I met the future mother of my children as a consequence of writing a speech on the Multi Fiber Arrangement for the importation of textiles and apparel. Known familiarly as the MFA or the Arrangement.
My title back then 39 years ago was Special Assistant to Under Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown. Bob, whose position was comparable to the chief operating officer in a private corporation, was the second most important person in the Department reporting to Secretary of Labor Raymond Marshall.
As with the Under Secretary and the Secretary, I was a political appointee serving at the pleasure of President Jimmy Carter. Yes, my appointment was unanimously confirmed by the senate, but that was no big deal at the time. Unlike the other political appointees with offices within the impressively exclusive suite of the Secretary of Labor, I was not a hot-shot.
My friend Walter Shapiro needed someone who could help out writing speeches–which I do well–and one thing led to another. I received a full-time appointment. There was talk I might actually be in line for an important job, but that was talk. When I met the lovely Diana Bass, international economist, I was working in an office environment where petty politics were rife.
Secretary of Labor Marshall was distracted from doing his job by the fact that his son was dying of cancer. The twenty – and thirty-year olds who staffed Secretary Marshall’s Office were well-educated, mean, and not as competent as they imagined themselves to be. Soon, I was to learn loyalty to my boss meant my future was in danger–although I did not realize at the time I would be out of a job within two years.
This clip from the Washington Post provides a hint at the nature of the internal politics where I worked and its consequences.
The story of in-fighting at the Labor Department in 1978 is a secondary reason for this reminiscence. My primary objective here is to tell a love story.
I here describe the origins of the strength of my lengthy marriage to Diana which had its downside given the marriage ended 17 years ago. In so telling, I am hopeful of providing perspective the German-born American developmental psychologist Erik Erickson would have found helpful. For the time being, I will leave dangling Erikson’s relevant Stage Eight of his Theory of Psychological Development: Ego integrity versus despair .
I cannot introduce romance too early here given I am a policy wonk. Unchecked there is real danger I am likely to go on and on about the applicable details of international economics for a speech delivered 39 years ago. Nevertheless, this 2018 New Year's born reminiscence requires I regard my grandfatherly role--generator of generations--with the respect due to a genesis story. Hence, you will not be spared international trade policy details. ++++
Regarding the speech to be delivered by my boss: Under Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown was as close to panic as I have ever seen him. Even here though I thought of Bob as safe and steady; steady and slow. I very much admired him. As a consequence of trying to please Bob’s desire for an upbeat speech (when upbeat seemed and indeed was impossible) I met Diana who six years later became the mother of the first of our two daughters.
The exigencies of the speech caused the lovely Diana to emerge from her non-carpeted office on the sixth floor to the exclusive custom-wood paneled corridor at the suite of the Office of the Secretary of Labor. There, my secretary announced then escorted her to my office where she sat at the custom-made tweed sofa.
I had summoned Diana indirectly because when I called Irving Kramer, her boss who was not there, she recognized appropriately that a call from the Under Secretary’s Office required instant response if I thought it necessary and I did. Her overt purpose there on my couch gazing at the original landscapes on loan from the Smithsonian was to teach me enough international economics to satisfy (or at least make a pretense of satisfying) my boss’ desire to deliver an upbeat speech.
The problem was That Bob had been trapped into giving a speech he did not want to give to an audience which did not want to hear what he had to say at a time and place where he would rather be elsewhere–namely, at home with his wife and children.
The speech was to the annual convention of apparel manufacturers at a Friday evening ceremony at a hotel in the heart of the Old Quarter of New Orleans where only a few years earlier I had spent the most decadent weekend of my life. While the audience may have wished to drown itself for good reason in alcoholic excess and readily available decadence, Bob–tasked to perform this unsavory speech by his immediate boss The Secretary of Labor–had already figured out how to exit New Orleans as quickly as possible.
The problem was, What was he to say?
Bob could not say the truth.
The truth was after decades of refusing to read the handwriting on the wall, manufacturers of apparel had failed to realize making clothing as they had for years would no longer be profitable no matter how hard they lobbied government officials to pretend. Unless the manufacturers took special measures they were unwilling to take to improve efficiency, they and a portion of the domestic textile industry would be put out of business.
For over a week leading up to this 2017/2018 New Year's Eve (despite having promptly taken a flu shot when my physician told me to) I have been slowly recovering from an influenza-induced fever-dream-like state where in my mind's eye I envision my currently 18 month granddaughter Juliet Mae at some future appropriate age asking her Zeyda (that's me) how I met her grandmother (distinctly not a Bubbie). [Of course, a Bowdlerized version would be required.]
[Note: This is still a work in progress.]