Sunday, May 15, 2016

Benches and Why I Like Them

Park benches seem to be good places for epiphanies. I had one, and it was about park benches.
When I was a kid, in good weather, when most of my friends were playing baseball, I was sitting on a bench overlooking the Harlem River, in New York, and reading. Probably the reason I never made it to the majors. The epiphany today was that all these many years later I’m sitting on a bench and writing. There’s a kind of symmetry to that that I find satisfying.
At some point in its course northward, for some reason probably now forgotten, the East River becomes the Harlem River. Nothing about it changes but the name.         At the point where I knew it it divides Manhattan from The Bronx. It’s quite narrow at that spot; you can throw a rock across it easily.
Give you a time marker: had you thrown one while I was reading, you’d have hit a Hooverville on the bank on the Bronx side. The corrugated tin and cardboard shacks were there through the Depression years, until World War II restored the country to prosperity and the occupants found work at Iwo Jima, Anzio, and the Ardennes. I’d seen the West Pointers of a decade or two earlier described as “the class the stars fell on”; they were the generals. Those guys across the river were the generation the sky fell in on. I knew a man who went straight from riding the rods to fighting his way across Saipan. He was only five years older than I was.
But I digress.
Bernard Baruch, who is cited variously in other posts here, used a park bench to meet with people while advising the government. I don’t know if he holds the record, but he advised six presidents in office through two World Wars. Woodrow Wilson to Harry Truman; think about that. I doubt the presidents themselves left the White House for his bench (but then I don’t know that they didn’t, either.)   
Were he alive today, Baruch would be an Internet “Influencer” and “Thought Leader.” I don’t know that he was ever a CEO, so he might not have  been eligible for that ultimate validation. I also don’t know if (but I like to think that) he fed squirrels from his bench, as I like to do. In no other way would I try to equate myself with Bernard Baruch, but squirrels are democratic. On the end of a peanut, Barney and I would be the same to them.