November 3, 2009 - October 27, 2009
Thursday, August 14, 2008
were the 'Blue Devils.' Now they're the 'Blue Storm.' Ugh.
IN INSTAPUNK'S SHOES
. So the past has been much on my mind lately,
for a lot of
reasons. And I'm going to apologize immediately, because there will
be reminiscences here. Long
just found out that my middling old boarding school, which I thought
was tottering along in its customary historical anonymity, has become
(possibly) one of the 10
richest prep schools
in terms of
endowment-per-student in the country.
No, you've never heard of it. That was always the point of the place,
the secret of its successes.
This is all more revealing than I'd like, more specific by far, but
there is a prep school called Mercersburg Academy which has produced a
fair number of graduates you
definitely know of
, including Timothy Leary and Jiimmy Stewart but not including me. I'm not mentioning it to brag
but to confess my befuddlement. There's a video at this site
purports to describe the experience of a Mercersburg education, and I
can recognize a lot of the campus -- but everything else in the video
is so alien from my memories as to be about an entirely different
place. I've explored every way possible to summon the video to this
page, but I can't do it. You'll have to go here
and scroll, then left click to start it and right click to blow it up
to 200 percent, and I hope you do it, because between that video and me
there is a chasm that I fear can no longer be bridged. The campus and
the countryside are still beautiful, but the core of the place has
changed. Here's an endorsement
from a recent grad now enrolled at Princeton. And here's an ugly counterpoint
to show you the low end. Since I was there, the tuition has risen by
, and that's less
than the apparent rise in the
self-esteem of the student body.
Confession time. InstaPunk
and I were there at the same time, and I
wasn't always fond of him. He was older, and we gravitated toward
different people. We were, well, different from one another. Which was
a common enough thing at Mercersburg. People in different dorms lived
completely different lives, organized around completely different
values. It wasn't until I got to my dream elite college that I finally
realized how unique my school had been. For good and for ill. The
famous schools seemed to produce an actual identifiable product. With
practice you could name the school based on the personality and the
behavior, some locus of points on a four-variable graph charting
intelligence, arrogance, good manners, and lowdown adolescent
swinishness. Exeter boys pinned the needle in the intelligence and
arrogance corner of the graph. Andover ruled the arrogance-swinishness
sector, and the Grottlesex contingent -- Choate, Groton, St. Mark's,
St. George's, St. Paul's, Middlesex, etc -- had scarily good manners
combined with the permanent distance of those who are simply better
than you are. Except for the St. Paul's boys, who were the purest
pricks on earth.
I know most of you think this is all nonsense, that who these people
are has nothing to do with all the real
people in the United States, but there is a certain relevance.
Consider this list
* Albert Gore, Jr,. St. Alban's School, Washington,
* Ali McGraw, Choate-Rosemary Hall, Wallingford, CT
* Archibald MacLeish, The Hotchkiss School,
* Benicio Del Toro, Mercersburg Academy,
* Brit Hume, St. Alban's School, Washington, DC
* Chelsea Clinton, Sidwell Friends School,
* Cole Porter, Worcester Academy, Worcester, MA
* Edward Kennedy, Milton Academy, Milton, MA
* Eliot Spitzer, Horace Mann School, New York, NY
* Glenn Close, Choate-Rosemary Hall, Wallingford, CT
* George Herbert Walker Bush, Phillips Academy,
* George Walker Bush, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
* Gore Vidal, Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH
* Gwyneth Paltrow, The Spence School, New York, New
* Humphrey Bogart, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
* Ivanka Trump, Choate-Rosemary Hall, Wallingford, CT
* Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, Miss Porter's
School, Farmington, CT
* James Stewart, Mercersburg Academy, Mercersburg, PA
* Jamie Lee Curtis, Choate-Rosemary Hall,
* Jane Fonda, Emma Willard School, Troy, NY
* Jodie Foster, Choate-Rosemary Hall, Wallingford, CT
* John Dos Passos, Choate-Rosemary Hall,
* John O'Hurley, Kingswood-Oxford School, West
* John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Choate-Rosemary Hall,
* John Irving, Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH
* John Kerry, St. Paul's School, Concord, NH
* Julia Louise-Dreyfus, Holton-Arms School,
* Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, The Putney School,
* Laura Linney, Northfield Mt. Hermon School,
* Mario Van Peebles, St. Thomas More School,
* Michael Douglas, Choate-Rosemary Hall,
* Natalie Cole, Northfield Mt. Hermon School,
* Oliver Stone, The Hill School, Pottstown, PA
* Queen Noor, Concord Academy, Concord, MA
* Stephen Crane, The Pennington School, Pennington,
* Steve Forbes, The Brooks School, North Andover, MA
* Stewart Mott, Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, MA
* Stockard Channing, The Madeira School, Mclean, VA
* Strobe Talbott, St. Alban's School, Washington, DC
* Ted Danson, Kent School, Kent, CT
* Tucker Carlson, St. George's School, Newport, RI
* Uma Thurman, Northfield Mt. Hermon School,
The list is only a partial. The reality is that it's much much
longer. So, yes, they're in and
amongst us, they at least influence things that are important in our
lives, and they might represent -- what's the au
courant term? -- a brand
more than one. Do you have any idea who they are, or were, or how their
experience relates to your own? Do you think you know them? I'm still
not sure I do and I was actually one of them, though not as a real
insider. I was, as you'll come to see, a minor leaguer who got to see
the Big Show up close for a while.
