Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Memories of Joan B. Cleveland

At the Cosmic Diner in Hells' Kitchen in 2011.
Our extended family is sad to have lost a great friend, inspiration, and advocate -- Joan Cleveland.

     Lawyer, author, New York City character -- she had been working on a book about those who told a young person at a crucial moment in his or her life, "You can do that." If you were a Cape friend, an aspiring artist or musician, or a member of the Clark extended family, Joan was a person always ready to say, “You can do that.” One of Joan’s sayings was, “If you can do something, you can do anything,” and I’ve come to realize the truth in this. When you set out to pursue a dream, Joan was happy to support you. If you worked hard at it and came up with a good story every now and then, all the better. Joan treasured those only-in-New-York stories as much as anyone since Damon Runyon.

      Many of her stories ended with a coincidence and a person getting a great opportunity because of a chance meeting. "There are only two hundred people in the world,” she often explained, “and we all know each other." 

      She once found herself at a Harvard Club senior singles group with Dick Burgheim, an exceptionally kind man and a legendary People magazine editor who I was lucky enough to work for on an ill-fated startup magazine in the eighties. Joan mentioned to Dick that my company in Knoxville had gone under. They quickly agreed that they needed to reel me back to civilization, and soon thereafter came an offer of an eight-week writers’ trial at People.

     When our nephew Keith Clark expressed an interest in TV and video production, he found himself in the sacrosanct control room of the Today show when Joan was doing one of her interviews about senior citizens. (You can still buy her books, Finding the Right Place at the Right Time; Everything You Need to Know About Retirement Housing (1996, Penguin) and Simplifying Life as a Senior Citizen (1998, St. Martin’s), on Amazon.)  
      I cannot for the life of me imagine Joan rolling hoops and pulling up her white gloves with her classmates in the Wellesley Class of 1953. But I can imagine her matching wits with the Jesuits at Boston College Law School, who bestowed her degree in 1959. She often said that she respected their minds, and that they were more enlightened than you might think. 

       Like a modern day Auntie Mame, Joan enjoyed opening up the wide world to young people, and she encouraged them, in so many words, to “Live! Live! Live!” For so many of us, Joan took the scary prospect of life in New York City and showed that it was like a lively, never-ending cocktail party. The main requirement, in Joan’s world, was that you made an effort to be interesting. If you took part in this movable feast under Joan’s aegis, New York City became a welcoming place, full of amenities available to the initiated.      
      On the beach in 1977, I mention to Joan that I was about to start a summer internship in New York City and live in an NYU dorm. “Why don’t you stay with us?” she asked Joan. When I arrived at her apartment at 96th St. and Madison Avenue, she said she had heard that a local Y was offering special summer memberships for a nominal fee ($30 per month). I had already been assigned a locker, sweated in the extensive weight room, cooled off in the massive pool, and hung my sweaty clothes in a net bag to be washed, when I saw on the bulletin board that the Wednesday evening entertainment was Jascha Heifetz. Over time, I came to realize that the 92nd Street YMHA at Lexington Avenue was one of the most famous cultural crossroads in the world. Plus, they provided towels and did your laundry.

     Thirty years after my internship, our daughter Isabel stayed with Joan when she took courses in writing for TV at NYU’s Tisch School, worked at Barnes and Noble, and walked Joan’s dogs. “She has worked her butt off,” said Joan at summer’s end. If you worked hard, you had her support.  

    Joan Moynagh remembers that, after Vassar, she was headed to Columbia for a graduate program in Dramatic Literature. "But Joan (along with Anne Steere) had other plans for me.  They not only convinced me that I should defer for a year to see what it was like to work in the theatre in New York before committing to a life in a dramaturge’s office, Joan offered to have me live with her while I figured it all out.  In the meantime, my father died, life was even more topsy turvy for a while, and Joan was my magnet — pulling me back to New York, assuring me that I could 'make it there,' despite all the upheavals.  That fall was my 21st birthday — and Joan celebrated by coming into my room first thing in the morning — a candle plunked into a croissant — singing “Happy Birthday” to me in her full lower register! She was such a formidable person, but deep down a complete mush pot (Anne Steere’s term)."

     Joan was a great friend of my late mother, Charlotte Clark. They both shared a habit of maintaining and nurturing relationships and connections over the long term, through thick and thin. When our niece Sarah Hadley Clark Davis was at Smith, every November, she and a friend would stay with Joan for a Smith program that got them tickets to six plays. “I fell in love with New York because of her,” says Sarah. “She made New York such a welcoming place.” 

