A newly discovered anecdote from Bill Ayers' 1993 book, To Teach, solidifies the case that he is indeed the muse behind Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father.
In the book, Ayers tells the story of an adventurous teacher who would take her students out to the streets of New York to learn interesting life lessons about the culture and history of the city.
As Ayers tells it, the students were fascinated by the Hudson River nearby and asked to see it. When they got to the river's edge, one student said, " Look, the river is flowing up." A second student said, "No, it has to flow south-down."
Not knowing which was right, the teacher and the students did their research. What they discovered, writes Ayers, was "that the Hudson River is a tidal river, that it flows both north and south, and they had visited the exact spot where the tide stops its northward push."
In his 1995 book, Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama shares a stunningly comparable anecdote about tidal rivers from his own brief New York sojourn. He tells of meeting with "Marty Kauffman" at a Lexington Avenue diner, the man from Chicago who was trying to recruit him as a community organizer.
After the meeting, Obama "took the long way home, along the East River promenade." As "a long brown barge rolled through the gray waters toward the sea," Obama sat down on a bench to consider his options.
While sitting, he noticed a black woman and her young son against the railing. Overly fond of the too well remembered detail, Obama observes that "they stood side by side, his arm wrapped around her leg, a single silhouette against the twilight."
The boy appeared to ask his mother a question that she could not answer and then approached Obama: "Excuse me, mister," he shouted. "You know why sometimes the river runs that way and then sometimes it goes this way?"
"The woman smiled and shook her head, and I said it probably had to do with the tides." Obama uses the seeming indecisiveness of this tidal river as a metaphor for his own. Immediately afterwards, he shakes the indecision and heads for Chicago.