Havre de Grace. -- AUniversity of Pennsylvania freshman got into real trouble because he publicly compared a clutter of carousing sorority sisters to water buffalo. But there is a happy side to this otherwise somber tale of our contentious times.
Though the ladies were affronted, the water buffalo, whose cause for indignation is surely as great or greater, have remained stolidly unperturbed. There has not been so much as a grunt, let alone a bellow. No ungulate caucus has been formed. No writ-waving attorney from the animal-rights movement has appeared, demanding treble damages on behalf of all cloven-hoofed creatures.
This may be only a case of missed opportunity, but I prefer to think of it as an inspiring example. If animals can ignore the utterances of a freshman, no matter how peevish or provocative, perhaps the rest of us can learn to brush off other slights.
The next time your race, religion, creed, national origin, gender, species, favorite food or sexual preference comes in for criticism, you might reflect upon the water buffalo. Consider his thick skin, his inscrutable Eastern calm. You should feel an upwelling of inner peace, and your desire to file a lawsuit or sic the attitudinal gestapo on your enemies should melt away.
Water buffalo symbolize not only peace, but strength and patience too. In many cases they make better company than University of Pennsylvania students. But I have to admit that when I think about them it sometimes makes me hungry.
This is because of a personal problem I trace to my childhood. I have tried to deal with it through counseling, encounter groups and a therapeutic immersion in afternoon television, but it's still an embarrassment and a social handicap.
I eat meat. Not only do I eat it, I like it. And all around me are people who think that I shouldn't.
In a world increasingly dominated by carrot-chompers, I often found myself ill at ease and on edge because of what the modern world sees as my perversion. Polite society tolerates me, but I know it does not approve. The last time I ordered a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, the waitress winked knowingly at me. "I didn't ask to become a carnivore," I wanted to shriek at her, "I was born this way."
The ultimate humiliation came when I received a phone call from Washington. "If it's true that you're dietetically challenged," said the caller, "I'm authorized to ask if you're interested in a job with the Clinton administration." Obviously, she wanted me to help fill a quota, and I panicked. No, no, I lied. I pretty much stick to alfalfa sprouts like everybody else.
It's comforting to know, however, that I'm not alone. There are others who share my outlandish desires, and all of us know places where we can go in order to find satisfaction. The authorities keep trying to close them down, but politically we swing a lot of weight, and we've won some small victories recently.
You've heard of McDonald's? My kind has gone there for years, but then the carniphobes tried to get us removed. At first it was subtle. First there was a salad bar, then something called the McLean Deluxe, a sandwich made with seaweed. Clearly, this was a deliberate step toward a vegetables-only policy. Disempowerment stared us in the face.
But now look what's happened! We stood up for our rights, and we have overcome. We who were downtrodden can now enter beneath the golden arches with pride. Pass the steak sauce, brothers and sisters. Let us walk in the sunshine together and gather around the barbecue.
At Burger King, which also toyed with nutritional totalitarianism, the chairman says customer reaction to oppressively good-for-you menus is pretty clear. "They're saying, 'Thanks for the choice. Whopper and fries please,' " he explains.
At McDonald's, they've started calling the McLean the McFlopper. Meat and grease are making a spirited comeback. )) President Clinton, whose health policy seems to be do-what-Hillary-says rather than do-what-I-do, is sending clear signals by his own eating habits that there's a place for us in his rainbow coalition. Jeremy Rifkin's book "Beyond Beef" has bombed.
These developments have returned a certain equanimity to America. They have helped make it easier for some of us who are a little bit out of the mainstream to tolerate the frictions that go with life in a diverse society.
Now, when I sit in McDonald's with bloody juice from my Mega Mac dribbling down my chin, I don't mind as much when the person in the next booth looks up from her garden salad and hisses at me because of what I choose to eat. I realize my likes and dislikes are in my genes, and I smile tranquilly back at her, while in my mind's eye I picture a water buffalo.
Peter Jay's column appears here each week.