Oddest of all was a memory, burned deeply if imprecisely
in my mind, of watching "SNL" over twenty years ago, a memory that came
back sharply within hours of the Sept. 11th attacks. It was a Christmas
show, at the end of 1979, and I can't remember the guest host, but the
musical guests included the Whiffenpoofs, the Yale men's choir whose appearance probably foreshadowed the "preppie" revival to come in the new decade.
At the end of the show, after the Yalies, in white ties
and tuxes, had sung a medley of Christmas songs, one of the cast members
-- was it Dan Ackroyd or Billy Murray, or maybe Chevy Chase? -- came out
and announced the breaking news that the Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan.
There was an audible gasp from the crowd, mostly Boomers at that point,
all of whom had vivid childhood memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It
was only six years, really, since the U.S. pullout from Vietnam, a fresher
memory then than the Gulf War is for us, now. They had every reason to
gasp; I know I felt a cold clutch on my fifteen-year old heart. Where,
though, was Afghanistan? I wondered to myself.
"Hey, you think you're scared," quipped Ackroyd/Murray/Chase/whomever, nodding his head behind him to the Whiffenpoofs. "These guys back here are probably gonna be drafted!"
Well, it didn't work out quite that way. The Yalies were
probably unlikely to be drafted, whatever happened, and in any case the
U.S. carried out their part of the Afghan war by proxy, with weapons and
support that have come back to haunt us, as much of the past usually does.
This is the past as it really is, without a trace of comforting nostalgia,
something it's hard to get sentimental about, even in New York.