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Master Mac: Lives Well Lived at the Edge of Excellence

Master Mac: Lives Well Lived at the Edge of Excellence

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Master Mac: Lives Well Lived at the Edge of Excellence

4/5 (8 valutazioni)
742 pagine
11 ore
Dec 8, 2010


Master Mac spans three generations of high-achieving men and women who changed not only their own but many other pieces of the world. Despite differences in ages and backgrounds, they were linked by what McBurney had taught them. That linkage encompassed classrooms, conference rooms, operating rooms, ballrooms and bedrooms. The people of Master Mac liked each other, respected each other, believed in each other, fought for --and with --each other and slept with each other.

The First Generation (Founders of the Flame) included the British- born and educated Richard Amberton MacAllister, who became the `Master Mac' of the story, and Frank Abner, a one-time jailhouse kid and World War Two Marine who became `Master Whack'; a prep school disciplinarian with compassion.

Among the Second Generation (Keepers of the Flame) were Roscoe Zill, head of America's third largest company and womanizer extraordinaire; Aaron Diehl, a talk show host with an international audience; Ronald Krittle and Deena Kass, developers of mass communications, and Arthur Astrachian, vice president of the United States.

The Third Generation (Inheritors of the Flame) raised the standard of excellence still higher: Maryann Randolph, a battlefield transplant surgeon who received the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Zachary Zill, a naval aviator who became an astronaut and was awarded the Medal of Honor for a daring rescue in space. Tameka Astrachian, who became a gifted actress and then a recluse. Matthew Bowen, a peace advocate who was brutally murdered in the barrios of East Los Angeles. Joyce Levanto, the secret service agent who failed to protect the president from terrorists. And Steven Krittle-Kass, who won a seat in the US Senate by applying the lessons of McBurney.

These are the people of Master Mac. The people of excellence.

Dec 8, 2010

Informazioni sull'autore

By his own estimate, David Dworsky has written millions of words, including the 200,000 or so in Master Mac. David decided to write the novel --his first --in the aftermath of a long career hammering away at telexes, typewriters, computers and other machines from which words could be coaxed. As a fledgling novelist, David decided to stick to a rule that had served him well as a journalist and corporate writer: Write About What You Know. Accordingly, he drew from concepts and themes that had loomed large in his professional life. Plus oceans and the boats that sail upon them. Master Mac is told through the prism of the McBurney School; a once-prominent but now-defunct New York preparatory school which the author attended as a teenager. McBurney sought to teach students about excellence in many shapes & forms; masks & disguises; configurations & structures. Although McBurney is years in the past, it ripened into a lasting memory and a defining experience. With a McBurney boy's typical modesty, the author denies that he is an example of the excellence about which he has written. He concedes, however, that he is one of the main characters in Master Mac, although in deep disguise. David hopes that readers will find in Master Mac the concept of excellence that enriched the lives of thousands of boys --and what a few of them made of it.

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Anteprima del libro

Master Mac - David Dworsky



How It Began

MacAllister Travels a Hard Road Out of England

The Spiral Staircase

The Dress Code

Whack and Mac Team Up; Boys’ Butts Note a Change

Master Mac and Master Whack Discover the Attraction of Opposites

MacAllister Picks his Dream Team

The Team Gets Rolling

Thinking It Over

Talking It Over

Planning to Plan the Plan

Presenting the Plan

Homeward Bound

The Season of Death

Inheritors of the Flame

End of the Beginning. Beginning of the End.

Lighters of the Flame

Keepers of the Flame

Inheritors of the Flame

And what of the McBurney School and the legacy of Master Mac?

Author’s Prolog

A Who’s Who of ‘Master Mac’

Lighters of the Flame


Keepers of the Flame


Inheritors of the Flame


And Briefly, but with Respect and Admiration

How It Began

THE BIRTH OF the McBurney School, in 1905 and its demise in 2000 were inauspicious occasions, attracting neither celebrants to one nor mourners to the other. But ah, the years between; years of true greatness. It should have lasted longer, this dynasty in the making. But times had changed too much and McBurney had changed too little, and it eventually failed. The cynics were right—true dynasties are few and far between. But McBurney came awfully close.

Around the turn of the century—the last one, that is—a YMCA domiciled on New York’s Upper West Side found that, after meeting the social, athletic and educational needs of its members, three of its six floors were chronically underutilized. In fact, most of the time, they stood empty, producing not a nickel of income. To the ‘Y’s board of trustees, and to the financial affairs sub-committee, this was an unacceptable breakdown in what today’s MBAs would call asset optimization. Clearly, the asset was valuable: a considerable amount of untaxed space in a growing area in the world’s largest city. But the board had larger issues on its mind, and so a small matter of excess space had seemed unimportant. But over the next few years, the Y, even with its not-for-profit, tax-exempt status, was caught in a pincers-like movement. Revenues started going down and expenses started going up.

Eventually, the three vacant floors caught someone’s attention as a potential source of revenue. The finance sub-committee met to exchange ideas about how the space could best be utilized. One trustee suggested a library; another, a theater; another, a restaurant, and another a swimming pool. Other trustees pointed out that there was already a library not far away, and also a theater and several restaurants. Plus, the building already contained two swimming pools that were infrequently used and consumed a fortune in chemicals to retard algae and mildew.

Finally, another trustee put forth an idea: How about a school, he asked. It will fill the space, produce income, preserve our tax-exempt status and reflect our organizational goals of knowledge, education and culture. Expenses would be modest; some chairs and desks at which students would sit, textbooks, a few instructor salaries—assuredly small.

As suggestions go, this one had the look of a winner. It was quickly approved and in less than a year, a preparatory school for young men, the McBurney School, named for the Y trustee who had come up with the idea, accepted its first class of students. It was the most modest of beginnings, but ahead was something better, much better.

For the next 20 years or so, McBurney remained small and obscure as it sought a comfortable gait under three different men whose qualifications did not, regrettably, include leadership, vision or energy. Then, in 1926, employment as a master was offered to a young, well-educated Englishman named MacAllister. Five years later, having liked what they had seen of him, the board promoted MacAllister to headmaster.

