Saturday, November 2, 2013


I don’t recall exactly when my parents determined that I should go to boarding school (although I do remember my mother giving me a couple of articles to read on the subject, one in the old Holiday magazine and another in Town and Country), but I do remember trollish relatives of mine speaking ill of the decision.  From today’s time and space distance, the episode seems like our family’s version of the movie Gentleman’s Agreement.   I remember clearly discussions concerning traditional prep school anti-Semitism, and especially ones about “latent homosexuality,” which was said to core-infect these institutions.  I’m certain overhearing these conversations taught me the word “rife.”

The day they dropped me off at The Gunnery in 1967 really was “the first day of the rest of my life.”  On our way, the school requested that we pause at JFK Airport to pick up another incoming freshman from Alabama named Martin Love, who was matriculating on a scholarship sponsored by a group called ABC (“A Better Chance”).  A cheerless kid, Martin and I never became friends, not even for a day.  

But I’ll always be glad we were assigned to retrieve him because while we were waiting in the Eastern terminal, the Lovin’ Spoonful arrived and in wild style began carooming around the baggage area in wheelchairs, à la A Hard Day’s Night.  I recognized the band immediately (even new member Jerry Yester), and although we didn’t speak, I consider our brief encounter one of my “formative experiences.”

I am introspective and personally reflective only when challenged; defensively, I usually find a way of fading to gray, tuning out.  This day, my life transition day, I was for the most part ignored (I suppose it was my parents’ life transition day also) and the ringing changes meant absolutely nothing to me until the very end when they departed and all that remained were I and "my own devices.”  Darkness early-verged into the Connecticut afternoon sky and slight fall chill hit the air.  The surrounding campus buildings, which all would eventually seem like home, were alien and minatory, and people, some of whom would become friends or at least familiars, seemed the same way.  For a brief moment only, for the very last time ever, I felt existential confusion and a gulping onset of fear and tears. Then, suddenly, everything was pure oxygen.

All school images, Washington D.C. and Virginia: Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1899.
Kevin Ayers: Derby Day (Link)


  1. I had a similar experience, though not as benign as yours. I was taken from my alcoholic mother by the State of Illinois and put in a all male orphanage at 13. It was quite nice for me however as it was at the top of a bluff on Lake Michigan 30 miles north of Chicago, a place named Arden Shore patronized by the Sears family. I'm actually quite grateful for the experience as there were some very bright upperclassmen who were into Ray Charles and Bob Dylan of whom I hadn't a clue.

    The sentiment about homosexuality is misplaced I think, it not being a choice. I was propositioned myself several times and just didn't go for it, more frightening than anything else.

    1. Hi and good (really good) to hear from you. "High school" and "benign" don't seem to come together perfectly, but I see your point. For me, going away to boarding school really saved my life because it took me out of (very messed up) nuclear family focus and set me down, essentially, in the business world (early), where I needed to learn how to make my own way. At the time I attended The Gunnery, it was a superb school and I was at my most educable. And, as Gram Parsons, pointed out so well in "The Older Guys," I learned a lot hanging around with more experienced students. When I attended boarding school, all the strictest rules were still in force and, with the Beatles around and the Vietnam War as background to everything, all sorts of conflicts and disparities came usefully into high relief. If they hadn't sent me away, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have survived ultimately, so I think it worked out well. It's funny what you say about homosexuality, but of course it's true. That being said, looking back on a long-ago time and coming to terms with what you learned and also what you didn't is fascinating. Curtis