Bud

by Matt Olson


I met Bud at my first, and last, job interview. He was my patron saint of psychology from that day until his death in 2007. I will never forget him, and there are lots who will never forgive him. One of a kind. No contenders.  The scary part is that I think he genuinely liked me and respected me. Some people tell me that this makes me a character of dubious distinction.

I had completed a presentation to my dissertation committee late July, 1977. I showed them the data and analyses, and all but one were seriously skeptical. As I was concluding the presentation, I saw that one of those in attendance was passing around a note... just like little kids in a 5th grade class---except that these were serious Full professors at The University of Michigan. When the "Kick Me" note finally made the rounds, one of the big guys passed it to me and recommended that I re-analyze my data according to the instructions on the note. If I knew then what I know now... "Any linear transformation of the data will yield the same results." ... I could have ended the trial then. Of course, any change in the script would have resulted in an entirely different play and I would not be writing this little story now. Who knows? 

My next 30 or so hours were spent at the computer center. In those days, nobody had PCs or laptops or anything like that. You went to the computer center on campus, found a machine, and did your work. My work took about 30 hours and hundreds of Fortran punch cards (Google it). Grad students today are spoiled punks.  

When I finished transforming my data, according to the instructions on the note-- and saw the same results because any linear transformation.... I staggered back to my apartment, drank a beer, and welcomed a coma. That was when the phone rang.  A woman identifying herself as the Social Sciences secretary at Hamline University asked if I could come for a job interview. I told her that I would call her back and resumed my coma. For reasons that I'll never really comprehend, when I woke up several hours later, I remembered the phone number. Two days later, I was on a flight to Saint Paul, with no clue whatsoever how they found me or what I would do when I got there

When I got off the plane, there were two guys waiting for me. One of them, who introduced himself as Bud, greeted me and told me that I had to be Matt Olson. I agreed that I had to be and shook hands with him and his colleague Jerry. Bud explained that my graduate advisor, one of the founders of Brooks Cole Publishing, was helping him develop a textbook when the man who had a  (my) one-year, temporary appointment in the department walked in and resigned. Given that this was the end of July and that classes would begin in the first week of September, Bud went into a slight panic. My grad advisor, who wanted nothing more than to get rid of his last graduate student and retire to Monterrey, calmed Bud down and assured him that he knew the perfect person for the job. Two birds, one stone. And that is why Bud and Jerry knew to look for a longhair with some turquoise around his neck as passengers came off the plane. He suggested that we stop for a snack before they drove me to the university and leave me for the night, and that seemed like a dandy idea.        

The bar where we snacked had two main rooms. One included strippers, but Bud thought they might be too distracting and that we would have better conversation in the other room, and we did. He asked if I could teach a section of General Psychology, a course on this, and a course on that. I lied and told him I'd be glad to do it. I had the training, mostly. It was likely that I was a little smarter than some of the students. And I could read faster. If nothing else, grad school helps you to learn to read fast. Sure, I'd be glad to teach all those classes. 

Once that was settled, we had a grand time. Some of it was actually spent talking about the small, private college called Hamline University and all the things I could expect from students and colleagues. Some of it was me dropping the names of the relatively high power faculty that had kicked my ass around for the previous 4 years. I knew there had to be a good reason for associating with those bastards, and here it was.

 A few drinks later, as we were leaving, Jerry leaned over and told me that, if he knew Bud, I had the job. Still, I'd have to go through the interview process the next day for the ritual of it. Plus, it was really too late to recruit anyone else for the position. The ritual was not a major problem. Have breakfast with students, some of whom were pissed that I was replacing one of their familiar faces. I still have a deep friendship with the former student who rescued me from that snake pit. Sit for interviews with a couple of committees, both of which were sparsely populated because it was summer. Go out to eat with other faculty so that they could be assured that I didn't eat with my paws and lick my plate. And then a return trip to the airport, during which Bud assured me that I had the job because he didn't give a damn about what the committees thought. And there it was.

Marce was not exactly delighted when I told her that I had a job offer in Saint Paul, Minnesota. When she agreed to stay on this ride with me, at least in the short run, I agreed that I would not take jobs in Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, or Alaska. When I told her about Saint Paul, she said simply "I should have thought more carefully about the list." I reminded her about the arts scene in the Twin Cities, the progressive reputation of Minnesota, and the fact that this was a one-year, temporary appointment. She agreed to come along. 

When we moved to Minnesota, we managed to find a place to rent--in this case, the lower half of a house about 5 miles from campus. Both bicycle distance and, when winter set in, easy public transportation from the campus. I kicked dissertation writing into high gear, selected a few textbooks for the courses I was assigned. And work began.   

Marce found out about the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and managed to find a job there. I thought a professor's salary was supposed to be higher, but no. Together, we would be able to pool our funds and make it.

By the time the semester started, I was ready. The first morning I arrived for classes, I walked up the sidewalk leading to our building, eager to begin the semester. Our offices were and are on the first floor, and the sidewalk passes by them. The buildings crew was not so efficient or professional in those days, and as I walked by Bud's office, I noticed something a little ... well...different. In the grime on the inside of the window, written backwards from the inside so that passersby on the sidewalk could read it clearly, was "Chicago + 3." That was it. I didn't think much of it, even that night when I watched the Chicago Bears play some opponent or other on Monday Night Football. The Bears won by a healthy margin, and it all became a little more clear the next morning when a procession of faculty members "dropped in" to say hi to Bud and pay their losses. Later that morning, he came to our offices and called for a quick meeting out in the common area. Once assembled he checked our teaching schedules and announced that we were going to lunch, and off we went. Most Mondays had the betting line in the window smudge; most Tuesdays included lunch with Bud, all paid for by the Bears, the Packers, the 49ers ... I once asked him if, as a native of Chicago,  the Bears were his favorite team. His response: "I don't follow football."

