LeHigh University

Although my parents weren’t wealthy, they decided to send me to college. The University of Alabama naturally came to mind. But a cousin, Monroe Lewis, was going to Lehigh University, and recommended it highly. My father thought my getting out of the state might have a broadening effect on me (whatever that is). My grades were not up to Lehigh standards but I applied. Perhaps because I was from so far away they decided to take a chance. Lehigh was a nice university, and I wouldn’t have wanted to go anywhere else.

I got to Lehigh, in Bethlehem, Pa., about a week before school started. It was like a new world. It was a time when freshmen were interviewed by fraternities, and fraternities were interviewed by freshmen. Some of the boys didn’t want to join fraternities at all. My problem was simplified because my cousin Monroe was a member of Pi Lambda Phi. By mutual agreement, I joined. The fraternity was in a large old house, a few blocks from the campus. It had about fifteen rooms, and we were paired up, two in a room. Being with so many boys was completely new, and we talked endlessly about nothing—that’s called bull sessions.  There was a paper that published the names of all the freshmen. Mine was included. Instead of saying I was from Montgomery, it said I was from Montz, Ala. Nobody knew about Saucer Head, so for four years, at Lehigh, everybody called me Montz.

When you are a freshman they have a wonderful thing called hazing. You get your bottom slapped with a paddle, and there are other attractions. During hazing week you were constructively employed. As an example, I had to go out one night and come back with a live duck. One task we all had was to go across the Bethlehem River to a cemetery, at night, find the grave of someone whose name we were given, and come back with the complete inscription. The night we were assigned to the grave hunt was very cold, about ten above zero. Eleven of us freshmen headed towards the Bethlehem River. There was a toll bridge across it that cost a penny. When we reached the river we found ourselves near a trestle that freight trains were supposed to use. We’d never seen a train on it and the other side of the trestle was near the cemetery—the toll bridge was half a mile away.

Si Miller made the sound suggestion that we walk across the trestle. The others agreed. I was the only one who was chicken. I said I would take the toll bridge and meet them there. Apparently there were other chickens in the group, so we headed for the toll bridge. We hadn’t gone far when a freight train went over the trestle. We could imagine ourselves hanging from those icy rails, over the Bethlehem River. Cowardice has its uses.

* * *

I tried to get good grades, but I didn’t kill myself. I must be on the dumb side because I got straight Cs at Lehigh, with one exception. I got an A in Music Appreciation. Professor Shields was playing César Franck’s “Symphony in D Minor” in class. I was taking a light nap, hoping it would be mistaken for music appreciation. At one point Professor Shields stopped the music and said, “Dreyfus, what do you think of this music?” I woke up and said, “It’s inexorable.” I’d never used that word before or since, and I don’t know where it came from. It probably wasn’t in Professor Shields’ immediate vocabulary either, because he gave me an A. Ever since then César Franck’s Symphony in D Minor has been a favorite of mine. I recommend it for your listening.

Lehigh was an engineering school. I have a mechanical IQ of eight—some say seven. Taking an engineering course would have been ridiculous for me. I took a Bachelor of Arts course, majored in Latin, of all things, and then in Economics because it was an easy course. We didn’t have to do anything except listen to Professor Caruthers, who was very interesting. I remember him saying an economist is a fellow who learns more and more about less and less. I don’t remember the rest.

The only course in school that was useful to me was called Psychology. It was a “snap” course, and I took it for credits. I remember a paragraph on rationalization, the meaning of which I hadn’t known. It explained that it was wish-thinking, that we see things from our own point of view, and we always give ourselves the best of it. When I got out into the real world—boy, was that true. There’s a valuable thought in wish-thinking. I took a course in Geology. All I remember is the word fault—I knew that already.

I think the main reason for going to college, unless you are going to be a specialist, is to say you are a college graduate, and for the feeling that you are educated. There are so many people that finish college and say, “Now I’m educated,” and don’t study anything else the rest of their lives that college may have been a hindrance. My former wife, Joan Personette, knew she was ignorant. She didn’t go to college and tried to catch up for the next fifty some odd years. Joan was better educated than almost anyone I know.

When I was graduated—you see if I hadn’t gone to college I would have said “when I graduated”—I had a nightmare for over a year that they took my diploma back. The Dreyfus Corp. ran an advertisement with my diploma in it—with Lehigh’s permission. I feel they can’t take it back anymore.

In college, I learned about girls. That is what they were called in those days. I have been a bachelor most of my life and have had adventures with the prettier sex, but that won’t be part of this site. But don’t despair. I may run for president, and the media will tell you everything. Dates were usually double dates, and we usually visited bars. I didn’t drink. A fellow named Joe Loeb, in Montgomery, had bet me five dollars I’d have a drink before I was twenty-one and I wasn’t going to blow that money. I ate an awful lot of cracked ice.

