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No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse…
CLASS OF 1910
The newest Eliot to enter Harvard continued a tradition that began in 1649.
Andrew had a privileged childhood.
Even after they had gracefully divorced, his parents lavished on him all a growing boy could wish for. He had an English nanny and a horde of teddy bears. And from as early as he could recall, they sent him to the most expensive boarding schools and summer camps. They established a trust fund, making his future secure.
In short, they gave him everything except their interest and attention.
Of course they loved him. That went without saying. Perhaps that is why they never actually said it. They simply assumed he would know that they appreciated what a fine and independent son he was.
Yet, Andrew was the first of his entire family to feel himself unworthy of admission to Harvard. As he often joked selfdeprecatingly, “They let me in because my name was Eliot and I could spell it.”
Clearly, his ancestry cast giant shadows on his confidence. And, quite understandably, what he regarded as a lack of creativity only magnified his innate inferiority complex.
Actually, he was a rather bright young man. He had a modest way with words — as witnessed by the diary he kept from prep school onward. He played soccer well.
He was a wing whose corner kicks helped many a center-forward score.
That was an index of his personality — he was always happy when he could assist a friend.
And off the field he was kind, thoughtful, and considerate. Most of all, though he would not have arrogated such a distinction for himself, he was considered by his many friends a darn nice guy.
The university was proud to have him. But, Andrew Eliot ’58 had a quality that set him apart from every other member of his Harvard class.
He was not ambitious.
Just after 5:00 A.M. on September 20, a Greyhound bus reached the dingy terminal in downtown Boston and disgorged, among its passengers, a tired and sweaty Daniel Rossi. His clothing was a mass of wrinkles and his reddish hair unkempt. Even his glasses were fogged with transcontinental grime.
He had left the West Coast three days earlier with sixty dollars in his pocket, of which he still had fifty-two. For he had all but starved his way across America.
Totally exhausted, he was barely able to drag his single suitcase (full of music scores he’d studied on the journey, and a shirt or two) down to the subway for Harvard Square. First he trudged to Holworthy 6, his freshman lodgings in the Yard, then registered as quickly as possible so that he could return to Boston and transfer from his California branch to Local No. 9 of the Musicians Union.
“Don’t get your hopes up, kid,” cautioned the secretary. “We got a million piano players out of work. Actually, the only keyboard jobs available are holy ones. You see, the Lord just pays the union minimum.” Pointing her long, vermilion-painted fingernail toward the small white notices pinned on a bulletin board, she added wryly, “Choose your religion, kid.”
After a careful study of the possibilities, Danny returned with two scraps of paper.
“These would be great for me,” he said. “Organist on Friday night and Saturday morning at the temple in Maiden, and Sunday morning at this church in Quincy. Are they still available?”
“That’s why they’re hangin’ there, kid. But, as you can see, the bread they’re offering’s more like Ritz crackers.”
“Yeah,” Danny replied, “but I can really use whatever money I can get my hands on. Do you get many Saturday-night dance gigs?”
“Gee, you sure seem hungry. Got a big family to support or somethin’?”
“No. I’m a freshman at Harvard and need the dough for tuition.”
“How come those rich guys irs Cambridge didn’t give you a scholarship?”
“It’s a long story,” Danny said uneasily. “But I’d be grateful if you’d keep me in mind. In any case, I’ll stay in touch.”
“I’m sure you will, kid.
Just before eight the preceding day, Jason Gilbert, Jr., had awakened in Syosset, Long Island.
The sun always seemed to shine more — brightly in his bedroom. Perhaps it was reflected from his many glittering trophies.
He shaved, put on a new Chemise Lacoste, then hauled his luggage, as well as assorted tennis and squash rackets, down to his 1950 Mercury coupé convertible. He was looking forward to roaring up the Post Road in the buggy he had lovingly rebuilt with his own hands, souping it up and even adding a dual fiberglass exhaust.
The entire Gilbert household — Mom, Dad, Julie, Jenny the housekeeper and her husband Maxwell the gardener — were waiting to see him off.
There was much kissing and embracing. And a short valedictory from his father.
“Son, I won’t wish you luck because you don’t need it. You were born to be number one — and not just on the tennis court.”
Though Jason did not show it, these parting words had the opposite of their intended effect. For he was already uneasy at the prospect of leaving home and testing his mettle against the real big leaguers of his generation. That last-minute reminder of Dad’s high expectations made him even more nervous.