The thing was, as you watched them, you could see that each school
producing a type
to such a degree that you could begin to
guess correctly about where people had gone to prep school. There were
distinctive characteristics about the ones who had been to Deerfield,
Hotchkiss, Milton, Taft, Brooks, Mount Hermon, St. Alban's, Hill,
Lawrenceville, and on and on. There are always exceptions, of course,
but I began to realize that Mercersburg's product consisted solely
of exceptions. There was no
such thing as a Mercersburg boy in the way that there was definitely
such a thing as a Choatie, a Grotty, and so on.
For a few semesters this made me feel superior. We Mercersburg boys
were at least individuals. Maybe not as smart as the blue-ribbon crowd
but we weren't a cookie-cutter stereotype. And then my former
schoolmates began to die. Ten of them before I had been out of school
three years. Drugs, Suicide. Murder. Vietnam. Car accidents. And the
'types' the various schools turned out started to look pretty good. I
began to see that it was a
protective carapace which kept them alive while they were still figuring
out who they were, so that they couldn't be done in by sheer accident.
I decided that if I
a son, I would send him to Groton, where they really do teach young men
how to behave like gentlemen, at least with other guys, always polite,
attentive, and gracious, regardless of what may be simmering under the
Years passed. Close friends died. People I didn't much care for died.
People I thought were certain to be happy fell into disastrous
marriages. People I knew were destined for messy and disgraceful ends
became conventional husbands, fathers, and financial successes. All the
permutations of human life kicked in. I realized, at very long last,
that there is no guaranteed formula for producing good men, successful
lives, or happiness.
It all comes down to specifics. And maybe in this respect, old-time
Mercersburg boys do have a lasting advantage. None of us claims the
stamp of our school as some kind of badge, a logo we'd put on a
business card. We didn't think of ourselves as the latest version of
some grand tradition. We weren't in awe of Mercersburg; we were just
enrolled there. We were the Cleveland Indians of prep schools,
doormats for the Yankees of our kind. Mercersburg regarded the Hill
School as its
great rival in football, while Hill cared only about Lawrenceville. We
regarded Lawrenceville as our great rival in swimming, but in ten years
we beat them only once. We were the poor relation of elite mid-atlantic
prep schools. Of all the American writers who ever wrote tedious books
about going to prep school, only one ever gave us a mention,
dismissively, in a John O'Hara story that referenced a song called "I'm
Only a Mercersburg Boy."
No disrespect to O'Hara. The song had it right. We didn't feel rich,
privileged, elite, or superior. Typically, our class presidents were
dumb jocks who had been kicked out of more famous prep schools for
various sins against good taste, sobriety, and female modesty. We
weren't really trying to live up
to anything -- we were in a constant state of low-grade rebellion that
occasionally got the whole school smacked down. (Some commenter could
ask me about Penny Sunday, which was hilarious but not germane to this
post.) My freshman year, a
field trip by the French Club turned into a scandal when every senior
on the trip sneaked out of a Moliere play in DC to go drinking in
Georgetown. Four of them were expelled.
Ah yes. The only tragedy ever recognized at Mercersburg was the
expulsion of a "four year boy," of which there were never more than
twenty-five in a graduating class. Rare birds, the four year boys. Who
put up with it all, the whole four-year sentence? Many didn't.
Four-year boys had a way of getting expelled in their final semester.
