A Bronx Cheer

(Eric Shansby)
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By Gene Weingarten
Friday, May 9, 2008

To: The Bronx High School of Science Class of 1968

Re: Why I will not be attending our 40th class reunion

Reason 1: The ordinal number "40th." Other than a reunion of, say, the delivery room staff from one's birth, a 40th reunion of anything can only deliver an unwelcome awareness of one's decrepitude and the impendency of death. Even the word "fortieth" is awful. Look at it and try not to think of dentures.

Reason 2: If my goal was to feel like a complete failure, it would be cheaper and easier to go to a bad neighborhood, consume a half-gallon of fortified wine from a bottle in a bag and pass out in the gutter. When I went there, Bronx Science was the most intellectually exclusive, snobbiest public high school in the country. Actual true fact: If it were a country, Bronx Science would rank 23rd in the world in the number of Nobel laureates it has produced, tied with Spain. I have not kept track of the achievements of my particular class, but I have no doubt that you have among you brain surgeons, rocket scientists, stars of stage and screen, financiers, tycoons, moguls, magnates and the king of Sweden.

Reason 3: Our school did not just confer intellectual inferiority upon me; it completely disassembled my self-confidence in just about everything.

I was not a big man on campus. My yearbook entry reveals that my principal extracurricular achievement was "lunchroom squad." I walked the halls with a secret certitude that everyone else there was better than me in every possible way. And I was probably right. Here's another actual true fact:

The Bronx High School of Science has produced the man reputed to have the world's largest penis.

Reason 4: Suzy might be there. If she is, I could not handle the stress. For three years, I wanted nothing more than to be Suzy's boyfriend, but, owing to the intense self-loathing occasioned by reasons 2 and 3 above, I could not screw up the nerve to ask her out. Eventually, somehow, I did. The resulting event was such a tepid, tentative, juiceless disaster that it qualifies as a "date" only in the sense that it occurred on a day and month that appeared on a calendar. I never asked Suzy out again, mostly because I was afraid that her excuse for turning me down would be humiliatingly desperate ("Sorry, I'll be getting an elective hysterectomy that day"). I don't think I ever realized the degree to which the sting of this romantic failure affected me until one day a few years ago, when my daughter was leafing through my high school yearbook and noticed a picture of Suzy. "Who is this girl?" she asked. "She looks just like Mom."

Reason 5: If I wanted to spend six hours among people with exactly my background and upbringing and appearance, I would sit home alone and tell myself jokes. Let's just say that the Bronx Science administrators, circa 1968, did not overly concern themselves with establishing a diverse student body. I am right now looking at an alphabetized list of the 900 kids in my senior class. Here is a verbatim selection from the R's, skipping no names: "Rosen, Rosenberg, Rosenberg, Rosenberg, Rosenbloom, Rosenfeld, Rosenheck, Rosenkrantz, Rosenow, Rosenthal, Rosenwasser, Rosenzweig." Here's a verbatim selection from the G's: "Gold, Gold, Gold, Gold, Goldberg, Goldberg, Goldberg, Goldes, Goldfarb, Goldfarb, Goldfield, Goldfluss, Goldman, Goldray, Goldsmith, Goldstein, Goldstein." And finally, from the S's: "Shapiro, Shapiro, Shapiro, Shapiro, Shapiro, Shapiro." (I see there is also someone named "Hoover Mountcastle." How he got in there, I'll never know.)

Reason 6: You people ruined my life. Even though my grades and SAT scores were good enough to have made me valedictorian at most high schools in the country, I didn't get into my first three college choices. It turns out that the Ivy Leagues don't like to accept dozens of kids from the same school, and by Bronx Science standards, my grades and SAT scores -- compared with the rest of yours -- placed me squarely in the senior-class rank of "future large-appliance repairman."

So, I appreciate the invitation, but, with no hard feelings, count me out. If Suzy shows up, please say hi for me, and tell her I am now the president of Italy.

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com.

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