Still, he might have taken comfort had he known that his adoring father’s speech had been echoed several hundred times that day by several hundred other parents who were also sending their uniquely gifted progeny off to Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Five hours later, Jason stood outside his assigned freshman dormitory, Straus A-32, on which a scrap of torn yellow paper was taped.
To my roommate: I always nap in the afternoon, so please be quiet.
It was signed simply “D. D.”
Jason quietly unlocked the door and carried his baggage practically on tiptoe into the one free bedroom. After placing his suitcases on the metal bed (it creaked slightly), he glanced out the window.
He had a view — and all the noise — of hectic Harvard Square. But Jason didn’t mind.
He was actually in a buoyant mood, since there was still enough time left to stroll to Soldier’s Field and find a pickup game of tennis. Already dressed in white, he merely grabbed his Wilson and a can of Spauldings.
Luckily, he recognized a varsity player who had defeated him in a summer tournament two years earlier. The guy was happy to see Jason again, agreed to hit a few, and then quickly learned how much the new arrival had improved.
When he got back to Straus Hall, there was another yellow note on the door, announcing that D. D. had gone to dinner and would then proceed to the library (the library — they hadn’t even registered!) to study, and would be back just before 10:00 P.M. If his roommate planned on coming in after that, would he be kind enough to be as quiet as possible.
Jason showered, put on a fresh Haspel cord jacket, grabbed a quick bite at a cafeteria in the Square, then tooled up to Radcliffe to scout the freshman girls. He returned about ten-thirty and was duly respectful of his unseen roommate’s need for rest.
The next morning he woke to find yet another note.
I have gone to register.
If my mother calls, tell her I had a good dinner last night.
Jason crumpled up this latest communiqué and marched off to join the line that now stretched well around the block outside Memorial Hall.
The high intentions of his message notwithstanding, the elusive D. D. was not by any means the first member of The Class to register. For at the very stroke of nine, the large portals of Memorial Hall had opened to admit Theodore Lambros.
Three minutes earlier, Ted had left his home on Prescott Street to stride over and claim a tiny but indelible place in the history of the oldest college in America.
To his mind, he had entered Paradise.
Andrew Eliot’s father drove him down from Maine in the family’s vintage station wagon, laden with carefully packed trunks containing tweed and shetland jackets, white buck shoes, assorted moccasins, rep ties, and a term’s supply of button-down and tab-collar shirts. In short, his school uniforms.
As usual, father and son did not speak much to each other. Too many centuries of Eliots had gone through this same rite of passage to make conversation necessary.
They parked by the gate closest to Massachusetts Hall (some of whose earlier occupants had been George Washington’s soldiers). Andrew ran into the Yard and rushed up to Wig G-21 to enlist the aid of his former prep school buddies in hauling his gear. Then, as they were toting barge and lifting bale, he found himself momentarily standing alone with his father. Mr.
Eliot took the occasion to impart a bit of worldly advice.
“Son,” he began, “I would be very grateful if you did your best not to flunk out of here. For though there are innumerable secondary schools in this great land of ours, there is only one Harvard.”
Andrew gratefully acknowledged this astute paternal counsel, shook his father’s hand, and raced off to the dorm. His two roommates had already begun to help him unpack. Unpack his liquor, that is. They were toasting their reunion after a summer of self-styled debauchery in Europe.
“Hey, you guys,” he protested, “you could at least have asked me. Besides, we’ve got to go register.”
“Come off it, Eliot,” said Dickie Newall as he took another swig. “We walked past there just a while ago and there’s a line around the goddamn block.”
“Yeah,” Michael Wigglesworth — affirmed, “all the weenies want to get there first. The race, as we well know, is not always to the swift.”
“I think it is at Harvard,” Andrew politely suggested. “But in any case, it isn’t to the smashed. I’m going over.”
“I knew it.” Newall sniggered. “Old Eliot, my man, you’ve got the makings of a first-class wonk.”
Andrew persisted, undaunted by this preppie persiflage. “I’m going, guys.”
“Go on,” Newall said, dismissing him with a haughty wave. “If you hurry back we’ll save you some of your Haig & Haig. By the way, where’s the rest of it?”
And so Andrew Eliot marched through Harvard Yard to join the long, winding thread of humanity — and ultimately to be woven into the multicolored fabric called The Class of ’58.
By now The Class was all in Cambridge, though it would take several hours more for the last of them to be officially enrolled.
Inside the cavernous hail, beneath a giant stained-glass window, stood the future leaders of the world. Nobel Prize winners, tycoons of industry, brain surgeons, and a few dozen insurance salesmen.