We always mourned their loss.
Did you watch the video? Good. It's vital information. Now put it out
of your mind. Mercersburg was for most of its history an
all-boys school. Which made it, under the surface, a pretty barbaric
place. Freshmen lived in terror. From the first day of the
school year, all new boys
to wear black ties -- oh yes, coats and ties were continuously required
for classes and meals, white
shirts for dinner and on Sundays -- which every upperclassman was
entitled to cut off at the knot with jackknife or scissors. Those who
promised vengeance on "Field Day," six weeks into the first semester.
Some new boys were singled out for literal hell, usually by sophomores
('lower middlers') who had been bullied themselves the year before, and
they underwent humiliations that made even teenage boys cringe with
something like shame at not doing more to stop it.
Field Day was a school-sponsored
ritual hazing of the sort that would in our times incite a
congressional investigation. New boys, mostly fourteen and fifteen
years old, were rousted out of bed at five am -- rising bell was
usually 6:45 am -- and chivvied in their black ties (and sweats) to a
field drainage ditch filled with ice cold water, into which they were
required to dive and crawl hundreds of yards through mud while being
pelted with eggs,
coffee grounds, and whatever other goodies upperclassmen desired to
rain upon them. When they emerged, half an hour later, they were no
longer new boys. The ceremony concluded with the burning of black ties.
Then, in the afternoon, it was Parents' Day. No one seemed conscious of
any particular irony.
If this sounds faintly military, that's how the rest of the four years
seemed too. There was almost never any time to call your own, from the
rising bell to required breakfast to class to lunch to class to varsity
intramural sports to dinner to study hall in the dorm to lights out.
There were no computers then. Stereos and radios were not allowed
during study hall and certainly not after lights out. No smoking ever,
no phones (one pay booth in the basement of each dorm), no music or
visiting between rooms during study hall, and no way to cheat because
there were no earphones and no cellphones. The only television on
campus was in the student union, where there were also two ping-pong
tables and three pool tables. The only way to get playing time on any
of these was to be (or get) good enough to win. Anyone could get in
line to challenge "winners" at pool or ping pong, but winners tended to
keep winning, and losers had to get back in line for another 15-minute
chance two hours later. Somehow, though, losers who were persistent
enough eventually got good themselves. (I can still beat a lot of
redneck pool sharks even at my advanced age.)
Everything at Mercersburg -- and I'm sure at other prep schools -- was
a competition. Every marking period, the school newspaper published the
names and general averages of those who had earned honors (80 to 89
GAs) and, separately, high honors (90 to 99 GAs). High honors students
also had their names and GAs posted prominently in the lobby of the
student union. Positive reinforcement? Sure. Until some high honors
regular had a bad marking period and all and sundry started asking him
what happened to make him fall below expectations.
Everyone had to do time as a waiter in the dining hall on a regular
basis. Seating was assigned in three week increments, ten boys to a
table, plus a senior 'proctor' and an assigned master who always had
the privilege of bringing his whole family to dinner and
"bumping" underclassmen to other tables. (I'm not naming names
here, but this was a privilege frequently abused.) Each of these tables
was served by two waiters, a blue coat and a white coat, who served two
days in each position, in rotation with every other boy assigned to the
table except the proctor. The white coat wore the starched garment --
stiffer than sheetrock -- that gave him his title and had to wait in
line in the kitchen to get his tray loaded with enough food for eleven
teenage boys. There were no dispensations for five-foot, 100-lb
freshmen ('Juniors'). They could stagger under the weight all the way
to their tables or die trying. They also had to carry all the dirty
plates back to the kitchen before they could return with dessert. This
was usually the time when they underwent the school-wide humiliation of
a 'wipeout.' The tray fell, the dishes broke like bombs going off in
the echo chamber of the dining hall, and everyone applauded, whistled,
and stamped their feet while the offending white coat blushed crimson
Every table also had a blue coat, who helped the white coat serve,
clear, and run to the kitchen for seconds and thirds. Lunch and dinner
were no big deal for him; his opportunity for glory was breakfast.