With MacAllister in charge, The Golden Age of the McBurney School began. For nearly 50 years, McBurney stood among the three top prep schools in New York, and the top ten nationally. It won every award for academic excellence. Its graduates were admitted to the best colleges and from there went on to distinguished careers in business, law, the arts, politics, medicine, education and even, in the case of a particular three-time MVP third baseman for the Red Sox, athletics.

It was a fine ride. But starting in the 1990s, the road turned bumpy. Willie Nelson, Mr. Rough Trails himself, might well have written the lyrics. Ironically, the very same factors that had led to the creation of the McBurney School in 1905—declining revenues, rising costs and an inability to understand the volatile nature of New York real estate—led to its demise 90 years later.

The beginning of the end came in the 1970s, when laws, tax codes and exemptions changed and the school was forced out from under the protective umbrella of the Y. In fact, it was ejected from the Y building on 63rd street altogether. Over the years, McBurney had taught many of its graduates how to make money, but had never learned this lesson for itself. MacAllister was a philosopher, not a financier, and understood little of economics and business. The board of directors, inconveniently, knew less.

So, finding itself in a state of genteel impoverishment, McBurney drifted west from comfortable, prestigious Central Park. Its next home was a large disused building not far from the Hudson River. As a foreclosure, the purchase price was affordable, especially in view of the School’s less-than-robust credit rating. The building abutted a distasteful warren of run-down automotive businesses; cut-rate transmission rebuilds, tire recapping, brake shops, body-and-fender repair. There were numerous hole-in-the-wall coffee shops, where stale doughnuts and nickel bags could be bought for the asking. No bus or subway line came anywhere near. Cruising cabs rarely entered the area. Even limo drivers recently arrived from Pakistan and Ghana knew better, and refused after-school pickups. Mothers, of course, hated the place.

The entire McBurney family—overseers, trustees, current and retired masters, old boys, even the Mayor—beseeched MacAllister to do something. With little in the way of natural instincts to guide him, MacAllister resorted to a tactic that has always appealed to chief executives finding themselves in over their heads; he threw money at the problem. Amazingly, a Dutch bank seeking a foothold in the New York market coughed up a $30,000 non-secured loan for a feasibility analysis. MacAllister brought in study teams, education experts, tax and real estate specialists, and before the money ran out, expensive Park Avenue consultants. It was doubtlessly overkill, for the consultants all came to the same conclusion: Let it go. Too much has changed and can’t be changed back. This is no longer the world you know. There is no longer a place for McBurney in this world. Only the deference traditionally shown to the person signing the checks prevented the consultants from adding that MacAllister himself was also no longer needed.

This message hit MacAllister with sledgehammer force. After all, the McBurney School that had become a shining example of academic excellence, that had been profiled in Newsweek and visited by Jane Pauley for a Today Show segment, was his creation; its ideals, standards and greatness were his. But now, the standards had fallen and the greatness was gone, for MacAllister and for McBurney. McBurney had been the most successful, longest running show on Broadway, but closing night had finally arrived and the curtain was coming down.

So on a bleak February day, MacAllister sat with Frank Abner at a corner table in the Century Grill, just around the corner from the school. They shared a pot of Indian tea. MacAllister tamped his pipe with a mixture of burleys shipped in three-pound canisters from a Charing Cross tobacconist. Abner smoked a mentholated Salem Lite.

In the early 1950s MacAllister had hired Abner as a young master. They had worked together since then. Despite considerable differences in their upbringings and outlooks, MacAllister and Abner connected on some level that neither could define, nor even wished to. While cordial and courteous, they were not friends in any traditional sense. They rarely visited each other’s homes, never vacationed together, were only vaguely aware of each other’s interests and socialized only as required by school events.

From this calculated distancing, mutual acquaintances assumed that MacAllister and Abner disliked each other. This assessment certainly wasn’t correct, but neither was it completely wrong. They had fashioned the kind of close but not personal relationship that was not uncommon among people whose lives are spent in a shared cause. For them, this cause was McBurney. For more than 30 years, MacAllister and Abner had shared a vision of McBurney. Their allegiance to this vision was so deep and strong as to transcend any need for personal feelings.

MacAllister held a match to the bowl of his pipe, drew hard, ejected puffs of smoke. Frank, he said, Our McBurney was a monument to excellence. But now it is gone. Too soon, of course, and not for the best of reasons. People have told us that McBurney’s demise was inevitable because the world no longer wants what we are so uniquely equipped to give. But do you know what, Frank, I’m not sure I buy all that. I still think what McBurney does has value. Great value. But as all these condescending consultants and strutting experts and self-important whatnots have been telling us, the world has changed. No doubt about that. But the way I see it, as long as things keep changing, we can change, too. It’s like musical chairs; while the music plays, the game goes on. I still hear music, Frank.

Richard, I’m not understanding you, said Abner who understood very well. Are you saying that you want to take another shot at this, create another McBurney, keep the flame alive?"

Exactly, Frank. I want to create a McBurney that will live where the old one died, that will succeed where the old one failed.

Richard, I hope you are not thinking of replacing all that was—the huge school building, the great faculty, the library with thousands of books, the endowment, the gyms, the pools, the labs, the traditions, the thousands of bright, engaging boys we taught. This simply cannot be replicated. At least not by us.

MacAllister doggedly shook his head in a dismissive gesture as Abner scrolled through his litany of objections. You’re right, Frank, in saying that we cannot physically build a school of that magnitude. But that is not what I have in mind to do.

What then, Abner asked.

A scale model school, Frank, like a basement railroad train. We can build a school of only a few students constructed around just a handful of our most outstanding graduates. Men who feel what we feel, believe what we believe. Men who will accept ownership of the future as we did of the past. Each will anoint a young man to inherit their mantle of accomplishment and distinction. And as that young man comes of age, he, in turn, will find his own successor. And in that manner, the excellence of McBurney lives again. But it begins with the first group. They can do this, Frank. With you and me pointing the way, they can do it.

Abner leaned forward, his gestures tight and urgent. Who, Richard? Who are they?

By way of answer, MacAllister handed over a sheet of crested notepaper. Abner unfolded the paper, peered at it for a long moment, and then read aloud as if to allow both men to savor what followed:

"I see several names. The first is that of Roscoe Zill, whom you describe as chairman and chief executive officer of TransGlobal Financial Holdings. Your note states that TGF, with assets of $92 billion, is the third largest company in the world.

