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Now This


									                      Living “Outside the Box.”

      The ad beckoned you to tear off one of several identical telephone

numbers. I took the entire ad. I needed a place to stay, and I did not want the

competition. Someone seemed happy that I called. He invited me to come

over and look at the room.

      He said nothing about the six law students who interviewed me when

I arrived. They wanted to make sure I would be a good fit. They seemed to

like me until they discovered that I was a seminary student. They had never

actually met someone studying for the ministry. Each knew a rabbi or priest,

and no one wanted one of those guys to be a housemate.

      I just told them that I felt the same about having attorneys for

housemates. They laughed. For some reason this convinced them that I was

okay for a seminary student. They invited me to be their housemate. I moved



      Neil Postman once wrote a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death. I

will always remember a chapter from that book called, “Now, This.” “Now,

This” is what television news reporters say before they make a transition.

Actually “now this” does not refer to a transition at all. It is said when what

is about to happen has absolutely no relationship to what has just occurred

or, for that matter, anything that will ever occur. This is what the following

story is like to me.

      It has no relationship to what had occurred in my life up until that

point. Nothing could have predicted it. Even if you had intimate knowledge

of every gene in my body and every act I had performed, you would not be

able to predict this. Neither did this story have anything to do with the rest of

my life. It is not definitive of anything that has happen since. It is an

episode. It is a ridiculous interlude. It has no connection with anything I did

in later years. It is just a bizarre four days that I remember every now and

then. Sometime I tell people the story –if you can call it a story. Most of the

time people do not believe it. I am not sure I believe it myself, but if

memory serves me right, most of this really happened!!


      I had enough money for the first months rent and a deposit, but that

was about it. I had to look for a job. As luck would have it, one of my

housemates named Randolph Anderson offered me a job working for him.

Randolph – he insisted on being called Randolph and would fly into a near

rage if you called him Randy or even Anderson – was a writer. He rented the

master bedroom, and appeared to think that he was a bit superior to his

housemates because he had a private bathroom. When he interviewed me to

become his house mate, he informed me that he had three rules. No fucking

on his bed. No jerking off in his shower, and no putting my pubic hairs in his

pasta salads. I felt I could comply although I was intrigued by the unique

possibilities surrounding pubic hair disposal in this household.

      Randolph was a writer. He was not a writer like me. He was good! He

had a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and had

worked for a number of magazines and newspapers before going to law

school. His writing made you feel like what he was writing about was

happening to you as you read. I remember one article he wrote about

shooting the rapids somewhere on the Snake River. I felt the water of the

river engulf me as I nearly plunged to our death.

      Randolph had several projects he was working on over the summer.

He had three articles that Explorer Magazine wanted him to write, and he

had a book deal. This is where he would need my services. He hired me to

do research on Ritchie Allen – a baseball player you probably would not

know unless you were alive in the 70’s. He told me to go to the Library of

Congress, and get microfilms of newspapers from the towns in which Allen

had played. I researched both his minor and major league career. Randolph

paid me $35 each day.

      Randolph gave me a $5 bonus one day because of what he called

stellar research. Apparently, I was the first person to tell him that if a batter

hit a fly ball that was caught before it hit the ground, the batter was out. This

bit of “stellar research” appeared to change his life. His mood ranged from

elation upon hearing of this insight to despair at the injustice of this rule. He

recognized that a person could hit the ball 400 feet and be out while

someone who bunted the ball five or ten feet could be safe. This violated

Randolph’s sense of justice.


       I could not understand Randolph’s procrastination. He was going to

receive $600 for each article due at Explorer Magazine and had already

pocketed a $2000 advance on the book on Ritchie Allen. To someone like

me who had yet to receive more than $50 for a days work, this seemed a


      Well to make a very long story a little shorter, Randolph decided that

we had to go to Philadelphia and New York City so that we could do more

research on the Ritchie Allen book. We would leave early the next morning,

and we would stay with some of Randolph’s friends in Philly for a couple of

days while we did research on Richie Allen in the archives of the

Philadelphia Inquirer. Then we would do some research at New York Daily

News, and ultimately we would go to New Brunswick where Randolph

would deliver two articles to Explorer Magazine - articles which Randolph

had yet to write.

      Well, I was up and ready to go at 7:00 like he said, but, despite my

efforts, he did not get up until noon. He then procrastinated. We left as the

sun set the next day.

      Now you must know that this is the summer of 1974. We were in the

midst of a gas crisis. This meant that we might not encounter an open gas

station at night. We set out from Washington D.C. in Randolph’s Ford

Falcon with about 3/8 of a tank of gas. We were hoping to get gas on

Interstate 95 a bit north of Baltimore. As we traveled north, I found out that

the gas station would have to take an American Oil Credit card because

Randolph had no money and only an American Oil Credit card. (I had $15,

but by this time I knew Randolph well enough to know that I might need this

money to get home).

