Insufferable suffixes

As most people know, the word “alcoholic” as a noun means “someone addicted to alcohol.” This usage is older than any of us. It’s easy to see that the word was created by adding “-ic” to “alcohol.” (It was repurposed from the even older adjective “alcoholic,” meaning “pertaining to alcohol.”)

In more recent times, it has become fashionable to indicate craving for, obsession with or indulgence in whatever by adding “-oholic” or “-aholic” to the end of said object. Not “-ic,” but “-oholic.” It keeps part of the word “alcohol” though not referencing alcohol.

A popular one is “workaholic.” Addicted to workahol? Also, “chocaholic.” Shouldn’t that be “chocolatic”?

And we have “shopaholic,” “sexaholic,” “foodaholic” and many others. I’ve recently seen “musicoholic” and “dogoholic” groups on Facebook. I once heard someone try to coin the term “theateroholic” to describe a — well — theatric person. In response to a question in a Facebook post about dependence on driving, I commented, “No, I’m not addicted to gasohol.”

Indeed, few, if any of these cases of “-oholism” are addictions on the order of alcoholism.

Another overworked suffix that broke into our language (by dark of night?) in the ’70s is “-gate.” You know the story. Some people wanting to ensure the re-election of the current president broke into the national headquarters of the other party. That office happened to be in the Watergate Office Building in Washington DC.


Within a couple of years, William Saffire began coining “-gate” terms for a variety of scandals. And the — er — floodgate was opened: Vietgate, Irangate (or Contragate), Billygate, debategate, emailgate and nannygate, to name just a few.


And the phenomenon hasn’t been restricted to politics. Scandals in entertainment, journalism and other areas have been tagged with the “-gate.”


In the sports world, we’ve had inflategate, bountygate and Astrogate, among others. I once was part of a “vendingate” controversy, which I described in a previous blog post, “A Boost in Status.”

The Wikipedia article “List of ‘-gate’ scandals” provides a long list.

All because of the name that had been given to the building where one political party happened to rent office space. One could wonder: What if it had been called the Amsterdam Building? Or the Suffolk?

Are we faced with a gateaholic crisis?

What I might say about my mental health

If I wrote my own mental health confessional, I would begin by saying I’ve struggled with depression most of my life. I would note that for many years this condition went undiagnosed, but therapy brought to light indications of the illness going back at least to when I was 9 or 10. I guess I would admit that the first time I seriously considered suicide, I was 10.

I would talk about difficult feelings I was having by the fourth and fifth grades and beyond, even up to the present. About making decisions, some more significant than others, that weren’t the best choice, even though on some level I often was aware they weren’t the best when I made them. About feelings of despair and low self-esteem. About difficulties in processing feelings and accessing relationships. About hurts that lingered.

I would include something about the unhelpful things I’ve heard from an early age. One was a bemused “Now, don’t be bitter.” Another, “You’re too sensitive.” How about “we’re not laughing at you; we’re laughing with you” — when I was not laughing? “Snap out of it,” was the commonly suggested cure for people with conditions such as mine. Similar are “get over it” and “suck it up.” One parent once lamented, “I don’t know why you have to be so different.” The other once complained that I was “always miffed about something.”

I might mention but would not describe an incident in early adolescence when I was feeling so bad about myself that I expressed it in a way that engendered anger, making me feel even worse about myself. It left a deep scar. I’ve shared details only with therapists and my spouse. Therapists have said it was an obvious red flag. The first time I shared it with anyone was with my spouse. I became emotional and had trouble getting through it. That may have made it easier to talk about later in therapy.

Adventures in therapy

I would describe the first time I tried therapy and what led to it: During my sophomore year of college, I started noticing I was tired a lot, even for a college student. I continued to feel that way during the summer, the last summer I spent in my childhood home.

A doctor determined it was nothing physical and gently suggested seeing a mental health professional. When I returned to college for fall semester, I jumped through assorted hoops at student health, eventually landing weekly appointments with a psychiatrist.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see that the tiredness was a manifestation of depression, but you never heard much about depression in those days. It was not my diagnosis at that time. The doctor listened to me for 50 minutes each week for most of the school year, asking leading questions but offering few reflections on what I said. I got much more from one session with a college chaplain that summer. He was the first person who ever said to me in all my 21 years, “That must feel bad.”

