"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Friday, August 29, 2014

Baby Boomers Are the Most Selfish ...

     I recently received this anonymous response to one of my blog posts, and it seemed to come out of nowhere:

     "You Baby Boomers are the most selfish generation to ever exist. You destroyed your own children's and grandchildren's future with your short-sighted selfishness and immaturity. And then you expect them to pay for your retirement???? Can you baby boomers just hurry up and drop dead, please!"

     So what's your reaction to this comment? My first reaction was to discount it, pass it off as the rant of some loser Gen Xer. It might even be a spam-type message, for I know at least one other Baby Boomer blogger who got the exact same note.

     But then, I thought, let me try to put myself into the position of someone who's in their 30s. Someone, like this person, who probably has a couple of kids, and maybe a job and a house and a mortgage. So if I were in my 30s, what would I think of Baby Boomers?

Then . . .
     I'd think:  You Baby Boomers are the most selfish generation to ever exist . . . and you expect me to pay for your retirement?!?

     First of all, ever since I can remember, all my friends and I have ever heard about in the media is Baby Boomer this, Baby Boomer that. As if they are the only people who exist. The only people who are interesting. The people who "changed the world."

     And then there are the '60s. Vietnam, protest marches, the Beatles, the moon landing, Woodstock. Jeez! I mean, how long do we have to listen to this stuff before everyone gets totally bored with it all!

     By the way, there's something you should know. We outnumber you guys. Generation X has 82 million people. The Baby Boom, at its peak, only counted 76 million self-involved, narcissistic individuals -- before, you know, you started dying off. (Believe it or not, approximately 11 million of the original Baby Boomers have died; replaced by about the same number of similar-age immigrants over the years.)

     You have JFK, RFK, LBJ and MLK. Who do we have? George H.W. Bush. Now, maybe GHWB was an okay president. He presided over the end of the Cold War. But inspiring? Now there's a laugh! He was the guy who didn't know about the vision thing, right?

     And what was the seminal event in our young lives? 9/11. Was there a great national patriotic cry for anything after 9/11? No, there was a great national cry to . . . go shopping. Just as the economy was going into the toilet. Hey, Baby Boomer, how would you like to have been trying to get your first job during the post-9/11, post-Internet bubble recession of 2000 - 2002?

     Which brings me to the economy, and opportunity, and employment and the great income divide. I was born in 1978. I got out of college into the teeth of the early 2000s recession, and I ended up with a college degree, and a job that, just maybe, required a 10th grade education.

     But you know what? I got married. My spouse also had a job. And with two decent incomes we were able to get a mortgage and buy a house, and take that first step toward the American Dream. In 2006. Thank you very much. My $300,000 house is now worth, maybe, on a good day, about $260,000.

     Meanwhile, my paycheck has barely kept up with inflation -- so I'm not really making any more money than I was my first year out of college. Meanwhile, I'm paying taxes for Social Security and Medicare -- which by the way includes an automatic inflation increase for you guys -- even though the prospects that I will be collecting Social Security when I retire in 30 years are slim to none. What do they say? Social Security will have the funds to pay out 75 percent of its obligations after it "goes bust" in 2033. So, Baby Boomers, thanks for the 25 percent pay cut.

     Oh, and by the way, you guys are retiring at age 66. But because of the accident of my birth I have to work an extra year, to age 67, before I'm eligible for my full retirement benefit . . . which as I just pointed out will not be a full benefit, but something more like three-quarters of a benefit.

. . . and now.
     And now we have a kid. We love her, no doubt. But what will college tuition cost when she's ready to head off to college? Last figure I saw was $44,000 a year for a public university, and $96,000 a year for a private college. Plus, of course, room and board. Are they kidding?

     Meanwhile, you Baby Boomers moan and groan about the Great Recession and how it cut your career short, and decimated your retirement savings, and made your lives oh-so-terrible. I've read a few blogs where Baby Boomers complain about how they got "downsized" when they were 50 or 55, because of "age discrimination," and then they were never able to find another job that would be interesting, challenging and "appropriate for their skill level." Again, because of "age discrimination." Did you ever think your new-found unemployment could be due to your outmoded skills and your we're-better-than-everybody-else attitude?

