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Cutting the Old School Tie


By Dwight Cramer

BEACH BEGAN TO worry about the impression he was making on the freshman woman his roommate had dated on two consecutive weekends. Each time, late at night, after too much booze and frustration, he started throwing things (notebooks, shoes, etc.) around the living room. It didn't have anything to do with the woman, but she didn't like it anyway ("It depresses her," Beach's roommate explained.)

The root of this propensity of things to take flight on weekend nights was not precisely clear. But Beach was under a lot of pressure, and he didn't really have much to do. The situation of a second semester senior is not to be taken lightly. Aside from axed assistant professors and graduate students who have, regrettably, finished their theses, seniors are about the only group of people who know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that next year they will not be here. But the trauma of not being here next year is not enough to make Beach reach for his shoes, since he really did not like Harvard all that much in the first place.

Harvard was not a bad place for him but sometimes it did not seem like a very enjoyable place. Part of his distaste sprang from some rather politicized roots--his was the first class not even to remember the echoes of strike talk, the first class to feel guilty for its failure to strike in the Yard its freshman year in so far as it had not been numbed by Nixonian rhetoric. But a better part of his unsureness sprang from a general skepticism about an environment in which he did not know who lived next door to him, did not care, and prided himself for it as part of minding his own business. Beach probably was not cut out to be a New Yorker.

Retreating into his suite, at least he was comfortable. Senior rooms are not exactly small, the view of the Charles is nice, and he and his roommate had put up a nerf ball hoop in the living room. They shot baskets most evenings, playing Around the World, one on one and PIG (or WAR CRIMINAL when they had a lot of time to kill). It was a little dangerous to the fish tank, and the furniture tended to get a little beat up, but at least it provided a break from the cap pistol wars they sometimes fought, and was easier on their health than swimming the river.

WRITING A THESIS is probably a good thing to do; without it you get restless, nervous, and wrought up over trifles; with it you get nervous, wrought up over details and are in danger of going stir crazy in front of a typewriter. But since Harvard seems to attract the obsessive-achiever type, goal-oriented, accustomed to accomplishment, writing one is probably a good idea. Writing one in Tommy's Lunch is probably a losing cause but stir craziness is easier to combat than restlessness. Go out drinking (with friends)--the Casablanca for weeknights or Spaghetti Emporium for the afternoon, Charlie's Kitchen to get away from school. The alternative was to smoke/drink in the room, again with those talismen against alcoholism, friends. But Beach really distrusted the room scene once he started to throw things.

Coping. At the end of running out a four year string he had coping down to a fine art. It consisted basically of continuing to do what he had already done, eating meals in the same places, attending courses in the same buildings, looking at the same walls. But the sad truth was that he saw no real culmination, no climax to the whole thing. Harvard just sort of ended for him. Maybe everything would tie together when he took generals in the spring; probably not, certainly the weather would be better. April may be the cruellest month, but February is the worst. And by the time the weather improved maybe, just maybe, Beach would know what he would be doing after graduation.

Graduation was the most convenient piece of punctuation to date in Beach's short life, even better than his high school graduation, since he would not have to make a speech this time around. Graduation has the reputation for being a pretty good party, and since it was the end (appropriately called Commencement), it had to be pretty good. Also, Gerard Piel, in Scientific American had called it the most stirring ceremonial occasion this side of the coronation of an English monarch. So maybe there was something in it. Certainly there was something after it. The future.

And the future was, in a word, golden. He had not even been rejected from Harvard Law School yet, which on the surface appears to be a minor thing, but, in light of the repeatedly demonstrated propensity of the Law School to reject all his friends, it meant something. Of course, taking minor pleasures in the shadow of ambiguity was not a genuinely satisfying experience, and that had to be the limit of his pleasure. All he had to go on was that he had heard literally nothing yet from the Law School people, and perhaps that could be accounted for by his failure to mail in the application until late January.

He had heard from a couple of other law schools though. One wanted the second page of his application, which he had failed to mail. Another wanted its money, since he had forgotten to send in an application fee. A third wanted a couple of missing recommendations. So perhaps the silence from Harvard meant only that he had forgotten entirely to mail the application in.

THE RULE against keeping firearms in students' rooms is probably a good one. Beach wasn't the type to shoot his roommate, and he certainly would not shoot his girlfriend (and doubted sincerely that she would shoot him). But Beach wasn't so sure about how he regarded himself. He felt like it was time to relax, and he felt like relaxing, but as a goal-directed, achievement-driven student he could not. He felt like there was a shadow before him, maybe the golden shadow of the future, or maybe a cloud with a silver lining of some sort. It was certainly an ambiguous future.

But it was an ambiguous present too, and hidden in the shadows, he took his small pleasures, a little worried about becoming addicted to them, but already realizing he was an addict to something else. He stayed confused by all his talented classmates, happy to be a statistic in the dialectic, not quite sure what it meant, satisfied to be part of it: it sounded progressive.

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