No Apologies to Joyce Kilmer March 28, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Roger's Poetry.
Tags: humanist poem, humanist poetry, joyce kilmer, Poetry, roger hollander, trees
add a comment
In foreign lands or right at home
No tree’s as lovely as a poem …
For trees are naught but seed and loam
But only YOU can make a poem.
The Concept of Other in Latin American Liberation: Fusing Emancipatory Thought and Social Revolt, by Eugene Gogol December 31, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Concept of Other in Latin American Liberation.
Tags: bartra, capitalism, chiapas, CONAIE, dussel roig, Ecuador, eugene gogol, hegel, Latin America, liberation, lucio gutierrez, mariategui, marx, marxism, Marxist Humanism, paz, quijano, revolt, revolution, roger hollander, salazar, semo, Zapatistas, zea
add a comment
(This book review was published in the August-September 2003 of “News & Letters,” the bi-monthly publication of the U.S. Marxist Humanist organization of the same name)
Anyone who has lived and/or followed the Latin American experience/reality in the post-World War II era will have experienced a Sisyphean frustration with respect to the rise and fall of liberation movements and the hope for new human relations to which they aspire. In the eight years I have lived in Ecuador I have witnessed two successful “leftist” coup d’etat that have resulted in absolutely no fundamental social, political, or economic change whatsoever – to the contrary, the economic/political crisis deepens.
In Ecuador, the 1980s saw intense grassroots organization within the indigenous community that culminated in the formation of a national indigenous organization, CONAIE, whose power was expressed in the 1990s through massive protests against oil exploitation in the Amazon rainforest, privatization of social security, and reactionary agricultural laws.
The indigenous revolt of 2000, its contradictions and the reasons for its ultimate failure is taken up in The Concept of Other in Latin American Liberation (Lexington Books, 20002). Gogol points out the contradictions within the leadership of the indigenous movement between those who relied on the creativity of the masses and those who allied themselves with government power. This has come to a tragic fruition with the Gutiérrez government, causing disunity within the indigenous movement that may take decades to repair. These events in Ecuador are in a sense a paradigm of the failures encountered in post-World War II Latin America.
In the first section of the book, Gogol argues that the Hegelian-Marxian dialectic is a sine qua non of truly liberatory revolutionary activity that intersects most dramatically with Latin American historical reality. To those who dismiss Hegel, Gogol shows that they do so at the peril of sacrificing the methodology that can keep revolutionary thought and revolutionary activity dynamic and in sync with social reality.
He takes us upon a philosophical journey touching upon the concept of Other and consideration of the dialectic in the writings of Latin American thinkers including Octavio Paz, Leopoldo Zea, Augusto Salazar Bondy, Anibal Quijano, Enrique Dussel, and Arturo Andrés Roig. He outlines the unique, important and positive contributions made by each, but concludes that in each one encounters an inability or unwillingness to delve deeply into Hegel’s “voyage of discovery.”
In the second section – “Imprisonment of the Other: the Logic of Capital on Latin American Soil” – we find a review of major Latin American thinkers of the 20th century–like José Carlos Mariátegui, Enrique Semo and Roger Bartra. Again, we encounter a richness in thought and analysis of capital’s stranglehold on the masses, showing us that the work of Marx as well as Hegel has taken root in Latin American soil. But we do not yet see the Other unbound. What we find again is the failure to recognize the second negation, the positive in the negative, the pathway to genuine liberation.
In discussing liberation theology’s inability to sustain its momentum in the face of the changing realities and setbacks of movements in Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, Gogol asks: “If one develops a concept of social change, without such a theoretical labor flowing from a fullness of philosophy of revolution, then what happens to one’s theory when the social movement, the historic moment, has changed?” (p. 115).
Referring to Marx’s economics, not as economic determinism, but rather as a “unity of humanism and philosophy;” not a mere sociology but as a philosophy of liberation. Gogol demonstrates how one expression of revolutionary subjectivity after another has fallen prey to the dead end of state-capitalism or reformist accommodation with different forms of capitalism.
The third section of the work is a journey through selected contemporary liberation movements in Latin America. From the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego, we see different forms of revolutionary subjectivity in action: urban, rural, indigenous, women, workers, students, and others. In each of these, be it the tin miners in Bolivia, campesinos in Guatemala, labor organizers in Bolivia, labor organizers in Mexico’s maquiladoras, the Madres de la Plaza of Argentina, or the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil, Gogol shows us how self-liberation re-creates itself in its own social environment, creating new pathways towards liberation.
In the Zapatistas of Chiapas, he finds the freshest and most innovative expression of revolutionary subjectivity. In their rejection of focoism, and in aiming not to take state power for themselves but rather to unify the various expressions of Other in Mexico, the Zapatistas broke new ground. Instead of adopting the dead-end, vanguardist “dictatorship of the proletariat” strategies and philosophies which the original urban radicals had brought to Chiapas, what emerged was a re-creation of the principles of collectivity in decision making, that were already inherent and deeply seated in the ways of the indigenous peoples of Chiapas.
As one concerned with understanding and changing Latin America, I see this work as of supreme importance. Although there are a few omissions (the most glaring being a failure to discuss the Colombian situation), the work is comprehensive and probing.
The book concludes with a discussion of philosophy and organization, noting, “It is the theoretician-philosopher(s) who catches the mass self-activity from below, and labors to give it meaning by rooting it within the Marxist-Hegelian philosophic expression…Marx was not afraid to speak of ‘our party’ even in the times when it was only he and Engels” (p. 343).
As one who lives and observes on a daily basis both the ravages of globalized capitalism and the frustration of liberation movements in Ecuador, I can attest to the urgent need for new beginnings in Latin America. And in the light of the Bush doctrine of permanent war and his plans to augment existing U.S. military force in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Aruba, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Honduras, and with new bases in the Galápagos, Brazil, El Salvador and Argentina, the Marxist-Humanist primary task takes on renewed urgency: “To the barbarism of war we pose the new society.”
The Power and Cost of Fame December 31, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in The Power and Cost of Fame.
Tags: anna freud, biography, chaplin, erik erickson, fame, jfk, olivier, psychoanalysis, psychology, roger hollander, sue erikson boland
add a comment
Sue Erikson Boland, daughter of the eminent psychoanalyst and author, Erik Erikson, struggled through most of her life to reconcile the larger than life image of her famous father with the fragile and insecure man she knew him to be. As a result, she believes that she has “come to understand something general about the nature of fame,” which she outlines in an essay entitled “Fame: the Power and Cost of a Fantasy,” published in “The Atlantic Monthly,” (November 1999).
Although she has enormous respect for her father’s brilliance and his accomplishments, she believes that his strong need to strive to be famous and enjoy the fruits of such fame had its origin in a deeply felt sense of “personal inadequacy” and “punishing self-doubt.” She has come to the conclusion that it is “shame,” which she defines as “a sense that the self is deeply flawed or deficient,” that “lies behind an exaggerated public image of strength, confidence, well-being, or benevolence” that characterizes famous individuals; and that what lies behind the powerful drive for fame is “an early experience of shame so overwhelming to the sense of self that to become someone extraordinary seems the only way to defend against it.”
In discussing the life of her father and other famous individuals, Boland shows how “abandonment or harsh emotional rejection by one or both parents, which leaves a child feeling deeply defective and unlovable,” and parents whose own narcissistic needs overpower the needs of their children, can be the source for the drive to achieve fame.
In the case of her father, Erik Erikson, he was raised by a step-father and a mother who refused to tell who is real father was. Because of the shame and scandal of having a child out of wedlock and being abandoned by its father, Erikson’s mother she needed from her son “emotional comfort,” and “help in restoring her lost pride.” She needed him to “ennoble her situation with his special gifts,” and she encouraged his pursuit of intellectual interests at an early age. Boland concludes that “my father was well trained as a small child to deny his own feelings … but he learned to use his intellect to connect with her … and to gratify her needs.”
Boland also discusses the early experiences of Laurence Olivier, whose father was extremely disapproving; Charlie Chaplin, who was abandoned by his father at a young age; and JFK, whose mother, Rose Kennedy, was “cold and unnurturing” and a “management executive rather than a mother,” and whose father, who had been thwarted in his own political ambition, was determined that one of his sons should become President.
She concludes: “This kind of childhood experience can easily give rise to the belief (part conscious, part unconscious) that in order to secure the love and loyalty of important others, the rejected child must be or do something very special … Thus is charisma born. Becoming someone special – being charming, talented … magnetic – becomes the vehicle for a desperate pursuit of emotional nourishment.” And she adds: “When a parent’s feelings of self-worth depend on the accomplishments of a child, this reinforces the child’s belief that only his exceptional abilities can be relied on to secure the love of someone important to his survival.”
Boland’s fundamental thesis is that the achievement of fame proves to be a hollow victory. In the case of her father, she goes into detail to describe the depression and anxiety he suffered when he was out of the spotlight and how he never felt satisfied with his achievements. In spite of a house full of honorary degrees and awards, including a Pulitzer Prize, he agonized over the fact that he failed to win the Nobel!
She states: “Behind the performance of the gifted child – no matter how successful … – the original narcissistic wound remains unhealed … Fame is not a successful defense against feelings of inadequacy. It only appears to be. This is where the greatest distortion lies in our idealization of the famous.”
Boland even suggests that her father’s own brief personal analysis, with Anna Freud, which was cut short by his departure from Vienna, was inadequate for the needs of a leader in his field. She claims that he never again sought “emotional relief” or “clarification of his feelings” from any other analyst. The price paid for this was not only Erikson’s own “fear of knowing himself … his limited understanding of his closest relationships and the sources of his own deepest pain.” It rendered him, according to his daughter, incapable of meeting her emotional needs in adolescence. His fame also made it necessary for her and her mother to avoid seeking help for him or themselves in order to protect his sacred image.
Boland suggests that the idealization of famous people is inevitable, given human insecurity and the sure knowledge of death. While it does help to make us feel safe in an unsafe universe, yielding power and authority to idealized individuals can lead to dangerous self limitation and even authoritarian dictatorship.
For Boland, true self esteem is achieved where the true self is revealed and not concealed behind an idealized image. “The real cure for shame is a gradual willingness to expose to others what you are most ashamed of, and the discovery that you will not be cast out …that you are acceptable for who you are.”
And from what we have learned about the real Erik Erikson from his own
daughter, one is reminded of the classic refrain: “Physician, heal thyself.”
Mrs. de Sade: What about Her? December 31, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Mrs. de Sade: What About Her?.
Tags: biography, francine du plessis gray, french literature, louis xvi, marquis de sade, marquise renee-pelagie de montreuil, roger hollander
1 comment so far
(I cannot remember why I wrote this review. It may have been for a journalist at one of Guayaquil’s dailies, who suggested I submit some reviews for publication. Since I have no copy of this work in Spanish, I assume that just reading the article and putting my thoughts to paper was enough for me.)
We know much – some would say too much – about the scandalous life and work of the Marquis de Sade, but little attention has been paid to his wife, the Marquise Rénee-Pélagie de Montreuil. Francine du Plessis Gray gives us the beginning of a picture of her in an article entitled “At Home with the Marquis de Sade,” published in the October 12, 1998 edition of “The New Yorker” magazine.
He was twenty two, she twenty one, when they tied the knot in Paris on May 17, 1763. It was an arranged marriage of convenience. Her nouveau riche bourgeois family sought royal respectability; his “noble” family was short of cash. Contrary to expectations, the couple fell deeply in love.
During the first five years of their marriage, the Marquise’s mother-in-law, Mme. de Montreuil, conspired with de Sade to keep his escapades, “his peccadilloes and his rambunctious liaisons … his innumerable exploits with actresses, courtesans, and whores of all varieties,” hidden from his wife, whom du Plessis Gray describes as “a prim decorous woman … neither beautiful nor cultivated … (but) what she lacked in polish she redeemed in strength of character and robust independence.” When he was jailed in the autumn of 1763, for example, for “acts of blasphemy and sacrilege,” she was led to believe that it had to do with unpaid debts.
However, in the spring of 1768, the Marquis’ shenanigans had gotten out of hand, and he was busted for alleged physical abuse of a beggar woman whom he had picked up, and was again imprisoned, this time for six months. Judging that the scandal would be too big to hide, he confessed all to the Marquise, who from that time forward replaced her mother as his protector. “Pelagie, far from being alienated by the heinousness of her husband’s crimes, found her passion for him intensified. To restore his freedom and protect him from increasingly vigilant captors became her goal in life, and she brought to that mission the sort of dedication that the most inspired priests or nuns bring to their vocation.”
What the two had in common was “solitary, affection starved childhoods, and both had remained loners,” who “for much of their married life … clung to each other like two neglected orphans …” The Marquise shared with her husband his disdain for “the adult world of sycophancy, social clambering, and material gain.” She once described French high society as “a bunch of riffraff, the most successful of whom are the most fraudulent.” Although she was in many ways his opposite, she was by no means a prude. She certainly witnessed and may have taken part in his famous orgies.
Their affection for one another is well documented in their letters. He referred to her as “star of Venus … my baby … violet of the garden of Eden … celestial kitten.” She most often called him “my good little boy.”