As I would continue telling my story now, I would include reports of helpful therapy sessions. The first came many years later, when I finally shared with my family doctor how I often felt. I told him of the feelings listed above, as well as how I was no longer enjoying a number of things that had given me pleasure in the past.

He immediately diagnosed my condition as depression. My first thought? I was glad to know that I wasn’t crazy. That there was an identifiable reason for what was going on with me. A definable disease for which there was treatment. I knew intellectually that I “shouldn’t” have a lot of the feelings I did. This diagnosis provided an explanation.

So at this point in my imagined essay, I would talk about sessions of nearly a year each with three different psychologists spaced over several years. All were helpful, especially the first and third. I was not “cured” by any, though I gained some tools that helped me cope better. In time, I’ll go back for another tune up. Yes, I tried many prescribed anti-depressants, but I’m in the 40 percent for whom such medications are not effective.

I would want to note that someone with depression is not always down. We smile, we laugh, we enjoy. At times.

What would be the reaction?

It seems that more and more well-known people, including entertainers and athletes, are opening up about their own struggles with depression and other mental health issues. They want to help destigmatize mental illness. Some say it’s also therapeutic. As each comes forward, I ask myself if I would do well to do so, too.

Yet, I worry about how people would take it. What would they think of me? Would they treat me any differently? I wonder these things, even though I think more of people who share their struggles. And I don’t treat them any differently.

Or would they make light of it? Maybe the reactions would be similar to the unhelpful words I listed in the third paragraph above. Or similar to a reaction I often get on the rare occasion I dare to mention a physical health concern — i.e., “I have (or someone I know has) the same problem, only worse, and have (has) had it longer.” This response seems to devalue my concern.

Would I end up feeling better or worse?

Another barrier is that I haven’t completely stopped buying into the very stigma I want to counteract. That’s a little ironic, I guess, as is the fact that my depression-nurtured lack of self confidence makes it difficult to take this step.

The S word

If I did take it, I might mention suicidal thoughts. Or I might not. Or maybe just say I wish I didn’t know as much as I do about what it’s like to have them.

I could share significant difficulties I have with light deprivation. Or difficulties getting out of bed sometimes. Times of feeling bad that I feel bad. And how motivation can be a problem when feeling “what’s the use?” or struggling with low self-esteem. I could talk about a well-developed sense of “don’t belong,” which can crop up in almost any context.

That would probably lead to an acknowledgement of ever-present social anxiety. I could admit to worrying before a social event that I’ll say something stupid; worrying during that I am saying something stupid; worrying afterward that I did say something stupid. (Worrying now that this all sounds stupid.)

Then I might note how easy it is to be embarrassed by things others would just laugh off and humiliated by things others might just find a little embarrassing.

I would, if I could muster enough self-confidence, claim some ability as an actor. For the past few of my infrequent appearances in a play, when writing a brief bio for the program, I’ve thought of adding this to the list of past performances: Has portrayed a mentally-healthy person in everyday life 24/7 for many years. If I wrote my own mental health confessional.

When typos are OK

One day recently, my list of Facebook “memories” included an ironic juxtaposition.

Four years to the day prior, I wrote, “We saw this [production of ‘My Fair Lady’] last night. Many great songs with memorable lyrics, including lines such as ‘But use proper English, you’re regarded as a freak.’ “

On that day nine years ago, I had posted, “Here’s another important anniversary celebrated today: 65 years ago today, Jackie Robinson played in his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers.”

They may seem unrelated, but stay with me. When I entered the second post, I accidentally typed “payed” rather than “played.” One of my Facebook friends quickly trolled, “People who make fun of their friends typing should be more careful with their own.”

I tried to write it off by saying something to the effect that Robinson did pay a lot of dues for being a trailblazer. I chose not to point out the missing apostrophe — “friends’ typing” rather than “friends typing.”

But, more to the point of the jab, I don’t recall ever making fun of friends for typos or anything else. It is possible that I may have occasionally pointed out the irony created by a typo. If it came across as a personal attack, I should have worded my comment more carefully. You can be sure, though, that I stopped making such observations forthwith.

In fact, I have commented a few times that typos on Facebook — especially if one is sending from their phone — are absolutely excusable, even expected. Social media comments are conversation, not graduate theses or legal documents.

