1980 and 2016: A Tale of Two Graduates

I’ve never wanted to live vicariously through my son Sam. His mother and I imparted good values to him, and we let him blaze his own path. With a passion for all aspects of video games since he was a tyke in Batman pajamas, Sam did exactly that, majoring in the interactive media and game development (IMGD) program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. From the day we toured WPI and learned about the game program, he knew that was the right direction for him. He applied, he was accepted and now he’s a graduate.

I’m delighted with Sam because he made a huge academic leap from my undergrad years at Princeton University. Bowing to pressure my divorced parents to find a “practical” major that would give me something to write about as an aspiring journalist, I majored in economics rather than English, history or even classics or Slavic studies. Only one economics class grabbed my interest, “Analyses of Capitalism,” with its focus on philosophy rather than equations. My B- grades for my two junior papers and my senior thesis reflect my lack of passion. My enthusiasm for classes on 19th century English literature (Bleak House by Charles Dickens and The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence both electrified me and I still have my heavily annotated version of The Rainbow), the politics of civil liberties (Mapp v. Ohio sticks in my memory), European intellectual history with Carl Schorske and modern Jewish thought with Ellen Umansky all point to roads not traveled.

Indeed, I don’t even have a copy of my thesis, that intellectual capstone on the edifice of your Princeton studies. So deeply did I bury my thesis that I couldn’t even remember the title until I looked it up on the university’s thesis directory. And there it was, “An Analysis of Board-Level Union Representation.” It clocked in at 86 pages, pounded out on an gunmetal grey IBM electric typewriter. At least I turned it in on time, an improvement over my fall junior paper.

While I muffled my passions, Sam celebrated his. His mother and I supported him all the way as Sam turned a passion into informed, logical academic and career choices. Even better, he had a fantastic experience with his senior project, the group equivalent of Princeton’s thesis. He could have played it safe with a project in the U.S., but he rolled the dice on the most challenging, exciting project option. As a result, he joined of a four-person team that spent three months in Japan creating a video game, titled Chinmoku, for learning Japanese. Based at a college near Kyoto, the team pulled together the game and also saw some of the country, taking the bullet train to Tokyo for several days. The final report the team submitted to WPI runs 73 pages and features much cooler illustrations than any of the feeble mathematical equations I scattered around my thesis.

By contrast, my great immersive experience was a bleak bus trip in January 1980 to Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Studies to research the idea of workers’ input into company management.

The contrasts continue. My thesis had no afterlife after I submitted it. Sam’s team, however, kept polishing the Chinmoku game. Not only did the final report earn an B from the professor, it won honorable mention in awards for senior projects in his department. The game also won honors as the top game in the indie college/serious game category of the competition of the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDIGI).

I thought about ordering a copy of my thesis. The price is minimal, but I decided to avoid a wrenching trip down memory lane; I just don’t want to see a reminder of those days or hold that cracked capstone of my Princeton academic journey. I’d much rather follow and cheer on the saga of Chinmoku. It might come in handy for those already gearing up for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Sam and I went in directions in another big way post-graduation. I had visions of joining the Foreign Service or Princeton in Asia or just spending time on the road in Europe before I joined the workforce. In 1980, journalism jobs were plentiful and I figured I’d be a cub reporter in Wichita or Baton Rouge or Corpus Christi, putting my hometown and college experience to good use as a feature writer. Instead, to my shock, I talked my way into a reporter-researcher job at Forbes magazine. The magazine wanted me to start quickly, so instead of traveling—or even arguing for a week to go home to Mission, Texas to catch my breath—I scrambled to find a place to live in Brooklyn and began riding the sweltering subway to work less than two weeks after I graduated. To be fair, had I not moved to New York then, I might never have moved there, and my life would have been radically different, probably lived within a 100-mile radius of San Antonio.

Now, Sam, he’s taking the smart approach. He’s got his resume, a website and a Twitter account, all the tools of the aspiring game designer. He knows the market and where his skills fit, and he’s networking and going to events. The right job is out there for him

Better yet, he’s had time after graduation to enjoy life. I tell him he’ll be working for a long, long time, so don’t go crazy in the beginning. And Sam’s also hitting the road for European travel. With the Japan experience from last year, he’s a pro at border crossings. He studied German in high school, so he has tickets for almost two weeks in Germany and then Amsterdam.

Actually, this is a joint project for two graduates, one from 1980 and one from 2016. Sam and I are going together, the new graduate and the one who never took that post-graduation trip.

We leave for Berlin tonight.

The Long Good-Bye, As Recorded in the Back of the Book

When the new issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly (PAW) rolls around, I read through it carefully. The back of the book sections, Class Notes and Memorials, are always worth a close scan. I’ve made occasional appearances in the former and have no current plans to pop up in the latter.