      Fortunately we were able to get gas on 95. We also picked up a

hitchhiker. Randolph loved to pick up hitchhikers. I am pretty sure that the

hitchhiker was glad to get a ride, but I am equally certain that this had to be

one of the more bizarre rides he had ever had. In the first place, there was

me, a 23 year old white boy, driving. The hitchhiker was in the front seat.

Randolph, a rather large black man, sat in the back seat with a flash light in

his mouth typing one of his articles that was due at Explorer Magazine in

two days. Periodically Randolph would ask the hitchhiker where he was

going to spend eternity or something like that. He kept it up until the

hitchhiker gave him an answer Randolph liked.

      I do not remember when the hitchhiker moved on, but I do remember

that I wished I could trade places with him. My destiny, however, resided


      We proceeded to Philly. It was getting late – may be around midnight.

It was then that I found out that Randolph had yet to contact his friends.

Much to Randolph’s surprise, when he did reach his friends at around 12:30

AM, they were not too happy to hear from him, and they did not want us to

spend the night.

      The only thing we could do was find a motel, but, with the exception

of my $15 – money I still did not want to tell Randolph about – we had no

money. What we did have was an American Oil credit card. These cards

were good at Quality Inns!! We discovered that the nearest Quality Inn was

in North Jersey very close to New York City. Even Randolph knew we

would have to abandon our plans to do research in Philadelphia.


      I had an agenda here. Randolph’s articles were due 36 hours after our

2 AM check in. Since he had only written two pages on one article (while

holding a flashlight in his mouth I might add), I thought the he should spend

the next day writing. He thought otherwise. One of the “perks” of this trip

was supposed to be him showing me New York City “like no one has seen it

before!!” This was his agenda, and he was about to fulfill his promise.

      We did not start in New York City at all. We started our day with

lunch at the home of Randolph’s friends. They had just had a baby and

Randolph was gaga over the child. After lunch, they gave Randolph $500.

Randolph promptly paid me $200. They invited us back to the house for

dinner that evening. Then they both took me aside and told me never to let

Randolph drive. I clearly understood the warning, but, try as I might, I was

not always able to achieve the goal.

      Before we left, Randolph told me to put on a suit or he would not let

me drive to New York City. I put on a suit and drove to Columbia

University where Randolph wanted to visit some of his professors at

Columbia’s School of Journalism. Now this is the only time I have ever been

to Columbia. I do not remember much, but I do remember us passing

through a large hall. It was like a ballroom with a stage at the end. On the

stage was a grand piano. There were a few people in the room who like us

were using it as a short cut from point A to point B. Randolph got up on the

stage and began to play the piano. His playing was beautiful!! It was like he

had practiced for years just for this occasion, but, until that moment, I did

not know he had even a remote interest in music. He played Mozart (I can’t

remember what) and the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s 9th. He did some jazz

and blues improvisations and some pop. He played for about ½ hour, and by

the time he had finished a mesmerized crowd of about 250 had gathered.

When he got up to leave, he received as loud an applause as 250 people

could give. I was in awe. I applauded as enthusiastically as anyone.

      Some kind of party was going on among the faculty of the Columbia

School of Journalism when we arrived. One would think it was for Randolph

the way he was greeted. He introduced me as his associate to the faculty

present. It was like homecoming. I was even accorded some status as

Randolph’s associate. Many came over to talk to me. The seemed interested

in our projects and in what Randolph was doing. I told them that we were

working on a book – I did not tell them the title. They all seemed pleased.

      Apparently the reason for this party was that the faculty had just

finished their meeting on awarding the Pulitzer Prize. They talked to me as if

I knew something about the nominees, but I had no knowledge. I had heard

of the prize of course, but I had no knowledge of how it was awarded or by

whom. Suffice it to say, I had more conversations about things I knew

nothing about during that party than at any other time in my life. It was at

this party that I learned that it is easier to admit ignorance than to pretend

you know something you don’t. All you have to do is ask, and someone will

tell you. It’s much less work.

             We left Columbia at about 4:30. I drove back to Randolph’s

friends’ house in North Jersey. We ate an early dinner and put the baby to

bed. I do not know how they found out – may be I told them – but

Randolph’s friends discovered that Randolph’s unfinished articles were due

at Explorer Magazine the next day at 2:00 pm. (These were the primitive

days before the internet and e-mail. In the old days, we had to deliver such

things in person). When they found out, they told Randolph that they agreed

with me. He would have to return to the motel and work on these articles.

