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ANDREW ELIOT’S DIARY. Practically living as I do at the New York Harvard Club, I was probably the first guy outside of Cambridge to see a copy of the Decennial Report
May 15, 1968
Practically living as I do at the New York Harvard Club, I was probably the first guy outside of Cambridge to see a copy of the Decennial Report , which chronicles our class’s progress in the first ten years since graduation.
I note a tendency of the less successful guys to write longer histories than their more shining counterparts.
I mean, one character goes on for paragraphs in tedious detail about his uneventful army service, his choice of wife, what his kids both weighed at birth, and so forth. Also how challenging life is in Daddy’s shoe-manufacturing business (“We’ve had to move our operations from New England to Puerto Rico and are now exploring the possibility of relocating in the Far East”).
The only thing he doesn’t talk about at length is his divorce. That’s where I might have found something to empathize with. Anyway, it’s clear to see through the thick clouds of his verbosity that he’s trying to disguise a life of quiet desperation. He concludes with the philosophical observation, “If the shoe fits, you’ve got to wear it.”
In other words, he’s taken four whole pages to inform us that he’s on his way to being a successful failure.
On the other hand, Danny Rossi merely lists the dates of his marriage and his daughters’ births, the things he’s written, and the prizes he’s won. That’s all. He didn’t even offer a pithy conclusion like “I’ve been very lucky,” or “I owe it all to eating Wheaties,” or some such.
And yet who hasn’t seen his face in all the papers and read at least a half dozen stories that all but deify him?
I bet a lot of guys who thought he was a weenie are now boasting to their wives and kids that they were buddies with him in the college days. I confess that I even exaggerate my passing friendship with him, too.
Ted Lambros’s entry was also brief and to the point. He and Sara had enjoyed the decade at Harvard. He was gratified that his Sophocles book had received favorable reviews, and he and his family were looking forward to the new challenge of living and teaching at Canterbury.
Neither Jason Gilbert nor George Keller sent in a response, both for reasons I well understood. Jason, with whom I’m still in touch by letter, has been through a hell of a lot.
And George is just the same old paranoid, suspicious nut. He didn’t even vouchsafe any of the meager information he gives me when we have lunch.
Unlike a lot of my classmates, I thought I’d try to be honest in my capsule history.
My two years in the navy got a sentence, and I didn’t glorify them. Then I simply noted that after seven years at Downs, Winship, I’d been elected a vice-president.
Then I said that the greatest joy I’ve had is watching my children grow. And the greatest disappointment that my marriage didn’t work.
I don’t think many people bothered reading my entry, but I didn’t give much away.
I didn’t mention that I’m really not that much of a success in investment banking. I owe my promotion to the fact that a couple of buddies and I helped float Kintex, which grew to be the world’s largest producer of The Pill. And hence took off like a wild rocket. (Sheer luck — or was it a subconscious way of regretting that I had allowed myself to have children with such an unfit mother?)
I didn’t say that though there are thousands of new singles’ bars sprouting all over First Avenue for so-called successful guys like me to meet fairly neat women, my life is desperately lonely.
I spend every weekend trying to reconnect with my kids (Andy now seven, Lizzie four), to little avail. Faith seems to have given up sex in favor of booze — and her face shows it. Apparently the only time she sobers up is when she’s telling the kids what a bastard I am. And I only have a couple of hours on Saturdays to try to counter this calumny.
My one solace still seems to come from Harvard. Though I’ve bought a fancy pad in a new high-rise on East Sixty-first Street, I spend most of my time playing squash at the H-Club and socializing with the guys. I help the Schools Committee recruit good men for “the age that is waiting before.” I’m even thinking of running for the Alumni Council — which would give me a nice pretext to go up and walk in the Yard again.
In short, I’m no happier than the garrulous shoe salesman. On the other hand, I think I hide it a little better.
Ted Lambros prepared himself for his new life at Canterbury with typical enthusiasm. He spent the summer of ’68 packing books and notes, improving his old lectures, and — most important — taking tennis lessons at Soldier’s Field.
As they were settling into the ramshackle house they had rented from the college on North Windsor Street, Sara cautioned him, “You know, honey, if you actually beat Bunting, he’ll never vote for you.”
“Hey,” he replied jocularly, “you’re speaking to the great tactician. I’ve got to be just good enough for him to want to keep me as a sparring partner — or whatever they call it.”
But there was more than the tennis vote to worry them. The department had three other senior classicists — and also influential wives.
Naturally, there had to be a separate dinner with each couple. Henry Dunster made the first move and invited them. The present Mrs. D. was Henry’s third, and there was every indication that she might not be the last. Predictably, he made a sort-of-pass at Sara. Which did not flatter her at all.
“I mean, he wasn’t vulgar,” she complained to Ted as they drove home, “it’s that he was so ludicrously tentative. He wasn’t even man enough to be an honest flirt. God, what a creep.”
Ted reached over and took Sara’s hand.
“One down,” he whispered, “three to go.”
The next hurdle on this steeplechase to tenure was a dinner with the Hendricksons — Digby, the historian, and his loving wife, Amelia. Theirs was indeed a marriage of true minds, for they thought as one. They shared a love of hiking, mountaineering, and a fervid paranoia that everyone in the department was out to steal Digby’s history courses.
“I think it’s awful,” Sara commented, “but in a way their jealousy is understandable, History, after all, is the foundation of the classics.”
Digby took her point and ran with it a little further.