Details of the memorials sketch the great swaths of social and political history in which individuals lived. Men’s lives (and they were only men until co-education in the early 1970s) mostly followed patterns of early marriage, entire careers spent at a single company, civic involvement and a graceful retirement, often involving either a boat or golfing.

What strikes me with the most impact for graduates from the late 1930s through the late 1940s, however, is the connecting tissue of military service. The natural course of life now offers up the long good-bye of memorials for men who fought in World War II. Their memorials are matter of fact, with just the basics of involvement, but the background details of disrupted education and families, and ever-present danger, can be imagined. These are the ones, after all, who survived the war; one of every 30 Princetonians who served was killed, a total of 355. We will not see the likes of this common martial bond again in our lifetime, God willing.

Memorials from the May 11 issue of PAW bring out the terse language and what followed in a handful of lives. Some samples from just one issue, all illustrated with graduation photos:

Bruce R. Alger ’40: “After a brief stint with RCA, he joined the Army Air Corps and captained a Boeing B-29 based on Tinian Island, logging 23 bombing missions over Japan.”

George H. Erker ’44: “During World War II he was a Navy pilot and served in the South Pacific. In 1943, he married Barbara Griesedieck. He became a stock broker in St. Louis after the war, a career that continued for more than 50 years, up until the day he died.”

Edward D. Walen ’44: “During World War II he was in the Air Corps Technical Training Corps and was assigned for 18 months to the China-Burma-India theater. After the war, Ted returned to Princeton with his wife, Barbara Gahm, to earn his degree, then went to Harvard Business School.”

Joseph K. Gordon ’47: “A graduate of Episcopal Academy, he did not begin his Princeton career until he had served three years in the Navy, including seven months on a light cruiser.”

Alfred F. Shine ’48: “He served with the Marines during World War II, was stationed in the Marshall Islands and elsewhere in the Pacific, and was wounded in combat. After he graduated from Princeton in 1947, Al was called again to active duty, first in Korea, and then for a year in the U.S. military’s occupation of Japan. Meanwhile, he married Mary in 1949, and they were together until her death in 1995. Al’s entire business career was with Prudential Insurance Co.”

With the decline of military service, either conscription or voluntary, the memorials fragment in the last 50 and 60 years. The military is no longer a given in life arcs. Men and women from Princeton still serve ably, and I am proud that my class counts among its members Gen. Mark Milley, the Army Chief of Staff, along with ambassadors and other skilled diplomats and public servants. What common themes will memorialists from the coming decades say about the classes ever more distant from the Greatest Generation? I leave that to them.

Well, maybe not totally to them. As both an ’80 class officer and a writer, I may have a certain control over what my memorial says, in the far future (so I hope in terms of timing, anyway. But as my late mother, a World War II veteran herself, used to say, “When your number’s up, your number’s up”).  The first memorial in the May 11 issue shows how that’s done. Read the memorial of veteran and tunesmith Richard R. Uhl ’39 to the end.

Dick died July 1, 2015, at his home in Redding, Conn.

He prepared at Lawrenceville and graduated from Princeton with high honors and a degree in music. Dick’s career in advertising as a musician and producer of radio and TV shows began immediately but was interrupted by four years in the Army. After being discharged as a captain, he joined Sullivan Stauffer Colwell & Bayles as executive creative director.

Dick was a trustee of the Westover School for Girls, a member of the board of the Aaron Copland Heritage Foundation, and an elder of the Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church.

With lyricist Tom Adair, Dick wrote the song “Everybody Every Payday,” the official song of the second War Loan Drive in 1943. His song “A Romantic Guy I” was the theme song of Robert Cummings’ first TV show. His bicentennial hymn, “We Who Love Our Land,” won an award from the Hymn Society of America.

Dick is survived by his wife, Emily Detwiler; daughters Laura, Emily, and Elizabeth ’82; and three grandchildren.

Our class secretary from 1981 to 2007 and memorialist until 2010, Dick wrote 453 columns and 418 memorials, including all but the last two sentences of this one. The class expresses deep gratitude for his faithful chronicling of our lives and our deaths.

 

Yes, that’s how I can see my last PAW appearance taking shape. But the story has a way yet to go before the long good-bye.

 

Farewell, My Woody Woo: Princeton Plays the Game of Names

Students who occupied Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber ‘83’s office in stately Nassau Hall in November must have felt they hit the protest jackpot. After 32 hours of sit-in, the Black Justice League (BJL) had Eisgruber’s signature of a deal that called for study of their demands, starting with “the legacy of Woodrow Wilson on this campus.” The name of former president of both Princeton and the United States now defiles a residential college and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (a/k/a Woody Woo, WWS or the Wilson School). His thin-lipped visage also adorns a mural in a dining hall in Wilson College.

