BOND, SPOCK, GALT AND ME: GROWING UP NERD IN THE SIXTIES
February 25th 2019
Here is the beginning of my new book. I will add more later. For the whole thing, all 400 pages of it, just email me and I will send you a pdf.
1 THOSE WHO CAN ONLY DREAM
A RICH FANTASY LIFE
WHY DID THEY PUT THAT TOP BUTTON THERE, THEN?
NERDS AND NERDETTES
DEALING WITH IT
2 YOUNGEST OF FOUR
THE VIEW FROM THE WAY BACK SEAT
3 THE SIXTIES
LEARNING DESPITE TEACHERS
GOLDEN BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA
"THE WORLD AROUNDS US" COMICS
THE SMELL OF THE TYPEWRITER, THE ROAR OF THE BOMB
THE DEWITT YARDS
THE DREADED SPEED TEST
4 JAMES BOND: A VISION OF THE HEROIC
5 MR. SPOCK
6 JOHN GALT
A SORT OF OBJECTIVIST RAPTURE
ROARK AS TEACHER
HE WHO CONTROLS THE TERMS WINS THE DEBATE
7 JESUS AS LION TAMER
8 ANOTHER BUMP EVERY NINETY FEET
9 CHRONIC DEPRESSION
YOU'RE NO JOHN GALT
HOW TO MAKE A CHEESEBURGER
11 A SHORT STORY
12 THE SEVENTIES
WITH OUR GLASSES RAISED ON HIGH
13 BOHEMIA WOULDN'T HAVE US:
MY YEARS IN THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY
14 THE BATTLE OF TOURS
15 THE KINGDOM OF EARTH
THE STRUGGLE FOR SELF
FREEDOM IS NEVER A GIFT
This may sound naive. But -- is our life ever to have any reality? Are we ever going to live on the level? Or is life always to be something else, something different from what it should be? A real life, simple and sincere, and even naive, is the only life where all the potential grandeur and beauty of human existence can really be found.
Ayn Rand, Journals, page 89.
Shades of the prison house close upon the growing boy.
William Wordsworth, "On Intimations of Immortality"
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO DAVID ROBERT COOKINHAM, BORN DECEMBER 27, 2018, SON OF BRIAN MICHAEL COOKINHAM AND AMY DUTTON, GRANDSON OF ROBERT STEVENS AND JILL IRWIN COOKINHAM, GREAT-GRANDSON OF ROBERT WILDER AND JEAN DUMKA COOKINHAM. THE NEXT GENERATION!
This memoir follows my two earlier books, The Age of Rand: Imagining an Objectivist Future World, 2005, and Man in the Place of the Gods: What Cities Mean, 2016. In the present volume, as in the previous ones, I refer a lot to Objectivists and libertarians. These are the movements, or just circles, that I have been at home in since 1967. These days I find myself lumping them together more and more, and when I do, I just call them Os and Ls.
I am tempted to make the title: BOND, SPOCK, GALT, CHRONIC DEPRESSION AND ME This book will be of interest to chronic depressives, and acute depressives, and the people who treat them, and who live with them. Blessings upon them all.
As I wrote in the Introduction to THE AGE OF RAND, with or without Ayn Rand's philosophy becoming the dominant one in the 21st Century, the old century, the Twentieth -- my native century -- will be fascinating to those born after the year 2000. That's just because so much changed in the world in that century, especially in the year 1995, the year the Internet sprang upon mankind and changed the way we lived. The "XX" Century, especially the two World Wars, will be the Illiad and Odyssey for our grandchildren. Students of history will never cease to write books about the hundred years from McKinley to "Dubya" (President George W. Bush). They will have the curiosity, and they will have the raw material -- the surviving written record -- the two things that will make every history student's professors say "Why not write your dissertation on some seminal thinker of the century just past?" My present humble effort will grow to mountain size in some young person's eyes, just because I can say that I remember November 22, 1963 and July 20, 1969, and 1995.
The Germans have a word for what you do when you write a memoir: Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung: coming to terms with the past. You see this word especially in reference to those Germans who lived between 1933 and 1945. But who doesn't swallow hard at the thought of writing for the public about one's own youthful indiscretions? It doesn't have to be murder you confess. It can be just wasting a great many days with daydreaming. But hang on! There is a book just out, in 2018, exonerating daydreaming as something to be embraced proudly as an end in itself! The Art of the Wasted Day, by Patricia Hampl. My latest heroine! My Dagny.
Another possible title I considered was A COMEDY OF ERAS, since this book is about my life, which spans at least two major historical eras: the years before and after 1995 and the Internet. B.I. and A.I. And also the '60s and '70s and all THOSE changes in our way of life.
I am just as shocked, appalled, and disbelieving as most people are about Trump somehow getting elected president. Look at my epigraph, above. There you see the difference between Rand's outlook on life and Trump's. And that is despite some people writing articles trying to blame Trump on Rand.