Those first years revealed that Bud was an avid gambler. No, he wasn't a fan of football, baseball, basketball or Olympic sport. On the other hand, if there was a bet to be made, he was keenly tuned in to the event. And he appeared to win at this craft. He and my other colleague, Jerry, also participated in a sport called "penny stocks."  I don't know if such things exist today, but there used to be initial public offerings of stocks that sold for a penny or a nickel a share. Bud, who had extra money because of his gambling and textbooks, and Jerry, who had a private clinical practice on the side, would each toss $500 in a pool and buy "penny stocks" every month. Sometimes they lost their money; but it only took one or two successful stocks --St Judes, Sears, etc-- to make the whole thing work. They both retired in comfort. I, on the other hand, was making about $1,000 each month. I knew that the penny stock game was out of my league, and I'm sure Marce would have agreed. Bud and Jerry once convinced the other new faculty member, paid about the same as me, that he should play penny stocks. He did, and it was a bad month. They lost all their money. My new colleague went into such a funk that Bud and Jerry wrote him a check for $500. He never played again, and I felt wise.

As his gambling hobby grew, Bud began taking frequent trips to Las Vegas, and when his retirement rolled around, he bought a condo on the northwest end of town. Part of his interest was gambling, of course, but his condo was right on the fairway of the second or third hole of the golf course that came with this gated, condo community. Bud loved golf, which he had taken up only a couple of years earlier, and he was frighteningly good at it. Within days after moving in, he went to the pro-shop to inquire about the course. He asked what it cost to play, and the pro told him that it was $50. Bud remarked that $50 was a really affordable annual fee. When the pro corrected him,pointing out that it was $50 a round, Bud's golf days ended as abruptly as they began. He would sit out on his patio and wait for golf balls to land nearby. The golfers attached to those balls were out of sight, perhaps 100 yards or more away. Bud found it amusing to scurry out on the course and steal the balls. When the golfers finally arrived, looking here and there for the balls that ought to be around there somewhere, they would ask. He, of course, denied ever seeing them. Anybody who ever visited Bud in Vegas went home with a couple dozen golf balls.  

By that time, he had brought me on as a writing partner on two of his textbooks, and he summoned me to Vegas about twice a year so that we could work on our writing projects. My first visit was revealing. We worked all day long drafting sections of text, and at the end of the day, he suggested we, including his girlfriend,  go out to a nearby casino. I explained that I wasn't much of a gambler and wasn't particularly interested, but he insisted. "When you live here you never go out to casinos. The only time I get to go is when visitors come to town." Somehow this made sense to me, and I agreed to go out and play. He was disappointed that I only brought 3 or 4 rolls of nickels to play the nickel - slots, but off we went. 

We went out to the casino nearest his home. As you walk into this place, there is a cashier's cage where you can exchange money for chips or vice versa. The cashier looked up and hollered "Hi Bud." Bud walked on as if he hadn't heard the greeting. Twenty feet or so later, we passed by a Blackjack table. The dealer looked up "How you doing Bud?"  And once again Bud, who only went to casinos when friends came to town, walked on. Bud led his girlfriend to these horrible Keno machines, and asked her to show me how to play. He wandered off to do his own thing. 

I have tried to forget the damn Keno. You put your money in the machine, pick a few numbers between 1 and 80. If I recall, you get 5 or 6 picks.  The machine randomly selects perhaps 20 numbers between 1 and 80. If you match numbers with the machine, you win. If all of your numbers match, the payoff is pretty large (for a nickel game). It sounds like an easy one to win, but the house always has the edge. Bud's girlfriend, also his savant editor, kept picking the same 5 numbers--over and over again. I finally pointed out that she hadn't won a thing yet. Why not change it up?  "Oh no!  These are my lucky numbers. I always win with these numbers."  After watching her lose for about 15 more minutes, I wandered off to find some nickel poker machines.

Perhaps an hour later, Bud showed up with a bucket full of quarters that he won, and we went off to find the girlfriend. By that time, she had lost more than $40 in nickels playing her magic lucky numbers. Out of nowhere, a waitress appeared with a bottle of Andeker beer on a little tray and said "Here's your beer, Bud."  He looked surprised and asked aloud where it came from. She said "After all Bud, it is 11 o'clock."  

When he finally left Vegas, Bud had to clear up three lines of credit at different casinos. That debt plus the discovery of a body in the trunk of a car in his neighborhood convinced him that it was time to go.  He put $450,000 in cash in a suitcase and headed for Bellingham, Washington. Bellingham is a lovely place on Puget Sound where his youngest son lived. Bud had 7 kids in all. He had some contact with his eldest son and had a very positive relationship with the youngest in Bellingham. The others basically ignored him and never communicated.

Back in the 1970s, Bud noticed that Radical (Skinnerian) Behaviorism was not represented in the department, so he basically became B. F. Skinner. He wrote a book called "How to Shape Your Child's Personality," invoking every behavioristic principle on the table. For example, birthday presents and parties are foolish, non-contingent reinforcement. No reason you should get a present just because you are there on your birthday; if anything, your mother should get a present. So, no more birthday celebrations in Bud's family. Same for Christmas, Easter, whatever. Halloween was viewed as an awful event where children are reinforced for begging at a stranger's doorstep. Bud had no problem making fun of people who celebrated these events, and of course his kids became the neighborhood misfits and outcasts. Most of his kids and his wife resented this transformation-- all except the youngest who was too little to be aware of what was going on. Too bad they didn't hang in there until the 80's when Bud noticed that Humanistic Psychology was not represented in the department. He left Skinner behind and morphed into Carl Rogers. Fascinating 180-degree transformation. 

Once in Bellingham, Bud located some premium condos right on Puget Sound. He just went door-to-door, introducing himself to the occupants. He would open up the suitcase and show them the $450K and offer to buy their condo. Strangely, it worked, and he wound up with a beautiful place with a panoramic view of Puget Sound. Once moved in, he was out one morning and encountered three neighbors. They did the introductions all round, and one of them asked how he liked the small condo village. Bud said he liked it just fine,  but he wondered "What kind of asshole has to have a huge flagpole right outside the door?"  The three neighbors, one of whom was a very proud asshole with his patriotic flagpole, never spoke to him again

At about that time, Marce and I were learning to sail a little 17-foot Daysailor. I was talking to Bud about it, and he told me of his plans to buy a 28--30 foot sailboat and anchor it in the Sound. I expressed my surprise. Told him that I didn't know he was a sailor. He told me that, of course, he was not. Had no interest at all in sailing. He just wanted the boat as a site where he could have parties. He went so far as to make an appointment to visit a sailboat that was for sale. Once on board, he noticed several used condoms casually tossed here and there, and that was it. No more boat interests whatsoever.

