How I Became a Writer (iv)

As a compromise of our two preveiously referenced, intrangisent positions, the editor of The Broad Street Review, where this previously appeared, brought this series to an end, following this piece’s publication. The next three will be new, except for having appeared at my old blog. But until then…

I came back senior year with a beard.
Adele and I had dated the rest of the spring. We had spent a weekend together over the summer. In the fall, she was living at home and taking statistics at B.U. for psych. grad. school. We dated until November, when an old boy friend got out of the army and wanted to marry her. She wanted to give it a chance. I couldn’t argue. I had not enough of an idea where my life was going to offer it to anyone.
Well, I argued, but it did no good.

I went into Park Square with Mick Magyar, whose girl friend had broken up with him, and got drunk to the Lilly Brothers at The Hillbilly Ranch. I stopped going to class, slept until noon, went drinking with Mick or Tim O’Cullinan or Tank Nonnanucci. I skipped out to Mardi Gras with Tim. I got caught in a girls dorm with Tank and made Social Probation. I joined the lacrosse team because hitting people with sticks seemed a good idea.
I relished my emerging hoodlum persona. (Being a hoodlum at Brandeis was easy. You only had to be over five-eight, hang out with Gentiles, and drink beer.) At parties, I leaned against walls, scraping the labels of Miller’s quarts, awaiting a replacement girl-of-my-dreams. I told myself I was soaking up valuable experiences. I was having a heart-broken good time.
The only thing was I wasn’t writing. The only other thing was that, by the standards of writers I admired – Algren, Hemingway, Lowry – never having shipped out on a freighter or shot a lion or experienced D.T.s – I had nothing to write about. I was still a nice Jewish boy, whose family was less enthusiastic about his wanting to be a writer than it had even been about his beard. “Go to law school,” my father said. “You can write in your spare time.” “Go to law school,” my Uncle Murry, to whom I had gone for a sympathetic ear, said. Known for having slowed his advancement through the public school system by his commitment to “principles,” he warned me against hurting my mother.
The final only thing was that while going to law school meant that I would be – by Brandeis standards – selling my soul, not going to school somewhere meant I would be spending two years doing push-ups at any redneck sergeant’s whim. So I took the LSATs.
I had celebrated our basketball team’s opening night twenty point loss with a drunk that had me up at four, six, eight, and ten to vomit. I came out of the shower at noon, wet, cold, hung-over, and Mick handed me my mail. I tore open the envelope from the Princeton Testing Service. I saw a 70 on the green paper. Shit, I thought, mediocre again. Then I saw this grid.
“You’re shaking,” Mick said.
“I think I got a 99,” I said.

That changed the situation. There was a chance the people at Princeton knew more about me than I did. This view was only somewhat shaken by my appointment with an assistant dean of admissions at Harvard Law School. I had hoped to convince Bailey Biddlebanks that my grades in writing course captured my worth more accurately than the rest of my transcript. “I am so tired,” he said, “of you C+ people waltzing in here with your pitiful 99s.” I added Penn, Northwestern, NYU to my list.
Christmas break, at the Holiday Festival, I ran into Stanley Kessler. We had met at summer camp in 1956. He had been the basketball star (Every camp had one); and I the tall, skinny, uncoordinated kid with glasses (Every camp had one of me too). He had overlooked my tendency to clang lay-ups off rims because of my knowledge of sports trivia and our shared passion for rock’n’roll, and we had become friends. (His favorite song was “Pledging My Love” and mine “Speedo,” which measured the gap in our levels of sophistication. Stanley had made out with more girls than I had spun bottles at.) Because we lived in different neighborhoods and he was a year older, we saw each other infrequently; but we had kept in touch. He had become a starting forward at Central High School, where he had once out-rebounded Earl Proctor and out-scored Howie Turnoff. He had graduated Penn and was in his first year at its law school.
Stanley was also philosophically inclined. At camp, he had clued me into one of life’s truths: How Good You Had To Be To Be Good. He had illustrated his point with our counselor, Hal Weitz. Hal had been All-Public at Lincoln. Now he couldn’t even start for Yale.
“How’d you do on your law boards?” Stanley asked.
I told him.
“Penn’ll grab you.” He punched my arm. It’ll be fun.”

Every couple months I ran into Adele, when she was visiting Beverly. There was still no one I could talk to like I talked to her. There was still no one who spoke to me like she did. Each time, I thought, Maybe she will go out with me.
But, no.

The last time was after a Ralph Ellison reading. The army guy had not worked out. Neither had statistics. Just when my hopes had revived, she told me she was going to San Francisco to study with Mark Harris. Do you know how far away San Francisco was in 1964? At Penn State, where I visited friends on party week-ends, the hippest guy on campus was a Negro called “Coast” because he had been there. When Richie Lieberthal, a guard on our flag football team, told us he was going to Stanford Med. School, everyone assumed he must not have gotten into Flower.
I told her I was thinking of Penn.
She told me if I wanted to write, I would.
At lacrosse practice, I slammed the butt end of my stick into Dusty Mizrahi’s belly. “C’mon, asshole,” I said. “C’mon.”