A couple of months ago, during a contentious Senate hearing over a nominee to the Supreme Court, I not particularly subtly voiced my concern about relying on imperfect memories of events that happened 30 or 40 years ago. Now that tempers have cooled slightly, I’d like to expand a little on why I came down where I did… and for the record it’s not because I think then nominee Kavanaugh was going to be the best Supreme Court Justice ever. It has everything to do with memory and how perception of distant experiences and events could wildly differ over time.
To start let me take you back to the long ago years of the middle 1990s. Every fall from 1992 through 1996 I and my nearest and dearest friends spent every Saturday crammed onto school buses often traveling for hours to the nearest marching band competition. Marching band has a sometimes well earned reputation as a shelter for geeks, nerds, and misfits. It also has a more concealed seedier side. Tell any former band geek a story prefaced with “this one time at band camp” and most of us will give you a knowing smirk.
You see the dirty little secret of marching band, at least back then, was that it could be an absolute den of depravity and what some segments of the population might be tempted to describe as “immoral conduct.” Now I’m not in any way admitting that I myself participated in any of this questionable conduct, but in close quarters, on a dark bus full of hormone-fueled teenagers crossing a hundred miles late into the night, things sometimes happen beneath the protective cover of a large blanket. There were a lot of first experiences on those long, late bus rides.
Then there were the parties. Compared to today, they feel like something incredibly tame. As far as I know there wasn’t even booze or drugs at any of these parties – though there were a few sub sets of the group where that, too, could be had if you wanted it. Mainly our parties were a grand excuse to shove two giggling teenagers into a closet together for 7 minutes and then wrench the door open hoping to catch them “having a moment.” There was old school spin the bottle, regular semi-clothed cuddle puddles, and many, many “long walks in the woods on a moonlit evening” to pass the time.
It was the kind of rampant teenage b movie sexuality that Gilbert Gottfried use to host on USA’s Up All Night on weekend late nights. To the best of my knowledge everything that ever happened during our parties was completely consensual between all combinations of willing participants. The catch, of course, is that all this happened 20+ years ago. Maybe that’s not how everyone remembers those days. Memory is an imperfect instrument and with every year its rough edges get worn down even smoother. If someone from that long ago past rose up today and said it wasn’t, I don’t have any idea how one might defend himself from the accusation, particularly if the accusation itself is enough to establish a presumption of guilt.
So, you ask me why I was vocal in defending someone from 30+ year old accusations? It’s because it very easily could have been me or any number of people I know being pilloried in the press for activities that no one so much as looked at askance way back in the prehistoric days when they happened.