Luke Bantam

This is supposed to be a blog post about hazing, and it will be, but not in the way you’re thinking. Yeah, I’ve had my neck back plenty of times, and spent the better part of a year on corrections table, but the dressing down I’ve been through the past week or so is of another kind, and level of subtlety.

 When Benoit Van Hecke signed up for the Old’s Cool Tour he said he wanted a “dormitory” name like mine, Johnny Mustard, so he chose “Luke Bantam”. He came on the rally with us and everyone knew him as “Luke”. He’s one of these know-it-alls who you’d love to hate, but can’t – he’s incredibly likeable and, well, knows it all. He speaks 6 or 7 languages, well, and was the “Jeopardy!” champion of Belgium. He won $25,000 years ago, but when he got home his mother wasn’t happy: how could he lose to a mailman?

 So he, Peter, and Wertin spoke German most of the time, and the rest of us just shrugged and continued as best we could in English. Luke only made one mistake the whole time in English, and he only corrected mine 3 or 4 times – so I didn’t feel like a complete imbecile. Well, not any more than usual.

 He also had a great sense of humor, and could also pun with the best of them, in English, German, French and Italian. I asked Peter how good his German was and he said it was basically perfect. Damn!

 I’ll give you an example of the level of intelligence and worldliness I’m talking about. When we stop at each university, we’ll take a walk to the green or the quad, take a picture with whatever statue is there, and then get our university sticker to put on our car. At Harvard John Harvard; at Yale it was Nathan Hale, where we discussed the relative merits and barbarity of death by hanging versus firing squad (only Oklahoma still allows this method) versus electrocution, which is still an option in Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. An interesting tidbit: on the death certificate of those executed the reason for death is “homicide”. By the time we got to Princeton we were tired of taking our picture with dead white men, so we changed tacks completely and took our picture with “Love”.

 As I was handing out the U. Penn stickers to put on the cars, Mary asked me if I knew what the fish was for on the coat of arms. I said no. She later said she thought I was going to make up some long-winded bullshit historical story that was totally believable, like I usually do, and was disappointed when I didn’t. Really, Mary? Is that how you think of me? No, that’s not how I think of you, she said, that’s how you are. Ouch. A wound that’ll never heal.

 So Luke chimes in: “Yes, the explanation of the symbol of a fish in Christianity starts with the Greek word for fish, which is ichthus, and is spelled:
iota (i)
chi (ch)
theta (th)
upsilon (u)
sigma (s)

 Early Christians adopted this word as an acronym for "Iesus Christhus Theou Uios Sootèr", or Jesus Christ, the son of God and savior.

 They saw in the name or acronym the essence of the Biblical message...”

 He later amended that: “I blame the sustained excess CO inhalation when I mistook the dolphin (which is what it is really) for a fish... U. Penn's dolphin apparently comes from famous Philadelphian Ben Franklin's Coat of Arms.”

 As we were walking back to our cars Peter Stack (Yale, Class of ’83) started reading out loud some Wikipedia article about something related to the logo, or Christ, or something that I don’t remember, but he was sure and confident as only a pencil-neck Eli can be.

 Where’s the hazing part you’re probably wondering? Sounds interesting, educational and fun? I just pointed it out to you – superior thinking ability coupled with arrogance is known as intellectual abuse.

The next day.

 Peter just stopped by and reminded me – we segued from the fish to the serpent in the Alfa Romeo logo. I said the serpent was eating the man, but Peter corrected me and said the serpent was actually regurgitating him. The badge features a red cross on a white background, the traditional symbol of Milan, the hometown of Alfa, on the left side. The Visconti serpent on the right.

Officially, from Automobilismo Storico Alfa Romeo:

 “There are a lot of legends about the origins of this heraldic symbol, representing a mythological animal with a human in his mouth (some believe it to be a dragon, but most likely a snake). During the time of the crusades, Otone Visconti , the founder of Visconti Family and a knight, fought against a noble Saracen knight (nomad from the Syrian Desert that bordered the Roman Empire). Otone beat the Saracen knight and, following the tradition, took the symbols the Saracen carried on his shield: a snake with a human in his mouth. At first glance, it looks like the snake is eating the human. Instead, the human is coming out of the snake a "new man," purified and renewed.”

 As a sidebar note, Luke threw in the origin of the Alfa name – it comes from Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, and the Romeo part comes from Nicola Romeo, who took over A.L.F.A. in 1915.

 The other Peter, German Peter, needed an explanation in his native tongue, and multi-lingual Luke provided it for him. I thought as we were walking across Blanche P. Levy Park, the heart of U. Penn, that if some of these students listened in our conversation they’d probably learn a lot more than they would by actually attending the university itself, and we wouldn’t charge half as much for the education.

I’m not going to comment on the “Love” statue, per say, since I was really too young when it came out to understand or be impacted by it except on the most superficial level, assuming there are other levels, and now it just seems like a quaint, colorful, hippie dinosaur. But I will mention that I read an article in the Village Voice in the early ‘80s written by Robert Indiana about Marianne Faithfull that I still remember as a masterpiece about heartbreak and redemption.

 I didn’t tell Luke this part, since I didn’t want to hear the one million more important and deeper things he had to say about it.

 Seriously, I’m going to institute the “Luke Bantam Award” and give it out each year to the smartest person on the tour. High praise; lot to live up to.
January 14, 2024 — Johnny Mustard