Friday, June 27, 2008

The King and the President: A hound dog love story

[My friends, the blogosphere today is awash in lies and rumors and crackpot conspiracy theories. Our beloved cyberspatial abode is befouled by all manner of mendacity. And so I rise to offer a true and uplifting story, in the hope that it may shine forth as a beacon of veracity and inspiration across this dark sea of cyberous prevarication.]



Part I.

It was almost too poetic, what happened that December in our nation’s capital. It was the Sunday night before Christmas of 1970, and all through the White House, not a creature was stirring . . . except for Richard Nixon.

He was tossing and turning right out of his bed
as visions of protesters danced in his head
all those dope-addled hippies
and draft-dodging
Yippies
Black Panthers and rock stars and Hollywood Jews
and the pinko purveyors of scurrilous news

Spiro's “effete corps of impudent snobs”
the Washington Post with their
Carls and their Bobs
on the enemies list, they all hated his guts
those radical perverts and wackos and nuts
it all added up to an unholy band
corrupting the innocent youth of our land . . .

It was getting to the point where a decent Quaker couldn't drop a few bombs on Cambodia in peace.

But Christmas is the time for miracles. And something akin to a miracle was about to occur. The King of Rock and Roll was coming to town – to see Nixon.

On a flight from
Las Vegas to Washington, D.C., the King’s mood, like the jet, appeared to be cruising at 30,000 feet. Filling six pages of airline stationery, Elvis poured out his heart in a rambling handwritten letter to the President of the United States.

He wrote how much he admired Nixon. He planned to check into the Washington Hotel under a fake name – “Jon Burrows” – and then drop by the White House to see Nixon and deliver a “personal gift.” (The present turned out to be a Colt 45 revolver with six silver bullets.) He asked the President to give him a special badge and make him a “Federal Agent at Large.”

With this secret government credential, Elvis Presley hoped to infiltrate the youth culture of America undetected, and thus help Nixon fight the scourge of drugs. This was his idea. (Never mind that the King of Rock and Roll was pretty conspicuous already . . . not to mention a tad habituated to prescription narcotics.)

It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas. On Mars.

After seeing the King’s letter on the morrow, one of Nixon’s aides, Dwight
Chapin, dashed off a memo to White House Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, suggesting they let Elvis in to see the Leader of the Free World forthwith.

Haldeman scrawled in the margin of Chapin’s memo: “You must be kidding.”

The meeting happened anyway. Nixon aide Bud
Krogh described the scene:

“Presley immediately began showing the President his law enforcement paraphernalia including badges from police departments in California, Colorado and Tennessee. . . Presley indicated that he thought the Beatles had been a real force for anti-American spirit. . . The President nodded in agreement . . . then indicated that those who use drugs are also those in the vanguard of anti-American protest. Violence, drug usage, dissent, protest all seem to merge in generally the same group of young people. . . Presley indicated to the President in a very emotional manner that he was “on your side.” . . . He mentioned that he was just a poor boy from Tennessee who had gotten a lot from his country, which in some way he wanted to repay. He also mentioned that he is studying communist brainwashing and the drug culture . . . knew a lot about this and was accepted by the hippies. He said he could go right into a group of young people or hippies and be accepted which he felt could be helpful to him in his [anti]drug drive. . . At the conclusion of the meeting, Presley again told the President how much he supported him, and then, in a surprising, spontaneous gesture, put his left arm around the President and hugged him.”

[Memorandum for the President's File from Egil "Bud" Krogh, Re: Meeting with Elvis Presley, 21 December 1970; National Security Archives. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/elvis/elnix.html]


They took a bunch of pictures together. They parted ways. They kept in touch, even long after Nixon resigned. Bud Krogh later reported that Elvis fretted about Nixon’s failing health - called him up during his bouts of phlebitis, and so on. For his part, Nixon defended Elvis in private. He actually liked the guy. And for Richard M. Nixon, that was really saying something.


* * *

Part 2.

[DISCLAIMER FOR READERS BORN AFTER 1974: THE REST OF THIS STORY IS MOSTLY MADE UP. IT IS NOT SERIOUS. IT IS JUST FOR FUN. I AM KIDDING.]

If you’re the oldest child in your family and your birthday happens to fall in January, there’s a fair chance you were conceived over Spring Break. (Just do the math.)

