In Search of the Real Neil

Who is Harvard's new president? No one seems to know, even in his own backyard.

What about magazines? Does he buy any?

Sometimes, I was told.

Time? Newsweek? Sports Illustrated? Playboy? Omni? Any specific recollections? Oh wasn't sure.

I worked my way along the street toward Rudenstine's office at the Mellon Foundation. No luck at the butcher. Likewise at the baker. There didn't appear to be a candlestick maker in the neighborhood, but, with my luck, that wouldn't have mattered. No one seemed to recognize Rudenstine's picture. A cashier at the greengrocer on the corner of Lex and 52nd said she had seen Rudenstine's wife buy groceries once. But she couldn't remember when or what.


The Mellon Foundation is located in a neat little four-story building on 52nd St.--much smaller than you would expect for such a big-name institution. The storefront next door is split in half. The left side houses a laundry, and the right side a cleaner.

Inside the cleaner's store were two elderly men, caricatures of New York immigrant Jewish storeowners. They recognized the picture all right. They had seen it in The Times. No, they had never seen Rudenstine in person, they said. The elder of the two men scanned over The Times article, nothing that Rudenstine had declined to answer questions about his parents.

"Who knows? Maybe he's a Nazi."

"Could be," I echoed. I decided to try the laundry. Oymie Martin, 35, had her back to me as I entered. It took me a minute or two to get her attention. No, she said. She didn't think she had seen Rudenstine either.

As I walked away from the divided storefront, someone yelled after me. The cleaner and the laundress were conferring. Conversation had improved their memories. Rudenstine, Martin told me, used to bring his shirts in to be cleaned.

How did he have his shirts done? Starch? No starch?

Martin frowned. "Maybe light starch. He's a nice guy."

Anything else of interest?

"I told him not to walk under that exhaust fan," Martin told me, pointing toward an unsightly blob of metal protruding from the building next door. "I told him he might get grease on his clothes."

"He's a friendly man. He always says hello."