"The second person is Aaron Diehl, whose name I know. Diehl was an unsuccessful actor with a fiery wit who improbably became host of FoxFire, America’s highest-rated late night talk show. His success was as spectacular as it was unexpected. It induced panic at the networks and drained sponsors from Leno and Letterman.

"Next is Arthur Astrachian, another recognizable name. For eight years, until about five years ago, Astrachian was vice president of the United States of America.

And finally, I see the name of Ronald Krittle, which I don’t recognize. (Most people don’t know me by name). Your note says he is founder/president of Krittle-Kass Associates, a giant advertising, marketing communications and public relations network that operates in 40 countries.

MacAllister and Abner sat back in their chairs. A considerable tenseness had unfolded as the note was read. Both needed a moment for reflection and composure. MacAllister thumbed another wad of tobacco into his pipe, fired his Bic, got it burning. Abner lit a new Salem from the smoldering butt of the last one. A waiter brought a fresh pot of tea. MacAllister raised a finger and the waiter paused. Forget the tea. Bring us two single malt scotches—the best you have. Doubles, in fact. This is hardly a moment to be toasted in tea. Presently, the waiter returned with two heavy glasses, half filled with a smoky brown liquid.

MacCallans, sir. Our best, the waiter announced.

Richard MacAllister and Frank Abner rose, extended their glasses forward in a toast. To McBurney, they proclaimed in unison. To McBurney.

MacAllister Travels a Hard Road Out of England

HE KNEW HE was old, but not how old. The documents and family papers that might have provided a clue to his exact age had disappeared decades before, along with a young wife and most of his cash. The loss of the money meant little; the wife, less. But in an act of cruelty not uncommon in the younger wives of older men, she had taken his Phi Beta Kappa key and the gold chain that affixed it to his waistcoat. They were symbolic trinkets of little monetary value. The key was from Oxford, the gold chain from his father. They had been stolen to hurt him, and had.

So now, without birthdays to mark time gone by, or more precisely, time left to go, he relied on the deterioration of organs, appendages and extremities as clock/calendar. A series of maladies, ranging from the merely irksome dryness of skin and occasional bowel irregularity, to the painful arthritis and slow-progressing arteriosclerosis that would eventually kill him, made him at least 85. But by a quirk of genetics, the aging process had somehow spared his brain. He could think and rationalize and scheme as well as ever. He prayed his higher brain functions would remain unimpaired for as long it would take to carry out his plan for personal salvation, redemption and renewal.

His name was Richard Amberton MacAllister. Dr. MacAllister, in fact. When he thought of himself in the first person, it was always as Richard. His wife had called him Rick in public, Ricky in private and Big Dick in the bedroom. He detested all three.

But that was decades before and an ocean away.

He had been born in London to an apothecary mother and a barrister father; unrelenting Calvinists, constantly seeking to outdo each other in their sternness; quick to condemn laughter, gaiety, smiling, whistling—anything that hinted at pleasure. Because of them, he received his first spanking at three, his first knuckle-rapping at eight. In spite of them, he tried his first cigarette at ten, his first draft of bitter at twelve, his first woman at fourteen.

His parents called him ‘Young Master MacAllister’ on those occasions when they were put out with him because of some fancied act of misbehavior or disrespect, or the even more detached ‘Look Here’ at moments of extreme annoyance. During the long stretches when he managed not to offend, they simply called him Lad. He was never addressed as Richard, or even better, as Son, for that seemed too light, too affectionate, too…happy. Happiness was not the MacAllister way.

His parents were dour, but not dumb, and passed on to their sole issue a mind that was agile, fertile, inquisitive. He learned easily; understood much of what he learned. As educated professionals, his parents earned considerably more than the average citizen then trying to eke out a living in the quintessential Shopkeeper Nation. In addition, Donald and Martha MacAllister, for those were their names, received small annual dividends on mining and shipbuilding shares purchased years before. In addition, there was the small matter of a Borneo rubber plantation in which her farmer parents had once been persuaded to invest. The plantation, choked by poor management and rising costs, no longer produced. The last workers had gone. But with no one left to hack them down, a new stand of rubber trees had been able to grow. With war clouds forming, and every vehicle that moved on land needing rubber tyres, a City speculator sniffed a payday and moved in. A modest premium was offered to the MacAllisters and a few other investors named on the plantation’s original articles of incorporation. The sum was small but to the MacAllisters seemed substantial, and they sold. Since then the funds had sat in a deposit account in the Fulham Road branch of a small London bank, earning a tidy sum of interest.

As if that were not enough, both MacAllisters belonged to professional guilds that maintained small funds to help defray the costs of educating the children of dues-paying members.

Richard attended Eton; then read English history and Greek philosophy at All Souls College, Cambridge. In the impersonal style of the time and the place, fellow students called him R.A., for Richard Amberton. The dons addressed him as MacAllister. Residence hall managers, in the tradition of batmen, or military servants, which many had been, called him Sair. For a young man struggling to develop a sense of himself, none of this was very satisfying.

Although he was far from poor, MacAllister was too much the Calvinist son of Calvinist parents to embrace materialism. Once, on the strength of some skilful negotiating, he was able to purchase an old but beautifully contoured tennis racquet. The Magdalene housemate from whom he bought it clinched the sale with the promise of greater topspin in MacAllister’s weak second service.

Soon after graduation, the mother died, the shop was sold and he was remembered in the will. With this unexpected (the mother was only 50) windfall he was able to sit for a doctorate in ethics at Oxford.

The austere, sullen and cheerless London to which he returned in 1930 reminded him too much of the years spent growing up at home. The country was slipping into depression and teaching (yes, he had decided to teach) jobs were scarce. To stretch what was left of the small inheritance, he was back living with his father in the South Ken flat of his boyhood.

His academic credentials had led to a job teaching remedial reading to a class of doltish teenagers. But with England teetering toward economic collapse, the school soon failed. He graded exams at another for per-diem pay, and home-tutored for a while. When even that ran dry he helped with a van.

The first years of the 1930s had not been kind to Donald MacAllister, nor, to be fair, had he to them. He had entered widowhood after 30 of marriage to a woman whose bleak Calvinistic outlook had become a high-watermark by which he could measure his own; by a once-substantial legal practice now reduced to an occasional case on the periphery of judicial respectability; and by an unfathomable son who was friendly where he was dour; optimistic where he was resigned, resolute where he was ambivalent. Worse, the son had made clear that he would make his own choices about the life he wished to lead—a life, he was increasingly certain—that would embrace neither the law nor Calvinism nor England.