Bud had a strange relationship with modern medicine. His grandfather was a physician, and Bud dedicated one of the books to him. Apparently, it was his grandfather who inspired him to stay in school. Makes a nice story, but Bud disliked physicians and didn't see them often.  One evening in Las Vegas, he started to have severe abdominal pains. Rather than call an ambulance, he just stayed home and drank Pepto Bismol.  After his appendix burst, he was found unconscious in his condo. His story is that one of the sororities at University of Nevada, Las Vegas,  offered to come to your place, get topless, and clean. He claimed, at least to me, that it was the topless sorority sisters who found him. Maybe so. 

He was in the hospital for almost two weeks, lost about 80 pounds, and was finally discharged. Probably went out to the casino as soon as he was mobile. One might learn from such an experience, but no. While in his Puget Sound home, he began to experience chest pain and pressure. More Pepto Bismol.  This time it was his son who found him unconscious. About 2 AM, one July 2007 Sunday morning, my phone rang. It was his eldest son, explaining that Bud had a massive heart attack and was on life support at the Bellingham hospital. He knew Bud's wishes, and they were disconnecting the machines later that day. He would call me when it was over.

Next day passed, but there was no phone call. Of course, they were grieving and would contact me soon. Tuesday went by. No phone. On Wednesday, I did a computer search and confirmed that there was only one hospital in Bellingham. I called and lied that I wanted to send flowers to a patient there, but needed to know how to direct them. The receptionist asked who the patient was, and when I told her she said "Oh, don't send them here. We are discharging him today. " 

I waited a day and called him at his condo, and there he was. As big Bud as ever. I asked how he was doing, and he said "I remembered the joke!"

Bud had a reputation for butchering jokes. You could tell him the one about discovering Bugs Bunny in the refrigerator and Bugs says "This is a Westinghouse, right? We'll, I'm westing!"  Bud would retell it to his friends at lunch. He would start laughing before even choking the joke out "This guy discovers Daffy Duck in the refrigerator and Daffy says "Frigidaire!" He would cackle as his lunch companions looked on helplessly. We tried to teach him the joke about how to circumcise a whale-- send down four skin (foreskin) divers.  Pretty simple pun, right? I was at lunch with the gang when he started coughing and wiping his eyes. He asked me if he could tell the whale joke, and I couldn't wait: "How do you circumcise a whale?   Scuba Divers!!'  And down he went laughing so hard he could barely breathe. It was not unusual, on days he went out with his pals for lunch, to hear a knock on my office door in the early afternoon. All the lunch companions were there. "Please tell the joke about the alligator."  or "Tell the one about the fertilizer salesman."  Once they heard the real thing, we would sit howling as they recounted how Bud slaughtered the joke beyond all recognition. One of the football coaches and I made it our mission to teach Bud one joke, just one, that he could get right. That joke will not appear here because it is so foul. Nonetheless, he learned it and it became his favorite. 

So in my post-heart attack, telephone conversation, he told me that he remembered the joke. The context was this: He was unconscious in the life-support room. For whatever reason, he remembered the joke and woke up laughing. When he really became aware of where he was, he began removing tubes, IV lines, those little monitor clips-- everything. He became so damn obnoxious that they decided to discharge him. He told me that a nurse was at his condo, checking up on him; and as soon as the nurse got out of there, he would tell me what his 36 year-old girlfriend did to cause the heart attack. I never got to talk with him again, but I was curious. Bud was 72. Two, maybe three weeks later, he called his eldest and youngest sons together and said it was time. And it was.

 

 


Are we a good dad?

by Matt Olson


A number of recent events in the news have made me question my role as a dad. My daughter, Mira,  is now an adult, married to a wonderful man, starting her own business, and otherwise thriving. Like all of us, she has anxious days, struggles with stress, and gets walloped by unexpected events. When you see someone that talented and motivated and disciplined, you have to wonder if you helped shape her; and you have to wonder where you screwed up. The recent news events in question have to do, of course, with the problem of corporal punishment. Is it OK to beat on your child? Does it do any good? What could be wrong with a little, old-fashioned, Biblical thumping? I could go on listening forever to professional athletes reminisce about how they were abused and how it helped make them the sociopaths that they are and how they are passing that great tradition on to their kids. 

Here's the truth. We "spanked" my daughter 5 times in her life. Never used a tool for the job. Always with the flat of a hand. The only time her Mom hit was her was to knock a tube of potentially toxic oil paint out of her mouth. Seems like it could have been a good idea.  My first attempt at spanking came when she was about 4 or so. She was determined to disembowel all of her stuffed toys... why, I am not sure. First I asked her to stop. Next I told her to stop. Next I warned her that she would receive her first spanking with 3, count them, 3 swats if she kept emptying her toys of their viscera. When I finally pushed this preposterous ritual to conclusion and made her bend over my lap, I was laughing so hard that the swats on her behind were meaningless. She knew it; and so did I. 

The episode in the snow was her second spanking. We had a big snowfall in the great White North, and I had to go out to shovel the sidewalk. The streets had been plowed, so there was a bit of traffic on our busy street in South Minneapolis. Mira wanted to come out and "help" me shovel. So be it. Bundle her up in a paralyzing snowsuit, and out we go. I asked her to stay close and, above all, to stay out of the street. She grinned and nodded and waited for me to let my guard down. As soon as I started shoveling, she was headed out into the street. I grabbed her and reminded her about the street problem. As soon as I was back on the shovel, she was headed out to the street again. This time, I turned her toward the sidewalk and gave her a slap on her heavily padded rear end with a heavily gloved winter hand. This, of course, accelerated her toward the safety of the sidewalk. Even better, she whirled around to see where this slap on the butt came from. I whirled dramatically with her. "What just happened? Did you feel that?" She did not venture out onto that dangerous street with its butt slaps again.

There were other corporal moments, but they all had the same comical quality. One evening, when she was in the psychosis of 13 and 14 year-old girls, she was really razzing on me about money. Why didn't I make more so that she could have more? Indeed. I threw a spoon (with peanut butter) at her. She remembers this differently. She still thinks I threw a knife at her. I know that I did not. And there's no way to change her memory of that event. I will always be sorry. Important part was that I missed by a foot. And I was the one who had to clean up the peanut butter.