Their marriage was able to withstand, perhaps was even strengthen by the constant scandal and the pressure of police harassment, and was not even threatened by the Marquis seducing and having an extended affair, while living in exile, with Pelagie’s beautiful sister, ten years her younger, who had left her convent to visit them. However, this event turned the Marquis’ mother-in-law into his bitter enemy, and eventually she was able to trick him into returning to Paris, where she had been able to obtain from King Louis XVI an “arbitrary order of arrest” that lead to his imprisonment for thirteen years beginning in 1777.
This proved to be the beginning of the end of the marriage. Although Pelagie continued to be one hundred percent loyal and lived in poverty and gave up the custody of their three children in order to be able to supply him with what he needed to be comfortable and well fed in prison, de Sade came to distrust and harass his wife. In 1781 she was allowed her first visit, and he absurdly accused her of infidelity, of having an affair with one of his former secretaries and with her own female cousin.
He ordered her to live in a convent, and she complied by entering a religious community at Saint-Aure, where she was not required to take any vows but to otherwise participate fully in the religious life of the order. Ironically, it may have been de Sade’s own tyrannical jealousy that contributed to her gradual transition to religious devotion and piety. “I consign you to your room,” he commanded, “and, through all the authority that a husband has over a wife, forbid you to leave it, for whatever pretext.” de Sade criticized her newly formed piety and was further enraged when she gradually made peace with her mother.
During his thirteen year internment, de Sade came into his own as a writer, and produced his major works. His wife disagreed with the cynicism and materialism of his writing and warned him that they would anger the government authorities and postpone his release. By the time he was finally released in the spring of 1790, the Marquise had decided she wanted a separation and divorce.
From that time their only communication was to quarrel over financial matters. She lived out the rest of her life in seclusion at her parents’ estate near Paris, and died at the age of sixty eight in 1810.
du Plessis Gray speculates on the possible cause of her disillusion with her notorious husband whom she had nevertheless always been supremely devoted: “Was Pelagie, quite simply exhausted, after struggling for a quarter of a century against her husband’s rages and gargantuan demands, society’s scorn, the blackmail of prostitutes, the rigor of government and prison bureaucracies, her mother’s fury, and creditors everywhere?”
As was their marriage, their eventual estrangement was an enigma. It would seem that the truth of her initial undying love and the reasons for her eventual alienation she took with her to the grave.
Encounter With Psychoanalysis December 31, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Encounter With Psychoanalysis.
Tags: autobiography, bergler, divorce, freud, masochism, orality, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, roger hollander, suffering
add a comment
(In my late thirties I went through an excruciating life crisis, one, I now believe, that had been slowly brewing since childhood. I had hit what I considered to be rock bottom in the realm both of intimate relationships and personal success. As fate had it, I was referred for counselling to Toronto physician, Bernard Glazman, a general practitioner whose practice consisted entirely of Berglerian psychoanalysis.
When I first stepped into his office I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My first impression of Dr. Glazman was slightly negative. He didn’t appear to me to be a necessarily brilliant individual, and he certainly projected an image of traditional middle class. When he told me that in a sense I was at first going to have to take on faith what he was teaching me, I was sceptical to say the least. For reasons I cannot remember, I decided to commit myself to the minimal period of therapy he insisted was necessary before taking a decision on whether to continue or not. Fairly early on in therapy, well before my “contract” was up, I got the shock of my psychological/emotional life. It came in the form of a revelation of how I and not others was the major source of my own suffering.
What follows is a review of Bergler’s “Divorce Won’t Help” (a book that helped change my life – this coming, ironically, from a man with three divorces!)
I need to add a disclaimer. Dr. Edmund Bergler, having escaped from Nazi Germany, practiced in New York in the 1950s and enjoyed both popularity and notoriety. He was known for two areas of specialization: treating writers with writer’s block and treating homosexuals. It is the later that has brought him notoriety, more in our time than in his own. He believed that homosexuality was a form of neurosis and that it could be “cured.” Naturally, his name is anathema to the gay community. The notion that homosexuality is an illness has been virtually unanimously disclaimed by the community of mental health professionals.
Because I am a gay positive individual and have a long time involvement with the gay and Lesbian community and gay liberation, being an advocate of Berglerian psychoanalysis presents a problem for me. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to meet with the novelist Bernard Wolfe, who had been a patient of Dr. Bergler in New York. Wolfe, who at the time I met with him in Southern California was in the twilight of his life and career, had also been a secretary to Leon Trotsky during the latter’s exile in Mexico. I asked him about Bergler’s questionable position with respect to homosexuality. Wolfe’s response was that Bergler was a socialist and a humanitarian, and he opined that in light of the movement for gay liberation, he is confident that Bergler would have revisited and revised his stance if he were alive today.
This gives some comfort, but the stigma of his crusading attitude towards curing homosexuality probably can never be completely erased. I learned about Bergler and homosexuality after I had been well along in my therapy and was enjoying significant benefits. I have concluded that Bergler’s unfortunate mischaracterization of homosexuality as a disease need not nullify his fundamental findings with respect to psychic masochism)
Divorce Won’t Help: A Review
The book’s title, Divorce Won’t Help, is meant to indicate that problems in marriage often stem from psychological problems, and that simply changing partners without understanding the source of the conflict is not likely to yield future satisfaction. But this work is much more than a practical marriage manual. It introduces us to the monumental and almost universally ignored work of the Viennese psychoanalyst, Dr. Edmund Bergler, who was amongst the last wave of young students and disciples of Freud in Vienna (1930’s).
Although Bergler considered himself to be an “orthodox” Freudian, he both broke with and is shunned by the orthodox Freudian establishment. He felt that the psychoanalytic profession fixated itself on Freud’s earliest findings, particularly that of the dynamic of the Oedipus complex, while ignoring Freud’s later interest in the earliest stage of unconscious psychological development, i.e., that of the first eighteen months or the period characterized as that of orality because the major contact between the infant and the outside world is via the mouth (an interest that was also taken up by psychoanalysis theorists Melanie Klein and Anna Freud).
Bergler believed that adult neurotic behavior, which he referred to as the “clinical picture,” was a result of “compulsive unconscious repetition” of the outcome or resolution of unconscious internal conflict experienced in the oral stage, that is, the first eighteen months of life (this he referred to as the “genetic picture”). He claimed that such neurosis was universal – that it occurs to one degree or another in everyone – due to the unusually extended period of human infant dependency. He called this phenomenon “Psychic Masochism.” He describes adult neurotic behavior in three steps which he refers to as the “Mechanism of Orality.”
Bergler’s principal concern was not with abnormal psychology or deep psychosis, but rather with what he considered to be a ubiquitous form of self destructive behavior, having its origins in the unconscious “libidinization of pain,” a result of the inevitable destruction of “infantile megalomania” that occurs at birth. According to Bergler, as a result of this interruption of intra-uterine Utopia (where every need is satisfied instantly and automatically), every infant develops an unconscious image of a bad punishing mother, regardless of the quality of actual maternal care. In other words, no matter how caring and efficient a real life mother, it is not humanly possible to instantly satisfy the infant’s demands (to be nourished and kept comfortable and free of pain, frustration, etc.). And in addition, and even more perplexing, the well-intended acts of feeding, cleaning and attending to the infant are inevitably perceived (i.e., misunderstood) as aggressive and punishing.
Bergler further explains the dual role of the unconscious superego: the “Ego Ideal” being that behavior or persona the infant is “taught” (by parents, teachers, etc.) to strive for; and the “Daimonion” (a term first used by Socrates), which is that part of the unconscious superego that accuses and punishes, and is the source of unconscious guilt.
Psychic masochism has to do with a five layered structural process by which unconsciously motivated self-destructive (painful) behaviour that occurs on the conscious level is experienced as unconscious pleasure. It has to do with the unconscious wish (in relation to the libidinization of pain) to be punished by a “cruel mother image” and defensive behaviour resulting from the subsequent unconscious guilt. Because the dynamic occurs mainly at the unconscious level, the true masochistic origin (motivation) is not perceived by the suffering individual, who is only aware of the conscious pain. To the suffering neurotic, his pain appears consciously to be “caused” entirely by an external source (this phenomenon Bergler calls “the basic fallacy”). This, of course, makes the curing of the pain all that more difficult, since its source is hidden. Only by what Bergler calls putting the individual’s neurotic behaviour under the “psychoanalytic microscope” can understanding and healing occur. This is not, however, to deny that individuals actually suffer from external sources, but instead to show how in neurotics, because of their unconscious psychic masochism, the degree of suffering, if not a result of outright distortion by the unconscious, is out of proportion to any particular external cause.
Berglerian therapy follows standard Freudian methods, that is, dream analysis and interpretation of unconscious sources of conscious behavior. To escape Nazism, Bergler migrated from Vienna to New York, where he practiced for nearly three decades (until his death in 1962) and wrote dozens of articles and books and trained other analysts. However, his work has been ostracized by the psychoanalytic establishment, and is virtually unknown outside of New York and Toronto, where a handful of Berglerian psychoanalysts continue to treat patients with success.
Since so much of adult behavior can be seen to be self-destructive, it may well serve us to look at the work of a theoretician whose entire lifetime work was dedicated to understanding its cause.
Mechanism of Orality
1. The individual provokes a situation in which they are refused, rejected or unjustly treated.
2. Quite ignorant of the fact that they themselves have brought about this defeat, the individual fights in righteous indignation – seemingly in self defense – against the person he imagines to be responsible.
3. He pities himself ad nauseam: “Such injustice can only happen to me!”
The initial provocation (1) and the unconscious enjoyment of defeat (3) are entirely unconscious. Conscious are the pseudo aggression accompanying the righteous indignation (2) and the self pity and commiseration (3).
Five Layer Structure of Psychic Masochism
1. Unconscious wish to be refused, abused, rejected, etc. by the image of a bad refusing mother.
2. Daimonion reproach because the Ego Ideal does not contain a bad refusing mother image, rather a good giving mother image.
3. Denial of the masochistic wish to be refused. Assertion of a contrary fury and aggression against the image of the bad mother and retaliation.
4. Daimonion reproach for fury and aggression and retaliation because the Ego Ideal does not contain a child that retaliates but rather a child that gives back.
5. Pleading guilty to the “lesser crime” of fury and aggression and refusing back (3), never recognizing the “greater crime” of masochism (1). In punishment for the guilt, the aggression is turned inward causing suffering with the resultant self-damage, which manifests itself in the signs and symptoms of illness and disease.
(Note to the Reader: I have written a much longer piece describing my own
experience as a patient in therapy. This is in the form of a letter to patients, which is used by Dr. Glazman in his practice. You can request a copy of this letter by writing to me at email@example.com)
Shingles December 31, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Shngles.
Tags: chicken pox, childhood diseases, health, herpes zoster, neuralgia, roger hollander, shingles, vaccination, virus
1 comment so far
(Just before Christmas 2007, I was hit, slugged, blind-sided, you name it, with a very nasty virus, one that had been lurking for some sixty odd years, just waiting to wreak havoc with my health. This is a letter I sent to anyone I knew of my generation in order that they might not have to suffer what I have with a virus that lived an underground life in my system for nearly six decades.)
Shingles Bar: A place where you can go to share with fellow sufferers over anti-viral cocktails your experience with rashes and pain.
Who can remember their childhood bout with chicken pox? I have only the vague recollection of having had it, and my memory is mixed up with the measles and mumps. But the virus that causes chicken pox hasn’t forgotten me. It has hid itself somewhere in my nervous system all these years just waiting to jump out and give me a Christmas present. Merry Christmas!
It’s called Herpes Zoster. We generally refer to it as “shingles” rhymes with jingles … as in Jingle Bells.
I won’t go into excessive detail; you can look it up on Google. It commonly attacks those over 60, and the attacks can be mild or severe, short or long termed. The more common variety creates pain and a rash around the midsection. I lucked into the more rare expression. It attacked the left side of my face (and there is no doubt that the Radical Religious Right had its hand in here somewhere).
Several facial nerves become inflamed, which generate the breaking out of chicken pox like pustules and a not very friendly neuralgia. I woke up on a Saturday morning with a headache and eye pain on the left side. Carmen said she also noticed some “pimples” on the left side of my forehead. As the weekend wore on the pain migrated into my inner ear and upper molars.
What a strange conflux of symptoms, I thought to myself. On Sunday evening I went to the emergency at the public hospital (really a glorified clinic) in Playas where the MD on call took my blood pressure and suspected glaucoma because of the intense eye pain. He suggested I see an ophthalmologist right away and perhaps also a neurologist.
On Monday morning we headed for Guayaquil and got an appointment with my ophthalmologist for the afternoon. He ruled out glaucoma or any other eye involvement but suspected Herpes Zoster and sent me right away to see a dermatologist, who diagnosed it on the spot (no pun intended).
Herpes Zoster is not curable. The lesions usually disappear without leaving a scar. But the neuralgia – the pain – can last for days, weeks, months, or years (!!!). Apparently the key to preventing long term effects is early treatment with anti-viral medication. As uncomfortable as is the pain, the anxiety of now knowing how long it is going to last is the worst part.
The pain with which I continue to live in not unbearable, but it is quite debilitating. Picture having a head ache, eye pain, ear ache and tooth ache – all at the same time. It has diminished over time, but very slowly as the dermatologist told me it would. I am to rest for two weeks, stay out of sunlight, and not drive a car. When I told the doctor I live in Playas and it is sunny all the time, what if I need to go out, he responded, “don’t worry, you won’t want to go out.”