Here’s where the “My Fair Lady” post connects. As I wrote in another blog post, I am one of those freaks who cares about proper English. At the time of the typo dig, I was being called “grammar police” and worse. This is because, even though I never corrected any individual’s grammar, I occasionally posted general comments about common grammatical errors. I stopped that practice some time in 2013.

It was a small leap from grammar to spelling for anyone who enjoys the social media version of trash talking. I, however, get more enjoyment from irony, such as an unintended twist a typo might offer or the two posts cited falling on the same date.

A boost in status

We had an investigative newspaper reporter in our area for many years. He garnered the requisite amount of both praise and scorn that accrues to the most successful in his field. I won’t weigh in on those evaluations. I will just acknowledge the positive effect he had on my self image.

I was working in public affairs at the local medical center, owned and operated by our state. My salary was exactly one-tenth that of the CEO of the hospital. My position was roughly analogous to that of a second lieutenant in the military.

Yet this intrepid reporter promoted me to “honcho.”

The budget relied on patient revenue and whatever the legislature would kick in, plus charitable contributions. Administrative costs common to all good businesses include community relations, in-service training and employee relations. There were some programs associated with these objectives that were, at one time, covered by income from vending machines throughout the medical complex, rather than the patient revenue, tax money and contributions.

This did not escape the notice of our reporter friend. When the story broke, he said these funds were spent on “honchos.” I was a participant in three of the activities he listed: Chamber of Commerce membership, “a public affairs dinner” and a recreational softball team. Suddenly, I was elevated in status. I had never been a honcho before, but I stood a little taller and walked with a spring in my step.

As the second-largest employer in our community (the University being first), it is incumbent on the hospital to be a good corporate citizen. Participating in the Chamber of Commerce seems logical. Community-relations responsibilities within our office were assigned to me. So it made sense for the hospital to cough up the $25 a year it cost for me to be one of the individuals designated to represent it in the chamber.

What the article did not say about the dinner was that it followed an educational session, designed to help us do our jobs better, which we were required to attend outside regular work hours.

The softball team participated in the town’s recreational league. The hospital paid the entry fee. Anyone could be on the team, even players as lousy as I. There were a couple of guys pretty high on the flow chart, but most were much lower. At least one player worked in housekeeping.

After the “scandal” came to light, there were changes. Honcho though I was, I wasn’t privy to exactly how the raked-up muck was cleansed. I do know that the hospital started its own softball league, which I guess cost no money other than buying equipment, renting fields and the hours of staff time required to coordinate it. Community-relations activities continued to include chamber participation, paid for somehow. In the public affairs office, we still had the occasional professional-development session. Since they were still after hours, they still fed us, just not using vending-machine money.

In any case, honcho status had been conferred on me, and I wasn’t going to relinquish it.

Who can own a football?

A recent family conversation about gender brought to mind a touch football game from the late ’50s. We were visiting relatives in Georgia. As I recall, we were there for Thanksgiving. On Friday or Saturday afternoon, some friends of my aunt and uncle came by. While the adults chatted, the kids went out to play. This included the visitors’ son and daughter, who were about my age, as well as my sister, my cousin and me. My sister is nearly five years and my cousin a couple of years older than I. We probably were joined by a few other kids in her neighborhood.

It was a lot of fun. The daughter of the visitors seemed especially to enjoy it.

At this point, let me throw in a background anecdote. A few years before this, my sister had asked for and received a football for Christmas. It seemed better than any of the two or three that belonged to me. At least it was newer. It was used by my sister and the other big kids. So I rarely got to play with it early on. But that’s really beside the point. The point being that in my world, boys and girls both played touch football, and either could own footballs.

I’m not sure I realized that was anything other than the norm. But there were pressures to conform to society’s gender roles. We, no doubt, acquiesced in certain areas. I think we’ve made some progress, but my use of the past tense two sentences back may have been wishful thinking.

There was the time when my wife was upbraided by some random older woman because our then-infant daughter was wearing blue.

Not long ago, I sat in a medical waiting room, a young father was looking at a magazine with his pre-teen daughter. At one point he asked, “Is that a boy’s room of a girl’s room?” She guessed “girl’s.” So he gently pointed out items (he) associated with boys, concluding that it was a boy’s room.

Anyway, back to that Thanksgiving game. When we returned to the house, the visiting girl said to her parents, “I want a football for Christmas!”