Here’s how the University Press Club summarized the action steps:

Demand 1- Concerning Woodrow Wilson

President Eisgruber will write to the Head of Wilson College about removing the mural of Woodrow Wilson. It’s ultimately up to Professor Cadava, but Eisgruber will say his personal opinion (that it should be removed).

As for Woodrow Wilson’s name throughout the rest of the University, President Eisgruber promises to email Katie Hall, the chair of the Board of Trustees, to start discussions with the Black Justice League (BJL) about Wilson’s legacy on campus. President Eisgruber also promises toward greater ethnic diversity of memorialized artwork on campus.

Ridding Princeton of the troublesome Wilson will be easy. Finding replacements could be almost impossible as Princeton plays the Game of Names. That’s the problem Eisgruber and the Board of Trustees will encounter as they try to balance the BJL demands with the needs of Princeton as a 259-year old institution and the views and pocketbooks of thousands of alumni.

Let’s look at the obstacles, and then some of the leading contestants.

Left to the administration and the alumni, straightforward options for new names would emerge, based on a combination of civic significance and donations to the University. Recent examples would be Whitman College, named for Meg Whitman ’77 after a $30 million donation, the Frist Campus Center, Icahn Laboratory, Bloomberg Hall, Lewis Library and more. Eric Schmidt ’76 (Google) and Jeff Bezos ’86 (Amazon) donated millions for endowed technology programs. Every Princeton class has entrepreneurs, public servants, business leaders and artists who could endow a building or program. Given my modest finances, I may be able to endow the Wallach ’80 Memorial Urinal Cake Dispenser at Building Services, but I’ll do what I can.

The troubles begin if protesters get to apply the heaviest thumb to the scales of selection in the Game of Names. Given veto power on new names, the BJL will, I imagine, concoct a vetting process with a rigor and pitilessness rivaling the Spanish Inquisition. Woe to those Tigers whose interrogations uncover the slightest implication in any deed or thought, public or private, that could be construed to show racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, colonialism, heteronormativity, white privilege, climate change denial, Zionist tendencies, suspicious use of Yik Yak, or excessive enthusiasm for the First and Second Amendments. Readiness to write a $100 million check—my estimate of the minimum donation required to chisel your name across the Wilson School—would mean nothing against the taint of incorrect thinking. The proceedings in Nassau Hall would combine Stalinist show trials with The Maury Show, as in, “Bob, the political DNA results are in and you ARE a racist!”

Think about candidates for Woody Woo’s new name. They should be people of high-profile civic accomplishment and impact. Off the top of my head, I can suggest:

  • John Foster Dulles 1908, the Secretary of State under President Eisenhower.
  • Allen Dulles 1912, first civilian director of the CIA and a longtime diplomat.
  • George Kennan ’25, a diplomat and Ambassador to the USSR and Yugoslavia. He wrote the hugely influential “Long Telegram” and the article “The Sources of Soviet Policy,” which influenced U.S. policy during the Cold War. I had the honor of seeing Kennan in person in September 1976. As a freshman interested in Soviet affairs, I attended a discussion at Woody Woo on the topic of “Alexandr Solzhenitsyn as a Historian of the Russian Revolution.” That summer I had read Kennan’s book Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin, so I knew about the legendary diplomat and thinker on Cold War issues. He sat in the seminar room and listened, then offered some cogent comments.
  • Donald H. Rumsfeld ’54, whose career in public service began as a U.S. Congressman from Illinois in 1963 and wrapped up 40 years later as Secretary of Defense for during George W. Bush’s fateful first term.
  • Ralph Nader ’55, who needs no introduction.

Except for Nader, all are non-starters. They are straight white male conservatives who led or influenced U.S. strategies in the Cold War or, in Rumsfeld’s case, the ongoing War on Terror. None would pass the vetting process for the new generation of anti-Wilsonians. I could see Rumsfeld getting alumni support, but given his role in the Afghan and Iraq wars, student demonstrators and their allies would never, ever go for the Rumsfeld School of Public and International Affairs. Well, what about the Senator Ted Cruz ’92 School, honoring a distinguished Wilson School grad?  Don’t even THINK about that macroaggression!

Reunions 352-edit

The Cruz School? Not yet. His rendezvous with destiny comes later . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A better bet: Nicholas Katzenbach ’45. An Army Air Corps flier and POW in World War II, Katzenbach was a law professor in the 1950s and served in the Justice Department in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, rising to Attorney General. As Deputy AG, he confronted Gov. George Wallace in 1963 during successful efforts to desegregate the University of Alabama. He also played a role in the Warren Commission investigation into the killing of President Kennedy.

