How's Bayou? Rhodes squalor
In moments of introspection, I sometimes wonder if Cecil Rhodes, founder of the Rhodes Scholarships, would consider running Madewood “doing the world’s work,” his encomium to the young men (and, now, women) who would benefit from his generosity. Generally, I feel like a character in the British sitcoms Fawlty Towers and Keeping Up Appearances, rather than a captain of industry or leader of the people.
I leave that up to classmates such as Bill Clinton, Berkeley professor and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, and others who have accepted the challenge; I’ve cast my lot with the likes of non-Rhodes-Scholar Today Show host Matt Lauer, whose dream, he once proclaimed, is to run a bed and breakfast so he’ll have lots of time to go fishing. In some parallel universe, without discriminating guests and leaky faucets, I presume.
Most Rhodents sincerely believe that the only reason they were chosen is because there was a poor crop of candidates that year, a version of Jane Pauley's “Imposter Syndrome.” Mississippi writer Willie Morris, a Rhodes Scholar, confirmed this primal academic paranoia in an article in Parade magazine, in which he expressed amazement that he’d been chosen.
Millie and I once stumbled on scholar Kris Kristofferson with his two infant daughters, both stark naked, in a checkout line at a rickety general store on an obscure beach on the island of Maui. Millie had attended college at Florida State with his ex-wife, Rita Coolidge, back in the days when Rita wore madras and Bass Weejuns -- before discovering her inner Native American.
Years before, Millie had interviewed Coolidge when she appeared at the Blue Room of New Orleans’s Roosevelt Hotel.
“If the interview is going badly,” I suggested, “just look at her and sigh, ‘Ain’t it hell being married to a Rhodes Scholar?’”
That evening, as Coolidge moved toward the conclusion of the song “You smile so bright,” she strolled over to where Millie and I sat and purred, looking straight at me, “An’ baby, you’re so smart, you know you coulda been a schoolbook.”
We didn’t stroll over that day on Maui and tell Kris about this.
Almost since day one, conspiracy theorists have concluded that Rhodes Scholars are all in league to place the United States under a one-world government. In 1993, Millie and I attended a reunion of North American Scholars, and Clinton, then President, invited our class to breakfast in the Rose Garden of the White House.
Millie was intrigued with the ID cards: two identical name tags with strings connecting the tops on either side so that they hung over your shoulders, one facing forward, one back, so someone could read your name while approaching you from behind.
Years later, a debunker of the conspiracy theory cited this clever social-gathering innovation to discredit the theory-mongers: “If they were planning to take over the world,” he wrote,” don’t you think they’d at least know each other’s names?”
On his last day in office, I decided to e-mail Clinton an invitation to visit us at Our Big White House, out of which we could not be voted. I carefully typed in whitehouse.com and was amazed to hear through the speakers, something on the order of, “If you’re looking for fun, big boy, my white house is the place. Just $9.99 per minute.”
Fearing I’d reached Monica Lewinsky or the Mayflower Madam by mistake, I quickly disconnected and typed in whitehouse.GOV.
Just over a year ago, Millie and I attended the annual Rhodes “sailing weekend” at the exclusive Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C., the first since I sailed with my class to England in 1968 on one of the last voyages on the SS United States. When anyone got seasick, I recall, you could count on that nice boy from Arkansas, Bill, to show up at your cabin door with soup and crackers.
The Warden of Rhodes House began by saying the whole event was a perfect introduction to how Oxford works, as it took place on a weekday, and everyone was leaving for London the following day by plane.
Housed in a Beaux-Arts mansion on Massachusetts Avenue, the Cosmos is coy about its membership and almost bashful about their celebrity. The discreet brass plates under the portraits of illustrious former members, though not Rhodes Scholars, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover identify them, if I remember correctly, as “Adventurer,” “Social Philosopher” and “Engineer.” It would be so tacky to acknowledge their stints as President of the United States.
In the summers between undergraduate years, I played, traveled and worked on the restoration of Madewood. Of course, it wasn’t all frivolous. When Fortune Jaubert and I hopped in my car and drove to Destin to the strains of the Beach Boys’ hit “Round, round get around. I get around,” little did we know that we’d be stretching the boundaries of physics as we struggled to get the car, stuck with wheels spinning, out of a sandbank.
This year’s scholars, to quote the newsletter, have spent their down time, for example, writing and evaluating “a menstrual health and hygiene education curriculum” for community health organizers in Rwanda, or “attempting to usher in an entirely new paradigm of information processing technology where the hardware components and software algorithms are fundamentally dependent on recent advances in our ability to understand and manipulate quantum physics.” Huh?
It’s a relief to know that the scholar who has spent summers in Uganda, India and Mali, performing God-knows-what significant service to mankind, also enjoys cooking, writing, photography and woodworking. But wait: She’s a skilled craftsman of Shaker and Mission-style furniture on top of it all.
Does it ever end? I wouldn’t even be summoned for an initial interview these days.
I think I’ll have to cast my lot with Matt Lauer, bolstered by the 17th-century British writer, Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler, who wrote:
“Oh, the gallant fisher’s life / It is the best of any. / ‘Tis full of pleasure, void of strife, / And ‘tis beloved of many.”
And, as far as” doing the world’s work” goes, let us not forget the biblical encomium: "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” How’s that for doing good works, Cecil?
Ah, Matt, buddy – could it get any better than this?
How's Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now juggles his time between Dixie Art Supplies in New Orleans and Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.
How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.