First they were handed large manila envelopes with all the forms to be signed (in quadruplicate for the Financial Office, quintuplicate for the Registrar, and, inexplicably, sextuplicate for the Health Department). For all this paperwork they sat side by side at narrow tables that stretched forever and seemed to meet only in infinity.
Among the questionnaires to be completed was one for Phillips Brooks House, part of which asked for religious affiliation (response was optional).
Though none of them was particularly pious, Andrew Eliot, Danny Rossi, and Ted Lambros marked the boxes next to Episcopal, Catholic, and Greek Orthodox, respectively. Jason Gilbert, on the other hand, indicated that he had no religious affiliation whatsoever.
After the official registration, they had to run an endless gauntlet — of wild, paper-waving proselytizers, all vociferously urging Harvard’s now — official freshmen to join the Young Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives, mountain climbers, scuba divers, and so on.
Countless irrepressible student hucksters noisily cajoled them to subscribe to the Crimson (“Cambridge’s only breakfast-table daily”), the Advocate (“so you can say you read these guys before they got their Pulitzers”), and the Lampoon (“if you work it out, it comes to about a penny a laugh”). In short, none but the most determined misers or abject paupers emerged with wallets unscathed.
Ted Lambros could sign up for nothing as his schedule was already fully committed to courses academic — by day and culinary by night.
Danny Rossi put his name down for the Catholic Club, assuming that religious girls would be a little shyer and therefore easier to meet. Maybe they would even be as inexperienced as he.
Andrew Eliot made his way through all this welter like a seasoned explorer routinely hacking through dense foliage. The kind of social clubs that he’d be joining did their recruitment in a more sedate and far less public fashion.
And Jason Gilbert, except for buying a quick subscription to the Crimson (so he could send the chronicles of his achievements home to Dad and Mom), strode calmly through the phalanx of barkers, much like his ancestors had traversed the Red Sea, and returned to Straus.
Miracle of miracles, the mysterious D. D. was actually awake. Or at least his bedroom door was open and someone was lying on the bed, face enveloped by a physics text.
Jason hazarded direct discourse. “Hi there, are you D. D.?” A pair of thick, horn-rimmed spectacles cautiously peeked above the book.
“Are you my roommate?” a nervous voice responded.
“Well, I’ve been assigned to Straus A thirty-two,” Jason answered.
“Then you’re my roommate,” the young man logically concluded. And after carefully marking with a paper clip the line where he had left off reading, he put down his book, rose and offered a somewhat cold and clammy hand.
“I’m David Davidson,” he said.
D. D. then eyed his roommate suspiciously and asked, “You don’t smoke, do you?”
“No, it’s bad for the wind. Why do you ask, Dave?”
“Please, I prefer to be called David,” he replied. “I ask because I specifically requested a nonsmoking roommate. Actually I wanted a single, but they don’t allow freshmen to live alone.”
“Where are you from?” Jason inquired.
“New York. Bronx High School of Science. I was a finalist in the Westinghouse Competition. And you?”
“Long Island. Syosset. All I’ve been is finalist in a couple of tennis tournaments. Do you play any sport, David?”
“No,” the young scholar replied. “They’re all a waste of time. Besides, I’m premed. I have to take things like Chem Twenty. What’s your chosen career, Jason?”
God, thought Jason, do I have to be interviewed just to be this wonk’s cellmate?
“To tell the truth, I haven’t decided yet. But while I’m thinking about it, shouldn’t we go out and buy some basic furniture for the living room?”
“What for?” D. D. asked warily. “We each have a bed, a desk, and a chair. What else do we need?”
Well, said Jason, “a couch might be nice. You know, to relax and study in during the week. We could also use an icebox. So we’d have something cold to serve people on the weekends.”
“People?” D. D. inquired, somewhat agitated. “Do you intend to have parties here?”
Jason was running out of patience.
“Tell me, David, did you specifically request an introverted monk as your roommate?”
“Well, you didn’t get one. Now, are you going to chip in for a second-hand couch or not?”
“I don’t need a couch,” he replied sanctimoniously.
“Okay,” said Jason, “then I’ll pay for it myself. But if I ever — see you sitting on it, I’ll charge you rent.”
Andrew Eliot, Mike Wigglesworth, and Dickie Newall spent all that afternoon scouring the furniture emporia in and around the Square and procured the finest leatherette pieces available. After expending three hours and $195, they stood at the ground floor of G-entry with all their treasures.
“God,” Newall exclaimed, “I shudder to think how many lovelies will succumb on this incredible chaise longue. I mean they’ll just take one look at it, disrobe, and hop right on.
