How Did I Do That?

It was in 1962, I think, that I became privileged to attend the Peddie School, a very, very, very good institution of high learning, where young boys (and now, girls) prepare for higher education in the liberal arts, in mathematics, and German and French, and all the studies and fields of scholarly endeavor. It is a very wealthy institution, too, having been bequeathed a very, very, very large sum by my parents’ very good friend and his wife, Mr and Mrs Walter J. Annenberg. (This is off the top of my head, but I hope it’s J!)

It was Grandfather’s, George Preston Marshall’s, generosity which sent me there. My father was well-off, but too frugal for Mom. She knew what I needed, a fine education, and we sought just the school which was up to the task. We drove all over, my mother and I. Up New York State, to Manlius, and other military schools, which I shunned (but perhaps shouldn’t have, in the light of later developments), and Trinity Pauling, which isn’t the least bit military at all, and several others. (We missed some of the best schools.) We visited many campuses, and ruled out many more, before arriving at Peddie, which impressed us with its gorgeous main building, fortunately now a faint (not distant) memory, where I was later to live on the second floor, in the front, my roommate a senator’s son from Argentina named Andres. (At Christmas, he broke his leg playing polo, and had to remain in Buenos Aires. He was a wonderful accordionist, and especially loved Brasilian music.) And later, the son of a vice president of John Deere, manufacturers of green tractors and agricultural equipment, named Dan Johnson. (From whom I’m estranged now, and sorry about it. I hope we meet again soon. I always thought he had such a great name! An actor’s, or perhaps, a rodeo rider’s name.)

That year, I was assigned an advisor, a mathematics teacher, whose name escapes me, but it didn’t help. I got in trouble quick. (It’s probably a long story, best forgotten, and not only forgettable, but actually forgotten. I’ll never remember what I got demerits for.)

One problem was that wickedest of weeds, tobacco!  There was a very nice, cozy, but dark, wooden-paneled, and tasteful, decorated with trophies (and the occasions of parties, no doubt), clubroom downstairs, where smoking was permitted, even tacitly encouraged, called the 1941 Club. In order to join it, I had to get permission to smoke. Mother, dear Mother, who always said I’d have to wait until I was eighteen to smoke, not too reluctantly, granted her permission, and smoke, I did, for the very first time of zillions!

Another was the cross-country team, for which I had terribly tender feet, but was probably worse and increasingly debilitated by the former problem, cigarettes! The star of the team was Rick Spooner, the only Black student in the school of about 400, and the state champion of New Jersey. We didn’t see much of him, for he took off like a rabbit, and like a rabbit, never let his heels strike the ground, barefoot, if I recall correctly, and was drying off from the shower, or leaving, when we finished each race. Terribly few people now remember him, now passed away.

But the main problem was reading, and studying, in general. I’d told the headmaster, and the dean, Mr Dubois, when, with my mother in the former’s office, being interviewed for admission, that I was sure I very much needed remedial reading, and the headmaster said they had a course in speed reading, and that he was not sure, but thought likely, would supply my deficiency.

Wrong! I passed that course with flying colors, I think, and came through it, no better than when I started, a very poor reader.

I struggled hard, but vainly, to master two courses. American History was the worse, I think, and I didn’t consider making much effort at English, where we only had Edith Hamilton’s *Mythology* to study hard, a surprisingly dense, though small, book. Moby Dick, Great Expectations, and something else Victorian and very long, and other books, not to mention the textbook, which was excellent, were to prove my downfall, and when I took both again in the summer, I lapsed behind in English by six compositions, which I was supposed to have handed in, at the rate of one each week, but didn’t. I always aced the vocabulary, grammatical, and other tests, though, so it was mainly the ominous invisibility of those compositions which stood in my way.

My teacher told me to get them in pronto, or I’d fail.  That night, all that night, I scribbled them out, my penmanship being horrid even still, all first drafts, but rather good, I thought, and so did the teacher, evidently, but very disconcertingly, because he insisted they must be plagiarized.

I was, and am, appalled, of course; I’d never, ever, even consider for a moment asking for help in any of my assigned homework, not to mention cheating at all, and certainly not through plagiary!

It sickens me yet to recall this episode, and how wrongly was I wronged, and to what disastrous effect!  But for it, I might have had a decent educational career, but it was never to be.

He told me, alas!, that he would give me a temporary F for them, and a B for the course, but if he couldn’t find them in publication elsewhere by the beginning of the next semester, he’d restore them to B grades, and my overall grade to A.

Quite erroneously, he presumed me guilty.

I flunked history, though I got a lot out of it, mainly through lack of familiarity with the life and times of James Polk, on which the second of two essays in the final exam was based, and needing to pass both courses, I ended my career at Peddie in disgrace, shame and terrible, bitter disappointment.

I did very well indeed in American history (often woefully distorted on many counts) subsequently, and love it, despite failing world history in college again, later! Three failures, and all very interesting, educational, and instructive, despite the bad marks.

I’ve always loved history, but feel bad about neglecting other things to study it (I rarely bother with fiction, TV, sports, and the distractions most people enjoy, not even theater, concerts, much less classical music, which I also love, but miss, nor any amusements whatsoever, except an occasional comedy show), and Peddie taught me excellently, a truth I cherish, though even now, I neglect it, especially foreign history. This is a matter of which not only I, but Americans, should feel shame. I feel quite strongly about it, the shame notwithstanding! The state of our ignorance, of which I’m incessantly reminded, pains me.

Even now I’m ambivalent in my feelings about Peddie. I love it, but feel wronged by it.  I never should have been there, so unprepared for the experience was I, at all. You can’t start a prep school in your junior year of high school, neither for the prospect of attending a good college nor an easy one. Once engaged in poor study habits, poor discipline, listlessness, and disconsolation, pulling out of it is almost unheard of.

You might as well go to a diploma mill, cheaply frame your cheap sheepskin, toss it in the trash, and forget it.

I’d rather eat gyros in Princeton and engage total, but fascinating, strangers in conversations there than succeed again in a lousy college I don’t even care about and bump into bumpkins who glance meanly at me for no better reason than that nobody’s happy, which happens in such places, even, and especially, in Bible schools and theological seminaries, where your soul as well as your spirit, may be crushed.  I hate hating instructors. I’d rather attend to a good lecturer and flunk. That’s the path I prefer and follow.

What appears on my final transcript I don’t know, nor care to.

I wasn’t too good as co-captain of the fencing team, anyway. But I’ll take you on, if you challenge me!

Here in Miami, for some reason, I haven’t chanced upon many enchanting academics, though to be sure, a few, such as Nakatsukasa, a Japanese professor, and great treasure indeed, though under-illustrious, I believe, being in Miami and not a superior university to it. Darn right, I’m biased. U of Miami is our best, and beyond me, to be sure, but not enough so. Here, I believe she has fallen from great heights in Japan, and like many, through no fault of her own.

I love Miami, but it often disappoints me in many ways. It needs not only more wealth.


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