There are some nice memories. There was a fellow in the fraternity house—I won’t mention his name—who had a passion for Ravel’s Bolero. He had it on records, numbered from one to eight, and played them all the time. At first I liked it a lot, then I liked it, then I felt I could do without it. The Bolero has a tiny bit of repetition in it. By the time my dreams were accompanied by the Bolero, I decided to make a move. In the dead of night I got hold of those records and scratched out the numbers. I think Ravel would have had a hard time re-numbering them. Anyhow, the music stopped and everybody in the fraternity house was grateful, except one. This has been a secret till now.

I’d been told so often by my father that I was lazy that I’d gotten to believe it. That’s not fair to Dad, he just reminded me. I really was lazy. My only ambition, other than to be the man who makes change on a streetcar, was to be a hobo. Evidence for this was seen later when I named my horse farm Hobeau Farm, after my first stallion, Beau Gar, and my ambition. The notion that I was lazy was so strong in me that I made an appointment with Professor Hughes of the Psychology Department. I asked Professor Hughes why I was lazy. He asked me if there was anything I liked to do. I said, “Yes, play golf.” He asked me if I practiced. I said, “Sure, sometimes five hours at a time.” Professor Hughes said I wasn’t lazy, if the job was something that interested me. I didn’t argue with him, although I thought golf was not a job, but he made me feel better. At this late date, I’d like to thank Professor Hughes. Up There, I hope.

I was on the golf team at Lehigh, captain the last two years. Being captain doesn’t mean anything, you just show up like the rest of the players. Saucon Valley Country Club was our home course. We alternated with schools in playing at home and away. The place that made the deepest impression was West Point, Army if you prefer. We had lunch with the cadets, and the uniforms reminded me of Starke’s University School.

Fraternities are supposed to have heads. There must be a reason but I don’t remember what it was. Anyhow, the head of our fraternity had the modest title of Rex. I preferred the English version, King. But Rex it was. In my senior year I was nominated for Rex. On the opposite ticket was Si Miller. Si got twelve votes, and I had eleven. The one vote outstanding belonged to the fellow with the Bolero records. He disliked me, and he disliked Si, but he wasn’t going to waste his vote. He disliked Brooklyn more than he disliked Montgomery, so he voted for me. Twelve to twelve. We flipped a coin and it came up in my favor. I considered this a mandate.

Just as I was writing this, by coincidence or ESP, Si, whom I hadn’t spoken to for thirty years, called me. He was laughing and said he just remembered the time he and I had balanced some shoes and books on top of Joel Rothenberg’s door. They crashed down on Joel’s head, and scared him half to death. We had nothing against Joel, except he was Rex and we were freshmen. Si’s call reminded me of something that happened after Lehigh. We’d been out of college for about fifteen years. Si was a member of the medical profession and I was a member of Century Country Club. One afternoon, we played a round of golf. A good friend, Leon Fletcher, walked around with us. After golf we drove to Roosevelt Raceway, to see the trotters. I was in the front car with Dr. Miller, Leon followed. When we got to the Bronx Whitestone Bridge, Leon was right in back of us. Si gave the toll attendant a dollar and told him to use the other fifty cents for the car behind us.

At the track we got seats and programs and had started handicapping, when Leon said, “Funny thing happened to me at the bridge. The man wouldn’t let me pay.” I keep a supply of lies handy and said, “We didn’t pay either.” Then I said, “I saw an article in the paper a couple of weeks ago about the bridge having amortized its cost down to forty-five cents a car. It was impractical to charge that, so for two hours a day, at random, they let people go through free.” Leon looked at Dr. Miller for a second opinion, and got a nod.

A week later Leon came to the City Athletic Club to watch the gin game. Two friends of mine, Monroe Mayer and Ben Sokolow, had been primed. The four of us discussed the stock market for a few minutes when Monroe said, “A funny thing happened to me yesterday. I went over the Bronx Whitestone Bridge and they wouldn’t let me pay.” Ben said, “That’s a lot of rubbish. What do you mean they wouldn’t let you pay?” Leon came to Monroe’s defense and said, “I had the same thing happen. The bridge has been amortized down to forty-five cents a trip. But it’s impractical to charge that, so for two hours a day, at random, people are allowed to go through free.” Sokolow said, “That is the worst bull I ever heard—ridiculous.” Leon’s reply took me by surprise. He said, “I read it in the newspaper.” (There must be a moral in this—Leon was reasonably honest.) A heated argument followed, resulting in a $50 bet. Monroe, Ben, and I split the fifty bucks. I think we gave it back to Leon. If we didn’t, I owe Dr. Miller $12.50, plus accrued interest.

In my senior year at Lehigh, my roommate was Matthew Suvalsky, possibly Polish. Matt was first-string guard on the football team. One night I came out of the bathroom with a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a tube of Barbasol, a brushless shave cream. Matt didn’t see the toothpaste and said, “Do you brush your teeth with Barbasol?” I said, “Sure, everybody does.” Matt said, “I think I’ll try it.” I gave him the Barbasol. A few minutes later Matt came out of the bathroom and I asked, “How was it?” He said, “It tastes good, but it makes my teeth feel awfully slippery.” In 1934 I was graduated from Lehigh—Summa Cum Ordinary. Now you’re supposed to get a job.

Next Section: Getting a Job