This realization settled over the father with the weight of wet clay, and drained off the last vestiges of enthusiasm and curiosity from a man born with little of either. Absolved of any further need to feign warmth or affection, Donald MacAllister, like an actor playing Lear, settled comfortably into the role of a bitter, embittered man. It was the last role he would play, and the best performance he would give.

The timing of the advert in The Sun couldn’t have been better. MacAllister saw it on Tuesday, posted an application on Thursday and received a reply two weeks after that. He was hired! He was going to America, to teach at a small boy’s preparatory school in New York. Its name was McBurney.

When he arrived in New York City and took up his duties as a junior instructor, the boys in class addressed him as Sir. A simple word, impossible for even the dullest boy to mispronounce or forget. Within a few years the faculty was depleted by the buildup to war; by the siren song of vacant, better-paying positions at the many good, small liberal arts colleges that preferred men of his class and background.

At McBurney, MacAllister was well enough liked, which is to say he had no vocal detractors. His scholarship was respected. He got on well with alumni. He coached soccer in fall and swimming in winter, winning the occasional game or match. In a school with few athletic pretensions, little more was expected. Through it all, he comported himself as a private man in a private school. Simply by being himself, MacAllister had become a useful and comfortable part of the fabric of the school and so in 1935, five years after arriving as an instructor at McBurney, he was promoted headmaster.

With this elevated status, the question of a proper form of address again proved troublesome. Doctor Headmaster MacAllister contained a few too many syllables for the small boys in his care, and the informality of a teacher encouraging students to ‘call me Dick’ was still a good half-century away. So he left the issue to his boys and the boys, of course, produced a solution that was both satisfactory and satisfying.

They called him Master Mac.

Overnight, and for the 50 years that followed, he was Master Mac. Master of McBurney.

With the arrival of the fast food chains, a few wags tried out Big Mac for size, although never of course to his face. But even the most imaginative boys could see no connection between a hamburger oozing grease and catsup and the lean, tall, austere figure of MacAllister and the nickname was quickly dropped. The few boys who persisted in using it as an example of wit or defiance were said to be trying too hard. Even then, before the phrase had meaning, McBurney was cool; pushing it—anything—was the worst form of uncool and only the dullest McBurney boy, of which there were few, could fail to grasp this essential truth.

MacAllister was not McBurney’s first headmaster—the school, after all, was founded in 1905—but he would be its last.

Unless fate granted him a second chance.

Remembering McBurney’s Traditions;

the Elegant and the Trashy

The Spiral Staircase

AT MCBURNEY, ALONG with Trinity, Columbia Grammar, Walden, Ethical Culture, Dwight, Birch Wathen, Rhodes and most other upper West Side prep schools, not to mention Fieldston, Riverdale, Horace Mann and other northern outposts on the prep school map, Friday was the best day of the week.

That’s when boys got laid.

Exams were rarely given in the morning, and never in the afternoon. The weekend stretched ahead—always a welcomed prospect after a week of painfully and fruitlessly trying to convince some sadistic master that you had actually learned something—anything. The difference between an alpha particle and a beta ray; the proper form of address for the secretary-general of the United Nations; the significance of Marbury Vs. Madison; which French kings led the league in cutting off the heads of French queens, and whether the Skagerrak was indeed the body of water separating Norway, Denmark and Sweden, and if so, how the hell did you spell it?


Like any of this mattered to teenage boys in the America of the 1950s.

So it was little wonder that when Fridays rolled around, the thoughts of a McBurney boy turned to getting laid. Not every boy, or every Friday, but many boys, on most Fridays. The process was automatic, reflexive, primal. No conscious decision was needed. One moment, a boy could be day-dreaming, off-line, seriously disengaged, and the next in the grip of impulses so deep and visceral as to blot out all rational thought. There was only one way to scratch that particular itch.

A trip uptown to visit Rosie and Carmen.

The New York of the 1950s was full of Rosies and Carmens. As young Hispanic and Latino women, newly arrived from San Juan, Kingston, Cienfuegos, Port-au-Prince and other island paradises, they could mop floors, wait tables or turn tricks. Turning tricks paid best.

Rosie and Carmen were whores who worked, and perhaps lived, for all any boy knew, in an apartment on the second floor of a walkup brownstone on 98th street, a few doors in from Central Park. Other hookers worked, and perhaps lived, on other floors in the same building, and no doubt in other buildings on the same block, and quite likely in buildings on 97th street or 99th street or other blocks.

Today, the upper West Side has sucked up gentrification dollars like a goose fatted for Christmas. But back then, 98th street, and the streets around it, was a low-rent slum. The system required this, because if there were to be hookers that schoolboys could afford, there had to be rooms that hookers could afford. The free enterprise system, as practiced in that time and place, worked to perfection. Rosie, Carmen and the other professional ladies of 98th street priced themselves at the exact intersection of supply and demand. It was the sign of an efficient market at work and therefore a win-win for everyone.

Rates were low. Handjobs were $2, blowjobs were $3 and a straight fuck was $5. Non-negotiable. Don’t even ask. Besides, every West Side preppie had ten bucks, and every West Side hooker knew it. Once in a while, a hooker with good marketing instincts might declare Customer Appreciation Day. A 10% discount would be offered to groups of ten or more boys from a certain school—much as Marriott might take something off the room rate for a group of insurance agents on convention—although never to Trinity boys, whom the whores found arrogant and condescending.

Rosie and Carmen were smart, intuitive businesswomen. They had to be, to successfully hold off a wave of competitors that seemed to grow by the day. They were no better looking, nor more bosomy, nor more skilled at what they did, nor more imaginative in how they did it. But with prettier faces and bigger boobs and more pliant lips arriving on every flight from Santo Domingo, Rosie and Carmen needed an edge. The concepts were still years off, but Rosie and Carmen got it first.

Differentiation! Positioning! Branding!

They marketed themselves as Student Specialists. Just as an IBM systems analyst might brag that his company owned the 32-bit space, Rosie and Carmen became experts in serving the fastest-growing, highest-volume, most lucrative segment of the sex trade market: New York prep school boys.