WHY AM I BORING YOU WITH ALL THIS?
I would not wish this on my worst enemy (with the one exception of anyone whose middle initial is “W.”).
I am sending this to those of you who are in the 60 year range because I understand a vaccination has been developed. It is expensive, but according to my brother, it is worth while. It will not prevent the outbreak of shingles, but considerably mitigate the effects.
I STRONGLY URGE YOU TO LOOK INTO THIS.
And don’t worry about me, I am handling it OK.
The Sixties December 31, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in The Sixties.
Tags: 1960s, activism.berkeley, autobiography, roger hollander
add a comment
(A teaching assistant in one of my Polisci courses at Berkeley – I’ve long forgotten his name or what the course was about – had a profound effect on my life in the sense that he persuaded me to think that an individual could make a difference in the world of social change. The Christian/Political Activist commune we formed in the 1960s created a slogan: “think your way into new ways of acting; act your way into new ways of thinking.” This dialectic of thought and action, with the implication that individual human beings thinking and acting in accordance with others in fact do make a difference, has stayed with me all my life. What we put into action in those magic sixties did in fact result in profound social change, the retrogressive period that followed notwithstanding. I intend to take to the grave with me the notion that I, and any other human being, so willing, can make a contribution to social change and the betterment of the world our children’s children will inherit.)
Playas, Ecuador, January 27, 2001
I awoke this morning as usual to the sounds of my radio alarm. But, how strange, my favourite classical station is playing Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin’.” This has never happened before. Have they changed their format? Then I notice this eerily familiar smell. It is incense mixed with the pungent aroma of that outlawed though mind-elevating herb. Still groggy from sleep, I don’t actually realize that something really odd is happening until I get up to wash my face and look into the bathroom mirror. My hair, which in this tropical climate I like to keep coolingly close to the scalp, has grown to shoulder length! And my sideburns have thickened considerably. I look down only to be further shocked by the fact that I am clad in bell-bottomed pajamas (with a tie-dyed paisley design!). This is all too bizarre, I say to myself, and I quickly dress and rush out to buy the morning paper, Guayaquil’s El Universo, the headline of which reads (in English!), “Despite Heavy Initial Losses Westmoreland Predicts Early Victory.”
It was only when I get home and think to look at the calendar on the wall and realize what day it is that I know I am not caught in some sort of Kafkaesque metamorphosis. It is January 27, my birthday. Being that I was born in 1941, today, January 27, 2001, for me at least, the sixties have begun again.
Inspired by this amazing experience, I began to meditate. When (in 1994) I was deciding whether or not to “spend a year or two” in Ecuador, I had consulted with my immediate family — parents, brother and children — and my mother had said to me that she believed in “doing your own thing.” “Mother,” I replied, “you sound like a Hippie.” Without missing a beat she countered, “I AM a Hippie.” It was only then that I realized that hipness could be genetic.
I hereupon wrote this dog-eared doggerel in celebration of …
THE SIXTIES: THE SECOND TIME AROUND
(but not ungracious)
(but not bombastic)
(but not unctuous)
(but not outrageous)
loving, not warring
moving, not boring
keeping the faith and the hope
(but this time around without the dope)
(And I don’t trust anyone over 90)
Peace & Love,
What I Want to Be When I Grow Up December 31, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.
Tags: 519 church, atomics international, autobiography, bus boy, careers, Ecuador, golden bull, grocery store, irvington, jobs, la free clinic, metro council, montreal, NDP, new jersey, newark star ledger, newspaper delivery, pancakes, plastic arts, princeton, rocketdyne, roger hollander, toronto, tv ontario, usphs, wedgwood, wycliffe
(My father wanted to be a lawyer and so did I. After graduating from Mercer Beasley School of Law in Newark, my father failed in his first attempt to pass the New Jersey Bar; and he never again pursued law as a career. I, too, thought that law would be a good profession for me, and I seriously considered enrolling in law school upon graduation from U.C. Berkeley with a B.A. in Political Science. But my “big brother” at the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, Garold Raff, urged me to spend ten years out in the real world before consider going back to school. I took his advice, and, apart from doing one graduate year at Princeton Theology Seminary when I was wrapped up in Christianity, I never pursued further studies towards a profession or career. I am 67 years old as I write this, and it may be too late for me to enter law school. Of course, you can never be sure.)
What I want to be when I grow up.
I wish I knew.
There were two small grocery stores in the neighborhood where I grew up. In between Saturday family forays into the supermarket, we picked up odds and ends at Babbitt’s, which was on the corner of Lyons Avenue and Ball Street. The other grocery, Benny’s, was just two or three doors further down, but to my memory, it wasn’t “location, location, location” that motivated us to patronize Mr. Babbitt (and his sidekick, Karl) exclusively. Not only was Mr. Babbitt friendlier, but he didn’t have the detested habit that characterized Benny’s marketing approach. When you finished telling Benny what you wanted and he pulled it down off the shelf or from a display case, he would proceed to ask if you needed any cigarettes, bread, milk, butter, etcetera, ad nauseum. This drove our family crazy and into the less aggressive arms of Mr. Babbitt (and his sidekick Karl).
(To this day I cannot abide pushy salespeople. This is an occupational [habitational?] hazard of living in a third world country. People are desperate, really desperate for a sale. If you show any interest in a particular item at all, perhaps only a mild curiosity about the price, in the mind of the sales person you have made a commitment to purchase; and getting away hands free often can be most unpleasant. Ten years ago, and I am not exaggerating, I bought some chunks of giant squid from a man in the Playas mercado. Once. We did not really like it and have had no desire to try it again. Nevertheless, every time I run into him he comes up to me expecting to make a sale and goes away angry when I decline.
(I rush to add that I sympathize with such people, who live on the economic edge and for whom each and every sale can make a big difference in their daily lives; and I confess that occasionally the strategy works on me. Either to get someone off my back – the lottery people are the worst – I might break down and make a purchase, or I often do so out of pity for a young child or an elderly person who appears particularly desperate.)
Back to Babbitt’s. Or rather, back to Benny’s. I believe it was a neighbor who was a regular patron of pushy Benny who told my family that he was looking for a delivery boy and recommended me for the job. It was at this time that my father told me the “parable” of the Devil and the Angel. On one of my shoulders was a Devil telling me to steal when no one is looking. On the other shoulder was an Angel telling me – you guessed it – to be a good boy and not yield to temptation. I was urged, to say the least, to give favorable consideration to the counsel of the latter.
Which I did. I would have been about ten years old at the time, and my sense of moral values was in the embryonic stage. I will not deny that the fear of being caught wasn’t the chief, if not the determining factor, in my decision to do the right thing. But the job was a total bore. Delivering groceries turned out to be only an occasional (if lucrative, tip-wise) oasis in a desert that consisted of sweeping floors and dusting shelves. And listening to Benny’s annoying attempts to try to sell that extra pack of cigarettes. I don’t remember how long I lasted – weeks or months at most – and if I had been fired I surely would have remembered that, so I conclude that I must have just up and quit at some point.
On to bigger and better things. Somehow I got word that good dough could be made delivering the Newark Star Ledger and that our neighborhood route was up for grabs. It was a small and dark office in downtown Irvington where the old and decrepit male human being who coordinated distribution held court. He was overjoyed to see me, but he gave me the chills, calling to mind Hansel’s relationship with the old witch. He spoke too fast for me to understand everything, but I left with a pretty accurate idea of what was going to happen: to wit, a bundle of papers was to be dropped off in front of our apartment building every morning, and I had a list of addresses to which they needed to be delivered, once I had folded them and packed them into the bag which I would attach to the handle bar of my bicycle. Then, once a week I was to make the round of my customers and collect for the delivery.
The delivering of the papers, despite the requirement for very early morning rising, turned out to be by far the easiest part of the deal. Collection was another matter. People either were not home, and you had to keep going back, or when you caught them they didn’t have what they owed and promised to pay double the following week.
At the end of the first week I made my pilgrimage to the old warlock’s office, handed the meager proceeds from my collection to same, and asked for my salary. No, no, no, I was told. That is not how it works. Again, I didn’t understand and had to go home and get my father to accompany me to find out why I had worked my butt off for an entire week, and the old man told me that I owed him some money!
Well, it turns out that unbeknownst to me, and the term was never used, but it turns out that I was an “independent contractor.” I purchased the newspapers from the Newark Star Ledger at forty cents for a week’s supply and “sold” them to my customers for forty five cents. That meant a nickel “profit” per week per customer, which amounted to about $2.50 since I had about fifty customers. Not bad money actually for a kid my age. But the Newark Star Ledger took no responsibility whatsoever for the honesty or the capacity of my customers to pay up. But what had happened in my first week of work was that I had collected from my clients less that what I owed the newspaper for the purchase of the papers.
I was thoroughly disillusioned when my father explained all this to me, and was ready right then and there to throw in the towel. But my father urged me not to quit, and so reluctantly I continued to wake in the wee hours of the morning to make my deliveries before going to school, then spent a good part of my Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings doing my best to leverage that precious forty five cents out of each of my customers.
It turned out to be a wise decision. In time I got to know when to catch people at home and eventually became the beneficiary of my persistence and reliability. My customers had become tired of inconsistent delivery service and constant paper boy turnover; and they gradually came to appreciate my diligence. This began to translate itself into tips and an average total weekly take of about $3.50 (plus a sizable bonus at Christmastime!). To put this in perspective and give you an idea of what this meant to a ten or eleven year old, my father at the time was earning fifty dollars a month selling commercial real estate.
If I recall correctly, I continued the paper route pretty much until our family moved out to California. As the route expanded due to my diligent efforts at recruiting new customers (for which there was a bonus), I brought my older brother Neil into the business, and we shared the route. The winter was the hardest. When it snowed there were days when we had to make the rounds on foot as bicycling was out of the question. When the weather was really bad, we woke up good old Charlie (my father), and he drove us around. He later claimed that we made him climb the stairs of apartment buildings to deliver papers for us. This story, I believe, was Apocryphal.
Our move to California interrupted my career in daily newspaper distribution and left the Newark Star Ledger bereft of its star paper boy. Somehow, although it is beyond my ken to understand, the enterprise did not go belly up.
Other minor entrepreneurial activities before leaving New Jersey including selling candy bars to raise money for baseball uniforms (Teddy Goldberg’s father who was in the wholesale candy business, provided the merchandise), which turnout to be a disaster when most of the money “disappeared,” something I never understood. There was also a stint selling jams, jellies and peanut butter to raise money for the PTA.
In California I was too lonely and depressed at first to think of remunerable occupation. Not that I couldn’t have used the money. But my father had a good job, and I could walk to Northridge Junior High School with adequate lunch money in my pocket.
Neil’s high school friend, Chuck Henriksen, somehow had a connection with an egg rancher in Simi Valley. Chuck, a CPA who lives in Bakersfield and does our taxes for us, recently told me that he met his wife, Sue, selling eggs door to door. I had no such luck when I tried my hand at it. Ironically, although my father had spent much of his adult life as a salesman, hawking everything from cookies to Mack trucks to commercial real estate, I never had the gift. Even when I believed in the product. They were really good and fresh ranch eggs.
My first big economic break came via “Aunt Sally,” who was not my aunt at all, but my father’s cousin. She and her daughter, Kathy, a year younger than me, had lived in the same apartment building as we did in Irvington, and then they moved out to California and settled a couple of blocks from where we lived in Reseda. Sally was the kind of person who did wild and daring things, like “going out for dinner.” One evening we accompanied her to the Golden Bull Steak House in Chatsworth. Sally brazenly asked the owner/manager, Mr. Nesbitt, if he could use some good help: me. To my surprise I was offered the job of bus boy on the spot.
Old man Nesbitt was a skin flint and a womanizer, but he treated me more or less like a son; especially when he realized that in hiring me he had solved the bus boy turnover problem. The Golden Bull was a whole new world for me. Example: the only salad dressing I have ever tasted in my life was vinegar (not oil and vinegar, just plain vinegar, which was what my mother habitually served with ice berg lettuce). At the Golden Bull there was Blue Cheese, Thousand Island, and French dressing to go on mixed green salads. Although my title was bus boy, I did the dual function of bussing tables and kitchen pantry work. I made salads, sundaes, and strawberry shortcakes; and when Nesbitt wasn’t looking, I actually got to sample them. Baked potatoes were served either with melted cheese or sour cream and chives. I had never realized how deprived I had been, at least from a culinary perspective when it came to American style food (I am not complaining, my mother was a good cook, in spite of the vinegary salads and dry roast beef; and she more than made up for any deficiencies with her ethnic dishes – pierogies and stuffed cabbage, to mention only a few – and her delicious pies and other baked goods).
Then there were the shrimp cocktails. I got hooked on them at the Golden Bull and remain a hopeless addict to this day. And I learned that as delicious as cold cooked shrimp can be when served with the traditional cocktail sauce of ketchup and horse radish, there is nothing like those indescribably scrumptious shrimp cocktail bathed in Thousand Island dressing. Try it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
I worked Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings all through my last two years of high school. I earned something like a dollar and a bit per hour, but with the tips my earnings were well above the minimum wage. On a good weekend I might pull in as much as fifteen or twenty dollars; and holidays were a gold mine. There was nothing to compare with Mother’s Day. We served both lunch and dinner (normally it was only a dinner restaurant, serving from about six to eleven); there were huge line ups of families waiting to treat Mom to her favorite steak or pork chop. I would arrive before noon, have a bite to eat (we were only allowed hamburger or the cheapest steak, the Delmonico, but that wasn’t so bad), and then start to prepare by setting tables and chopping lettuce. From noon to maybe twelve or one in the morning, I would literally be running non-stop. It was exhausting but rewarding work. And it was topped off in the wee hours of the morning with a meal prepared by our Philippine cooks which consisted of hamburger, green pepper, and a seasoning I would kill for today.