Despite Katzenbach’s fine qualifications, I can’t help but think the BJL would demand a bolder direction, a definitive break from the WASP past. So my best guesses for Woody Woo: Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor ’76 or First Lady Michelle Robinson Obama ’85. Both would bring the gender and ethnic diversity that demonstrators want.

I’m placing my bet on Sotomayor. I heard her speak at the 2014 Alumni Day, when she received the, umm, Woodrow Wilson Award, the University’s highest honor for undergraduate alumni. She has an inspiring life story and a long legal career. Sotomayor impressed me as a confident, warm and fast-on-her-feet speaker who charmed the audience during a speech and Q&A at Alexander Hall.

Bottom line: Justice Sonia Sotomayor is a good all-around choice who could satisfy most stakeholders. Farewell, Woody Woo, hello SoSo! Sorry, Rummy.

Now, what about Wilson College? I know the place; I lived in 1938 Hall as a sophomore in a six-man suite of colorful characters, including one we nicknamed “Disco Tony” and another who had the complete Warren Commission Report. I made good friends at Wilson College, friendships that continue to this day.

Wilson College’s new name should go in a different direction from that of the Wilson School. Woody Woo is a sober place where students wrestle with fateful global issues. Wilson College is a dorm and social complex. The new name should break away from typical Princeton pattern of honoring individuals known for seriousness, purpose, industry, achievement and philanthropy. Princeton has plenty of that; what’s missing campuswide in building honors, as far as I can tell, is “fun.”

So if President Eisgruber and BJL want to win over wary Tigers, they should offer up a name that is a little less “Princeton in the nation’s service” and a little more “Princeton in the nation’s entertainment.”

Possibilities abound, from the late actors Jimmy Stewart ’32 and José Ferrer ’33 to director Ethan Coen ’79 and actor David Duchovny ’82. Director Andrew Jarecki ’85 causes a stir whenever he releases a documentary, such as Capturing the Friedmans, Catfish and The Jinx. Robert Johnson *72, who earned a master’s degree in public affairs from the Wilson School, founded Black Entertainment Television and has a stellar record as an investor, corporate board member and philanthropist. I don’t know anything about their politics, but the inquisition can uncover any counter-revolutionary tendencies, Some members of the Junior Anti-Sex League might take offense at Duchovny’s naughty 1990s Showtime series, Red Shoe Diaries. “Kidnap” episode, anybody?

To me, the most compelling choice would bring more gender diversity with a well-known name and face. This person may not have the right revolutionary chops, but I’ll nominate her anyway:

Wrap your mind around Brooke Shields ’87 College.

Shields majored in French literature, appeared in the Triangle Show and is a loyal grad. Granted, she joined the selective Cap & Gown eating club, made those sizzling ads for Calvin Klein jeans (“You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”) and starred in a series of racy movies—Pretty Baby, The Blue Lagoon and Endless Love—but Shields would be a big, bold, beautiful name in my brackets of the Game of Names. Not that Princeton needs more applicants, but the draw of Shields College could attract lots of positive attention at the high school level.

How these issues will play out is anybody’s guess. The ink was barely dry on the Nassau Hall agreement before other students formed the Princeton Open Campus Coalition, which won a splash of publicity as a counterbalance to the disruptions sweeping college campuses. President Eisgruber will meet with POCC soon. BJL and others will encounter other determined Tigers who are going to speak out on the Game of Names. The commentaries pro and con Woodrow Wilson speak to the passions of the moment.

While we’re waiting for the Game of Names to start, how about a traditional Princeton Locomotive cheer for my favorite candidate?

‘RAH! ‘RAH! ‘RAH!
TIGER! TIGER! TIGER!
SIS! SIS! SIS!
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
AHHHHHHH….
BROOKE! BROOKE! BROOKE!

“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita” at Princeton

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita” — The Italian poet Dante begins “The Inferno” with those words, “Midway upon the journey of our life,” interpreted to mean when he was 35 years old. That passage came to me after I read the survey from my 35th Princeton reunion, held in May. A staple of Reunions activities, the  survey tracks the lives and thoughts of my fellow Tigers of the Great Class of 1980.

This year’s survey hit me harder than past ones. While my classmates and I are in our late 50s, we are more middle-aged as Princeton classes go — after 35 years, we’re in the center of the long orange line that marches across campus in the P-rade that’s the highlight of Reunions. The Old Guard, the men (still men for a couple more decades, and then the relentless logic of coeducation and the actuarial tables will kick in) and the families form up starting with the Old Guard and moving back, year by year, to the class that is graduating in a few days. From the centenarians to the 22-year olds, we’re all there. My own favorite Old Guard memory: Seeing Judge Harold Medina ’09 in a golf cart, looking dapper at Reunions in the 1980s — he lived to be 102 and theoretically could have made his 80th Reunion in 1989.