A few hookers tried to develop market segments of their own, such as the many parochial schools in the areas—Saint This and Bishop That—but soon gave it up as a waste of time. Catholic boys didn’t have the time, the money or the testosterone to play this game. Besides, the priests and nuns knew the signs and a boy with a bulge in his trousers was heading for a visit with the Mother Superior—not, under the circumstances, the woman of choice.

Yeshiva boys were hopeless and simply didn’t register on any hooker’s radar screen.

Around noon on any given Friday, 15 to 20 McBurney boys would get into the conga line for the trip uptown. First, though, came a pit stop at the Century deli for a baloney on Kaiser Roll wrapped in aluminum foil, slice of pickle on the side, because whatever else the next hour might bring, it was still lunchtime, and there were some schoolboy appetites even Rosie and Carmen couldn’t satisfy. A few boys brought lunch from home. Invariably, it turned out to be the ultimate preppy sandwich; pbj on Wonder Bread, crust trimmed off, cut into triangles.

The Central Park West bus, the #10, was the camel for the caravan uptown. At 15 cents, it was the best bargain of the day. I usually sat with Kenny Clark, a tall, blond boy who was one of my closest friends at school. We had much in common at McBurney; football team, swimming team, writing for the school newspaper, inability to conjugate Latin verbs. Today, we would have Rosie and Carmen in common.

Kenny’s dad was a partner in one of the white shoe investment banking firms—Lehman Brothers or Kuhn Loeb, I think it was—and made a lot of money. His mom was an interior decorator with a Lace Irish clientele.

In addition to an eight-room apartment on Riverside Drive, the Clarks had a big house in Point Pleasant at the Jersey Shore. There was a Chrysler station wagon parked in the gravel driveway and a 46-foot Rybovitch sport fisherman moored to the bulkhead. Kenny’s dad and a few Wall Street pals took her out to the Hudson Canyon for long summer weekends. By day they trolled for tuna, skipjacks, albacore, bonito, bluefish and whatever else was swimming up from the south. At night they chummed for swords, big-eyes and Makos. The Rybo was fast as blazes, perfect for 100-mile Canyon runs, but the hard-chined hull design that made her fast also made her a wet, skittish boat at sea. Kenny and I were allowed to use the Rybo as a platform for crabbing or swimming—as long as she stayed tied to the dock. However, we soon discovered that the boat, with her two cabins, forward deck and spacious fly bridge, was a superior place to bring girls for some heavy action under summer stars.

Why am I going on and on about Kenny Clark? I guess because he was the boy I most admired; most wished to be like.

Kenny was usually talkative on the bus ride uptown, quiet afterward. With me, it was the opposite. Women still have that effect on me.

The bus stopped at the corner of 98th street. A bunch of McBurney boys got off, along with a few Columbia Grammar-heads I’d seen around. We exchanged non-committal nods, free of eye contact, in the manner of relative strangers who know they are all headed for the same place, for the same reason.

Rosie and Carmen worked out of a single large room on the second floor of a walkup. There were beds against three walls. Just inside the door was a small alcove—a holding area of sorts where boys at the head of the line awaited their turn. The line extended from the alcove down the stairs. About 20 boys were already waiting. But with each boy getting (and only needing) an average of four to six minutes, and with three hookers on duty (Carmen’s cousin helped out on busy Fridays), the line moved quickly.

At the end of the hall, behind a ratty plastic drape, stood a toilet and sink. No towel or toilet paper was provided although, in the manner of a restaurant graciously setting out an offering of after-dinner mints, a large glass bowl of condoms had been placed on a shelf above the sink.

Every couple of minutes, Kenny and I, along with a kid named Vinnie Iroes, who was also on the swim team, inched up another couple of steps. We gabbed. We exchanged some bad jokes. We bitched about an English lit test no one had passed.

Finally, it was our turn.

Today, it’s about mind games. The hooker-as-actress thing: Nurse. Stewardess. Nun. Waitress. Prison guard. Pay your money and take your pick, pal. But not back then. If Rosie-the-barmaid was what you wanted, you’d better have a good imagination because Rosie had none.

We walked into the room, looked around and divvied up the talent. Kenny took Carmen. I took Rosie. Vinnie got the cousin.

The whores were naked. They were lying on the bed, legs spread, knees bent, faces blank and expressionless. This saved time all around. It wasn’t necessary to hurry, and you certainly didn’t have to lunge around like a spastic, but you didn’t have all day, either. The rules of engagement, as the military puts it, were known to all. You paid first, dropping your tenner in a cigar box at the foot of the bed. The tenner bought you the full pull. If you had only stopped by for a blowjob, you extracted a few singles in change on the way out.

Then, you climbed on—and in. It immediately became a test of wills. You wanted to make it last forever but the whore wanted you out of her and off of her as quickly as possible. Nothing personal. Time is money. Customers waiting, you know.

Rosie was short and heavy, her hair was matted, her complexion was coarse and pitted, she had pimples on her ass and scars on her belly and her breath was straight out of a Calcutta sewer. I thought she was incredibly beautiful and exotic.

Hello, Rosie, I said.

Hola, Amigo, she said back.

The ride began. Slow, smooth, rhythmic, unhurried. This lasted for perhaps a minute. The self-delusion of it all! The preppy cowboy thinking he has finally gotten the better of the bucking brahma bull and would ride forever. But then, much in the manner of the bull becoming bored with the self-important huffing and puffing of the cowboy, Rosie seemed to shift under me. I felt her tense, draw in a breath, and unleash a pincer-like vaginal contraction that emptied me in a flash.

Score: Rosie-the-Bull-1, Preppy Cowboy-0.

Por favor, Senor, said Rosie, giving my worn-out worm a friendly pat. Hasta Luego.

Kenny Clark and Vinnie Iroes had gone bull riding for almost exactly the same amount of time. Like me, Kenny was done but Vinnie had a little left. He ambled over to Rosie, dropped two singles in the cigar box and presented his not-quite deflated member. Rosie took him in her mouth and went to work. No grace period here. After just a few seconds, Vinnie’s eyes narrowed to slits, then went wide. He lurched twice, buckled at the knees and let out a long, loud groan. Eeeeaaaaaghgod, it sounded like.