When I got to Berkeley for my freshman year, thanks to savings and a small scholarship, I had barely enough to get by. But joining a fraternity upped my housing cost, so that I had to work to make ends meet. I did that by working in the kitchen of the fraternity; official title: hasher. My responsibilities included setting the table, serving, clearing the table and other sundry kitchen duties. I did this for three of the four years of my undergraduate tenure; and, as with my stint at the Golden Bull, my real life education in the “real world” of the kitchen was in many ways superior to that of the class room.
Summer jobs. After my freshman year at Cal, thanks to his buddy in “human resources,” Norm White, my father was able to get me a job working on the “Hill” for Rocketdyne. The “Hill” was a site tucked into the Santa Susana Mountains that border the San Fernando Valley. It was where they tested rocket engines. I worked on the Mercury project and the F-1 rocket that sent the first men to the moon. I’m not saying they wouldn’t have got there without me. I had the all important job of working in the mail room helping to sort and deliver inter-office communications. This job did not require security clearance so I could only handle documents up to the “confidential” level of security classification. Those marked “secret” or “top secret” would start screaming if I even looked at them. When no one was looking, my co-worker and I had a good laugh about what we considered the absurdity of the security system.
Every once in a while I got to watch a test firing. This was an amazing experience. The engines were attached to structures embedded in god knows how may thousands of tons of concrete at the bottom of various canyons. You stood in a glass enclosed observation room to view the firing. Think of enough thrust to get a rocket into outer space and on its way to the moon. The sound it made was ear-splitting. One had the sense that the entire mountain was about to come apart and fly off into outer space. The test firings would last for about a minute, and then tons of water came gushing down the mountain side to cool everything off.
My memories of that summer include getting up at an ungodly (or unathiestically, if you will) hour of the morning to be picked up by a car pool and having to fight all the way during the half hour drive to work to avoid throwing up as a result of the most sickening perfume that was worn by one of my fellow car poolers. It smelled like the cross between a fart and the odor of a skunk. I believe it may have been called Polecat Flatulence. The other memory was lunchtime outside of the building I worked in overlooking a scenic valley. What I will never forget is the size of the squirrels, who were the beneficiaries of our largesse. They were the size of overfed raccoons.
Just recently while spending time in Los Angeles, I read in the newspaper about residents of the area suing Rocketdyne for contaminating the area with radioactive waste. Apparently there was a spill the very summer I worked there. Rocketdyne was at the time a division of North American Aviation, and its partner division was called “Atomics International (AI).” Despite that name, it had never occurred to me that anything related to radioactivity was going on. I cannot be sure, but this may explain why my ears seem to glow at night.
The summer following my sophomore year proved to be interesting, to say the least, but not remunerative. During the school year I had fallen in love with our fraternity’s “Queen,” Colleen Young, and we were actually “pinned,” a sort of engagement (involving a ceremony in which both my fraternity and her sorority are involved and whereby she receives and wears my fraternity pin). In any case, toward the end of the school year I had begun applying for jobs and received an offer to work in a hotel at Big Sur. What an experience that would have been if I hadn’t been too stupid and love struck. For Colleen had invited me to spend the first weeks of the summer with her family at their cottage on Lake Tahoe; and like a dope I accepted. This necessitated my turning down the Big Sur job.
The weeks at Lake Tahoe were divine, but they turned out to be my last hurrah, Colleen-wise. Somewhere toward the middle of the summer I received my Dear John letter. Following an unsuccessful trip to the northern border of the State of California where Colleen lived, in an unsuccessful attempt to win her back, I had the great fortune to be able to attend the Democratic Party National Convention at the Los Angeles Sports Arena and see John Kennedy nominated to run for the presidency. I followed that with a two week stint at the Campus Crusade for Christ camp somewhere on a lake near Minneapolis, where I learned how to reap souls for Jesus and to hate Communism. As I say, it was an interesting summer.
There was no summer job either after my junior year for that was the summer of my “deputation” in Ecuador with the Wycliffe Bible Translator missionaries. I came home that summer with a nice case of malaria, of which I experienced four “attacks” over a one year period. When I graduated from Cal in June of 1962, I was engaged to Linda, who had one year left before graduating from Mills College. So I had a year to “kill” before the two of us got hitched and headed off to Princeton.
Linda did a year of graduate study at Princeton University and was then able to finish her Ph.D. from a distance. I did a year at Princeton Theological Seminary and then became a seminary drop-out. The year in Princeton was sandwiched between two years teaching at the First Lutheran School in Northridge, where I taught math, history and social science to grades 7-9 and Spanish to sixth graders. I left First Lutheran in the Spring of 1965, and exactly 40 years later, I returned to teaching (in the conventional sense) in Ecuador for the Catholic University of Guayaquil, which sponsors a high school in Playas (for you science buffs in the audience, I can report the two major technological advances I noticed over that 40 year period: to wit, the use of non-indelible markers on white “blackboards” – but with the same old felt erasers; and liquid paper – pronounced “lickypaper” in Spanish – or what I used to know as “white-out,” instead of ink erasers. The latter coming in the shape of pens that you squeeze as you “write” with the liquid paper over what you wish to erase).
My next job was integrated with my need to do civilian service in lieu of military service as a result of my conscientious objector draft status. I was taking an adult ed. course at U.C.L.A. in writing and came across an ad in the student newspaper, which I answered. It was to do Syphilis epidemiology for the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) division of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), assigned to the Los Angeles County Health Department. I did this for a year before I go myself fired for insubordination, during which time I worked in the communities of Watts (in the year following the 1965 Watts Rebellion), West Hollywood (a gay Mecca), and the San Fernando Valley (my home town).
Out of a job and living the life of a Hippie, while at the same time participating with a passion in the political movements of the 1960s, for a short while I teamed up with Pete Flint in establishing and running the “I-Thou University of Young People” (which gets my vote for “most pretentious name for a do-it-yourself project”). We modeled ourselves after A.S. Neill’s “free school,” Summerhill (Pete’s kids had been involved with a Summerhill knock-off somewhere in the Valley), and I believe we had all of five or six students, two of whom were Pete’s children. We did a lot of political stuff, we had a kiln and did pottery; and I still have somewhere a vase that I made at that time.
My stint as a non-traditional teacher/administrator ended abruptly when I was arrested by the F.B.I. for violation of the Selective Service Act (failure to perform civilian service in lieu of military service) and flew the coop for Canada.
I had the best of luck in landing a job almost immediately upon arriving in Montreal. I was hired by Julian Wedgwood, of the Wedgwood China family, to assist him in running the Montreal Paperback Book Store, which was located in Notre Dame de Grace (NDG), a largely English speaking western suburb of Montreal. Working in a book store is a common fantasy amongst writers and intellectuals, and I would say that for the most part the experience lived up to its promise. I got to read a lot and meet and shoot the shit with a lot of interesting people, including “regulars” who would come by periodically to chat about politics or literature. Of course there was both the business side and periods of boredom which were much less romantic than the fantasy.
In spite of the fact that Julian Wedgwood came from enormous wealth, he had gone off to the colonies to seek his fortune based upon his wits rather than the lucre; and he was no great businessman. The biggest problem was that the business was undercapitalized. We never had enough stock and were always in debt to publishers, who would sometimes cut us off. To make up for the inadequate retail sales, Julian got us into wholesaling paperbacks to local high schools. The problem with this is that we gave up a full half of the 40% discount we got from the publishers, and there wasn’t enough volume to make it worthwhile.
After about a year Wedgwood decided to go back to England, from whence he shipped us huge supplies of certain cheaper paperbacks published by Penguin, which had no publishing rights in Canada. We were selling contraband to the schools! This helped a bit, but it was our used book business that kept our heads above water. On the sidewalk in front of the store we had a huge paper mache bear and portable book cases that contained used paperbacks that we sold for either ten cents or a quarter (mostly the former). We would buy any paperback in reasonable condition for a nickel and sell most of them for a dime. Mysteries, Harlequin romances, science fiction and popular novels were the mainstay of this trade; the volume was enormous, and we invariable had higher sales in this “sideline” than we did with our retail paperbacks. The fact that we often sold paperbacks at a quarter that were worth many times that amount was counterbalanced by our purchasing for a nickel books that too were worth a lot more. It was a formula that worked for us, and I am convinced that in the right neighborhood it has the potential of a gold mine.
When Julian went back to England, our old friend, Linda’s former student and my former draft counselee, Jim Falconi, aka Giacomo Falconi, joined with me to co-manage the store (he had moved to Montreal from Vancouver and was working in Classics Book Store, one of Canada’s major chains). For some reason, Julian wanted us to move downtown, so we abandoned our NDG cubbyhole of a store and rented a much larger step-down on the same street as Sir George Williams University (which today is known as Concordia). Julian, who eccentricities knew no limits, had found an old barn, had it torn down, and use the old weathered wood to line the walls of the store. As for sales, it was déjà vu all over again. We did a landfall business the first week of school selling required reading to the Sir George students. After that, our non-academic stock in its usual state of depletion, sales slowed to a trickle. Given that we were paying triple the rent downtown that we had paid in NDG, it wasn’t long before the business went kaputsky.
Another one of Wedgwood’s eccentricities was his ability to make the strangest contacts. There was a massive dam project in Churchill Falls, Labrador, and the catering company that provided meals and sundries to the workers contracted with us to send them paperback books for their company store. What they really wanted was soft core porno, which we were able to supply for a while, until those publishers cut us off when our accounts went unpaid for months. Then we had to look for books from our regular stock that had “suggestive” covers, including classics by such authors as Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austin and George Eliot. What a worker thought or did when he opened his copy of “Wuthering Heights” only to be disappointed for its failure to deliver more than its cover of bulging 19th century bodices, I’ll never know. There is always the hope that we contributed to the cultural refinement of macho working class mercenaries. In the end, though, the caterers wanted the real thing, which we couldn’t deliver, and we lost that contract too.
At one point, however, I had been sent flying up to Churchill Falls to get a first hand look at our “market.” It is a trip I’ll never forget. That part of Labrador is almost literally at the end of the world. For hours we flew over the most god-forsaken dreary tundra before reaching the dam (damn?) site. It gave me a whole new perspective on the notion of “barren.” It was April, and spring had just begun to show signs of arrival in Montreal. At Churchill Falls I encountered the most wicked weather imaginable. The wind-chill factor must have been a hundred degrees below zero. I remember that crossing the fifty or so meters that separated the barracks where I slept from the dining and commissary area was so treacherous that I did it only when absolutely necessary. I don’t know how the workers were able to survive there, and I had a new appreciation of their desire for pornography.
After the demise of the Montreal Paperback, a year or more of unemployment followed. We were living in our commune at the time, and I spent most of my time at our “vacation” chalet in the Laurentians until we up and moved to Knowlton, which is located in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, about 50 miles southeast of Montreal.
From there I made the decision to return to the United States, and this involved negotiations with the government since this was about a year before amnesty was granted to Vietnam War resisters. Ken Cloke, my Reseda High School and Berkeley comrade, is a lawyer and former president of the lefty National Lawyers Guild. He negotiated a deal with the U.S. Attorney that included my obligation to complete the civilian service in lieu of military service, which I had abandoned. There was no question of my getting my old job back with the U.S. Public Health Service, so I had to look for something else.
I ended up spending the next three years at the Los Angeles Free Clinic as the Administrator of the Medical Department (which was the core of the Clinic’s services, which also included dental care and psychological and job search counseling). When the clinic received additional federal funding, I also served as Family Planning Coordinator. I took over those responsibilities just as the clinic was getting well established and expanding its services. In addition to managing the Medical Department’s core primary care services (one third each, venereal disease, women’s health care, general family medicine), I tried to concentrate on prevention and health education (including family planning and pregnancy counseling); and, although I faced considerable resistance, I was able to slowly introduce continuity of care to supplement the clinic’s emergency orientation.
After three years at the LAFC, I headed back to Canada (Green River, just outside of Toronto), where there was a year of house husbanding, where I tried unsuccessfully to establish myself as a free lance writer. When Barbara and I separated and she returned to California, I moved into bachelor quarters in Toronto (with space, of course for Malika and Chantal) and did a series of patch work jobs before landing my position at the 519 Church Street Community Centre. These included selling advertising for theatre programs, working the box office at the Music Hall Theatre on the Danforth, and working in the kitchen that catered film companies (the one movie I remember working on was “Circle of Two.” which starred Richard Burton and Tatum O’Neal). The cook for this catering operation was German, and he had a recipe for beef in a creamy horse radish sauce that I would give anything to be able to reproduce.
