When I read recently that a man who had dropped out of Harvard a few years back had been arrested for scamming the university with a fraudulent resume — he hadn't attended the schools he had claimed on his entrance application and had therefore, arguably, defrauded the university of $45,000 in student aid — I thought of my old friend Ray.
A mutual friend introduced us when I was a senior at Harvard many years ago. Ray and I hung out together. We went to nerdy mixers not because we wanted to meet girls but because we could go there and dance non-stop. We took ballet classes from a woman who had danced with the English Royal Ballet back when it was Sadler's Wells; she was so eager to have guys in her classes that she taught us for free.
Ray was a talented musician. Students would come to the half house we and another friend rented near Harvard Square to take flute lessons from him. He had a key to the big Congregational church. He and I would go there late at night and sit in the near-dark while he played Bach on the organ.
When Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky spent time in Cambridge that spring, we hung out with them and a shifting bunch of other people at an all-night cafeteria. One night, Ray took some of us into the church, where Ginsberg, freshly returned from India, played his version of Indian music on the organ. It was nowhere near as cool as Ray playing Bach.
He never talked to me one way or another about school, although I remember he told a friend whose father taught economics at the university that he was in her father's class. He told other people he was a student there, too. He wasn't. When I wondered about his status, the friend who had introduced us suggested I ask the dean of students' secretary. The dean of students had been my freshman adviser, so I knew his Scottish secretary reasonably well. I asked her.
She told me this story: The year before, Ray had been playing in the college band. At the end of the year, the band was supposed to stick around an extra week and play at graduation. Because all the student rooms had to be vacated at the end of school, this meant finding new places for all the musicians to stay. That, in turn, required some shuffling of student records. In the process, the authorities discovered that Ray had no student record. He wasn't a student. The dean of students called him in and confronted him. He tried to persuade the dean that, despite the evidence, he really was enrolled at Harvard. The dean didn't buy it. He told Ray to go and not come back — never to darken the door of a Harvard building or activity again.
As I said, all that had happened the previous year. When I met Ray, he was dancing with the Harvard modern dance group.