From Ting and I: A Memoir...
After another summer of being head camp counselor with Rhoda, who was from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, smart, attractive, athletic, and having what my mother described as a “Miss America figure,” I returned to Ithaca, to share a double room in Boldt Hall, much nicer than my freshman digs. Looked old. Had Ivy. My roommate was Miles, tall, smart, athletic, good-looking, and wealthy, quickly snapped up by the leading Jewish fraternity on campus, leaving me with a double room and without a roommate. Two plusses: more space, more privacy. My classwork went better. My mood improved.
That fall, I “pledged” and then “de-pledged” a fraternity, Phi Epsilon Pi. I return to the Phi Ep story below. I was not fully the frat type. “I wouldn’t join any club that would have me as a member,” as Groucho Marx once said about himself.
Underscoring my unsuitability for fraternity life was the series of fights I got into, one much-too-early morning, with the fraternity located across the street from Boldt Hall. It was probably a spring Friday night. I wanted to study, and they wanted to party. I was sober and tired. They were drunk and loud. I wasn’t the only one to complain. Catcalls went back and forth to and from others at Boldt Hall and the brothers at the fraternity. Campus police were called, came and went, ineffectually.
I was fed up. I dressed, marched into the frat house, went upstairs and told the guardian of the record player to turn it down. “Turn it down yourself,” he replied. As I did so, he jumped me, but I put him down. On my way down the stairs another guy grabbed me. That was a draw, broken up by the brothers. On my way out, a very big brother came after me. I got in one good punch, then down I went. He could have been a lot meaner but wasn’t, so I merely got a fat lip and a bruised cheekbone. I felt good, though. Something had needed to be done. It wasn’t just the noise, but also the demeaning catcalls from the fraternity that seemed to require my direct action.
One bright spot my sophomore year was “Great Poets,” a course I took with Professor Forrest Read. The course fulfilled an English requirement and met at a convenient time, two considerations that outweighed the import of the topic. Poets? Maybe I’d meet some girls there. Prof. Read came to English literature after having started out as an engineer, so we had a technical bent in common. The poets were great– Donne, Pope, Keats, Robert Browning, Yeats and Frost–and some of the poetry has been unforgettable for me. I do not recall finding a girlfriend there.
I was pleased by what Prof. Read did when I, uncharacteristically, disputed a grade. He had given me a poor grade on a paper, thinking I had badly misinterpreted one of Donne’s poems. In his office I made the case for my interpretation, and he graciously backed down, raising my grade from 75 to nearly 100. On another paper, he was even more generous. We talked about other topics as well, and he gave me some good, avuncular advice. He was one of the few people I have admired. That could be a theme.
My grades improved, though not uniformly.
Another bright spot: my social life improved greatly. I forget how I met Ellen: brilliant, pretty, violin-playing English major from a New York City suburb. Daughter of a far-left M.D. from New Jersey, she and I disagreed on many things, but we had somehow fallen for each other. She once said she had a “thing” for Christian guys. That matched well with my “thing” for Jewish girls, especially smart, pretty ones....
Despite some ups and downs, we went through the year as a romantic pair, and she replaced Rhoda as my co-counselor at the summer camp, my last year there. When I met Ellen again fifteen years later, she was still smart, attractive, sensitive, and still wholly at odds with me politically. A marriage would have been doomed.
Ting and I: A Memoir... is available in paperback and ebook formats from both amazon.com and outskirtspress.com. Published in September 2012.
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