Here I am in New York City. The weather is perfect. Last night I had a fine flight up on a tiny little U.S. Air regional jet. Its air conditioning was broken and it was an oven, but I slept most of the time anyway.
I checked into my usual room at the Marriott Essex House on Central Park South. For decades it was a Marriott, and then an Arab hotel firm bought it, spruced it up, and ran it for about ten years. Now it’s a Marriott again and it’s just great. The doormen, bellhops, and desk people are all kind and remember me from stays over many years. It feels like home.
I met up with the college-age daughter of a close friend from Los Angeles. She’s a student at the Jewish Theological Seminary at Columbia University and also takes many courses at the School of General Studies at Columbia.
She was right on time and we went out for a walk in the balmy evening of New York in spring. The girl and I discussed President Obama’s concerns about rape on campus. She was extremely concerned about the situation, too.
“Have there been a lot of rapes at Columbia?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “A lot. And only five percent of the ones that happen get reported.”
“How do you know they’re happening if they don’t get reported?” I asked her.
The young woman is smart. She literally stopped in her tracks and said, “You know, that’s a really good point. I hadn’t thought of that. I don’t know how they arrived at the five percent figure.”
She’s going places. One of the best things you can know is when someone is trying to con you. A far better thing to know is when to admit that you don’t know something. The girl has got it going on.
We had Japanese food at a little place right across the street from the immense Time-Warner Center. The service was swift and the food was tasty. I have known this girl since she was born and I have been helping her for her whole life. I am extremely proud of her. She’s going to be a junior in the fall. She’s casting about for what to do. I told her that in my life, I could not imagine a job that did not involve self-expression. She looked thoughtful and said she agreed.
She’s just a wonderful human being. Her grandmother was a prisoner at Auschwitz and a slave laborer for four years. She survived and now has this glorious twenty-year-old as a granddaughter. Just a miracle.
I watched her walk to a subway and then went to my room to take my mountain of fiber. Time passes so quickly. I used to carry that child around in one hand while I watered the bougainvillea in Malibu with my other hand.
This young woman has learned to get along well with other people. It truly is an immense gift—though perhaps it’s not really a gift. She fought for it and got it. For her, unlimited horizons as far as I can see.
That was last night.
Today, I got up early and headed up to Columbia for an interesting errand. I had a confused driver, though. He thought Broadway was one-way south. That’s about as big a traffic mistake as anyone can make in New York.
However, after much guidance from me, we arrived. I was there to do some video for a documentary that the local PBS outlet, a powerhouse called WNET, was doing on Columbia. By chance, it was graduation day and security was tight. I was supposed to go into Butler Library, the main library, by a certain entrance, but the guard would not let me in. So, I hoofed it along 114th Street to try another entry.
As I did, I saw the Alpha Delta Phi house right there at 526 as it always has been. Its flag was flying. I felt an immense emotional rush. My days at AD were probably the happiest of my life until then. In fact, they definitely were. We had a great brotherhood, spectacular parties with black-tie dress and rock bands and beautiful girls and liquor flowing like in a speakeasy.
We had lunches and dinners there and I felt—for the first time in my life—as if I were truly part of a band of brothers. I cannot speak highly enough of AD. One brother in particular, Stuart Reynolds, was the one who got me in. I am on my hands and knees with gratitude to him at all times.
Getting into AD got me a dose of male strength and encouragement that in many ways has lasted all of my life. Larry Lissitzyn, Grant Roberts, Rad West, Clem Sweeney, Clay Maitland, Tom Bolton, Mott Greene, Jan DeVries, Neill Brownstein, Chuck Hamilton, Charles Chase Hewes, Rudy von Bernath…many, many, many others. BROTHERS. Ed Wallace. Henry Milgrom. Barry Solomon. I think men need to be around other men in a comradely way.
If I had not gotten into AD, I would not have met Larry Lissitzyn, the president of the house, later a decorated Marine officer war hero in Vietnam and super successful lawyer. I would not have met his girlfriend, Susan. She would not have introduced me to MMJ, who became my girlfriend when I was a senior in college. She was probably the first wonderful woman to ever love me.
The combination of the love of the brothers of AD, the love of MMJ, incredibly great teachers like C. Lowell Harriss—whose son, Gordon, was also a brother at AD—and by far the best roommates in history, Arthur Best and David Paglin, gave me the kind of year that most men only dream of.