Score: Rosie-the-Bull-2, Preppy Cowboy-O

Our time was up, our money was gone, our itch was scratched and it was someone else’s turn. We grabbed up our shorts and trousers and headed out to the sink in the hall. The used condoms went into the crapper. We washed, using our shirttails as towels. We went down the stairs, trading shots, insults and ‘whuzzups’ with guys we knew.

It was time to amble out to the Park, catch a southbound #10, and go back to school.

Remembering McBurney’s Traditions

The Dress Code

AT MCBURNEY, AND most other New York prep schools, a rigid dress code was observed. No one quite knew why. It was simply the prep school way. Perhaps the tradition had begun with the professors, who brought with them the customs in which they themselves had been indoctrinated as schoolboys at Choate, Exeter, Lawrenceville and Groton, and later at Yale, Princeton, Oxford, Oberlin, Amherst and other institutions entrusted with the refinement of young minds.

Compared with public school teachers, prep school masters lived sheltered lives. No spitballs or erasers to dodge, no gang fights to break up, no crazies to disrupt class. In return for this idyllic teaching environment, they were less well paid and so had less to spend on clothes. This was generally not regarded as a hardship or a disgrace. At the better universities, a wardrobe a bit threadbare at the elbows and years out of date often conveyed a certain snobby status. A few masters, descended from genteel wealth, might have allowed themselves a touch more quality and individuality in their wardrobes, but allowing money to show was considered bad form. So all the masters, rich or poor, dressed alike and in the process unwittingly encouraged generations of students to do the same.

The only staples of the McBurney dress code were a tie and jacket, so there was plenty of room for improvisation and a boy’s wardrobe could be as individual as the boy himself. At least that was the intent of the dress code; to encourage independent thinking within the bounds of good taste. Unfortunately, when it came to self-expression, teen-aged boys were timid, insecure conformists, and a McBurney boy’s wardrobe was as rigid as the uniforms worn by cadets at military academies.

In fact, that’s exactly what it was—a uniform.

Other than size, it never varied; not from boy to boy or from day to day or even year to year.

The uniform, as uniforms always do, began with the jacket. The coat would be a Harris Tweed wool, occasionally coarse but more often soft; usually in some variant of brown, grey or tan. In a good light, one could see strands of threads in subtle colors that gave depth and richness to the wool.

Blazers, cut single-breasted and double-vented, could also be worn, but this is what many masters wore so for most boys, blazers were, at most, a once-a-week proposition. Unfortunately, moms loved the crested gold buttons and tailored look of a blazer, and always seemed to know when Rogers Kent, Rogers-Peat, Brooks Brothers and other stores were having fabulous sales. But for the most part, the boys stuck with tweed.

The trousers would also be of wool, in a lightly contrasting color. Trousers were cuffed, double- or triple-pleated and fitted at the sides with D-rings for minor waistband adjustments. Some trousers came with a decorative but non-working miniature belt-and-buckles sewn to the back of the waistband. It was pure preppy crap.

The range of acceptable footwear was also limited. A boy might wear penny loafers (the penny was never inserted) in black, brown or burgundy; ankle-height suede dessert boots, or tan bucks, with either red or green plaid shoelaces.

The shirt was always an oxford fabric with a button-down collar. Depending on the mood he was in that day (and what his mother had bought for him a boy could opt for white, blue, tan, yellow or pink. (Stripes and checks had not yet made it into the stores.)

To this, a boy would (had to) add a necktie. The tie could be a knitted wool, in a muted color of the boy’s choosing. Or a silk striped rep, which would allow a boy to work from a considerably larger palate of colors. Or a wool challis, patterned with crowns, tridents, crests or other small geometric figures.

To observe the boys arriving for school was to imagine an army on parade. Not just this particular group but all of them through the years; McBurney’s equivalent of West Point’s Long Grey Line. In this display of mass conformity, no boy stood out, which, of course, was the main idea.

But there was one item that clearly stood out, not because it was large or conspicuous—which it certainly wasn’t—but because it seemed so odd, so out of place, so…pointless. But it customized not only a wardrobe but the boy himself, and that was why it was there.

This item was a large silver safety pin. It was about three inches in length and perhaps an inch across at its widest point. It was pinned to the necktie. Every boy had one and wore it every day. But why?

In size and shape, this device mimicked the safety pin used by Scots to secure the flaps of kilts. But this was New York, not Glasgow, and no one here wore kilts. In any case, boys pinned the ends of the tie together, but not the tie to the shirt, leaving the tie free to flap about in the breeze. So neatness wasn’t the explanation.

And the pin certainly did not improve the condition of the necktie. The shaft was thick and left holes of considerable diameter in the fabric. The heft of the thing caused sags and wrinkles. So displaying a tie to best advantage wasn’t the explanation, either.

A boy could wear his safety pin in any way that suited his mood or made some personal statement, or perhaps sent a message.

The pin could be inserted high on the necktie, just under the knot, or nearly at the bottom; centered, or skewed a bit left or right; the clasp angled up, or down; completely horizontal, or completely vertical. Or pointing toward 42*20/N 54*10/W, NNE or any other compass heading or Long./Lat. a boy fancied.

In short, everything about the safety pin was left to the complete discretion of the boy who owned it. After a week or two of experimentation, a boy would settle on a distinctive positioning of his pin. The pin would be worn in that exact manner for the rest of the boy’s time in school. The boy’s pin preference became as distinctive as a genetic code. There were, of course, some basic models of display. The most popular ones were named for the boy on whom it had first appeared. There was a Robbie and a Loren and a Brucie and a Nate. Having one’s name connected to a pin display conferred high status, on the magnitude of a Crone’s Disease or a Kasparov Maneuver.

That so much was made of so little was truly strange. One could pore through admissions handbooks and student guides, but the matter was nowhere described. Even the sociology profs were at a loss to explain where or when this custom had originated, or what it might mean. Like the huge carvings on Easter Island, the existence of the pins pre-dated anyone’s memory. It just was.

The best explanation I ever heard came from Leonard Nash. Len and I shared a workbench in chem lab. Len was a senior. He had come to McBurney as a lower school student. After eight years, he understood more about the place than most guys. One day, before class began, we sat there, absently toying with our tie-pins.