“Not just the foundation, Sara, it’s the whole shebang. Literature is nice, but what the heck, when all is said and done it’s only words. History is facts.”
“I’ll buy that,” said Ted Lambros, specialist in literature, clouding his mind and swallowing his pride.
Sara had already started action on the distaff front. In fact, her “friendship” with Ken Bunting’s wife had blossomed into weekly soup-and-sandwich luncheon dates at The Huntsman.
Dotty was a self-styled social arbiter who neatly pigeon-holed the Canterbury wives into one of two categories: “real class” or “no class.” And Sara Lambros of the New York banking Harrisons was certainly genuine cream, not ReddiWhip. And since Dotty was, as she put it, a blueblood from Seattle, she regarded Sara as a soulmate.
The only difference was their marriages.
“Tell me,” Dotty asked in furtive tones, “what’s it like being married to, you know, a Latin type?”
Trying mightily to keep a straight face, Sara patiently explained that Greeks, though dark and — to some eyes, perhaps — a little swarthy, weren’t quite the same as “Latins.” Still, she understood the interrogatory innuendo and replied that she assumed all men were basically alike.
“You mean, you’ve known a lot?” asked Dotty Bunting, titillated and intrigued.
“No,” Sara answered calmly, “I just mean — you know — they have the same equipment.”
Dotty Bunting turned a vivid crimson.
Sara quickly changed the subject and sought Dotty’s counsel on the “real class” children’s dentists in the area.
One thing was clear. If Mrs. Bunting had a vote, Sara certainly would have it. It remained to be seen what influence she had on her husband. And that could be determined only when the two couples actually met for dinner. Again, consistent with traditional collegiality, the Buntings asked the new arrivals to their home.
The conversation, as anticipated, was tennis-oriented. Bunting jocularly accused Ted of dodging his innumerable invitations to “come and hit a few.” Ted volleyed back that he’d been so involved in setting up the house and starting courses that his game was far too rusty to give Bunting even token competition.
“Oh, I’m sure he’s only being modest, Sara,” Dotty Bunting gushed. “I bet he even played for the varsity.”
“No, no, no,” Ted protested, “I wasn’t nearly good enough. Tennis is one of the few sports Harvard actually is not bad in.
“Yes,” Ken allowed, “it was a Harvard guy who beat me for the IC4A title back in fifty-six.”
Unwittingly, Ted had reopened the most painful wound in Bunting’s sporting memories. Ken now began to hemorrhage verbally.
“I really should have won it. But that Jason Gilbert was such a crafty New York type. He had all sorts of sneaky little shots.”
“I never thought of New York people as particularly ‘crafty,’ ” Sara said ingenuously. “I mean, I’m from Manhattan too.”
“Of course, Sara,” Bunting quickly said apologetically. “But Gilbert — which was probably not his name for very long — was one of those, you know, Jewy characters.”
There was an awkward pause. Sara held back to let her husband speak up in defense of their Harvard classmate.
Then, seeing that Ted was having trouble finding an appropriate response, Sara mentioned casually, “Jason was The Class of ’58, with Ted and me.”
“Oh,” said Dotty Bunting. “Did you know him?”
“Not very well,” Sara replied, “but he dated a few girls from my dorm. He was very good-looking.”
“Oh,” said Dotty, wanting to hear more.
“Say,” Ken interrupted, “whatever happened to old Jason? His name seems to have disappeared from the pages of Tennis World .”
“The last I heard, he’d gone to live in Israel,” Ted answered.
“Indeed?” Bunting smiled. “He should be very happy there.”
Ted looked at Sara, his glance imploring her advice on what to say. This time, she too was at a loss. The best she could come up with was, “This dessert is marvelous. You must give me the recipe.”
Left for last because they seemed the toughest nuts to crack were Foley, the stone-faced archaeologist, and his equally impenetrable wife. Sara made countless attempts to fix a time with them. But they always seemed to have some previous engagement. At last, she verbally threw up her hands and said, “Please, name any night you’re free. It’s fine with us.”
“I’m sorry, dear,” Mrs. Foley said cheerfully, “we’re busy then.”
Sara hung up politely and turned to Ted. “What the hell, we’ve got three out of four. That ought to do it.”
Collegiality aside, Ted grew more and more to love the Canterbury way of life. He was pleased that Sara seemed to be adapting to rusticity as well as coming to appreciate the rich classics section of Hillier Library. She read all the latest journals from cover to cover and would even brief him over dinner on what was new in the ancient world.
The students were enthusiastic, and he felt the same toward them. And, of course, it didn’t hurt Ted’s ego that his course in Greek drama drew the largest crowd in the department.
Raves for his teaching soon reached the office of the dean. And Tony Thatcher thought it now opportune to sound out all the classicists about Ted’s tenure. He elicited affirmative responses from the Hellenist, the Latinist, and the historian. And from the archaeologist he even got a nod.
All would have come off without the slightest hitch had it not been for the affair with young Chris Jastrow.
In certain circumstances it might have been a touching sight — a muscular Adonis in an orange crew-necked sweater emblazoned with a C , sleeping like a mighty lion in the sun.
Unfortunately, this was in the middle of Ted’s Latin class. And he was anything but touched.
“Wake up, Jastrow!” he snapped.
Christopher Jastrow slowly raised his handsome head and looked at Ted with half-open lids.
“Yes, sir, Professor,” he mumbled with exaggerated deference. And removed his feet from the desk in front of him.
