Thursday, April 24, 2008

Red With Envy

When I say MacaroniManiac was flipping through the red book what comes to mind?

1. A magazine for women, known for hard-hitting articles like "Hot Husbands" and "Is Your Hair Healthy?"

2. A handbook of Chairman Mao's political theorizing, known for such vaguely smutty chapters as "Relations Between Officers and Men" and "Self-Reliance and Arduous Struggle"

3. A slang term for menstruation as coined by me and Jackie LePore when we were in fifth grade, right after they showed that education film that was really a softcore ad for Kotex in the school cafeteria

Heavens no! There is a red book even more prone to confusing domestic inanity for news, more likely to incite class warfare, and more apt to induce mood swings than any of those red books.

It's the Harvard Red Book!

Ever wonder what makes this Ivy League luminary so prestigious?

That would be the 35 billion-with-a-b dollar endowment. That's bigger-with-a-b than the GDP of any number of third world nations.

Why does Harvard have so much money? Because it knows how to translate the petty insecurities and not so petty egos of its alumni into major donations.

And just like Mao, they rely on both a red book, and a five year plan (this seems a better cycle than the monthly options of the magazine and menstrual red book options).

So five years after you graduate from Harvard, you are invited to send in a report on what you've been up to. As long as you want. About whatever you want. The reports are compiled into a book, bound with a nice red cover, and sent to everyone in the class. Giving you ample opportunity to compare yourself to everyone else and decide that either 1) you are way more successful than the rest of the classmates and better make a big gift to Harvard to prove it or 2) you are not as successful as the rest of the classmates and better make a big gift to Harvard to compensate for it.

The process is repeated every five years. The volumes get thicker and thicker, until sufficient numbers of the class start dying out. I guess by the end it's just a red pamphlet. Or maybe a red post card.

But until then, the result is the best bathroom reading in the whole world. So if I've been lax in updating the blog, perhaps it because my squeeze the cheese just got his Twenty Year Reunion Red Book, and I have been reading up on his classmates.

Of course the challenge for any red bookie is to write the best entry in the class. Bear in mind, nobody fact-checks these puppies. Your bulldyke best buddy can now purportedly be married to some guy who's career military. Someone who is a graduate student by day can allegedly be lead singer in a punk thrash band by night.

I wrote an excellent entry on behalf of Little Orphan Annie for our 15th Reunion Red Book. All it said was I came out of retirement to fight the champ.

Sometimes it's hard to tell whether the entries are jokes or not. That guy my friend Judy had a crush on but could never get to commit - is he really now a she? Was there really someone who was studying for the priesthood while we were undergraduates - and is he really now not only out of the clergy but out of the closet as well? And did my friend Aaron give up on Orthodox Judaism to, as he put it, join the Godless Conservative movement? (And if so, does that mean I won't have to eat that tasteless rennet-free cheese next time I score some M&C at his place?)

But by far the best entries are the ones read in retrospect. Because whatever else you recycle, NEVER part with your red books. You never know who in your class will end up famous. Or infamous.

I have a friend whose dad was in the same graduating class as Theodore Kaczynski.
Imagine the entries:
Fifth Year Reunion: Brilliant mathematics graduate student
Ten Year Reunion: Promising assistant professors
Fifteenth Year Reunion: Starting to sound like a whacko
Twentieth Year Reunion, Twenty-Fifth Reunion, Thirtieth Reunion: Address unknown
Thirty-Fifth Reunion: Home Address: Florence Federal Corrections Complex 5880 Highway 67, Florence, Colorado

One can assume the Harvard development office is very, very cautious when they open the envelope he sends in with his "donation" for the endowment.

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