Apr 1, 2008

Getting In

From time to time I walk up to the Polo fields to walk around the track. Sometimes,I imagine I'm Donald Crowhurst circling off the coast of the Argentine while the rest of the race goes on.

Once in a while, I see Emory, a friend I worked with 15 years ago. We keep in touch and occasionally have lunch. He's a journalist and has written several books. We always end up talking about our kids and lately of course there's been the whole matter of getting in.... Getting into one of the city's top private high schools, generally considered to be University, Lick and Urban. For weeks we'd been talking about the process and how unfair it was and how much stress there was. What we didn't say was how much this getting in had become a measure of ourselves and how we saw each other.

He was huffing and puffing around by the old stables when he saw me. He's the consummate jogger. He stopped, came over and we had a big shaking of the hands. Shaking and pleasantries and what's going on and how's work and 'the question' hung in the air. Finally, he couldn't resist.

"Well," he began with a huge smile. "Justin got into Lick."

"That's great," I said, trying my very best to sound enthusiastic. It was entirely unexpected. He'd told me all along they thought there was no chance.

"Yea, we didn't know how it was gonna turn out. His test scores were on the borderline..."

"I know what you mean."

"But we got in and now now that's over at least."

The finality hung in the hair. That he would say "we got in" is a slip of the tongue you only notice if YOU haven't gotten in.

"How'd your boy do?" he asked, still with a silly smile, proud and embarrassed at the same time, as though to say, "Beat that hand."

"He got wait-listed at Lick, but in the end he didn't get in," I said, and didn't relate what effort had been made, how much we had let it come to mean.

Emory looked concerned. "That's too bad," he said.

Frankly, I don't know what was more embarassing, getting the rejection or having to tell Emory. He went on reciting still again all the things they'd done to get Justin in, how they'd nearly tutored him to death, and persuaded him to write an essay about the weekend he spent with an uncle in Oregon, one of those events that parents think of, not children; and the 15 minutes the boy spent that weekend watching a Habitat for Humanity house being built and how, "and I'm only telling you," Emory had said, how the 15 minutes eventually became a 20-hour weekend, "you know what I mean," and before they knew it the essay detailed how the boy had nearly fallen off the roof of that house in his attempt to help some people from the "bad" part of Portland build their own home.

"That's great," I said. "That is."

He nodded and went on about how they'd turned off the TV every night, Justin himself, had made the commitment to turn it off. "What a guy, huh? And he never thought he'd get in, because what is it? 1 in 7? Like getting into the Ivy League isn't it?"

It sure is, I said.

"And when you think they're just 13. It's ridiculous."


"Actually," he said, "it really doesn't matter where they to school. Where you're going is perfectly good."

Yes, 'perfectly good', I said.

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