Breakfast began at 7:10 exactly. If a student was still in the lobby
outside the dining room when the 7:10 bell went off, the troll in
charge of the dining hall was there to take names and charge the
tardy with a breakfast cut (four per term, plus two lunches and two
these were signed
up for in advance). Exceed your permitted cuts and you would be seeing
Mr. Howard after the meal (more about that later). Anyway, the blue
coat's breakfast responsibility was to set his table -- place by place
-- with plates, cereal bowls, clean water glasses, cups and saucers, filled
juice glasses, and
silverware. AND pitchers of ice water and coffee. If this task was not
complete when the 7:10 bell rang, he would be seeing Mr. Howard after
the meal. At least once every week, some blue coat slept through the
rising bell and came roaring into the dining hall, still tying his tie
on the run as the five-minute bell went off. While everybody watched
and nobody helped, it was his challenge to set a table for twelve in
four minutes and 55 seconds. While the dining hall troll or one of his
deputies stood by with his pad and pencil. And, yes, it is
possible to run with a tray of
full little juice glasses, to deal heavy dinner plates like cards
across the tablecloth, and sometimes a blue coat is victorious against
the troll. Which earns a local round of applause.
Winning, losing, competing in everything, large and small, every day,
all month, all term, and all year long. No one is immune from
occasional disaster, and no one is denied the opportunity for an
occasional win. How low can you wear your tie, how taped-up can you
wear your worn-out weejuns, how long can you go without being ordered
to get a haircut, how many times can you glide into class on the bell?
Points are being scored and deducted from your personal total every
minute of every day.
We knew we weren't a military school because we played some military schools
in sports, and we knew they had it much worse than we did -- we wore
and ties of our own choosing, had tablecloths, edible (often excellent)
food, and a few sensational teachers'
wives to ogle and dream about. The military school boys had diner
on linoleum tables, uniforms, greasy glop for food, and therefore
sickeningly bad complexions. We
couldn't even fool ourselves that we were being seriously mistreated.
But we also had something important in common with them. Guard.
When they got around other preppies, Mercersburg boys were
always explicitly curious about punishment. They rarely got
satisfactory answers. Punishment in the elite New England schools
always seemed to consist of a clever "don't do it again" kind of
conversation. And maybe
one or two day confinement to campus. At Mercersburg, punishment was
As I've already explained, we all ate together in a huge and brightly
lit dining room. Which was generally okay. But if you had done
something against the rules -- missed a class, been seen dropping a water balloon
on a fellow student's head, said something sarcastic or disrespectful
to a master, gotten caught smoking (oh.my.god), the head
waiter (a scholarship boy of incredible power and influence) would come
up behind you and tap your shoulder. You wouldn't even turn around
because you knew what he was going to say into your ear: "Mr. Howard
will see you
after the meal."
Mr. Howard was the Dean of Boys. The one responsible for all
justice, all mercy, all official humiliations. He was capricious,
to dark moods, and perhaps worst of all, mordantly witty. He could
carve you into mincemeat with mere questions. He was also
from Maine. He had a Maine accent so thick that the Maine accents you
hear in the movies always seem like bad impersonations of Mr. Howard,
no matter how old you get. His lower jaw stuck out like the cowcatcher
of a locomotive. He was no taller than Napoleon and no more forgiving.
He sat at the head of the head table of the 500-seat dining room,
which was the throne from which he meted out his punishments. You went
there after the dismissal bell to get in line with the other
malefactors and wait your turn. He was terrifying. If he was in a
particularly bad mood at breakfast, you got scrambled egg on your tie
from his tirade. He always smelled of tobacco and sometimes of scotch.
Everybody hated and feared him. Almost everybody, that is.
After the waiter passed, you sat there not eating while you, and anyone
who had overheard the summons, ruminated about what you had done and
how bad the punishment might be. The truth is, Mr. Howard was mostly
and mean only when you tried to deny obvious guilt or
when he was in a
really bad mood. I've watched a lot of judicial sentencing in my years
since, but none has ever had the total, dismissive, bored
authority of Mr.
Howard delivering his verdict, usually after a few witticisms at your
expense. "That'll be ten hours, Mr. Flanagan. See
you Saturday." (Everyone in the school could do an impression of Mr.
Howard: the line they practiced the most was, "See you Sat
Ten hours of what? Guard. Something today's pampered, casually dressed,
40-grand tuition a year students at Mercersburg almost certainly know
nothing about. Remember: no phones, no Ipods, no computers, not TVs, no
radio during the only hours when we were actually alone in our rooms.
