I COULD HAVE ARRIVED at Harvard with a better attitude.
I wasn't even going to apply to Harvard, but my mother insisted on it. After I got in, I didn't go to any of the events planned for prospective students. When I visited Harvard I didn't go to a single class; I simply made my decision based on the opinion that Cambridge was a more exciting and pleasant place to live than New Haven or Princeton. And I didn't want to merely follow in the footsteps of my brother and sister, who went to Yale and Princeton, respectively.
In short, I managed to choose Harvard without ever deciding that I liked anything about the school itself.
Certainly, Harvard students would be--almost without exception--arrogant scum. I envisioned a campus full of snobs on the order of Major Charles Winchester III, the Harvard representative on television's MASH.
It would be hell.
Or perhaps Harvard's snobs would be thugs--I remember reading with horror stories in the pre-frosh issue of The Crimson that told of roommates physically harassing one another.
I soon felt safe from the thugs; my four roommates had all written me letters in the summer before college. Two out of four wrote form letters: "Dear roommate," one letter began, its author too lazy even to type a different name into his word processor. One roommate spent most of his letter talking about what he would bring to the room in terms of computer software.
No, they sounded too geeky to physically harass me. Nevertheless, it sounded like living with them would be... hell.
Then came Freshman Week. It rained every day. I thought of King Lear, the way the rain is supposed to parallel the inner turmoil of the characters, and I fancied myself the protagonist in my own tragedy.
A Harvard professor who was friendly with my brother visited my room, looked out the window at the gloomy and relentless torrents of rain and said, "Well, just another 260 days of this..."
The first week's mixers reinforced my depression. I looked at the goons dancing with their shirts off on the elevated platforms, sweating under the strain of their own vainglorious pelvic thrusts.
And then the unceasingly bland small talk--some had the nerve to ask me what my SAT scores were, but the worst subject by far was geography.
"Where are you from?"