September 1957. My new stepfather was a banker named Ray Gevrez Scott. He dropped me and my new stepbrother Richard (headed for MIT) in Boston after our cross-country road trip from California. Pre-interstate. Sharing the driving. Cheap motels. Landscape passing. Bad road food. Five days of Heaven. I mean, for me, the best two words in the English language are “Road Trip.”
Ray (a wonderful man who would drop dead over the breakfast table six years later, ending my divorced mother’s one shot at happiness) was in a big hurry to meet up with my mother in Denver for their honeymoon. “You guys will be fine,” he said, not looking back. “Fine” was one way of putting it. I stayed in cheap accommodations in downtown Boston for two days, then hiked up my courage and took myself out to the campus of my new home: Brandeis University, where I would become a member of the 10th graduating class. Waltham is out west, near the Route 128 ring road that would become an early northeast tech corridor.
I took the trolley, the T, from downtown Boston to Watertown, transferred to a bus. And then I think there was another transfer to the bus that went by campus. By myself, petrified and fearful, knowing no one. The trunk, carefully packed by my mother, had been shipped weeks ago. I was carrying a suitcase. Four years later, I would have confidently told you I was schlepping a suitcase. At the time, I didn’t know from schlepping. I was, truly, a goy, a very whitebread non-affiliated Christian, coming from California with a trunk full of clothes that included a couple of my favorite Hawaiian shirts. Rayon. With pineapples. Some years later my then roommate would tell me he was horrified by the shirts and only decided not to ask for a transfer because I was a music major and he was a musician.
I trudged with my suitcase up a steep hill to my new dorm, called the Castle. Because it looked like a castle. The Brandeis campus had grown up on the site of the former Middlesex Medical College. I think our cafeteria might have been the site of the former anatomy lecture hall. When I huffed into the quad, the Big Deal Sophomores were telling the newbies and their families where to go. I was a music major. I was supposed to room with a sophomore music major, but he had re-arranged things and was rooming with a friend. I was posted to another room with a freshmen, Eugene Turitz (The BDS’s said: “He’s not a music major, but he went to Music and Art.” And I think, Uh, okay. What’s music and art? It is, as anyone from New York City would know because they breathe the air there, one of the prestigious special schools, right up there with Fame’s High School of Performing Arts). At that moment I heard a fellow newbie say to someone he’s just met: “I’m pre-med. I’m going to be a doctor.” More terror. I had no idea what I wanted to be, no notion of a future road. And I was (and still am) totally in awe of anyone who had set a goal and determined a path to get there.
I decided I’d try to wait for a while before I threw up.