Meredith Carroll: Meredith Pro Tem
Aspen CO, Colorado
I’ve never had a particularly inflated sense of self-importance. However, that all changed last week when an e-mail appeared in my inbox from Walter Isaacson ” Aspen Institute president and CEO, New York Times best-selling author, former chairman and CEO of CNN and former editor of Time magazine ” requesting my presence at an intimate evening with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan and Queen Rania.
The invitation described how the Aspen Institute’s Middle East Strategy Group is “working to create economic and educational programs to help the Palestinian people and to promote peace in the region.” It went on to say that my presence was “welcome” at the limited seating “noble dinner” that promised an interesting discussion. The response form included a space for me to notate whether I wanted to pay for the $5,000 ticket by check or credit card.
My initial reaction was that somehow I had been mistaken for a person of means. I thought perhaps I was spotted looking particularly moneyed and sophisticated in my Chaco flip-flops while opening a safe deposit box at the bank in June. Then it dawned on me that the chance was slim of anyone confusing the marriage license, passports and wills that I shoved in the 5-inch by 18-inch box for something that might have been purchased, say, at last month’s Christina Onassis jewelry event at Christie’s in London. (Although if I had been the winning bidder of the $7.1 million, 38-carat pear-shaped diamond pendant that sold at that auction, I probably would have stashed it in the bank, since I don’t foresee ever having occasion to wear it.)
Since I was fairly certain I have at no time passed myself off to anyone as someone who has four figures to drop on a single meal, I wondered next if word had spread about my performance in the Aspen Institute’s Great Books seminar in which I participated this winter, and my extraordinary analysis skills were being sought after as a result. But then I thought about how I felt I was being out-Plato-ed, out-Aristotle-ed and just about out-everyone else-ed throughout the entire session. The post-college fantasy of taking a class with lots of reading and none of the homework and term papers was fabulous. The reality is that a full-time job and a family seriously impede any really deep, detailed, philosophical reading and interpretations.
Then I considered for a moment that Walter Isaacson might have known and been impressed by the fact that I had seen the John Adams miniseries on HBO earlier this year. Of course, at the same time, I realized if he knew I had seen it, then he was probably also aware that I had only actually seen three of the seven episodes before I lost interest. And then I remembered that Walter Isaacson had written a book about Benjamin Franklin, not John Adams (those Founding Fathers all blend together after a while, no?), so why would he care anyway?
Finally, I decided it was possible that the news could have leaked to the Aspen Institute that I was a Tony Awards voter in 2003, and that my presence was desired at the King Abdullah dinner because having been a member of another elite group (albeit five years ago) made me a more tantalizing prospect. But if the Institute had that tidbit of information, then they also had to know that the first time I tried to flex my fancy Tony voter muscle to take my parents to see a show in New York ” “Urinetown: The Musical” ” the tickets weren’t at will call because the show’s press agent had failed to remember I would be in attendance that evening. Watching my mom and dad drive out of a theater-district parking garage and head back to the suburbs that night sans Playbill was not one of my finer moments.
In hindsight, it might have occurred to me that something was amiss upon rereading Walter Isaacson’s e-mail and realizing it was addressed “Dear :” ” my name noticeably absent.
And, yet, despite that, and the fact I that had immediately forwarded the e-mail to as many people as I knew in order to give myself a self-congratulatory cyberspace pat on the back, it still didn’t completely shock or embarrass me when exactly three hours and 55 minutes later a second e-mail joined the first one in my inbox, this one with the subject line: “Retraction: Invitation to Dinner with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan.” It explained, with a deep apology, that it was “necessary to recall the invitation,” because I had only received it due to a “system error.” However, it did go on to let me know that His Majesty would be speaking at a public event, tickets for which would be on sale to the general population shortly. The second e-mail didn’t come from Walter Isaacson but from an Aspen Institute web editor.
Which was fine with me, really. I’d rather hold out for dinner with Gandhi, Elvis or the Pope anyway. Because I figure there’s a slightly better chance those invites would be legitimate.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused untold amounts of suffering and disruption, and we’ll probably tell those stories for the rest of our lives.