The bird man of Amherst

Reading the review of Alan Powers’ Bird Talk, I remembered Al sitting in our room, 402 James, slapping his thighs—five beats to the measure with his left hand, four with his right—getting the rhythm of Joe Morello’s drumming on “Unsquare Dance.” His face spiraled in on itself as he concentrated. He made various pharyngeal and palatine sounds. It took him some time to learn it, but having gotten it, no time at all to teach it to me. It was not mimicry. It was an act of understanding, ingestion. I also remember his omnivorous love of the English language, spoken and written; his love of meter and rhyme, sound in­separable from meaning. I think I recall him transferring some of these sounds and meters to his trombone—a substantially less pleasant memory. Walking in the college’s bird sanctuary he’d stop at hearing a bird’s song, studying, reveling and incorporating, comparing it to other rhythms and rhymes he knew. He may not have come up with the unifying theory of the physical world; but he did find a way to bring together everything in the avian world.

—Sidney M. Schwab ’66
Everett, Wash.

Amherst and the middle class

To expand a bit on ’46 classmate Danny Dick’s letter in the summer issue: With the high tuition and the commendable emphasis on diversity (minority scholarship aid), one wonders if the middle-class young are being squeezed out of Amherst admissions. Though there were a few in my era from wealthy families, and some equally fine fellows on scholarships, most of us were from somewhere in the middle-class spectrum. And it still amazes me to reflect that from our class and the illustrious ’45 class above us came a rear admiral who became head of the CIA, another classmate who headed the CIA and then the FBI, a Madison Avenue hall of famer who became ambassador to Canada, a university president, two Pulitzer Prize winners (history and poetry) and on and on.

What helped us to grow quickly on the eve of our entry into World War II military service, I believe, were the fraternities. Instead of bonding into little cliques of like-minded clones, we were invited into the give-and-take of fraternity life, with Phi Bet’s, jocks, party boys and fellows of every temperament and type of personality. But that’s for a different essay at another time.

Amherst in my era was a college of middle-class students. We had little sense we were Ivy League (a term coined by my fellow Amherst Deke Stanley Woodward, when he was sports writer of the New York Herald-Tribune in the late ’30s) or of trying to cash in on that “prestige” in the marketplace. We were a laid-back school, with gifted professors who taught for love of teaching, not tenure. The middle class has rightly been called the bedrock of democracy (and woe to countries polarized without that center stratum). While older alumni return to Amherst with admiration for the hi-tech achievements, some of us feel a lack of continuity with our own college experience, and it’s sometimes an effort to relate. Amid all the visibly impressive gains, has something been lost?

—George P. “Monk” Carlin ’46
Harper, Texas

Another volunteering opportunity

James Bates ’86 and others who have written to either Amherst or me echoing my criticism of Amherst’s long anti-military tradition and urging Responding Together [see the spring issue] to do something for the good men and women fighting the war on terrorism might be interested in the following.

With the support of two of Responding Together’s creators, Robert Longsworth ’99 and Jed Miller ’88, I am now seeking opportunities to help TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. Rob, Jed and I hope that alumni will be able to volunteer to help TAPS assist the grieving families and friends of our men and women in the military killed on active duty. My initial efforts are to help TAPS get national publicity, in the hopes that this will help bring cash to this now money-strapped organization.

Choosing TAPS to support was an easy decision. I will never forget Amherst President Tom Gerety’s appearance on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, calling for Americans to shed blood and die if necessary to fight the butchers of the Balkans. To quote him: “And if we are to fight just war, we have to be brave about it. You don’t kill if you’re not willing to die in the cause of justice.” He was the first Amherst president since I was an undergraduate to call for American military men and women to make the ultimate sacrifice.

So, in the spirit of that historic Amherst presidential call to Americans fighting “just wars” (and what could be more just than fighting the terrorists who attacked our country on Sept. 11, and those states and institutions that promote them?), we thought it was altogether fitting for us and other alumni to help the families of those who have made that sacrifice, and are making that sacrifice on an ongoing basis.

To learn more about TAPS or send contributions, visit, or write to:

2001 S Street, NW, Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20009

—Dick Hubert ’60
Rye Brook, N.Y.