Nightly deep conversations in dorm hallways.
Prompt: Write a memoir in six words, no more, no less.
Midnight finals Zirkle. Friends, fire, nothing.
(The juggling club used to meet at the Zirkle at midnight each night during finals to juggle and blow off steam. Some of the members were really great at juggling fire torches. Especially in winter, the moving fire was lovely when the reflections bounced off the snow. The announcement used to always say that “nothing” was happening at midnight at the Zirkle. I was never a very good juggler, unlike many, but made some great friends trying and failing to juggle flaming torches.)
Stopped eating animals at age 18.
I lived, learned, taught, and enjoyed.
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.
I lived for my Grinnell paycheck of 85 cents an hour from working 20 hours a week. I had the highest-paying job on campus, 20 cents more than waiters got at Cowles Dining Hall. I washed pots and pans during Saga Foods’ management of cafeteria services in the 1960s. This paid for my daily coffees at the Union and my 3.2 percent beers at the Rex off Route 6.
When there was an opening for another pot walloper, I invited my roomie George Santoni ’61 to join me. Fifty years later, after his retirement as a professor of French at SUNY-Albany, he said, “Walt, that was the worst job I have ever had!”
The work wasn’t that bad, except when the cook made scalloped potatoes. Then I needed a putty knife to clean pans of baked-on food. If they’d given me anything sharper, we’d have had a mortally wounded cook.