     Well, I've spent the last five years networking and researching and exploring and training and trying to find a better job. But the better opportunities just are not there. That's partly because of the lousy economy. According to The Atlantic, it's not the Baby Boomers (especially when you consider that the worst blow to Baby Boomers was the stock market, which has now recovered to its former highs and thereby has replenished Baby Boomers' retirement nest eggs), but their children and grandchildren who suffered most during the Great Recession of 2007-9.

     We have a higher rate of unemployment than Baby Boomers and we have had been unable to move up the career ladder at anywhere near the rate of our forebears. Why? In part because of the lingering effects of the Great Recession. But let's look at another factor. Despite the fact that many Baby Boomers have retired early, plenty of other Baby Boomers are holding onto their overpaid positions for dear life. No way are they ready or willing -- to paraphrase one of those Baby Boomer heroes -- to pass the torch on to a new generation of Americans.

     So, Baby Boomers, like a said, stop being so damn selfish. Stop ruining your children's future. Can you Baby Boomers just hurry up and . . . well, I don't wish for anyone to drop dead. But, please, please stop complaining. You don't appreciate just how lucky you are. Stop thinking you're God's gift to history, and stop taking credit for saving the world -- because you didn't, you've left a lot of work yet to be done.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I Like Vanilla Ice Cream

     I was watching a rerun of Breaking Bad the other night, and after one of the ad breaks a couple of the actors came on and offered a few comments about what made the show special to them. Bryan Cranston, who plays chemistry teacher/coke cooker Walter White, says one of the things he likes about the show is that it's not for everybody. "If you like vanilla ice cream," he says, "then Breaking Bad is not for you."

     What he's insinuating, of course, is that vanilla ice cream is for boring people who have mundane taste, who like things that are bland and insipid. And Breaking Bad is anything but bland and insipid. It's bold, edgy, violent, sometimes downright shocking.

     I agree with Cranston about Breaking Bad. It's not for everybody. B wouldn't watch it. She doesn't like violence in movies or TV shows. She doesn't like stories that are creepy or scary, or that glorify immorality. And Breaking Bad is all of the above.

     But I do not agree about the vanilla ice cream comparison. Vanilla ice cream is for people who have, not boring, mundane taste, but fine discriminating taste. People who are sensitive and can appreciate delicate, understated flavors. For vanilla is a subtle flavor, but in that subtlety it is exotic and haunting. After all, the vanilla bean, like the cocoa bean, originates in the tropics, where the trade winds blow, the palm trees sway, strange animals lurk in the forest, and drums beat in the distance.

     Chocolate ice cream is more like Breaking Bad. It, too, is exotic. But while vanilla is soft and seductive, chocolate is more obvious. It's strong, dark, with a bolder flavor.

     People like Bryan Cranston look down their nose at vanilla, passing it off as routine and uninspiring. But most people disagree with him. Virtually every survey ever taken concludes that vanilla is the favorite flavor among ice cream consumers. The food channel ranks vanilla the favorite of 29% of ice cream lovers, followed by chocolate at only 9%; and butter pecan and strawberry at 5%.

     Meanwhile, Baskin-Robbins reports that its top-selling flavor is -- you guessed it -- vanilla. Followed by chocolate, mint chocolate chip, then pralines and cream.

     One reason vanilla is so popular is that it can also play a supporting role. With pie or cake, for example, as a la mode. But vanilla ice cream is also strong enough to take on the leading role, with other flavors in supporting positions. Vanilla ice cream makes a wonderful summer treat when topped with blueberries, strawberries or raspberries.

     I like peach ice cream. But I like vanilla ice cream with fresh peach slices better.

     But most of the time I like my vanilla ice cream straight up. Nothing in it, or on it. Just the pure thing. Neat.

     Now, there's nothing that says a person can't like different things, for their different moods. I also like mint chocolate chip ice cream, and pralines and cream. I used to like coffee ice cream -- until I tried vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of espresso over the top. Boy, is that good!

     But I cannot abide peppermint ice cream, which tastes medicinal to me. And I'm not much of a fan of cookie dough ice cream. Whoever ginned that one up must have thought people can't taste anything at all unless you bomb them with everything you've got. Kind of like Breaking Bad. So what are you? Are you a Breaking Bad fan, or do you tilt toward vanilla?

     Or . . . there's no reason why you can't like both the subtlety of vanilla ice cream, but then on occasion, for a change of pace, also like the boldness of chocolate or mint chocolate chip. Or even (gag!) cookie dough.

