The Power of Serendipity

 By Bob Gaydos

 My copy of Time magazine (yes, I’m one of those dinosaurs) arrived the other day, but I still haven’t read it. May never read it. In fact, my first impulse on glancing at the cover was to gag. My second was to cancel my subscription, bargain rate or not.
 There, staring at me — sticking his tongue out at me! — was one of the most hateful men in America (I do not use such terms lightly) and a man, who, along with CNN’s Lou Dobbs, represents the capitulation of television news to loud-mouthed, bigoted ideologues. There, I’ve said it and I don’t regret it. I just don’t feel any better for getting it off my chest.
 What galled me about Time’s cover is that, tongue or no, it lent mainstream credibility to someone who doesn’t deserve it. It’s one thing for Fox News to let Beck spew his hatred and loony conspiracy theories every day. It’s par for the course for that sad excuse of a news division. But Time magazine, no matter how much it has lost in circulation, is still Time magazine. Since Beck clearly posed for the cover photo, Time, on some level, is playing footsy with him. The editors may say they are just covering the news. I say they are going for more sales by tapping the lunatic fringe, which, by the way, has not shown much of an appreciation for objective reporting of the news. One would think Time’s editors would have known that.
 Now,  I have no idea what Time said about Beck, if it interviewed him, what others said or what the cover story was about other than that it was about the angry name-calling and demagoguery that passes for political debate these days. As I said, I can’t bring myself to open the magazine. Neither can my son, Zack.
 Zack’s reason is different than mine. A proudly (if somewhat provocatively) proclaimed non-reader, Zack, 15, has always been our reader of Reader’s Digest jokes on car trips. He began thumbing through Time last year to kill the time while reading in the back seat. (Yes, I planted it there.) To his surprise, he discovered a feature he really liked: Pop Chart. For some reason, Time has dropped it, which baffles Zack. If you never saw it, it was a fairly clever, tongue-in-cheek look at the week‘s less-serious news items, ranking them from shocking to shockingly predictable. (Example from Feb. 23 in the “predictable” category: “Sarah {Palin says she named her daughter Bristol after ESPN’s Connecticut HQ. Good thing the network canceled that move to Sheboygan.”). Like that.
 The thing is, Zack would also wander off into other areas of the magazine, including actual news stories, and read them. And he began picking up Newsweek (I told you I‘m a dinosaur) in the back seat as well and I dare say he is one of the few 10th graders in Pine Bush High School who not only knows who Fareed Zakaria is, but what his area of expertise is.
 Serendipity. You start out browsing for a few  laughs and wind up with some insights into Iran’s nuclear capabilities. (In fairness to Zack, he’s been devouring Sports Illustrated for years, but somehow doesn’t consider that to be reading even though it contains some first-rate writing.)
 I have come to have a profound respect and appreciation for serendipity. I consider it the means by which That Which Controls All Things presents us with rejuvenating situations we would never anticipate. It’s way more than coincidence.
 For example, last Saturday, I dragged Zack and his brother, Max, 17, out of the house to take a ride because it was one of those too-beautiful-to-waste days. We drove to Newburgh because I hadn’t been there in a while. Zack read Reader’s Digest jokes from the back seat where Time magazine lay untouched. We stopped near the end of Broadway at the Karpeles Museum, one of the county‘s under-appreciated gems. I must note that the boys were surprisingly accommodating in humoring me this far, but their eyes were beginning to glaze over when they checked out the current exhibit on ancient ships. Coins, manuscript pages and other artifacts tell the history of sea travel from as far back as 1560 B.C. Kind of interesting, but truth be told, I wasn’t so pumped about it either.
 Enter serendipity, AKA Don Presutti. The retired former city mayor is now the person who explains the exhibits at the museum to school groups and other visitors. After we checked out the Egyptian Book of the Dead, he pointed us to a side room that contained original manuscripts from Twain, Hemingway, Tolkien, a letter from Jack London to his publisher and a script page from the original “King Kong.” This is routine stuff at the Karpeles. Presutti, relishing his chance to offer a lesson even to a small school group, returned with Jefferson Davis’ French/English dictionary from his days at West Point, a brief history of Presutti’s involvement with Pete Seeger and the formation of the Sloop Clearwater and a copy, with annotations, of Tyrone Power’s script for  “West Point.” The trip was looking less boring.
 After a quick physics lesson on how the huge vault of he former bank works – still very well —  we talked a little about Presutti’s city. He lauded the coming SUNY Orange Campus and Mt. St. Mary’s and the growth along the river, but said that with progress must also come a commitment to the city’s less fortunate. And he lamented the fact that the current City Council seems to be more interested in arguing than governing. Which brought me back to Time and Beck and the whole angry tenor of today’s politics. This lifetime conservative Republican said he understood my feelings. But he said, whatever your politics, you should never be afraid to agree with someone if you think he’s right. And if you disagree, you shouldn’t be afraid to say so either, but in a calm manner and with respect.
 Wow! An honest to goodness, living, breathing compassionate conservative right here in Newburgh. Remember this, boys. They are a vanishing breed.
 (I still haven’t read Time, but if anyone wants to tell me if I should, thanks to Don Presutti, I’m still open to suggestion.)
 Bob can be reached at


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