Summer heat, along with its humidity buddy, has reached New York. This is not my favorite season in this city. With my Virginia roots, I could write about weather for hours. I will spare you.
Our news has been focused on a number of obituaries recently. Yesterday, we learned of the loss of the magnificent journalist Walter Cronkite. Reading about the big stories that he reported transported me to my earliest days in New York, when I was still in my very earliest 20's.
Much went on then, good and bad, and helped to shape my adult self. A huge component of that time was political, with the Vietnam War and the struggle for various types of civil rights in sharp focus. Popular music, with emphasis on rock, expressed much of what we were thinking. (Have I told you before that I went to Woodstock?)
So, having given you all a snap course in what was in the atmosphere well before anyone was seen on the moon, I will tell you that when I got home from work tonight, and finally opened the New York Times that had been left at my door after I left for work this morning, I began to thumb through it. I read of Mr. Cronkite, I read of Mr. Obama, I read about Iran and Indonesia. And then I turned the page to the obituaries, and was taken back to those early days.
Anyone who missed the glory days of records, real records and the brilliant graphic designs that formed the covers of those big album covers will not know of Tom Wilkes. If you look him up, you will learn that he has died from Lou Gehrig's disease. You will learn that he designed many iconic album covers and posters.
I would like to tell you my own little Tom Wilkes story.
My first New York job was as a computer programmer for the then very massive corporation AT&T. That corporation also employed lots of folks in much more poorly paid jobs who belonged to a union. When that union went on strike, young programmers like myself, considered management, were called upon to cross the picket lines. I knew nothing about what this meant, being rather naive.
And so I did cross those picket lines and found myself learning how to work an overseas switchboard, alongside of regular switchboard operators who could not afford to go out on strike. I had never before met a union worker. I had never before worked alongside someone who was not white. I had never, never tried to place overseas calls.
In those days, if someone wished to call London from New York, it was necessary to ring up AT&T and make an appointment. The switchboard operator called the UK number, connected with the intended callee, and then called the caller back ... and presto, connected them.
Are you with me so far?
We were never, never supposed to listen in to any of these calls, once we had made that connection.
Confession. I got a call from Tom Wilkes (whose name was very familiar to me from his album cover work) and he was placing a call to a company called Apple. Readers, I listened in. He was designing the famous green apple and the call was to discuss that design. The context meant nothing to me at the time.
A week or so later, John Lennon and Paul you know who announced the formation of Apple Records.
I never, never ever walked across another picket line. I still treasure that early opportunity to find out what it was like to work alongside some people who had not had my advantages. In a way the days that I spent at that switchboard taught me much about life.
Seeing Tom Wilkes' obituary has brought back so many memories of when I was younger, so much younger than today.
Was I wrong to listen in on that call?