The survey reflected the issues of aging baby boomers: places to visit, 12 percent with grandchildren, location changes and impending retirement, caring for our own aging parents, dozens of comments on career advice, political beliefs. I could pick out some of the comments I made, and I identified with others.

The responses became emotionally grueling when they reached the question about regrets; we all have them. Divorce, living in fear, insecurities, not spending time with parents, no children, no family, limited risk-taking, depression, misplaced values, i nodded my head at several of these, although I never made the mistake of “selling Apple stock,” since I never had any to begin with.

The P-rade sign ideas, mostly jovial, revealed some dark undertones of issues swirling around me as an undergrad that I never imagined, like, “Fear of physical violence as a gay man all my time at Princeton,” Several other sign ideas made that point. I never knew. I never suspected. Was I blind, wrapped in my own gnawing insecurities and academic struggles? Reading these I cringed at the idea of people I know feeling unsafe at Princeton–the fishbowl so apart, I thought, from the mean world. but it wasn’t. And then there was my sign contribution: “A memory: Getting blindly drunk as a freshman, the first time in my life. A valuable learning experience!”

In the middle of the journey of our Princeton life, I hope the classmates who felt unsafe have found their secure harbor in a more accepting society, and that those with regrets balance them with other sources of happiness and peace of mind as we edge closer to the front of the P-rade line. Every five years brings a time to take the pulse of the class. If this is 35, the center between youth and age, what will 70 be, in 2050, closer to the end? I hope to still be around to find out and post another update.

The New (Brian and Mary) Wilsonianism at Princeton

As the hunter-killer squads of social justice warriors rampage, they are looking farther afield for new offensive flesh to devour. The Confederate flag fell first, now they are vandalizing and calling for the removal of Confederate statuary. Next up: schools and streets bearing the names of Southern generals and statesmen. Lee, Jackson, Davis, Forrest and others will be erased.

That brings us to my alma mater, Princeton University, where half the campus seems to bear the name of Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879, University President from 1902 to 1910 and, by the way, U.S. President from 1913 to 1921. Besides involving the U.S. in World War I and introducing the income tax, Wilson had a quite a record as a stone-cold racist in word and deed.

This wretched record has prompted calls for Princeton to scrub Wilson’s name from the campus. That’s a tall order, given the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and Wilson College. Then you have non-Princeton entities such as the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows.

All are now tainted with the branding reproach of racism. Down the memory hole with them all.

But wait, can’t we reason together to find another solution somewhere between acceptance of the status quo and ISIS-esque destruction of anything associated with the detested ancien regime? Yes we can!

While Woodrow (actually, that’s his middle name, Thomas being his actual first name) is a distinct moniker, Wilson is a common name shared with many accomplished and noble individuals who should pass through the fires of political correctness relatively unscathed.

My idea: let’s simply remove “Woodrow” and replace it with a more suitable first name. Problem solved!

Princeton can lead the way in the de-woodrowing process, as painful as it may be. The Wilson School, otherwise known locally as Woody Woo, can be our starting point.

An elite school favored by aspiring diplomats and law-school applicants, the Wilson School has a great reputation. A new name must reflects its worldwide standing and connect it with innovation, leadership, creativity and, given Woodrow Wilson’s health-impaired last years, a degree of poignancy and sadness.

In all the Wilsons of the world, I can think of none more fitting to assume the heavy mantle of leadership than the founder of the Beach Boys and an authentic musical genius, Brian Wilson.

Newly renamed, the Brian Wilson School of Public and International Affairs would be a pacesetter in the application of surf tunes and soaring vocals to the world’s most pressing problems. Where all the chi-squared regression analysis, Keynesian economic theorizing and multilateral “getting to yes” negotiations fail to move the needle on global crises, why not try “Little Deuce Coupe” to set the right tone for a conference on green transportation alternatives? Try locking the Ukrainians and the Russians in a room and listening to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”—they’d find common ground for an agreement. And for any Princetonians who ever had a post-high school summer romance with a girl named Barbara Ann, like I did, then “Barbara Ann” would be the perfect song to play when Tigers leave campus for summer adventures.

On a more serious note, Brian Wilson’s struggles with mental illness and drug abuse connect him to Woodrow Wilson’s stroke and impairment in the second term of his presidency, when his wife served as the “real” president, in sort of the way that therapist Eugene Landy controlled Brian Wilson’s health and career.