The reply, from her mom: “Well, that’s too bad.”

The girl was about the same age my sister had been when she got a football for Christmas. Her mom’s reply shocked me then and continues to annoy me to this day.

Just for fun: Ultimate short shorts

In various writers’ conferences over the years, I would occasionally hear about “short shorts,” stories with fully developed themes but significantly fewer words than conventional short stories. I experimented some with short shorts. This confirmed my suspicion that they are practically impossible to write. I even took a workshop, which was interesting, but frustrated me further.
To vent my frustration, I “rewrote” some familiar literary works as “short short stories.” I knew that none was really a short short — more nearly a prĂ©cis. They don’t work well if you don’t already know the story. I was just having fun and even gave each a little twist at the end. Reviewing them, I thought maybe others also could have fun reading them.
They follow without titles, which I hope are not necessary.

*******

Even if her wicked stepmother didn’t make her stay home and do all the house work, Cinderella couldn’t go to the Prince’s ball. She didn’t have anything to wear. That situation changed, however, after her fairy godmother appeared, magic wand in hand.
“Who is that beautiful princess?” people whispered as Cinderella dominated the Prince’s attention. All the other girls, especially Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters, were envious. She dropped her glass slipper, hastening to beat the midnight curfew her fairy godmother had imposed. This turned out to be fortunate, because the Prince didn’t rest until he found the foot that fit the slipper. He proposed to the person to whom the foot was attached. She said yes, and always had something to wear after that.

*******

Juliet Capulet and Romeo Montague wanted to live happily ever after and to end the feud between their two families. They accomplished one out of two. The impetuous teenagers fell in love and eloped, even though (or maybe because) their families hated each other. The planned reconciliation was sidetracked when Juliet’s cousin Tybalt killed Romeo’s friend Mercutio and Romeo killed Tybalt.
Then the Capulets arranged for Juliet to marry a nice young man named Paris. Juliet was driven to consider suicide, but her priest persuaded her to fake it. She and Romeo could then sneak away together. Romeo, however, thought she really was dead. Crying, “Oh, my love, my wife!” he drank poison and died, but not before getting into a fight with and killing Paris. When she woke up and saw Romeo lying there dead, Juliet plunged his dagger into herself.
After counting the bodies, the two families decided to be friends.


*******

Huck Finn’s friend Jim wanted freedom from slavery. Huck wanted freedom from his drunken pappy. First they got a series of adventures along the Mississippi River that even Tom Sawyer couldn’t have created, then one that Tom did create.
They missed the tributary that would’ve taken Jim into Ohio, floating instead all the way down the Mississippi before learning that Jim had already been emancipated. Jim, in turn, told Huck his pappy had drown sometime earlier in the same river. Thus, the Mississippi proved to be a somewhat indirect route to freedom for both.


*******

While antebellum Southern culture fell apart and General Sherman torched Atlanta, Scarlett O’Hara married thrice. The final time was to her true love Rhett Butler. Yet he could stand her only so long, which would’ve been his last two words to her had she not asked, “Why, Rhay-ut, what shall become of me?”
So his final two words to her turned out to be ” . . .a damn.”

*******

Listen:
Billy Pilgrim survived a plane crash that killed his father-in-law. Then as a younger man, he was a WWII prisoner of war, ticking off a fellow GI he knew was responsible for Billy’s death. When not a captive on the distant planet Tralfamadore with starlet Montana Wildhack, he married the boss’s daughter (she died in her car rushing to visit him after the plane crash), fathered two children, became a wealthy optometrist and talked to anyone who would listen about being unstuck in time.
“Farewell, hello, farewell, hello.”
So it goes.

*******

“I’ll get you Moby Dick!” Captain Ahab vowed.
He never did.

Notes from the beach

My wife and I recently returned from our annual week at the beach. For four decades, we’ve gone to Kill Devil Hills, NC, site of the first air flights in 1903. At the start, we happened upon the Cavalier Motel — now called Cavalier by the Sea — on the beach road at mile post 8.5, and it has become “our place at the beach.” With the kids, we always went during their spring break. After it was just the two of us again, we shifted to fall.

