Judge Merrick Garland Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Wednesday’s Tribune’s reminiscence of Judge Merrick Garland, written by a former junior high classmate, leaves readers wanting to know more. Fred Eisenhammer, now a sportswriter, recalls meeting Garland—today a nominee for the Supreme Court—on the school bus. Eisenhammer asked Garland what his grades were. Garland got all A’s. Garland wasn’t interested in Eisenhammer’s.

Eisenhammer writes, “I was actually glad he didn’t ask me my grades. Perhaps he was showing graciousness in the fact that he didn’t want to show me up. Perhaps he didn’t care about my grades. When you’re that young, it doesn’t really matter.”

Of course it matters, or Eisenhammer would have forgotten about it years ago. Eisenhammer writes with stiletto-like gallantry.

Later, there’s a footrace in summer camp. “I had no doubt I was faster—probably much faster,” Eisenhammer tells us.

But it’s a relay race, and when Eisenhammer takes his turn he’s far behind. He gains on Garland as the finish looms. “Merrick cut to the left in front of me,” throwing Eisenhammer off stride. He lost ground, couldn’t make it up, and finished second.

Again, Eisenhammer makes gallantry his motif.

With Merrick’s name in the spotlight, I wonder about a few things: Did Merrick Garland get away with something during that relay race? Was it intentional? Or does he just know how to win?

Fifty years later, it hardly matters.

But that relay race taught me a lesson about Merrick Garland—and one that I witnessed during that earlier bus ride.

Cross his path, and you’ll come out second best.

But Eisenhammer didn’t cross Garland’s path. Garland crossed Eisenhammer’s. If the careful reader concludes Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland was a cheat, I believe Eisenhammer will not be disappointed.

But before I conclude one thing or another, I need more information. We know that Garland got all A’s in junior high school. We know—because he
tells us—that Eisenhammer was a jock. “Years later,” he writes, “I would run on the Niles West High School track and field team, serving as the school’s top sprinter for two years.”

But I’m on the side of whoever wasn’t the asshole—and I can’t tell. Because he was so smart, did Garland think he could get away with anything? Or did he hear Eisenhammer’s footsteps coming up from behind, wince at the thought he’d soon steam sneering past, and then decide to teach the jerk a lesson?

A friend of mine has written the Tribune to protest Eisenhammer’s essay. He diagnosed it as one of a type—”ad hominem smear jobs based on schoolboy reminiscences written by former jocks in positions of sufficient present-day authority to somehow sissify lesser physical specimens and vilify their subsequent striving for intellectual and social accomplishment as some form of consuming compensatory mania.”

There’s something to that, of course. But I enjoyed what Eisenhammer wrote. It reminded me of how deep feelings can run in junior high school, and of the kind of boyhood wounds that we lick the rest of our lives.

But how well does Merrick Garland remember Fred Eisenhammer?