The timing could not be better for the name change. The biopic Love & Mercy about Brian Wilson just debuted to great acclaim. I’m confident that, with the right approach and serious intent, university management could make the Brian Wilson School of Public and International Affairs a reality by the time the movie appears on Netflix. A gala screening, combined with a Beach Boys set on the plaza outside the Wilson School, would be a perfect way to start afresh.

That’s one Wilson on campus. Now, what about Wilson College, a residential college where I lived in 1938 Hall when I was a sophomore?

This could be easier to fix, since it’s known as Wilson College, not Woodrow Wilson College. Still, the name must be detoxified. Out of all the Wilsons in the world, I’ll suggest the marvelous singer Mary Wilson, an original member of the Supremes along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard. She stayed with the group even after the others left and she was the only original member. For that kind of dedication, along with her work advocating for musicians’ rights, she deserves to have a Princeton college named in her honor. She’s organized museum exhibits of the Supremes’ famous stage costumes, and such an exhibit could work well at Princeton as an adjunct to the garish orange and black Reunions costumes favored by alumni.

Mary Wilson College would have a grand inauguration. Brian Wilson, of course, would head on down from his Wilson School for some soulful singing. And given that Mary Wilson sang with a very special group, I could imagine her for musical numbers with Princeton alumni serving on the OTHER Supremes—Supreme Court justices (in order of class year) Samuel Alito ’72, Sonia Sotomayor ’76 and Elena Kagan ’81. Together, this tuneful trio could join Mary Wilson and honor her for her decades of music. They might even perform a Supremes classic that deserves to be the theme song for American universities’ campaign for consensual canoodling on campus: “Stop! In the Name of Love.”

The festivities would conclude with a gala bonfire to incinerate portraits of Woodrow Wilson and his collected writings.

Next on the Discard Pile: The Rolodex of Memories

First I replaced the LG dumbphone with the Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone, then I stopped renewing my annual purchase of monthly Day-Timer inserts and now . . . I’m ditching the Rolodex.

Unlike the other techno tools, I haven’t used my Rolodex in years. I had a circular one once, but the current one is flat. After a recent move, I’m trying to simplify my life and a Rolodex brimming with cards for people from decades past at companies that no longer exist looks like a prime candidate for Goodwill. Jotted in my jiggly handwriting and free from any email addresses, URLs and Twitter handles, the cards record a pre-digital life that must be impossible for young people to imagine. Those were the days you memorized phone numbers and carried them in your head, not your pocket.

Still, I linger before sending it off, mostly because the names evoke times and places, both personal and professional.

Most of the cards date from 1987 to 1995, when I was the east coast editor of Video Store Magazine. The cards give contacts at movie studios, retailers and trade associations involved with entertainment and consumer electronics. Some cards of note:

  • CompUSA
  • Bizarre Video Productions
  • Mark Harrad, the very savvy PR manager for the anti-piracy program of the Motion Picture Association of America. He would arrange for members of the press to attend FBI raids on places making or selling illegal videos; I was an observer at a Brooklyn raid, an edge experience.
  • Sega
  • Kay Bee Toys
  • Montgomery Ward
  • New York Public Library telephone reference
  • Artist Mark Kostabi, who did a book of his paintings called “Sadness Because the Video Rental Store Was Closed;” I did a story about the book and he gave me a copy, which I still have
  • Tandy Corp.
  • Atari Computer Corp.(written on the back of a Rolodex card that bore the name and phone number of a fellow Princetonian I dated once, more details to come)

Video Store laid me off 20 years ago this month, ending my career in business journalism, so those cards lost any value, but I hung on to them anyway.

Rolodex

Other cards stir memories of personal connections:

  • The phone number for the Harriman Institute at Columbia University; I fantasized about studying Russian there and becoming a kremlinologist or East Bloc-hopping journalist in the twilight of the USSR. But I stayed in journalism and fate took me in a very different suburban direction.
  • Project Dorot, a group matching volunteers with the Jewish elderly, where I was a friendly visitor from 1980 to 1994, teamed with a German immigrant named Rena Frank.
  • A woman named Shira, who I had one date with and then we both moved on to other things and she made a very good life for herself.
  • A woman named Shula (a/k/a Sheila when I met her at a singles event in 1981). We had a date on my 25th birthday and a photo shows us both looking spiffy. She’s wearing a beret like Faye Dunaway wore in “Bonnie and Clyde.” She urged me to eat organic foods and was into algae products.
  • That fellow Princetonian who I dated once or twice, who has the same 212 phone number, over 30 years later. Good for you!
  • Women with the confusingly universal Jewish name combination of Laura/Laurie/Lori/Lauri/Lauren Friedman/Freeman/Friedman/Friedmann/Freidman. I could never remember which was which, although one walked out on a first date we had to see Shakespeare in Central Park. She had to get ready to go to the Hamptons the next day and she saw I was “really enjoying the play,” so she up and left during the intermission. I scratched her off my dating list, but I kept the phone number, or was that the number for Lori/Lorie/Laurie/Laura/Lauren in Brooklyn who liked to get stoned? I’ll never know. Trying to find one Laurie Friedman in New York is like trying to find one Maria Garcia in Texas — the proverbial needle in the haystack of similar names.
  • Texas Monthly, when I dreamed of relocating to Austin in 1990 for a completely different career in journalism.

