Resolved to make mistakes. Mostly successful.
Prompt: Write a memoir in six words, no more, no less.
Dancing brought God into my life.
Four years, dated 13, then George.
Should have had more stupid fun.
Smacked head, crawling back, crown intact.
Between sound and silence, I dance.
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.
My first-year roommate was a fellow Grinnell Science Project participant named Adele Crane ’14. We got along exceptionally well and had so many great moments together throughout the year. We became great friends.
One of the funniest moments we had together was during Grinnell’s Family Weekend. Adele has an identical twin, Susan, who attended a different college at the time. I walked into our room after soccer practice that weekend, and immediately began to chat with Adele about the day. I noticed her hair looked slightly different, but I dismissed the thought and attributed it to my exhaustion from practice. As I was listening to her day plans, in came Adele’s family. Behind them was Adele, who was laughing hysterically. I had been talking to Susan, who had been pretending to be Adele, the whole time. Epic twin prank.
Prompt: Tell us about a job you’ve had, either while at Grinnell or afterward.
When I was at Grinnell, I was lucky enough to snag a job at the fine arts office, working for Berneil Mueller. All through my time on campus, she proved to be a fine friend and mentor. She taught me, among other things, the value of meticulous proofreading. I helped her prepare and proof many of the flyers for arts-related College events, and she would have shaved my head and beaten me bloody if I had ever let a spelling mistake or grammar goof get past me.
Now she is long retired, the fine arts building is long gone, and auto-correct has taken over the universe, but I have gotten a lot of mileage out of the lessons she taught me, maybe even more than from some of the classes I took. Now that’s a liberal arts education, and I am grateful for every aspect of it.