Onward. The question seems to be "Where did I learn to be a dad?" The obvious answer is that I learned from my own father, and he learned from his, and on and on. Usually, there are no textbooks or classes for this, and television is not the place to learn. Make up your own examples here.

My father was the child of Norwegian immigrants. His father had changed his name at least 3 times to get into the United States around 1900. No explanation for why. I suspect he was running from somebody in the old country and needed to hide. What I knew about my father's childhood was not really pretty. His mother, all 4'10" of her, was the primary family disciplinarian. She did not spank any of the 6 children on the farm. She punched. She punched right in the nose, and she knocked her kids down and out. Once, upon learning to fear this little woman, I made some remark or other about how mean or sad or awful that was. My father's comment was something like "You would rather have her punch you in the face than have grandpa get mad." He and all his siblings had a deep, horrible fear of their father.

When he was in sixth grade or junior high, my dad joined the school choir. If I remember correctly, he also sang in the church choir. He had a love for classical music, and would often turn the family radio (no TV or internet in those days) to a station that played classical music. For these unmanly transgressions, his father referred to him as "The Sissy." "Tell The Sissy to shovel snow." or "Tell The Sissy to pass the potatoes. " The result was predictable. My father grew up to be a vicious son-of-a-bitch. 

I am the only person that I know-- for a fact-- who was ever punished by my father's father--my grandfather. I was about 10 years old for that visit to the grandparents. By that time, they had a television, but in those days, TVs were a chore. The picture would sometimes be shifted right or left of center. There was a little dial or knob for "Horizontal Hold," and one turned it to center the picture. Sometimes, the picture would flip up or down, and we had to use the "Vertical Hold" to make it stop. 

My grandfather was in his upper 80s at the time. He would get up in the morning, have a glass of sweet wine, eat breakfast, put a chew of tobacco in his cheek, walk to the living room with his cane, and sit down with his television. He would sit there for about 3 hours. He did not move, nor did he spit tobacco juice. On the morning in question, the Vertical Hold was not behaving, and the picture on the screen was flipping endlessly upward. It was a serious headache. I got up, told him I would fix it, and kneeled down in front of his television. He said clearly "Don't touch it." I started to say "I'm just..." and all of a sudden, he was beating  the hell out of me with his cane. No idea how he got across the room that fast. Later when I told my parents what had happened, my dad said "Told you." Lots of sympathy there. My grandfather never mentioned it. Too bad he died before he could apologize. I'm sure it was on his bucket-list.

My father, as referenced above, was vicious. He hit me with whatever was handy-- usually too much trouble for the old "take-off-the-belt" ritual. I got clobbered with a length of rope, a shovel, and other random tools. I received no orders to go and cut a switch for him. He relished the thrill of the hitting occasion. Waiting for me to choose his weapon would never do. Now is the time for hitting.  On one fine day, we were driving from Holbrook to Winslow on old Highway 66. I was in the back seat of the car; my dad was driving, and my mother was the front passenger. I must have said something... no idea what it was. The old man held onto the steering wheel with his left hand and took a swing at me with his right. He missed, and I made the mistake of laughing out loud. He pulled off the road and stopped to make sure he didn't miss again. Great fun.  And I was still laughing when he beat hell out of me. We can spare other specifics. You may get the idea from this little snapshot. 

Am we a bad dad because, between the two of us, we spanked our daughter 4 or 5 times? I might be the wrong person to ask, but I say No. Pretty damn good given how I learned to be a dad. Sissy. 


How to be a Professor

by Matt Olson


On multiple occasions, I have been asked to recount how I became a psychology professor. Usually it happens once a year because of a project that other malevolent professors assign to first year students. Some of these visits are perfunctory: "What degree do you need to be you?"  Others put out the bait: "What inspired you to be a psychologist?" The students who ask that one are usually glancing at the door, their cell-phones, or other escapes long before the answer is complete. Perhaps what follows will save me and them the trouble. I never knew the possible benefits that this website might bestow.

I was initially inspired to become a psychologist by a girl I knew in Holbrook, Arizona in the 60's, between 5th and 8th grade. Her name was Liz. I say no more, because now she is (probably) a retired, successful City Attorney in a southern Arizona city. I'm sure she doesn't want any part of this. Between late 6th grade and end of 8th, when I moved from Arizona, forever, I had a hard crush on Liz. Problem was that she loved my best friend--really a best friend until his death in 1992. They were always in a major fight, and she would call me late at night for advice and support. Being the upstanding and faithful and honorable person I am, I always took these occasions to convince her that I should be her boyfriend, and that these fights were only the beginning of an awful relationship with him. Good Guy. I can be your best friend too. 

The problem was that she always laughed at this stuff. Told me how my humor helped her think better. Thanked me for helping her get things straightened out. And our conversations always ended with "You should be a psychologist. I can talk to you about anything. You are just like a brother."  It took me many years to get that "brother" comment. I had no chance and I never knew it, which must happen often as testosterone makes adolescent boys insane. Nonetheless, there was the seed. I should be a psychologist. I wasn't quite sure what it was, but what the hell? I was 13 years old.

When my 9th grade year rolled around, Arizona was behind and I was home in New Mexico. This time it was Albuquerque. My favorite class that first semester was Civics, which I understand is not taught much these days. Then again, who cares how government is supposed to work?We have Fox News. I think the teacher's name was Mrs Kline. (Although I could be wrong... I had several teachers named Mrs Kline early on. The only thing I'm sure about is that their first names weren't Mrs.) At one point during the class, we had a "Career Unit" and we were all to complete a psychological questionnaire called an "Interest Inventory."

Before we began the exercise, the teacher went around the room and asked what we thought we would be when we were out school and had jobs. My turn was coming.... psychologist, psychologist... what the hell did it mean? How could I explain it.?Everyone else had Teacher, Doctor, Nurse, Carpenter.... mostly male of course. It was 1964. I have always believed in divine intervention since this day. My turn was 3 away. The guy 3 ahead announced "Fireman!" and most of his friends laughed because that was his intention. Alby was about 4'8'' tall. He didn't evoke fire-hose hauling and chopping and carrying folks down a ladder.  John M,, 2 seats ahead, who was a great guy to hang with and smoke cigarettes, announced proudly "I wanna be a Cowboy!" Most of the class, including the teacher, fell out. I crossed my fingers. Next guy was Jim L., who I sorta knew from back in Gallup as little kids. Jim's stepdad owned a bar, so we always had a great source of stolen booze. Jim was popular.  His time came. She asked what he wanted to do for his job. He actually stood up, presented himself with a slight, comical bow, and said proudly "I want to be a Pimp." End of exercise. I never had to mention psychologist or even try to explain what one of them might do. Safe for now. I was always grateful to Jim L..  A few weeks later, some guys from another junior high, with whom we always had "rumbles," beat him badly with a fireplace shovel. Broken ribs, serious bruises and cuts, but he never lost his edge and was still a major smartass. First guy I knew who caught the clap. Man, he made me laugh.

