My college years, Brett Kavanaugh, beer, misbehavior and ‘Animal House’

This is about men. This is about Brett Kavanaugh. This is about beer. This is about judgment, or a lack of it. This is about temperament. This is about honesty. This is about privilege and college and the moral compass or gyroscope that keeps polite society functional. This is about different times in our history, the outdated and discredited notion that “boys will be boys”  and the acknowledgement that things change and that often the change is for the better. Oddly enough, this is also about the movie “Animal House.”

And yeah, it’s about me.

Like millions of Americans last week I watched about all I could stomach of the tawdry display that played out before the U.S. Senate regarding the Supreme Court nomination of Kavanaugh, a matter that was placed in jeopardy by allegations from women who knew him years ago that he sexually assaulted them. The women who have come forward so far also allege that Kavanaugh was typically intoxicated when these long ago incidents occurred. In some or all cases, way intoxicated.

Not much new about high school or college students drinking to excess. But sexual assault / date rape drunk or sober was wrong in 1782, 1882 and yes, even in the promiscuous era that encompassed 1982 — not to mention 1992, 2002, 2012 and, well, you get the general idea. Wrong is always wrong. The word “no” has always meant “no.” It can be interpreted no other way. At least to me anyway. There is nothing mixed in the message.

Christine Blasey Ford testified credibly on Thursday that she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh in 1982 when both were teenagers. Dr. Ford is now a professor at Palo Alto University in California and a research psychologist at Stanford University. Her testimony, and Kavanaugh’s agitated and in my thinking overly vociferous and politically partisan response during his testimony combined with an outpouring of emotion from women across the nation and a letter from the president of the American Bar Association led a couple of senators to seek a delay in the vote to confirm Kavanaugh pending an FBI overview of the allegations. It was the right move.

Much of the testimony last week focused on Kavanaugh’s drinking habits. The word “beer” was used more times in that afternoon hearing than in perhaps the entire history of U.S. Senate hearings combined. Kavanaugh admitted he liked beer. Liked it a lot. But he vehemently denied that he has ever sexually assaulted anyone, ever. He protested the allegation loudly and with the kind of emotion not usually seen among those who don the judicial robes — people chosen to be measured, precise, perceptive, non-political and balanced. Anger is not unexpected in that situation but this was a meltdown. He was belligerent — remember that word because it will come up later. He seemed unhinged under pressure. None of those things are qualities one likes to see in a job applicant basically interviewing for a lifetime position on the Supreme Court. He protested a little too much.

judge ethics

Because the assault allegations are almost impossible to prove or disprove at this point in history, my thoughts keep coming back to Kavanaugh’s drinking habits, mainly because of my own at about that period of time in American campus culture. His fondness for beer certainly shouldn’t disqualify him from appointment to the High Court — after all, this all occurred decades ago. But certain things he says don’t add up. He maintains, for example, that he could drink legally in 1982. But the legal drinking age at that time was 21 and he was merely 17. He also says he drank quite a bit but never blacked out and always recalled what he had done while under the influence. If he truly did drink a lot, this is a highly questionable. I simply don’t buy it. So while he drank a lot 30-plus years ago, he’s seemingly lying about it right now. And if he would lie about this, what else is he dishonest about?

I spent a lot of time over the weekend thinking about what transpired last week, the #metoo movement, political correctness, beer, my own college experiences and, yes, the movie “Animal House,” which was released between my freshman and sophomore years in college. “Animal House” informed my college experience and defined it for others over the next several years — including the years Brett Kavanaugh attended Yale University. It’s interesting to note at this point that “Animal House” was a National Lampoon production, written and produced by largely Harvard University graduates — another Ivy League school.

“Animal House” was meant to be a satire of college life but way too many people took it to be a de facto guide for how life should be conducted on a college campus. Today it’s viewed by younger audiences as out of date, misogynistic and politically incorrect. It is all of those things. In parts, it’s still very funny, too.

Starting in 1978, the things that happened at fictional “Faber College”, where “knowledge is good,” visibly unfolded on campuses across the nation. I attended more than a couple of toga parties, engaged in a food fight or two, vandalism was not uncommon, we made one or two road trips and drank excessive amounts of beer. What I believe I never did was take advantage of a girl who was too drunk, I never spied on girls as they were changing clothes, never committed date rape and I never participated in any event that led to the death of a horse. Can I be 100 percent certain? Damn I hope so. But there was a lot of beer.

The college I attended my first two years was a small private campus where alcohol was forbidden. It was a rule regularly broken every single night. During the annual spring festival we flouted the rule by moving 40 kegs of beer through the first floor windows of my room and that of my neighbor and serving the campus through our dorm suite. A lot of that day is a blur, needless to say.