The most interesting and long lasting of these short-term employments was the work I did as the field representative for the Province of Ontario’s (Ontario Educational Communications Authority – OECA) Educational television station, T.V. Ontario. I visited four remote northern communities (Owen Sound, Geraldton, Marathon, and Manitouwadge) to promote participation in experimental satellite educational programming. I also wrote a successful grant application for T.V. Ontario, a project called “Art is Real,” which was implemented in Thunder Bay (one community organization refused to participate because they wanted nothing to do with Jewish art; they had misinterpreted the name of the project to be “Art Israel.!”).
When my application for permanent employment with OECA was rejected, I began a serious search for stable work in Toronto and was short listed for two community organizations. I had two interviews with the South Riverdale Community Health Centre, but the job went to Liz Feltes (who retired from it a couple of years ago). My future wife, Cathy Crowe, was working there at the time, and who knows what would have happened if I had landed that position.
At the 519 Church Street Community Centre, I was one of 200 applicants for the position of Executive Director. In the covering letter to my application I had used the phrase, “method to my madness.” Two of the five hiring committee members, both of an extraordinary literary bent (writer, editor, Rick Archbold, and Judy Salamon, with her PhD in Literature) thought they had a Shakespeare scholar as well as an administrator within their grasp; and I was offered the job.
I spent seven supremely happy and fulfilling years at the 519. If there was any problem it was that once I had mastered the basics of the centre’s operation and had competent staff in place, it became clear to me that there simply wasn’t enough to do to keep a full-time Executive Director busy. Involvement in the broader community centre movement and fighting to stem cutbacks in funding did fill much of this gap. But I admit that toward the end I was beginning to feel bored and unchallenged. It doesn’t follow that I therefore jumped at the opportunity to run for political office. To the contrary I resisted it strongly at first, and then gave in reluctantly. Yet I cannot deny that, to some extent I felt that it might be time to move on. My immediate successor as Executive Director, Kyle Rae, soon followed in my footsteps and became the City of Toronto’s first openly gay City Councillor (the political footsteps, not gay ones). His successor, Allison Kemper, has kept on for years, and, as far as I know, she is still steering the ship. The last time I visited the centre (summer 2005) they were in the midst of a major building expansion project.
(Well, I was almost an openly gay City Councillor. I explain. At Metro Council we were debating a measure, one that we actually passed, to give full spousal benefits to same sex partners of our employees. During the course of the debate I got carried away with my human rights zeal and compared myself with John Kennedy, when he made the famous speech in Berlin when it was under siege, including the unforgettable words: “Ich bein ein Berliner.” At my quoting myself saying “Ich bein gay” [I am gay], the press corps, which was in its usual state of bored semi stupor up in the press gallery, came to life and descended on me en masse. “Councillor Hollander, did we just hear you coming out of the closet?” I quickly put things in context for them)
My seven years on Toronto Metro Council were not the happiest years of my life. Like a salmon on its way to spawn, I was all swimming against the current all the way. I refused to play the old boys’ game, refused to trade votes or compromise basic principles. Perhaps one can go that route and be effective, but it didn’t work that well for me. I was pretty much marginalized by my peers and the media. Many considered me to be “the conscience of Council.” Whoopee.
I concentrated on supporting community activity with whatever resources my office could provide. I won enough small battles but lost too many big ones. Our office was able to help hundreds if not thousands over a seven year period with problems of welfare eligibility, housing, racial discrimination, etc. Community services (hostels for the homeless, child care, homes for the aged, social housing, etc.) and police watch dogging were my bailiwick. It is hard for me to know if I was effective, and, if so, to what degree. There was enough positive feedback to make it feel worthwhile, but I did not have the impact on the overall running of the municipality that I would have liked to have.
When I was originally drafted by the New Democratic Party (NDP) to run in the by-election, I committed myself to one additional term if elected. I ended up being re-elected a second time; and by the end of that three year term there was not question in my mind that I wanted out. I simply chose not to run for re-election
During the course of my seven year stint on Metro Council I availed myself only twice of the oft abused privilege of traveling at the City’s expense. In both instances, they were serious and legitimate endeavors (unlike many “junkets” taken by my colleagues, such as the flower show in Amsterdam attended by a member of our Parks Committee or the Taxi conference in Las Vegas attended by that same member, who was also on the Licensing Committee).
In 1989 I attended a National Aids Conference in San Francisco, and upon return wrote an extensive report, which was well received. Not that I didn’t take advantage of the trip for considerable personal enjoyment. Cathy traveled with me, at her own expense. San Francisco is one of my all-time favorite cities, and while there we enjoyed such delights as North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, Haight-Ashbury, and the Castro District (the Gay Ghetto). We also took in a Cal football game at Berkeley, the Bears beat San Jose State, and that was certainly a trip down memory lane for me. We sat in the stands after the sweet victory and listened to the celebrated Cal Marching Band play all those nostalgic school tunes.
In 1994, my last year on Council, I had occasion to participate in an angry demonstration organized by the Ecuadorian-Canadian community in protest of the killing of a young Ecuadorian, Tony Vega. Tony had mental health problems, was causing a disturbance at home, and his family phoned the Metro Police for help. When Tony threatened the police with a baseball bat, they shot him dead. This brought me into contact with Marcelo Ruiz, the president of the Ecuadorian-Canadian organization in Toronto.
Some months after the Vega shooting, Marcelo phoned me and invited me to meet two Ecuadorian politicians, who were on a dual purpose mission to Toronto, which included promoting a pilot project sponsored by a Commission of the Ecuadorian Congress. The Congressman who headed that commission, with whom I met and lunched, was Juan José Costelló, an educator, and a member of a left wing political party that was more or less the political arm of the teachers’ union. Along with Marcelo, Carlos Castro Vaca, Mayor of the Andes town of Riobamba and of the same political stripe as Juan José, and Metro’s Works Commissioner, Bob Ferguson, we lunched at the restaurant on top of the CN Tower, the latter picking up the tab.
This meeting led an official invitation from the Education and Culture Commission of the Ecuadorian Congress for Ferguson and me to visit Ecuador in order to observe the Commission sponsored pilot project on recycling in elementary schools that was being administered by the teachers’ union (UNE). Thus, accompanied by Marcelo Ruiz, Bob and I spent ten days visiting schools in Quito, Riobamba and Guayaquil in the fall of 1994 (and upon returning to Toronto, I worked to get local support for the project and got Metro Council to sponsor a return visit by Carlos Castro and Juan José’s brother, Francisco; unfortunately this effort yielded miniscule results, and the project petered out for lack of funding).
The project was called (English translation) “Paper to Recycle, Notebooks to Study.” It was a simple yet brilliant idea. Students were asked to bring to school old newspapers, which they were to collect from their families and neighbors. Each student created his or her own decorative cardboard box in which to transport their collect newspapers. Each classroom in turn had its own larger container, and each participating school had an even larger bin to store the newspapers accumulated from all the classrooms. There were competitions amongst classrooms and between schools to see who could collect the most. Ideally, the collected newspapers would have been recycled into usable notebooks. But Ecuador doesn’t have an industry with that capacity, so the papers were sold to toilet paper manufacturers (we visited a toilet paper factory outside of Guayaquil and saw how the recycled newspaper was made into serviceable T.P.). With the revenues from these sales, notebooks were purchased and distributed to the students.
There was a strong pedagogical component to the project as well. Students learned about the environment and the need for ecological protection. As we toured various schools we witnessed songs, dramas, and posters on the theme of environmental protection.
There were forty three years between my first and second visits to Ecuador. After the first visit, I promised myself that I would one day return, and it was beginning to look as if that were never going to be fulfilled.
Having made the decision not to run for re-election to Metro Council in the November 1994 city elections, I had to decide what to do with my life. I gave myself three options: stay in Toronto and look for a new job; move to Albuquerque, New Mexico, which I had come to love from my visits to Liz Canfield over the years; or head south to live for a while in Ecuador. I had Liz doing some ground work for me on Albuquerque, and had been short listed for the job of Executive Director of a statewide A.I.D.S. program, when I made the decision in favor of Ecuador.
Before finalizing my decision, however, I consulted with each of my daughters, my brother, and my parents. This was where my mother told me she believed that one should do one’s own thing, and when I told her she sounded like a Hippie, she responded by saying, “I am a Hippie!” Everyone supported my decision. I then consulted with Marcelo Ruiz, who has contacts all over the country. He asked me if I wanted to settle in the mountains, the coast or the jungle. Without hesitation I chose the coast. The idea was that he would put me in touch with his political contacts there and together we would look for a project or projects in which I could become involved.
Marcelo had told me that he had been a student activist during the time of the Ecuadorian dictatorship (1970s). His closest ties are with the MPD (Movement for Popular Democracy). The MPD is made up largely of members of the Ecuadorian teachers’ union, UNE (National Union of Educators). It is considered one of the far left parties on the Ecuadorian political spectrum and my have ties with the outlawed PCMLE (Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador). The people involved with the recycling project in Ecuador were all connected with the MPD and/or UNE.
When I got to Ecuador, I was put in contact with Aracelly Moreno and her husband, Marcelo Moncayo. Aracelly is a former teacher, union activist, and, at the time, was an MPD congresswoman. Marcelo is an engineer, professor, and Marxist intellectual. They are both extremely decent people, and the treated me kindly. Aracelly, in particular is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect. She is a true fighter, and she stays the battle in spite of the misogyny she encounters within her own movement (she jokingly refers to “Machista Leninistas”). Marcelo arranged for me to rent a large bungalow near the beach in a resort complex about a two hour drive from Guayaquil. From there I was going to look for involvement with projects having to do with organizing fishermen.
Before taking possession of the bungalow, I spent a couple of weeks there with a large group of their friends, all MPDers (emepedistas in Spanish). All very nice people, but one thing really set me back: the ubiquity of the RSH virus (Racist/Sexist/Homophobic). The racism and homophobia came out mostly in efforts at humor (it was recommended to me, for example, that I could cure my back problems by sleeping with a big black woman). The sexism, on the other hand, was palpable in every day living. At meal time, the women, having spent hours laboring over a hot stove, would serve first the men, then the children; then they would sit down to have a bite to eat themselves before getting up to do the dishes and clean up the kitchen (while the men drank Cuba Libres on the veranda). Marcelo took pride in teaching his adolescent son to whistle at the females on the beach. Homosexuality was illegal in Ecuador at the time, and the term maricón (fag) was used with impunity.
This was a real turn off. It was like being in a time warp that transformed me back to the 1950s. Such overt racism, sexism and homophobia is, thank the goddess, virtually nonexistent amongst the left in North America. This was not the only factor that ended up changing my course. Meeting Carmen and getting involved with the cultural community (which is much more broad minded than the politicos) probably had more to do than anything else with veering from my original plans.
I ended up, after about two months in the country, giving up my beach bungalow and moving in with Carmen in her two by four apartment in Playas. Which takes me to my next career adventure: retail clothing salesman. Carmen’s youngest brother, Manuel, had an import business, centered mostly in importing clothing and accessories from Panama. Carmen was making her living (about a hundred dollars a month) by selling clothing to friends and contacts in Playas. I put new energies into the “business,” including but not limited to modernizing her bookkeeping and accounting system, which had consisted of loose pieces of paper, randomly arranged. When I got into drawing, we added my line of “Playa Gringo” silk-screened T-shirts to our inventory. It was thankless work. We had some of our merchandise in the local version of a department store, but on consignment, and the revenue trickled in. The biggest problem was that, in order to sell, we had to give credit (nobody has ready cash, it seems, in Ecuador); and then we had to pull teeth in order to collect (shades of my old newspaper delivery days). This was most unpleasant; and when I decided to do art full time and my Canadian pension kicked in, we were able to go out of the retail clothing business.
But before becoming an artiste, I had one more fling on the retail side of things. Playas is a beach resort, and it is inundated with tourists, virtually one hundred percent Ecuadorian, on weekends and holidays, during the vacations season, which is roughly New Years until Easter. It occurred to me that we could get rich selling something novel on the beach, where vendors plied beer and soft drinks along with typical Ecuadorian fare. We experimented with friends, and what was best received were my pancakes, which I made by adding the ripe platano (plantain), which gave them a rich banana flavor.
So on the first big weekend of the season, early Saturday morning I cooked up about fifty pancakes, placed them attractively in flat baskets, and sent them out to the beach with five local kids we had rounded up. In about an hour all five came back with nary a pancake missing from their baskets. This was disheartening
“Give me those pancakes,” I said, as we dismissed the kids and sent them home with some spending money for their efforts. I remembered an experience I had had several weeks ago at a beach in Salinas before I had met Carmen. A man came up to us selling these brown rounded candies that didn’t appeal to me on sight. He insisted, however, that I try a sample. They turned out to be made of coconut, one of my very favorite flavors, and I consequently made a purchase.
So I took a fork along with me, with which I cut up a pancake into small pieces for chumming. I would approach a group on the beach and offer my pancakes. They would politely shake there heads no, at which time I would proceed to insist that they take a sample of my “Canadian pancakes,” which I had made with my own two little hands. No obligation to purchase. I returned to the house in about a half hour with my basket empty.
