I first encountered Ayn Rand 's ideas in 1964. But it was five years later, after graduating from college, when I really immersed myself in her novels and philosophy.
This was the Vietnam War period, and conscription had not yet ended. I wound up in the U.S. Navy for the next four years. Wherever I was stationed, I searched for fellow Objectivists. They weren't always easy to find. I often experienced a sense of intellectual isolation. I identified with writer Eric Hoffer, who read Nietzsche and Montaigne while toiling as a longshoreman and migrant field worker.
I was assigned, not to a ship, but to a U.S. Air Force base in Bremerhaven, Germany. The accommodations were modest but comfortable, resembling a college dorm. But there was no laundry room. For that amenity, we had to traipse to another building.
I often experienced a sense of intellectual isolation.
Shortly after my arrival, I made a pilgrimage to this remote facility. Here, I discovered another annoyance: no chair upon which to wait out the spin cycle. In search of seating, I opened an unmarked, unlocked door. The room, I suddenly realized, was someone's living quarters. Before I could beat a furtive retreat, I glanced at the bookshelves. In this environment, that sight was in itself a rarity. But as I scanned the titles, my jaw dropped. This guy's library looked just like mine! Rand's books. Branden's books. Neatly stacked or bound issues of the Objectivist Newsletter and the Objectivist. And still more volumes by the usual suspects: Mises, Hazlitt, Paterson, et al.
Of course, I subsequently met the occupant, an airman, who introduced me to others with more than a casual interest in Rand. One, a fellow sailor who was the commanding officer's assistant, had an infant daughter named Kira. He directed an amateur production of Night of January 16th, which I attended.
This literate group served as a welcome oasis in an intellectual desert. And all the result of a chance event. What were the odds?
After eighteen months, I was transferred to a school in Indiana for military journalists. One day while in the—you guessed it!—laundry room, I spotted a paperback of Atlas Shrugged. Its owner, a serviceman from Pennsylvania, shared my passion for this particular author. Once again, I had a friend with interests other than drinking, bowling, and porn.
In 1974, I was discharged. Seven years later, after achieving some professional success, I moved to a snazzy new apartment and hired a housekeeper. For the past twenty-three years, I've been fortunate enough not to have to do my own laundry. No regrets, though. I've found other ways to meet Objectivists.
Don Hauptman is an independent advertising copywriter with a passion for puns and “recreational linguistics.” He also writes a weekly column on grammar and usage for Early to Rise, an online newsletter.
This article originally appeared in the December 2004 issue of Navigator magazine.