Rand wanted a life based on reality. A life in which real persons make an honest living selling things of honest value to other honest and real persons. Watch William Holden's climactic speech in "Executive Suite." Trump, on the other hand, is just a salesman at heart. He apparently subscribes to old Joe Kennedy's reported belief that it does not matter what is true, it only matters what people think is true.
I could not have studied Rand's life and thought without learning quite a lot about Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, and others in Rand's circle in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. Nathaniel was a psychiatrist. Barbara was his first wife and the author of Rand's first short biography, Who Is Ayn Rand?, 1962, and her first full-length biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand, 1986. The Brandens were close to Rand from 1950 to 1968 when Nathaniel had what, on my walking tours, I call "a little tiff" with Rand. Much has been written about that tiff, so I have not gone into that long and complex tale yet again. But I have benefited a lot over the years from Branden's books and lectures, and I don't forget that as I read about the bad things he did.
This book might be useful to Rand fans because it is all about the childhood, youth and developmental problems of one probably typical nerdy bookworm. Rand had little to say about development. She wrote only about what a human being should do when fully matured, as in her heroes’ very selective approach to sex. But that did not mean she was against sowing wild oats when you are young. This has resulted in some people spreading the myth that Rand was somehow “anti-children,” or had something against children. If pressed on the subject, she would have much more to say, but ichildren were not the focus of either her fiction or her non-fiction. So I hope to somewhat fill that gap.
When I was a teenager, I heard somewhere that nothing bad can happen to a writer, because it all becomes material for his future writing. This memoir is where that theory is finally going to pay off. I have written about all the stupid things I did, and worse: the missed opportunities. I have not written about the really stupid things – you don’t need to know about the real doozies. I only wish I could stop remembering them. But some of my less embarrassing mistakes might be instructive to you. In any case, I have had to steel myself against the coming flood of nostalgia. Know what the saddest song in the world is? “It Was a Very Good Year,” a 1961 song by Ervin Drake and recorded by Bob Shane with the Kingston Trio, then by Frank Sinatra and others. The Tijuana Brass did an instrumental cover of it, and even without the lyrics it makes you want to kill yourself. Phil Harris, a comic actor, sang it on a TV variety show around 1970, but he had the good sense to break the soggy mood by adding the postscript “Hey, what am I getting so sentimental about? I’m just gettin’ started, baby!”
I was watching an old Frasier episode the other day, and Frasier made a reference to Jeffrey Dahmer, serial killer and necrophiliac. Here I am, trying to squeeze meaning out of a life of deep thought and generous good wishes for the happiness of all, and I fear that if a Jeffrey Dahmer diary or memoir were to come to light, it would be published and read much more readily than mine. Why is that? Partly curiosity, it’s understandable, but also partly because of the world’s warped and weird values, given it by millennia of the domination of Church and State. People like to see confirmation of their low opinion of themselves as human beings. Human, all too human.
Mary Tyler Moore died as I drafted this in 2017. She was first known to me as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show in the early ‘60s. There was an episode of that series in which Dick Van Dyke’s younger brother Jerry (who has also died now) played Rob Petrie’s younger brother Stacey. Stacey sleepwalks, and when he does, he takes on a personality totally opposite his own, and he calls everyone “Burford.”
How do you write a memoir without risking giving offense to every person you have ever known, if you mention him in your book, and he doesn’t like what you write about him? Look on the bright side: All the people you ever knew will buy, or at least read or skim, your book, to see what you wrote about them. What you lose in friends you will make up in book sales! No? Well, then change the names; make up fictitious names, which can be a lot of fun all by itself, or just call everyone Burford.
Here I have done a little of each. I have found that I don’t have to name names anyway in most cases. I can usually say “my then-girlfriend said” or “I knew someone who.”
This book will make you feel good! You will appreciate how successful and accomplished you are, and how lucky you are to escape the fate of the nerd and the chronic depressive. I am the opposite of Tom Lehrer’s Mozart: Lehrer said, at 37, “It is a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.” I make you Mozart by comparison!
But I’m not complaining… not just complaining. There have been good things in my nerd’s life, mainly my wife, Belen.
Why write a memoir? “No one – you, me, anyone – should leave this world without making a comment.” (The Twilight Zone, episode “I Am the Night, Color Me Black,” by Rod Serling)
In “Patton,” the General orders his staff in Tunisia to place a 24-hour guard around American graves. “Our graves are not going to disappear like all the others.”
In “The Lion In Winter,” Queen Eleanor says to King Henry “You can make more heirs. I can’t. Think I want to disappear?”
I have photos of four generations of forefathers. I have a voice recording of my mother, but not of my father or any other forebear. I have a few letters and a diary of my father’s. I have books written by a grandfather, a great grandfather, and a great great grandfather. I have seen a record of my great great great great grandfather’s service in the Dutchess County, New York militia in the War for Independence, but almost no other information about him. Think of the data I do not have on my own ancestors. Think I want to disappear?
TO BE CONTINUED