Excerpt # 1 from High Risk/High Gain by Alan Weiss

Page 2: These were momentous times, Pope John died and the only clergyman with the guts to stare a television camera in the face was the old croaker himself, Cardinal Cushing, who eulogized from the heart. Gordon Cooper was lofted into orbit, as I watched with my heart thumping against my ribs, but the public taste for that kind of thing had become so staled that nobody else give a flicker of a damn. The Governor of Alabama stood like a minstrel dandy in the schoolhouse door, while Katzenbach, with immeasurable dignity, supplicated before him. Kennedy took Europe by storm and I felt a twinge of egret that I wasn’t still in Paris to witness it. In Berlin he delivered his most rousing speech, declaring with hoarse passion, “Lass sie nach Berlin kommen!” – and in turning away as the newsreels clearly showed, slipped himself a small smile for the brilliant showmanship.

By applying to the Peace Corps, I was making my own small bid to become part of it all. But from the moment I arrived in the States to find in my parents’ apartment the Peace Corps letter of acceptance, out of its envelope, my mother began laying into me, in the gentlest possible way you understand, that phooey on the Peace Corps, what I really wanted to do was go back to school and bag that doctorate. “What a shame,” she cooed, “to quit now, when you’re so close,” and my father murmured his agreement.

Page 7: Three weeks later, I said my good-byes at O’Hare and flew away to New York and my Peace Corps fate.

Leaving Idlewild, I stepped on someone’s foot and he turned out to be another Peace Corps trainee on his way to the training center. A Nebraska farmboy, big and gawky. We had detailed information about getting into the city by limousine, and going from there up Broadway to Columbia by taxi, which cost so much, or by number-something bus, which cost vastly less. This had me somewhat up-in-arms but he didn’t seem to get my point. “I mean here’s this organization famed for self-reliance but they don’t seem to trust us to find our way into Manhattan without getting lost.”

Page 11: I shook out a manila envelope and read about the program. They planned a bulging schedule, from early morning to late at night, six days a week, and maybe seven. The staff biography was awesome; the most noteworthy names around had somehow been convinced to spend their summer with Peace Corps. Many were being specially imported from Nigeria. Representatives of Nigeria’s three major tribes would be on hand to instruct us in their native tongues. The general picture of Nigeria, in the African context, would become second nature to us, and beyond that, “cross-cultural studies,” to help us make the leap from Wonderbread America to juju-ridden Africa. The medical program included shots for everything from hepatitis to yellow fever, and a lecture on how to deliver a baby, if it ever came to that. The Royal Canadian Air Force’s physical fitness regime would be used to whack us into shape. They’d have us playing cricket, and kicking around a soccer ball, Nigerian games and dances, anything with potential application. The reading list made a thick wad, from Miss Chiltingham’s 1883 Travels Up the Niger to Prester John and Senghor’s poetry, from three-volumed pedantry to novels, including even – I ran my finger down – Mr. Johnson! But I searched in vain for a book I had picked up a few days before and was reading with high excitement: Henderson, marvelous rainmaking Henderson. And just to top things off, there would be a few weeks teaching in the New York summer schools. That, I thought, tugging at my chin, should be fun.

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