In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde’s only published novel, the title character is granted his wish for immortality. Despite the passing years, he does not show any physical signs of aging. Meanwhile, his portrait, which he keeps hidden, ages and becomes increasingly disfigured. But while Dorian Gray does not show physical signs of age, his internal disfigurement becomes increasingly problematic, as he secretly engages in worsening acts of lewdness and depravity. After many years of hidden debauchery, he attacks the now hideous portrait, but succeeds only in turning himself instantly into a withered and unrecognizable corpse, while the portrait returns to its original condition.
The novel’s examination of the question of immoral behavior and its impact on the soul captivated readers, and subsequent film versions of the story have done the same for movie buffs. There is even a condition known as Dorian Gary Syndrome, an excessive preoccupation with one’s physical appearance coupled with a fear of or unwillingness to accept aging. In light of recent developments in the political arena, I think the more compelling theme, in terms of applicability to the world as we know it, is the allure of duplicity, the thrill of leading double lives.
An item in today’s New York Post notes that the leading republican candidate for the congressional seat currently held by Vito Fossella is about to receive a judicial appointment. That appointment, should it come through and be accepted, would open up the door for Fossella to run for re-election, something he vowed not to do back in May. The reason he vowed not to run? After being arrested for DUI he subsequently admitted to having an extra-marital affair and fathering a three-year-old child out of wedlock. As for why Mr. Fossella wouldn’t think that having led a double life is an impediment to re-election to Congress, consider Senator John Edwards.
In early August, squeaky-clean John Edwards finally admitted the truth of rumors that had been swirling around his campaign for months. Namely, that while campaigning for the highest office in the land with his devoted, cancer-stricken wife at his side he had been carrying on an affair with a campaign videographer. Although he denies being the father of her new-born baby, there is at least some reason to doubt his sincerity. So why would anyone with such an unblemished image and reputation risk it all for such tawdry goings on? Perhaps we should ask Elliot Spitzer.
New York Governor Elliot Spitzer (aka Client #9) fell farther faster than either Fossella or Edwards, going from the Governor’s mansion to the political outhouse (and his wife’s doghouse) in a matter of days when details of his indiscretions became public knowledge. Yet his sin, hiring a prostitute, may have been the least distressing. (We don’t call the world’s oldest profession for nothing.) What made Spitzer’s fall worse was the fact that he had made his career as the crime-busting, take no prisoners, prosecutor of just these kinds of transgressions. When word got around that the holier than thou crusader was paying $5,000 a night to sleep with a woman only five years older than his eldest daughter, what he received was more than come-uppance. It was up, over, out and goodbye.
Three highly regarded public servants with everything to lose risk it all to experience the thrill of duplicity, and all of them within a period of six months. Three modern day Dorian Grays, composed, respected, and admired on the outside, while their secret sins eat away at their souls. Three people who were one thing on the outside, and something very different on the inside. If we can assume that for every one caught there are plenty more who get away with it, this is truly just the tip of the iceberg. Furthermore, if we see it in public figures we can readily assume that many average citizens, regular folk if you will, who would never be subject to the scrutiny that brought these scandals to light are probably living similarly duplicitous lives.
So there I was at the Clambake party, a Frisbee party that, with its food, drink, games, bands, diversions and indiscretions, is about as impressive a Frisbee party as there is. It is, however, still a Frisbee party, which is why I was looking to get a ride out of there even as I was swallowing my last bite of lobster. Unfortunately, before I was able to secure that ride and get the hell out of Dodge, I found myself in the company of someone whose name I’ve omitted for his own protection.
Now this person, we’ll call him Tim, is a very recognizable figure in our little game. He has made a name for himself as a very successful player, committed organizer, and even authored an expansive collection of strategies. Along the way he has come to be known as polite, intelligent, soft-spoken, and perhaps even a little bit bland, or so I thought. At a Clambake party, that celebrated 20 years of the event with a theme that harkened back even farther, Tim revealed another side of himself, a side that, a la Dorian Gray, he may have been hiding for some time.
Because this guy, the one we’re calling Tim, has some very detailed knowledge of the Hall of Fame selection process, our conversation began there. We started with the usual innocuous comments and insincere pleasantries, but then things turned quickly. For starters, Tim readily revealed the names of the eight finalists for this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, information that, to my knowledge, is not supposed to be discussed so cavalierly. He then offered his opinions on who should and should not be inducted, again a matter of some sensitivity. Finally, in a boast that might’ve come out of Joe Durso, he declared that he should be a first ballot entry into the Hall of Fame because he was, for period of years, the best player in the game, uncoverable, won six titles in a row, AND he wrote a book. I’m not making this up. In case there were any doubt about how he really felt, when given the opportunity to soften his boast, Tim declined, instead repeating it. Twice.
And I thought I was full of myself.
Having finally secured my much desired ride, I left the party wondering which Tim is the real Tim. Is it the guy I’ve known for years, the quiet, sometimes awkward, intelligent and soft-spoken Tim. Or is it the bombastic, presumptuous, self-inflating egomaniac who holds so many of his peers in contempt?
The following day, Clambake Sunday, I arrived for our quarterfinal game still a little undone from the previous night’s encounter, and was approached by a teammate who asked ,”Did you hear about Tim?” He proceeded to tell me a story that was soon corroborated by several others. As the night wore on and the party continued, Tim had gotten so drunk that he fell on his head, not once but twice. Soon reports started rolling in that he was on his team’s sideline vomiting.
Was everything Tim said just drunken rambling? Or did the alcohol, whose effects were less obvious when we spoke than when he walked, acting like a truth serum, bringing his real, honest, heartfelt feelings out in the open? Had he been living a double life all these years, pretending to be one thing but knowing he was another, and did that duplicity and its attendant tension finally push him to do something so outlandish he would never be able to go back to old Tim? Is that what happened to Fossella, Edwards and Spitzer? If so, if it can happen to them and Tim, who’s next?