“I’m sorry to interrupt your siesta. But would you be kind enough to conjugate voco in the present passive?”
“Yes, voco ,” Ted repeated. “As you may recall, it’s first conjugation. And I’d like to hear you go through it in the present passive.”
There was a slight pause.
“I’m afraid I didn’t get today’s assignment, sir.”
“What you’re saying is that you weren’t here last time and didn’t bother to ask anybody what to prepare.”
“Mr. Jastrow, I want to see you in my office this afternoon between four and five.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t make it, sir,” he answered courteously. “I’ve got practice.”
“Listen,” Ted warned sternly, “I don’t care if you’ve got a meeting with the President of the United States. You show up between four and five today — or else.”
And even though there was some ten minutes remaining, he could not continue teaching.
“Class dismissed,” he said, fuming.
As the students filed slowly toward the front and out the door, sophomore Tom Herman stopped at Ted’s desk and spoke sympathetically.
“Excuse me, Professor Lambros, would you be offended if I said something?”
“Tom,” Ted answered, “nothing you could say could possibly offend me any more than Jastrow’s attitude.”
“Well, that’s just it, sir,” Herman said diffidently. “Maybe you don’t know who he is.”
“I read the college paper,” Ted replied. “I know Jastrow’s our first-string quarterback. But I’m still going to bounce him from the class if he doesn’t start working.”
“Sir, with due respect, you can’t do that. I mean, without him we can’t win the Ivy title.”
Having spoken out bravely, he turned and quickly left the classroom.
Ted sat in his Canterbury office from four till half-past five that afternoon. Several students dropped by, some to question points that genuinely puzzled them. Some merely to gain points with him.
But Chris Jastrow was not one of them.
Ted threw on his (Harvard) scarf and coat and started down the hallway. He noticed that the Classics Department was still open and Leona, the secretary, was typing. He stuck his head inside.
“Hi, Lee, have you got time to do a short note for me?”
“Sure.” She smiled, then quickly rolled a fresh sheet of stationery into the typewriter and said, “Fire away.”
“To Anthony Thatcher, Dean of Humanities: Christopher Jastrow ’69 is currently failing intermediate Latin. His attitude is insouciant bordering on the arrogant. Barring some unforeseen miracle, there is no possibility of his being kept in the course past midterm. Yours truly, et cetera.”
Ted dictated this in one cathartic burst, his head in his hands. When he glanced up he noticed that Leona looked uneasy.
“Yes, I know who he is. But this is the Ivy League, we’ve got standards to maintain.” And as she typed the envelope he added, as if to absolve her of complicity, “I’ll put it under the dean’s door myself.”
He had no classes the next day, and so took full advantage of the rich facilities of the Canterbury Library to further his research.
He emerged after spending nearly eight hours abstracting the entire Fondation Hardt volume on Euripides, his green bookbag heavy with valuable copies of European journals that he — and Sara — would devour over the weekend.
Something made him glance up the hill at Canterbury Hall. There was no light on in the department office. What the hell, he thought, I might as well pick up my mail.
In addition to the routine correspondence there was a hand-addressed letter from the Department of Athletics.
I’d be grateful if you could drop by as soon as possible. I’m usually in my office till at least 7:30
(Head Football Coach)
He had half-expected this. Glancing at his watch he saw there was still time to put this presumptuous bastard in his place tonight. He marched off toward the gym.
Chet Bigelow’s rugged features looked like they had been the model for the phalanx of trophies lined up on the desk that separated the two men.
“Well then, Professor,” he began, “I understand our boy Jastrow’s having difficulty with your Latin course. Perhaps you don’t realize the pressure our men are under during the season.”
“Frankly, Mr. Bigelow, that’s none of my concern. In fact, what puzzles me is why Jastrow’s taking Latin in the first place.”
“Why, Prof, you surely know the college rules as well as I. A guy’s gotta fill a foreign-language requirement to graduate. Right?”
“But why Latin? Why in the world did you have your precious quarterback take an ancient language that is probably twice as difficult as any modern one?”
“It’s not hard if you’ve got the right teacher,” Bigelow explained.
“Most of your classics boys have been terrific to us over the years,” Chet reminisced. “I mean, Henry Dunster’s absolutely fantastic. And, of course, we’ve played ball with him, too.”
“Coach Bigelow, I’m afraid you’re losing me.”
“All right, Teddie, lemme put it another way. If you suddenly got a lot more students taking Latin, you’d have to hire a lot more teachers . Am I right?”
“I don’t like your insinuation,” Ted said with disgust.
“Just what do you imagine I’m insinuating, Prof.?”
“Naturally, I’m just a dimwit from Harvard. But it seems to me you’re suggesting that if the football team increases our enrollments by sending us warm bodies, we should be so grateful that we should let them sail through without doing any work.”
There was a pause. The coach stared silently at Ted. And then he smiled.
“You clearly know the game, Professor. Now I suggest you go out and play by the rules. For, from what I gather, you do not yet have tenure at this place. And just like we need a good season, you need a good season.”
Ted stood up.
“If you want a war, Coach,” he whispered, “you’re gonna get one. Tomorrow’s the midterm exam. And if Jastrow flunks, he’ll be out on his ass.”
“Have it your way, Teddie. Just remember you’re dealing with a man who’s undefeated in six seasons.”
At the exam next morning, Jastrow did not appear at all. As soon as it was over, Ted Lambros stormed over to Barnes Hall and requested an audience with the Dean of Humanities.
