I’m a very lucky guy, and last night proved it again.
St. John’s and St. Ben’s celebrated Eugene McCarthy’s 100th birthday with a centennial dinner featuring a variety of guests and speakers. I got to sit next to Peter Yarrow at dinner. Yes, that Peter. He performed the McCarthy campaign song (which he wrote), “Puff, The Magic Dragon”, “If I had a Hammer,” “This Land Is Your Land,” and told moving stories about the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. And I was 15 feet away!
I asked Peter, “Who were your influences when you began performing and writing songs?” He answered quickly and forcefully: “It all started with Pete Seeger.” I had a hunch that was the case but it was amazing to hear it from Yarrow himself. He told me that he was with Seeger when he died at 94.
Like I said, I’m a lucky guy.
The event reminded me of another serendipitous dinner conversation. I went to a teaching conference in Chicago organized by Worth Publishing in the mid-2000s and at dinner we had assigned places. I walked to mine and saw who was seated next to me: Paul Krugman.
What do you say to Paul Krugman? Then I remembered that his blog is “The Conscience of a Liberal,” the same title as Paul Wellstone’s autobiography. I sat down, introduced myself, and when I mentioned Wellstone we were off on a long conversation about what might have been had Wellstone lived and the current state of liberal public policy ideas.
It’s a great privilege to be a professor and to have these opportunities. Now that I’ve had dinner with Peter and Paul, I wonder who is the Mary I’ll dine with someday?