Well, it is New Year’s Eve again, and fog has descended on Chapel Hill, making the whole world look like one of those old sepia toned photographs. I have never liked this time of year. The days are short, the sun never rises very high in the sky, and between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, every day seems like Sunday – no mail, school closed down, everybody on vacation. When I was young, I would go to the meetings of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, which always met over my birthday [but not, I finally decided, for that reason.] Since I have reached that stage in life when I retell old stories, perhaps I can cut and paste a story from my autobiography about the very first APA meeting I ever attended, in December 1951.
“My second year, as I recall it, the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association held its annual meetings in New York City. …. I decided to attend, as I was home for the holidays. The first day, I was standing with a group of Harvard philosophy graduate students, trying desperately to look older than my just-eighteen years, when Quine walked up to the group. We all snapped to attention, as his eyes ran around the circle. Then he looked at me and said, "Well, Wolff. You must be the youngest person here." I was utterly mortified. “Yes," Quine went on, "It's good to see you here. The sooner you start coming to these things, the sooner you will realize they are not worth coming to," and with that, he walked off, leaving me to wish that the earth would open up and swallow me.”
To this day, I can recall the circle of students and Quine’s look of mordant amusement. It is difficult to believe that it was 67 years ago.