“Tony, I’m sorry to barge in on you like this.”
“That’s all right,” the dean replied. “In fact, you might say your visit has been heralded.”
He nodded. “Yes, Chet’s a bit overprotective of his boys. Anyway, sit down and tell me about it.”
Thatcher listened as Ted went on like a prosecuting attorney. A frown gradually appeared on his face. There was a moment of silence before he commented, “Look, Ted, I don’t think flunking Jastrow’s the most prudent way of handling this.”
“Do you see any alternative?”
The dean turned his chair ninety degrees and gazed out over Windsor Green. “Well,” he mused, “as John Milton so eloquently put it, ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’ ” He then swiveled back and looked at Ted.
“Milton was blind when he wrote that. But I’m not.”
Dean Thatcher gave this response careful thought, then smiled benignly.
“Ted, I want to talk to you for a moment off the record. You know how highly I regard you. And I feel you’re at the start of an extremely promising academic career.”
“What could this possibly have to do with my professional future?”
The administrator replied, unblinking, “Everything.”
“Can you explain that, please?”
“Listen,” the dean replied patiently, “you don’t seem to understand. If Jastrow can’t play, my head’s right there on the block with yours.”
“Why? You’re a full professor. You’ve got tenure.”
“I’ve also got three kids and a mortgage. They could freeze my salary forever. You’ve got to realize that Canterbury alumni are a very powerful group. And they feel pretty strongly about this place.”
“And its football team,” Ted added sarcastically.
“Yes, dammit, and its football team!” the dean shot back with exasperation. “Can’t you fathom that every time we beat Yale or Dartmouth, our grads interpret it as a sign that we’re superior in other ways as well? And let me tell you, the Monday after one of those victories, checks pour in like manna from heaven. An undefeated season can literally mean millions of dollars. And I’m not going to sit by and let a sanctimonious punk like you mess up the system. I mean, you don’t seem particularly grateful to be here.”
“Why should I be grateful, dammit?” Ted retorted. “I’ve already published more than the rest of the department put together.”
The dean shook his head. “You amaze me. You still have no idea what it takes to get ahead in the academic world.”
“I’m a good teacher and I’ve written an important book. I should think that would suffice.”
Tony Thatcher grinned. “It didn’t suffice for Harvard, did it? I mean, they didn’t seem to want to make a professor out of a Cambridge townie. And, frankly, neither do some of our boys.”
Ted had been in street fights. He had been kicked and punched and bruised. But now he felt inwardly lacerated. While he had already seen that a provincial place like Canterbury judged him on social grounds, he never would permit himself to think that his rejection at Harvard had been on anything other than academic criteria.
But he was suddenly uncertain about everything. He didn’t know whether to stay or leave. And so he remained frozen in his chair awaiting — fearing — what Thatcher would say next.
Finally, the dean addressed him in soft, paternal tones. “Ted, let me tell you what’s going to happen. You’re going to pass Chris Jastrow. And he, in turn, is going to pass for innumerable touchdowns — to the delight of our generous alumni. Now, of course, you and I are aware that the boy doesn’t know the first thing about Latin. But we also know that in the scheme of things, it isn’t all that important. What matters is that nobody rocks the boat. That way, everybody’s future is brighter — including yours.”
He rose and held out his hand in amical valediction.
“I’m sorry,” Ted said quietly, “but you still haven’t convinced me.”
“Professor Lambros,” the dean responded cordially, “let me leave you with one little thought. If we should deny you tenure at the end of this year, you might not find another teaching job anywhere.…”
“That’s a crock.”
“No, that’s a fact. Because no matter how much you’ve published, the dean of wherever you apply is going to check with us for a character reference. You know, to find out if you’re ‘collegial.’ ” He paused and then added almost in a whisper, “Need I say more?”
“No,” Ted answered, barely able to hear his own voice.
Sara was livid.
“They can’t do this to you. It’s cruel, it’s barbaric — and it’s totally unethical.”
“You’re right. But it’s also frighteningly possible.”
He was sitting on their dilapidated couch utterly bereft of confidence. Sara had never seen him so shaken.
She sat down and put her arms around him. “Ted, Canterbury’s not the end of the world. There are other schools that would kill to get you, even if these guys here say you’re a total shit.”
He lowered his head for several minutes.
At last he spoke. “Suppose they’re not bluffing? Suppose Tony Thatcher does have the power to blacklist me? What then?”
Sara Lambros thought for a moment and carefully weighed every syllable of her reply.
“Ted, I love you because you’re brave and good and honest. And I’ll stick by you no matter what happens. Isn’t that enough?”
He raised his head and looked at her. “I can’t lie to you, Sara. I’ve never been so scared in all my life.”
Before either of them could say another word, their little son burst joyfully into the room. “Daddy, Daddy,” he chirped and ran to his father’s arms. “Jarnie Emerson tried to beat me up again.”
“Again?” Ted asked bemusedly, as he continued to embrace his son.
“Yeah,” said the boy, “but this time I did what you told me. I punched him right back in the belly. It made him cry.”
Ted smiled and thought to himself, At least there’s one fighter in the family.
They barely spoke at dinner. Sara assumed her husband was just emotionally spent and was thankful for the respite. She was somewhat surprised when he stood up and reached for his parka.
“Where’re you going?” she asked.