We get an ocean-front room with kitchen. Until a tall building went up next door a few years ago, we could see the Wright Brothers monument out the back window. We share a porch with the other six rooms (two others with kitchens) in the same building. There is an identical building next to us. Depending on the weather, we sit on the beach, the porch or inside, looking at the ocean through our picture window.



This year, I made a few notes and will share them here.

–One day, as I tried to imagine the back story of many of the people walking by, I wondered if other people have similar thoughts while people-watching at the beach. Then I wondered if they ever don’t have such thoughts.

I posed these questions on Facebook: “When you sit on the beach, watching people walk by, do you ever try to imagine their backstories? Do you ever not do this?”

The first two responses led me to realize the questions would best be directed at people with active imaginations, such as writers and story tellers. I ran them by two friends who are bona fide fiction writers. Both said they also sometimes create in their minds stories for people they observe.

–Walking on the beach into a strong wind, bundled up, slipping around in loose sand is a workout. Walking the same beach barefooted and in shirt sleeves, on the terra relatively firma uncovered at low tide is a delightful stroll.

–As always, there were a few kids dipping their feet in the November surf. On one walk, we passed two pre-teen girls doing so. The one with long legs executed a pirouette each time a wave hit her feet and ankles.

–And the dogs are always a delight. You can see them smile as they jump over or into the waves. Golden Retrievers never encounter a person who isn’t their best friend. We also saw one little dog that appeared to about the same dimension in three directions.

–I watched two people in wet suits take their surf boards out into the water to wait hopefully for a wave to ride. I mention this merely to use the word “hopefully” correctly.

–There were two groups of friends there this year while we were. I had two reactions. One was some envy because there have been past years in which we had a group of friends with us. The second was wondering if each group had been in a bubble prior to arriving. They didn’t practice social distancing and no one ever wore a mask.

–One guy was there for a couple of days, one room away from us. He began each day with a cigarette or three, sitting on the porch with a “No Smoking” sign staring him in the face. I wondered how he felt about law and order.

–One afternoon, there were four and twenty black birds, plus quite a few more, on the beach. You usually see just a few here and there among the more numerous seagulls. I don’t know if they were local or just passing through, but when they left altogether, they flew south.



–I took a lot of photos and posted some on Facebook, noting the location. Soon my phone would ask, “How was Cavalier by the Sea?” Was. Past tense. If the phone is so smart, why didn’t it know I was still there?

_________________________________
A year ago, I shared photos of sunrises from the 2019 trip.
https://johnbecton.blog/2019/11/13/five-days-of-beach-sunrises/

Adventures in job hunting

Have you ever had a job interview that didn’t go well? (I’m guessing your answer is “yes.”) Who’s had one that seemed doomed from the start? (Yeah, I see those hands rising.) You may not relate to the profession, but the situation I’m about to describe is likely familiar. You may not have had the very same experiences, but I’ll bet you’ve had some that were similar.

Back when I was in campus ministry, or at least trying to be, I set up a job-search file with an ecumenical organization that had a presence on many college campuses across the country. I was working as director of a local, non-profit service agency, when I got a notice that the campus ministry program at one small university in the mid-west had expressed interest in me.

They arranged to fly me out for an interview. For reasons I don’t recall, it had to be wedged in between commitments I had at home through a Saturday evening and a seminar nearby at which I was to speak on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. It seems possible that my schedule would’ve been more flexible from that Wednesday afternoon through the upcoming weekend.

They booked me on an odyssey that began early Sunday morning. I landed twice along the way, changing planes at the second stop, before reaching a large airport across the state from the school. There I was met by someone from the organization’s national office.

First we had to connect. He had me paged, but had my first name wrong. Hearing someone else’s first name, I didn’t focus on the rest of the announcement. But I asked myself, Didn’t the last name sound like mine? Could it have been meant for me? But why would he not have the correct name? As I pondered, the page was repeated. I went to the designated meeting spot. Yes, the guy didn’t really know my name.

Then we set out in his car, swinging by another big airport to pick up one of his colleagues. Apparently the plan was for them to get to know me along the way. One might think that a preferred alternative would’ve been for the two of us flying in to have landed closer to the school, and the three of us to have gotten acquainted there rather than in a car. But one who might think that didn’t make the plans. We stopped for a quick evening meal. At some point it started to snow. The campus was covered by the time we got there.