      When Sarah returned for graduate school at Columbia, Joan felt that Sarah was not getting proper meals and regularly had her over for dinner. They also went to the Irish Repertory Theatre. “After Grandma died,” says Sarah,  I missed her so much, and Joan was my connection to her. Joan missed Grandma too, and in the same way I think I was a connection to Grandma for her.”
     Joan also liked standing by the underdog.

     The evening after Annalise and Ben Mecham’s wedding in the modern Sodom of Charlottesville, Virginia, youngest cousin Olivia and oldest cousin Stacey disappeared with a six-pack of beer to discuss the meaning of life. So rapt were they in cousinly catchings-up that they did not hear their ringing cellphones. Panicked searches of every seedy bar still haunted by the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe ended only when Olivia and Stacey returned, joyful and oblivious, at 2:30 a.m.

     At breakfast the next morning, when Olivia was very much in the doghouse, Joan rose up as her advocate. "You didn't commit rape, murder or arson,” she said to Olivia. “People make mistakes. It seems like a big deal, but if this is the worst thing you've ever done. I'd say you're doing just fine.” Joan embraced people who know how to have a good time. She liked to see people carried away by inspiration. She liked to see Clark cousins nurturing their bonds. Most of all, she liked a good story.

     What, some of us might ask, did we do right to earn her friendship?  Some theologies might say that Joan’s largesse was not earned, but rather bestowed. Were we really worthy of the having a friend like Joan? At the very least, we can try follow her advice when we can. She told Joan M., "Always have a bottle of champagne in your refrigerator. That way you'll always be ready for a celebration."

      P.S., says Joan M., "I ALWAYS have a bottle of champagne in my refrigerator."

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Common Ground of Peyton T. Hairston Jr. (1955-2016)

In November of 1994, I was assigned to profile a new senior vice president of labor relations. The idea was to show some twenty unions that this guy knew his stuff: he had worked for the National Labor Relations Board, a big firm in Indianapolis, and two major international companies with employees all over the world, from longshoremen and meatpackers to plantation workers in South and Central America. “So many unions. So many issues. So many needs,” as he put it. 
    Soon after meeting this new SVP, I realized that we were only a year apart in age. He mentioned his undergraduate alma mater, NC State. I asked, “Did you know David Thompson?” He answered yes, Thompson, the great college hoops player, had been a fraternity brother. In a brief discussion about Thompson and his tragic drug problems, I got the feeling that we shared a certain generational outlook on many things. Over the next fifteen years or so, as I helped him with many speeches to many groups, that feeling was borne out in what I consider a very productive, pleasant way.
     As part of its goal to demonstrate that this person was tough enough to tangle with hard-nosed negotiations, the profile from that first day led with some violent realities of a strike:

Peyton T. Hairston Jr. was just a few months out of Wake Forest Law School—working as a Field Attorney for the National Labor Relations Board in Cincinnati—when he found himself examining bullet holes, shattered windows and mangled machinery amid a coal miners’ strike in West Virginia.
   Hairston’s job was to investigate management charges of unfair labor practices—namely, that strikers had been shooting at security guards, threatening other workers, and sabotaging mining equipment.
     “This kid had never seen anything like that,” says Hairston. “Coming from Winston-Salem, where we didn’t have any unions, I’d never seen the kind of passion that’s involved in a strike. And I learned a great deal from the experience.
     “I learned there are always two sides to every story. And I learned that the process of negotiation depends on being able to find common ground between two parties. If there’s no ground, you can’t get anywhere.

