DCD: Schmoozing with the Bergs

February 15, 2001
GW President Trachtenberg’s house
6 p.m.

“President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and Francine Zorn Trachtenberg request the pleasure of your company.”

Wow, a week ago Trachtenberg was just a guy I’d talked to a few times for some quotes, now he was inviting me, an assistant news editor, to his house for a fancy-pants student-journalists reception. Some of my best friends have never invited me to their houses.

Nevertheless, disregarding The Hatchet’s “no-schmoozing-with-administrators” policy, I took the 5:45 p.m. trolley over to Biggie Joel’s house.

The house is located just off embassy row at 2241 Bancroft Place. Since this is not too far off of campus, I wondered if GW’s campus plan would eventually expand to encompass Trachtenberg’s own house.

While waiting to sign the guest list inside the three-story house, Hatchet News Editor Jason Steinhardt informs me of his first impression, “Great house for a frat party.” Never let it be said Hatchet editors are the most urbane people in the world.

Sign the guest list, past the sea of black pea coats at the coat check, up the stairs where we were confronted with about a dozen portraits of Albert Einstein. Perhaps Trachtenberg has an Einstein complex, but until he starts designing hydrogen bombs in Kogan Plaza, I’m not worried.

At the top of the stairs sat a portrait of Walt Whitman. As a writer, there’s a guy I can respect, I just hoped SJT didn’t equate himself with the poem, “O Captain, My Captain.”

The Big Man was nowhere to be seen as we stepped onto the second floor, but First Lady Francine Trachtenberg welcomed us to her home. I think she shot me a “don’t-break-anything-you-long-haired-punk” look, but that’s understandable.

We stepped into the ooh-look-at-my-collection-of-stuff room, laden with antique photographs, a piano and more cigar cutters than I knew existed in the western world. Enter Steinhardt, again.

“How come he can burn candles in his house but we can’t in the residence halls?” While Jason went off to search for halogen lights and a hot pot, my stomach began to growl. Perhaps it had been presumptuous to assume the man who just raised our tuition 4.4 percent would feed us dinner.

I spotted the server-fellow with a tray of food. I told him not to be a stranger and would’ve slipped him a few bucks to ensure his return, but, like I said, tuition just went up 4.4 percent.

With the room filled with student journalists – mostly from WRGW and The Hatchet – SJT appeared. Trachtenberg wore a nice tweed jacket, crushing my hopes of seeing him in a Hugh-Hefner-esque robe, or even just wearing a dirtied undershirt and a pair of “It’s All Me” boxer shorts while snacking on Raisin Bran out of the box.

As Trachtenberg began mingling, my buddy with the tray found me again, offering a plate of duck crepes. I was going to approach our host to ask him when the “crepe station” would open at J Street, but he was too swarmed by GW aficionados.

Then the Big Man called everyone’s attention at the head of the room.

“As we all know, this is the people’s house, we just live here,” Trachtenberg said. I meant to ask him if the former GW president had removed all the S’s, J’s and T’s from the keyboards before the Trachtenbergs moved in.

He talked about his annual freshman sleepover in Mitchell Hall last semester and
an idea he had to turn the single rooms into doubles. Perhaps at that point, SJT envisioned the “Trachtenberg to freshmen: double up on each other” headline in Tuesday’s Hatchet, and yielded the floor to his wife, who gave a quick lecture on the d?cor of the room.

Pictures of German bakers and various bridges hung in high esteem on the walls, while a solitary print of the Trachtenbergs sat in the back of the room, in an ordinary paper frame. I guess when you have a “Migrant Mother” photograph, you don’t fill too much wall space with yourself.

After the Trachtenbergs spoke, I made my way into what must be the “Hippo Room,” because of the circular shrine to the water horse in the middle of the room, placed next to yet another display case of cigar cutters. I envisioned Biggie Joel’s paradise, snipping cigars while sitting on a giant hippo.

Without any further interjection for the hosts, the evening came to an end. None of us were searched for souvenir silverware or miniature hippos on the way out (luckily.)

On the ride home, I reflected on the evening.

“Sometimes it’s a collection of images that begins to tell a story,” Francine had said during her presentation. Despite the butlers, steel gate and thousand-dollar paintings, Trachtenberg’s house is still the place he goes at the end of the day to kick off his shoes and watch a little TV. And we got to see a little bit of that story.

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