Saturday, July 7, 2018

Reviewing My Life Through Cartoons

During the last 45 years from time to time people have given me magazine and newspaper cartoons that they believe have some particular relevance to my life.  Sometimes the motivation is that the drawings cite my given or surname;  sometimes because they are relevant to a particular chapter or event in my life.  I have kept those cartoons and, exclusively in this post, now present them in what seems like a reasonable order.

The first cartoon is from Gary Larsen depicting two couples separated by tiny islands, one frolicking on an automobile tire hanging from a palm tree.  The wife of the other couple, apparently critical, remarks:  “Well, the Sullivans are out on their tire again.”  This scene recalls those giddy years 1963-1965 when as newlyweds my wife, Paula, and I lived in Georgetown, D.C., and did at least our share of partying.

But ambition also had to have its day and a New Yorker cartoon seeming caught me at my desk as a young Congressional staffer — appropriately the sideburns, glasses and tie — admonishing my wife:  “Paula, how many times have I told you not to bother me when I’m on the way up.”  (She likely was calling to say one of the children had croup.)

Charles Rodrigues (1926-2004) did not know me when he penned the cartoon above for Playboy, using my surname.  But the situation in my House Foreign Affairs Committee office with my colleague, Jack Brady, was highly pertinent.  The other prisoner wants to spring Sullivan “in the faint hope of getting your incessant babble out of this cell.”  Brady frequently told me:  “With you the second bullshitter never has a chance!”

No question but when Jimmy Carter won the Presidency in 1976 that I wanted out of the Committee “cell” and a place in the Administration.  Another colleague spotted this cartoon by Barney Tobey (1906-1988) in the New Yorker that shows two college professors seeking a “nibble from the Carter transition team.”  I was fortunate enough to get that nibble and ended up as head of the Asia and Pacific Bureau of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

During my four years as head of the Asia Bureau, I trust my service was not as authoritarian as the cartoon right.  The drawing was altered to fit the occasion and sent to me by one of my staff, a noted jokester.  In 1980, Reagan having won the presidency from Jimmy Carter, I was thrust after 20 years back into the private sector, working for an international consulting firm.  One of my friends thought that the Bill Long cartoon was appropriate to my new situation.  

During the period of adjustment, I was engaged in a variety of activities, including organizing kazoo bands, both among extended family members and my co-workers at the consulting firm.  As a result, a Gary Larsen cartoon of cavemen playing a tune on what appear to be lizards appealed to at least one family member as appropriate for me.

In his inaugural address in 1989, George H. W. Bush mentioned “a thousands points of light…all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good.”  The comment gave rise to a multitude of cartoons at the time, including one by Robert Maxwell Weber, known for over 1,400 cartoons that appeared in The New Yorker from 1962 to 2007.  Given my obsession with televised sports, this one had a certain appropriateness.

The final cartoon by Dave Coverly (born 1964) below, also has some relevance.  Although ordered to retire at age 75 by my consulting firm boss after twenty-some years on the job, a man who might be compared with one at the podium, I quit and got another job right away.  But if there had been a retirement ceremony for “Jack,” I might well have written my own “goodbye.”

They say that art imitates life.  It would seem that idea can be expanded to cartoons that, now and again, have imitated my life.  Or was my life imitating those cartoons?

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