     For there's no law that says you can't like vanilla ice cream, and also like Breaking Bad -- as I realized the other night while I was riveted to an episode of the in-your-face drama, while at the same time enjoying the refreshing summer delight of vanilla ice cream.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Anti-Aging Tips

     I saw an article in a newspaper called healthy referral that I picked up for free at a health-food store. The piece offered lots of advice about how to stay healthy as we get older, and seemed to be very informative -- as it should be, since the author, Joseph C. Maroon, MD, is a neurosurgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and has also been a neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers for over 25 years.

     The doctor himself has competed in several Ironman triathlons, so it should come as no surprise that exercise is key to his approach to staying young. But he has also written two books, one offering fish oil as a antidote to chronic inflammation in the body, and another The Longevity Factor, which shows how red wine, dark chocolate, and green tea are good for us.

     He offers lots of other advice centered around exercise and nutrition, and if you want to read the whole article you can find it at Anti-Aging Tips.

     But what struck me is that Dr. Maroon seems to want us to micromanage our nutrition and exercise so much that we hardly have time to do anything else. It's definitely for the Type A personality.

     Yet Dr. Maroon also cites Blue Zones by Dan Buettner, a book published in 2012 which examines the lifestyles of people who live a long time. And Buettner's studies show that the people who live the longest don't micromanage anything. They seem to be Type B personalities who enjoy life -- but do it in a healthy way that emphasizes good food, a positive attitude and a vibrant social life.

     I did a blog post on Blue Zones when the New York Times published an article on the book. and so now, since it's becoming a bit of a touchstone in this area of study, I thought I'd reprise some of the information here.

     Dan Buettner is a longevity expert who travels the world looking for regions where people live long and happy lives -- including Okinawa where the world's longest-lived women are found, and a place in Sardinia with the highest concentration of male centenarians on Earth. Buettner's regions are termed "blue zones" simply because he circled the areas on his map in blue ink.

     Buettner found his latest blue zone in Ikaria, Greece, an island in the Aegean Sea, where men are four times more likely than American men to reach the age of 90.  People in Ikaria also live noticeably longer than their neighbors in Samos, a more developed island just ten miles away.

     The people on Ikaria eat a diet low in the saturated fats that come from meats and diary, and they consume almost no refined sugar. Instead, they drink goat's milk and consume lots of olive oil and wild or unprocessed greens. By eating greens from their gardens and the fields, they ingest fewer pesticides and more nutrients. They drink wine almost every day, but in moderation, and they also drink two or three cups of coffee a day (coffee is associated with lower rates of diabetes, cancer and Parkinson's). And by the way, they don't obsess over the pros and cons of either wine or coffee. They drink, and enjoy, both in moderation.

     The Ikarians also get plenty of sleep, and never hesitate to take a midday nap. Also, about three-quarters of the senior citizens have sex on a regular basis.

     These islanders prize their social lives. They rarely dine alone, for example, but always make a meal into a social occasion with family and friends. Buettner surmises that being engaged in the community not only gives people a sense of connection and security, but the lack of privacy may act as a check against self-destructive behavior, including crime. Ikaria has a low crime rate not because of good policing, but because everyone knows everyone else, and it's hard to get away with anything.

     The Ikarians wake up late, and take a relaxed approach to work. But they're not lazy. Many hold more than one job, and the concept of "retirement" with a gold watch and a 401K plan is completely foreign to them. They take pride in being self-sufficient. No one is rich, but everyone has enough food and a roof over their heads. They also get a fair amount of exercise -- not by sweating at the gym or training for marathons, but by walking almost everywhere they go, and never worrying too much if they're late.

     One lesson Buettner draws from his blue zones is that the long-lived lifestyle works best as a community-based project. It's easy to stay on a good diet if everyone in the neighborhood has a kitchen garden; it's hard if there are fast-food joints and racks of chips and candy everywhere you go.

     The lesson I draw is this: Some people will make the Maroon approach work for them. But for most of us, a more relaxed approach may work better.

     So invite your friends and family over for dinner. Serve fish and vegetables and wine; no dessert, just coffee or tea. Then your guests should leave early so you can perhaps engage in some light exercise known to occur in the bedroom. And then get a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Eternal Quest

     Last week at Chautauqua I learned, from British religion writer Karen Armstrong, about the four fundamental instincts that drive human beings. She called them the 4 Fs. There is fear. Then there's the instinct to fight. The necessity of food. And the last one, she said, is  . . . reproduction.