It was the spring of 1934 and Dick Nixon was about to graduate with honors – second in his class – from Whittier College in southern California. He had just gotten an offer of admission to Duke Law School in North Carolina, with a full scholarship.

Dick had some other prospects and
hadn't settled on Duke. It was an upstart law school on a new campus with a new dean. It was also a very long way from California and Dick’s clingy Quaker mother. Dick decided he would visit Durham in April, meet the Duke people and size things up. He boarded a Pullman in Los Angeles and headed east towards destiny.

On the third day of his journey, Dick got off in Memphis and fell asleep for a few minutes in the rail station lounge. He missed his train.

What happened next was a random twist of fate that would change the history of music in the Western world – not to mention the course of civilization in the twentieth century.

Dick walked into a diner near the Memphis train station and noticed a lovely young brunette, about his own age, sitting at the counter with a cup of coffee. The woman looked a little sad.

He sat at the counter beside the lady and introduced himself. She said her name was Gladys. She was up from
Tupelo, a town about a hundred miles southeast across the border into Mississippi. And she was alone, staying in a nearby hotel. (Gladys didn't mention a small, irrelevant detail about being already married to a certain ne’er-do-well named Vernon who was indisposed at the time – in the county jail for bootlegging and forging a few checks.)

In short, Gladys was a poor Southern girl down on her luck, looking for a little understanding and comfort and relaxation. Dick was a handsome dude headed for law school, stuck in a strange town two-thousand miles from home. He wanted to take a hot shower. In a few hours, he’d be back on a train bound for North Carolina.

Whether or not Gladys and Dick left that restaurant together – and what exactly may have transpired between the two of them thereafter – remains a matter of some dispute between a couple of phalanxes of lawyers representing the King's and the President's estates, but they can't talk about it.

What no one denies is that exactly nine months later, on January 8, 1935, Elvis Aaron Presley was born in
Tupelo, Mississippi.


* * *

Part 3.

To any of you hardboiled skeptics: I urge you to check out this story for yourself. In what follows, I offer a series of startling photographs, which I am confident will put to rest any lingering doubt with respect to the truth of what I have alluded to above.

(Or just Google the terms “
Nixon [and] bastard [or] love child” and you’ll get approximately 180,000 hits -- I do research for a living, so this is like shooting fish in a barrel.)

Any questions? To the pictorial evidence, then:




Exhibit A. An uncanny physical resemblance. DNA city.



Exhibit B. Elvis and Nixon both had remarkable charisma, and a certain same way of waving to a crowd.


Exhibit C. Both men suffered from a mild seizure disorder. Hereditary? You tell me, I'm no doctor.



Exhibit D. Both men played the piano (not very well.) Pure coincidence? I don't think so.


Exhibit E. Both men wore hats. How weird is that?


Exhibit F. Nixon and Elvis were both gifted with extraordinary physical grace and natural rhythm.


Exhibit G. Both men went for statuesque blond bombshells. You can't fake that.


Exhibit H. Sammy Davis, Jr., was inexplicably attracted to both men. What does that tell you?


Exhibit I. Finally, Nixon loved dogs more than people. He gave a famous speech about his cocker spaniel named Checkers. And Elvis had a love-hate relationship with dogs! One of Elvis's most famous recordings was "Hound Dog," with the lyric, "You ain't no friend of mind." There's a beagle on the cover of his album . . . And who does Elvis's beagle look like? Anyone? (Hint -- see Exhibit J.) You couldn't make this stuff up for a textbook on psychoanalysis. Obviously the dog on the album is an Oedipal symbol.



Exhibit J. Nixon and Elvis's beagle. (I am not sure which is which.) I rest my case.


* * *

All of us have some family we might not choose as friends. Whatever these two characters meant to each other, if they were friends, there is hope for the world.

Friday, June 13, 2008

My Old Young Friend

He was standing in the back of the Gypsy Bar, sipping a beer by himself. He wore a tweed flat cap and a red goatee. I thought he looked like Vincent Van Gough, but with happier eyes and dimples. I said hello and he told me his name. I recognized it, and asked if he was any relation to the philosopher. His face broke into a broad grin. “He’s my father,” he said. “I was born in New Haven when he taught here.”

We tried to talk above the din in the bar, then walked outside to the entrance off York Street. It was a mild night in September of 1979. Almost too warm for the tweed cap, but that was his ‘look’. I’d made a new friend.