“I don’t know, I thought I’d walk to Canterbury Hall. It’s such a nice place when nobody’s around. I want to grade those exams tonight — so I can exorcise this whole business.”
“Good idea,” she answered, sensing that he had regained some confidence. “I can sit here and abstract one or two pieces from Wege zu Euripides .”
He kissed her on the forehead. “Sara, you are the Tenth Muse.”
“Thanks, sport, but I’m happy just being plain Mrs. Lambros. Now go off, do your homework, and come back to my loving arms.”
He sat in his tiny office and looked out over Windsor Green. A preview of snows to come had powdered its broad surface, which glowed softly in the moonlight. Now and then students passed, and the air was so still he could hear their laughter from afar.
The bell tolling ten o’clock admonished him to complete his task. He turned back to the pile of bluebooks on his desk and set about transcribing the results for submission to the dean’s office. They hadn’t been bad. A handful of A’s, two C’s, and the rest varying shades of B. All in all, something a language teacher could take pride in.
Of course, there was the no-show of a certain football player. But that was quite another matter.
It took him less than two minutes to enter the grades. Now only the space following Christopher Jastrow ’69 remained — like the new snow outside — fresh, clean, and unsullied. Blank.
What should it be — F, Incomplete, or ABX (meaning absent from the exam)? Any of these would put the quietus on the little bastard’s football career.
He sat there, staring at the paper, writing nothing.
At first he had no notion of what he was going to do. But then gradually it dawned on him that he had left the house and gone to his lonely, underheated cubicle for a definite reason. To get away from Sara. To elude the beacon of her conscience.
Sara was unable to understand the kind of fear that gripped him. Her family had status, substance, and security. He still felt like an immigrant, desperately needing roots in his new country. Perhaps her forebears had made compromises in generations past. But they were buried deeply now in the unshakable foundation of her respectability.
It was such a little thing to do. In years to come he would resent acting out of false bravado. This was not ancient Athens. He was not Socrates. So why the hell should he drink hemlock for some small-time football star? What lofty principle would be served by failing Jastrow?
No, he told himself. Our whole future’s at stake. This is for self-preservation.
He took his pen and in the space by Jastrow’s name hastily scribbled — “C.”
And en route home he dropped the grades in Barnes Hall.
As he entered, he could hear Sara in the bedroom speaking to someone on the telephone. At this hour?
He walked to the open door. She was so engrossed in conversation that she didn’t notice his arrival.
“I just don’t know what else to do,” she was saying plaintively. “This is such a blow for Ted, and I can’t seem to help him.…”
She paused to listen. He still did not signal his presence.
“Oh would you?” she then said eagerly. “I think that might really help.”
Who is she talking to? With whom is she sharing our most intimate secrets?
“I’m home, Sara,” he said quietly.
She looked up, smiled, and then immediately ended her phone call. “Oh, the man of the house just entered. Thanks for everything. I’ll call you in the morning.” And she quickly hung up and hurried over to kiss him. “How do you feel, darling? Can I get you a bite of something?”
“I wouldn’t mind a beer,” Ted answered tersely.
As they headed for the kitchen, he asked calmly but with an unmistakable edge of disapproval, “With what member of the community were you sharing our little moral crisis?”
“Oh, Ted, I’m so glad I don’t have to wait to tell you. I’ve just had a long talk with Daddy.
She opened the fridge, took out two beers, and handed one to him.
“Why did he have to know about this?” Ted asked.
“Because I thought he could help, and he can. He knows Whitney Vanderbilt — who’s as heavy a Canterbury alumnus as there is. Daddy’s sure he can get him to step in and help us out. Isn’t that great?”
Ted felt his anger mounting.
“So you went running to Daddy with our problem. My problem, to be precise. I find that slightly disloyal, to say the least.”
She was stunned.
“Disloyal? For God’s sake, Ted, you were suicidal when you left here. I would have done anything to help you — even strangle Tony Thatcher with my bare hands. I don’t see why you’re not overjoyed that my father actually has the power to help us….”
Her voice trailed off as she began to realize how furious he was.
“Sara, you shouldn’t have done this without asking me. I mean, am I or am I not the man in the family?”
“What the hell does this have to do with gender? Do you want to go down in flames just to preserve your masculine ego?”
Ted exploded. “Goddamn you, Sara!” And slammed his beer bottle so violently on the kitchen counter that it shattered.
Before either of them could speak, frightened sobs and shouts of “Mommy!” began to emanate from little Ted’s bedroom.
For another moment they just glared at each other. Finally she whispered, “I’d better go to him.”
It took Sara nearly twenty minutes to lull her fearful six-year-old back to sleep. When she returned to the kitchen she saw that Ted had cleaned up and disposed of the broken glass. She walked into the living room. He was seated, facing the fire, a glass of scotch in his hand. He did not turn when he heard her approach.
“Do you want to talk?” she asked calmly.
Still with his back to her, he said tersely, “I gave Jastrow a C.”
By now she had guessed as much. And knew she had to suppress — or at least postpone — her anger.
“Ted,” she began softly, “it was for you to decide. I just wish you’d trusted me enough to share the pain of compromise.”
He sat like a statue, unresponsive.
“Look, I said I’d stick by you. And if staying at Canterbury means that much to you, we’ll pay the price. We can be happy anywhere as long as we keep together.”
“You think I was a coward, don’t you?” he murmured.
“No, Ted,” she answered. “I was just as scared as you. I shouldn’t have tried to make you into some Sophoclean hero. I mean, life is full of compromises, and what you did is pretty minuscule in the scheme of things.”