     Along somewhat similar lines, B and I visited my daughter recently, which occasioned B to ask how my daughter's mother was doing these days. Her mother, my ex-wife, moved down south after we got divorced. She had some family in Georgia, and actually, now, both of her brothers are living in the same general vicinity, so they're all kind of together now.

     My ex-wife's twin brother also got divorced a couple of years ago. Then, last year he retired. He doesn't have any kids, so he's living on his own. He recently decided to move to a smaller home closer in to Atlanta.

     Meanwhile, my ex is also on her own. When she first moved to Georgia, she bought a multi-acre spread out in the country so she could have horses and other animals. But now she's older, and she too has decided to move into a smaller house nearer to Atlanta, in part to be closer to her twin brother, as well as her other brother and her nephew, who both live in the Atlanta area.

     Now my ex-wife is not exactly flush with cash. I don't know the particulars; but I'm pretty sure she's spent down quite a bit of the money she had when we split up, almost 15 years ago. I know she was working for a while; but I also know she hasn't  worked at all for the last few years. Whether she planned it this way or not, she's retired now.

     I also know my ex brother-in-law had a pretty decent career, and retired with some kind of pension; but even so, the divorce must have eaten into his savings, and now he too is on a fixed income.

     So what I suggested -- half in jest; but half seriously, too -- was that my ex-wife and her twin brother, instead of each buying their own house, buy a house together. After all, they're both moving; they're both going to Atlanta. Neither one has a lot of extra money; both are single. They could help each other out financially; provide companionship; and support each other in many ways.

     My ex-wife dismissed the idea out of hand. Live with my brother? Are you kidding!?!

     But as I was telling B, they're both now in their late 60s. My ex-wife did have a boyfriend for a while; but they split up a couple of years ago, and I can't imagine she's going to get together with another guy at this point in her life. And her brother . . . he'd had a few girlfriends when he was younger, but he never got married until he was well into his 40s; and then the marriage really didn't go all that well. I can't imagine he's going to be interested in a serious girlfriend at this stage of the game.

     At which point B looked at me. "Well," she said, "I think you're probably right about your ex-wife. I mean, women, at a certain point, kind of wash their hands of the whole thing, and say to themselves, 'Okay, I've had enough of that.'

     "But men," she continued, wryly. "Men . . . they never give up."

     I didn't quite know what to make of that comment. So all I did was smile and say, "Well, on behalf of men everywhere, thanks for the compliment!"

     But I don't think she meant it that way.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Art of Chautauqua

     As promised, here are the "best" of the photographs I shot while taking a photography class last week at the Chautauqua Institute in Chautauqua, NY.

     B and I were there for a week -- week No. 8 in their 9 week season. Our week centered on the international global situation, with a 1-1/2 hour lecture every morning by a renowned expert. The speakers covered various global hotspots, but focused primarily on the Middle East.

     We also saw a production of The Tempest, and we went to three different classical music performances, including a magnificent rendition of Beethoven's 5th symphony.

     We saw a brass band, attended several other lectures, and took a few classes. Well . . . B took a few classes. I took just the one. In the class we learned a few things about focus and exposure and shutter speed. But mostly we learned about composition -- how to frame a photograph, look for patterns and lines; get rid of clutter and focus in on what we truly want the photograph to be about.

     So, drum roll please, here are the Top Ten:

This one's about flowers. Our instructor liked flowers, and almost every porch at Chautauqua has flowers.

The instructor told us to look for diagonal lines.

I found this fire hydrant, hidden among the flowers, and I "filled the frame" as the teacher suggested.

The instructor liked this one-- she thought it was evocative.

I told you -- the instructor liked flowers! Especially when they're diagonal.

This one kind of tells a story.

The excursion boat on Lake Chautauqua.

This illustrates how to use foreground and background in a photo.

One of my fellow students was from England. He has a better camera than I do.

The teacher liked my view of the Hall of Philosophy where a speaker gives a lecture every afternoon.

And she thought I captured the grandeur of the flagship Athenaeum Hotel. You gotta admit, it's pretty grand!