In November of ’65, MMJ and her pals threw a surprise party for me at our apartment at 380 Riverside Drive—doorman building, river view, 2 bdrms., 1 bath, $200 a month. It was the high point of my life until that moment. I can still so perfectly remember how beautiful MMJ looked that night.
Enough. AD was paradise. Senior year at Columbia was happy days. To be young was heaven.
However, today the AD house was locked and I could not get in. Heartrending.
The past is a different country. Who said that?
I did my video work on the documentary about Columbia for WNET in a quiet room in Butler Library. How well I recall reading Friedman and Schwartz’s Monetary History of the United States in that library, and much of Keynes’s General Theory. That reading has served me well. I still make much of my living from that reading.
Then, lunch at a cute little French place called Le Monde on Broadway at 112th. I felt a bit unsettled thinking about how lonely I was at Columbia until I joined AD. But soon we were off to WNET’s colossal studios for me to read an immense narration about Columbia. Then back to my hotel to sleep.
Then a struggle for half an hour to get a taxi to take me up to an adorable sushi place called Planet Sushi on the Upper West Side. Then a ghastly meal at a place I won’t mention. Much arguing with my brother-in-law about politics. But he did me a big favor. He gave me a simple but powerful reference point for the speech I will make tomorrow. Melvin Epstein is one smart guy.
One hour by car from 59th and 7th to 44th and 7th. That’s why I don’t live in New York City. Fifteen blocks. One hour.
Then a speech to a great group, genuinely fine people from Wells Fargo. Just great people. I left the venue on a cloud, went home to the Essex House, and then out to JFK. I slept the whole way.
Then a flight on a wildly broken Airbus A321A. The air conditioning did not work in first class. Sweat was pouring off my scalp. In coach it was cool. I have had this problem before on the Airbus. Europeans do not know how to make proper air conditioning. That’s just an opinion.
As I tried to sleep, I reflected on our world.
What a mess. If someone had come down from a mountain after Brown v. Board of Education in the spring of 1954 and said, “Okay, America, now you will live up to the principles of the Founders and you will have equal opportunity in schools. And soon thereafter you will have equal opportunity in employment, housing, everything—BUT by 1994, the public school systems in almost every big city school district in America will have been demolished. The school districts will be marred by violence, and education for the poor and the lower middle class will have become just a dim memory. There will be hardly any white children in schools. Hardly any white children will be born except to the rich and the poor because the problems of education are insurmountable. The whole educational and socioeconomic structure of the country will be in ruins. But you will have integration. Are you sure you want it?”
But, of course, we had to have it. We just are nowhere near properly addressing the racial problems in America today. Integration had to happen. But the sequels have been punishing. Or maybe I am just totally wrong about all of this. That’s possible. I often am.
Then, as I got off the plane and got home and swam in my pool with the scent of jasmine all around me, I thought of even worse. If in 1910 a man had appeared in Berlin and said, “Now, we have a booming, peaceful Europe, for the most part. But in four years, we will have a World War that kills most of an entire generation with industrialized warfare. We will have battles in which forty thousand men are killed in a few hours.
“At the end of that war, or near the end, there will be a revolution in Russia in the name of income equality, among other things. From that will arise the most ruthless dictatorship of all time. In the name of social justice, it will torture an entire large nation and kill fifty million people. That will be called communism.
“In Germany, there will be a revolution in the name of science and Darwinism and purification of the white race. In the name of science, it will kill six million Jews, all civilians, and millions of others, all innocent. In the name of science, the most monstrously cruel war of all time will come, killing 65 million people. It will be so monstrous that even the most civilized and merciful nations, like Britain and the USA, will eagerly kill as many civilians as they can by aerial bombing.
“After that war, also in the name of social justice, there will be a revolution in China. In the name of justice and decency, almost 100 million people will be killed by the state directly and through starvation. Only when that country becomes capitalist and embraces income inequality will the standards of life rise and prosperity come. This is your future, mankind. How do you like science? How do you like social justice?”
And what if a seer arose in the United States after a Supreme Court decision in the early 1970s that was supposed to protect privacy and said, “Very well. You will have your privacy. But you will kill fifty-six million totally and utterly innocent babies to do it. Is your privacy worth that?”
Man is made of extremely crooked stuff.
Still, in my pool, with the jasmine in the subtropical air, all is well. But if this is what we have become and now the most insane murderers will soon have atomic weapons, can there possibly be a big enough pool?