Do you know what I think this is about—this stupid business with the safety pin? he said to me. It’s our way of rebelling against the system and against ourselves. Think about it for a minute, said Len, warming to his argument. McBurney demands conformity in thought and deed. (Even as a teenager, Len was pedantic. After McBurney, he went to the University of Virginia, then into local politics and is now speaker of the Virginia State Senate, where his talent for pomposity is being put to good use.) So the pins are a way of saying that while we choose not to openly defy the system, neither do we openly surrender to it. It’s a subtle thing."

Successive generations of McBurney boys have debated the Mystery of the Pin. Len Nash’s explanation still makes the most sense to me.

Whack and Mac Team Up; Boys’ Butts Note a Change

IF RICHARD A. MacAllister was Master Mac, Frank P. Abner was Master Whack.

Abner was the school disciplinarian. He played all the main parts: judge, jury, executioner. When necessary, he could also do cameos; prosecuting attorney, expert witness, bailiff, court stenographer, lockup guard.

He upheld standards, kept the moral flame, settled disputes and drew the lines.

Every prep school has a Master Whack because at every prep school one is needed. Schools could no more function without a Frank Abner than without desks, books and #2 pencils.

Its not that prep schoolboys are bad; they’re not. Why should they be? They grow up in stable homes, with financial security, deferential parents and a healthy sense of entitlement. It’s true that many were inner city boys, but their inner city was more apt to be Park Ave. on the Upper East Side than Melrose Street in Bed-Stuy.

But the nature of boys is to push and probe—just to see what they can get away with. At McBurney, with Master Whack on duty, it wasn’t much.

There wasn’t a single boy who escaped Frank Abner’s notice. Could the accursed man actually hear through walls, see around corners, sniff out mischief? He was everywhere, taking it all in, missing nothing. Within days of the start of a new semester, every boy had a Master Whack bruise to show and a Master Whack story to tell.

Frank Abner had the perfect outlook for the job.

He was stern and tough. With Abner, the bullshit and winsome smile that sometimes carried a manipulative boy out of trouble at home were a waste of time. He knew all the riffs and scams.

He was fair; boys guilty of the same transgression received equal punishment. Unlike a military court-martial, there were no mitigating or extenuating circumstances. He played no favorites.

He could not be coerced or intimidated. Not by a parent, or by a member of the faculty or administration, and certainly not by any of the thousands of boys with whom he came in contact. Abner was short and squat and built like a bulldog; fat hardened into muscle. No boy ever thought of taking him on. They knew better.

He was compassionate; Abner saw discipline as an element in a boy’s education and as a cornerstone of a well-ordered life. So he fit the punishment not to the crime but to the boy. The punishment would hurt but a lesson would be learned and the boy would be better for the experience.

Abner was neither sadistic nor vengeful nor spiteful. He was, after all, an educator in a New York prep school, not a guard on a Mississippi prison farm.

When it came to crime and punishment, Frank Abner had a fine sense of retribution. He had soul and his soul had depth.

With hindsight, it’s no surprise that these qualities took root in Frank Abner. The greater surprise would have been if they had not.

The crimes that tested the Abner Jurisprudence System were, for the most part, trite and trivial. Misdemeanors, mostly. An algebra class was cut. A boy was seen smoking. Words addressed to a master were borderline insolent. Crude porn appeared on a bathroom wall.

Other crimes in the AJS rose to the level of felonies. A wallet went missing from a boy’s locker. A switchblade was discovered in the library. The nose of a snotty freshman was bloodied by an upperclassman.

This was about as far as it went. There were no capital crimes in the AJS.

The punishments were designed to make a boy reflect on the nature of his transgression; contemplate the folly of his behavioral deviancy, and…remember for the next time.

‘Five Around’—five laps around the track above the gym—covered the simpler sins; talking to a pal in class, an incomplete homework assignment, a misplaced library book. If it happened again, the culprit was required to designate (‘Finger Five’) another boy and that boy did Five Around.

Back then, the main form of substance abuse was not pot or acid, but chewing gum. Ten-sticks-a-day habits were not uncommon. But according to the thinking of the time, it might as well have been H. A boy seen chewing bubble gum would have his swag confiscated. If it happened again, chocolate pudding disappeared from the cafeteria for a week. And if it happened again after that, well, sterner measures were clearly needed to get through to this silly boy.

The offender, along with two or three boys known to be his pals, would be summoned to the office of Master Abner. There, the boy would be required to drop his trousers and boxers. A wad of the offending bubble gum (‘Bazooka’ was the brand of choice) would be produced. Each boy in the punishment detail would masticate the gum for a moment or two, until it became large, moist, soft and pliant. And then Master Whack would unceremoniously stick it up the boy’s butt.

There was nothing harmful or dangerous about this. It was just unpleasant. An indignity. Weird. Which was the main idea.

Strangely, no boy ever fled, begged for mercy or even objected strenuously. No parent called to complain; proof that the boy had wisely kept the matter to himself. The boxers would be ditched before hitting the family laundry bin, and a hot bath and a bowel movement took care of the rest.

Boys called it getting ‘Bazooked.’ No boy ever needed to be ‘Bazooked’ twice.

But the punishment that transcended all others, whether for high crimes or misdemeanors, was getting whacked. The instrument by which whacks were delivered was a thick, tightly rolled sheaf of tests, notes, lecture outlines and memos that Abner habitually carried in the manner of General Patton and his swagger stick. The beauty of the whack in the hands of a pro like Abner was that it was programmable. It could be varied. It could be modulated. It could be aimed.

Generally, the whack was delivered with light to medium force to various parts of the anatomy, with a boy’s butt being the target of choice. The top of the head and back of the thighs were also prime whack zones. Whacks delivered to these areas could hurt, but not injure. A boy being whacked was experiencing the upgraded version of the spankings he had received as a small child, which made the punishment all the more humiliating. It went something like this:

John (or Michael or Robert or Daniel) what is the matter with you?


When are you going to start to behave, act like a student?


If it happens again you are out of this school. Understand?


Yesssir. Very sorry. It won’t happen again.



An admirable approach to discipline, but then, Frank Abner, born poor, ignorant and Catholic in Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1923, had lived a life that had for years been defined by crime and punishment.