The questionnaire was distributed, and we all set about to do well, as 9th graders are prone to do. About 10 questions into this multiple-choice nonsense, I realized it was nonsense. (And I still think so!!) I began to answer every item with the most absurd possibility or the answer I thought was most humorous--and you know the quality of 9th grade humor. I had the most (school) fun in 9th grade that day, and I delighted in handing in my first official psychological inventory--as far as I know. 

A couple of weeks later, the results came back. If I recall, every student's result showed 3 possible careers. Sometimes one career dominated the others; sometimes three occupations were about the same. On my results, there were three occupations: Teacher was low, but it was there. Sociologist was next, still low, and who the hell in 9th grade knows what Sociology is? Dominating, almost 4:1 over everything? You got it: Psychologist. This is my return for entertaining and attempting to subvert a process. I can see this pattern throughout my life.

The next assignment for the class, of course, was to contact, call, write or annoy (there was no email) a person who did what we were supposed to do. My result said psychologist. I had to talk to one to see what she or she did. I first talked to my parents, who knew about counseling psychologists—family therapists and the like. No idea beyond that. Better yet, they didn’t know any. Next step, why not call the University of New Mexico psychology department? There must be a few of them there.

I called the University psych department and talked to a nice lady who listened to my story. She put me on hold, and then told me that she was transferring my call to the head of the department, Frank Logan. For those of you who don't know-- and I didn't until I was in grad school-- Frank Logan was an influential, neo behaviorist-- probably best desribed as being in the Hullian rather than Skinnerian tradition. If that makes no sense to you, google it. Anyway, here is this 13 year old kid asking Logan what psychologists do and then listening for more than an hour while he described Pavlov's research , the behavioristic era in American psychology, and several of his experiments with rats. I really had no clue what the hell he was talking about, but I took great notes and wrote an "A" paper. My fire for being a psychologist was damped. Rats? Learning Theory? 

About a year later, now in Wisconsin and free of the Liz lust, my mother set me straight. I didn't want to be a psychologist. I wanted to have a career where I helped people. I wanted to be a Psychiatrist!  Aha!  Lay down on the couch, tell me about your Mother! Tell me your most lurid dream!!  I can do this. And so began three years of high school targeted at pre-medical undergrad and eventual med school. No pressure there. 

I managed to get out OK... eventually graduated 6th in a class of 686. My folks were disappointed. Problem was that I had become political. I joined the NAACP Youth Council in Milwaukee in 1966 or so, trained in non-violent resistance, marched for open housing, sucked down more tear gas than I want to remember, got whacked in the head by a fat Milwaukee pig-cop. By the time college came, that whack in the head re-directed me. I won a nominal books & fees scholarship to University of Wisconsin and headed to Madison, but I was on strike by mid-November. I dropped out of college the following May. 

When I went back to college a year later, it was at University of California, Davis, and I was basically on my own. My disappointed folks were not tuned up to the notion of helping with tuition and the like. I took General Psych, Sociology of Black Americans, and The American Political Process for my first three classes, and I earned an A, a B+, and a C, respectively. Psychology major, here we come. Given that pre-med was a distant memory, I set my sites on becoming a Clinical Psychologist. You can counsel and help and do "therapy" but no MD and no writing prescriptions. Seemed fine. 

Almost 2 years later, I got a chance to practice being a Clinical Psychologist. It was actually a class assignment: Find a friend, do 5 sessions, and write it up like a case study. Easy. My friend Kathy seemed eager to help me with the assignment. In our first "hour," she told me how her brother and grandfather raped her repeatedly when she was 6, how she was so ugly as a child that boys would chase her down and beat her up, and how her first menstrual period lasted 6 months. The next sessions only got worse. I was sure that, if this was my job, I would go home and hang myself. The prof actually read my paper aloud to the class-- laughing at the parts that were the most awful. In the end, he announced that the assignment wasn't a good idea, that he would never do it again, and that I had to get my friend Kathy into real therapy. I suggested in class and out loud, that he could deal with that, given that it was his goddam assignment, and he laughed some more.

I was pretty depressed. First I screwed up pre-med--actually didn't even give it a chance. And now this. I had built up to being a Clinician, but it was not for me. That quarter, I was taking an Experimental Social Psychology course from the great Al Harrison. Class was about 250 people, and Al was eccentric as hell. He always had a cigarette in the right, lower-corner of his mouth, and the ash would get longer and longer until it finally dropped on his lecture notes--and then he would finally notice his cigarette. The material was about attitude formation, and racism, and conformity. He littered his lectures with sly jokes and jabs-- at least I thought so. Often, in the class of 250, there was only one asshole laughing out loud. Al would look up and acknowledge me, cause he knew he was funny as hell.  He deserved the appreciation. One day, it just struck me like a bolt of lightning. Al was a PSYCHOLOGIST! He didn't have to deal with clients who would tell him horrible stories that he had to carry home and try to forget. The weight of another person's mental health did not burden him. He taught. Important stuff. He changed my life, for sure. And that was it. I knew I wanted to be a professor who taught undergrads important and even uncomfortable stuff.

I followed Al back to his office that day. He noticed that I was following and tried to speed up a bit. I'm sure he thought I was a mugger or some other stalker type. I was tenacious and made it back to his office right behind him. I remember his scooting into his office and getting into that safe-space behind his desk. Kinda nervous, he asked me "Is there something I can do for you?" I told him "I want to do what you do."  After I clarified what I was up to, he let out a sigh of relief, and made me a plan. The plan was not kind or easy. First, as a junior, I had to take his doctoral seminar in Experimental Social Psychology. Next quarter, I had to take Ed Turner's doctoral seminar in Analysis of Variance. And of course, I had to get my senior project up and running. 

