We Said “No” (for Vikki)

It was the last day of classes that semester, only finals remaining, and for us that was a light load. Vikki was a fashion design major, so her grades would mostly be determined by sketches and garments created during the semester. As an English major, most of my grades would be based on term papers (we still typed on paper back then), and if I hadn’t done the reading assignments necessary to pass the finals, it was too late to cram.

So we celebrated by going into town for dinner. Nothing fancy, just some pasta and enough wine to make us happy and talkative.

As our tongues loosened, Vikki grew serious for a moment and said, “Somebody asked me to join the Nazi party.”

I gulped my wine.

“She asked…” “I was so shocked…” “Me too!” “I couldn’t believe…” “…thought it was a joke.” “…didn’t know what to say.”

Our words tumbled together. If you’d been sitting at the next table you might have overheard and thought we were discussing some hot gossip, but it was more serious than gossip.

Finally, in unison: “My father was in World War II!”

We took deep breaths, laughed with nervous relief, calmed down, and compared stories. Both were the same, more or less: the same woman had approached each of us when we were alone, spoke disparagingly of other races, and invited us to join the Nazi party. Apparently her family were members.

Vikki and I both responded the same way, too. Shock, disbelief, then stammering out “N-no.”

Don’t we all like to think that if we were some day faced with an important ethical choice we would respond with eloquence? Well, Vikki and I did not. We were taken by surprise and barely able to speak. We were horrified. But we said the one word that mattered most: No!

Our fathers had both served in World War II, both in the Navy, though neither did any fighting. Vikki’s Dad served on an aircraft carrier. My Dad, slightly younger, enlisted after high school when he was still 17. By a fluke of timing, he boarded a troop train out of New York’s old Penn Station on V-E Day, and spent his time in the Philippines. But, yes, both had joined the United States military intending to fight against Nazism.

Four decades later, their daughters were asked to become Nazis.

I have thought about that dinner conversation many times in the years since we graduated, but most of all since last year’s election, when white supremacists and the “alt-right” have revived both the Confederate battle flag and the swastika as symbols. Now, when all our choices seem to matter a little more, I want to hold on to that time when Vikki and I said “no” to bigotry and hate.

How many people recently have faced the question that so shocked Vikki and me? How many have stammered out a bewildered “N-no”?

Alas, I cannot ask Vikki how she feels. We had a falling out a couple of years after graduation and lost touch. From time to time I’ve tried Googling her, but it seems she didn’t use social media or have a website in her name. Her name, in fact, was a problem: Victoria is her middle name, and in the five semesters we were in college together she went by Vicky, Vicki and Vikki. (I’ve chosen to use the spelling she used when last we were in touch.)

In early 2016 I tried Googling again, using her full first, middle and last names. What I found was an obituary. She died late in 2015, much too young. I’m sorry we don’t have an opportunity to find each other again. She would have been outraged by the events of 2016 and early 2017 and we would have remembered that conversation of long ago.

This post, then, is my memorial to Vikki, on what would have been her birthday. Our friendship had its ups and downs, but I know that when we faced the most important moral decision of our college years, we both said “no.” And for that I will always respect her.

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The Buddy System for Job Seekers

When I was in Girl Scouts many years ago, we practiced what we called the “Buddy System.” It was simple: you never went anywhere away from the main group without a buddy. Whether it was a regular meeting, a day trip, or a weekend at camp, you took a buddy along for safety.

Now comes evidence the same thing works for job seekers. If you want to get a job, it helps to have a job—but if you don’t, you definitely need to have friends who are employed.

The first evidence came from Italy, but now American researchers have reached the same conclusion. (There’s a $5 fee for that article, so I haven’t read it.) Naturally, there’s a certain advantage to having employed friends when you’re looking for a new job: they might know of a position with their own employers and recommend you. But I suspect there’s a bit more to it.

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Did You Tell Them?

CC Some rights reserved by Purple Phoenix

This story goes back to a non-profit job I had several years ago. Early on in my time there I’d been given the responsibility of maintaining a contact list for our department. As we had unusually high staff turnover, including transfers in and out of the department, it took up a fair amount of time. When we relocated to a different building, it made sense to expand the contact list to include all of our organization’s staff in that building, not just our department. Then someone got the idea that the contact list should include all our staff, not just those in the building.

In the meantime I’d formed a virtual friendship via e-mail and phone with the technicians in the IT department, who were mostly at one of the other locations. I’d only met two of them: the technician assigned to our site and the guy who managed all our cell phones. But the IT guys were a great team and very helpful even though we hadn’t yet met. One of the things they helped me with was the contact list, even to the point of creating an automatic notification system that would let me know when a new e-mail address or cell phone number had been assigned to someone on the staff.

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Of Klout, My First Ambulance Ride, and Chicken Thighs

The subject of Klout keeps coming back in the #UsGuys Twitter stream. We love to measure it, malign it, debate it… But we can’t resist checking our own scores now and then, if only to say that they are a fraction of a point too high or too low, which disproves the whole premise.

I’ll go easy on Klout. In most respects I find it to be a decent measure of a person’s effectiveness on Twitter—no other social network (as of today), but pretty good at measuring how well someone uses Twitter. A score of over 60 is very good; the single digits signal a newbie or a bot.

Anyway, my Klout score has stagnated lately because I’ve been using Twitter less. It goes back to about three weeks ago, when I got my first ride in an ambulance. I wasn’t the patient: that was my Dad. He’s had type 2 diabetes for years and it’s well controlled by medication, but occasionally his blood sugar goes a bit too low and he suffers from hypoglycemia. He’s passed out two or three times before, always briefly, and he always recovered quickly once he got some sugar in him. But this time he happened to pass out on the checkout line at a local supermarket. It caused a bit of a fuss.

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