     Peyton always empathized with workers in what they are up against and understood the emotions and violence that are sparked when livelihoods are threatened. He was of a new breed when it came to sitting down and listening to work out contracts.
    As a speechwriter, I often typed words to union groups like, “We can’t promise job security forever. But together we can work on the items that are important to you.”
    Peyton spoke often to bar associations and other lawyer groups about the importance of diversity as a marketing tool. Firm can’t afford to cut themselves off from growing markets, and so it behooves them to foster young lawyers of new genders and hues, providing them not only a shot, but also mentoring and guidance. He spent time as head of diversity, and always used practical, business language in making the case for diversity being beneficial to the bottom line.
     Peyton was a good writer himself. Like many executives who are good writers, he saw the value in the extra perspective a speechwriter can provide. In conversation he often emitted an infectious chuckle that lilted softly toward higher registers. He was always kind, collegial, and appreciative. I think I had a special advantage from the get-go in understanding how he might want to approach a speech.
    In doing that first profile, I learned that he had come from a large, extended family in Winston-Salem. His father, Peyton Sr., had been an elementary school principal. His mother, Jannie, taught math. In working with people, he emulated his grandfather, Braxton Hairston. “He never met a stranger,” Peyton told me. “He was a part-time Baptist preacher and a lifetime employee at an R.J. Reynolds cigarette factory. He always taught me the value of work—that no matter what people do, you should respect what they’re doing, because everybody who works is adding to society.”
     Peyton was an intellectual and a sensitive person. His flexibility of mind enabled him to take on many different administrative roles over the years. As his obituaries have noted, he also played an active role in our Knoxville community. He was often asked to deliver speeches at Martin Luther King Day celebrations. I was proud to assist in preparing for these, and doubly proud when I heard that Peyton had received a standing ovation.
     Like so many colleagues, I join with Peyton’s family in feeling the loss of a truly great guy. And I again invoke that generational bond in saying that sixty is way too young. As he said, we can’t guarantee certain things when we negotiate. But I can’t help but wish that he’d gotten a chance to find a little common ground and craft just one more of those win-win contracts. I already miss that mirthful chuckle.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Happy 70th Birthday to Tucker Clark -- and a weekend with Jack Kerouac

Tucker Clark was born in St. Louis, Mo., on June 25, 1945.

Today he is 70. By any measure, Tucker (my oldest brother) has been and continues to be an enduring touchstone of 60s culture.

For just a literary taste, we will take GTOTD readers back in time, to the University of North Carolina in 1963.

Tucker arrived as a freshman, having spent the summer building roads in Gambia with a program called Crossroads Africa.

He took part in a protest to integrate the lunch counters in downtown Chapel Hill. Since Main Street in Chapel Hill was also a federal highway, Tucker recalls, “on TV there were shots of the Feds hauling us away on charges of obstruction of a federal highway."

When he was a junior, he lived in a house off campus. His mother, Charlotte, recalls visiting him there. “It was the first time I saw MAKE LOVE NOT WAR. It was on a car in front of the house."

At one point, one of Tucker’s friends was on the road when he was picked up hitchhiking by … well, let’s let Tucker tell it:

My buddy, Marshall Hay – who is still at the Meher Baba Ashram in Myrtle Beach, S.C. – was hitch-hiking back to Chapel Hill after his first one-month stay down there, giving up the psychedelic life for Baba, when the first car that picked him up was a bunch of Lowell, Massachusetts, Indians and a drunk and bloated ---dah-dum --
 Jack Kerouac!!! 

He was coming from his mommy’s house in South Carolina. Marshall convinced the crew to come get drunk in Chapel Hill and sequestered them in the Tempo Room and went and got me, Russell Banks, and all the other UNC literati, who proceeded to Russell's house, where Kerouac berated hippies, the screwed-up California scene and how sick of everything he was. 

He consumed lots of cheap-by-choice wine and told Russ and other erstwhile writers that they all sucked. Later on in New York Russell Banks wanted us to reconstruct each of our vantage points of that weekend for a Vanity Fair article-- never happened. It was so seminal -- and a part of Chapel Hill lore. 

From Chapel Hill, Tucker went on to the Peace Corps in Nepal, a commune in Maine, an ahead-of-its time drug-education firm in Cambridge, Mass., a couple of decades as an alcoholic treatment counselor in Harlem, and now as a man-about-town in Westport, Conn.

Tucker with his daughter, Charlotte Spring Clark

At right, Tucker with his daughter, Charlotte Spring Clark.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

As Yogi turns 90, a list of Yogi-isms

Yogi Berra turns 90 today, proving the wisdom once again of his words, "It ain't over 'till it's over." 

Interested readers might want to read the great humorist Roy Blount Jr.'s wonderful 1984 Sports Illustrated story about the wisdom in Yogi's words.  

Note also that the GTOTD staff was sitting in a glass-walled office on the 20th floor of the Time & Life Building next to one in which Roy was typing this story on a Royal typewriter, ripping out the pages, crumpling them up and throwing them into a pile in the corner.  

Though the story, cited recently as one of the 60 best ever run in the pages of SI, reads as if every word, phrase and sentence poured out with ease and fully formed, know that great humor is harder than it looks.  :-)

That same year, the GTOTD staff asked the great question of whether Yogi Bear was based on this rotund baseball great.  For the answer, click here.    

Here is a fairly complete list of sayings attributed to Yogi Berra. (Although, as Yogi himself once said, "I didn't really say everything I said.")