Hours of Guard meant we couldn't go downtown until the hours had been
served. We're talking downtown Mercersburg here. A crossroad in
small-town Pennsylvania and almost nothing but. Except that it was home
Drugstore, which had pinball machines, great burgers, and what is still
the best hot ham hoagie I've ever eaten -- as well as the movie theater
where I saw my first ever exposed female breast
on film (Sarah Miles). Guard takes all that away from you. You can't go
to Jack's or
the theater when you have time left to serve.
Instead, you have to report on Saturday afternoon for study hall at one
of the "beautiful" classroom buildings. You bring your books and you
dig into them in supervised silence for two hours, while all your
friends are going downtown or attending sporting events on campus. At
the end of the two hours, you proceed to the parking lot, where Mr.
Howard is waiting. Four chairs demark the edges of the lot. He
instructs you to get in line and begin walking around the chairs,
around the lot. No talking. No looking from side to side. Just walking.
That's Guard; If you're lucky, you have five hours, for which Mr.
Howard gives a kindly exchange rate of 15 minutes per hour after
1:1 contribution in study hall. After 45 minutes have passed, he pulls
you out of line and lets you go. You thank
him. It occurs to you that he's still doing Guard himself.
If you have ten hours, well, what can I say? That's two solid hours of
walking before Mr. Howard lets you go. Four hours of your most precious
day of the week wasted. (Ten hours? That would be a fistfight with
somebody who deserved it, during study hall. And many equivalents.)
I'm not thinking the kids in the video are getting Guard for their
malefactions. What do you think? I know for a fact that Mr. Howard is
dead. Care to guess gow many hours of Guard were automatic for a first
smoking offense? 50. A first drinking offense? 100.
One hundred hours of Guard made you Mr. Howard's indentured servant. He
could let you work off ten hours a week as we've just described. In
other words he could keep you confined to campus for three and a half
months with no appeal. If you had a big
chunk of hours, he would let you work some of it off, raking leaves
with the grounds crew (half hour of raking = 1 hour of Guard). After
classes ended for vacation breaks, parents had to wait in their cars
and watch while their sons walked off their remaining hours; you
couldn't leave campus with Guard, even for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
No parents complained. The rules were the rules. And everyone got Guard
at one point or another. It wasn't an unusual occurrence. You've heard
Skull & Bones? Well, Mercersburg had its Century Club. All you had
to do to belong was get tagged for 100 hours of Guard in a school year.
My roommate made the Century Club in his second year, not in a single
jump but in an accumulation of careless offenses that made Mr. Howard
deliver an ultimatum: "If I see you at my table again this term,
Mister, you're out of
And it just so happened that we lived in the dean's own dormitory.
Where he prowled the corridors at unexpected hours looking for trouble.
My friend had most of the term to go... The
result? As with so many of the most incorrigible Mercersburg boys, Mr.
Howard turned his eye j-u-u-u-st enough to the side that he missed the
opportunity to expel my roommate, and the two of them became buddies in
the process, the same
way Mr. Howard became buddies with the only Mercersburg alum I've ever
heard of who was a member of the Century Club for all four years
have to admit I have stood in that line waiting for judgment with Tim
Flanagan ahead of me trying to talk his way out of the inevitable
postponement of a trip to a town he had rarely visited, and the byplay
between them was much better than an Abbott and
Costello routine. Tim was lying and smiling, Mr. Howard was
pretending to believe the lies and grinning with his eyes even as he
reluctantly concluded the conversation with "See you Sattiddy, Mr.
Flanagan." This was the Sixties, after all, and Tim Flanagan, way ahead
of his time as always, looked and sounded like Shaun White
skateboarding his spectacular way to, well, Guard.
But Mr. Howard was only the tip of the iceberg. There was also the
Latin teacher, Papa Szekeley, who taught first and second year Latin by
means of pure terror. Quizzes every single day, rearrangement of
based on yesterday's quiz results, a malicious bolt of chalk in his
hand to strike down bad blackboard translations, and a week-to-week
fear regimen based on what was then a rotating schedule of classes:
what was first period Monday was second period Tuesday, etc, until the
class didn't meet for a day before it met first period again -- with
stipulation that unannounced hour exams could only be given during
period. I still have nightmares about Papa Szek coming down the hall
jingling his keys before first period, not knowing if today is the day
he's going to annihilate us with another 30-year-old Latin college
board exam... (oh so much harder than the actual AP exam; thanks, Papa.)
