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.