We sold over 2000 pancakes that “season.” At first I made the batter and fried the flapjacks, and then went out onto the beach to sell them. This soon became untenable, so I gave my secret recipe to Carmen, and she stayed home and fried while I went out and hawked. We worked only on weekends and holidays. Our pancakes sold at two for 1000 sucres (about 20 cents each). The wonders of multiple pricing: rarely would someone ask timidly if they might be allowed to buy only one pancake at 500 sucres. Most bought two or four, and I sold as many as ten at a time to large families. Occasionally someone would know what a North American pancake is and ask if I had any maple syrup to go along. I explained that the sweet banana flavor made up for the lack of a sweet syrup, and I pointed out that our pancakes has a taste similar to the popular Ecuadorian maduro lampriado (ripe plantain fried in batter) but with only a small percentage of the grease.
Alas, it turned out to be extremely exhausting work for relatively little return (with a 100% mark-up, we were making about ten cents per pancake, which meant a total net income of only about $200 for all that effort. Carmen vowed never again to slave over a hot stove making pancakes, and thus ended the enterprise. The item was so popular that if we had been more enthusiastic and competent entrepreneurs we probably could have set up shop somewhere in Playas and a made a go of it. But Carmen’s career as a poet and mine in the plastic arts were too important for us to give up to the full time retail pancake business.
Probably, no not probably, rather certainly, the most unlikely career that either I or anyone who knows me well ever would have foreseen for myself is that of a career in the plastic arts. I am one of those people who cannot draw maturely and realistically. It has always amazed me how those who indeed are able to draw realistically can get things to look like they really are, that is, with shading, shadowing, nuances, textures, perspective, etc. It always has been and still remains beyond my ken. Nevertheless, the fact that I have sold more artwork in the short period I have been at it than say, someone like Vincent van Gogh in his entire life, cannot be denied. I may not be a very good artist – that is not for me to say – but having achieved a degree of earnings from my work, it follows that it is a profession and not a hobby.
How then did I come to dedicate a large amount of time an effort doing art? It begins with my addiction to crossword puzzles, something with which Carmen could not abide. Even though I considered it to be a worthwhile endeavor in that it keeps your mind sharp and helps expand vocabulary, I have to admit that an addiction is an addiction, the nature of which isolates one from his or her immediate social reality and demands increasing dosages of the drug. When Carmen insisted I drop doing crosswords and take up something creative and productive, I answered that I have no creative skills. Her response was the Spanish equivalent of “phooey.”
To get her off my back, I made what I thought would be a humorous and infantile drawing. In it I showed a crossword puzzle book opened up, I added human characteristics (arms and legs), and had it crucified on a cross. I called the drawing, “Crucigrama Crucificada,” (Crossword Crucified), which I thought had a nice ring to it in Spanish. The reaction I got from her was the opposite of what I expected. Instead of her saying that it was pretty bad art, she commented that it indeed showed a lot of creativity and that I should continue drawing.
Now I always have been an inveterate doodler. At interminable Metro Council meetings, to avoid being bored to death, I would doodle on the margins of the book length agendas with which we worked. I sat next to Howard Moscoe, a former art teacher, and looked at his much more sophisticated doodles with envy. Nevertheless, I do get a pleasant sensation from holding a writing instrument in my hand and marking on paper. So I began drawing crude figures then dividing them into smaller random shapes and filling in the spaces. I found this almost therapeutic, and the designs that emerged were sometimes pleasant to my eyes.
So I made a number of pen and ink drawings, and had three or four which I liked the best framed and hung in our living room (our living room was then and is now a virtual art gallery; at the time it was filled with art work given to Carmen by friends, and I thought it would be nice to see something I had done hanging on our walls). I thought not much more about it, although I continued my doodle/drawing with considerable enjoyment. Until one fine day came to visit us Jimmy Saltos, a friend of Carmen and an established painter. He singled out my drawings on the wall and asked who did them. He felt they would make excellent designs for T-shirts, so we bought a couple hundred of blank T-shirts and took them along with four of my drawings to a silk-screener in Guayaquil.
As with my hotcakes, they sold like hotcakes; but after exhausting the market that consisted of friends and relatives, it became clear that a huge investment would have to be made to mass produce them for a commercial market, and we lacked the financial resources for either production or marketing. However, in the process of looking for a silk-screen workshop for the T-shirts, we showed my drawings to another artist friend of Carmen, Walter Paéz, who at the time was in charge of a silk-screen workshop for fine art at the Municipal Museum in Guayaquil. He invited me to participate in the workshop, where the two silk-screen prints that I produced were selected for exhibition at the Museum. Believe it or not, I said to myself, I am on my way as an artist. An artist!
I next participated in an etching workshop with Arnold Sicles from Quito, and my two etchings were exhibited as well. From there I worked with Walter Paéz with additional techniques of print art: woodcut, linoleum, and colography. This meant spending a lot of time in Guayaquil since there are no printing presses in Playas, and spending time in Guayaquil has always been a problem for me because of its oppressive climate, pollution, noise and traffic. One weekend while I was home alone in Playas I discovered some oil painting supplies of Carmen’s, and I started to experiment. Painting, I soon discovered, was not only something I could enjoy doing, but it was also possible to do it in my own backyard. Since then I have dedicated all my efforts at painting, mostly in oil and a bit in acrylic.
My artwork has been used for the covers of a novel and four volumes of poetry, including Carmen’s “Aguaje,” which also contained my illustrations. My work has been exhibited in Ecuador and Canada, and although I don’t expect to ever be able to make a full time living doing art, it pays the utilities.
I’ve already mentioned the three months I spent replacing the English who had resigned teacher at the high school in Playas that was operated by the Catholic University in Guayaquil. Although I enjoyed especially being around and able to corrupt those fun loving, curious, and hormone charged teen-agers and was offered the position of Chairman of the English Department (which would have consisted of myself and two other non-native speaking teachers), I declined. The school administration was careless and corrupt, I was underpaid and cheated out of part of my salary, and I didn’t want to commit myself to full time work in any case.
Since then (late 2005, early 2006), I have had the opportunity to do some short-term contract work in Toronto. I lobbied the Toronto City Council on behalf of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee to increase its commitment to heat reduction services in the blistering summer months; and I served as the Accreditation Coordinator for the Adler School of Professional Studies.
For the former I reluctantly agreed to the proposal put to me by my third ex-wife, Cathy Crowe. At my very first Metro Council meeting in the fall of 1987 I introduced a motion whereby the Council would ask the senior levels of government to declare homelessness a national disaster and provide resources required to meet the crisis. The motion was not taken seriously at the time. Cathy was later to co-found the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC), and not only did she stick-handle a similar resolution through the Toronto Council, but was able to achieve its adoption by municipal councils across Canada.
Cathy wanted me to meet with selected members of the contemporary Council, many of whom had been my colleagues back then. The subject was the deepening public health crisis engendered by the increasingly oppressively hot summer weather. Because we are still friends, and because I have such a high degree of respect for what she has achieved as a perhaps Canada’s most influential anti-poverty activist, I was not able to refuse, notwithstanding that I had little desire to return to City Hall on any kind of official business.
The upshot was that I was pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed the assignment. Not only were the great majority of the Councillors with whom I spoke receptive to the TDRC’s indicatives, but I was received with more respect and warmth than I would have expected, and not only by Councillors but as well by other City employees with whom I had worked all those years ago. I was later told by Cathy that my “lobbying” efforts yielded results, and that many of the measures that TDRC had proposed were adopted by the Council for summers to come.
I did more substantial work for Linda Page, my first ex-wife and the mother of my children both in 2006 and 2007. Linda owns and operates the Adler School of Professional studies, with which she has been associated in various roles since the late 1970s. The school’s main program is one that offers a Master’s degree in Psychology, a program oriented toward mature students and those who are considering a change of career. Courses are given on week nights and weekends. The degree had previously been recognized by the government by way of the school’s association with the Adler Institute in Chicago. Now it is submitting an application to the government to be accredited to confer the degree in its own right. The application ran to several thousand pages and covered every imaginable aspect of post-graduate education, from the academic to the financial. It was several years in the works, and I was hired to coordinate the final phase of compiling the application and preparing it for submission.
The application consists of three major parts: A Review of the Organization, the Academic Aspect, and Compliance with Legal Requirements. Each part contained numerous sections. It was my job to ensure that each section was completed, that it met the guidelines put forth by the government, and that it was consistent and contained no technical errors. It was submitted in the fall of 2007, and the final outcome will not be known for several months.
I should mention as well the work I did in 2007 as a volunteer for the project which as directed by my wife, Carmen Váscones. The Circles of Recreation and Learning Project is financed by the Ecuadorian government and delivered in Playas through a grant given to the municipal government. It provides enrichment activities (education, play, nutrition and health promotion) for pre-school children in marginal neighborhoods. It is somewhat similar to the long-standing Headstart program in the States. In Playas, the project serves nearly eleven hundred children, ages 3-5, in some forty centers in Playas and the surrounding area.
Carmen had been hired to rescue the project, when it was about to lose funding due to a dismal beginning. She stayed for 18 months, and supervised three assistants, a comptroller, and eighteen “facilitators” (teachers), all women. She provided inspired leadership and got the project back on its feet, but she was able only to achieve this by working 80 hour weeks, often seven days a week; and she had to put up with shoddy administration by the City officials in charge of the overall project.
She also would not have been able to achieve what she did without my taking on two jobs: full time house husband and full time project volunteer. For the latter, I served as her personal secretary, and I was the project’s unofficial chauffer and photographer. I also helped out with administration and the development of graphic materials.
Well, there you have it. I think I have covered all of the various jobs and careers in which it has for the most part been my privilege to serve. I suppose I should add that all through these years I have done a fair amount of writing, everything from grant applications to administrative reports to oped opinion articles. In the last few years I have tried to make a break-through as a free lance writer, with some small success. I have had opinion pieces published in the Los Angeles Times, the Toronto Star, Guayaquil’s El Universo, and Podium, the publication of Guayaquil’s Universidad del Espirtu Santo; and I have written several articles for the Marxist-Humanist periodical, News and Letters. I have proof edited an intellectual biography of the Philosopher-Activist, Raya Dunayevskaya for its author, Eugene Gogol.
When I was in my senior year at UC Berkeley, most of my friends who were graduating were going onto graduate studies. My religious fervor at the time lead me to a single graduate year at the Princeton Theological Seminary; but when I think of the career that had most attracted me, it would have been Law. My “big brother” at the time, Garold Raff, advised me strongly to go out into the world and get some real life experience, then come back and do law school. I took the first part of his advice, but I never came back. I think Law would have been a compatible career for me, but I have no regrets with respect to the roads I have taken.
When people ask me what I do for a living I usually say that I do artwork, since that has been the most consistent activity for me over the past dozen or so years. But to answer the question posed in the title of this essay, “what do I want to be when I grow up?” I suggest two possibilities. One is that I may never grow up. The other is that I have still not conducted a major symphony orchestra or practiced brain surgery, so there is still the possibility that new and interesting career horizons loom in my future.
Adventure in the Andes December 29, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Adventure in the Andes, Ecuador Personal Experiences, Ecuador Writing.
Tags: aguaje, canelaso, carmen vascones, casa cultura, cuenca, Ecuador, ecuador art, ecuador culture, ecuador travel, hernan illescas, pepe serrano, roger hollander, rosalia arteaga
add a comment
(An e-mail letter sent to family and friends in June of 2000 that describes our first visit to the lovely city of Cuenca, often referred to as the cultural capital of the country. Cuenca, a city of some 400,000 is Ecuador’s third largest, is located in the Andes cordillera southeast of Guayaquil.
The city’s cobblestone streets, towering cathedrals, and marble and whitewashed buildings give it a colonial air. The city’s history is well preserved, earning Cuenca the honor of being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site.
According to studies and archeological discoveries, the origins of the first inhabitants go back to the year 8060 BC in the Cave of Chopsi. They were hunters, hunting everything the Paramo (neotropical ecosystem) offered them, and also nomads moving from one place to other. Tools like arrows and spears, found throughout the Andean alley are signs of the beginning of this culture. Their presence dates back to approximately 5585 BC. The modern city was founded in 1557 by the Spanish explorer Gil Ramírez Dávalos.
The occasion of our visit was the presentation of Carmen’s book of poetry, “Aguaje,” which I had illustrated. Along with the typical Ecuadorian book launching where the work is analyzed by eminent literary figures, there was a slide show of my illustrations. The illustrations appear in black and white in the book, but for the purpose of the various launchings (Guayaquil and Quito in addition to Cuenca), I had worked for several months to create paintings and different forms of print art – silk screen, wood cut, linoleum, and colography – based upon the drawings. Only in Guayaquil were the originals of these works displayed.)
We were to return to Cuenca the following year for another exhibition of my art work in the main gallery of the city’s Casa de la Cultura.)
Here is more than you ever wanted to know about our week in the Sierra.
We left Playas for Guayaquil on Saturday, planning to run some errands there and leave for Cuenca on Monday. When we arrived at the bus terminal in Guayaquil and inquired about transportation to Cuenca, we were reminded that a two day strike was planned for Monday and Tuesday, and, that if we wanted to get to Cuenca before Wednesday, we had better travel the next day, i.e., Sunday (the strike was organized by the organization of Indigenous evangelicals in protest of the government’s dollarization policy and a recent 80% increase in the price of gasoline — when Indigenous groups go on strike here they effectively block highways, if you can call them that, between major cities. A major nationwide general strike is scheduled for June15/16 organized by a wide coalition of labor and community organizations).