     I hope you appreciate my restraint in selecting just these few photos. After all, the class was all about taking photographs, and I took well over 200 of them. And it could be a lot worse. B took a class in PowerPoint. She's going to use my photos for a PowerPoint presentation which she's going to inflict on her family and her friends at work.

     But anyway, I hope this selection gives you a peek into the world that is Chautauqua. If anyone's looking for an educational week in the summer, it's a great place to go.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Older but Wiser

     I am spending this week at the Chautauqua Institute in Chautauqua, NY, about an hour and a half southwest of Buffalo. Perhaps on the theory that, as Henry Ford said, "Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young."

The library
     Chautauqua was founded by the Methodists, almost 150 years ago, as a place where clergy could reinvigorate their spiritual lives, and enrich their intellectual activities through literature, music, the arts, and other educational pursuits.

     The Institute today has become more secular, but retains its religious roots on an interfaith basis. The program runs for nine weeks in the summer. Some people come for the whole summer (and a few people live here all year round), but most visitors stay for a week, as we are doing.

     Each week focuses on a different theme. Last week featured documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, who led a session about the American West. This week explores international affairs, and the opening session, yesterday morning, was hosted by CNN's Fareed Zakaria, who is also a Washington Post columnist and Time magazine editor at large.

We're staying on the 3rd floor of this house
    Zakaria, who was born in India and earned a Ph.D. from Harvard, gave a very thoughtful and informative presentation about the Middle East. The audience responded with a standing ovation -- which (forgive me) is not that easy for many of those in the crowd. The people who come here tend to be on the older side. Or as B and I acknowledge when we see all those gray heads, "This is our demographic."

     Yes, there are a few families here, with some kids running around, but I'd say it's much more common to see older couples walking along the streets. And there's plenty of room for wheelchairs at the amphitheater.

     The demographic is definitely older, white, middle and upper-middle class. But people do come from all over. We've met couples from Missouri and North Carolina. There are of course plenty of people from New York and Pennsylvania. I've been surprised at how many people come from Ohio. I guess it shouldn't seem that extraordinary. We're only about 50 miles from Ohio. It's just that (forgive me again), when do you meet anyone who lives in Ohio? When do you even think about Ohio?

The snack bar
     We've been to two concerts so far, and a dance recital; and on Wednesday we're seeing a production of The Tempest. B went to the interfaith church service on Sunday, while I, er... I decided to commune with nature by sitting on our front porch and reading some background material on the Middle East.

     The Institute also offers a whole series of classes, covering art, crafts, language, literature, religion and philosophy. B had signed up for three classes before we even got here. I'd signed up for nothing. I figured the music and the theater and the morning lectures would be quite enough.

Fareed Zakaria speaks to our mature audience
    But I got embarrassed at my blank dance card, at least compared to the one B had filled out. So I finally decided to start a photography class.

     The photos you see here today are those I'd taken before I started my class, which runs for two hours, every afternoon for the rest of the week. So I'm going to be busy for the next few days, and will probably not be able to produce another blog post until sometime next week.

     At which point I will display my new photographs. And then you can be the judge about whether or not I learned anything.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Fall Girl

     When I was in junior high school, my parents bundled us four kids into the Buick, and the family started off on vacation. We were planning to make the long drive -- because everyone has to see this place once in their life -- while making a few stops along the way. But two days into the trip my dad called in to check at his office, and he was told that his boss, his long-time mentor, had suffered a heart attack (and died shortly after). So my dad cancelled our vacation, and we turned around and went home.

     It's taken me half a century to complete the trip. But I finally made it.

     Where am I? Do you know your coordinates? I'm at approx. 43 degrees N and 79 degrees W.

     The place is almost a cliche, the butt of many jokes. 

     It's called the Queen City. Also, a city of water, with a lake, a river and a canal. They're doing some revitalization along the waterfront of Lake Erie. A new Blue Cross/Blue Shield building recently opened up downtown, along with a modern-looking Federal courthouse. Next to our big old hotel, which has been mostly renovated, is a hip-looking building that houses NPR and the local PBS affiliate. A huge new hockey complex is going up. And there are a few funky neighborhoods where 20-something hipsters live -- people connected to the university, or the expanding medical complex, or who work in some aspect of computer technology.
View from downtown hotel

One of the city's nicer streets, in the Elmwood neighborhood

     But for the most part, this is still an old manufacturing, rustbelt city:  Buffalo, NY.

