It’s A Small Small World


It was an unlikely occurrence.

It was the late summer of 1964 and my brother David, age 8, and I, age 7, found ourselves on a bus from the Aenon Baptist Church from Vauxhall, New Jersey. What made it unlikely is Vauxhall NJ is a predominantly African American town and the Aenon Baptist Church served that community. What were two white, Jewish little boys doing on that bus?

The simple answer is Naomi Stewart, a very robust African American woman with an outsized personality and a generous heart who came to our home several times a week to clean and occasionally babysit my brother and me. A mother of 5 children she did not take a lot of nonsense from us but at the same time knew how to give love. Her hugs were everything hugs should be: warm, enveloping, and soothing. Thy smelled faintly of floor wax.

Those hugs were especially important on November 22, 1963. She is the one who came to my brother’s and my school to pick us up as both of our parents were working. It was she who broke the news of JFK’s death (The school didn’t tell us why we were being dismissed early) and she who held us as we sat in front of our small black and white television as the news of that day developed and held us close as she cried.

We loved her immensely even when she would take off her wig to frighten us. And I believe she loved us back.

That year the New York Worlds Fair had opened in Flushing Meadows New York. It had a Camelotian  theme of “Peace Through Understanding”, dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe”. The fair covered over 600 acres and boasted 140 pavilions, 110 restaurants,  with 80  nations and 24 US states, and over 45 corporations exhibiting. Naturally, every kid in the tri state area and probably further wanted to see the wonderment and the fun that the Fair represented. David and I were no different. I recall we hounded our parents to take us to the fair in the way that only kids can. Unrelenting and not taking no for answer. Unfortunately, both of our parents worked and, as a consequence, could not take us. When Naomi offered to take us with her church group they jumped at the chance to send us.

I have no idea what my parents were thinking sending us with an African American Church Group to the Worlds Fair. I am pretty sure they realized that we would stand out a bit from the rest of the group. My guess is that they either thought nothing of it (good for them) or they thought about it a lot and decided that it would be good character development for us (also, good for them.) They clearly had confidence that we could handle it (good for David and me) I have little recollection of the bus ride to or from the fair which seems to suggest that it was not that traumatic an experience for me even though David has a distinct memory of someone flicking matches at us for no apparent reason.

I remember the fair itself in Kodachrome with bright sunlit skies of French blue and colors a shade or two off from reality. Designs were postmodern and jet age: an interesting combination of rockets incorporated into everything or stark minimalist design where function outweighed form. I don’t recall that David and I were chaperoned at the fair. I believe, and this is kind of horrifying in this day and age, the group sending us off on our own and telling us to regroup at a certain time.

David and I covered a good amount of the fair that day. I distinctly remember the Unisphere Fountain, the spherical steel representation of the earth that was the symbol of the fair. I loved the Sinclair Oil exhibit because for a piece of change you could get an instantly molded replica of Dino the dinosaur (3d printing has nothing on that.) David particularly loved the GM exhibit “Futurerama” which depicted car designs of the future (none of which happened) and reminded me of the Jetsons and a ride that simulated flying across a future world dominated by technology and high design. We both were space geeks and totally in love with astronauts and the space program so we naturally loved the NASA exhibit which had life size representations of the rockets the space program was using at that time. But far and away our favorite exhibit, and the star of the show was the “It’s A Small World Exhibit” created by Walt Disney and sponsored by Pepsi Cola and UNICEF.

The ride was created to be a salute to the children of the world that hoped to promote the theme of the fair “Peace Through Understanding.” To enter the ride, you would board little boats that would take you gently through animatronic displays of children from around the world while listening to that ear worm song “It’s a Small World Afterall.”

It’s a world of laughter
A world of tears
It’s a world of hopes
And a world of fears
There’s so much that we share
That it’s time we’re aware
It’s a small world after all

It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small, small world

There is just one moon
And one golden sun
And a smile means
Friendship to ev’ryone
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It’s a small world after all

It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small, small world

Leaving the exhibit, you could not help but be amazed at the technology that provided such a realistic version of children singing but you were also impressed by the fact that we were a global community. That children, were children everywhere. No matter what they looked like, no matter the form of government these kids could be your buddies. As a child of an immigrant this was a particularly gripping message.

However, the true art of the exhibit was not the technology, not the song, or even the fact that children of the world could unite in friendship. It was the idea fostered by UNICEF. That buddies helped buddies. That there were kids, just like you, from different places who didn’t have it as good as you did. They were hungry and needy and you should help them because they were the buddies that you never met. And when a friend fell down, you helped them up, without expecting anything in return.  Which is why for years afterward you would carry an orange UNICEF box around when you trick or treated. You couldn’t share your candy with your friends from afar but you could help them by collecting a few pennies.

From what I understand, even 50+ years after its creation it is the most played song in the world which might be in part caused by it being played constantly at Disney Parks in Small World Exhibits across the globe. Considering the theme of the ride,  this is both appropriate and delightful.  It also means the theme that we are all in this together is the most popular theme in the world…a theme that is endorsed and promoted by the most American of American companies: Walt Disney.

