William Strickland was one of my very favorite colleagues in the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at UMass Amherst. Bill is a tall, handsome polyglot who grew up in Roxbury and went to Boston Latin and Harvard back when you could, quite literally, count the number of Black students at Harvard on your fingers. He went on to help found the Institute of the Black World in Atlanta, to serve as an advisor to the Congressional Black Caucus, and to run the Northeast branch of Jesse Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign. In the Afro-Am Department Bill taught Black Politics [his course, "Malcolm and Martin" was a perennial favorite among the students.]
In New Africa House, Bill's office was across the hall from mine. When I first joined the department in 1992 as a very distinguished but clueless senior political philosopher, Bill gently undertook my education. From time to time he would drift into my office and casually mention a book on Black Politics that he thought I should read and knew I had not. Bill and I, I think it is fair to say, were politically the left wing of the department.
Bill is, among many other thing, a serious money bridge player. Years ago he started vacationing on Ibiza, off the Spanish coast, where he would pay his way by playing with rich bridge afficianados. Eventually he bought an apartment there.
A few days ago, I had an e-mail from Bill in Ibiza to which were attached four photos of Victoria Rowell. Bill knows that Susie and I are long-time devotees of The Young and the Restless, or Y&R, as we fans call it. Y&R, if you don't know, is the most popular and [maybe] longest running soap. For many years, Victoria Rowell played Drusilla Winters, until she got a call to "move up to the bigs" as they say in baseball, and appear on night time TV.
Susie wondered how old Rowell is [55, it turns out], and when I checked on Wikipedia I discovered to my astonishment that she actually had a child with the great jazz and classical trumpet player Wynton Marsalis. Now, Wynton Marsalis made a transcendently beautiful CD of baroque arias with the goddess, Kathleen Battle [who was such an intolerable diva that she was banned from the Metropolitan Opera, which is after all home base for divas.]
So: I know Bill. Bill now knows Victoria Rowell. Victoria Rowell knows Wynton Marsalis [biblically as well as socially]. And Wynton Marsalis knows Kathleen Battle. I am connected to Kathleen Battle by four degrees of separation.
I wonder whether Kathleen Battle knows Kevin Bacon.