That first year, we played racquetball almost every week at Payne Whitney Gymnasium. He was the far better player; I never beat him. I thought he’d give up on me after awhile and find a more challenging opponent. He didn't.

After our game one morning, he pointed out the gothic fa├žade of the old gym--he loved architecture and knowing where it came from--and he told me a story. He said that a wealthy New York family, the Whitneys, had donated money to build a church at Yale. But New Haven was full of churches--there are three on the Green--and Yale needed a gym. The family matriarch was old and senile, and so the university cut a deal with her grandsons: they would build a gymnasium, but make it look like a church from the outside. The grandmother would never know the difference. They would take her by the front of the building site, so she could see her ‘church’ going up. By the time it was done, she’d be gone to her just reward.

It was a good story and we were a part of it now. Thanks to a generous, devout, demented lady--and the creative piety of her grandsons--we were playing racquetball in a faux cathedral.

We got together for dinner now and then. Sometimes he invited me and another friend to his tiny apartment on Prospect Hill, across from the Divinity School. He liked to cook Thai chicken with peanut sauce.

He invited me to his church, and included me in a Sunday-night discussion group with a small circle of friends from his college in Michigan. It became something I looked forward to.

On occasion, he would ride his bike over to join a group of us who ate together in the oak-paneled and chandeliered dining room at the Hall of Graduate Studies, where I lived. He didn't say much at our table, but he took everything in. You could tell something about his upbringing by his approach to food: He relished it and didn't believe in waste. One night, he noticed that my friend Anne had left a tiny portion of spinach on her plate. He asked her--a bit timidly--if he could eat it. Anne was startled and amused but handed over the spinach and always remembered him for it.

He seemed painfully shy in a big group, but found his voice with a confidante or two. When you got him going, he loved conversation and he could talk about a lot of things. I loved listening to him. One of his favorite topics was Vincent Scully, his graduate advisor who was one of the greatest teachers Yale ever saw. Then there was the time he ran into Jodie Foster and was tongue-tied, but now had the perfect line he wished he could have delivered. (He knew a guy who was Jodie’s TA for Scully’s class, and "it could still happen . . .")

He talked seriously about rock climbing and Reformed theology and computers and Renaissance music and women and “why they were like that.” But always, he spoke of his family--his parents, Nick and Claire, his sister Amy, his brothers Robert and Klaas and Christopher, and the way they all were. I already knew his father’s name, but not the rest--I learned those names from him and never forgot them.

One summer, we took a road trip together, driving from New Haven to Minneapolis by way of Michigan. We shared expenses. He was more frugal than I, and committed to certain ideas about how we could save money. For example, he was opposed to running the car's air conditioner. I was agreeable, until he suggested we also keep the windows rolled up, thereby to improve the car's aerodynamic flow and optimize our gas mileage. He had a whole theory about it. We saved a lot of money. And it was pretty hot.

When we got to Grand Rapids, his home town, he took me around to his old college and his childhood haunts and introduced me to some friends that I’d heard a lot about. After that, it was getting late in the day. We were supposed to spend the night at his brother’s place and I wanted to go there and crash. But he insisted on showing me his parents’ house, the home he grew up in. I knew there was nobody there. His parents were away--his father on a sabbatical in Europe--but he still wanted me to see the place. I went along.

After he’d shown me all the main rooms, I followed him into a small, darkened space with hundreds of scholarly tomes lining the walls. He turned on a lamp. He was quiet for awhile. Then he said, “This is my father’s study.” He motioned toward the shelves. “All these books--these are his.” He sounded almost reverent, but wistful. Then he turned and went out and wandered through the house for a little longer, as if searching for a lost book.

After three years in graduate school, we both went abroad. He got a Fullbright for his dissertation research on the history of architecture in Austria. I went to Ecuador to do a study of missionaries. He wrote to me a few times, and I wrote back. In one of my letters, I told him I’d met the woman of my dreams and we were going to the Galapagos Islands.

He sent me a postcard with a picture of the Alps. He asked about my progress and needled me for getting sidetracked by a camp romance. Then he joked that he wished it had happened to him, too. Finally, he wrote that he was looking forward to a mountain climbing trip. It was going to be wonderful.

Our mutual friend telephoned with the news that week in June of 1983, twenty-five years ago now. It seems he had taken his own route to the summit. He never made it. They found him in the snow at the bottom of a crevasse.

