^z 21st July 2023 at 8:59am

On this special day of the year, the regular ^zhurnal stream of consciousness pauses to offer a personal retrospective. Memory is unreliable and colored by wishes, hopes, dreams, and fantasies. Apologies for omissions and misstatements in this report — all mistakes are solely ^z's responsibility. Sincere thanks to Dr. Suzanne Schoener Burnham ("Doctor Suz"), whose gentle correspondence inspired and encouraged this experiment in introspection.

An Autobiographical Birthday Card

A crop of German farmers and shopkeepers moved to central Texas in the late 1800's. They grew cotton, potatoes, corn, and hay; they raised cows, chickens, and children. In the La Grange area sixty miles east of Austin, members of the Meinke, Ohnheiser, Schroeder, and Zimmermann families met and courted and married, and on 29 September 1952 Your Humble Scribe, aka ^z = Mark Edward Zimmermann, was born to the young couple Minnie Merle Meinke and Werner Edward Zimmermann. Brother Keith came along two years later.

Our Hero, young ^z was by all reports amiable, bookish, and clever from an early age. The family moved to Austin, where he attended a private first grade and thereafter public schools. His Father worked for the Carnation Co., and rose from milkman to branch manager over the years; his Mother was a secretary who spent most of her career at the Federal Aviation Administration helping air traffic controllers with their paperwork. The marriage broke up in 1968. Werner wed again, left the milk company, and started his own small business manufacturing campers and pick-up truck covers.

Meanwhile, ^z reveled in his studies, especially science and mathematics, but above all reading. Beginning in the fourth grade he served in his elementary school library, shelving and helping with the check-out and card catalog process. This pleasant book-centric line of work became something of a personal industry: Mark was a student page (junior aide) for the Austin Public Library at his neighborhood branch; he shelved books in both his junior high and high school libraries; and when he attended Rice University he assisted in the Fondren Library on campus.

^z also worked irregularly at his Father's business (doing minor carpentry and inflicting minor injuries upon himself during inadvertent encounters with power tools). During summer months he held a job as a soda jerk at the local drive-in movie theater. Sporadic trips to his Grandfather's farm revealed that picking cotton, going fishing, hunting varmints, and tractor-driving were not his forte.

In short, ^z had fun and avoided hard physical labor. He got around town on a bicycle and later a tiny motorcycle. He was crew-cut, clean-shaven, and carried an attaché case. He looked and acted the straight arrow kid that he was.

At school, ^z prospered. Through books and magazines he immersed himself in science fiction and fantasy, devoured recreational math (especially Martin Gardner's columns in Scientific American), and inhaled popular science. He stargazed through a small backyard telescope. Mark garnered some local scholastic awards, and during the summer of '69 attended a National Science Foundation mathematics study program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. This was his first time away from home of any duration, as well as the first of his many happy experiences in higher academia. At SMU, in addition to learning some number theory, probability, and statistics, ^z got his initial hands-on exposure to computing machinery and the glories of programming algorithms in FORTRAN. He was hooked.

The two young Zimmermann brothers avoided athletics but were avid gamers. Mark and Keith learned chess from (what else?) books, and throughout the 1960's competed in state-level tournaments and by mail. Neither were serious players; both enjoyed gambits and trappy openings; they earned Class A (Keith) and B (Mark) ratings. With friends and cousins they pushed cardboard tokens around hexagonally-gridded maps of Europe and other theaters of combat, playing wargames for hours on end.

Your Disobedient Correspondent draws a merciful veil over ^z's lack of sophistication (if not outright naïveté) in matters social during his younger years (if not to this day). ^z's voracious reading (no surprise!) gave him a theoretical appreciation of the facts of life, but he had zero real-world experience. Dating was an alien ritual. He took care to treat young ladies and gentlemen alike as colleagues, and to respect women for their minds. In the technical vocabulary of love, he favored philia, admired agape, but dodged the darts of eros.

It is thus only a slight exaggeration to say that ^z acted the rôle of cheerful computing machine incarnate: a Mr. Spock (but with a smile) years before Star Trek first aired. He was the rational Stoic in demeanor if not in the heart. He struggled to categorize, understand, and suppress his untidy emotions. (He failed, of course — but found it an interesting and educational battle.) On the bright side, he had many fine female friends, but no "girlfriends". He was lucky to stumble onto a lesson early: it is wiser to be friends with those toward whom one feels passion, than to get passionate with those who may not prove worthy of friendship.

Such was his sheltered adolescence. Young ^z read hard, played hard, hardly worked, paid attention in class, did homework with good cheer, scored high on exams, pleased his teachers and parents, kept to a comfortable pace, and generally enjoyed growing up. Comrades who were private pilots took him puddle-hopping and gave him stick time; he dabbled at amateur radio, coin collecting, and other conventional hobbies. But books remained his focus.

Politically and philosophically, ^z began as a stout libertarian but became less doctrinaire (or more appropriately confused!) over time. In religion he was raised a Lutheran, and that faith similarly evolved to an eclectic (if intellectual)reverence for life and the universe. ^z read (as expected!) widely in the more elementary works of Chicago and Austrian School economists, with side trips into anarchism and traditional American conservatism. The strongest influences on his thinking came via the gentle writings of Leonard Read et al. of the Foundation for Economic Education. (But alas, not immune to the siren calls of currency cranks and make-money-fast hucksters, ^z threw away part of his small savings speculating in silver before he came to his senses. Lesson learned: skepticism.)

School passed quickly and pleasantly. While sailing through the math and science curriculum, ^z studied Spanish for four years and German for three. One of his best classes for the Information Age proved to be typing, taken as a lark during a summer term.

^z's circle of friends included a cross section of all available races, sexes, religions, and lifestyles (the sample was far from complete, even though Austin was relatively cosmopolitan for a mid-sized Texas town at that time). Much to the credit of his parents and educational environment, ^z grew up relatively uncluttered with prejudice. "All men are created equal" seemed a good working hypothesis. He was startled when apparently-normal fellow students revealed, in private conversation, racism or misogyny. Thankfully, the schools Mark attended had an exceptionally small level of cliquishness among jocks, nerds, freaks, artistes, slackers, and the like. Conflict was low; times were good; people got along. The downside of this upbringing, however: ^z was slow to learn empathy for the dispirited, for those people (especially cultural minorities and women) subject to constant and enervating discrimination. (He still works on that lesson.)

In the spring of 1970, ^z graduated first in his class from John H. Reagan High School, giving one of the shortest valedictory speeches on record. (It took less than two minutes. He admonished his fellow graduates not to curse the darkness but rather to light candles — though not at both ends. To this day, the point of that advice remains unclear.). In the fall, shortly before his 18th birthday ^z entered the University of Texas at Austin to study physics and, perhaps, continue to grow up.

... to be continued ...

Wednesday, September 29, 1999 at 05:52:15 (EDT) = 1999-09-29

(see Silver Skepticism)

TopicPersonalHistory - TopicProfiles - TopicRecreation

Wonderful! Where is the rest? Why third person? Honest self evaluation is the key to a good life and you must be having a very good life. — Judy Decker

(correlates: ThanksAndAcknowledgements1, AlphabeticSelfdescription, WillTheReal, ...)