Headmaster’s Thoughts – November 2012

There are some things one can predict. I think one can safely predict that there will be articles in the mainstream media next year opposing the whole concept of the “Best Colleges” list by US News and World Report. They are absolutely in the right to criticize the list; it is elitist and meaningless. Yet, if I were the publisher of US News and World Report, I would handsomely reward the bright journalist that came up with the idea because he knew that, at core, we all like lists. We like to be told what we should see or eat or wear. We may not admit this, but who can resist a list? Look at the Internet: The best edible shoes! The best foods to eat to prevent bunions! The most attractive cemeteries near a marsh! Where do corpses best drain into brackish water? But I digress.

Usually, the lists have been made up by people to make us feel inadequate. I know that the “Ten Best Novels” list is always topped by James Joyce’s Ulysses, a book that I have many times tried to read and never successfully made it through. For me, Philistine that I clearly am, it is unreadable, just as the film that always tops the “Best Films” list, Citizen Kane, seems to me (again you can add the “Philistine” adjective whenever you wish) unwatchable. When I finally read War and Peace all the way through a few summers ago, I was so proud that I wrote about it in my “Headmaster’s Thoughts” that month. I was so vain about reading it, that I told my doctor in the middle of my yearly physical. Now, that is genuine pride. His reply, because he was at that point in the examination, was to ask me to “Cough!” There is no witty comeback to “Cough!”

So, for new parents (I mean to the school, and not “new” as in “Oh, I have just had my first baby”), I want to give you useful lists about York Prep. The bathrooms have all been redone, so there is actually no “best bathroom,” but the closest to the lobby are the ones on the second floor. The “Ladies” is on the Central Park West side, and the “Gentlemen” is on the Columbus Avenue side. You can see I have started off on a scatological—albeit highly useful—note. We have hand cleanser dispensers on each floor, and the one in the lobby is next to the teachers’ mailboxes. Isn’t this fun?

Moving to classrooms, the nicest is Michael Roper’s on the third floor, Room 309. That was the original office of Stephen Wise, the famous Rabbi, and the fireplace in it works. It was there that the Rabbi wrote the letter to President Roosevelt that currently hangs in a modest frame next to the light switch. The letter asks the President for help in dealing with the German Death Camps. This room, with its interesting architectural features, also was the office of the head of the organization that occupied the building before us. It was suggested by the people who showed us around that it would be a nice office for me. I declined. Too grand (Have you seen the cubbyhole that is my office?). Who wants to compete with an iconic American Rabbi? Every time someone left, they would have said, “And he is in a room where Stephen Wise wrote to Roosevelt.” I will take the cubbyhole, thank you!

The next best classroom is probably the “Chapel” (Room 405) on the fourth floor. Whether it ever really was a chapel no one seems to know. But it looks like it should be something spiritual, and it has attractive neo-gothic arrow slits opening up to the corridor. You never know when you might have to shoot at those Medieval Knights.

After the Chapel comes Room 206, then Room 208, then… Wait! Is anyone still reading? I am digressing again. You have to stop me when I do this.

So how about good places to eat? Well, we have Lady Gaga’s parents’ restaurant on the block—nice people, and they have started to serve lunch. To my knowledge, no York Prep student has ever actually eaten lunch there. The cost factor would result in their eating alone. For cheap Chinese food, Empire Szechuan on Columbus Avenue between 68th and 69th Street is, as Zagat says, “competent” (although parents would prefer Shun Lee West on West 65th Street any day). We have two pizza places within a block and a half of school; I am not going to get into the discussion of which is better; both are cheap. And (wake up, parents!) Starbucks is on the southwest corner of Columbus Avenue at 67th Street. Apart from our students, it is also the place of choice for both the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) across the road as well as the students and professors of The Juilliard School (Regis Philbin was a regular; Itzhak Perlman can beat you there in his speedy motorized wheelchair).

Best park in the area? No, I am kidding. There is only one park in Manhattan where you can enjoy throwing a Frisbee or kicking a soccer ball, and it is not the High Line. Our bees fly to this best park to make the best honey in New York. Ask nicely and the Admissions Office usually can be persuaded to part with a pot. Accept no substitute! Ask only for genuine York Prep honey! How sweet the education… but I digress again.

Best elevator in the school (did you know we have three?): the main one. Little known fact: there is a telephone, which is linked to our alarm company, on the right side if you are facing out, under the push buttons. Useful to know! Speaking of which, the least useful elevator (as in never ever used by any human apart from the installer and the City inspector) is the elevator that rises about twenty inches from the Gym floor to the workout room. So let us see, you have to use an elevator for your wheelchair to run on the elliptical trainers or spin on the bicycles?

Lastly, best faculty and staff in New York? Ours! What, did you really think I was going to say something else?

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org

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