The postcard he’d sent me--the one with the picture of the Alps--arrived in New Haven a few days later. By the time I read it, I already knew he was gone.

The philosopher went into the room with all the tomes and wrote one more book through his tears, called
Lament for a Son[1]. It became perhaps his most celebrated work and touched thousands of parents with lost children.

A period equal to his whole lifetime has past since he died. He would be the same age now that his father was then.

Eric didn’t fall in love. He didn’t start a family of his own. He didn’t write books or become a tenured professor. He was only twenty-five. He always will be.

I still remember my old young friend.

* * *

[1] Wolterstorff, N. (1987). Lament for a Son. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Anything Could Happen

[Note: a postscript was added Monday, June 9, 2008, and appears at the end of this story.]

I spent the summer of 1975 with a cadre of ruined, red-nosed old men, Willy Loman types in stained white short-sleeved polyester shirts, pocket-protectors and brown ties, denizens of a smoky room with mustard walls and no windows on the third floor of a seedy office building in north Minneapolis.

We were telephone salesmen. Me, Ira, Floyd, Lloyd, Seymour, Ernie, Arne, and Bud. What we did is we dialed up older women living alone who couldn’t get to the grocery store and tried to sell them a contract to buy home-delivered frozen meat in bulk quantities that could feed an African village for three years.

When it dawned on the ladies of a certain age that we couldn’t quite squeeze a half-ton truckload of frozen meatballs into the fridge, it was then our job to make the real money sale: a 25 cubic-foot freezer purchased on a five-year amortization plan at 12% interest. (You had to do it today, or the deal was off.) If such a freezer could not fit into the customer’s bungalow in Robbinsdale, I'm sure we could have set her up with a gargantuan free-standing aluminum shed in the back yard on the same terms of financing. But if she did not have a back yard, we left it at that and went on to the next grandmother. Capitalism was a great system, but there were certain limits.

In hindsight, it wasn’t the most honorable work in the world. Unfortunately, there was a recession going on – this was right after Watergate – and I couldn’t find any other job. I had answered an ad in the Tribune and took a bus ride with two transfers across town for an interview. They hired me on the spot for two dollars an hour, plus commission; that sounded great to me. I was eighteen. I showed up for work the next morning with an eager smile and a baloney sandwich in a brown paper bag. Then I realized I was the only employee in the phone room under the age of sixty-three. That would be except for our supervisor.

Miss Roche was a fortyish dame from Chicago with red helmet-hair and a skirt that was no match for what it had to cover. She sat in the corner and chewed gum and smoked cigarettes, occasionally cussing out loud as she eavesdropped on our lame sales pitches. She fired Seymour one day right in front of everybody, just to put the fear of God into the rest of us.

It turned out that I was pretty good at this line of work. On the glide-path to young manhood, my verbal dexterity and charm had slightly outpaced the development of an inchoate moral value system. I was too adept, by half, at doing whatever I was told by any grownup in charge. Miss Roche was in charge. This is what she told me to do, if I didn’t want to end up like Seymour, so that’s what I did.

I was a kid who had written a fan letter to Richard Nixon in seventh grade, telling the President about my parents’ missionary work in Ecuador. I got back an autographed picture from the White House: “To Jeff Swanson with Best Wishes, Richard M. Nixon,” it said, in a slightly pinched-looking scrawl.


My friends at school didn’t believe the signature was real, so I wrote back to the White House requesting official documentation of the authenticity of the President’s signature.

In due course, a second missive arrived from the White House. The letter said, “Dear Jeff: The President did indeed sign the photograph you received. The President admires the fine missionary work that your family is doing in Ecuador. If you plan to visit Washington, D.C., upon your return to the United States, please let me know in advance, so that I may schedule an appointment for you to meet the President.” The letter was signed by Hugh Sloan, then a scheduling aide to Nixon.

My dad bought a nice frame for the photograph and I tucked Hugh Sloan’s letter inside, between the picture and the cardboard backing. I pounded a nail into my bedroom wall and hung up my prize. I kept the picture for years, until it got stolen out of a locked steamer trunk in the storage room of the Hall of Graduate Studies at Yale in the summer of 1980.
[Hey YOU! If you’re out there reading this, send the darn thing back to me, willya? All is forgiven . . .]

