Prompted

Spring 2018

Prompt: Write a memoir in six words, no more, no less.

Four years, dated 13, then George.

Should have had more stupid fun.

Smacked head, crawling back, crown intact.

Between sound and silence, I dance.

Overthought it, then said “f--- it.”

Hip fracture, tracheostomy; skiing, snorkeling out.

Many mistakes, little ambition, no regrets

“Behave yourself.” Now they tell me!

Winter 2017

Prompt: Tell us a story about a roommate

I spent an off-campus semester in Chicago with a thrust-upon-me roommate: [Maurizio] Nick Barbatano ’81. We had nothing in common: My grandparents were born here, he was an Italian who emigrated from Ethiopia at 7; I am Jewish, he was exploring eastern meditation; I have a huge family, he had his mother; he was a computer geek, I clearly wasn’t; and our circles of Grinnell friends had no intersection. Borne by chance, in our one-room apartment we formed a deep and lasting friendship.

By college I (like, perhaps, all of us) had learned that everyone has something to offer, that people from other backgrounds could add value to my life. That was clearly an intrinsic value in Grinnell’s ethos. And, yes, I knew it intellectually. But fate and Nick taught me that, at a deep, core level. In addition to a lifelong friendship, I got a lesson that continues to benefit me in my work with the homeless in Chicago.

During my sophomore year I roomed in Smith Hall Annex with Don Young ’52, who put a huge sign on our door, NOSMO KING. Those who wondered who Nosmo was, found out if they entered our room with a cigarette. Don would open the windows wide, even in the dead of winter, and swing the door back and forth until they got it. If they still didn’t snuff it out, well, Don was on the football team.

After Grinnell, Don was the idea man behind the Mrs. America contest. Luckily for him, it was before the word “Ms.” became standard. 

In grad school I roomed with two students. One, Peter Falk, would become the world’s most famous detective — “Columbo.” We remained friends until he died a few years ago. Our second roommate, Dave Forden, was recruited by the CIA, trained as a paratrooper, and eventually became the CIA’s chief of Russian operations. He never discussed his work (not even with his wife) but we learned about his intrepid career in A Secret Life, a book by a New York Times reporter, and a movie, Jack Strong, which was his CIA code name.