Happy Birthday, Chuck Vest
Celebrating his birthday Monday is the esteemed president of our fine Institute. I guess he's as esteemed as any major university president who encourages people to call him "Chuck." I feel like Peppermint Patty talking to Charlie Brown whenever I say "Chuck."
The birthday celebration was last Tuesday. The Tech was invited to send someone along. I agreed after being told there was a free baseball game involved.
I arrived at the Vest residence twenty minutes before the guest of honor, and as I walked through the door I was handed a "Chuck Mask," a photocopy of Vest's face attached to a popsicle stick. I guess this is as good a point as any to state that every word of this column is true. I swear. It's too good to be made up.
I wandered in among the many guests, over a hundred in all. Administrators, faculty members, secretaries, and innocent bystanders like myself wandered around trying our Chuck Masksyes, capitalize for Comic Effect on each other. Former MIT presidents looked down on us from their oil-painting perches with apparent disgust. (see photo) Something tells me nobody was ever caught on campus holding a Richard Cockburn MacLaurin mask on a popsicle stick.
Vest had been told that he was going to be speaking at a reception of international students. He instead walked through his own doorway to the surreal sight of a hundred people with black-and-white versions of his own face, screaming "surprise" and singing "Happy Birthday" to him.
This was a big birthday for Vest. I don't want to embarrass him by giving away how old he is, but I can tell you that (1) it's what you get when you round 48 off to the nearest tenth and (2) it rhymes with "nifty." When he saw the crowd gathered in his entrance hall, he looked as pleased as a man can look when he's coming to the slow realization that his depressing milestone of a birthday is going to be the focus of a long evening, as well as being featured in almost 30,000 copies of campus publications.20,000 Tik Toks, 9,000 Teks.
After the initial shock wore off, he was informed that it was to be "Tech Night at the Sox" in honor of his birthday. He was good-naturedly humorous about it, saying "But Constantine [B. Simonides '57, secretary of the Corporation] just gave me all this work to do." He continued, "For once in my life I'm speechless. Maybe I can have Kathryn [Willmore, speechwriter for whom Dr. Vest is the mouthpiece] write something up for me."
All the biggies were there -- Wrighton, Keyser; even Paul and Priscilla Gray arrived (fashionably late, so they were denied their Chuck Masks.) There was champagne, cider, sparkling water, munchies and a tasty cake. It was all provided by a caterer named Page Carter. I wonder if she does dining halls.
I caught up with Vest and told him I was from The Tech, and he responded "Oh, gee, I'd better run away then." After this warm greeting I asked him if he was embarrassed by all the attention, or if he was the sort of person who enjoyed large birthday parties. He looked around and said, "Well, once every fifty years, I guess..."
Eventually we were all piloted toward yellow school buses and shipped over to Fenway. President Vest got to go down and meet one of the ballplayers. Wade Boggs? Nope. Roger Clemens? Nope. Jeff Reardon? Nope. Try Tony Fossas (3-2, 4.10 ERA,) a Red Sox reliever of not much distinction. This is the president of MIT, for crying out loud. OK, maybe Boggs was busy eating chicken with some woman, and maybe Clemens was out practicing his expletives for his next run-in with an umpire, but couldn't the Sox have spared a hot rookie like Mo Vaughn or a starting infielder like Jody Reed? Oh, well.
Then Associate Provost for the Arts Ellen Harris was slated to sing the national anthem. I managed to slime myself (along with Ace Tech Photo Editor Douglas D. Keller '93) onto the field to photograph the event. We acted like the consummate professionals we are, taking pictures of each other standing in Fenway, so all our friends can see we were on the field. Trust me, all the great sports photographers do this.
I asked Harris if she was going to try any unusual interpretations of the Star Spangled Banner. She told me she was going "straight ahead -- the marine band version." Then the announcement boomed over the intercom that she was going to sing. She strode out to the mike. As the announcement was made to "please rise," she rose her arms and everybody stood up. I wish I had been wearing earplugs, because it would have looked so cool; she lifts her arms and 35,000 silently rise with her.
She sang the anthem (a bang-up job) and walked off, practically pumping her fists, Arsenio-fashion. Then we all returned to our seats.
The people sitting near our MIT group were curious about our Chuck Masks, and we soon explained that he was the MIT president celebrating a birthday. Many people nearby realized he was near a celebrity. One guy even had Vest and Harris sign his Red Sox pennant. (see photos page 10)
The game was typical for the Red Sox, a 2-0 loss on a September evening. The boredom was alleviated by the people I was sitting near. If you truly love baseball, I highly recommend watching a baseball game with a group of people who have no interest whatsoever in baseball. Lots of fun. The woman next to me thought the scorecard in her program was a crossword puzzle. "At least then I'd have something to do," she said. My biggest moment of embarrassment, however, came when I remembered I hadn't bought Vest a gift.
I was buying a hot dog when I realized that there I was, sitting in Fenway Park, with no present for my own college's president. There was only one way to save face. "Dr. Vest," I yelled.
Vest looked to the sky, as if he was in Field of Dreams and was hearing voices at Fenway. What would voices say to him anyway? "If you build a freshman dorm, they will come?"
"No, Dr. Vest, over here!"
He looked over at me.
"You want a hot dog?"
All of the people sitting around me looked over in shock. Vest shook his head.
"Well," I said, "I didn't get you anything, so this is pretty much take it or leave it."
He smiled and laughed. A true gentleman who apparently knows that $23,000 a year leaves a student with very little hot dog money. Oh well. I guess Vest had a happy birthday. And I'm keeping my Chuck Mask. Maybe it'll confuse the CP's next time I'm caught in the steam tunnels.