I was sorry to lose the inscribed photo of Dick, but a certain cloud arose over my letter from Hugh Sloan. It turns out that Hugh became the bagman for the Watergate burglars. He was the treasurer of the Committee for the Re-election of the President. When he got ensnared in the scandal, he flipped on his colleagues and started sharing with Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. There was Deep Throat, and there was Hugh.

In January, 1973, Hugh also found himself answering some pointed questions under oath from Judge John Sirica. The gig was up by then, so Sloan copped to disbursing $199,000 in secret campaign funds for G. Gordon Liddy’s covert campaign espionage operations – a transaction approved by Nixon's campaign director John Mitchell, who went on to distinguish himself as the first U.S. Attorney General ever to serve time in a federal prison.

(Hugh Sloan left Washington and went to work for a company in Michigan that makes foam for car interiors, so I still can’t be sure that some autograph machine didn’t sign Nixon’s name on my lost picture.)

After I’d been calling up grandmothers all over the suburbs of the Twin Cities for a month or so, I got promoted to Head Telephone Solicitor. Miss Roche summoned me to her cubicle with the happy news of my promotion, which meant that I would now get the priority list of “marks” to call. (Or was it leads?) She said I had a real future with the company, Sweetie.

I was honored. But after awhile, I wasn’t seeing myself as Head Telephone Solicitor. Things were starting to crack. I was seeing myself as a college student who hadn’t quite made it to college. It wouldn’t be long now, and I was going to look Miss Roche straight in the eye and say: “Therefore, I shall resign the Head Telephone Solicitorship at noon effective tomorrow. My friend, Mr. Floyd Liebow, will be sworn in at that hour, in this office.” Then I would walk out the back, thank everybody, hop on a waiting helicopter and make a break for southern California.

* * *

My dad dropped us off at the junction of I-94, on the shoulder of the on-ramp. Eric Kaufman and I sat on our backpacks for awhile. We had shoulder-length hair and bandanas. We stuck out our thumbs and twenty minutes later found ourselves crammed into the cab of a Mack eighteen-wheeler, bound for St. Cloud and points west.

The trucker left us somewhere outside of Bismark and we waited there for our next ride. A rusted-out Ford Galaxy sped past us into the prairie sunset, stopped dead in a cloud of smoke and screaming tires, then backed up on the freeway. It was Tonto and the Lone Ranger, coming off a binge. Tonto was the designated driver.

"You boys got a license?” Tonto shouted. “This fella here picked me up to drive his car, but I just got out on parole and I don’t have a license.” He nodded toward the Lone Ranger dozing peacefully in the back of the blue Galaxy. A pickled-looking Stetson covered his face.

Eric took the wheel. The Lone Ranger roused in the back seat and told us to pull into the next town. About ninety miles further west, we found one. The hombres told Eric to stop at a convenience store so they could pick up something they had run out of, which turned out to be a case of Schlitz. Back on the freeway, our fellow travelers proceeded to down the beer at a prodigious rate and launched the cans out the window. Before long, we were hearing a mournful tale of the Chippewa with no land. Then came the singing.

By the time we got to Bozeman, the Lone Ranger was three sheets to the wind. His hat had flown out the window and parachuted into a deep canyon along with the last can of Schlitz. And his mask.

We left the pair at a gas station, walked away and didn’t look back, called my old girlfriend from a pay phone. We stayed with her family for a couple of nights. Her dad had some old inner tubes and we floated down a river of melted snow. I stared up into the blue heavens and thanked God that I wasn’t stuck in a smoky room with mustard walls selling giant igloos of chicken wings to the matriarchs of Minneapolis in their sunset years. Release and redemption were at hand.

We left Bozeman when Kim’s current boyfriend showed up and her dog started growling at me, not him. A couple of days went by and we wound up in a Chevy pickup between Winnemucca and Reno, taking turns driving for another urban cowboy who wanted to make it to San Francisco before the strip clubs closed. He left us in the Tenderloin at one-thirty in the morning and we slept in the BART station.

At dawn we called our friends who lived on the East Bay. Eric went his own way. My friends took me to the Greyhound station to pick up all my earthly belongings. My parents had shipped my stuff from Minneapolis in Grandmother Dillon’s ancient steamer trunk, still labeled with her name: Rev. Mrs. C.T. Dillon, McCool Junction, NB. That was about all the address she needed. Right then, I didn’t have an address of my own, but I was about to get one. Within a week I moved into the freshman dorm at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, to start the rest of my life.

