I’ve probably spent more time
in dancing school than anyone since Arthur Murray-not recently, but when I was
a kid. It started in second grade, when my parents sent me to John Barclay’s
dancing classes at the Colony Club. I remember little of the experience. I’ve
successfully managed to block it out in that miraculous way the mind has of
deleting all memory of a traumatic incident, such as a bombing or a car
accident, and the minutes immediately preceding it. I suspect my amnesia
has something to do with being a boy. I say this because the girls with whom I
attended dancing school-and New York, at least parts of it, remains such a
permanent community, despite what the census data say, that I run into them
regularly-remember the experience as if it were yesterday.
“You were tall and skinny and
look just like you do now,” said Beba Shamash, who tells me she was in my class
at Barclay’s, though I have to take her word for it. “I remember all those
dances-the Mexican Hat Dance and the Bunny Hop. I also remember one time Emily
and I got into a taxi cab,” she continued, referring to a mutual friend. “We
had to wear white gloves and black patent-leather shoes, and the cab driver
said, ‘Going to the Colony Club?’ You wouldn’t find that today.”
About the only thing I do
remember about dancing school was the time Skip Reese, one of the cool guys in
my class-so cool, in fact, that he didn’t have to go to dancing school-and his
bad-boy band, the X Factor (we were apparently in the throes of algebra at the
time), performed at Barclay’s. They caused a minor scandal by segueing from
something innocuous, like the Beatles’ “She Loves You,” to the Animals’ “House
of the Rising Sun.” Needless to say, Skip and his fellow troubadours weren’t
To my eternal mortification (I
firmly believe my vast insecurity can be traced directly back to that era), I
still found myself in dancing school in high school. I’d been counting the days
until the end of seventh grade, when I was to be released from my blue-blazered
bondage forever. But then my parents pulled a fast one, striking some sort of
deal with the folks at Barclay’s that allowed me to keep attending classes
Dancing schools are always
desperate for boys. Girls are so eager to attend, there are waiting lists. But
boys are so scarce that sometimes the price of admission for a girl includes
roping a boy to join with her. The arrangement my parents worked out was that
I’d get to continue for free on the condition that I be available to dance with
To truly appreciate the
humiliation I suffered, you need to understand that I attended dancing school
at the dawn of the hippie era. While I was performing the Lindy and sporting a
crew cut, my peers were starting to grow their hair out and turn on. In fact,
one of the most distasteful chores I was obligated to perform at Barclay’s was
that of bouncer: I was delegated to go into the bathroom and kick out any
lingering boys and girls-God only knows what they were doing in there
together-and shepherd them onto the dance floor.
It wasn’t that I objected to
their behavior. Quite the contrary, I envied them. I just happened to be
heartbroken that the free-love express seemed to be departing the station
without me on it. Certainly none of the chicks were interested in me. Who could
possibly be interested in a 15-year-old walker?
By this time, Barclay’s had
relocated from the Colony Club to the Pierre hotel, where I forged my only
pleasant memory of dancing school, though it had nothing to do with the fox
trot. It concerned politics.
Richard Nixon had just been
elected President of the United States and had established his transition
headquarters at the Pierre, around the corner from his Fifth Avenue apartment.
On Dec. 2, 1968, I snuck out of dancing school-I must have flushed all the
pre-adolescent Romeos and Juliets from the powder room and not been needed on
the dance floor at that moment-and over to the transition office, where I
absconded with a document from the press table. It was entitled “President
Elect Richard M. Nixon with Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President
Elect for National Security Affairs,” and it was a transcript of Nixon’s press
conference earlier that day introducing Henry Kissinger, a little-known Harvard
University professor, to the American public.
I’ve had the document in my
files all these years and considered sending it to the former Secretary of
State and asking him to autograph it. Recently, I wrote him to see whether he’d
agree to get together. My idea was that we’d reminisce about that day-about my
indentured servitude at Barclay’s dancing classes, and about the start of his
march into the history books. Somewhat surprisingly, he agreed, though it took
several months for his secretary to find an opening in his schedule.
(Apparently, getting to meet me wasn’t as pressing a priority as hooking
another high-rolling multinational client for Kissinger Associates, his
consulting firm, or serving as a back channel to the Chinese after the downing
of that Navy surveillance plane.)
But a few weeks ago, I was
ushered into Mr. Kissinger’s corner office, on Park Avenue in the 50’s, only
about a half-hour late; he’d come back from lunch about 15 minutes late and
spent another 15 minutes on the phone with Hardball’s Chris Matthews,onwhose
program he would appearthatevening.I know because Mr. Kissinger’s gravelly,
Germanic basso traveled easily into the sitting room where I was waiting.
To my surprise, Mr.
Kissinger-who enjoys a reputation as being his own most devoted biographer-had
never seen the transcript before. “That is interesting,” he said as he examined
it. “Can we make a copy of it? Could somebody make a copy of this?” he shouted
out to his secretary.
“This was at the beginning of
a long, long journey,” he continued as he leafed through it. “I had been Nelson
Rockefeller’s adviser and I was Nelson Rockefeller’s close friend. For me, this
represented a major shift. I never expected to be appointed National Security
Advisor. I was at the Republican convention in Miami that nominated Nixon,
trying to tie up delegates for Rockefeller. I had never met Nixon before he
“When he offered me the job,”
Mr. Kissinger added, “I told him I wanted to spend a week talking and thinking
about it. I didn’t want to lose all my friends who knew me as a critic of his.
“Even on that day, I’d never
have expected I’d have become Secretary of State or that I’d become so dominant
as security advisor.”
When his secretary returned
after making a copy of the transcript, I asked Mr. Kissinger to sign it. “This
is how it all started,” he wrote, and then politely kicked me out of his
office. “It really means a lot to me,” he said.
He had absolutely no idea, he
confessed, that there’d been a dancing school down the hall at the Pierre.