Generation X, to which I belong, is a pious generation. You can easily become alienated from it unless you adopt the correct attitudes. Without the sociopolitical skills that today masquerade as good manners, it is quite possible to talk one’s way into trouble. The last time I felt threatened by educated middle-class people was in Poland before the fall of communism. Now it can easily happen at an American university or at a dinner party.

Recently I went to a party in the Fast Village that set off unpleasant recollections of an experience I had on a train journey from Warsaw to Lublin in 1986. During the trip my fellow passengers, noticing that I spoke Polish with a foreign accent, had been kind to me, shared food, and struck up convivia] conversation. Then I mentioned the single word “Katyn,” the place where Stalin’s NKVD ruthlessly murdered 5,000 Polish officers. Suddenly all fell silent. I was a Russian spy, or a member of the hated Milicja sent to test them. Or maybe I was merely ignorant.

“Stupid boy,” said a neatly dressed middle-aged woman, “you don’t know what you’re prattling about.” I received frowns, and the other passengers began to eye each other, wondering which one might be an informer. What had begun as a pleasant journey ended in almost complete silence, and anger was directed at me for spoiling the trip. I got off the train and as I walked down the platform, footsteps followed mine. A young lady who had been sitting in the corner of my compartment called after me. I stopped. She told me that it was not safe to bring up topics like Katyn in a public place. After we had talked a little and parted, I remembered that my brother had been arrested for loose talk ten years ago. lie had been on holiday, too. They released him after a night.

It is farfetched to compare the atmosphere under a totalitarian communist regime with an East Village party, and yet later, after I had been thrown out of the party, the comparison seemed less and less outlandish. The party was held in the loft of a “musician” (most members of Generation X seem to be musicians, painters, or writers, although their abilities usually lie in other directions), and there was a poster of the recentU deceased River Phoenix on the wall. This I took to be satirical in intent. The only person I knew there was the host, whose new girlfriend had allowed him to use the loft. The partygoers, six or seven of them, welcomed me into their cool little world. At first I managed to create a good impression by latching on to the general attitude of “we’re all so genuine, so real, so caring.” This care had, of course, to be balanced by a contemptuous tone about almost everything other than those “issues” that exercise the feeble moral muscles of the young. I noticed that their college educations had taught them nothing but the neatest orthodoxy, and consequently their world was one of rampant “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” and also something they liked to call “oppression.” (Having heard real stories of oppression from my parents, exiled to Siberia, I found this amusing.) They loved activists, and the “community” even more. They had love in their hearts and were full of tenderness and tolerance. Their loathing (often tempered by a tone of saintly resignation to the evils of the world) was reserved for the government’s conduct of foreign affairs, especially in Central America, and for the CIA.

I heard a young woman about 25 years old talking about the difficulties of dating. “I met this guy, he seemed really nice, I’d have gone out with him like a shot . . . but then I found out he was a Republican . . . ” I made reference to Romeo and Juliet and amor omnia vincit. A young she-professor of English in her 30’s, the oldest person there and therefore an authority on many things (the Brady Bunch perhaps?), told me that quoting Latin was an elitist irrelevance and continued her earnest discussion of sexism and supernumerary antitropes in Foucault. I went to help with the cooking.

So far everything was perfectly friendly and civil, and people were generally laving off politics except for an odd insult directed at Mayor Giuliani. Keeping my tongue firmly bridled so as not to make jokes or comments that would offend any group or go against any received opinion, I took refuge in absurd humor, doing impressions of famous people and acting like Robin Williams in Mork and Mindy. As Generation X is a TV-loving generation, this went down very well. The partygoers were beginning to like me, and in fact my goofiness was even starting to rub off some of their cool veneer. Dinner was to consist of lobster and crab, and the host and I plunged the clawing beasts into boiling water with elaborate ceremony. Someone put a live lobster under his T-shirt and acted out the famous birth scene from Alien to much hilarity. Somehow this led to talk of orgasms. Ah, this was my generation indeed. Nothing was too vulgar; shameless sexual talk and double entendres flew; we were free, tolerant, and hip.