When it came time to apply to grad school, I asked him what he thought, and he suggested a couple of schools. He emphasized repeatedly that I should apply to Michigan. I conceded, although I secretly hoped I was done with the midwest and snow and all of that.

All of my applications (paper in those days) were about the same. Identifying info on top, and then a line that asked "For which area(s) are you applying?"  Areas --PLURAL: Two spaces to fill in. My choice, cause of Al, although I never did consult with him, was to write Experimental, Social in the two blanks. Made sense to me. 

My first rejection came back almost as soon as I dropped my application in the mail. Colorado was not funding that program for the upcoming year. Oh well,  I could have enjoyed Boulder. Next 3 rejections came pretty quickly too. Santa Barbara, Iowa (Iowa?), and New Mexico all rejected me with a line like this: "You don't have the prerequisite courses for our program." WTF!! I had multiple stats and social psy and research courses all over the place. I had grad seminars. How could I miss?  Near end of April, when I was starting to think about masters programs at Humbolt or Sonoma or San Francisco, my letter from Michigan came. The nasty rejections were one-page memos. From the heft of the envelope, I could tell that my Michigan letter was at least 2 pages... maybe more. Not only were these bastards going to reject me, they were going into detail about my failures. I opened the letter.

"I'm happy to inform you that you will be accepted...on behalf of the Experimental Psychology Area Committee...." Strange letter, but I decided that it was a possibility. Here, in my mind,  was this special "experimental" program for people who didn't actually qualify to get into grad school. They must do remedial work for a year or so and then help you get into a real grad school. I'd have to consider it.

Couple of days later, I was in Al's office for something or other-- maybe just to bum a cigarette. He asked if I had heard from Michigan, and I said "Sort of."  He stared me down until I dug into my backpack and dug out the letter. He only started to look at it and said "Experimental!" I waited for him to continue, but that's all he said. "How the hell did you get into Experimental?" I pointed to two books on his desk-- both with titles like "Experimental Social Psychology," and Al started to laugh. I asked if it was a practice program to get people ready for grad school, and he laughed so hard he had to take his own cigarette out of his mouth. Here is what he said: "You just got into the top-ranked Experimental program in the country, and you don't even know what Experimental Psychology is." He reminded me that I had classes from this prof or that, and I said yes I did but I hated those classes. He said "That's what Experimental Psych is all about." Uh oh. 

As a recent grad, I somehow landed two TA positions that last summer at Davis, and when those classes wrapped, I headed for Ann Arbor. Al told me that there would be a meeting for all new grad students. He told me that when the business was done, I should find Bob Zajonc (google it) and tell him about my application screw up. Bob was chair of the Social program and director of the Institute for Social Research-- a heavy hitter. Al said that Bob could sign a couple of forms and move me to Social asap.

I waited until the social hour and found Zajonc. I did not kiss the hem of his gown or his ring. I told him my mis-application story, and he laughed so hard that he blew beer out of his nose. When he finally composed himself, he told me that he would NOT move me to the Social program. He promised me that if I stayed in Experimental for a year, he would move me over if I still wanted to move. He said he would honor the deal even if I failed in the Experimental zone. He said I'd be OK. 

As part of my Experimental education, our incoming class had to take the same course.... every day. 2 hours M, W and F, only one hour T and Th. There were 9 of us. One guy who had worked for the CIA for the last 5 years, a guy recently out of Air Force Intelligence, a Japanese guy who had invented touch-tuning for Zenith.  Scary smart. Our first 3 weeks were about Artificial Intelligence, about which I know nothing. I was lost beyond words--had actually never even seen a computer until that semester. But I made it. Not smart but stubborn. I was the only one in that group of 9 who actually wanted to teach college classes. They thought I was strange. And their subsequent industrial salaries show that they were right. 

About a month into it, and Artificial Intelligence was done... we were off to other abstractions. Clyde Coombs came to the seminar to talk a little utility theory, and damn damn damn. For the first time, I was the one in the fucking room who got it, and I delighted in helping my friends get it. I knew then and there, that I would stay in Experimental. I wound up spread all over the map. Math psych from Clyde and Frank Yates, Motivation theory from Ed Walker and Jack Atkinson, and Psychobiology from the best there ever were...  Valenstein, Butters, and Utall. I was hugely educated and absolutely unemployable.

Summer '77 was approaching. I was nearly done. My advisor was ready to retire. There were 3 jobs in the country that wanted someone sort of like me. One was Yale, another at New Mexico, and a third at some awful southern university. My wife told me that she would come with me except to Alaska, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Tennessee , etc. SO, there were only two jobs out there. I called New Mexico to see if the job was still posted. They said no. So I applied to Yale. We stayed in touch for a couple of years, Yale always wanting to see copies of my publications. I kept throwing away their letters. 

Late July of 77, I had been crunching data at the Michigan computer center for about 24 hours. I took a bus home, had a beer, and crashed. I was awakened by the telephone and a nice lady who wanted to know if I could come to Hamline University for an interview. I told her I would call her back, finished my beer, and took a nap. When I woke up, I remembered the telephone number. Not sure how, but I did.  I made arrangements to visit Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. My wife said she would like to edit the "no" list.

 

What had happened was this: My grad advisor was one of the two founders of Brooks/Cole Publishing Company. He was at Hamline, helping the chair develop a book. The guy who had a temporary Hamline teaching job for the next year walked in and quit because the salary was so low. As the chair began to meltdown, my advisor saw his chance to retire. He told the chair that he knew just the right person for the job and that he would get me there immediately. Before my flight, I asked him about how I should approach the interview-- you know-- some tips for success. He told me 'Just lie to them. Tell them yes you can teach any of that stuff. You'll be fine." My one-year, temporary position has held pretty steady for a few years. 40 is coming up soon, and that will be it. 

So there you have it. A blueprint for becoming a professor. Worked like a charm for me, and it will not fail you. Just count on random events to be your guides. Be sure to figure out what you don't want to do. Carve all that away, and the rest is great. 

 

 


The Story of Bill

by Matt Olson


Somehow, too many of these stories start when I was 18 years old and was almost completely stupid. Maybe that's the way it goes. At any rate, that's the way this one goes. 

