Maverick, and What If’s

By Sandy Wiener

Last week I was looking at what the University of Michigan Hospital has said about me. Amongst the records of various tests and visits, there was my work: “Retired Lawyer.”

No! No! Law school was in the mix, only because the draft board said my choice was either the Army or law school, not teaching school in Greece after college like I had planned (position secured and all). So there.

But this set me thinking: What word should go into this “work” entry? Not current work but career.

What immediately came to mind was “Maverick.” Not long thereafter came “Non-Linear.” Then “Winging It.” Finally, for now, “Contrarian.” All of which pleases me.

Now to the What-If’s that have contributed to the Maverick qualities. Here is one example, among many. I have taken it from an email I sent to a journalist friend who thought I would have made a good reporter (based on my account of a meeting we had attended together).

The setting here is that I had come back from 1-1/2 years in Vietnam working on so-called “pacification;” then gotten a position in poverty work in NYC; but had soon become discouraged with the corruption (along with the corruption in our Vietnam policy).

Plus, I had the romantic notion of being a foreign correspondent (they had been my best friends in Vietnam). And I had once answered a question on a psychology test: What kind of people would you prefer being marooned with on an island? Journalists I answered, because to me they are the most interesting people, for various reasons.

So, here goes.

Dear Jennifer,

You opened a nice box of memories for me by suggesting in your email that I could be a reporter (what a compliment!). I came close. Here’s a bit of history.

New York Times: Bob Semple (then the Foreign Editor of the NYT) and someone whose name I can’t remember right now (the National Editor) said they would go to bat for me if I decided to take an unorthodox entry point to being an NYT reporter. I decided that I wasn’t certain enough to do it (and to put them at some risk if I dropped out). More about the NYT below.

Wall Street Journal: Peter Kann asked me to join him in Hong Kong when he was starting the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal. I didn’t do it. He later became the publisher of the WSJ.

Newsweek: They had asked Peter, who was fresh back from Vietnam, which was where we had become friends, to be their new Vietnam correspondent, because the visa of their current reporter was not going to be renewed (he had written articles critical of the government).

Peter recommended me – and I was chosen and was going to do it! But then the existing correspondent unexpectedly had his visa renewed – so instead I was offered a rewrite position in NYC. Not what I wanted to do, as the romance of being a foreign correspondent had attracted me.

The Village Voice: I did write three well-received articles for them about the corruption of the Model Cities program under Mayor Lindsay. They asked me to write other pieces, which I didn’t wish to pursue.

John P Manley bar/restaurant (another NYT possibility): For others not knowing who he is, John P Manley is the name used by the NYT style book to train new reporters – now the style book includes Joan P Manley as well.

A longer story. I had started, with a friend [Paul Resnik], NYC’s first wine bar, which had received a full color picture and article in the NYT Magazine. That led to the possibility of my leasing the large bar/restaurant of the Carter Hotel, right across the street from the Times on West 43rd.

I got as far as having 40 Times investors in the venture, 20 New Yorker investors, Alexander Cohen, Mike Wallace, and others.

But then the police raided the existing bar/restaurant, a real dive, and found a kilo of cocaine with the manager. So the State Liquor Authority said there could be no license transfer for at least a year. I had to give everyone their investment money back.

Well, if John P Manley had started, it would likely have been successful, and I might well still be in NYC.

Much better, likely, to have moved to Ann Arbor, to live and to raise our kids.

And that’s it for this current journey into “what might have been,” (and thank you), Sandy

A postscript here. Instead of being a foreign correspondent, I ended up hanging out and living in NYC’s Village, taking Chinese cooking lessons, having odd jobs, and reading everything George Orwell had written, including the five volumes of “Collected Essays, Letters, Journalism,” thinking I would be a writer.

Also, falling in love with a black woman, Olive, whom I would have married, but she figured this would not work, which it wouldn’t. Yes, life would have been different . . .

3 comments on Maverick, and What If’s

  • Lee Smith

    You’ve had an interesting life, Sandy, which to me is a major test of success…My three years in Tokyo as Fortune bureau chief were great, but as in any job there were many hours of banality. I’d sometimes sit in the Foreign Correspondents Club and chat with journalists on their way through from Jakarta, Hanoi or wherever. Rarely was the conversation about encounters with bandits or prime ministers. Mostly it was …”Let me get this straight. The (fill in name of newspaper or magazine) pays for two home leaves a year AND your kids’ tuition.” It ain’t all romance

  • Sandy Wiener

    Lee, thank you a lot for this. A good correction to my strong tendency in life towards being optimistic and romantic in my outlook, Sandy

    ps I was just saying to Sarah today that if I/we were younger, married, I would most like an assignment to Japan or Singapore.

  • dick bentley

    The setting here is that I had come back from 1-1/2 years in Vietnam working on so-called “pacification;” then gotten a position in poverty work in NYC

    We’d love to hear more about this. How long did you work on the “pacifation program”? Was it a success?

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