Then there was Mr. Harris, a silver-haired old Brit whose second year
chemistry students never got less
than 800 on the AP Chemistry exam. He terrified the upperclassmen in
the laboratory and the rest of us in chapel, because he knew his Bible
better than he knew the Periodic Table.
And Mr. Miller, who taught French and anything else he felt like
teaching us, and gave out his grades for "literary translations" more
in tones of voice than words. "Top Drawer" was a 10. "Only Fair" was a personal
disgrace. He'd been in the Navy, had radar patents, and knew absolutely everything about art and literature. And everything else too. No joke.
And Mr. Suerken, who taught English and Music with so much naked
emotion that he could tear up over a poem or a piece of music -- and
then tear you
up in the
essays he assigned you to write. He really wanted you to understand
what you were writing
about, and convey that understanding eloquently and correctly. If you
didn't do that, you got a bad grade and enthusiastic advice about how
to do better next time.
And our headmaster Mr. Fowle, (he preferred Mr. to Dr.) who was in retrospect much like Ronald
Reagan, a dignified old Williams College jock (14 varsity letters
somehow; the rumor was he ran cross country between halves of football
games) who when he taught history rewarded good performance from a
coffee can filled with musket balls he had prised from the earth of
Gettysburg. In our day he no longer taught classes, but if you had done
something he disapproved of he would call you into his office to talk
about it, and his disappointment was far worse than Guard. You had let
him down. He also had the power, exercised once a term, to declare a
'Free Day.' It was always a reward for something we had done well,
sports victories or unusually good grades, and we always sensed when it
might be coming. That's when everyone went to breakfast, because the
only time Mr. Fowle ever came to breakfast was to give us a Free Day.
The table closest to the window where Mr. Fowle would appear if he were
coming to the dining hall was vigilant, and everyone else was watching
them. Suddenly they would erupt into a cheer, and then the whole school
would cheer and stamp their feet in greeting to our beloved
headmaster. He would join Mr. Howard at the head table and then
rise to take the microphone and declare the wonderful news. A Free Day
meant no classes, license to go downtown, play at the gym, do whatever
we wanted, with a movie scheduled in the auditorium after dinner. A
single day off the leash. How we cheered.
Sadly, I was there the day that it all changed, when the
transformation to the touchy-feely new 'don't hurt their self-esteem'
regime began. 1969. Ring a bell, history-wise? Our big moment came to
be called the Chapel Protest. What were the protesters protesting?
Everything. It was 1969 after all, and college kids throughout the land
were going out on strike, rioting, doing drugs, and breaking every rule
they could find. We had a handful of four-year boys who thought it made
sense to risk expulsion over their resentment at having to go to chapel
at 8:45 on a Saturday morning. So they decided to walk out and they
took half the student body with them. This unprecedented, unheard of
act of civil disobedience resulted in an immediate whole-school
meeting, faculty and students both, at the auditorium. Students were
allowed to stand up and complain about anything and everything, to
their hearts' content, while our baffled and sorrowing headmaster
played master of ceremonies on stage. I think that was the day he
suddenly grew old.
As a result, I put out the first (and probably only ever) Extra Edition
of the Mercersburg News
which had won honors for many years as the
best prep school newspaper in the nation. (Anyone remember Bryan
, the ancient Aussie carillonneur extraordinaire who made
possible...? Sorry. Another non-germane anecdote.) All this was so long
ago that the Extra was printed with
linotype (in less than 48 hours, by gar). Points to any of the
contemporary technologists who even know what linotype is. The lede I
got right: Mercersburg would never be the same again. The first time we
pushed back at the grownups, they folded like a cheap suit. Afterwards,
we got ourselves a new, more powerful school government, fewer rules,
voluntary chapel attendance, a whole bunch of additional meal and (gasp)
class cuts, in fact, whatever we had enough nerve to ask for. By the
time I graduated a year later, three of the seven dorms were known as
drug dens, and getting caught
smoking dope (if any master could fight his way past the bedspread that
hung at the entrance of every dorm room doorway) was the only infraction left that
could get you expelled. Everything else was negotiable. The happy,
coddled kids you see in today's Mercersburg video don't even know that
it's us they have to thank for their casual attire and friendly, relaxed
atmosphere. It kind of feels as if every day for them is now a Free Day.
Funny how things go, isn't it?