I went directly from the car into a building with a large meeting room for the official interview. Tables were arranged in a large circle and filled with people. My job interview would be conducted by 27 individuals. That is about two dozen more than ideal.

I had not heard of this school before the initial inquiry came. As I began the interview, I had taken less than a dozen steps on the campus, and my feet had not made direct contact, thanks to the blanket of snow upon which I had walked. I hadn’t even ever been in that state before. I knew nothing of the resources for and past programming of the campus ministry there. I had some experience and ideas on which to draw in a general way, of course, but I couldn’t lay out for them at that moment a program tailored to that community.

I had an assigned host for the brief visit. First he took me to my lodging for the night. I was put up in a private room with bath in a women’s dorm. It was on the ground floor and had its own entrance from the outside, apparently designated for guests. All the typical dorm-room furniture had been pulled away from the walls (for painting? cleaning?) — and not put back. The single bed was near the middle of the room; the other pieces were scattered about. It felt sort of like sleeping in a small warehouse. But I did sleep, after a welcomed shower.

My host picked me up the next morning, Monday, for breakfast and a day of gathering information that would’ve been useful in the previous night’s Q & A. There was a tour of the campus, including a visit to the campus ministry offices. The tour of the small town included stops at 2-3 key supporting churches. I met more people. Conversations revealed more about how this program looked, past successes and failures, hopes and expectations. A couple of hours of this activity on the day before might have been more helpful to me than riding across the state.

One person I met was the token Jewish faculty member, also known for his left-leaning politics (maybe a token there as well). My host seemed to regard him as a friend, but didn’t pronounce his name correctly.

A few people were selected to have lunch and dinner with me. So there was informal, but mostly pertinent conversation at both that day. After dinner, I was taken to the small airport in a neighboring town. I boarded a small plane that took me to a larger airport for the first of two plane changes. The overall route meandered eastward.

I was scheduled to get back in time for my Tuesday morning conference, fortified by whatever in-flight naps I could catch and, of course, plenty of coffee. Fog at the second connection, however, intervened. I missed the first day of my commitment, though those in charge were understanding.

The potential employer and I didn’t make good enough impressions on each other to proceed. File it under learning experience. At least I learned some things, and I have to think they did, too. The flight delay taught me that is is unwise to rely on an air-travel schedule with no wiggle room. I hope we both learned not to shoehorn such an occasion into such a tight time frame and to find a way for the candidate’s job interview not to be conducted before any orientation.

Another lesson would be to have 3-4 people conduct the direct interview and report to the larger body. (O.K., I had already known that.) The value of using a professional travel agent to book the flight is yet another potential lesson.

I thought about beginning this entry with something about having spent a week there one day. But that wouldn’t have been accurate. It was more like “2-3 days in 30 hours.” And the days were in reverse order.

A little help from (and for) James Taylor

In a past life (it seems), I played a lot of guitar and did a lot of singing in a variety of places over many years.

I was playing in a coffee house in Boston one night in the early ’70s. The performer who went on just before I did seemed to be his own biggest fan. He was competent enough singing and playing his guitar, but he also offered an air of smugness. And his set featured a running attempt to belittle James Taylor. I attribute this to an underlying jealousy.

There were snide remarks here and there. Then the crowning touch was his singing “Sweet Baby James,” but when that phrase recurred, he said “Sweet what’s-his-name.” JT, of course, wrote the song about his nephew, who had been named for him. Writing such a song about oneself would take a different kind of person. Maybe someone such as this guy on stage ahead of me that night.

When he announced his last song, he snarled in a tone that left no room for dispute, “I always end with this song. Always.”

Some months before that, I had seen James Taylor perform in the UNC football stadium. He had opened with his then-new arrangement of “With a Little Help from My Friends.” I liked it enough to work it into my repertoire.

I generally started off with something fast and loud, but that night I made a quick decision to begin with the JT-styled “With a Little Help from My Friends.” After I finished and after the applause, I said, “I never open with that.”

I explained that I had recently enjoyed seeing James Taylor open a concert in our mutual hometown with that song. Since it had worked for him, I decided to try it, I explained.

Right off the bat, I had lampooned my predecessor’s introduction of his closing song, and established the object of his derision as my homey.

The opener had acted as if the audience members were fortunate to get to hear him. My attitude always was that I was grateful they wanted to listen to me, realizing that I also had to be good enough for them to want to listen. I’m pretty sure I conveyed that feeling that night. I genuinely appreciated them, and I performed well enough for them to appreciate me.

