We’re having the best weather anybody ever had, crisp and clear with lots of sunshine to bring out the beauty of the fall foliage. New England looks radiant like a three dimensional Maxfield Parrish painting.
I’m enjoying my scooter rides through the countryside, but the enjoyment is tinged with sorrow. As I putter through the scenic splendor, I’m thinking of a poor old man going to prison. Don’t get me wrong — putting anyone in prison is a terrible thing. But us old guys don’t have that many radiant autumns left, and I think perhaps we savor them a bit more thoroughly than the young folks do.
My friend Walter is going to prison. I’ve known him since we were thirteen years old. He and I were expelled from a prestigious New England preparatory school three weeks before graduation.
We don’t know how long yet. He’s had a long adventure with the Alice in Wonderland justice system, and now that he’s been convicted of theft, the judge is allowing him to have an accounting firm look into the facts of the case. Isn’t that nice? Walter has to pay for it, of course. That’s in keeping with the presumption of guilt enshrined in our consitution.
For thirty years Walter was the head trustee, or whatever they call it, of a fraternity in New York, and as part of an organization where all the executive power is in the hands of the undergraduate members, he tried to rein in the profligate spending which had driven the organization into insolvency on numerous occasions, and along with other alumni, he had bailed them out with tens of thousands of dollars of his own money.
Since the nominal treasurer lived in California and attended one or two meetings a year, Walter was the only one handling the business of the fraternity. When bills came due, he often paid them and reimbursed himself when rents and fees were collected from the members.
Then all the financial records and minutes of the organization mysteriously disappeared, except of course for those that were needed to prove theft. There’s an odor of intense malice here, and it seems clear that Walter had reallly pissed somebody off, and, knowing him, much as I love him, I can see how that might happen. He’s willful and stubborn and not bashful about standing up for what he thinks is right.
I wasn’t there, but I can picture him calmly and politely pissing off the judge. First he defends himself, which judges hate. Then he waives a jury trial, when a jury would have examined the facts of the case, as I did, and, like me, become confused. Clearly he made a hash of his defense
Walter is at heart a distinguished old Southern gentleman. These charges were an affront to his honor after all his years of service, and he probably felt it was beneath his dignity to answer them.
I met Walter Tuesday at Grand Central Station, and he seems to be taking it all with grace and good humor, but I’m not. I’ very sad and I’m growing angrier by the minute. These people have had things their own way so far, because Walter is polite and courteous to a fault. But I don’t have that problem. I’m a seasoned political infighter, I’m mad as hell, and I’m working on a letter to the Times.
Walter’s going to win his appeal and sue these sons of bitches. And you’re all invited to come sip champagne with us when he takes possession of their chapter house.