Anyway. I'm remembering an all-male trial by ordeal that doesn't
rich little imitation womb at all. Our lives at Mercersburg weren't
just challenging, they were severe. We certainly didn't go there to
"get laid," and I was a lot happier with the team name 'Blue Devils'
than 'Blue Storm.' Which particular devils, do you suppose, complained
political incorrectness in that regard? If devils get mad, why wouldn't
I have to concede this
they're not getting my
But they will get my memories. Perhaps my fondest memories. Three
friends who, sadly, did not last a lifetime but nevertheless infused a
fourth-year spring with a burst of good will. Four teachers who still
represent to me the pinnacle of pedagogy -- Suerken, Miller, Winebrenner, and 'Tank' Rankin. And one moment, perhaps the height of my life, at
candlelight Christmas service in the
Mercersburg Chapel, when I was young and immortal and indefatigable,
I smelled the sweet spruce trees between the granite columns, saw their
shadows flickering in tune with the candle flames, and heard
the choir singing under the organ and the bells of the carillon, all my
senses braided together in a momentary experience of God. The
definition of a divine moment is never after the fact. It's knowing
what it is while
happening. I knew it then, when it happened. I hope these kids have a
experience such a thing at Mercersburg. I don't believe they will. I
think they're too much smarter than we were to experience wonder.
In sum, I can't and won't pretend to speak for the legions who attended
Choate-Rosemary Hall and all the other most illustrious schools which
are more responsible for the character of people like Gore, Kerry, and
Bush than the Ivy colleges they attended. I don't really know what
their experience was then or what the experience of their successors in
those institutions is now. Hell, I don't even understand what happened
to my own once anonymous school. I think it's worth looking into. But
what do I know?
I'm only a Mercersburg boy.
honor of our illustrious commenters, Brizoni has designed a new
InstaPunk graphic, which you can see at the About InstaPunk
the lefthand column of the website. The text has also been revised to
give you a better idea of who we are -- more info, I guarantee
than you'll find at any other blogsite -- and just how much freedom you
have as commenters. Which is also, I gurarantee, much more than at
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
bama Wants You...
...to WORK for him.
. This news
is just plain funny:
DENVER -- The Obama campaign has begun
notifying people who got tickets for the big acceptance speech at
Invesco Field the final night of the convention.
Many of those who received tickets told 7NEWS they have come with a
Those viewers said the campaign told them they must volunteer six hours
for the campaign by Friday in order to get a ticket.
"I got a call that if I want the tickets I have to volunteer two shifts
of three hours apiece -- for one ticket. If I want two tickets, then
it's four shifts of two hours apiece," said Berenice Christensen.
Another 7NEWS viewer sent an e-mail that said, "I received a call
Monday saying I could 'qualify' for the tickets if I do 12 hours of
volunteer work for the Obama campaign between now and Friday the 15th."
The viewer e-mail goes on, "To work 40 hours at my job, get to and from
work, get to and from the campaign office and complete the 12 hours in
three days would be next to impossible."
Well, was there someone out there who didn't believe Michelle
bama when she
"Barack Obama will require you to work.
He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down
your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out
of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that
you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as
usual, uninvolved, uninformed."
It's possible people thought the 'Save America Time-Card Clocks'
wouldn't be installed on every block until the man was actually elected
president. But those were probably the people who also thought he
wouldn't bestow mass papal blessings in Europe until after
he was inaugurated as
Commander-in-Chief of the World.
True believers know that the most important thing about a messiah is to
accept him completely and uncritically on faith alone, without
requiring him to earn the position by persuading the nation of his
vision and character before exacting a price to bask in his presence.
That's not how divinity works. If you want to hear
bama humbly and
gratefully accept his nomination to run for the highest office in the
land, you're going to have to prove yourselves worthy in advance.
That's the usual deal when you're being offered an opportunity to hear
the revealed word from the divine mouth in person.
Republicans and other unworthy skeptics are anxiously awaiting
notification of the atonements we will have to perform before our cable
connections will allow us to observe the coronation
speech on our television sets. Will we have to give our bag lunch to a
homeless person and forward a signed receipt to Howard Dean? Text
message the Top Ten speech quotes by the
ne to three unbelievers
(& forward copies to the Vatican
DNC)? Or will it
be sufficient for us to join together in a collective effort to drive
down the YouTube traffic at McCain's heretic ad sites prior to the
Just let us know. We're really really looking forward to the big speech
in Denver. Not because
bama will say anything meaningful.
does. But we do want
the opportunity to see all those adoring eyes and blank faces in the
audience. Because we just can't figure out who the hell these idiots
are and why they have taken such utter leave of their senses.