So, on Saturday, we cut short or plans in Guayaquil and visited our car (84 Chevy Trooper) to check on its progress. It is having its rotted out body largely replaced and painted. This will take about six weeks. Our body shop man doesn’t actually have a shop, he works on the street in front of his house — keeps the overhead down. He welds sheet metal pieces to the car where the metal is rusted out, will be replacing maybe 50 or 60 percent of the entire body. It will be nice, when the job is finished, to be able to travel without the road visiting us from below. It will also be nice to be able to close and lock the doors.
We took a noon bus to Cuenca on Monday. Cuenca, I am guessing, lies about 150 miles southeast of Guayaquil – check your maps – and is about a four hour trek from GQ (3 1/2 on the return as there is more descending than climbing). The bus line we chose takes the most direct route which involves a rather steep ascent in to the Sierra. We travel from the coastal plain into the tropical highlands and finally into the heart of the Andes cordillera. The two lane highway is in good condition for the most part, but there are a few sections that were totally washed out by El Niño and others that were destroyed by landslides. Even though this was nearly two years ago, repairs are still not complete, government officials too busy carrying suitcases full of money to Miami to bother with such trifles.
The only nervous moment occurred when we were climbing a steep grade where there was only a single unpaved lane in one of the damaged areas. Before we could regain the two lane highway we met oncoming traffic and had to back down to where we entered into one lane. I had a sudden religious conversion and successfully prayed for the bus’ brakes to be in good condition. With only about a meter of earth between the highway and the abyss, this is no time to be picky about one’s atheism.
The climb must have taken us to nearly 10,000 feet above sea level before we descended into the valley wherein lies the ancient city of Cuenca at about 8,000 feet. It is Ecuador’s third largest city, considered to be the “cultural capital” of the country, with a population, I am guessing again, of about a half million. It is certainly the most beautiful city I have seen by far, sort of like Quito but without the urban sprawl. The architecture is mostly Spanish Colonial, lots of churches, tile roof houses, narrow cobblestone streets in the old part of town. From where we stayed it was about a ten minute walk to the center of the old city, we crossed the Tomebamba River, about fifteen meters wide, and climbed about thirty meters of steps up the steep escarpment to reach the level of the old city. Along that escarpment, overlooking the river, are some incredibly beautiful homes.
Where we stayed (the long version): Carmen was raised in Machala a tropical city near the border with Peru. Her father was a much respected banker there and was close friends with a wealthy rancher who had nine children, some of whom were Carmen’s age. This family has a vacation home in Cuenca, and this is where we stayed. Imagine a two story home that would not be out of place in Rosedale or Brentwood on about a half acre of tropical landscape, large enough to house a family of eleven, ideally located a stone’s throw from the heart of the city.
The house is tended to by Maria, an employee of the family who was brought from Machala fifteen years ago for that purpose. She lives there with her two children (no father in the picture, surprise, surprise), Carlos, who is in his final year of university, studying business administration, and Patricia, who is in her final year of high school and also wants to go into BizAd. A very pleasant family. Maria is warm and intelligent, and has a flourishing business as a seamstress on the side (the owner family, however, is thinking of selling the house, and she worries about what will happen to her). I think that Maria and family appreciated that we treated them as people, not servants (which is what they are accustomed to), took meals with them and shared in the kitchen chores (I taught all three of them to make pancakes, oatmeal cookies and homentashen — Patricia now plans to bake cookies and sell them at school).
The Climate: similar to that of Quito, a sort of perpetual spring. The temperature can rise as high as 23C (mid to high 70sF) and go well below 10C (50F) at night. Days are characterized by instability. When the sun is out and the sky is clear; it is like the most beautiful spring day imaginable. But the clouds come and go, sometimes bringing rain this time of the year, and in a matter of minutes it can go from short sleeves to jacket weather. I am told that it never snows in the valley but there are sometimes sleet storms.
Most homes, including the one we stayed in, have no heating systems. It never quite warms up from the cold nights, and one always needs to be wearing a sweater indoors. At night it can really feel cold as the indoor temperature must go down below 15C (60F), and we slept comfortably only under four heavy wool blankets.
Cuenca is served by ice cold mountain water that you can actually drink from the tap. The downside for us was that the hot water system in the house was not working which made normal showering unpleasant to contemplate. Instead we heated water on the stove and bathed ourselves in the wash basin in the laundry room. Our first night we discovered a leaking pipe in the bathroom. When I got up for a the middle of the night to visit to the bathroom I was greeted by a puddle of ice cold water. That was a bad as it got.
The event, our presentation of our book, “Aguaje,” in the Casa de la Cultura, took place on Thursday. We arrived several days in advance in order to arrange interviews and media coverage and to ensure that all logistics were in place. Both Cuenca dailies gave us good coverage and we were interviewed on both the local radio and TV station. Cuenca is laid out in the traditional Spanish colonial model: large square plaza (park) in the center of town with the main church on one side, government and culture (museums, etc.) on the other sides. The Casa de la Cultura is right on the square, ideally located.
The event was not as well attended as we had hoped. In addition to the rain that evening, there was a demonstration by the teachers’ union (damn selfish teachers think they should earn more than forty dollars a month, and what’s more they expect to get paid on time – imagine!) blocked a main entrance to the old city. But the program itself was most successful. Two of Ecuador’s finest novelists eulogized Carmen’s poetry, and the director of a major international art biennial gave a warm and positive review of my illustrations. We did a slide show of my art, and that was also well received. After the event, about fifteen fellow poets and artists joined us at a lovely quaint bar/cafe, the Rueda (Wheel), where we enjoyed drinks, snacks and music until after two in the am.
The drink of the night was the traditional Cuenca canelaso, a drink served warm in a ceramic pot a la Japanese sake. It is made up of canela (unrefined cane sugar), aguardiente (an alcoholic beverage made from sugar cane), juice from the naranjilla (a tropical fruit native to Ecuador) and lime. The two pitchers of canelaso on our table somehow never seemed to empty the entire evening. It is one of those drinks where you don’t notice the effect it has on you until you try to stand up. I wondered how this feast was going to be financed and whispered the question to Carmen. She replied that we would all contribute. But as the night wore on, one by one members of the party drifted away, and I noticed no cash was left on the table with which to help with the inevitable final reckoning. I got really worried when the number of us at the table dwindled down to a handful. We were bailed out in the end by Pepe Serrano, an old friend of Carmen’s who is a judge and the uncle of Ecuador’s ex vice president, Rosalía Arteaga, who picked up the check.
Hernán Illescas is a Cuenca artist I met in Toronto last summer where we both were exhibiting. We became friends then, and during our visit in Cuenca we spent some time with him and his wife Mariela. That night at the Rueda, he had brought along his cousin, Miguel, who is a sculptor and musician. When the house musicians took a break, he went up to their stage, borrowed a guitar, and began singing at the microphone. Before long the rest of the band joined in, and they played together the rest of the evening.
During our free time we mainly walked around the old town, passing through the narrow streets, occasionally stopping to browse a shop or enter into a street market. We also spent a good deal of time sipping cappuccino with Carmen’s poet friends. We visited museums, art galleries, and a few churches (I am of the “you-seen-one-you-seen-them-all” school of ecclesiastical architecture). The day following the book presentation we met with the president of the Casa de la Cultura who invited me to present my portfolio the their committee in order to arrange for an exhibition there next year.
We made the trip back to Playas in one six hour stint, changing at the terminal in GQ for the home stretch to Playas.
It is good to be home. I will miss the beauty of the Andes, but not the weather.
California Here We Come December 29, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Autobiographical Essays (Roger), California Here We Come.
1 comment so far
(My family’s move by automobile – which contained four human beings, one parakeet, a bottle of whisky, and everything we owned – from New Jersey to California in December 1954 had an immeasurable impact on all our lives. The trip itself was also unforgettable. This essay emerged – I would say it almost wrote itself – when I rediscovered, some fifty years after the fact, the original of the notebook diary I had kept during the trip)
When it came time to pack up the old ’51 Kaiser and move out to California, there was no way we were going to leave Colonel behind. A vet advised us to carry a bottle of whisky with us in the car and put a little bit in his water every day to keep him tranquilized. If there was ever a happier parakeet on the face of this earth, I doubt it. He made the entire trip chirping away in his cage in the back seat with Neil and me. At night, he would ask us for one more for the road (if you believe that, I have a bridge that crosses the East River in New York that I can let you have at half price).
Let me tell you about that eight day, thirty five hundred mile trip from 165 Augusta Street in Irvington New Jersey to 1745 North Buena Vista in Burbank California. Besides Colonel in the Kaiser were my mother and father (who at some point in our early adolescence his sons began to call him by his first name, Charlie), by brother Neil (15 years old at the time) and myself (aged 13).
I kept a Notebook that accounted for every expenditure we made (gas, oil, repairs, food, drinks, motels, etc.); a detailed itinerary with dates and times; the mileage accumulated; and a gallery of pencil drawings (which surely will one day be priceless, if they are not already; critics of my artwork will note that I used the word “priceless,” not “worthless). The Notebook, of the spiral steno variety, with lined pages, was apparently left over from usage as my “English Assignment PAD,” and it bears the following identifying data: “Roger Hollander; Period 3; 02; HR -314.” I still have that Notebook. As you historians know, it is what is considered a primary document. Be assured that I have kept it well preserved in a temperature and humidity controlled environment (when I could find one).
All our worldly belongings were packed into the trunk and on top of that Kaiser sedan, including a crystal vase, which is the only remaining memento we have from my Hollander grandparents. It’s not that I have a specific memory of that vase being packed, rather that the vase, later converted into a lamp, lived with us in California all these years, and I cannot think of any other way it could have got there.
We departed on Sunday, December 5, 1954 at 1:00 PM, the odometer on the Kaiser reading 40,270 miles. We arrived in Burbank the following Sunday, December 12 at 7:36 PM, the odometer at 43,817. We had traversed a total of 3547 miles in eight days, and according to my carefully kept records, we purchased 189 gallons of gasoline at a total cost of $53.04 (an average of 28.06 cents per gallon), and achieved a gas economy of approximately 18.77 miles per gallon. For what it cost us in fuel to travel across the entire country in 1954, you could spend to fill one tank of gas today. The Notebook documents the purchase of six quarts of oil at a total cost of $2.55.
However, a loose slip of paper (approximately the size of one half page) found inside the Notebook and apparently torn from the Notebook, contains a different set of figures. It shows a total of 177.9 gallons of gasoline purchased at a cost of $50.08 (an average of 28.56 cents per gallon) that would improve the average gas mileage to 19.94 miles per gallon. This same fragment lists five quarts of oil purchased at a total of $2.15. It appears to be in Charlie’s handwriting, whereas all other entries in the Notebook are in Roger’s (which we will refer to as the “R Document,” while the fragment will be referred to as the C Document). Virtually none of the detailed entries in the R Document correspond with those of the C Document. This is most strange and your author cannot account for them. Surely it will be the subject for endless debate amongst future historians. The C Document’s authenticity is supported by the fact that its backside contains a drawing of Colonel, unmistakably executed by Roger, entitled “Guess Who? Roger’s Friend.”
Other car related travel expenses documented in the R Document are a total of $2.45 for tolls, $1.90 for car lubrication ($1.50 for the service, $ .40 for the grease), and $20.50 for a new radiator. Entry to the Petrified Forest cost $ .50.
The Notebook also notes the car mileage traversed each day. The first day, being a half day, we covered only 287 miles. The second day we jumped that up to 424 miles. From thereon in we stepped up our pace, and for the following six days we averaged exactly 472 2/3 miles per day. There was a part of a day lost near the end of the trip due to car trouble. A log contained in the Notebook documents each morning’s departure time and the date and time each state border was crossed (always indicating the time zone). For example, given the heavy academic weight of such a reliable primary document, I can say with an enormous degree of confidence that it is a historical fact that the Hollander family, Charles, Anne, Neil and Roger crossed the South Carolina border and entered the State of Georgia at precisely 10:10 AM, Eastern Standard Time, on Tuesday, December 7, 1954. A handful of historians consider that date more significant because of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but what do they know?
I entered an expense of $20.50 for a Radiator on December 12, the final day of our trip, the largest single expense of the entire trip (and presumably it includes the labor to install said radiator). This suggests that the car trouble I remember involved the replacement of its radiator, and that this would have occurred in the afternoon of the 11th or the morning of the 12th. On that final day, we left Williams, Arizona at 10 AM (Mountain Standard Time) and covered 502 miles, arriving in Burbank at 7:36 PM (Pacific Standard Time), and averaging 47.36 miles per hour, including whatever stops we would have made (the Notebook only shows a breakfast expenditure on that final day, so it is possible we drove straight through without stopping for a meal; gas was purchased twice, although, since the times of purchase are not documented, it is quite possible that the first purchase occurred prior to our setting off in the morning).