He still did not turn. She walked up behind him and placed her hands gently at the base of his neck. Her touch brought a surge of comfort.
“Sara,” he whispered, “I sat there all evening wondering what the hell to do about it. And then something said to me that bucking the system would be like King Lear raging against the winds. It would have meant risking everything we worked for, everything we want to do.…”
“It’s over now, Ted,” she said softly, “so just forget it.”
“You know I can’t. I never will.” He paused, then added, “And you won’t either.”
Inwardly she knew that he was right.
The National Security Council had existed, at least in name, since 1947. But it was only after 1969 — when Richard Nixon named Henry A. Kissinger to lead this advisory group — that it began to impinge upon and gradually usurp some of the powers of the Department of State.
Most of this was attributable to Kissinger’s brilliance and resourcefulness. But he also benefited from what, in geopolitical terms, might be called first-strike capability at access to the President.
The Secretary of State has his headquarters in an imposing building on Twenty-first Street and Virginia Avenue, but the head of the NSC works out of a windowless warren in the bowels of the White House itself. Thus, though William Rogers may have had the cabinet post and trappings of office, Henry Kissinger had the President’s ear.
To assist in building a power base in the National Security Council, Henry had brought along several of his Harvard students, many of whom he had long been grooming. Of these, George Keller was by far the most gifted. And, paradoxically, had the hardest time being cleared for security.
No Kafka victim was ever grilled as relentlessly as George was questioned by the FBI. It was all polite, of course. But, as the agents kept emphasizing, when you are checking someone for the highest security level, the fate of the nation lies in your thoroughness.
First he had filled out an exhaustive written questionnaire asking his name, any former names, and all the addresses he had ever lived at since he was born. Also the sources of all the income he had ever earned. Moreover, they demanded as many names as possible of Americans who could testify to his loyalty. George offered Kissinger, Professor Finley, and Andrew Eliot. All of whom, he later learned, were personally visited by the Bureau.
But during his oral interview, when questions were repeated again and again by the two agents, he began to grow upset.
“Gentlemen, I must have told you a dozen times. I can’t be sure that I didn’t live in one place or another when I was two years old. I hope you can appreciate that.”
“We do, sir,” the senior FBI man said tonelessly. “But I hope you appreciate the sensitive position you’re in. When a candidate still has relatives back there the possibility for blackmail can’t be ignored. And you still have — what, Dr. Keller, — a father —?”
“And a sister,” George quickly repeated for the millionth time. “And as I told you gentlemen, I haven’t seen them since October 1956.”
“Still, you are aware that your father is a high official in the Hungarian People’s Government, are you not?”
“I only know what I read in the papers,” George replied. “And that, gentlemen, is part of my duties as an East European area expert. Yes, it’s true that Istvan Kolozsdi” (he was unable to pronounce the words my father ) “has been kicked upstairs, as you might put it. But the jobs he has held are absolutely insignificant.”
“And yet he is, after all, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Party,” countered the senior agent.
George laughed derisively. “You could be too, sir. In Hungary they hand that title around like candy.”
“Then what you’re saying is that your father is not that important. Is that so, Dr. Keller?”
“Precisely. He’s what you might call a successful failure.”
Some of the queries were not unexpected.
“What do you think of communism?” gave George the opportunity for an eloquent tirade against the various Marxist regimes of Eastern Europe. A speech that, he sensed, considerably impressed his interviewers.
And yet, even after an entire day of talking, one question startled him.
“Do you love your father, Dr. Keller?”
George suddenly grew tense. Inexplicably, he was at a loss for words.
“Do you love your father?” the agent repeated.
George groped for a suitable response: “He stands for a repressive political system, one which I have dedicated my life to opposing. I cannot but loathe such an individual.”
The FBI men shifted impatiently in their chairs. The senior officer then commented, “Dr. Keller, we asked you a personal question and you gave us a political answer. Now I know it’s getting late and we’ve been here a long time. But if you don’t mind, sir, I’d like to hear you address yourself to that question again. Do you love your father?”
Why was he having such trouble giving them a simple “no”?
“Look,” he said in a confidential tone, “can I say something off the record?”
“Please feel free, sir.”
“The truth is, I hate that man. He treated me like a dog from the day I was born. I detest Istvan Kolozsdi as a human being. Now, if I can answer on the record — please. I have no affection whatsoever for my father. Is that clear enough for you, gentlemen?”
“Yes, Dr. Keller. I think that about wraps it up. Thank you for your patience.”
Alter they left, George fell into a sudden depression. Not really worrying about his security clearance. Kissinger had forewarned him that the FBI was pretty severe with foreign-born candidates.
No, it was that last question. He had thought that he no longer had any feelings at all for his father. But never had he been obliged to testify on record, “I swear I do not love my father.”
Was it totally true?
A long-forgotten childhood memory suddenly surfaced from his psyche, catching him completely unaware.
“Why are you crying, Father — is it for Mama?”
“Yes, boy. To love someone is terrible, it brings such pain.”
“But, Father, I love you.”
“Then you’re a little fool. Get out and let me be.”
Most of the staff of the National Security Council was headquartered in large, airy, colonial-style rooms on the second floor of the Executive Office Building, an historic structure within the White House compound, (“It’s like being on campus again,” George remarked to an assistant.)