     But when you get here, a few miles north of town, no matter how much you've heard about it -- the honeymoon jokes, the over-the-falls-in-a-barrel jokes -- there's a truly awesome site. It's absolutely mind boggling.

Something's coming


Niagara Falls!

The American viewing platform

The Canadian side

See the rainbow?

     By the way, the first person ever to go over the falls in a barrel and survive was an American woman, Annie Edson Taylor, who did it on her 63rd birthday, Oct. 21, 1901. She readily admitted it was a stunt to make money, but while she did get her 15 minutes of fame, she never was able to cash in on the feat. She spent the rest of her life posing for pictures and talking about taking another plunge. She died in 1921 at age 82 and is buried in the town of Niagara Falls.

     So, take my advice ... don't try it!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Piece of the In-Crowd

     When I was in junior high school, and in high school, there was nothing I wanted more than to be part of the In-crowd. The idea consumed my life. I tried to hang out with the "in" people as much as I could -- as much as they would let me -- and I felt a deep hole in my stomach when I was left out of one of their activities.

     Honestly, I don't know why I was so obsessed with that crowd. Most of those people didn't do much that was very interesting -- although as we got a little older they were the ones who had parties, where you could drink as much Coke as you wanted, eat as many potato chips, and slow dance with the coolest, best-looking girls.

     Maybe it was the chance to slow dance with the best-looking girls. For the best looking girls definitely formed the In-crowd on the female side of the aisle, led by Julie, the prettiest girl in the class. But, honestly, must of those good looking girls were not particularly interesting or smart or unique in any way -- although, to be fair, Julie was nicer to me than she ever had to be.

     There was one girl, though. Her name was Sharon. She had striking reddish-blonde hair and ... well, she had developed physically, which captured the attention of the boys in junior high. She was definitely part of the In-crowd.

     Obviously, I was attracted to Sharon, and was thrilled when we were assigned to be lab partners for biology class, which we took in 8th grade because we were in the honors section.

     In our third or fourth lab session, the teacher introduced us to the concept of cells. I remember standing there at the lab bench next to Sharon, when the teacher directed one member of each team to swab the inside of their mouth with a little stick. Sharon volunteered to be the swabber for us. And so she took the stick, opened her mouth, and wiggled the stick inside her mouth, scraping off some cells from the inside of her cheek.

      She took the stick out and proudly held it out to me. There was the stick, with this glob of goop hanging off the end, all drippy and shiny and looking kind of like snot.

     I took one look at it -- and immediately lost my attraction to my lab partner. But that was actually a good thing, because from then on I could concentrate on biology instead of Sharon. And as I remember, we both went on to get A's in that class (well, Sharon did anyway).

     It was also in 8th grade when I caught wind of a rumor. The four coolest boys in our class were forming a club. They called themselves The Mamas. They let it be known that they had a secret handshake, and met together after school. Of course, all this made them even cooler than before.

     As soon as knowledge of The Mamas got out, another group of boys who were almost as cool decided to get together and form a second group which they called The Papas. One of the boys, Larry, approached me to see if I'd be interested in joining The Papas. I was thrilled to be asked and told Larry, sure, count me in.

     But a day or two later, Larry found me in the school hallway, and informed me that they'd decided to offer someone else the fourth spot in The Papas. I was out. I was rejected. Just one more leftover loser in 8th grade.

     A few days later another friend of mine, a neighbor named Mike, started making fun of The Mamas and The Papas out on the playground. He snickered at them -- not to their faces, but to me and another friend of ours, David, who lived up the hill behind my house. Then Mike suggested the three of us form our own group. I, of course, feeling rejected, jumped at the chance.

     We called ourselves the Three Little Pigs -- an obvious reference to the two groups that were more "in" than we were. But it was also obvious to everyone that we were making fun of the other guys who thought they were so very cool. Which, we thought, made us cool.

     The whole thing burned out in a few weeks, and was soon forgotten. But the next time we all convened for a party on a Saturday night, the lights went down, the slow song came on, and I summoned up the nerve to ask Julie to dance with me. I was floored when she said yes. And we slow danced under the dim lights for the length of the next record.

     But then, a few minutes later, I saw her with Larry. They were talking. And giggling. Then they were dancing. And I was back to drinking Coke and eating potato chips with Mike and David.