We left their house around 8 or 9 pm so Randolph could do some work.


      On the way to the car, Randolph told me that he was guilt ridden, and

he could not write if he felt this way. I asked him why he felt this way and

he said that he had broken his promise to me. In his view, he had not shown

me New York City like no tourist has ever seen it. I told him that he could

show me New York after he had finished his articles, but he would hear

nothing of it. He was going to show me New York like no one had ever seen

it that night, and he would do the driving!! I got into the car.

      In the interest of time, I will not talk about the two accidents we

nearly had that evening or the reckless driving ticket Randolph received. I

knew he was a bad driver, but I should have been ticketed for stupidity in

agreeing to be his passenger.

      We drove to Harlem. We had a couple of drinks in a bar in Harlem.

(This was after Randolph received a ticket for reckless driving and one near

accident). Then we drove downtown to Greenwich Village. It was just

before midnight. As we drove through the Village, Randolph abruptly

slammed on the brakes abandoning the car and me in the middle of the

street. He ran into a near-by building. Since he took the keys with him, I

could do little but follow.

      As I entered the building, I heard Randolph pleading with a women on

the third floor. He was saying, “Come on Baby. I’ve come a long way. All I

want to do is talk to you.” From the other side of the door you heard, “Go

away Randolph!! I have nothing to say to you. Go away!” Randolph would

say, “Come on Baby!!” She would say, “Go Away Randolph!” This

antiphonal litany had about ten or fifteen repetitions. Now this is where it

gets strange!!!!

      All of a sudden the door to the apartment across the hall flies open to

reveal a man in a barber’s chair getting his hair cut. The barber’s chair was

exactly the same as the chairs in the barbershop a father would take his son.

This was an old fashioned, big barber chair with the pump-like lever on the

side that the barber uses to adjust the height of the chair. It was right in the

doorway. It could have been bolted to the floor for all I know.

             Now when the door flew open, the barber said, “Do any of you

guys need a hair cut?” At this, Randolph turns to the barber, rubs the top of

his head and asks, “Can you cut a Black man’s hair?” The barber admits that

he has not been trained to do this, and, as if Randolph had come to this

apartment for the purpose of getting a haircut, Randolph throws the car keys

to me and proceeds to his abandoned car. He tells me to drive to the Staten

Island Ferry which we take over to Staten Island. We then make our way

back to our Quality Inn were we discuss theology – actually the Roman

Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation - until the early morning.


      Randolph slept until mid-morning. He wrote his two articles in about

an hour, and we delivered them, on time, to Explorer Magazine. His former

boss was delighted to see him and invited us to attend his daughter’s high

school graduation that evening in Princeton, NJ. We then traveled to Trenton

so that Randolph could get a hair cut from an African American barber. On

the way he expressed his gratitude that I had prevented him from getting his

hair cut the night before. He said he knew that he should not get his hair cut

by a white barber, and appreciated the fact that I had reminded him of the

limitations the Greenwich Village barber may have possessed. I did not

remember his version of my rescuing him from the barber in the Village, but

I told him he was welcome. (By this point, I was not willing to say he was

wrong about these facts. I felt like I was in the middle of a dream any way.

Who knew what I had told him the night before).

      Randolph got an uneventful haircut and we dropped by his boss’s

house. I met the graduate, her mother and her brother. We all sat through the

graduation ceremony. I am not much for rituals. I consider them necessary

but boring. (This is quite problematic for someone who became a pastor, I

know). But this particular graduation was particularly boring to me because I

knew no one involved in it. I sat there and made cynical comments to the

younger brother of the graduate. After the last 48 hours, however, I

embraced the boredom. It was wonderful!!

      The boredom was shattered after the graduation when the graduate

came running out and threw her arms around me and planted a long and

quite passionate kiss on my mouth. She then shook hands with her father,

briefly hugged her mother, thanked Randolph for coming and bringing me

and waved to her brother. She and I then walked arm-in-arm as we followed

the rest of the family to the car and to dinner.


      I do not remember how I got home. I probably drove Randolph’s Ford

Falcon, but I do not remember that portion of the trip. In many ways I

believe that the crazy things that happened on this trip were a consequence

of Randolph’s absolute genius. I know some might say that Randolph was

insane. Others might say that I exhibited a touch of insanity by simply

following him around for a couple of days. Well there is a fine line between

insanity and genius, and I think Randolph fell on the genius side of the line.

You have heard people say, “He thinks outside the box.” Well, Randolph

lived outside the box, and for a couple of days I did too. Randolph clearly

fulfilled his pledge. I saw New York City as no one else could unless, of

course, they had Randolph as their guide.


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