Envy

The fine essayist Joseph Epstein tells a story about going to his high school reunion. As the participants took their seats at the dinner tables, they each found a note left there anonymously.

The note contained a poem:

“It’s not the world. And what I have to say
to those who don’t fit in is, don’t despair.
The best jock of my time now has a bay
window, an ugly wife, almost no hair
and sells used cars and probably is gay.
So is the cutest girl, that cheerleader.
I do not mock their choice of what lust is
But note only there is some kind of justice.”

gericault-envy-100x125The anecdote is from Epstein’s “The Crime of a Happy Childhood,” in his The Middle of My Tether. The picture at right is Gericault’s Envy.

Two observations:

What does it say of someone for whom high school self-doubts and social slights are still so strong decades later? Strong enough that he puts in the effort to write a skillful poem about them, again decades later. And strong enough that he wants to inflict the poem on other people during their celebration. Darkly interesting psychological territory there.

Note the last word of the poem: justice. The loss of hair, the disappointing marriage, the unsavory job, the fading of beauty — those constitute “justice.” “Justice” here means bringing the better down. Darkly interesting (un)ethical territory there.