Impress the Dean Shoes
If Coach Joe felt that a life-balanced scorecard was the key to impressing the College Dean at interviews, my black friend Stanley had his own ideas on the subject. He said that in the final analysis, if it came down to a choice between two candidates that the deal would ultimately hinge on the wardrobe.
He told me that getting a three-piece suit and a pair of Brogan shoes would ensure to set me apart in styling. Being especially keen on the shoes, he said that any college dean would recognize the implied “high class” of the person sporting a pair of those specialized Brogan wing-tipped tidies. According to him, I would be “Boss-A and Neat-O-Matic.”
Being somewhat in agreement, my mother took me shopping where we did in fact get the required outfit, starting at the neck and ending right down at the classy toes. However with the head remaining a little suspect, the compromise solution on the Beatle haircut would be that I could keep it, but only if I slicked it back on interview days. I protested vehemently at losing the new trademark of my individuality, but my mother argued that the suit and shoes would then be entirely wasted on the radical statement of my headdress. She said she should have just saved her shopping money and sent me for community college interviews instead in a pair of blue jeans. It was a Mexican standoff.
Coincidentally with filling out applications, it became apparent that a current health statement would be necessary to go along with the rest of the credentials, so off I went to the doctor for an up to date physical exam.
Our family doctor, Emil Beyer, was a man of great compassion and excellent bedside manor. He was also a good family friend.
He asked my mother where I was intending to go to school, listened to her rattle off a list of predominantly State Colleges, and then queried as to whether or not we were considering Duke University in North Carolina. After that he proceeded to describe this prestigious southern college, concluding his comments by telling us that his son was going there.
My mother told him that a school of that caliber was a little out of reach for us and even if there had been a consideration, it would be highly unlikely I would get in based on our geography, cultural background, but also because of the little vowel lurking a the end of my last name.
At that time, the school in fact did draw its student body in large part from the great reservoir of southern Baptists or Methodists.
Dr. Beyer would hear nothing of it. He knew my grades and SATs were good, that I had a number of extra curricular activities under my belt, and he also said that more to the point, he had the sub Rosa selfish agenda of wanting someone local whom he could trust to travel back and forth by car with his son.
My mother vacillated. Emil insisted.
He ended the office visit by telling me to request an early decision application and that he would see to the rest. On my mother’s final protest and query as to how the doctor could be so sure of himself, he went on to explain that his wife had a legacy of wealth derived from her family’s interests in the Ethyl Corporation, had donated plenty of money to the school, and had actually been on the Board of Directors at one time.
- Don’t worry. I’ll guarantee your son is going to get in. But be sure to tell him he can’t interview with that silly hairstyle.
When Dr. Beyer told me to get a haircut it became a no-brainer. This directive had a higher purpose, more significant rationale than any arbitrary prohibition from the school Principal, and was even good enough for me to compromise my soon to become hypocritically phony moral posturing.
It was the first time ever that I did not protest a more voluntary visit back to good old Nunzio the barber, whose expletives on the subject of the Beatles while he rearranged my coif, cannot be repeated nor easily translated from the Italian vernacular. It was something to the order of “fache de gots” meaning having a face that looks like the scrotum. But I could have cared less to ask what the continuous stream of sputtering really meant as long as he kept his straight razor holstered to the side of the barber’s chair and politely away from the area near my jugular veins.
I did then proceed to get the application from Duke, filled it out, send it in, attached the physical exam along with a recent head-shot-hair-trimmed photo, and several weeks later as promised by the good doctor did in fact get called for the early interview.
My parents drove us the long 900 miles down to North Carolina, where I showed up at the interview with all the bases covered, sporting new threads, wearing Brogan shoes, and topping it off with Nunzio’s uniquely original conservative hairstyle.
It was the first time I had ever had an official interview of any kind, which also was accomplished without any particular antecedent guidance or coaching. Upon reflection it was pretty astounding that I was able to navigate through it, considering some of the bullshitting elements that had to be thrown in to deflect some of the truly unanswerable queries.
Years later a friend explained to me that getting past the interview is the key to any official acceptance or hiring and is the place where the wheat is finally separated from the chaff.
Naively and nervously not knowing that at the time, I left the interview room relatively numb, diffident, dry-mouthed and wishing for the replay that would have afforded me a second chance to elaborate on all those important things that had been left unsaid.
I should have had more faith in the additional element whose roll was playing out behind the scenes, because sure enough a few weeks later, despite all ordinary odds to the contrary, and also despite the little vowel parked at the end of my name, but equally as promised, I received an acceptance letter to the great and prestigious Duke University located in Durham North Carolina. It was a little bit like magic.
Therefore, in the final analysis, although Coach Joe was right about the extra sports activities, Stanley was right about the clothes and the shoes, all the other ancillaries including a normalized hair cut being in place, as well as then actually reaching the interview phase; with these combined factors not detracting one iota from my mendicant applicant status; when all was said and done getting into Duke had all boiled down to the identically simple reason that my brother got into the Greenbriar Military Academy.
It was the basic principle that drives its own disproportionate share of interpersonal everyday interactions, selections, promotions, heads up timely information and career advancements. It is the principle of not necessarily what you know, but more important and very simply it is the equally preeminent principle of whom you know.
Or, to put it on an even more basic level and known by every street hooker as The First Commandment of Prostitution:
It’s not just who you happen to know, but far more importantly, the real bottom line is whom you happen to blow.
You got your toecaps reinforced with steel
Hard wearing sole and heel
Make those tired feet feel like new
Take your pick; black or brown
Great for the country or the man in town
You’re gonna need a quality shoe
(Mark Knopfler; Quality Shoe)
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