You Must Be As Tall As This Sign

crispydoc Uncategorized 12 Comments

As a high school student, I was curious (double entendre entirely intentional). I read to escape from my safe suburban bubble and for exposure to new ideas. When I found a concept that rocked my world and challenged my assumptions, I sought other curious souls to share my excitement with.

My focus was directed just beyond my current horizon. I wanted new people, new ideas, new geographies. With the impatience of Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I wanted the whole world.

My hometown peers seemed provincial. To my elitist tastes, they were ignorant of global history and avoidant of exotic and beautiful cultures that were tantalizingly out of reach. My motivation to achieve academically was in part to flee the little taco stand of my youth in order to enter a mecca of cosmopolitan thinkers and doers.

I was insufferable. Your honor, members of the jury: I plead adolescence.

College was exhilarating – I was surrounded by brilliance. My campus contemporaries included the founders of Google, Yahoo, Paypal and Excite. My frosh dorm would produce a top executive at Dreamworks and a Major League All Star. The lead actor in our frosh musical would drop out of school to become a lead actor on Broadway.

A handful of overachievers from high school joined me in college, but I kept them at a remove in order to get to know the movers and shakers. I found an abundance of strivers, thinkers and doers, and considered myself lucky to be at a nexus of ideas and opportunities. When you get what you’ve sought, it’s seldom what you’d expected.

Those zealots who devoted themselves to great causes tended to be flawed or absent for their friends, as if giving everything to a cause meant having little left to give to the people in their life. Their particular movement – whether political, social or environmental – was all-consuming.

The creatives whose company I enjoyed were delightful at a party but unreliable as people. The friendships I cultivated among them tended to be one-sided. A few were narcissists. More often, the creatively gifted were organizationally retarded. I came to be disappointed by unreliable romantics.

There were even a few driven visionaries. They pursued their ideals relentlessly, but they consistently prioritized their dreams above their friendships. Sometimes they seemed a bit mercenary, at other times just absent-minded. You existed only insofar as you could help to advance their agenda.

I’ve accumulated a strange collection of photos over the decades of my education. Human rights leaders. Congressional representatives. Academic and business and public health superstars. Filmmakers. I haven’t dialed most of their numbers in years.

College was a time to reassess what I valued in friendships, and I raised the bar considerably. I valued dependability, presence, insight, and a strong moral compass.

After all my snobbery, I left college with a small core of friendships: most were friends from high school. They are still the folks I call in my time of need.

Comments 12

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      You’ve been with me from the start. I’ll either figure out a better size, or gift you some reading glasses until I sort things out.



  1. I dunno the font is OK with me, perfectly legible.

    When I was in grade school I got into something called amateur radio. Man I was hot for it. I built my equipment from parts I scrapped out of old TV caucuses and I tried to electrocute myself daily. Later I just bought ready made stuff and kits. What that hobby gave me was access world wide. I’ve talked to people in over 300 countries and entities, and I would often talk to them over the years. There’s a guy over in Japan, a now retired physician I’ve been talking to for 20 years. We talk using Morse code. I grew up in a university town, I was a townie but it didn’t seem that provincial. Plenty of trouble to get into.

    In college I fell in with a group of grad students. Math, Poly Sci, Law, these guys were brilliant. We formed a band that played bluegrass and southern rock. Played a steady gig at a bar/pool hall every Friday afternoon. We’d pass out washboards to the jokers in the front row and the steam would blow. Casey Jones didn’t have anything on us. I didn’t buy a beer for a year, but I drank my share. Those guys were a blast and they all went on to become professors and dept chairmen and judges. Never kept in contact after the first 5 years, life went on, but the history remained.

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      1) University town upbringing sounds idyllic – all the culture and delicious ethnic dives plus an intellectual hub (and hopefully culture of readership) . I sometimes imagine retiring to a university town when I’m less mobile and want walking distance amenities as I transition away from a car-based life.

      2) Ever tempted to reach out to your old crew of grad student musicians via modern social contrivances? Always interests me to see the paths folks take…

  2. I didn’t fit very well in HS, for me it was like living in a Dylan song

    I see my light come shining
    From the west unto the east
    Any day now, any day now
    I shall be released

    The U definitely was my way out. Endless pursuit available. By the time I finished though I was ready to be done. I couldn’t walk 10 feet down the main drag without running into people I knew between townies, teachers, students I had taught and students I had taken class with, so there is some limit to moving on when you live in that milieu. For my parents they eventually left, actually before I did but they had mature adult friendships and kept those active for decades. In my case I was passing through on the way to adulthood.

