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1. When I was a journalism student at Virginia Tech, I was one of the top students in my class, and this earned me an internship with United Press International covering Jimmy Carter in the White House. I was supposed to report to Wesley Pippert, but he was called away on an assignment, so I reported directly to his boss, Helen Thomas. On my first day at the White House, Serbians and Croatians, two groups that didn’t get along, were outside protesting the visit of Yugoslavian President Josip Broz Tito with President Carter. Before I arrived, there had been some violence and an arrest. Helen virtually shoved me out of the White House and said, “Go find out what’s happening outside.” My press credentials weren’t convincing because I was only an intern, and the Serbians suspected I was a Croatian spy, and the Croatians thought I was a Serbian spy. However, I managed to avoid getting beat up and got to the bottom of the story. When I returned to the White House, Helen said, “You aren’t in the union, which means you can’t send stories over the wire.” So I composed the story in my head and dictated it to Helen, who typed it up and sent it over the wire.
2. I was once a child guest on Willard Scott’s Bozo the Clown show, although the host that day was Cousin Cupcake. I sat between a white kid and an African-American kid. Out of the blue, the white kid punched the black kid. I said, “What did you do that for?” Using a racial slur, the white kid said he hit the kid because he was black. I was about six, and this was the first time I heard the N-word and witnessed racial prejudice.
3. When I was earning my M.F.A. in fiction writing at the University of Arizona, I also volunteered at the Hunger Action Center. When I asked the director what I could do to most help the organization, he said, “Please get us non-profit status. I want to expand operations, and all the local churches have donated as much as they can afford. If you succeed, I’ll give you a paying job.” Without any experience in accounting, I collected the data I needed to determine we were indeed a non-profit, and I filled out the necessary forms and sent them off. I graduated with my M.F.A. and moved with my wife and son to the San Francisco Bay Area, where I ended up working in the business world for twenty-five years because the cost of living was so high. About six months after our move, I learned the Hunger Action Center had been granted non-profit status. I wondered how my life would have turned out differently if I’d stayed in low-cost Tucson and accepted the position there.
4. I virtually fell in love with my second wife Elizabeth on first sight. A mutual friend introduced us over lunch in a San Francisco Italian deli. After that, our friend made a quick exit, and Elizabeth and I talked for about 90 minutes. We felt so close at the end of this conversation that we hugged and fell in love. Our twenty-first wedding anniversary is July 1, 2016.
5. I once told my three sons a humorous story with so much vigorous gesturing on my part that my chair exploded beneath me, throwing me to the floor while my kids split a gut laughing. This is one of many stories that has passed into family legend.
Enjoy an Excerpt:
While the zookeeper threw apples into the makeshift pool and coaxed the elephants to swim to retrieve them, he recited a long string of facts. These awe-inspiring creatures have 150,000 muscles in their trunks and they can use this appendage to suck up to 15 quarts of water at a time, which they then squirt into their mouths. Also, he said, elephants can hear with their ears, trunks, and feet. In addition, these captivating mammals are believed to have the same level of intelligence as dolphins and non-human primates and they can feel grief, make music, show compassion and kindness, mother one another’s infants, play, use tools, and recognize themselves in mirrors.
When some of the elephants exited the pool, they used their trunks to throw dirt on their backs.
“Dad, what are they doing?” Ben asked.
“Putting on sunscreen,” I said.
The boys giggled.
The zookeeper continued to lecture, but we tuned him out and focused solely on the elephants as the great gray wrinkly creatures with the small dark eyes and long eyelashes and formidable, floppy ears shaped like the African continent bobbed and swayed in the hot July afternoon. Perhaps the boys’ minds wandered briefly to Babar, one of their favorite books about an anthropomorphized elephant, just as mine may have flashed briefly upon the proverbial elephant in the room at home, but our thoughts quickly returned to the magnificent elephants and our simple but immense male joy.
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