Two or three decades separate me from these people and memories. Technology moved on. The discardable contact entries in cellphones and computers store the intricate contact details for hundreds of contacts, across multiple phones and emails. I make no more scribbled updates on Rolodex cards or address books. I type updates in bloodless Arial fonts, or just hit “delete and they’re gone.

The Rolodex kept the old paper life around long after the Rolodex lost its use. I’ll save some of the cards just for old time’s sake (a sentimental weakness of mine). But something’s got to give in my endless efforts to declutter and this small tool, a rope tying me to the past that will never be relevant again, has got to go.

Still, for all I know, Shira/Shula/Laurie/Lauren still has a forgotten address book that includes some guy (wasn’t he a writer? Whatever happened to him?) who lived at 131 Amity Street in Brooklyn.

 

A Most Notable Memorial

On Saturday, I had the honor of co-leading the memorial service for the Princeton Class of 1980 at our 35th Reunion. We held the remembrance in the 9/11 Memorial Garden on campus, which honors the Princetonians killed on September 11, 2001, including our classmate Robert Deraney. An a capella group sang hymns, the class president read from the Book of Psalms and I read the conclusion of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. While not a conventional selection for a memorial service, it immediately came to my mind when the class officers were creating the event. It always strikes me as mournful yet hopeful:

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.

The remembrance struck the right balance of comfort and grief, recalling roommates and friends lost over the decades, a reminder of our own mortality as the fresh graduates of 1980 are now working through retirement and grandchildren and whatever comes next in life on the far side of middle age.

On Sunday, thoughts of the memorial were on my mind when I found a copy of the Hartford Courant newspaper to read on the trip home from Grand Central Terminal to Connecticut. I scanned the obituary page; this section is a signal function of newspapers, a printed record of lives as recalled by family members and friends. They reflect not just lives, but also the economic, spiritual and civic aspects of a region.

As I looked through the Courant, I found a most notable memorial, a very rare example of a literary genre you could call the do-it-yourself obituary notice, a first-person summing-up of a life well lived. Diane Cusson began her life celebration with these words:

I, Diane (Hanson) Cusson, 72, grew up in East Hampton, CT., a small rural town and died on May 27,2015. I met my husband, Kenneth “Ken” Cusson, in Manchester, CT.. I graduated from Manchester High School, Class of 1960. While Ken was home on leave in 1963 from the Air Force, he called me. We started dating and I wrote daily letters. I dedicated “Since I Fell for You” by Lenny Welch to him on radio station WDRC in Hartford. He could pick up the station while at Loring Air Force Base in Maine. I got a phone call on New Year’s Eve of that year and he proposed marriage. We got married on June 13, 1964 and have been partners and friends for 51 years. We went back to Maine for our honeymoon in my 1954 red Chevrolet with $50.

Cusson’s life review goes on for hundreds more of compelling words; I’ll leave it to readers to click through and explore her travels, faith and family. She sounds like the kind of friend and neighbor we would all value.

The idea of writing your own memorial, be it for a newspaper or the Princeton Alumni Weekly, makes sense. Have a say in your final narrative. I’ve never thought about it, but now I will. We Princetonians are practiced at this sort of retrospective self-analysis. Those of us who revel in the pageantry and rituals of the major Reunions will put pen to paper every five years to write an essay for the class Reunion book. Your collective essays add up to a relentless statement of life’s progression through decades. Last weekend marked my seventh major Reunion–and now the heat is on for me to get cracking on my online submission for the 35th Reunion essay. I’ve been a laggard about this, unusual given that the idea of writer’s block is foreign to me.

My essays, which chronicle work, lack of work, marriage, lack of marriage, fatherhood  and other highs and lows of my life, get me started on the DIY memorial. They sketch my view of life at key dates; all that’s lacking is classmates’ perspectives. When the moment comes in far distant decades for PAW to run my memorial, I’d like to think the memorialist of that time can draw from my own words in the Reunions books to capture my thoughts on my life, just as Diane Cusson wrote so well about her life in the Hartford Courant.

If technology makes it available, perhaps even this very essay will be quoted as a meta-memorial, my final message to the future.

What Would Uncle Miltie Say?

