Falling Off Broadway
Falling Off Broadway
"Stay Away from the Upper Class!"
"You can go to a small college and be a big fish in a little pond," said my father, "or you can go to a big college and be a little fish in a big pond." I wanted to go to a big college and be a big fish in a big pond. The big college I wanted to go to was Harvard because both my father and my grandfather had gone there, but the Ethical Culture Fieldston School was under a quota system, which meant Harvard would only accept four members of our senior class. Eight of my classmates applied to Harvard and out of our group, four had perfect scores on the SATs. I was not one of them. To be one of the select four to go to Harvard, I would have to have something in addition to relatives who were graduates.
Harvard was looking for students with extracurricular credits, in addition to academic skills, and I hoped that being president of the school and my class qualified. I sent in my application and waited patiently for a reply. One day it came. I had been accepted! I ran into the living room to tell my parents. While they were congratulating me, my brother Peter had a big smile on his face because he had written the letter.
In spite of Peter, I got into Harvard. My grandfather rewarded me with an invitation to join my grandparents at their favorite resort in Canada, which featured two lodges on a lake. One of the lodges was for "Newly Weds" and the other was for "Nearly Deads." My grandparents stayed in the "Nearly Deads." Alone amongst the "Newly Weds," I met an unhappily married housewife. She told me I had "bedroom eyes" and invited me to join her in bed. I was not prepared to take full advantage of this opportunity because, at 17, I was still a stranger to the mysteries of lovemaking.
I didn't know what to do. I held her tightly as my father had advised but nothing happened. Nevertheless, the lonely lady showered me with gifts and wrote me letters. Having an older woman in love with me was an accomplishment, and I proudly showed her letters to my father.
"Never let a woman get her hooks into you," said my father.
I wondered if my mother ever got her hooks into my father. My father unhooked me from the Canadian housewife by writing a goodbye letter to her, and getting me to sign it. God had rescued me from my love life.
The big pond of Harvard seemed more like an ocean. Out of my freshman class of 1,000, I only knew three of my classmates because they came from Fieldston. But then an opportunity presented itself. The president of Harvard, James Bryant Conant, invited all the freshmen to tea in the presidential mansion. I decided to reciprocate, and I invited the president for drinks in my room. No president of Harvard had ever been invited for drinks by a freshman. President Conant came with his wife and the event was written up in the Harvard Crimson . My friends told me to take advantage of the publicity and run for president of the class. I hired a parrot and I taught it to say, "David Black for president!" Then I took the parrot to the freshman dining room during lunch. The parrot was nervous in front of so many people. It sat on its perch and didn't say anything. When the parrot finally started to say, "David Black for president!" it shat all over the table. I lost the election.
My father had waited on tables in the very hall where I was now eating. He filled me with tales of the privileged "upper" class at Harvard, and how wealthy families paid for accommodations where their fortunate offspring could live with their lady friends. This area was called The Gold Coast, and presumably did not exist anymore, but the traditions of upper-class Harvardians continued.
One of my classmates told me about a sophomore named Bill Perry who wanted to be an opera conductor. His father gave him an annual birthday present of an orchestra, chorus, and soloists to conduct. This year, he was using his birthday pr