A Singular Disappointment

August Kleinzahler

The two most famous graduates of the Horace Mann School for Boys, class of ’67, were Barry Scheck, of O.J. Simpson ‘dream team’ fame, a lawyer who became expert in the use of DNA evidence in criminal defence cases, and William P. Barr, Trump’s nominee for attorney general. He previously held the post under the late George H.W. Bush.

Barry and Bill at the age of 14 were almost entirely recognisable as the adults one reads about or watches on TV. Both boys, so far as I remember, entered Horace Mann in the ninth grade, as a handful were allowed to do. Most of us started in grade seven. We all were required to wear ties and sports coats and proper trousers. I remember Barry in a tweed jacket, a small-ish boy, my size, carrying around an outsize and packed-to-bursting briefcase. He was very determined, and academically aggressive.

Bill was then, as now, a pleasant-faced, pillowy-looking boy. What made him stand out, in my memory, is that he wore very conservative three-piece suits and always had a copy of William F. Buckley’s National Review at hand (much as the vice president, Mike Pence, carries his Bible around). I would like to tell you he was a loathsome boy because I detested his politics, then as now, but he was anything but. He had a cheerful, rather aloof mien, very much one apart. He was polite. He regarded most of the rest of us, the majority of whom were from Upper West Side, Jewish, decidedly liberal families, as deluded naifs, spoiled brats, condemned to engineer our once great nation into a series of social, economic and foreign policy catastophies.

He had an extremely distinguished father, who among other things was the headmaster of New York’s Dalton School, an affluent private school on the Upper East Side, less rigorous academically than Horace Mann and doubtlessly far more fun, not least because it was co-ed. Both Barry and Bill, as most of the rest of the class of ’67, regarded me as a hopeless fuck-up and a dumb jock from New Jersey, the ‘jock’ designation now rather ridiculous in hindsight. The jocks, scholarship boys, seemed to come primarily from Harlem and New Jersey. We tended to go to less good colleges. More than half the class went to Ivy League colleges: Barry went to Yale, Bill to Columbia. I went to the University of Wisconsin and dropped out after three years.

Several weeks before high school graduation, in the spring of 1967, the headmaster called me into his office. Mitchell Gratwick was a humourless, imposing, square-jawed type, a former star athlete at Harvard, a boxing champion, a physician, and president of the Headmasters Association of America. He could not have looked more the part. Sunlight poured in from the tall window behind his desk. His English mastiff, Alfie, was curled at the foot of my chair, gazing up at me expectantly. (It was my job to take him out for his daily walk, my sole extracurricular activity: ‘Head of the Alfie Dog-Walking Society’.) I had thus far, Dr Gratwick noted with grave disapproval, been turned down by three of the four colleges I had applied to, none of which were terribly difficult to gain admission to.

‘August, you have been a singular disappointment,’ Dr Gratwick continued. ‘No Horace Mann graduate, over the course of the past 74 years, has failed to be admitted to a solid American university. Just to make myself clear, we’re not going to allow you to become the first.’ By which he meant that they were prepared to throw me out if I didn’t get into my final choice. At the graduation ceremony, when I was called on stage to receive my diploma from Dr Gratwick, he said to me: ‘I see your brother in the audience. Please give him my warm regards. You are nothing like your brother.’ FUCK YOU, MITCH.


  • 11 December 2018 at 10:00pm says:
    Poor Dr. Mitchel is dead!
    I completely forgot you were talking about Trump's nomenee for attorney general. lol

    Now, with the tuition people pay for this school, no wonder the headmaster feels obliged to push your way to "a solid American university".