I’m having a serious flashback to my days as an undergrad economics major at Princeton University in the late 1970s. Two data points came together in recent weeks to make me to think about the concept of the “Multiplier Effect,” part of the academic baggage that I put behind me as soon as I graduated in 1980 as the most mediocre economics major in Princeton’s long history.

First, I read a profile of Nobel Prize-winning economist Kenneth Arrow in the September issue of Finance & Development magazine, published by the International Monetary Fund. Writer Janet Stotsky, formerly with the IMF and now a consultant on fiscal, women and development, and microeconomic topics, outlined Arrow’s contributions to economic thinking. She wrote of Arrow’s 1972 prize,

The Nobel committee cited the work of Arrow and British economist John Hicks in two areas: general equilibrium theory, which seeks to explain how prices are set across an economy, and welfare theory, which analyzed the optimal allocation of goods and services in an economy.

Back in my undergrad days, I took courses that discussed these issues in depth, along with 70s-era concerns like stagflation and the Phillips Curve, a term that’s been antique for decades. And, of course, I learned about the Multiplier Effect, something that remains implicitly ingrained in U.S. economic policy.

A day or two after I read the profile, I attended a live performance by the host Kai Ryssdal, reporters and guests of the public radio program Marketplace at the 92nd Street Y in New York, as part of the show’s 25th anniversary. The program was titled, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Numbers.” Each segment featured some type of numeric aspect. What especially interested me, as an econ major, was wealth and poverty correspondent Chrissy Clark’s report on the life cycle of food stamp payments. They are digitally downloaded on to EBT cards, which sparks a rush of spending at retailers like Walmart, with billions of dollars pumped back into the economy from the government to food stamp recipients to (mostly) major retailers. Then the retailers use the payments to plump up their sales volume, which they talk about on calls with stock analysts; if the payments get cut, then cue the sad music as earnings decline. Nobody reveals how much money is passed to big retailers this way, but the dollars are huge.

Then: flashback time. Where have I heard this before? Government spends; dollars go to businesses and individuals; businesses and individuals spend, then others get the dollars in a cascade of economic impact. And that’s the Multiplier Effect.

I mused on my economics courses. Not that Clark used the term, but she outlined the theory behind the Multiplier Effect, a key rationale for Keynesian economic policy, where government spending helps the economy grow.

Or does it? In my Princeton days, we learned about the theories of John Maynard Keynes, but we also had big exposure to the thinking of University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman, who was a great advocate of free markets and an approach called monetarism. I think we read Friedman’s 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom. He was skeptical of Keynesian economics and advocated controls on the money supply to influence economic activity. If you go with what Wikipedia says, Friedman

thought that Keynes’s political bequest was harmful for two reasons. First, he thought whatever the economic analysis, benevolent dictatorship is likely sooner or later to lead to a totalitarian society. Second, he thought Keynes’s economic theories appealed to a group far broader than economists primarily because of their link to his political approach.

Friedman won his Nobel Prize in 1976 and died in 2006 at the age of 94. I wondered what he’d think of Clark’s report and its connect to the Keynesian multiplier effect. Would Uncle Miltie have raised the point of how billions in food stamp spending crowd out private investment, shifting tax money to consumption? Am I remembering monetarism correctly? What would Friedman say about the blowout Keynesianism that’s led to endless government deficits? Nothing positive, I suspect.

To be fair, Clark interviewed Walmart executives and others for her story about low wages at major retailers, which featured a Walmart employee on food stamps. Still, I wonder what a staunch Friedmanite would have said to her.

Friedman still excites debate decades after his major writings. Paul Krugman, another Nobel Prize winner, analyzed him in 2007 in the New York Review of Books (you can imagine the perspective there), with this kick-off statement:

Milton Friedman played three roles in the intellectual life of the twentieth century. There was Friedman the economist’s economist, who wrote technical, more or less apolitical analyses of consumer behavior and inflation. There was Friedman the policy entrepreneur, who spent decades campaigning on behalf of the policy known as monetarism—finally seeing the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England adopt his doctrine at the end of the 1970s, only to abandon it as unworkable a few years later. Finally, there was Friedman the ideologue, the great popularizer of free-market doctrine.

Friedman’s influence continues to this day, even among people who question his ideas, like this post, “My Milton Friedman Problem,” that winds through all kinds of economic theorizing beyond my ability to follow.

That people still argue with Uncle Miltie testifies to his impact; my meandering path back to him, via memories of Princeton economics inspired by Stotsky’s article on Arrow and the Marketplace celebration of the Keynesian multiplier effect, makes me think that something useful–an elegant analytical paradigm that enabled me to coolly assess the assumptions of Keynesian mainstream macroeconomic policy, perhaps?–sank in to my brain in those economics lectures and precepts at Old Nassau almost 40 years ago after all.