Just me and 1500 or so of my closest friends. Sorta like Facebook without the advertising. All equally wired (or so I’d have to assume by all the shallow breathing and the guy retching three rows over and four seats down). All waiting for the starting gun (‘no thanks, I’ll do it without the blindfold — just let me finish my cig!’) that would signal permission to turn the package face up. All hoping that the sleepless, caffeine-stoked night would have crammed in enough knowledge (?) to eke out a ‘C’. Late April in Thames Hall quadzillion-court gymnasium that would be home to us all for the next three hours. Unless writer’s cramp and/or just having (absolutely) nothing more to say got to us first. Exam week at UWO, 1964.
I had high hopes for the vice presidential ‘debate’ this week. DJT had earlier sufficiently embarrassed himself that even the newsfeeds that could be counted on to find a silver lining were characterizing the performance in less than flattering terms. Biden had apparently registered a victory (of sorts) just by remaining upright and (largely) respectful — the ‘just shut up, man’ aside. The exchange between the VP and VP hopeful promised to be a lopsided, fish in a barrel exercise. Kamala Harris had shown herself composed, accessible, well equipped to think on her feet, and with a huge arsenal of material, mostly gifts from the current administration’s four year record — and daily, jaw-dropping updates. Her opponent, not known for his snappy one-liners and twinkling repartee, would be easy prey.
The proctor gave us the ten-second countdown. The breathing went from shallow to nothing. The guy over there threw up. And it was time.
CNN’s Susan Page welcomes us to ‘the first and only vice presiential abate (?)’ — very likely the clearest utterance of the evening — and introduces the principles. Kamala Harris shuffles her feet uncertainly, offers a muffled acknowledgment and head nod to ‘Mr. Vice President’ and both dutifully take their places, twelve feet distanced from each other, behind what some have called the ‘Pence Fence’. And the stage is set.
Before trudging up UC Hill that cool, Spring morning, I’d stacked the novels we’d been expected to read in the preceding four months. When the pile reached three feet, it collapsed, metaphorically making its point and foreshadowing things to come — evidently I’d grasped a few terms that I (faintly) hoped would come in handy in the day’s task.
Ms. Page ‘sternly’ states that there are agreed upon ground rules and that she’s present to enforce them — hoping I expect to head off another train wreck of disrespect, over talking, and generally ignoring of debate etiquette. She reiterates the need to observe time allotments, despite one’s ‘compelling need’ to finish a point — allowing us to move on to the next topic. Hmm? And then launches into the first question of what a Biden administration would do about the Covid-19 pandemic that a Trump administration wouldn’t do. Kamala starts with an indictment: ‘the greatest failure of an administration in the history of our country’. That, ladies and germs — to remain with the theme, was the highpoint of the evening.
Compare and contrast the protagonists of one of the following pairs of novels: Madame Bovary / The Scarlet Letter; Joseph Andrews / Don Quixote; Wuthering Heights / Emma. OK. So I’d actually read the big, red ‘A’ book, but hadn’t quite gotten around to Flaubert. Henry Fielding had (very helpfully) written short chapters with little summaries as headers — so I had a loose idea of JA’s adventures, but Cervantes was just too thick. Heathcliffe, Catherine . . . tough call. And I’d only managed to find the Coles Notes on P and P — so Emma was going to be a stretch.
Evening in Salt Lake City continues. Direct questions of moment were asked. . . and not answered. Opportunities to score a hit, a very palpable hit, were missed, fumbled, and generally ignored. The ‘rules of engagement’ may as well not have been stated, as Ms. Page struggled to contain the protracted boilerplate that passed for a response. The abiding maxim for the night: just keep talking, and talking, and . . . until there’s nothing of any import left to say — having said nothing of any import to that point.
When in doubt, or in the absence of anything substantive to say . . . just write, and write, and. . . Maybe I’ll get lucky and tick a couple of boxes. Volume counts, right? Four pages on Hester and, at a guess Madame B must have been the heroine. Hell her name’s in the title. So a little baffling with a couple of paragraphs of BS on the latter — both die, right? Always a safe assumption.
I got my ‘C’. God knows how. Guess half of something must count in the prof’s eyes. More likely he just got tired of reading and assigned a grade that would ensure I didn’t end up in another of his courses. As for the debate, same result. No winners, no losers, no. . . nuthin’. In fact, a whole lot of nuthin’.