As a kid, Frankie Abner misbehaved and rebelled. As a teenager, Frank Abner hung with local toughs, screwed local girls, disrupted the local high school, hot-wired local cars and ran afoul of local law. Normally, Abner would have been carted off to a juvenile detention center for a year or two. But America was now fighting a two-front war and a magistrate with a sense of patriotism offered a choice of jail or the Marines.

What do Marines do, Abner asked.

Shoot people, the magistrate explained.

Abner chose the Corps. He received three weeks of basic training at a camp in New Hampshire, then two more of firearms familiarization at another in Maryland. The Marine Corps gave him a uniform that barely fit and a gun that barely fired and sent him off to war.

A converted troopship carried him and 300 equally unsuspecting young men down the Atlantic coastline, through the Canal and out into the Pacific, plunging, pitching and rolling every mile of the way. The vessel was named for an obscure one-term congressman; a reward for delivering South Carolina for the Republicans in an ancient presidential election. Some reward! The USS Harrison M. Burnside was a leaky, scabrous, rusted-out, smoke-belching World War 1 freighter with a permanent six-degree list to starboard that no amount of counterballasting could correct. But to wrong-side-of-the-tracks young men like Abner, the Burnside seemed as luxurious as a Cunarder. There were three squares a day, a hammock at night, high-octane torpedo juice of uncertain origin and a non-stop poker game in the shaft tunnel. Abner reckoned that discomforts notwithstanding, the Burnside was better than the jail where his ass would otherwise be rotting. In jail, time stood still and nothing could change for the duration of a man’s sentence. Out here, there were possibilities.

Of course, no one had bothered to explain where he and 300 other grunts aboard the Burnside were going, or what they would do when they got there.

The simple explanation was this: Following the devastation at Pearl Harbor, America was on the ropes, and needed time to replace the ships and planes lost on 7 December. This couldn’t be done overnight. As a delaying tactic America turned to the only resource that was readily and abundantly at hand. It rounded up as many of its misfits, sinners, bad boys, malcontents and social undesirables as could be found on short notice. They were apportioned between the Army and Marines, which packed them, hundreds at a clip, into an armada of hastily reactivated ocean greyhounds like the Burnside and sent them off to soak up Japanese bullets, bombs and torpedoes. They were cannon fodder, pure and simple.

So the troopship steamed deeper into the Western Pacific while the Marshalls, the Gilberts, the Marianas and smaller island chains tottered and fell to the inexorable advance of the sushi-eating, saki-drinking warriors from the land of the rising sun.

At least, that was the plan, and by rights the Strange, Short and Sorrowful Saga of Frankie Frank Franklin P. Abner should have come to an early end at the hands of a wandering Japanese submarine.

Instead, the Burnside plowed nearly 3,000 miles across the Pacific to within a few hundred yards of the pristine white sands of Iwo Jima beach. LSTs stood by to transport them the last few yards of the journey.

That space was perhaps the most dangerous.

Other troops had already been landed, some from much further out in the surf. They came under enemy fire. Many fell in the ocean, dead or wounded. The water ran red with their blood.

The blood drew sharks. Dozens, then hundreds of them. They patrolled the beach for miles in both directions.

The sharks attacked the soldiers who were desperately trying to swim, wade or doggie-paddle ashore. Many were dragged down by 40-pound backpacks filled with ordnance. The sharks became an even greater menace to the expeditionary force than the Japanese fire.

Gunners aboard the troop transports fired rifles and machine guns at the sharks. But the barge-shaped landing ships rocked in the wash. The gunners were untrained, their aim was bad and they were shooting from unstable firing platforms. They shot more soldiers than sharks. This added to the feeding frenzy. Captains of larger vessels standing off the beach indifferently observed the carnage. They shrugged it off. They had done their jobs, just getting the troops here through minefields and torpedo attacks. Let someone else help out. No one available? Tough. War is hell.

Abner came ashore in one of the first waves of Marine riflemen. Just as the military planners had expected, he began absorbing Japanese ordnance almost immediately. His right kneecap was hit by shrapnel, three fingers of his left hand were shot away, and a bullet sliced his chest and dinged a rib. As is often the case with untrained and undisciplined soldiers, he fired wildly and blindly, at nothing, and his ammo was soon gone. Abner crawled higher up the beach. He was not searching for the enemy, but for a tangle of driftwood, a declivity, a berm of sand—anything, in The Name of GOD—that would provide some shelter from the withering fire that came from every direction.

A few yards further on, he saw a crenellated mound of some sort protruding above the sand. Desperately hoping to find refuge, Abner pushed forward on his one good leg and one good arm. But what he had hoped was safe haven was in fact a Japanese machine gun emplacement, and he had literally fallen into it.

The foxhole was manned by two Japanese gunners. If they had been issued rifles or sidearms, Abner would have been a goner. But Japanese soldiers were no better equipped than their American counterparts. They had only the machine gun, which was of no use in close quarters.

It would be nice to imagine that what Abner did next was driven by love of country or personal courage or perhaps the faint stirrings of Semper Fi. But it was none of those and to this day, Frank Abner cannot remember what he was thinking or feeling. He just acted.

Abner had a bayonet-tipped rifle, but no bullets. The Japanese soldiers brandished lengths of metal stripped from the tripod on which the machine gun was mounted. Unable to do more than crouch on his haunches, Abner braced his rifle in the sand, bayonet extended outward. The first soldier charged, stumbled in the loose sand, and pitched forward. He took the bayonet squarely in the chest and fell dead. The second soldier leaped at Abner, swinging the hunk of metal in a wild arc.

Abner remembered little from his weapons training course, but the situation unfolding before him was a flashback to the mean streets of Roxbury, a far more violent battlefield than any the Marines could send him to. What he did next was automatic and reflexive.

He grabbed up the piece of pipe

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  • (5/5)
    Grilled Cheese Please! is not a book that you even want to glance at when you're hungry! The multitude of sandwich combinations has something for every palate. The cheese variations alone will have you standing at your local deli counter getting samples and discovering the various ways that cheese will taste on different breads and with different condiments added. The book explains which sandwiches work well with sandwich makers and on the stove top. If you have a bread maker, this book will trigger that creativity also.If you are looking for ideas for a brunch, potluck, or get together, this book has tons of easy ideas. Your idea of a grilled cheese sandwich will be forever changed.
  • (2/5)
    it was okay...just okay.