A recent book review @nytimes of Quiet Street, chronicles Nick McDonell’s take on America’s most entrenched elite and his personal history within it. His depiction of school days at The Buckley School, an all-boys private school in Manhattan, brought back memories of my son Ben’s time as a dedicated Buckley student. His 1982 ninth grade family graduation picture is noted above. Leaving Buckley he entered The Taft School in Watertown, CT, another member of the New England boarding school upper crust.
The book’s title refers to the Buckley bus taking the boys across 124th Street en route to Randall’s Island for outdoor sports training. Earlier in time somebody yelled disparaging remarks out the window that was responded to by a rock throwing attack from the sidewalk Harlemite victim of verbal disparagement. Since that moment in time the bus rule was to remain silent when passing through 124th Street.
Reviewer Jonathan Dee reports that author McDonnell, “Pledged, an ‘interrogation’ of America’s most entrenched elite, the entitled, blue blooded, white upper class of the East Coast, a class McDonnell himself, by birth and upbringing, is firmly, if ambivalently a member.”
My family of Jewish tradesmen hardly fits the description, although as progenitor of J. Press I have served most of my working life outfitting a reasonable percentage of that so-called gentry. During Ben’s ninth grade, his final year, I paid homage to the institution by providing the school a J. Press Buckley Schoolboy Muffler designed by a ninth-grade class committee that included my son.
Several of Ben’s classmates fulfilled the book’s thesis, among them, the current Director of the FBI, the Editor in Chief of upscale @avenueinsider and the son of the former Vice President and Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller.
A haunting memory of a night and morning I will never forget. Buckley Parents Night, January 26, 1979, occurred with MC Nelson Rockefeller introducing the evening speaker, his pal, Henry Kissinger. At the cocktail hour prior I traded conversation with Gov. Rockefeller, chatting about our unique position as the only Dartmouth fathers in our sons’ class.
The following morning, as was our custom, Ben was awakened 6:30 by 1010 WINS radio alarm for our daily three mile run in Central Park. He quickly nudged me, “Dad, you’re not going to believe this, but Gov. Rockefeller died last night.”
The Quiet Night memoir brought it all back together with recollection of The Buckley School motto, Honor et Veritas, Latin for honor and truth that worked so well for my son, still a loyal Buckley alum.
Dear Mr. Press,
Thank you for another engaging and, as always, candid look into the history of Ivy culture.
Perhaps the greatest privilege one can receive from one’s parents is valuing education. Two of my great uncles were master tailors from Naples. Their sons became doctors. My father was a working man, but his uncles made sure he was fitted with bespoke suits, coat, and shoes.
I am a professor of English literature and composition at a small college, and although my great uncles are not around to provide me with the bespoke clothes, I wear JPress.
The great establishment started by your grandfather may have more progenitors than you think.
Thank you so much for this thoughtful reflection, and for introducing me to the work of Nick McDonell. What an intriguing body of work!
I grew up (was adopted into) the periphery of that world and was simultaneously awed by the style and opulence of that traditional world and repelled by the thinly veiled prejudice and violence that permeated our lives within it.
Thank you again for expanding my reading horizons.
Dear Mr. Press,
Thank you again for another well written and insightful article. Your retrospective tale of America in the 1970s during your son’s time at the Buckley School was not only heartfelt but described several social issues with the sensitivity and wisdom that only comes with reflection and time. You deal subtilely with the realities and foibles of privilege in our society yet retain a sense of “to whom much is given, much is expected”! Your candor is only exceded by ypur humility. Happy New Year.
J. Holmes Armstead, JD.,Ph.D.,LL.D.,D.Litt.,D.H.L (hc)
As the grandson of poor Russian-Jewish immigrants whose father had to study medicine in Germany because of Anti-Semitism in the US until finishing in Switzerland because of the rise of Hitler, I was educated at Hobart, Harvard, U. of Pennsylvania and Northwestern and have been a practicing physician and professor. So called “privilege” is most often earned and maintained over generations with hard work and sacrifice.