This is a story about Aaron. Aaron was – and probably still is - perfectly brilliant. He's written a lot of books, is quoted widely and was, many years back, a finalist for a MacArthur Grant. Aaron also was - and probably still is - a perfect asshole. Brilliance and assholeness do seem apt bedfellows for a lot of people. None hold a candle to Aaron's particularly inspired synthesis of the two traits.
Aaron was a colleague of mine at the college. I liked him a lot. He had an infectious wit, a wonderfully foul mouth and complete disdain for anyone insufficiently humbled by his massive intellect. Of course, this is rarely a winning strategy for making friends and influencing people in an academic setting. Just the opposite in fact. Few professors at the college were more loathed by their colleagues than was Aaron - nor none more beloved by their students. The students made him Teacher of the Year numerous times, a citation that provoked ever more snarky grumblings from the remainder of the faculty.
He taught in the Department of Forestry and specialized in Landscape Design, but he really wasn't a tree and shrub guy. He was instead a theorist, interested the ways in which the world assembles itself. The landscape was simply the platform off which he worked, dissecting the political, ethnic and social structure of civilization as manifested in its mappings of land. He could read a map and elicit from it more accurate readings of unjustified privilege and ill-gotten gain than could a hundred learned scholars of economics, sociology or politics.
I don't know why Aaron tolerated me. I certainly couldn't fly in the rarified air of his theoretical musings. I think he just liked having me be part of his small, adoring entourage. The others and I were merely a good foil for reflecting his genius back upon himself.
Every month, the school would hold an all-faculty meeting in the auditorium. This event is roughly equivalent to caging 75 disparately starving hyenas into a small enclosure and then throwing them a single slab of fresh red meat. The slab of meat generally walked into the room impersonating our dean. The only person disliked more than Aaron in the college was the dean. The dean wasn't such a bad guy but he regularly got chewed up about everything by everybody: bitches about the budget, the class schedule, the students, the parking and the lousy coffee in the faculty lounge. It's a privilege of the position.
An aside is the old story about why arguments in academia are so viscous. IT'S BECAUSE THE ISSUES ARE ALWAYS SO TRIVIAL!
Anyway, Aaron loved these meetings because it was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that he was the smartest guy in the room. And why not? He was.
First, some near-emeritus fart of a professor would get up and make a rambling 15 minute bitch about some aspect of the school's administration. Aaron would pop up and utter three concisely composed, extemporaneous sentences that would fully demolish each of the speaker's salient points and then, in a not terribly subtle manner, suggest the speaker was at minimum a blathering idiot, a habitual fop and little more relevant than a wad of used chewing gum, all while still managing to simultaneously harpoon the dean. A hat trick as far as academic rhetoric goes.
Aaron could do this all day long. And did. To everyone. Small wonder everybody hated him and generally had the long knives drawn, waiting for the one moment when he might slip up. As it turned out, that moment was at hand, occuring about two weeks after I got drunk, fell out of my office window and broke my back.
Naturally, for 14 days, my little escapade was the talk of the college. I only learned this later. At the time I was pretty pumped up on morphine and feeling absolutely no pain. Then, two weeks after my fall, Aaron was picked up by the police for indecency. Turns out, he'd been sexually molesting his adopted adolescent son. (Hey, I didn't say he wasn't screwed up. I just said he was brilliant). Suddenly, everybody at the college forgot all about my little indiscretion.
Aaron got five years in prison, served two or three, lost his tenured appointment and was banished from campus forever. I would see him from time to time, riding around town on his bike. He got a job cataloging journals in a used bookstore. The proprietor let him live upstairs because no one else would rent him an apartment. Apparently, he continued to write books, but he had essentially become persona non grata as far as his former academic colleagues were concerned. I was one of the few people from the old days who would even still talk to him.
One day, I ran into him in the coffee shop. I couldn't help myself. I said, "Aaron, I owe you a great debt of gratitude. The college faculty was NEVER going to forget what I did, until you did what you did. Thank you so very much for that."
He so laughed at this. He just laughed his frigging butt off.
So, that's the Aaron’s story. He seems to have come out of it all pretty well, considering he's a convicted felon. I would also note, he's exceedingly forthright about his past history, which he posted on line. It takes some real stones to write about what he did and then publish it for the world to view. But that's Aaron all over. Always the truth, no matter how damaging it might be, even to himself. I need to look him up sometime.