When I dropped out of college and moved to The City, I had Bob Dylan aspirations. I had written maybe 6 or 8 songs, all filled with what I thought was appropriate anger and cynicism about racism and sexism and war. I could hammer out simple rhythm riffs with a flat pick and stay in key, and if I tried hard to do Dylan doing his best Woody, it was almost like singing but not really. In any case, I was either oblivious or shameless. I sang on street corners with my guitar case open-- hoping for some coins. I sang in the bathroom of the San Francisco Greyhound Bus station. Excellent acoustics there. I made about $2.25 and got propositioned by a sad gay man in his late 40s. The important part of this story is that I played in public for actual living persons. Never played for a large crowd.... parties with as many as 20 people, yes. Never actually got on a stage. When a friend and I got booked to open for Livingston Taylor at the SF Troubadour, he freaked and vanished. That was as close at it ever got. 

My other musical problem was more intricate and interesting. When I was 13, I heard Mississippi John Hurt play guitar. Pete Seeger had a show on public television; he had Mississippi John as a guest and asked him to play Spikedriver Blues. I was captured. I had never seen anything like it. With his thumb, he kept a syncopated bass/percussion line running as a constant heartbeat through the song. With his forefinger and middle, he played the tune-- and added a couple of little rhythm embellishments. So here was this one guy, playing the percussion, rhythm, and  melody--three guitars in one. At that time, I was only hammering on guitar strings with a pick, and I had learned a couple of folksy, picking patterns. Nothing close to what Mississippi John was doing. Keeping in mind that there were no VCRs or DVRs or any Rs at all in those days, I set about to figure out how to play it. I worked up a couple of attempts and pretend tunes, but something was wrong. It was too much like pattern picking. It was not even close to the independent thumb (for bass and percussion) and liberated fingers for melody that I wanted, but I kept hacking at it for the next 5 or 6 years.

Like many but not all other street musicians, I needed a real job to stay alive. I worked in the mail room of a government employees' insurance agency, and it was pretty much entertaining. Once every morning, I got to push a grocery cart around the building and deliver mail to the employees who wore suits and sat desks and did the real insurance business. I got to know a few people, and I developed some simple-minded, stereotypical expectations. 

Employees ate lunch in shifts. About a third of the company went to the lunch area at 11:30. At noon, the second third ate. At 12:30, I joined the last shift. There were tables, cheap coffee, soft drinks, hard-boiled eggs, and yogurt... not really much more. Most people brought their own lunches. A few of the suits went out for some lunch and liquor. I usually sat by myself at lunch and actually tried to write music-- music with an alternating bass line like Mississippi John played. Most of the lunch gang on my shift ate with a young woman who had seen "Hair" at least 15 times and who claimed to hang out with the folks from Jefferson Airplane. Everyone flocked around her and she entertained all of them with tales of what Grace said or what Marty did or how somebody in the audience at "Hair" got naked. There was always "Hair" when Jefferson Airplane stories were exhausted. The goddess approached me once and asked what my sign was. When I told her "Aardus the Aardvark," my fate was sealed. We would never talk again or become friends. 

One of the usual crowd broke away one day and came over to say hello. She asked if I was writing music, given that I was actually trying to write music, and I confirmed. When she learned that I was trying to write for guitar, she said "You have to meet Bill." And then she explained that he was a claims adjustor who worked for the company and that he played. Why not meet him? 

A claims adjustor! I had learned a little about the company as I wheeled around my cart full of mail. The claims adjustor territory was deadly. Short hair cuts, suits, grim number crunching. I never saw a smile in the adjustor wing. Nobody there welcomed me to the company. I sure as hell did not want to meet Bill-- much less play guitar with a suit and tie guy. My new acquaintance told me she would bring Bill to meet me soon. I just nodded and thanked her. Maybe it wouldn't happen. 

Bill and I met a few days later, and all sorts of dissonance was firing off in my head. Short hair, black suit with black tie.... polished shoes... the whole picture was "Insurance Adjustor." Yet, when he talked, I realized that he was delightfully crazy and that he was just hiding in this insurance adjustor costume. We chatted about guitar music a little, and agreed to meet at his house that Saturday to play some music together. Sounded great-- as long as I could forget about the suit and polished shoes.

When I got to his house, there was a large moving van parked in front of the place. His door was open, but he didn't seem to be there. I knocked and hollered and looked around. I even considered getting back in my car and fleeing the scene. Bill appeared a few minutes later and was glad that I came-- glad that I brought my guitar. I didn't even ask about the moving van, but the news was to come. He suggested that, after we moved some of the stuff out of his house and into the van, we could take a break and play music. I was genuinely pissed, but his mood, his nature, his Billness,  kind of soothed me. I had been conned into helping a guy move... a guy that I had just met. What the hell?

An hour later, we had most of his stuff jammed into the van, and it was time for a guitar break. When I opened my guitar case, Bill asked if he could examine my guitar. This was my second guitar. The first was smashed by TWA on a flight out of Albuquerque. With the pieces of that guitar and $200, I bought the second. It was a Kalamazoo-built Epiphone, not great but decent. I thought it was pretty sharp, and Bill approved. When he dug out his guitar, I felt a flash of phony superiority. His guitar was a beat up, small-bodied, nylon-string guitar. He showed me where Judy had kicked a hole in it. I hadn't met Judy, but now was keenly interested. Forty-five years later, I've talked with Judy maybe three times on the phone. Never actually met her, although Bill insists that I did. And so we tuned up and I stalled.... What would we play together? Bill asked me to play my favorite piece. I used my best "almost" Mississippi John style and sang some awful song about hypocrisy. He nodded when I was done, and said that it would have been better if I had been born 10 years earlier. Too late now. Bill suggested that we play together, starting with a really simple, slow progression in D, and we could explore a bit after we got comfortable. OK, says I, and please show me the progression. 