The curiosity is killing us.
Since we're still fighting some glitches in our Comments software,
we've opened a new email account so that you can still offer your own
thoughts on any recent post. Email them to Instapunk (at) gmail dot com
and put the title of the post in the subject block. We'll reproduce any
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A Comment from Thomas:
Of course, the real reason he's demanding this slavery is to ensure
that no Republican moles are there to disrupt his coronation.
Only Democrats would be so servile as to accept this forced labor to
glorify the anointed one.
Forced labor? Thomas. Didn't Michelle warn you not to be cynical
Putin and Georgia
pathetic and self-obsessed as an Oliver Stone movie. But gayer.
. Has no
one examined the real psychology of Putin's latest blind
and brutal exercise of Soviet
power? He's not using the Olympics for cover
. It's the exact opposite.
He's trying to cover the Olympics, which is China's demonstration that
however imperfectly, it has transcended the self-eating nihilism of
Marxism to begin building anew. China is showing off its newfound
ability to make things, organize vast international events, motivate
its people to high achievement rather than mere drab uniformity, and
contribute something of beauty and lasting esthetic value to the world.
Russia has been incapable of all these attainments since it
exterminated the family of the czar and flattened the Faberge eggs
with the largest concrete bunkers the world has ever seen. Putin's move
on Georgia isn't a shrewd attempt to get away with something while the
world is otherwise engaged; it's simple, megalomaniacal envy. While
China has, in a few decades, accomplished the impossible transition
from rudimentary agrarian economy to exponentially accelerating
industrial might, Putin's Russsia has staggered on like a vodka-soaked
parody of all its own worst historical epochs -- with missiles like the
rusted rifles of Stalin's WWII army, a third-world steal and murder
economy that would have made Rasputin grin, and a ballooning sense of
grandeur exhibited by its incompetent leadership that would have made
the various Nicholases and Alexanders of the failed Romanoff empire nod
in recognition. Meanwhile, Moscow and its great sister cities build
nothing, contribute nothing, accomplish nothing, and matter not at all
except when they prey on their own neighbors and vandalize every
civilized attempt at diplomacy undertaken in the west.
and Medvedev: They WISH.
Alexander has been a fateful -- and fatal -- name for the Russians.
Putin sees himself as one, another of his nation's endless claimants to
being "The Great." But he's less like his brilliant gay Macedonian hero than he
is like John Wayne Gacy, the bullying sodomite serial killer who
demonstrated his superior masculinity by raping and killing young men,
then burying them under his house.
His people, needless to say, are charmed. Here's a Russian response to
the YouTube video above, which was first posted many months ago
this video is soooo gay, but ,no matter
who ever say. putin is a great
president, people loves him, he is very disciplined and sirious. he
made russia to stand up, and made the world be afraid of russians
How sickeningly and depressingly typical. Of the largest, worst, least
civilized, most murderously inept nation in recorded human history. To
them, national greatness consists of being feared.
Does anyone know how Russia was actually organized as a nation? The
Vikings did it. That's why the name Russia, which still recalls the
'red-headed' ones who swooped in from the west and installed a basic
barbarian order on a vast territory of (predominantly, or way too many,
at least) lazy, illiterate, self-pitying victims.
I remind you of these things, which are ancient and yet continuously
present in a very dangerous contemporary world of nuclear weapons and
terrorists, to point out the insanity of thinking Putin could be
deterred by diplomacy or that his Georgian adventure is somehow the
fault of American foreign policy.
Yes, George Bush misjudged Putin. What he saw as goodness in Putin's
eyes was probably infatuation. George wouldn't be so good at detecting
that. McCain was undoubtedly more right when he said he looked into
Putin's eyes and saw three letters: "K, G, and B."
What does Obama see? I don't even want to know.
Are we all Georgians today? No. We're not. But we should
Since we're still fighting some glitches in our Comments software,
we've opened a new email account so that you can still offer your own
thoughts on any recent post. Email them to Instapunk (at) gmail dot com
and put the title of the post in the subject block. We'll reproduce any
interesting ones in Updates to the original entries.
I suspect that the Alexander who is Putin's hero is the great Russian
Alexander Nevsky, not that Greek. Nothing gay about Nevsky.
Uh, talk about proving the opposition's point... "Nothing gay about
Nevsky." Exactly. Anything else you'd like to point out?