Alex Siegel

Lew Jacobson

On my second night in the tiny hamlet of Amherst Mass., in September 1959, I wandered away from oppressive Morrow Hall in search of more congenial surroundings. Through the town and into a chain restaurant that looked like nothing I had ever experienced growing up in NYC. I sat in  a brightly lighted booth, ordered a hamburger and a malt (with no idea what the latter might be!) and sat back to survey the room. Over at the far end was a jukebox, playing something with a banjo in it, and a guy standing in front of it obviously enjoying his dime’s worth.

As I approached, I realized it was the Kingston Trio, singing some song about the Boston MTA and the Man Who Never Returned. I stood next to the guy, listening for a few moments, and then I said “You like this stuff?” He said he did.
“Just listen to what that guy’s doing to his banjo,” I said, “It’s called frailing. He’s wacking all the strings with four fingers.”
“Yeah, so what?” said the guy.
“It’s primitive, it’s what gives banjo a bad name,” I said.
“Really/“ the guy said, visibly skeptical.
“You ever heard of Earl Scruggs?” I asked. “Lester Flatt? Foggy Mountain Boys?”
“Who?” he said.
And that’s how Alex Siegel and I became fast friends.

In a few weeks time, I was often hanging around Alex’s room in James Hall, slurping beer and bullshitting with Alex and John Wyman and Stu Wells and Bill Aber. We started playing cards together, for altogether too much time. One night someone fed Aber (from Jefferson City Mo., with accent and innocence to match) a serious slug of vodka in his beer, until he eventually ran full-speed into a tiled wall and knocked himself cold. We other four took turns carrying him in pairwise fireman’s carry to seek medical attention. He survived the night, but soon found refuge from Amherst in the Air Force.

In the spring of 1960, Alex and I and John and Stu all joined Chi Phi together. We played cards way too much, often to dawn, and we chased girls and we drank a lot, some more than others. We consoled each other’s girlfriends.  We traveled together to see Alex’s family in New Jersey (the warmest people you’d ever meet) and to see Alex’s current girlfriend in Philly. At various times, Alex and John roomed together, Stu and I roomed together. We stayed together until our pre-youth played itself out.

Alex went to grad school (Psychology) in Minneapolis, where he roomed with Stu, who was doing law school. I was doing grad school in Urbana IL, which seemed to me the most God-forsaken place I’d ever been in. John Wyman was married and in law school in Chicago, so it seemed only natural that we gather at his Chicago apartment for a mini-reunion. And we did. Not sure if it was 1963 or 1964, but I remember we played poker, ate a lot, and once again drank far too much. And then we all got into our serious late-youth work phases and we never gathered again.

In 1967 I took a faculty job in Pittsburgh, and when I’d been here a month or two, I was walking down the hall in my lab building and saw an office door in the corridor nameplated “Alex Siegel”. Huh? Asking around, I quickly found out he had taken a job as Asst . Professor in the Psych Dept. We would be quartered on the same corridor for the next few years.

Alex and Sandy (met in MN and recently married) and Linda and I (married in 1967, with Alex & Sandy attending) became friends all over again. We traded dinners, since we lived only 4-5 blocks apart in the east end of Pittsburgh, and drank a lot of French wine to educate ourselves. We rather quickly worked out that a poker game was more usefully populated with his Psych colleagues than my much stodgier Biophysics colleagues. We played a fair bit of poker for a few years, inasmuch as our manic career-building and marriage-building allowed.  I presided at the circumcision of his son Jeffrey (Amherst ’90). We talked about our present, not much about our past.

And then Alex and Sandy moved to Houston (early 1970s) and we drifted out of touch. We had almost no contact for decades. When the Millennium turned, we swapped the occasional e-mail and one or two phone calls. But we lived in separate universes, and I think we both knew enough not to try to live in the past. Alex told me he had lived a long while hag-ridden by a drinking problem. I know an unreasonable number of our classmates and fraternity brothers did, it was a cultural thing that lingered in us like the sear of English 1.

This is more remembering than I’ve done in many years. It’s worth doing, I think, in his honor. Here’s to you, Alyosha!


Bill Amend
August 15, 2015

Alex was one of many guys that roamed the campus with us and I enjoyed when I ran into Alex. I treasured his wit & perspective even though it often meant Alex asking with a smile:  "Where are you going?"

I appreciated his wonderful directness and understanding - even though we were all so young. He was made for a child development career. It was a real natural lab for him at Amherst and years later, since I was (& we were) certainly all 'children' in those years

I learned from him then and treasure the memories

Bill Amend

Daniel Clark
August 15, 2017

I'm sorry to hear of the passing of Alex Siegel, a fellow resident of 32 College Street. I always appreciated his good humor and probing intelligence, which I recall as most in evidence during our short Sunday morning strolls over to Valentine for brunch. Perhaps more important, even though I didn't really know him very well, nevertheless through the years I've remembered him as a good friend - a testament to his natural openness about himself and his ability to open up others. May his spirit live on!

Daniel Clark

Wythe Holt
August 20, 2017

Lew, thanks very much for a wonderful remembrance of your friend and our classmate.

Wythe Holt