My ‘universal comparative’ story
Author: Bill St. Paul (BBA '66)
Hello Mendoza friends, alum, faculty and students,
This is a non-standard response in honor of 100 years. I’m Class of ’66, the only class in school history, as far as I can tell, to buy and operate a bar. The “Count of Monte Cristo” was on TV opening night. The next night somebody drew a fireplace on the brick wall, and soon beer mugs were being thrown at it. My class thinks the rest of you lack some element of youthful character.
I’ve been retired so long I almost forget what I did, but some of it reflected what I learned in those classes. I kept my textbooks for a decade, and knew where to look before the Internet made research and inspiration instantaneous.
All my stories are about the six-and-a-half years I spent as an Air Force pilot after graduation. There just isn’t much of an audience for a story about a great business meeting, were such a thing ever to have happened. What I did learn in your school was important, if not specific. I expanded my ideas about how to learn. I learned how very much there was still to learn. And, I got my first inkling that humility was way under-rated as a virtue and as a life strategy.
That was well worth the time and the tuition.
I mentioned my stories were about what followed my years under the Golden Dome and preceded my business career. Here’s one from a series of presentations, and possibly a chapter in my book of the same name, “Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was Your Age,” copyright this very year.
My Universal Comparative Story
I spent a night in Jungle Survival School in this very hammock.
I kept going after the sun went down very suddenly in the Philippines, a stop on my way to flying combat reconnaissance in Vietnam in December 1967. I was on an “Escape And Evasion” lesson, alone in the jungle, hoping to make it through the night.
I’d bought a hammock for myself in the States, so I wouldn’t have to sleep on the ground with all the spiders and snakes.
In total darkness I walked smack into a tree, and found it had useful limbs in convenient places. So I climbed ten feet up and tied a big pile of knots ~ because I had proved totally unable to tie any knot that had a name, or any that was known to be useful.
Instructors called my knots “Running Tangles”.
Around midnight I ate a Ham-&-Eggs C-Ration that had been put in the can a year before I was born. The lid was loose and sharp in my hand. I thought about keeping the lid-and-can in the hammock, to avoid having the can ring like a bell if I dropped it to the ground. But, if I fell asleep with the sharp edges up here with me, they might rip the hammock’s nylon mesh.
About 1 a.m. I let go of the lid-in-the-can over the side. I was very much surprised when it didn’t make any sound at all. Wow! Great!!
But, then — it did. After some minutes I figured out that it had fallen more than 200 feet, even though I’d only climbed ten feet up in the tree to begin tying my bunches of terrible knots.
“Running Tangles” at both ends. I thought several nasty words(!).
Then a gale came up, gusting from 25 to 40. Then a torrential rain came in sideways. My knots got a severe & bouncy test for 4 hours.
That night became my Universal Comparative for being unhappy.
I have never been physically or emotionally more unhappy than that night swinging out over a 200-foot cliff in a long and enormous tropical storm, bouncing around out there on my totally inadequate knots.
I saved that hammock, flew combat recon, got a great job flying VIPs around Europe from RAF Northolt, closer to Marble Arch than Heathrow, quit the Air Force, and quite by accident got into financial services. I introduced a new standard practice in a thousand-year-old international trade service, started a whole new business in corporate banking, moved to insurance, consulted and retired.
My big deals in life were not about business, but saving 400+ lives in Vietnam by reversing quite a few enemy ambushes, saving the lives of two women by twice being in the right place when needed, and helping to make the lives of several officially handicapped people more fulfilling — mostly just watching while they did that for themselves.
That hammock is nailed to the wall opposite the end of my bed, replete with non-knots at each end, and that story is next to it in a frame. If your own Universal Comparative needs an upgrade, please take mine. We can share.