The little rooms along the NSC corridor contained bright young specialists in diplomacy, defense, and various geographical areas of the world. They toiled long hours in the service of their country and their own advancement.
But George was singled out from the very beginning. He was given office space — though little of it — right in the White House basement, where his boss could hale him into conference at all times of the day. And even well into the night.
He was also only steps away from the two most vital scenes of governmental deliberations, the Oval Office and the Situation Room, that airless cubicle sometimes referred to as “a sauna for world crises.”
Though George’s twenty-five-thousand-dollar salary was somewhat less than he had received in New York, he was still able to rent a small apartment in Town Square Towers, a few minutes drive from the White House — especially at 7:00 A.M., when he usually arrived.
Even Kissinger’s influence did not extend to getting parking places. Therefore, as a junior aide, George had to leave his car in the government lot beneath the Washington Monument, then walk north and cross Constitution Avenue to reach the White House gate.
Actually, it was a rare occasion in his long and busy day that he got to see some of the other NSC staffers who worked across the way in the EOB. For Henry made enormous demands of his team. His insatiable appetite for information of all sorts was such that they rarely had the chance to leave their desks, even to go downstairs to the cafeteria for lunch.
No one worked later than Kissinger himself. And George made sure that he never left his office until Henry passed by and wished him good night.
George had no social life at all. Indeed, the entire staff in the EOB worked themselves to such exhaustion that they barely had the strength to drive home. There were many burnouts even among the whiz kids in their middle twenties.
One of George’s tasks was assisting Kissinger to recruit bright, new faces — which would very shortly become pale, tired faces — for the National Security Council staff.
Early that first spring, he interviewed a young graduate of Georgetown for a job in the Latin American section. She had excellent qualifications: an honors degree in Spanish and Portuguese, as well as several letters from Republican party officials reminding the White House boys how important a Washington lawyer her father was.
George was nonetheless determined to grill her severely. He felt too strong a loyalty to Kissinger to allow party politics to impinge upon the important work they were doing. If this girl turned out to be some flighty social type, they would farm her out to some senator’s office.
The fact that Catherine Fitzgerald was blond and attractive confirmed his prejudgment that an empty-headed debutante was being foisted on them. But then she genuinely confounded him. Not merely with her credentials and obvious intelligence, but with her experience as well. She had spent two years with the Peace Corps in Latin America, and had worked three summers during college for a bank in São Paulo to perfect her Portuguese.
George’s evaluation was positive, and Catherine Fitzgerald was hired to work for the National Security Council.
After that, he passed her occasionally in the corridors while following up something for Henry with people in the EOB. But otherwise he gave her no thought. He was too immersed with helping Kissinger solve the jigsaw puzzle called world politics.
That is, until late one icy winter evening, when he left the West Wing of the White House and was heading for the gate. He glanced over to check whose office lights were still on in the EOB and caught sight of her emerging from the entrance.
“Miss Fitzgerald,” he said jokingly, “don’t tell me that you’re going home so early?”
“Oh hi, Dr. Keller.” She sighed wearily. “You know that actually isn’t a joke. This is the first time I’ve left the office before midnight.”
“I’ll be sure to tell the boss,” said George.
“Don’t bother. I’m not bucking for promotion,” she replied. “I only wish he’d hire one or two more aides for my department. Some people around here think South America is just a suburb of Mexico.”
George smiled. “Is your car parked over by the Monument?”
“So’s mine. I’ll walk you over. We can protect each other from the muggers.”
Crossing Constitution Avenue, George looked at Cathy and a surprising thought occurred to him.
This person is a girl. She’s not bad-looking. No, in fact, she’s fairly pretty. And I haven’t even had a social conversation since I’ve been in Washington. With so many hours of hard work behind him, his conscience allowed him to ask if she would like to have a drink.
“Fine,” she replied, “but only if it’s coffee.”
George then suggested several spots in fashionable Georgetown that he’d heard of and wanted to check out.
“Oh no,” she answered pleasantly, “I don’t feel up to facing the jeunesse dorée of Washington. Why don’t we just drive to my place and have coffee there?”
“Okay,” George replied. “You lead and I’ll follow.”
She lived alone on South Royal Street in Old Town Alexandria — an attractive three-room walk-up.
As she fussed with an espresso machine, George studied the posters on her wall. They were mostly colorful souvenirs from her Latin American travels. Except for one, which piqued his curiosity.
“Say, Cathy,” he asked, pointing to the large white-and-blue placard that had pride of place over her sofa, “is that some kind of joke?”
“Oh, you mean my antinuclear artwork?” she responded blithely. “No, I was actually pretty active in the antiwar movement in college. I was even in a couple of big marches.”
“Then I don’t understand —”
“What? How I got the NSC job? Or why I wanted it?”
“Both, I guess.”
“Well,” she said, sitting down beside him and handing him a cup, “to begin with, this is a free country and I’m not ashamed to say I think we’re wrong to be in Vietnam. On the other hand, I obviously don’t advocate the violent overthrow of the government, or I wouldn’t have gotten security clearance. Ergo, you might say I’m an idealist who wants to work for change within the system.”
“Very noble,” George responded. “Are there many others like you in the NSC corridor?”
“One or two.” She smiled. “But I’m certainly not going to name any names to ‘Kissinger’s shadow.’ ”
She stopped herself, suddenly embarrassed.
“Is that what they call me — ‘Kissinger’s shadow’?”