This earworm of a song popped into my head the other day. The nature of earworms are that you cannot shake them loose. It’s sweet melody and lyrics on endless repeat for hours. I am pretty sure that the cause of this endless repeat was I was an article in the New York Times, “What Is It Like Self Isolating In a Studio Apartment.” ( ) Clearly not the intention of the song. But it fit the times and my sense of irony.

But it was this flight of whimsy that t made me think about how small most of our worlds have become.

For most of us self-isolating, we are now confined to a small container that was mostly designed to keep our stuff. (Thanks George Carlin) The larger world beyond our door or property line has faded into soft memories. It gets easier each day to forget the hum drum that used to populate every day life such as commuting,  going to the gym and standing in line at the deli for a particularly delicious Sloppy Joe sandwich (you guys from Jersey will understand) It gets easier and easier to draw our lives like the New Yorker magazines illustration “The New Yorkers View of the World” with our 4 walls the focus and everything nearby in smaller and smaller print.

In these situations, it is easy to fall into the pattern of considering only “me and mine” when making decisions. After all, they are the only world you see every day. I am sure that this is the subliminal motivations behind those protesting the self-isolating rules. An alternative theory might be the people who are protesting these rules are really tired of the company they are keeping. Which, considering their views, seems highly probable.

But for the generations of us who grew up with “It’s A Small Small World” that was not that the message the writers, Richard and Robert Sherman, intended. They saw, over 50 years ago, that the world was shrinking. That it was to consider the world as a whole, not as individual unit. That the global war that had preceded it and that the technological marvels of the jet age were likely to link countries, continents, and peoples in ways not  imagined a generation earlier. They couldn’t possibly grasp the science being perfected as they wrote the song would create technologies would create personal computers, internet and smart phones all of which allow us to travel the globe whether we could leave the house or not creating an even far smaller world.

I know that the little boy who took the little boat through a small world was taken by the optimism of the song. The vision of a world where we were all brothers and sisters. Where if a country stumbles another would help guide it through its troubles. Of course, I was 7. I knew nothing of the world except how to be positive…not a horrible thing. But I contend, the type of optimism, the vision of a connected, mutually dependent world where cooperation…a small small world agenda  is a far better path than current MAGA agenda. perpetrated by Donald Trump and Fox News.

The MAGA agenda is a cynical one. Make America great again is not at all about making us great. We were already great. It was about making America transactional. You need help, great, what will you give me in return. And then make them pay, through the nose, for whatever you supply them with.

This is a fundamentally flawed proposition both from an operational and a philosophical point of view. Operationally, it is almost always better to ask “How Can I Help” and work out the deal points later in terms that allow the client some room to grow and prosper.

The former is a great short-term strategy but fails in the long term because as soon as the customer can, they will bolt for another provider because you act the part of a bully demanding your due. No one cares to do business with a bully. And bully’s get a reputation and once you have that reputation it is hard to shake.

The small small world agenda is a far better strategy. When you ask “How can I help?” you do business as a friend. Human nature is that people like doing business with a friend which creates long term stable relationships that can survive all manor of hardships because friends have your back. A friends reputation is far more resilient than that of a bully.

Trump’s MAGA philosophy makes us a bully and it is already taking its toll. Countries resent us instead of embracing us. Anecdotally, here in Brazil, the media is reporting how we are unfairly trying to corner the market on Covid19 necessities such as masks, PPG, ventilators and testing supplies. They feel bullied by us and have turned to China for help.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe the US has an obligation to get the supplies it needs to protect its citizens but we shouldn’t bully. We should use the example of the lend/lease program during the 2nd World War as example of how to treat this crisis. It is a small small world philosophy to use the Defense Production Act to gear up production equipment and supply the world with these vital supplies. Cannot pay now? Fine we got your back, pay us back when you can. The lend/lease program led to victory in the war but it also led to more than a half century of relative peace and prosperity.

The MAGA philosophy means we are missing this opportunity. China is not. It is embracing the world and supplying it with what it can to help tamp down Covid 19

Trump’s make America great again policies are leading to our decline.

What this have to do with the “It’s A Small Small World Exhibit” at the Worlds Fair. In 1964 Donald Trump been 18 years old and recently graduated from the New York Military Academy. He no doubt would have attended the Fair it was close to his home. I am  convinced that either he didn’t go to the Disney exhibit because the line was too long or it was not sufficiently macho. Or, perhaps he did get on one of those little boats but was too busy trying to “grab a girls pxxsy” to pay attention to the meaning of the exhibit:

It is too late for any type of remedial training for Donald Trump. He is irremediable. But I find it amusing to think of him sitting in one of those tiny boats endless looping through “Its Small Small World” exhibit.

While it is too late for Donald it is not to late t for us to remember that we are all in this together. It is up to us to extend a hand when we see our “buddy” needs help. It is a small small  world and what goes around comes around

About 34orion

Winston Churchill once said that if you were not a liberal when you were young you had no heart, and if you were not a conservative when you were older then you had no brain. I know I have both so what does that make me?
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