"This is like deja vu all over again." 
"Half this game is 90% mental."
"If I didn't wake up, I'd still be sleeping."
"Slump ? I ain't in no slump. I just ain't hittin'."
"Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical."
"You can observe a lot just by watching."
"He must have made that before he died." -- Referring to a Steve McQueen movie.
"I want to thank you for making this day necessary." -- On Yogi Berra Appreciation Day in St. Louis in 1947.
"I'd find the fellow who lost it, and, if he was poor, I'd return it." -- When asked what he would do if he found a million dollars.
"Think! How the hell are you gonna think and hit at the same time?"
"It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future."
"You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."
"I knew I was going to take the wrong train, so I left early."
"If you don't know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else."
"If you can't imitate him, don't copy him."
"You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I'm not hungry enough to eat six."
"It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much."
"A nickel isn't worth a dime today."
"Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded."
"It gets late early out there." -- Referring to the bad sun conditions in left field at the stadium.
"Glen Cove." -- Referring to Glenn Close on a movie review television show.
Once, Yogi's wife Carmen asked, "Yogi, you are from St. Louis, we live in New Jersey, and you played ball in New York. If you go before I do, where would you like me to have you buried?" Yogi replied, "Surprise me."
"Do you mean now?" -- When asked for the time.
"I take a two hour nap, from one o'clock to four."
"If you come to a fork in the road, take it."
"You give 100 percent in the first half of the game, and if that isn't enough in the second half you give what's left."
"90% of the putts that are short don't go in."
"I made a wrong mistake."
"Texas has a lot of electrical votes." -- During an election campaign, after George Bush stated that Texas was important to the election.
"Thanks, you don't look so hot yourself." -- After being told he looked cool.
"I always thought that record would stand until it was broken."
"Yeah, but we're making great time!" -- In reply to "Hey Yogi, I think we're lost."
"If the fans don't come out to the ball park, you can't stop them."
"Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel."
"It's never happened in the World Series competition, and it still hasn't."
"How long have you known me, Jack? And you still don't know how to spell my name." -- Upon 
receiving a check from Jack Buck made out to "bearer."
"I'd say he's done more than that." -- When asked if first baseman Don Mattingly had exceeded expectations for the current season.
"The other teams could make trouble for us if they win."
"He can run anytime he wants. I'm giving him the red light." -- On the acquisition of fleet-footed Rickey Henderson.
"I never blame myself when I'm not hitting. I just blame the bat, and if it keeps up, I change bats. After all, if I know it isn't my fault that I'm not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?"
"It ain't the heat; it's the humility."
"The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase."
"You should always go to other people's funerals; otherwise, they won't come to yours."
"I didn't really say everything I said."

Monday, March 2, 2015

All hail the Queen of Commas!

Yes, the 75th anniversary New Yorker contains the memoirs of Mary Norris, who descended from the frozen North (and her job on a Vermont cheese farm) to the Vatican of word usage, where, over the course of decades, she earned her place among the great grammarians of the ages. Her defense of the serial (Oxford) comma is, of course, exhaustive and eloquent.   If you have enough "free views" on The New Yorker site, you can click on this link and enjoy.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

When to capitalize family titles

Here's a handy post from the Grammar Gremlin, Don K. Ferguson:

When referring to family titles in your writing, should you capitalize or use lowercase?
For example, is it “father” or “Father,” “dad” or “Dad,” “mother” or “Mother”?
If these terms stand alone and are being used as the name you use for the person, they are capitalized.
Example: “Have you decided yet, Mother, whether you and Dad will be able to take your trip?”
If you are merely referring to the person, use lowercase.
Example: “My mother and father are planning to a trip to the beach.”
If “uncle” or a similar family relationship term is used with the name, it is capitalized. Example: “They said Uncle Bill might go with them.”
Otherwise, it would be “my uncle.”
Don K. Ferguson, retired U.S. District Court chief deputy clerk, is a former member of the Knoxville City Council. He may be emailed here.

Don K. Ferguson

Friday, December 5, 2014

The book "Wayfaring Strangers" highlights the Scots-Irish music of Appalachia

From Ronald Radosh's review of Wayfaring Strangers in the New York Times Book Review:

"Wayfaring Strangers tells the story of how Scottish immigrants to Ulster in Northern Ireland merged their own musical traditions with those of the Irish before coming to America and adding their music to the American songbook. These Scots-Irish immigrants moved principally to Appalachia, where their traditions took new forms in classics like “Barbara Allen” and “Shady Grove.” As Dolly Parton writes in her introduction, “I grew up in the Smoky Mountains listening to these ancient ballads that had crossed oceans and valleys,” songs that became the basis for folk, bluegrass and country music."