Parents, in many cases, held unrealistic goals for their children. The majority of the student body was Jewish, and culturally they were imbued with a deep need for educational achievement. This proved to be a strength as well as a weakness in working with the young people. Those who could succeed intellectually were stimulated for continued competition and advancement. They were the winners, but some of these so-called winners became losers in life because they surrendered to pride, arrogance, independence, thoughtlessness and an inclination to hurt others by their insensitivity.
I’m not acquainted personally with any of these Westsiders, as I apply that term here, except for Kaus and Sherwood-Randall, and Sherwood-Randall started avoiding me after I became a journalist in the early 1980s. (I don’t blame her. I have a big mouth!) But Mayorkas and Sherwood-Randall were both popular kids at Beverly.
Reviewing my old high school yearbooks, I see that Mayorkas was on the tennis team, which made you Norman royalty, and he also held a significant position in student government. Even Heidi Fleiss, the Hollywood madam whom Mayorkas prosecuted when he was U.S. attorney in Southern California’s Central District, seemed to like him. “He comes across as so personable and sweet—I think Ali should run for office,” she said in 2000. “I really like him—even though he was the little fucker who was begging the judge to give me 10 years.”
Sherwood-Randall was similarly personable and ingratiating, and ferociously ambitious. She and her brother Ben, who would later be president of ABC News, were the first brother-sister team of Rhodes scholars. At Harvard, she roomed with future Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. I remember Sherwood-Randall’s father taking several of her friends, including me, out to dinner at Boston’s Locke-Ober Café on a visit to Harvard. Going around the table, he asked each of us what we thought of President Jimmy Carter.
A Norman didn’t have to be liberal to be personable; we had some personable conservatives, too. Jack Abramoff, who grew up to be a Republican lobbyist and notorious Washington criminal, was one year behind me at Beverly. I didn’t know him very well, but that didn’t keep me from attaching to him, behind his back, the nickname “Abraham Jackoff.” (Cut me some slack; I was 17.) Years later, after his first round of legal troubles, I confessed to this in Slate, prompting Abramoff to take me out to a very convivial lunch, in which he tried unsuccessfully to persuade me that he was an innocent prosecution victim. I couldn’t help liking him, and after he did jail time I thought he’d learned his lesson. Apparently I was wrong about that.