BY TONY BOUZA
The Greeks were the finest expression of civilization ever. Why? Because they made their citizens better humans. How? By cautioning against hubris (pride) and avoiding hamartia (the critical flaw). The antidote? Merciless introspection.
Oedipus was the toughest, smartest, most admirable—yet, came a cropper, wandering blindly in the wilderness. He failed to question his actions or himself and stumbled into fathering children with his mother.
How’s that working out for ya?
Oedipus is rarely far from my thoughts. It was brought again to mind when I read they’d show a documentary of the Attica prison riot here in Geezerland. The event was horrific—many deaths, an endless lawsuit (in which I was an expert witness testifying against the authorities). So, where was Oedipus?
In the body of the governor who triggered the event.
Nelson Rockefeller was the toughest, smartest, ablest, most accomplished guy in town. Not excessively reflective, but when did that ever matter to us?
I’m not his biographer, so I can only deliver an impressionistic assessment. I never met him.
My rough recollection is that he met a hot doctor’s wife, divorced his spouse of decades and betrayed the new one. He could do anything he wanted—and did.
In 1971 inmates at Attica prison begged Gov. Rockefeller to negotiate: overcrowding, hygiene products (toilet paper, etc.) scarcity and abuse by guards. He refused to meet, and the inmates rioted, took guard-hostages and created a crisis. The state reacted violently. At the end, there were 43 dead (32 inmates and 11 guard-hostages).
A bloody and abusive takeback followed. The inmates sued and I was hired as their expert. They won about $8 million. I was then in the NYPD and did it pro bono.
And the governor?
He continued blithely forward and ultimately joined a distinguished and truly enviable (albeit small, I think) list of men who expired in flagrante delicto.
Rockefeller would’ve achieved his greatest ambition—the presidency—if he’d only been a little patient. He was Nixon’s V. P., but quit, refusing to be “stand-by equipment.” He made way for Jerry Ford. Hubris at its most sublime.
The governor’s staff reported to The New York Times that he died working over an art book late at night. Some art. Some book. Culture in the service of arrogance.
The 911 call revealed otherwise, and later investigation confirmed the tryst. The Times was furious and showed it—repeatedly condemning the deception. The co-respondent, Megan Marshack, immediately submerged into anonymity and was never heard from again.
Attica is a remote white hamlet in upstate New York. The guards are white. The inmates are Black. Do the math. Its very name evokes a Hellenic theme.
The Greeks would’ve loved it.