So yeah, we drank too much beer — occasionally way, way too much. I was never a belligerent drinker. It was always my aim to stay out of disputes. Sometimes I didn’t remember all that occurred the night before. But a few things I know from my own experiences. Too many young guys to count are hoping every night to talk / beg / coerce a girl into having sex. There were two kinds of guys in this regard: The ones who failed to listen when the girl said “no” and kept going anyway; and, the ones who stopped immediately, apologized for overstepping their bounds and then went home trying to figure out why they were turned down. I was in the latter group — an under-confident dweeb wearing glasses thick enough to repel a Cruise missile who probably would never leave his dorm room if beer had not been invented. I also thought it wrong to put a woman in such a position. I still do and always will.

Throughout my college years I often left the party or scene when I didn’t like the direction a night was taking. If some of the more belligerent drinkers — and many of of them were either current or former athletes — were shifting into that mode where they harassed the girls, sang crude songs or made coarse remarks, I would shake my head and say, “I’m outta here.” I’m not talking about profanity, I’m talking about vulgar statements about women or parts of their anatomy. I’m talking about lockerroom culture. I was never comfortable in lockerrooms as a player and later as a sports writer. Bad things are said and done there. I was raised by people who believed in good manners above almost anything else. I was also raised by people who never attended a party of the rugby team. I stopped going to those as well.

One image keeps coming back to me. I have never mentioned it in 40 years. One Friday or Saturday night my sophomore year, when the evening was starting to reach its apogee of the bizarre, I walked into a friend’s room. A half-dozen guys wearing only their underwear were sitting around waiting in a makeshift line — supposedly for their turn. In a bed I couldn’t see were apparently people were having intercourse. I caught the eye of one of the guys in line, a member of the football team I knew well. I can still remember this dopey smile he gave me as I backed out of the room. I felt sick.

I”m still ashamed I didn’t say or do something. But even today I have no clear idea of what I might have said or done to make it stop. I failed to stand up while something blatantly wrong was going on. In retrospect, it doesn’t matter if the girl was a willing participant. I have no idea if she was or wasn’t. The room itself was oddly quiet. I get queasy just writing about it. This was my brush with true depravity and I failed.

Those were my college years — from 1977 to 1981 and I spent some time on campuses in 1982 and ’83 visiting friends. The cavalier and hard-drinking atmosphere was entrenched. And certain guys still felt they could do whatever they wanted when it came to women. Sadly, that’s never changed, which is what we learn through the #metoo movement. Men today are paying a price for their transgressions of years ago, things that were largely overlooked by other men who held all the cards in a rigged game against women. I’m glad such things are not acceptable anymore. I say this knowing that I have periods in my past I don’t clearly remember. Did I say the wrong thing, put my hands in the wrong place or conduct myself in an ungentlemanly manner during those times? I don’t think so, not at all. But can I be 100 percent sure? No.

Whatever happened between Brett Kavanaugh and his growing list of accusers will never be completely known. But in my mind there is little doubt that Kavanaugh was an entitled Ivy League frat-boy who drank way too much and probably has no clear idea of what he may or may not have done while in that condition. Clearly his own notes reveal a troubling penchant for coarse thoughts and behavior.  This was backed up by a former male classmate at Yale who released a statement Sunday night. Charles “Chad” Ludington is now a professor at N.C. State. The News & Observer of Raleigh and New York Times both had items about it. 

Here is the full text of Ludington’s statement. It’s troubling if true.

I have been contacted by numerous reporters about Brett Kavanaugh and have not wanted to say anything because I had nothing to contribute about what kind of justice he would be. I knew Brett at Yale because I was a classmate and a varsity basketball player and Brett enjoyed socializing with athletes. Indeed, athletes formed the core of Brett’s social circle.

In recent days I have become deeply troubled by what has been a blatant mischaracterization by Brett himself of his drinking at Yale. When I watched Brett and his wife being interviewed on Fox News on Monday, and when I watched Brett deliver his testimony under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, I cringed. For the fact is, at Yale, and I can speak to no other times, Brett was a frequent drinker, and a heavy drinker. I know, because, especially in our first two years of college, I often drank with him. On many occasions I heard Brett slur his words and saw him staggering from alcohol consumption, not all of which was beer. When Brett got drunk, he was often belligerent and aggressive. On one of the last occasions I purposely socialized with Brett, I witnessed him respond to a semi-hostile remark, not by defusing the situation, but by throwing his beer in the man’s face and starting a fight that ended with one of our mutual friends in jail.

I do not believe that the heavy drinking or even loutish behavior of an 18- or even 21-year-old should condemn a person for the rest of his life. I would be a hypocrite to think so. However, I have direct and repeated knowledge about his drinking and his disposition while drunk. And I do believe that Brett’s actions as a 53-year-old federal judge matter. If he lied about his past actions on national television, and more especially while speaking under oath in front of the United States Senate, I believe those lies should have consequences. It is truth that is at stake, and I believe that the ability to speak the truth, even when it does not reflect well upon oneself, is a paramount quality we seek in our nation’s most powerful judges.

Politics aside, the final paragraph expresses my thoughts about what we know so far. What a high school or college student may have done decades ago is one thing, lying about it to get on the Supreme Court is another. As someone not affiliated with either major party I believe it’s time for Republicans to find a more suitable nominee.





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