William Slack ’11
1973 Paresky
Williams College

Dear Will,

Mimi and I are hosting a dinner…..

Such began the letter I received last year in my Paresky mailbox. Unlike almost every other communication at Williams, this one did not come via e-mail, though the RSVP instructions were electronic. Morty was inviting me to his formidable home on Route 2 for dinner, and I had little idea what to expect.

It wasn’t like I had never been to a dinner before. I had set the table many times at home with our best china for Christmas dinner – pulling out silverware that belonged to a great-great something and the plates that usually lurked in the dining room cabinet. When I went to Washington D.C. for the finals in a scholarship competition, the Mayflower Hotel served so many nice meals that I got a little tired of them, and desserts so gorgeous that I almost wanted to leave them untouched.

Yet, this invitation was different. President’s House dinners were something of a rumored secret on campus – at events with more major speakers, I sometimes saw a front section of reserved seats for the entourage of well attired students, faculty, and administrators coming from the Morty’s house. Jewish friends of mine spoke of celebrating Yom Kippur with Morty, and tour guiding friends had an invitation to brunch that slightly irked me – I had scheduled a meeting for the same time-slot. The invitation was also personal (he signed it) and purposeless: I was neither family nor competitor, but rather a guest.

Come the appointed day and time, I proceeded up the hill and was promptly confused about where to go – the front door had a sign indicating another door on the side of the building, but no one else was around and I felt like a trespasser. I skulked around back and eventually found the right door, promptly meeting a greeter who directed me to drop off my coat and to pick up a nametag. Thumbing through them to find mine, I saw a mixture of names, most of which I was unfamiliar with, and proceeded with proper identification down the hall to a lovely reception.

At this point, I should state that I used to have a problem with receptions. Whatever quality some people possess that allows them to slide in and out of conversations like butter is alien to me, and in feeling awkward, I made myself appear awkward. Yet, through a combination of friends and introductions, I somehow survived, and have since learned something about the art of social maneuvering. Having been informed of my table number by one of the many staff walking around with reception food, I went into a dining room with an incredible number of tables and chairs in close proximity and found my seat. My table had a family who knew Morty, as well as a professor and other students, and for the first time at Williams, I wasn’t in charge of my food. There was no salad bar or food line, and all I needed to concentrate on were the people at my table.

In a larger sense, Williams is the same way for academics. Only in college are my true responsibilities limited to eating, sleeping, reading, and going to class. Williams takes care of all of the logistics for us, and while I might occasionally bemoan the political apathy that I think stems from such isolation from the trials of normal life, there is great value in being able to have a purely academic experience. In the same way, this dinner conversation was a purely social experience, and hugely valuable in that respect. Meeting someone new at Williams is always strange because either you or them inevitably have something to do within the next 24 hours that hasn’t been done, but I was free of any obligation but my conversation, and in that, was rewarded with a better experience than would have been possible otherwise.

Morty eventually stood up and praised our guest; we soon had to go to the their lecture, but as I looked around at the chatting students and faculty, something occurred to me that I sent in my thank-you note: “The experience was unique to my time here at Williams – we are often so busyon campus that we miss the chance to talk about ideas and theories outside of an academic context, and this dinner provided that opportunity. It struck me as a middle ground between the modern college experience and the days when all the unaffiliated Williams men had to wear a full suit to dinner in Baxter Hall each evening.”

Dinner at Morty’s brought me back a little to that bygone era, and while I’m glad my sweat-stained t-shirt is appropriate attire at Driscoll or Greylock, dinner at Morty’s made my Williams experience a little more special, and made the snow trudging to come a little easier. I wish that everyone could have that sort of experience; plus, it’s neat to see everyone cleaned up.

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