A young man who has just graduated from Georgetown is finishing up his part time job delivering pizza and ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and is taken hostage by a Middle Eastern terrorist. After he survives this adventure he goes on a media tour around the country with another former hostage, amidst lingering international intrigue.
“May I help you?” asked the dark haired gentleman as he opened the door, with an accent the young man he questioned did not yet recognize
“Didn’t you order two pizzas?” the young man questioned in response, for he was confused, as this dark individual with an olive complexion did not look like a State Department employee.
“Ah yes, come in,” came the response. “That’s right.”
But things appeared quite different to the young pizza deliverer as the heavy door closed behind him, and this strange individual bolted the door with his left hand, because his right hand was busy supporting the weight of an Uzi Submachine Gun.
I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as the youngest of nine children, eight boys and one girl. The thing we lived by was Irish Catholic sarcasm, in a family that always found a joke to circumvent any upcoming tension. A student at Catholic schools just after they stopped corporal punishment, I learned in the old fashioned methods that did not involve group work or student centered classrooms. My greatest achievement in grade school might have been writing the class play in sixth grade, based on Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne. I enjoyed high school, though I was kicked out of the honors classes when I spent all my time campaigning for George McGovern to beat Richard Nixon. The other change that I made was quitting sports, football, diving and baseball, to be in plays, which was a fortunate decision, including meeting a lot more girls. I skipped my senior year to go to Boston College, a fine Jesuit school.
There I learned how to drink beer, play rugby and read 600 page history books in small print. I really enjoyed the academics of college, and professors inspired me. They seemed to be on another level of consciousness, and I really enjoyed history and philosophy classes, which were my double major. I wrote a senior thesis about the legacy of Walt Whitman, based on two semesters of independent study with my mentor, Alan Lawson. Near graduation he cautioned me on the tale of the sorcerer’s apprentice, and the image of the Disney cartoon with Mickey Mouse flying around the sorcerer’s chamber screwing things up came to haunt me. In time, it seemed, that I was more the artist than the straight and organized academic with the blue blazer, grey slacks, oxford shirt and red and grey striped tie. On another front I took a class in Soviet Philosophy and wrote a paper making fun of my being in the class, having myself as a man who’d been kicked out of the Federal Writer’s Project for not cracking down on the Communists and sent to England for a seminar on Soviet Philosophy led by Nikolai Nastuschen, who was a model of the professor, the late Peter Blakely. At that time he was one of the editors of Studies in Soviet Thought, where he published my paper.
On graduation, when I wanted to do graduate work, the professors counseled me that I’d done a lot quickly, and that I should take a break for a while. So I became a bohemian. Back in the sixties, people used to talk about not selling out and leading the life as an artist, but if you actually did it they thought you were a lunatic. Well, I was that lunatic. I worked in restaurants for ten years, waiting on tables and tending bar. There I met a lot of people from other countries, some of whom were the inspiration for characters in my novels. I worked for a time in a restaurant that was managed by a man who was a veteran of the Special Forces of the Israeli Army, and a restaurant down the block was Middle Eastern, and owned by people from Lebanon. Later I worked in a restaurant that had waiters who were natives of Chile, and I learned a lot about that country. These were very interesting people, and I’m grateful that I met them.
In time I took up another profession that allowed time for reading, and that was driving a cab. It was great, if you liked to read, and I did, where I got to explore all kinds of fiction and biographies. I also met a lot of interesting people. The majority of people who take cabs are the very poor and the moderately wealthy. The very rich have limos, and the rest of us drive cars. I drove a lot of poor people who rode at government expense, and it was interesting getting a take on that. Most of these were medical fares, or from an emergency medical center where people were taken when they were found in the dark of night with delirium tremens, etc. I also drove a lot of veterans, mostly from World War II, on medical fares, and they were very interesting to talk to. Eventually I was doing a lot of Kosher Food deliveries, and got so much that I didn’t have to lease a cab anymore and did well using my own car. But I had to get a real job eventually, so I went back to Boston College to get a Masters degree to become a teacher.
I really found it interesting to go back to my alma mater and see the changes that had taken place in the history department. Most of the major domos I had studied under previously were being put out to pasture, and there were new professors running the show. I revisited my thesis about Whitman, and did two more semesters of independent study with new professors, and studied pedagogical movements that started to answer the challenge that Whitman put to America in his essay Democratic Vistas, where he posited that American might be a materialistic bonanza but a cultural disaster if there were not a democratic cultural revolution to accompany the political one. Once again I enjoyed my time in academia, though, a little older, I wasn’t distracted by keg parties and rugby games. (I had moved on to camping trips and fly fishing in New Hampshire and Vermont.)
Since that degree I’ve been teaching in Baltimore for seven years, which is a bit of a trip, to say the least. It has been quite interesting to see this unique American sub-culture, where they are many interesting characters.