I stood in the room and surveyed a book collection that contained a title referring to the gay rights movement next to the must-have book for all homosexual males, “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.” It would have been easy for me to mistake this for my own personal collection, but I knew better. I was actually standing in the presidential library of Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.
It is not often that I make an appearance in Trachtenberg’s library. Actually, this was truly the first and probably only visit I would ever make. I was invited to meet with Trachtenberg after I wrote a column that appeared in The Hatchet critical of his job performance as president of GW. I considered ignoring the invitation made by his personal secretary and scheduler but later decided that course of action probably would not bode well for my future requests for financial aid from the University.
I arrived early for my meeting with Trachtenberg, which was scheduled the day before I planned to leave for winter break. As I sat on one of the leather couches awaiting his arrival, I thought it would be best to call my on-again, off-again boyfriend on my cell phone for some last-minute advice on how to prep for the meeting. His advice was to not act obnoxious and to avoid being sarcastic and abrasive. In protest of his suggestions, I hung up on him. In essence, he wanted me to neglect all of my personality traits.
Trachtenberg entered the room a few minutes later with a bustle. He shook my hand, moved to sit on the couch across from me and promptly began our meeting. I responded by adjusting my slouched posture to an upright one, ready to fend off any verbal bullets he was prepared to send my way. He started the formal portion of our get-together by bringing out a copy of my column, with some choice quotes highlighted.
Almost immediately, with the highlighted text in hand, Trachtenberg began heatedly cross-examining me. I had not taken a sworn oath, but I felt I was in a courtroom defending my affidavit, which contained what I had previously known to be the truth about Trachtenberg. The man was quick, sarcastic and abrasive in his attempts to defend himself against my criticisms. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him. He was everything my quasi-lover told me not to be. During the course of the trial I conceded a few points in question while simultaneously trying my best to defend most of my critiques. I think he liked the fact that I did not easily back down from his intense scrutiny.
The most awkward part of the meeting, for me, probably came when Trachtenberg pointed out that in the column I had called him “incompetent” and “loathed.” All I could respond with was a nervous laugh. If I had known while writing the piece that I would actually have to meet the guy, I would have used language that was a little more diplomatic. I eventually conceded to him that these were probably not the most appropriate words I could have used. He told me he would never write a column about me using those words, and I gently informed him that if he did he would not be the first.
After Trachtenberg was through trashing my column, he put it down. The meeting did not conclude then, though. Unexpectedly, he started asking where I was from, what I was studying and what my future aspirations were. He then did something classically Trachtenberg – he told me some fantastic story that related to what I had told him about myself and offered me some unsolicited but beneficial and much appreciated advice. I was sincerely charmed by the man.
After about 45 minutes, our meeting ended. When I sat down to reflect on the experience, I realized that Trachtenberg is not a man who can easily be defined. He is an adroit and charismatic figure who can charm even the harshest of critics. And while I stand by some of my criticisms of the man, I have to admit that I now have a new found appreciation and respect for him.
-The writer, a junior majoring in human services, is a Hatchet columnist.