“In that case, Dickie,” Andrew interrupted his old buddy’s reverie, “we’d better lug it up the stairs. If a Cliffie passes while we’re standing here you might just have to perform in public.”
“Don’t think I couldn’t,” Newall answered with bravado, quickly adding, “come on let’s get this paraphernalia up the stairs. Andy and I’ll take the couch.” And then, turning to the largest member of their trio, he called out, “Can you manage that chair by yourself, Wigglesworth?”
“No sweat,” the tall athlete replied laconically. And with that he lifted the huge armchair, placed it on his head as if it were a large padded football helmet, and started up the stairwell.
“That’s our mighty Mike,” Newall quipped. “Fair Harvard’s future crew immortal and the first man from this college who’ll play Tarzan in the movies.”
“Just three more steps. Please, you guys,” Danny Rossi implored.
“Hey, listen, kid, the deal was we’d deliver it. You didn’t say there would be stairs. We always take pianos in an elevator.”
“Come on,” Danny protested, “you guys knew that they don’t have any in Harvard dorms. What’s it going to take for you to deliver this up just three more steps into my room?
“Another twenty bucks,” replied one of the burly delivery men.
“Hey, look, the damn piano only cost me thirty-five.”
“Take it or leave it, kid. Or you’ll be singin’ in the rain.”
“I can’t afford twenty bucks,” Danny moaned.
“Tough titty, Harvard boy,” growled the more talkative of the two movers. And they ambled off.
Danny sat there on the steps of Holworthy for several minutes pondering his great dilemma. And then the notion came to him.
He placed the rickety stool in position, lifted the lid of the ancient upright, and began, first tentatively and then with increasing assurance, to animate the fading ivories with “The Varsity Drag.”
Since most of the windows in the Yard were open because of the Indian Summer weather, it was not long before a crowd surrounded him. Some spirited freshmen even began to dance. To get in shape for conquests up at Radcliffe and on other social battlefields.
He was terrific. And his classmates were genuinely thrilled to discover what a talent they had in their midst. (“The guy’s another Peter Nero,” someone remarked.) At last Danny finished — or thought he had. But everybody clapped and shouted for more. So he started taking requests for pieces as varied as “The Saber Dance” and “Three Coins in the Fountain.”
At last, a university policeman happened on the scene. It was just what Danny had been hoping for.
“Listen,” the officer growled, “you can’t play a pianer outside in the Yard. You gotta move this here instrument into a dorm.”
The freshmen booed.
“Hey, listen,” Danny Rossi said to his enthusiastic audience. “Why don’t we all bring this piano up the stairs to my room and then I’ll play all night.”
There were cheers of assent as half a dozen of the strongest present started carrying Danny’s upright with festive alacrity.
“Wait a minute,” the cop warned, “remember, no playing after ten P.M. Them are the rules.”
More hisses, boos, and grunts as Danny — Rossi politely answered, “Yes, sir, Officer. I promise I’ll only play till dinnertime.”
Though he, of course, was not privileged to be moving from the cubicle he’d occupied throughout his high school days, Ted Lambros nonetheless spent much of that afternoon purchasing essential items in The Coop.
First and foremost, a green bookbag, a must for every serious Harvard man — a utilitarian talisman that carried the tools of your trade and identified — you as a bona fide scholar. He also bought a large, rectangular crimson banner whose white felt letters proudly boasted “Harvard — Class of 1958,” And, while other freshmen were hanging identical chauvinistic fabrics on the walls of their dormitories in the Yard, Ted hung his over the desk in his tiny bedroom.
For good measure, he acquired an impressive-looking pipe from Leavitt & Pierce, which he would someday learn to smoke.
As the afternoon waned, he checked and rechecked his carefully purchased secondhand wardrobe and inwardly pronounced himself ready to meet tomorrow’s Harvard challenge.
And then, the magic aura broken, he headed up Massachusetts Avenue to The Marathon, where he would have to don the same old hokey costume in order to serve lamb to the lions of Cambridge.
It was a day of standing on lines. First in the morning at Memorial Hall, and then just after 6:00 P.M., when the dinner column began to form at the Freshman Union, winding outside, down its granite steps, and almost into Quincy Street. Naturally, each freshman wore a tie and jacket — although the garments varied in color and quality, depending on the means and background of the wearer. The rules explicitly proclaimed that the only civilized attire in which a Harvard man could take a meal.
But these formally accoutred gentlemen were in for a rude surprise. There were no dishes.
Instead, their food was scooped out into a tan plastic doggy bowl divided into unequal sections of undetermined purpose. The only rational compartment was the cavity within the hub of this contraption, which could hold a glass of milk.
