Who in the Wagner World Was …
When James Dennis Carroll (1949–2009) enrolled at Wagner College in 1968, he had already achieved an unusual degree of notoriety. Besides publishing his first book of verse, 'Organic Trains', at age 16, Carroll had already penned the journals for which he is perhaps best remembered, 'The Basketball Diaries'. Covering his teen years in New York from 1963 to 1966, they were published in part in The Paris Review in 1969, and in book form in 1978. (The Basketball Diaries was made into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio in 1995.) In the late 1960s and early '70s in Manhattan, he became an associate of the likes of Allen Ginsburg, Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, and Robert Mapplethorpe. In the 1980s, he took a turn as punk rock star, leading the Jim Carroll Band and releasing three influential albums.
But back in 1968, on the cusp of a life of fame and influence, Carroll signed up for the standard lineup of freshman courses at Wagner College — English, French, psych, art history, phys ed. He completed none of them. Yet Carroll's brief sojourn on Grymes Hill warranted a mention in the Times obituary.
In search of more information, Wagner Magazine contacted Cassie Carter, the eloquent webmaster of catholicboy.com. She reached out to Robert Catenaccio, whose friendship with Jim Carroll dates back to their days at Trinity School in Manhattan, where Carroll lived the double life portrayed in The Basketball Diaries: top student and star basketball player, and also heroin addict.
“Wagner was … a long ferry ride farther downtown than any poet since Whitman wanted to go,” Catenaccio observes. Yet not only did Carroll make that trip, but “he even showed up at the gym for basketball tryouts,” recalls Catenaccio. “He was put on the second team, with the other walk-ons, and in the scrimmage he got hot and hit a million shots. Even though he didn't show up for the rest of the week, his name was posted with the others on the board: he'd made the team. Maybe someone had checked him out, or remembered who he used to be. A few weeks later, he left school for good.”
SUMMER 2011 UPDATE:
Caryl Black Colgan, who attended Wagner fall 1968–fall 1969, called to correct Robert Catenaccio's assertion that Jim Carroll was at Wagner for only a few weeks. She contributed the following personal memoir of Jim Carroll at Wagner. — The Editor
Jimmy Carroll was the first boy I met at Wagner in the fall of 1968. At the freshman mixer, he asked me if I would like to see his friend's gerbils, and sure enough, there were actually little gerbils in a cage in the dorm room. He only bear hugged me a couple of times before we went back to the mixer. Jimmy was on one of the basketball teams that played for Wagner. His team played their game first, after which Jimmy joined myself and my friends a couple of times to watch the varsity team play. My friend Ginny and I had made a big banner, which we hung across the top of the doorway to the gym to help cheer on the teams (especially Jimmy's team). I remember cheering for Ollie Featherston '69 as he helped lead the Seahawks varsity team to a very successful season. [Jimmy's] team didn't really do too well, but we cheered wildly anyway.
After classes on a fairly regular basis, Jimmy would just kind of show up and walk me back to the new dorm [i.e., Harborview]. Something so nice about those walks.
Throughout the semester, I got teased a lot about Jimmy because he was always showing up around me. I liked him; he was very young and very cute, and I loved his nickname, Jimmy Rabbit. Sometime in December, we had a fairly large misunderstanding, as often happens in life, and after Christmas break, I no longer saw him at school. I only saw him one more time, and that was down at the Jersey Shore the following summer. However, he left an indelible imprint on my Wagner College experience. — Caryl Black Colgan '72, Toms River, New Jersey