* * *

I must have closed my eyes and dozed off for a few minutes. I wake up on a flight landing in Santa Barbara. An hour later I’m meeting another flight. It’s the kind of flawless day in southern California that moistens the eyes and breaks the hearts of people like me who live on the east coast. I stand outside in the sun at the edge of the tarmac and watch the passengers emerge, one by one, from the Delta Express prop-jet just in from Salt Lake City. Then I see the passenger I’m looking for. He’s the lanky blonde seventeen-year-old in the khaki shorts and Cameron Crazies T-shirt. It’s my son, Matt, here to meet me for a college tour. I’m looking forward to the weekend. Just for a moment, I wish I was seventeen again, too. When you’re that age, anything could happen.

* * *

Postscript: (added Monday, June 9, 2008)

This postscript is prompted by reader response to “Anything Could Happen” (posted above, Friday, June 6, 2008), and also by Dean Sam Wells’ sermon Sunday morning at Duke Chapel, which piqued my Christian conscience. Among other things, Dr. Wells mentioned his personal practice of writing drafts of his own obituary from time to time. It’s an interesting idea; according to Sam, it begins as a prideful exercise (like puffing your vita), but turns out to be a humbling and motivating spiritual experience.

Personally, I took it as a suggestion to reflect on the journey of life as if it were already over – write down what we’d like others to say about how we lived, and what our lives might come to mean, by then, to anyone else. The point, of course, is to live now towards that hopeful end, and try to make the obituary of our dreams come true. (A bit morbid perhaps, but I might take a stab at this sometime.)

In any event, I’ve decided that I do NOT want my obituary to read, “Jeff Swanson began his career at age eighteen working as a telephone solicitor in north Minneapolis, where, on a daily basis, he invaded the privacy of nice people who were eating supper and minding their own business, shaded the truth and got them to spend money they didn’t have, to buy something they didn’t need or want. He never bothered to apologize.”

Therefore, I would like to offer a belated apology to my elders who, upon my urging purchased a frozen-food delivery membership, with or without a 25 cubic-foot freezer, in the summer of 1975 – assuming they didn’t really need or want or could not afford such a thing. I knew better, even then, though I told myself it was for a good cause. (I was trying to earn money for college, which I would have distinguished from the more venal motives of, say, Hugh Sloan, my erstwhile correspondent who also figured tangentially in my reverie and who paid off thugs and burglars to re-elect a paranoid crook to the Presidency of the United States. But I make no excuses.)

Given the mature age of most of my customers at the time, I suspect many are no longer with us and have gone on to their just reward. In that case, I would like to extend this public apology to the heirs of these people. If it’s any small comfort, I really enjoyed talking to your grandmother, and I hope the feeling was mutual. It sounded as if she’d had a wonderful life except for a spate of recent medical problems, and was blessed with a number of handsome, witty, and brilliant grandchildren – she mentioned you, in particular.

I think the real reason she bought the frozen-food membership is that I told her about my own life up to that point: that my parents were missionaries in Ecuador, that I would be attending a Christian college in the fall and really needed to earn some money to get there and pay my tuition – all of which was true. (For the record, I did use my savings from that summer to make my first payment to the bursar at Westmont.)

Finally, I hope you’re enjoying the meatballs your grandma left behind. I can’t imagine they would have run out by now; it’s only been thirty-three years.

Dean Wells in his sermon also mentioned the journey of the Old Testament patriarch, Abraham, which brought to mind my hitch-hiking odyssey to California. I set off on a journey to transcend my past, and ended by re-encountering that past through new eyes - those of my seventeen-year-old son. (In truth, I wrote the story for Matt, who is pretty astonished that his grandparents really let me hitchhike to California when I was about his age. It was a different time.)

Like the journey of life, my youthful trip west in 1975 was full of possibilities, chance encounters, exhilaration, danger, enchantment and disenchantment, bad decisions (like getting into a car with an ex-con and a drunken cowboy headed for Montana) and roads not taken. Still, in the end I made it to Santa Barbara, started college, and by the grace of God lived to tell the tale.

Someday, I hope that my obituary will show I made something of my journey for those who will follow. If not, or at least in the meantime, I hope the telling of what’s happened so far makes somebody smile.