    I looked up a few of my friends but the experience was like querying history. Life had moved on. We still had some kind of emotional bond but nothing much in common except the past and it was impossible to create a present out of memories.

    You gotta live somewhere, a university town is as good as any, but it won’t be anything like being “in the university”. You’ll be a townie.

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      The misfit theme is a recurring one among the folks I like. I’m trying to bring up my kids with an outsider identity, both to inoculate against peer pressure and allow each to create the tune they want to dance to. It makes it easier to be a nerd when you are comfortable in your skin.

      As for the university student vs. townie distinction, makes sense. It’s hard to reconcile romantic and realist aspirations.

      1. If you want to give your kids freedom to think and freedom to be, consider the article I wrote on some crispydocs website.

        Here is the saying on my daughters insta header:

        veritas vertuatem redit. pulchritudo veritatem redit

        Roughly translated it says “The truth returns, beauty truly returns” or When the truth returns, beauty truly returns. She got there on her own. I didn’t control the process. I merely provided a safe environment in which she could exist and evolve.

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          The article and conclusion are sound. You get the seed you are given. It grows the way it is intended to grow, making slower progress in spite of what you do or accelerated growth thanks to the fertile conditions you provide. Did you have such a healthy perspective at the time, or only in retrospect?

          1. Man you want me to bear my nerdiness. When I was a kid like 6 I got hot for amateur radio. My Dad was an engineer and decided to nurture my heat. Instead of the usual toys I got something called a “knight kit” which was a 2 tube radio receiver kit, and then my Dad and me spent a couple months post Christm as building the kit. It had pictures of construction and color codes for the components so I did the “construction” according to the rules and he did the soldering and supervising. Cool way for a Dad and a kid to meet on the field of life. But wait there’s more… There was a magazine called popular electronics and I got a subscription for my bday. There was a monthly story in that mag like electronic hardy boys and I waited every month to devour that magazine,,, the nurture continued but it’s enough of the history to paint the picture of how you make this work. I grew up on the south side of Chicago and played hockey and baseball and all the normal kid stuff but I always had this little other fascinating pastime of electronics. It continued through college and into my career and even into medicine since electrical engineering and anesthesia are heavily based in systems analysis. I understood what my Dad had done to me at an early age but he did it in a way that let it come out of my will, intellect and interest so I never rebelled I just kept getting smarter

            When I got my kids I did the same analysis. One kid was all about the facts. She loved to know stuff so she got books and access to knowing stuff. The other kid loved to create and she loved entrepreneurialism so she got access to whatever she needed to proceed. Sometimes one kids interest would cross pollinate with the other kids interest. They both got dance and gymnastics and they both got music and they both got access to media like video making and photography and I let them take those to where they would take them. One kid has won some cash awards for her art photography and does wedding senior photos etc. She’s all about light dark contrast and borders. the other is a portrait photographer an slice of life and trick shot artist. She’s all about people scenes and interesting ways go grab the image, very different kinds of smoke but still very cool to watch them “become” #2 also runs a business and they make typically $200 a week part time side gig money.

            I make a lot of money, so it’s no big deal to spend a little of it creating an environment and seeing where it goes. My girl was interested in piano we had a keyboard, She got hot about it, she got a Baldwin upright, she got righteous about it she got a Kawai grand piano. She got committed and went to music school. She can now beat a Steinway into submission and has the degree cum laude to prove it. You can never tell where it will take you

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            Paints a vivid picture of your childhood, your father’s talents, and two generations worth of encouragement and support. I probably need to ease up and throw the fertilizer around a little more freely. Trying to balance the kids’ developing a sense of value (they are living in a bubble of affluence, which is always in the back of my mind) while still providing fodder for their imagination, and I fear sometimes in trying to underscore the cost of things I undermine the growth of the imagination.

            Lots to mull over looking at your reply. Thank you, my friend.

  3. My kids have no real idea of my net worth. I’m so stealth wealth it’s even invisible to them, but I live in a little fruit town in FL. It might be a little harder to pull that off in southern CA where affluence tends to be front and center (at least that’s my experience of CA). Way I look at it the kid has one childhood, one period where the creativity explodes and the 7th graders aren’t yet tearing the self esteem to shreds, so goose that sucka.

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      In California, your home represents a large portion your net worth, and it’s hard to hide. Less about flaunting ostentatiously – the buy in to certain public school districts that are desirable is high.

      We’ll try to let the creativity flow before the peers get mean!

      We try to deflect net worth discussions since the kids are less discreet at their current ages, but we do talk a lot about money, and through travels (Chiapas, Mexico last summer) about poverty, the ovarian lottery, and what purpose money serves.

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