Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Out for lunch

I’ve been retired 16 years and very rarely eat lunch away from home. Lunch is really no longer a big deal, as it often was when I was still working as a journalist. In those days, I was frequently invited to lunch by PR people pitching a story idea, or I would often take out a news source to pick his or her brains. And when there were no time pressures forcing me to eat in the building cafeteria, there were enjoyable one- or two-martini lunches with office colleagues.

In retirement, however, a slice of cantaloupe or grapefruit, a sandwich (cheese, corned beef, or whatever else I can find in the refrigerator), a cup of tea, and that’s it. An afternoon nap usually follows.

But last week I had a different luncheon agenda. I was invited to three formal luncheons, one in a prestigious golf club dining room and two in first-class restaurants. Each was under the auspices of an organization denoting an important phase of my life.

The first one was the annual luncheon of the South Florida Grads of DeWitt Clinton High School. In our day, Clinton, which is in the Bronx, was an all-boys school; in recent years it has gone co-ed. At least 100 men attended. Most were accompanied by wives or spouse equivalents. At my table was a boyhood friend who is now a fellow Florida snowbird, a neighbor who was in my 1942 graduating class, and a onetime New Jersey tennis partner who I encountered entering the dining room. I had been unaware that he was a fellow Clinton alumnus. I knew no one else there.

The school song was sung (aside from the national anthem, it is the only song whose lyrics I still know), the master of ceremonies made some dull, off-color jokes, and the food was mediocre. Still, I enjoyed myself reminiscing about four years at a high school that exposed me to a cultural and intellectual world I had not known before.

Two days later I attended the monthly luncheon of the China-Burma-India Veterans Association's Gold Coast Basha. A "basha" was a tropical bamboo, grass-thatched hut that passed for army barracks in India and Burma. That's what the CBIVA calls its local units, disdaining the more parochial, military-oriented "posts" of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

I rarely attend these luncheons because I'm away from Florida half the year, and most of the meetings are conducted too far from my home. Our unit's membership covers a large territory--from Miami north to Palm Beach. Last week's luncheon was conveniently held in Boca Raton, not too far from my winter home in Boynton Beach.

It is unlikely that any of our members are younger than 80. There was a sad note to the meeting because the national organization's constitution calls for the CBIVA to disband this year. Florida's bashas, however, have stubbornly decided to continue functioning, as long as there are still enough members around willing and able to attend monthly luncheons.

The organization has long been plagued by frustration that the CBI was World War II's "forgotten theater of war" while the nation focused on Europe and the South Pacific. As we see it, the fact that U.S. troops were based in China, Burma and India in the war against Japan seems to have faded in history.

Reminiscing was the main order of business at the CBIVA luncheon, as it was at my high school alumni's function. After all, that's what old geezers like to do. I knew only one man there, a neighbor with whom I have become friendly after learning that he too served in the CBI during World War II. For guys like us, there is a unique sense of comradeship produced by wartime experiences we shared when we were young.

My third luncheon of the week contained none of the elements of comradeship that go with shared wartime or high school experiences. This was the annual December luncheon of the McGraw-Hill Companies' 25-year Club. These meetings are held annually at company headquarters in New York City and on the west and east coasts of Florida, where many retirees live.

I worked for McGraw-Hill, publishers of Business Week, for 31 years, starting in 1952 in Washington, D.C. I quit twice and was rehired twice by the magazine, a practice few major corporations tolerate. In most cases, an employee who quits is regarded as disloyal and unworthy of being rehired. But McGraw-Hill is a progressive company that recognizes that a rehired employee can bring with him new skills.

I retired in 1989 in New York City.I didn't know anyone at the luncheon. McGraw-Hill is a highly diversified company, and there was no one there who had worked at Business Week. Not all the luncheon guests were retirees. Many still work for the company in its Miami office. In a sense, I attended simply "to show the flag" for an employer for whom I continue to have great respect.

Now it's back to sandwiches at home for lunch, probably until next year.


Blogger Norma said...

You may have to count calories for awhile after such a "rich" social life.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy Blogging in 2006.

Saturday, December 17, 2005 1:48:00 PM  
Blogger Norma said...

When I made the calorie comment, I missed the CBI reference. A dear uncle of mine was killed in that theater in Oct. 1944. A great nephew (of his) apparently went to a reunion in FL about 2 years ago to find out more information.

Sunday, December 18, 2005 7:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanted to set your mind at ease about CBI being forgotten. I am living in New Zealand, and in the Asia-Pacific region of the world, this theatre of WWII is very much alive in the memories of the citizens. To be honest, after being brought up in North America (born in USA, grew up in Canada), I had never even been aware of the US's involvement in that area of the world in WWII. All the history lessons and documentaries focus on the European front or the bombing of Japan. But since immigrating here 3 years ago, I have learned a great deal about this important, if occasionally overlooked, campaign.
Also, the other night, I happened to watch an old US documentary on that campaign. From the looks of the film, I would have to guess it was produced shortly after the war, probably in the late 40's.
Even if most of my generation (I am 30) have forgotten the bravery and sacrifices that were made in that important, if not appreciated, effort, there is at least one American who is thankful for your contributions to freedom.

Also, keep up the good work. I just discovered your blog, and am enjoying reading your point of view on current topics, as well as getting an opportunity to learn about the past from you.

Thursday, January 05, 2006 8:22:00 AM  
Blogger Frannie said...

Found your blog while "googling" CBIVA. Recently found some very interesting letters from a veteran of the CBI theatre. He was writing my grandfather after my uncles death. (My uncle died in a crash while flying from India to China.) I would like to get copies of these letters into the hands of CBI historians. Do you have any suggestions? I would also like to see if I could track down this veterans family so that I could share these with them. They are splendid and I'm sure would be treasured by his family.

Sunday, September 03, 2006 7:46:00 PM  

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