to have her father drive me from Baltimore, MD to Baldwin, Long Island.

Somehow, I survived the experience, as my friend’s father was hugely sympathetic, making frequent rest stops on the way home. I tried to relax and breathe slowly, while turning away from all suggestion of food. My friend and her father deposited me at my house, and my understanding parents took it from there.

This was neither the first not the last time I drank, but it was certainly the worst. I knew never to mix alcohol again. Back in Baldwin, I had experimented with drinking beer as early as middle school--not to great excess but enough to get a buzz. By my last year in high school, however, I had given it up completely, devoting myself to improving my performance on the track team.

But at college, when the drinking age was still 18, beer and liquor were plentiful. As a socially awkward teenager, I joined in from the start. To my lasting shame, I even joined a fraternity as a way of trying to fit in. There were keg parties, tequila Tuesdays, and the intense bacchanalia of pledge week. I can honestly say that I drank only after studying was over, and I got good grades, but I did drink.

During initiation weekend, we pledges were forced to clean and repair the frat house, and then we spent Saturday evening being plied with alcohol before being put into groups for a “scavenger hunt”. The idea was to find something in the neighborhood or on campus and bring it back. I happened to be grouped with two individuals who enjoyed a bit of petty larceny, and we ended up swiping a whole clothes dryer--including pipes and wires--from the freshman dorm. We thought we were doing the frat a favor (who couldn’t use a dryer?), but we ended up having to give it back.

We marketed our frat parties so that girls would attend. We would put posters up all over our campus and drive to Goucher College, a girls school at the time, six miles up the road. I don’t recall any incidents with women at my frat, but I do remember going to a party held at another frat when I was a junior or a senior. I was told that two of those frat members (one of whom I’d been friends with from my freshman dorm) were notorious for going up behind girls at the parties and biting them on their behinds. I didn’t see it happen personally.

For years, I have been embarrassed that I was insecure enough to pledge a frat and that I failed to engage in more productive activities. Still, I don’t believe I did anything (outside of helping steal that dryer) that would disqualify me from any future endeavors, even if I were on a rarefied path such as the one bringing Brett Kavanaugh to the cusp of the Supreme Court. I certainly did nothing remotely abusive to women; I was more scared of girls than anything else.

Based on conversations I’ve recently had with my sons and niece, all in their first or second year at college, I understand that a lot hasn’t changed. Even though the US drinking age is 21, anyone who wants to get drunk can easily do so. And it appears that some boys and girls play the roles of the hunter and the hunted much as they did years ago.

Perhaps the Kavanaugh story is raising consciousness about this kind of thing around the general public. Perhaps we are becoming more aware of the often destructive and dangerous choices young people can make in an environment that should provide better options but often doesn’t.

This train wreck of a Supreme Court nomination is headed for an imminent vote, and I would be that Kavanaugh seems likely to squeak through by the margin of a vote or two. To his defenders, what’s the big deal? Boys have been boys for generations. We males have screwed up more times than we can count. My example shows that someone who does silly, stupid things as a young man can still turn out to be someone who acts morally and respectfully. We can’t all be disqualified as adults for youthful lapses in judgment. Unless . . .

Unless these lapses result in a credible allegation of sexual assault or harassment AND the job in question requires a jurist to weigh in on matters relating to women’s rights, reproductive choices, and health care.

Unless the adult commits perjury when testifying under oath about his youthful exploits.

Unless the adult becomes so worked up over the allegations that he condemns an entire party and political segment, thus raising questions about his ability to render an unbiased judgment in future cases.

As I’ve mentioned, I am embarrassed in many respects by the person I was in college. Still, what I did comes nowhere near what Kavanaugh is being accused of and what needs to be thoroughly investigated. But if I did act like Kavanaugh, both in my youth and adult years, if allegations such as these really did come out, I am certain that my employer, the New York City Department of Education, would fully investigate. I may not even be entitled to hold my job.

Shouldn’t we hold at least this level of standard for members of the Supreme Court?

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