It was one of my better gigs. There was that always-sought, mystical “connection” with the audience. My “last song” was followed by a mandated encore. Maybe the contrast with the opening act contributed to my success.
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Memories of a friend

The word “unique” gets tossed about too casually. Often it is used incorrectly. It means “one of a kind.” Thus the word takes no modifiers. Not “most unique,” “somewhat unique” or “very unique.” Just “unique.” Many times the appropriate word is “distinctive,” which refers to someone or some thing that is quite special and rare, but allows that there may be a few others with similar characteristics.

I am about to tell you about a unique individual.

When I relocated to Chapel Hill in the fall of 1965 to enter the University of North Carolina, I became involved in the Baptist Student Union (BSU). One of the regulars was a guy named Bill Colclough. He was older — how much, I was to learn, was part of a delightful, on-going mythology. He had graduated in some previous year and immediately began working on his master’s degree in summer sessions while teaching school. After completing his graduate degree, he continued taking classes. More on that in a minute.

I think my introduction to the myth came one evening at BSU when we were singing songs from mimeographed sheets. When we got to “Too Old to Cut the Mustard Any More,” it was dedicated to Bill. He smiled appreciatively and waved his arm as if to direct while we sang.

Yet while the myth — enjoyed by no one more than Bill — was that he was ancient, the reality was that he seemed ageless. He was at home in each generation of college student. He seemed never too shocked by current trends and was not judgmental. He was accepting of his friends and genuinely interested in them. I’m sure these qualities contributed to his success as a teacher and guidance counselor.

One memory illustrates his subtle wit and his proclivity not to say anything bad about anyone, as well as his perceptiveness. A past mutual acquaintance, a guy prone to affecting an air of wisdom, came up in a conversation one time. “As I recall,” Bill commented, “he was studying to be an intellectual.”

I witnessed these characteristics through the BSU community for many years. And then there were all those decades of courses.

Sometime, maybe in the early ’90s, I was in a gathering of BSU alums. We were introducing ourselves. I said I graduated in ’69. Others similarly said, ’72, ’80 or whatever their class year was. When it was Bill’s turn, he said slyly, “I graduated in June.” In a sense, though, he was a member of each class.

As long as possible, Bill’s summer break featured attending both summer sessions at UNC. Eventually, the shifting schedule limited him to only one session. He was a little disappointed. After he retired, he moved to fall and spring semesters, taking one class in each. He chose from among courses offered on Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. or later. Most, if not all, were in history, his undergrad major, or English. There are few courses in either department that he never took, and I think that in time he may have revisited some.

Bill attended each year’s graduation ceremonies, as well as other commencement weekend events. One of those was the “Friday Frolic,” at which each reunioning class had its own tent. Bill dropped in to most or all. He once told me about running into a young woman who remembered him from a class or two they had shared. Though she was with her classmates, Bill was the only person there she knew.

This ability to relate to college students continued the rest of his life. In recent years, he had gotten to know some students at his church who eventually made him a member of their fraternity.

Many years into our friendship, Bill told me the actual year he graduated. It would be inappropriate for me to divulge that, but I will say, it was later than the 1910s. Still there is the myth. . . .

One evening in the early ’70s, a group of us were at a UNC baseball game in the then-new Cary Boshamer Stadium. Mr. Boshamer himself was there. When he was recognized, it was noted that he was of the Class of 1917. We all turned and looked at Bill. He smiled, nodded and said, “I remember him well.”

Bill often attended UNC games and various other campus activities. He rarely missed a football or men’s basketball game. I dare say he is the only person who was an enrolled student in the years of all six of the Tar Heels men’s basketball NCAA championships.

My wife and I saw Bill at so many events on campus, we grew to assume he always would be there. That tapered off some in more recent years, but it still seemed that he was always around. It will take time for me to stop assuming he’ll always be there.

Bill’s email address referred to him as “Wild Bill.” This was wonderfully ironic. He was a gentle man, who walked the straight and narrow, albeit with a sharp wit. Each email included a header that said something like: “A message from the past.” The default signature was: “Your best friend, Bill.” I’m sure he intended both to be humorous, though there was a lot of truth in the latter. Taken together, they present the myth and the man.