“Well, you two are pretty inseparable. I suppose it’s just a little jealousy on the part of those of us who work across the tracks. I mean, somebody mentioned that you were probably the youngest guy with an actual office in the White House.”
“What else do they say?” George coaxed.
“You’re putting me on the spot. Can’t we change the subject?”
“Yes, but only if you let me guess what the other staffers think of me. My intuition says they consider me conceited, arrogant, and ruthless.”
He looked at her for a response.
“No comment,” she pleaded.
“You don’t have to, because it’s true. I am all of those things.”
“I don’t believe you.” Cathy smiled. “I think that somewhere underneath that stuffed shirt of yours there beats the heart of Santa Claus.”
Thanks for the leap of faith,” said George.
“Actually, I think the boss is that way too. Henry just likes to make tough noises. That’s why you two get on so well. It’s probably your European backgrounds.”
“What do you know about my background?”
“What everybody knows, I guess. I mean, we’re sworn to secrecy about government affairs, so what else can we use for gossip if not our colleagues’ private lives?”
“But I don’t have a private life,” George retorted.
“Too bad. You could probably make some girl extremely happy.”
“I doubt it. I’m the least romantic person in Washington.”
“But you’re probably the most brilliant. I’ve read your articles in Foreign Affairs and — though I disagree with most of your conclusions — they’re amazingly astute.”
“I’m flattered.” He touched her on the shoulder lightly and inquired, “Have you got anyone to make you happy?”
“Not at this moment. No.”
“May I apply for the position?”
“You may,” she smiled. “But then I’ll have to interview you.”
“How about dinner Friday night?”
She nodded. “That’s great. I’ll try to finish by nine. Is that okay?”
“That’s fine,” said George. “It’s somewhat early for me, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
The Lambros clan had much to celebrate in December of 1968 as they all crowded around the festive table at the family home in Cambridge.
One week earlier Ted had received the official word of his promotion to tenure — effective July first of next year. Unbelievably, the departmental vote had been unanimous.
Indeed, Ted had been so conspicuously successful in his teaching that enrollments for his courses in the winter term were immense. And if this trend continued, the deanery might vote another junior slot so that the department could expand.
Little Ted seemed totally adjusted to the change of schools and even started to excel at peewee hockey. To top it off, Sara had convinced Evelyn Ungar, Director of the Harvard University Press, to let her do some freelance classics editing by mail.
Alumni contributions had reached new heights, due in no small part to the magnificent achievements of Canterbury’s undefeated football team. In the season finale, they crushed Dartmouth, their traditional rival, 33-0, Chris Jastrow was named first-string Ivy quarterback and looked likely to be drafted by the pros. Even Tony Thatcher was elevated to Dean of the College. So Ted had friends in high places.
O tidings of comfort and joy!
As soon as Ted and Sara returned to Windsor, they began to look for a house. And to take lessons in cross-country skiing. The omnipresent whiteness gave the campus an aura of enchantment.
After a few weeks of searching, they found a solid old place on Barrington Road with a magnificent view of the mountains. It needed fixing up, but then, as Ted rationalized, this activity would be an outlet for some of his wife’s creative energies.
For, though she never complained, slipping and sliding down icy winter paths was not exactly summa felicitas for Sara Lambros. She began to toy with the idea of graduate school, studying the Harvard catalog to work out courses she could squeeze into a weekly forty-eight-hour visit to Cambridge.
Ted did not discourage her. Yet, at the same time, he did not disguise the fact that he felt her absence, even for so short a time, might have a negative effect on little Teddy.
But then Sara was soon heavily involved in refurbishing the house.
With all this nesting, hibernating, growing roots in snow and so forth, it was natural that the couple wanted to increase and multiply. (“Teddie would enjoy a little sister, don’t you think?”) And yet each month brought only disappointment.
“Damn,” Sara would exclaim. “I’m really sorry, Ted.”
“Hey look,” he would reply. “Maybe we just screwed up on the calculations. Stay loose. Be patient, honey.”
“I will,” she’d answer, with a wan smile, “Just promise that you won’t lose patience with me.”
He took her in his arms.
“Listen, for another kid like Teddie, I’d gladly wait a dozen years.”
His words were comforting, but with each succeeding lunar cycle seemed to be spoken with a little less conviction.
When Ted wrote Cameron Wylie to report the good news of his tenure, the Regius Professor’s reply included more encouragement to visit Oxford.
Though he had been but newly elevated, Ted was bold enough to ask the college for leave of absence. As he argued in his letter, a break from teaching would allow him to complete his research on Euripides. This, he subtly implied, would bring further glory to the college. The response of the executive committee that adjudicated his petition was quite unexpected.
“Lambros,” said the provost, as they questioned him in camera , “we’re prepared to grant your rather premature petition, if you’ll agree to give us something in return.”
“Sure, anything,” said Ted, secure in the awareness that, with tenure guaranteed, he could not be bounced even if he ultimately reneged.
“If we let you go to Oxford,” said an elder member of the committee, “we’d expect on your return that you’d take on the chairmanship of classics — for at least five years.”
Ted could hardly credit what he had heard. Were they actually requesting that he accept the leadership of his department as a favor? How quickly academic decorations now were rushing to be pinned upon his chest.
And yet he knew enough not to reveal excessive eagerness.
“Well, I’ll commit to three,” he answered with a smile. “And we can haggle after that.”
“You’ve got a deal, Professor Lambros,” said the provost. “I think the college has a rising star in you.”
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