We sat down to eat, and 1 listened to the conversations around me. A tone of “caring” and piety indicated which ones were becoming serious. Just as earlier generations have been sickened by the smug hypocrisy inherent in certain words and phrases used by their elders—”duty” and “pro patria mori” during World War I, for instance—so I find myself nauseated by the buzzwords of my own generation. We cant about “issues” and “inclusion” in the same glib tone that the baby-boomers used when talking about “openness” and “revolution.” Generation X knows itself to be right. That righteousness can be summed by observing the differences in ancient and modern pop music. In the 60’s, the Rolling Stones roared out “Brown Sugar” with its “Gold Coast slaver bound for cotton fields” and black girls that “taste so good.” Now an appalling group calling itself “They Might Be Giants,” popular with the snidely pious college crowd, whines about “Your Racist Friend.”

Across the table from me I heard the culmination of a discussion about AIDS. I knew what was coming. I had heard it before. After some preparatory comminations on the danger of the “Christian right” opposing condom distribution in schools, there came the inevitable climax about the evil Reagan-Bush legacy. Because I had grown bored with fooling around, bored with keeping mv thoughts to myself, I did the same thing I had done in Poland a few years ago: I indulged in loose talk. I should have known better. After all, I was no longer a schoolboy, I was an adult talking with my peers. I should have remembered that most members of my generation who attended college had been taught not to argue or discuss and to question only common sense. So when I suggested that the Church, in all its doctrines and pronouncements, had never once encouraged the behavior that spreads AIDS, rather the opposite in fact, and that I had never heard either President Reagan or President Bush speak in favor of fisting, sodomy, multiple partners, or injecting oneself with various drugs, I should not have been surprised when my remark was greeted with a horrified silence.

Then the interrogation began. From all sides of the table, people who had so far been friendly started to get seriously upset. “How can you say that?” “What do you mean?” “Is he some kind of fascist?” Someone called me a “homophobe.” Another person asked me with the kind of passionate intensity one sometimes sees on Melrose Place whether I knew anyone with AIDS. I countered by asking whether he knew anyone with cystic fibrosis. (I have known three, all dead now.) A young woman with tight lips and a shaven head proceeded to burst into crocodile tears. I half expected the female “musician” to start a rendition of “Your Homophobic Friend.” An attempt was made to “get through to me” as if I were a dubious heretic during the Reformation. It was explained that the health care policies under Reagan-Bush had caused the spread of the disease, but I would have none of it. The only mistake the government made, I said, was to cave in to the homosexual agenda and allow the disease to become politicized. If it had been treated like any other epidemic, then perhaps fewer people would have succumbed to it. “Blame the victim!” screamed one guest. “I can’t eat,” wailed another, “I feel sick.”

I defended my position stoutly, using all the resources of logic that an old-fashioned education provides, but to no avail. These were not ideas that could be allowed. I tried to talk reasonably, calmly. I explained that I was not callous about the fate of those who were sick, but that I could not watch their sickness being used for political purposes. The tone of the discussion began to turn ominous. Finally one of the woman, eyeing her boyfriend, a large-bodied “new man” with a beard, asked me in an unctuously moral tone whether I liked to fight. I had not come to this party intending to get into any physical confrontations. The English professor hinted that it was time for me to leave. The call became a chorus, and naturally I abandoned ship.

As I walked down the corridor, my head spinning, I heard footsteps behind me an immediately flashed back to the train station in Poland. The host came up and remonstrated gently with me. “Come on, dude, you know you can’t say stuff like that . . . ” We talked a little and parted. I remembered an English friend who had been censured by university authorities for challenging a failing grade he had received while studying in America. One of the questions in the compulsory course was: “Homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality as a viable lifestyle. True or False?” He had gotten the answer wrong.