Okay, so the recent story at my home institution has been about the resignation of the university president, as he was having an affair with a faculty member. Now, it's no secret that I wasn't exactly the biggest fan of Bill Merwin (and I really could care less about his extracurricular activity), but it truly was a sad set of circumstances. The public humiliation and the personal tragedy are painful enough.
Of course, the really strange part of the story was how he chose to reveal this episode, before what amounted to a press conference, before some 300 staff, faculty, and students. I did not attend. There was so much theater to it, almost a staged tragedy, but it certainly had more Oprah than Othello to it. Here was a public confessional, entirely scripted to follow a vaguely Christian model (repentance, but a vow to seek counseling), but which was obviously overlayed with damage management scripture: own up to wrong, protect the board, and give no room for furture action. It was breathtaking as a spectacle.
And now the case of Lisa Marie Nowak, the astronaut-on-a-mission who was arrested on attempted murder charges (there's absolutely no subtlety to Florida) in Orlando in her attempt to confront a perceived rival in her affections for Major Nelson--we do remember that Jeannie did have an evil twin. For anyone who's read Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff, it is hardly surprising to read about an astronaut packing a bb gun, some rubber tubing, a steel mallet, a couple of wigs, mace, and NASA-issued Depends and drive some 900 miles to deliver an ass-whooping to a romantic rival. Of course, everyone loves that detail about the diapers. Here was a test pilot, probably factoring to the minute of getting to the Orlando International Airport, traveling at no more than 5 miles per hour above the speed limit, and then calculating she'd have no time for rest stops.
What a model of determination, but more importantly, how did she manage to feed that anger, as she would be driving through Mobile, through that beautiful stretch of woods west of Tallahassee, and then through that awful strangulation of interstates and motels in Orlando, how she didn't just say "fuck it," and take the off ramp to Cedar Key or Wakulla Springs? And so I came across the Lisa Nowak Interview with the Ladies Home Journal, surely the first time I've actually visited the LHJ web site. There, she talks about applying six times for admission into the test pilot training program. Talk about having the right stuff. Now that's the kind of woman I want to have accompanying Bruce Willis to blow up an incoming asteroid.
The latest word is that NASA is now re-evaluating its own psychological review of astronauts. Is it possible, I wonder, to neuter these adrenaline-dependent fly-boys and fly-girls and still have them so driven to be gonzo academics and test pilots, to be self-proclaimed "robo-chicks"? Is there no room for Ripley?