I Remember Bill
Bill was a classmate of mine in graduate school and a colleague throughout my thirty years as an economics professor. We co-authored research articles and wrote a monetary theory and financial markets book that was published by McGraw Hill. And when our careers overlapped at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, we also conducted joint presentations for business and professional groups.
But all that is not what I remember most about him. Rather, it is our friendship.
We met at a get-together for graduate students in the PhD program of our alma mater, the University of California, Santa Barbara. After meeting and chatting with
his wife, she introduced me to him. He was shy and reserved at first, but quickly became outgoing and talkative. He was down-to-earth and articulate with a great sense of humor.
As we talked, I discovered that like me, he was a Barry Goldwater conservative—conservative on fiscal issues and liberal on social issues. And during those turbulent years of the mid to late 1960s while we were in graduate school, we didn’t waiver in those views, even though we were surrounded by professors and classmates that considered anything wholly or partially conservative misguided to say the least.
We had lunch together every weekday and attended most of counterculture, anti-Vietnam War, and other political rallies on campus. Our spouses went with us to some of the other campus activities, and all four of us attended several performances at the campus theater, including my first ballet and stage play.
We saw several movies together with our spouses. One time stands out in my memories. It was when the woman on the prowl in the movie Goldfinger introduced herself as Pussy Galore. I roared with laughter louder than anyone else in the theater. Bill controlled his laughter, but he was embarrassed that my laughter attracted the attention of people around us. He was always better at self-control than I was.
And then, there were Jeanette’s experiments with dinner entrees. One that haunts my memories to this day is her sweet and sour frankfurters. Of course, Bill didn’t think of them as experiments. They were all just food to him. He was one of those people who ate to live instead of one who lived to eat.
One of our most memorable sightseeing trips with our spouses was to Roy Roger’s Ranch in Apple Valley. As we enjoyed the sights, Jeanette called Bill over to the window of a barn, in which Trigger Junior was ready to perform stud services. When Bill, who was always very private and prim-and-proper about anything sexual, looked inside, his face turned beet-red. He and Jeanette were astonished by the size of Trigger Junior’s endowments.
And I still get a big smile on my face each time I remember when Bill and Jeanette came for a visit during the summer my wife and I spent in San Francisco. Among other things, we took them to see the hilarious drag queen show at Finocchio on Broadway in North Beach. It was another one of those times when I watched the very private, prim-and-proper Bill turn beet-red in the face about something sexual. And his face remained beet-red as he choked on laughter during the entire show.
Finally, with PhDs in hand after graduate school, Bill headed for University of New Hampshire and I headed for the University of Houston. When our careers overlapped at the University of Nebraska at Omaha we socialized with our families more often. We gave Christmas gifts to each other’s kids. Bill’s kids called me Uncle Frank, and mine called him Uncle Bill. One of my favorite memories of the Omaha years is when we enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner each year with a colleague and mutual friend Sufi Nazem and his family.
While conducting research and teaching in different universities, we were in frequent touch by phone and email. We discussed the country’s economic and related political issues as well as each other’s current research. We argued; bantered; exchanged information about our families; and vented our outrage about the antics of the political left and the political right—mostly the political left. And we continued to keep in touch into our retirement years.
True to his native New Yorker roots, Bill could be charming, supportive, and gracious, which was the case most of the time, but he could be argumentative as well. If anyone persisted in an argument contrary to his conservative views, watch out! That person was in for the argument and education of a lifetime.
The only time I observed him going beyond argumentative and becoming hostile was when he was driving. He acted as if the other drivers on the road were incompetent and an impediment to his arrival at his destination. Also, he didn’t take kindly to a backseat driver, namely Jeanette. And God help anyone in the passenger seat who attempted to adjust the heat, air conditioning, or radio. He considered each of those attempts an attempt to undermine his authority as owner and driver in charge of the vehicle.
A couple of other things irritated Bill. One was when anyone failed to stack dishes and other kitchen items in the dishwasher so as to maximize their number in a load. And since washing the dishes and other kitchen items was one of his household duties, he would not tolerate anything less than stackings that achieved the economic principle of maximum efficiency, that is, minimum wear and tear on the dishwasher as well as minimum use of electricity, water, and soap.
The other thing that irritated him was the airlines. He was reluctant to book a flight on any of them because something always went wrong. They either screwed up his reservations, lost his luggage, delayed his flight, cancelled his flight, and/or held up his flight on the tarmac for hours before takeoff or arrival at a gate. He was convinced the airlines conspired to make each of his flights as irritating an experience as possible.
Of course, Bill’s reactions to the things that irritated him were a minor part of who he was, and as time passed, they became for me an amusing and endearing part of knowing him.
Many things about him were admirable. One of the things I admired was his love and devotion to his lovely daughters Sybil and Marissa. And he was like milk toast with them—a real softy. And although he was tightlipped about his relationship with Jeanette, there was never any doubt about his love and devotion to her.
Once, I asked him what the secret was to his successful marriage, which at the time of his passing was almost sixty-five years. Among other things, he told me that he and Jeanette probably had more than their share of heated arguments because they were both native New Yorkers. It was in their DNA. But the secret was that they knew how to do it so that it didn’t escalate into catastrophe—like divorce. When they went at each other, it was never physical; they didn’t hold anything back that would embitter their ongoing relationship; they didn’t resort to a lot of name-calling or psychobabble; and when it was over, it was over.
Another thing I admired about Bill was he never deviated from his conservative principles in discussions about economic and related political issues. He was one of the brightest people I have known. I didn’t always agree with him, but he was not a person to be disrespected or ignored.
And he made every effort to vote for a Republican presidential candidate that was primarily conservative. If that was not possible as in the case of a candidate like Donald Trump, whom he considered not only lacking in conservative principles but nuts, he voted for the libertarian candidate—but never for a Democrat. And this whole progressive-woke-cancel culture thing would have driven him up the wall had he not become preoccupied with fighting the cancer that ravaged his body.
I will not soon forget when Jeanette called me on June 10, 2023 and told me that he had passed away earlier that morning. I didn’t process the loss immediately. It felt unreal. But after the phone call, I gradually realized that in fact, it was real. My best friend of almost sixty years was gone forever.
And let me say that I will not remember him in his diminished physical state at the time of his passing. Rather, I will remember him as my best friend who lived an enviable life and faced the inevitable reluctantly, but gracefully. Then, in the words of William Cullen Bryant’s poem Thanatopsis, he passed away, “Like one who wraps the draperies of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams.”
Copyright © 2023 Frank Zahn