I was born in Bloomington, Indiana in 1957. My parents moved me when I was six months old to Springvale, Victoria, Australia. Our house, at 10 Windsor Ave, had no indoor toilets, can you believe that? My dad reminded me that his favorite radio station was 774 3LO, an AM radio station. FM was decades away from commercial use in Australia! My little brother, Colin was born in Australia 2 years later. When I was about five we moved to Summit, New Jersey, USA. We lived at 32 Mountain Ave, in an old house which had settled quite a bit over the years. I remember playing a game with Colin in which we rolled marbles which followed parabolic paths on the slanted floors of the kitchen. I went to first and second grade in Summit, at the Brayton School. Madeline Brown was a special girl to me, which I mention only because she may google her maiden name one day and find it here, and be amazed. A couple years later we moved to a beautiful new house at 101 Maple Street in Berkeley Heights. I went to William Woodruff Elementary School (it was K-6 back then) then Columbia Junior High School.
"Graeme can't come out to play
right now-- he's working on his
In 1970, when I was 12, I had saved up enough allowance to buy a radio. My dad took me to Disco Electronics, on Route 22, in Springfield. I got a Hitachi AM/FM radio, and it was magic to me. To this day, 1970 songs, like One Toke Over The Line bring me back to those days. I had no idea what a "toke" was, but I liked the song because it reminds me of Mary Downing, another girl (girl? Who am I kidding? She's an old lady if she's still alive, but I remember her as a 12-year-old who brushed her hair 100 times before bed because her mother told her that's the key to lifelong beauty) who may one day do an ego search. Pop! Pop! That's the sound of my digression stack returning to the point: radio suddenly became my life in 1970. I wanted to be Or Dan Ingram in the afternoon or Harry Harrison In The Morning. ("Seventy-seven! Double-U-A-B-C! Good morning, Harry, good morning, Harry", the radio voices would say.) With my parents' indulgence, I strung wires throughout the house, and placed speakers (which I carefully culled from TV sets that had been put out on the curb on Junk Day) in the corners of every room of 101 Maple, as we still refer to that old house. Putting that system together, and building amplifiers from a Philips transistor kit my dad brought be back from Holland taught me a lot about electrical engineering. When I wasn't pretending to be a disk jockey to my captive audience, I was tuning in AM radio stations from 1000 miles away using the F-layer skip to pull in signals from places like Chicago (WLS and WMAQ, each just 10 KHz away from a New York station) and Detroit (CKLW) -- OK, CKLW was really in a foreign country, but I won't hold it against them. After all San Deigo's FOX TV channel 6 is also in a foreign country. Pop!. I made careful logs of the hundreds of radio stations -- sometimes two or more on a single frequency would take turns -- and recorded jingles and other sound bites, hours and hours of them, to document my discoveries. Throughout my high school years I cobbled together an impressive array of electronics, including several tape decks, which I used to remix my jingles and other sounds.
By 1973 I had installed a rotating FM antenna, and picked up really cool stations, too, like WMMR, 93.3 in Philadelphia. There, in the evenings, when everything in the world was quiet, I could hear Michael Tierson, who talked softly and played music no AM radio station would touch. And something better: for 10 minutes every day for months, he played segments of a radio play called The Fourth Tower of Inverness. In those days, you could call up a radio station, and the disk jockey would be the only one there, so he would answer the phone. I called him, and asked him where this Fourth Tower could be obtained, and he directed me to ZBS Media in Fort Edward, New York. I bought the reel-to-reel tapes of the whole 7 1/2-hour radio play and listened to it several times. It was more than a story about unseen worlds and parallel universes; it was a philosophy. It was mystical.
By the time 1974 rolled around, I was old enough to get a summer job in Wildwood. My mom thought my ambition to be a disk jockey would be a perfect for the job at Olympic Enterprises yelling into a microphone on the boardwalk. So I started working at Fascination for Marty Shapiro. Soon, he gave me my big chance: to get up onto the chair and talk into the microphone. It would be my first step to stardom, what I had been waiting for my whole life. My first chance to have a captive audience for me to razzle and dazzle. But I didn't do it. I was too shy. Eventually, Marty put me in charge of making change at Walter Florimont's shooting arcade. Who knew a kid with an ego as big as mine could have such a case of stage fright?
I've had another passion my whole life -- mathematics. When I was in third grade, I begged my teacher, Mrs. Epstein, to show me long division. She said I should wait because it would be taught later in the year. But I insisted, so she skipped lunch to show me. She was amazed, I think now, looking back on it, that I picked it up in about five minutes. In ninth grade, I programmed a computer (a Digital Equipment Corp. PDP-11, if I'm not mistaken, in Basic) to invert matrices, and used the program to do my math homework. The other kids were pissed because the teacher allowed me to hand in the computer printout for full credit. But she defended me, saying "Graeme had to not only learn the procedure but program all the steps into the computer, so he probably knows it better than any of you!" My pride was exceeded only by my unpopularity.
I enjoyed bicycle riding from the time I was in grade school. I had a three-speed Raleigh. It had a three-digit odometer, which at least once every year I took 'round the clock, so I know I rode it over a thousand miles a year. When I was in High School I traded up to a 10-speed Schwinn with a Suntour derailleur. I challenged myself to ride the 18 miles from my house to the Student Center at Rutgers in under an hour, but I don't think I ever made it that fast because of the Watchung "Mountains" -- just hills to anyone who lives in California, but enough to make it a tough one-hour ride. Once in a while I would get one of my few friends to make the trip with me. Back in the 70's the drinking age was 18, and enforcement of the drinking age was lax, so it was easy for a sixteen-year-old to buy beer, especially in New Brunswick, being a college town. So one day my friend Klaus and I rode our bikes to New Brunswick, got our beer, and looked for a good place to drink it. We found an out-of-the-way brick wall next to an empty parking lot overlooking the intersection of Albany Street and Route 18. We sat down, our backs against the brick wall, and started to drink our beer when a black Plymouth Fury pulled into the parking lot. Four guys were inside. One of them rolled down the window and said, "You guys know where you are?" One of us replied "Umm, no." The guy in the car choked back laughter, and said, "You're leaning up against the back wall of the police station!" All four of them busted out laughing as the window rolled up and the car peeled out of the parking lot. Klaus and I vowed to pick our beer-drinking venues more carefully in future.