     Finally, when I got to college, I lost interest in trying to be in the In-crowd -- partly because there were too many people in college for there to be a single In-crowd. There were athletes who were cool; there was a theater group that thought it was cool; the kids who ran the school newspaper were cool in a certain way; and a lot of fraternity brothers thought they were super cool.
     I finally realized what I needed to do was not try to be cool, but to do my own thing -- which I eventually did, and found my own group of friends who liked me and accepted me, and who were interesting, and even cool in their own way.

      In other words, what I learned was, I'll always be a Three Little Pig.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Remember Him?

     He was born on August 11, 1921, in Ithaca, NY, while his father was attending Cornell University to earn a master's degree in agriculture. His father went on to become a professor at Alabama A&M, and hold other positions at several southern universities.

     He was the grandson of slaves -- both his grandparents on his father's side had been slaves who had been fathered by white slave owners.

     He attended Alcorn State University, a black college in Mississippi, where his father had gone to school. After one year he transferred to Elizabeth City State College in North Carolina. And a year after that he withdrew from college altogether. His father decided he needed some discipline and persuaded the boy to enlist in the military. So in May 1939 be began a 20-year career with the Coast Guard.

     He started as a mess attendant and advanced to petty officer third class. He worked in the kitchen, washing dishes, stocking food, serving meals.

     He was sent to the Pacific during World War II and, with the long hours of boredom aboard ship, he began writing stories. He had a natural talent, and pretty soon other sailors began paying him to write their love letters home to their girlfriends.

     After World War II he stayed in the Coast Guard and advanced to petty officer first class and then chief petty officer. He won several awards and decorations including a Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal and an Expert Marksmanship Medal.

     He retired from the Coast Guard in 1959 to try to make his living as a journalist. In 1962 he conducted the first interview for a fledgling new magazine called Playboy. His subject was jazz great Miles Davis, and he got the musician to reveal his thoughts and feelings about racism. He went on to do other Playboy interviews with Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Muhammed Ali, Quincy Jones, Johnny Carson, Sammy Davis, Jr. He also interviewed the head of the American Nazi Party, who agreed to meet with him only after he assured the Nazi leader that he was not Jewish.

     For his first book, he collaborated with Malcolm X to recount the black leader's journey from street criminal to national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. The book, The Autobiography of Malcom X, was published soon after Malcolm X's February 1965 assassination. It became a bestseller -- and later was named by Time magazine as one of the ten most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century.

     During the 1960s and '70s he worked for various publications, including Reader's Digest which helped to bankroll his next project. He had become interested in his ancestry, and spent ten years researching his past and traveling around the world to track down his ancestors. He went to the village of Juffure, Gambia, where his seventh-generation forebearer named Kunta Kinte grew up, before he was captured and brought to America aboard The Lord Ligonier.

     And by now you must know the man is Alex Haley, Jr., who said the most emotional moment of his life occurred on Sept. 27, 1967, when he stood at the site in Annapolis, Md., where his ancestor Kunta Kinte arrived from Africa in chains, exactly 200 years before. Today there is a Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial in downtown Annapolis, which depicts Haley reading a story to young children.

     Haley's novel Roots, published in August 1976, became a runaway bestseller, and the subsequent TV mini-series, which ran early in 1977, reached a record-breaking 130 million viewers. Haley's book earned a Pulitzer prize, and the show won nine Emmy awards.

     Genealogists have since questioned some of Haley's research. In addition, writer Harold Courlander charged that Haley had plagiarized some of his work from his novel The African. Haley and Courlander eventually settled the suit with a financial payment and a statement that "Alex Haley acknowledges and regrets that various materials from The African by Harold Courlander found their way into his book Roots."

     In the late 1970s Haley began working on another book that traced the story of his grandmother. But Haley died in 1992 with the work still in progress. It was finished by author David Stevens and published as Alex Haley's Queen in 1993.

    Today, most historians believe that Roots is more a work of imagination than strict historical scholarship. Haley himself never denied that his book was a work of fiction, although he maintained to the end that he had found his real ancestor, Kunta Kinte, and had traced the boy to his fate in America.

     Regardless, Alex Haley remains the bestselling African American writer of all time. He sparked a new interest in genealogy among Americans, and he changed the way his fellow countrymen viewed the world, and the history, of African Americans.