I wish I could have seen my own face when he began to play. I'm sure my jaw hit the floor. Simple, slow progression in D, indeed. With his thumb, he kept an alternating, syncopated bass line. With his forefinger and middle, he played melody with embellishments. Four partial chords in the progression. And I had no idea in the world where all that music was coming from. Certainly it couldn't be coming from that shitty little classical guitar played by one person. My first instinct was to take my own guitar from its case, smash it into small pieces, and burn them. For sure I would throw away all that nonsensical "music" I had been writing at lunch--and I did. I had no right to even look at a guitar, much less make noise with one. He encouraged me to join in, but I was lost, lost, lost. At some point, when he stopped, I asked if he would teach me-- really teach me. He said sure, but we had to move the rest of the stuff into the truck and drive out to the avenues to unload it. If I would help, I had a teacher. So, of course we moved furniture. During the unpacking process, I came across a large, clear plastic bag full of what looked like hair. I asked Bill what it was, and of course it was his hair- a former 2--3 feet of it. He had to cut it but saved it when he was invited to go on a Federal vacation a few years earlier. No more problems with suits, ties, or short-haired claims adjustors for me.

Over the next months, I spent as much time as I could listening to him play and getting instruction. I spent hours practicing simple little licks and trying to free my thumb so that it could independently conduct rhythm and syncopation business. It took a year until it started to happen--only started. And then I went back to college in Davis.  So ended the three and four sessions each week. I drove from school down to The City almost every weekend. I'd arrive at Bill's apartment out in the avenues by Friday's sundown, and we'd play most of the night. I'd crash on his couch, and as soon as Saturday began to happen, we'd get back to playing. By noon on Sunday, I'd be in my car heading back to college--hoping to get some sleep in my classes. On a few occasions, Bill came up from The City and we'd play the 2 day marathon at my place. Didn't do it often because folks tended to get annoyed.

 What I took from Bill were 3 or 4 tunes, and he approved of my ability with all of them before I left. I also took a lick... actually a couple of licks that maybe made up a phrase. I worked on the tunes endlessly, jamming here and there to expand them. And I worked on the lick-phrase and gradually built a song around it.  When I went away to grad school at Michigan, I would play to him over the telephone. He would listen, give me a couple of critique suggestions, and encourage me to keep playing. And I did. I knew that I was getting just a tiny bit better. I saw improvement here and there in my technique, although my musicianship was and is surely amateurish. On occasions, when I played to him over the phone, he would holler and stop me and ask what I was playing. When I told him that it was this or that song he taught me back in The City, he would claim that he never heard it before. Sometimes he asked me to play it again. I guess that meant I had stopped stealing from him and was taking my own path. Maybe. 

We continued our phone concerts for a few years, and then of course we sort of lost touch. I next saw Bill almost 20 years later. An old friend, a wonderful old friend from my childhood, was in late stage AIDs. He and I agreed that I should fly out to see him before he died. It was January 1992. We had a happy but sad reunion, shared a few stories, and filled each other in on everything that had happened since we last saw each other in high school. My dear old friend was indeed ill, and he was participating in three separate and independent experimental drug programs for people suffering AIDs. The cocktail of medications, probably in combination with AIDs-related dementia, resulted in some delusional kinds of thinking on his part. By the middle of my second day visiting, he was convinced that I had left my wife and daughter to come and be his lover until he died. When I reminded him that I was just there for a visit and would be returning to my family and home and job, he refused to understand. My solution to this anxiety provoking situation was this: I'll call someone I still know in The City, and we'll all get together. The social company would be good for my dear old friend and maybe make a crack in this hard delusion. The problem in my solution, and every solution has at least one, was that I didn't know who I still knew in The City. First name that came to mind was Bill.

I called his number (the white-pages/land-line system in those days), and got an answering machine. After the "beep," I started talking... "I don't know if you still remember me, but it's..." And he picked up... "My Brother!" 

It took him about 30 minutes to drive over and find parking. Of course he brought that same old beat-up guitar-- and a bottle of wine or something. Bill and my childhood friend got along nicely. We toasted his life and wished him ease and peace in his death. And then we played. I think that my dear friend enjoyed most of it.  Bill was clearly still Bill. Genuinely nuts and wonderful. 

One late guitar evening many years earlier, Bill promised that I would play better than he by the time we were done. But he was always messing with my head anyway. When we swapped guitar pieces in 1992 -- had to swap because we only had his guitar there-- he was still masterful and the master. I didn't feel like I had let him down, but there was no way in hell that I was better. My dear old friend didn't quite understand the dance, and he was a little annoyed until he got used to it. Bill would be improvising, chatting, and otherwise tearing it up when I would hear a lick that I didn't know. I'd say "Stop! Do it again."  And Bill would stop and do it again so that I could see the fingers and hear the notes and maybe even do it myself once or twice to lock it down. This doesn't make for a pleasant concert experience for someone who is really ill and fighting for it. The second time I interrupted Bill, my old friend complained about how rude it was and wasn't Bill angry? We both looked at him like he was babbling in an unknown language. Bill said "No, this how we do it. It's what we do." 

And it was. Had been from the beginning. We played late into the next morning, and I tried to soak in as much as possible. I left for the airport that afternoon. My old friend was upset and perhaps mad at me for leaving. We never spoke again. He hung on until March. When he died, his parents had to bury him in a secret place in the high, Arizona desert. The Mormons forbade them from burying him in a Mormon cemetery. Wonderfully tolerant people to this day.

Bill and I talked a few times after that, but the calls were just catch-ups and didn't happen all that often. About five years later, two of my students were heading for the Bay Area... one for grad school at Berkeley and the other to study acupuncture in The City. Neither knew a soul there, so I called Bill to see if he knew of any apartments that might be cheap but decent. When he answered the phone he was shouting. I wasn't quite sure what was going on. The conversation was pleasant enough and we were both glad to talk, but the shouting continued.  I asked him if he knew he was yelling. He stopped and was quiet for a minute. He told me that he had suffered a stroke and that, as a result,  sometimes he talked too loud. In some hopeful attempt to think about the positives, I said something like "At least you can still play music."  But no, he couldn't. He couldn't hit the right strings, and he had stopped playing altogether because it was so frustrating. I reminded him that he once told me "It all starts with one string...one note. If that's all you can do, play that note until it is perfect."  He thanked me for reminding him, but he wasn't hopeful that he would ever play again. 

In one of the last adventures of Wild Bill, he went to hear David Bromberg play some small venue. He edged his way closer and closer to the stage until he was right up front, and it didn't take Bromberg long to recognize an old, old, friend. He stopped playing mid-song, walked to the front of the small stage, and asked "What?"  Bill said to him "You still can't play for shit," to which Bromberg retorted "And you are still short." Neither disagreed.

Although she still will not let me talk to him, Judy showed Bill this story. He approves. I'm good.