Ingenious as it was, it could not hide the fact that freshman food was absolutely wretched.
What was that gray sliced stuff slapped at them at the first station? The serving biddies claimed it was meat. It looked like innersoles to most and tasted much that way to all. It was no consolation that they could eat all they wanted. For who would ever want more of this unchewable enigma?
The only real salvation was the ice cream. It was plentiful and filling. And to an eighteen-year-old this can compensate for almost any culinary lapse. And did so in prodigious quantities.
No one really bitched in earnest. Far, although not all of them admitted it, they were excited just to be there. The tasteless food gave every person in The Class an opportunity to be superior to something.
Nearly all of them were used to being number one in some domain. The Class contained no fewer than 287 high school valedictorians, each painfully aware that only one of them was good enough to match that achievement at Harvard.
By some uncanny instinct, the jocks had already started to discover one another.
At one round table in the outer circle, Clancy Roberts was subtly campaigning for the freshman hockey captaincy. At yet another, football linemen, who had met an hour earlier at Dillon Field House, savored what would be among the last meals they would be obliged to take with the plebs. For, once the pads were on, they’d be dining at the training table in the V–Club, where the meat, though no less gray, would be served twice as thick.
The huge, wood-paneled hall reverberated with the loud chatter of nervous freshmen. You could tell who had gone to high schools and who to prep schools. For the latter dressed in matching plumage — shetland jackets and rep ties — and ate in larger groups, whose conversation and laughter were homogenized. The would-be physicist from Omaha, the poet from Missouri, and the future lawyer-politician from Atlanta ate alone. Or, if after twenty-four hours they could still stand them, with their roommates.
Harvard did not choose your living companions without much deliberation and analysis. Indeed, some keen sadistic genius must have spent innumerable hours on this strange apportionment. And what a task it was — a smorgasbord containing eleven hundred wholly different dishes. What would you serve with what? What would go well and what give interpersonal dyspepsia? Someone in the administration knew. Or at least thought he did.
Of course, they asked you for your preferences. Nonsmoker, athlete, interested in art, et cetera. Preppies naturally requested and received accommodations with their buddies. But then, they were the few conformists in this monstrous colony of oddballs, where exceptions were the norm.
What, for example, could they do with Danny Rossi, whose singular request had been a dormitory as near as possible to Paine Hall, the music building? Put him with another music type? No, that might risk a clash of egos. And what Harvard wanted was harmonious tranquility among its freshmen, who that week were in the process of receiving the most agonizing lesson of their lives. They were about to learn that the world did not spin uniquely around them.
For reasons inexplicable to everyone except the college powers, Danny Rossi was assigned to share his rooms in Holworthy with Kingman Wu, a Chinese future architect from San Diego (perhaps the link was California), and Bernie Ackerman, a mathematics whiz and champion fencer from New Trier High School in a suburb of Chicago.
As they all ate dinner at the Union that evening, it was Bernie who tried to puzzle out why they three had been thrown together by the mandarins of Harvard roommate-ism.
“It’s the stick,” he offered as a solution. “That’s the only symbol that connects us three.”
“Is that supposed to be profound or just obscene?” asked Kingman Wu.
“Hell, don’t you see it?” Ackerman persisted. “Danny’s going to be a great conductor. What do those guys wave at an orchestra? Batons. Me, I’ve got the biggest stick, ’cause I’m a fencer. Get it now?”
“And me?” asked Wu.
“What do architects most often draw with? Pencils, pens. There’s the three sticks and the solution to the mystery of our being put together.”
The Chinaman was not impressed. “You’ve just awarded me the smallest one.” He frowned.
“Well, you know where to stick it, then,” Ackerman suggested with a self-congratulatory chuckle.
And thus the first eternal enmity among The Class of ’58 was born.
In spite of his outward self-assurance, Jason Gilbert was nervous about going to the Union on his own for that inaugural repast. So desperate was he that he actually sought out D. D. in order to propose they go together. Alas, his roommate was already back before Jason had even dressed.
“I was the third on line,” he boasted. “I had eleven ice creams. That’ll really please my mom.”
So Jason ventured out alone. As luck would have it, near the steps of Widener Library he ran into a guy he’d played (and beaten) in the quarter finals of the Greater Metropolitan Private Schools Tourney. The fellow proudly introduced his quondam rival to his current roommates as “the S.O. B. who’s going to knock me off for number one. Unless that guy from California beats us both.”
Jason was happy to join them, and the talk was mostly of the tennis court. And the wretched food. And doggy bowls, of course.
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