Besides biking, my only other sport when I was growing up was skiing. My parents started my brother and me at an early age at Peapack. When we got better, we went to Snow Bowl. When we outgrew that, we went to Vernon Valley / Great Gorge. Bell Labs, where my parents worked, sponsored ski trips to places like Waterville Valley and Killington. One winter, we spent an intensive week of ski lessons at Gray Rocks, in Canada. That's where my brother and I graduated from intermediate to almost-expert. Looking back on it, I would say we were very lucky kids to have such a great opportunity to indulge in such a fun sport.
I went to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, thinking I would be a math major. Calculus was harder than I thought it would be, and computers were a whole lot more fun, so I took all the computer classes I could, and switched my major to Computer Science in my Junior year. Well my Junior years, I should say, because I started goofing off and going to college only part time. I finally graduated in 1981, after I had been working as "Customer Service" technician for the now defunct ITEL Service Bureau (part of a much bigger company that leased railcars) for a year and then for another year as a Systems Programmer for American Hoechst Corp (the American subsidiary of Hoechst Aktiengesellschaft (Hoechst A.G., for short!) that later merged with Celanese and then closed up shop, leaving Celanese owned by Hoechst A.G., which is now defunct, and was bought by Aventis S.A. in 1999). It was at American Hoechst that I met my wife, Catherine. We were married in 1983, and moved to South Brunswick. After American Hoechst I had jobs at Sycomm Systems Corporation (consulting company) and First Boston (when they were only partly owned by Credit Suisse). Our three kids, Caitlin, Matthew, and Meghan were all born at Saint Peter's Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.
In 1991 I started working for Paramount Pictures in New York City, with the mission of moving the mainframe -- and myself and my family -- to Los Angeles. In 1993, Paramount followed through on their part of the bargain, and transferred me to the studio in Hollywood (which is really part of the city of Los Angeles, not many people seem to know that). Catherine and I moved ourselves and our three kids to Palmdale, a desert city about 60 miles north of Hollywood.
On April 11, 1998, I started writing web pages on the McRae Family website. I soon adopted the motto, "Everyone is entitled to my opinion!", and I found I enjoyed writing. I got a lot of interesting emails -- many harshly critical of my views. I opened up sections on the McRae Family History, and on Mathematics, to name just two, and I write a few pages a week, on average. I installed a "tracker" on my website, and found to my astonishment a few years ago that hundreds of people visited my site every week. My life's dream of becoming a world-famous on-air personality has taken a strange turn. Now, with well over a thousand pages on the web site, searches like " bring up my site as the choice second only to Mathworld. All sorts of other popular searches put me in the top 10. The Internet has allowed me to continue to be shy, but to be famous, in a way, too. Now that Google has decided my website is an authority on everything from "CA Lottery" to "hair salon names", I have over a thousand visitors every day, which makes me Almost Famous.
At the beginning of 2001, my doctor told me I'm too fat and sloppy. He used different words, I suppose, but that's what I heard. I was appalled. How could I have let myself go like this? I was in pretty good shape when I was in High School. Had it been that long? I weighed over 200 pounds, and walking up a flight of stairs got me out of breath. So I put myself on a low-fat diet, and started trudging uphill on the treadmill. After a year of trudging half an hour every day, I was able to walk a bit faster. Another year and I could run. A year later I could run continuously for 30 minutes. I joined the High Desert Runners club. In November, 2004, I ran a marathon.
Some time in the winter of 2002-2003, my son, Matthew, asked me if I would take him snowboarding. I remembered the great opportunity my parents gave me at a younger age than Matthew, so I made the time to take him to Mountain High. He had to take a lesson, though; that was my rule. Since snowboarding is all the rage now, and skiing is sort of old-fashioned, I figured I would take a lesson, too. How hard could it be? I found out: it's very hard. If anything, my long skiing experience worked against me. Being turned 90º on the board made every instinct just plain wrong. I felt like my feet were embedded in cement. Matthew, on the other hand, took to it fairly quickly. Undaunted, I went back for two more lessons, and after my third lesson I was able to carve an "S" shape in the snow before falling -- a major accomplishment. The next year, I went snowboarding over a dozen times. I begged Matthew to come along, but he had other things to do, so I went by myself. By this time I really loved it. I've been going snowboarding every chance I get since then, and now I imagine myself to be at the same level I once was on skis -- upper intermediate or clumsy expert, whichever way you want to look at it -- and loving every minute of it.
Now, as I write this in January, 2005, my oldest little girl is in college, and the other two are in their teens, and I'm still wondering what I'll be when I grow up.
P.S. Here are some family photos
Caitlin, Catherine, Meghan, Graeme, Matthew at Universal Studios, January 20, 2002
McRae Family "Welcome Back" to New Jersey, 2000.
Clockwise: Meghan, Grandma and Grandpa (Graeme's parents), Catherine, Matthew, and Graeme, at Grandma and Grandpa's house in New Jersey, in July, 2001. I'm guessing Caitlin took this picture.
Graeme and Caitlin, in the plane from LA to New Jersey, July 2001