Our party stayed each of the seven nights of the journey in a motel. This was a first for Neil and me (as was eating in a real restaurant, as opposed to a hot dog stand or a diner). The cost of motels ranged from $5.50 to $7.14 per night for the entire family. The total amount spent on motels was $45.64. Apparently we ate only two meals a day, as the Notebook only shows entries for breakfasts and suppers. We may have snacked mid-day, but the Notebook doesn’t suggest that we did. It only shows entries for cokes (cost ranging between five and ten cents apiece, and the first ones weren’t purchased until Wednesday afternoon), thirty cents spent for three ice creams on Tuesday (I wonder who got left out) and sixty cents spent at a “market” on Wednesday. The total cost for drinks, snacks and meals for the eight days totals $52.85 (that’s two adults and two teen-agers for eight days, an average of $6.61 per day, $1.65 per person per day). Of that total, $50.94 was for regular meals. Breakfasts ranged from $1.12 to $2.86; suppers from $3.23 to $6.67. We always left a tip and recorded it faithfully in the notebook. The total for tips comes to $5.65, or 11.1%. Ten percent was the standard at the time (whoever said my Charlie was a cheapskate will kindly recant).
During the course of those eight days we also spent $1.15 for post cards. Being that the Notebook shows no expenditure for stamps, if we accept its authority, we can only assume that the cards were either never sent (perhaps kept for souvenirs) or sent once we had arrived in California. On Thursday, the sum of one dollar was spent on “firecrackers.” That most likely would have been in Texas, and research will have to be done to determine whether firecrackers were legal at that time in Texas, and, if not, whether there is a statute of limitations on laying charges. Otherwise, one of us may have to end up spending jail time in Texas; and I am not sure if purchasing firecrackers is a capital offense, but the last place you want to be in jail for a capital offense is Texas.
An expenditure of $3.20 (in the car expense category) is unreadable.
Total Trip Expenditures (according to the R Document):
Other car expenses 27.50
Total $187.07 ($183.71 if you believe Charlie on the gas and oil)
There is a title page in the Notebook, creating a discreet space for the artist’s (my) illustrations. The text of that page is as follows:
R &H Studios Inc. 12/5/54 to 12/12/54
ALL ILLUSTRATIONS BY Roger Hollander (signature)
(Comical & Otherwise)
Neil’s a poet,
And he don’t know it.
But his legs show it.
He’s a LongFellow
The Notebook contains eleven original drawings in pencil on lined Notebook paper by Roger Hollander (the earliest Hollander drawings in existence), including the drawing found on the back of the C Document fragment:
1. “Neil (the Stupidest Devil Around) (This One Ain’t Comical)”
2. “Charlie (Comical Illustration, Driving Car)”
4. “Uncle Ludwig (Comical)”
5. “To Colonel From Roger”
6. “Sunset on the Rockies”
7. “Colonel Hollander”
8. “Charlie in a Grouchy Mood”
9. “(Stefana) Mother (Comical Ill.)”
11. “Guess Who? Roger’s Friend”
It will be left to art historians to investigate and interpret these first formal original works by an artist (myself) who experienced a forty-one year period of latency before picking up where he (I) left off in 1954 with the 1995 drawing “Crucigrama Crucificada” (Crucified Crossword). What, on the surface does seem revealing, is the fact that three of the ten portraits (there was one landscape) decided upon the parakeet, Colonel, as its subject. The only homo sapiens who merited the artist’s attention for more than a single drawing were Neil and Charlie, and in both instances the thematic interpretation was hardly flattering (to wit: Neil, the Devil in No. 1; Charlie, Grouchy in No. 8). The Anne Hollander drawing likewise was satiric in nature and its title used her Birth Certificate appellation, “Stefana,” which we boys were known to apply in the diminutive sense. The “Roger” self portrait shows the subject, in profile, uncannily suggestive of Elvis Presley, sporting a pompadour hair style, smoking a cigarette, wearing a turtle next sweater out of which emerges a muscular bicep with a tattoo of the word “Mom” surrounded by a circular wreath.
Apart from some random scribbles and numerical figuring, the Notebook contains three other elements.
The inside back cover shows my ninth grade course schedule at Irvington High School, and it includes the room number, class time and teacher’s name. The courses I was taking (which I never completed, having only completed three months out of the school year before heading out west) were: Latin, History, English, Gym, Study, Algebra, and Printing.
The Notebook contains the names and addresses of my six closest friends, with whom I presumably intended to keep in touch, but, to my recollection, I never did. They are listed in an order that has no particular significance, as far as I remember (all address are in Irvington):
327 Coit Street
169 Berkshire Pl.
74 Chestnut Ave
123 Allen Street
(The first four were friends from Mt. Vernon School, at which I completed the seventh and eighth grades. Louis was my best friend. Arnie Willner was perhaps the shortest male in our class, but he was a better pitcher than I was on the Irvington Little League All-Star team, and he was deadly accurate with a basketball from what today we call the three point range. I believe I made Daniel Watkins’ friendship at Irvington High.)
The only other entry in the Notebook must have been a leftover from its “English Assignment PAD” days. It was presumably for a spelling or vocabulary assignment. It simply lists the following words as follows:
I cannot resist, today, May 26, 2005, using these words in a paragraph (in the order in which they appear; I love a challenge). Bear with me.
She was lackadaisical about the attention I paid to her but ferocious if I went too far and made a fool of myself in public. I would rise early in the morning to reconnoiter the house where she lived (I accede the fact that this behavior was not acceptable), which was contiguous with that of my best friend, Louie, and follow her to school. Louie collaborated with me in this, for like me, he was a renegade, but without my egotistical streak. My peculiarities probably would seem humorous today, even to her; but at that time they only served to gain her enmity. This whole thing was characteristic of my entire adolescence.
Just a random paragraph. Nothing whatsoever autobiographical about it.
O.K. That takes care of the Notebook, which undoubtedly the family will want to donate one day to the Smithsonian Institute. What about the trip from a non-statistical perspective? You are in luck (and I hope you feel that way too) because I have distinct memories.
We must have spent the entire morning of Sunday, December 5, loading up the Kaiser. At 1:00 PM sharp we said our last good-byes to l65 Augusta. I cannot remember if there was anyone there to see us off in ceremonial style (I do remember a going away party given for us at a restaurant, the Ivanhoe, I believe, but this may very well have been before that first, abortive attempt to move). Neil and my mother do, however, remember that there was a neighborly send-off.
At one point, probably somewhere in Delaware or Maryland, we passed a car with New York license plates, and either Neil or I said to the other, “they must have left early this morning.” From then on whenever we saw a car with a N.Y. license plate, one of us would say to the other, “They must have left early this morning.” To this day.
As a child, my family had visited Washington, D.C., where I left my initials on the Capital dome. This was as far south as I had ever traveled, and hitting the real South made quite an impression on me. What knocked me over were the dilapidated, unpainted, falling apart houses (shacks) that were dotted along the highways throughout the Deep South. It wouldn’t have been in my consciousness at the time, but perhaps it was this first direct encounter with abject poverty that sowed the first seeds of a social conscience. These houses inevitably had broken down front porches around which were strewn varieties of junk and poorly clothed Black children. I had had no idea that such living conditions existed, at least not in the United States of America. It stirred my thirteen year old soul.
As well, all through the Deep South we encountered segregated facilities. At the time I had only a vague idea of what the racial situation was in our country, but this gave it a concrete reality that one didn’t get living in the North (and in all-White Irvington, to boot). At gas stations and restaurants there would be rest rooms and drinking fountains labeled “white” and “colored.” Now, I participated on the fringes of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and I have vivid memories of the dramatic scenes where brave “Negroes” sat in at all-White lunch counters (I once attended a speech given by the comedian and activist, Dick Gregory, where he told the story of going into a restaurant in the South to be told that “we don’t serve Niggers.” Gregory replied, “I don’t want a Nigger, I want a hamburger.” The upshot was that he bought the restaurant and fired the racist staff). On the one hand it is hard to believe in the year 2005 that segregation was once so blatantly out in the open as it was to my thirteen year old eyes in 1954 traveling through the Deep South (as far west as Texas). On the other, I am well aware of both the fact that this nation was founded on the backs of African slave labor, and that racism is alive and well in the country today (discrimination in education, housing, jobs, health care and the criminalization of Blacks and other minorities have continued to grow as one Republican administration after another – including the Republicrat Clinton – has worked to roll back the gains of the Civil Rights Movement).
I don’t remember exactly where it was, but I committed the first of what was to become a long line of acts of civil disobedience by joining Neil in drinking from a “colored only” drinking fountain (it may be wishful thinking, but I seem to remember that it might have been in Texas). Neil doesn’t remember this as an act of political rebellion, and he is probably correct, although it was at least adolescent rebellion. But as Neil recently reminded me, despite the fact that this happened too long ago for either of our memories to be crystal clear about it, our parents had brought us up with an ethic that would have been consistent with our making a conscious decision to snub our noses (actually, wet them) as Southern racial bigotry.
Then there was the cotton. Endless acres of cotton, as eye as the far could see. Neil and I took it upon ourselves, I cannot remember why, probably the novelty of it, to insist that my parents stop at least once in each cotton belt state so that we could pick cotton. We carried this along with us in the car, long stems of cotton bolls, with the intention of arriving in California with a complete Southern State cotton collection. Alas, the agricultural authorities at the California border confiscated our entire cache, thereby rendering useless all that work done by our cotton pickin’ hands.
Neil tells me that he has a memory that amazed him at the time and remains with him to this day, the forests of Spanish moss that we encountered in Louisiana and East Texas. I have no recollection of this whatsoever. I guess Neil has always been more the naturalist than me. His respect for the civil rights of fish to be free from being hooked is legendary.
The next unbelievable phenomenon was Texas. We thought it would never end. Heading south, we would tick off a couple, three of states a day. However, we crossed the Louisiana border with Texas at 8:20PM, Central Standard Time, on Wednesday, December 8, and left the Lone Star State to cross into New Mexico at 12:20 PM, Central Standard Time, on Friday, December 10. It thereby took us at total of forty of perhaps the boringest hours of the entire trip to get from one end of the state to the other. As far as we were concerned, Mexico should have kept it (many of us still feel that way, if for other reasons).
What lies ahead, though, was well worth the time invested passing through the Texas barrens. Our objective was California, so we didn’t have a lot of time for sight seeing, but my parents must have had enough of a sense of history and geography to make sure that we spent at least some time in the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and – the grandest of them all – The Grand Canyon. To my naïve thirteen year old mind, the Painted Desert was somewhat of a disappointment, I actually expected to see the desert as a giant canvass, somehow covered with colorful art work. At the Petrified Forest, despite the plethora of signs warning against it, we smuggled out a couple of samples of petrified wood (my parents should have known better, but Neil and I were so insistent, and perhaps they were feeling guilty toward us, having uprooted us from our friends and not having the money to even afford afternoon meals – I just now remembered, they had had to borrow Neil’s and my life savings to finance the trip, that’s how poor we were). There is no question that this was illegal, and since Neil was the older and should have known better, he is the one I will be reporting to the proper authorities as soon as I finish writing this essay.
We only got to the rim of the Grand Canyon, but that was enough. We would have loved to have rented a mule and made the trek to the bottom, but it was for too many reasons an impractical idea. If I can remember today, just over fifty years later, just what it felt like standing at that observation point and looking out over that amazing expanse, then it must have made some impression on me then.
And where did we get our kicks? You guessed it. Route 66! Were there Stucky’s then? I think so, but I am not sure. But there is no forgetting the gas stations, the Art Deco restaurants; the Indian souvenir shops; the motels that ranged from seedy to elegant, from plain to all gussied up; and, most of all – the Burma Shave signs. Although these are an indelible part of Americana of that period, I suppose I need to explain. There would be a series of red and white signs along the highway, rectangular and horizontal and not very big. They were spaced apart, I don’t know, maybe at intervals of a half mile or so. In any case, you would read one, and then there would be highway to eat up and time to pass before the next one. They were an institution in their day, found on highways and byways all over America. In their heyday I believe there were some 70,000 of them.
Here is one that I remember. To get the feeling of it, each line needs to be put on a separate page. Here goes:
That’s like a cactus
Takes more nerve
Than it does practice
Reader, if you are paying attention you have to be skeptical about my claim to have remembered this Burma Shave ditty after all these years. True confession: I got it off of Google.
Back to Beverly Hill Billies on their way to California. Route 66 did more than give us kicks. It tried to kill us. There is no question that this was the most dramatic and unforgettable experience of that journey and one of the most traumatic and potentially tragic experiences of my entire lifetime.
We left Snyder, New Mexico at 8:00 AM (CST) on Friday, December 10. As I recall, evening was about to fall when we started our climb into the Rocky Mountains. We passed a small town, well you wouldn’t even call it that, a blip in the road with a motel and a gas station, by the name of Grant (this information I am gleaning from the Notebook). Shortly after we passed Grant, it began to snow. At first it was a light snow, and we proceeded onwards with no worries. Then, all of a sudden, it turned into a monster of a blizzard. We later came to refer to it as a “freak storm.” This was a narrow winding mountain road with steep declivities on the non-mountain side of the road. The snow began to come at us with such a flurry that the windshield wipers ceased to be able to clear the windshield of the thick, moist snow. My father, who was driving at the time, had to stick his head out of the driver’s side window to see the road. Within minutes the visibility dropped to zero.
We all began to realize that we were in a difficult situation (I think that only after it was finished and we were safe and sound, did we realize how dangerous it had been, although my parents might have realized it at the time without communicating it to us). A decision had to be made, and I remember distinctly we were all four involved in discussing it. To push ahead or turn back? We didn’t know how far it would be to the next motel, and we were only vague on how far back we had passed the last one (that turned out to be in Grant). This far in time from the incident, I couldn’t tell you if Grant was five or ten or twenty miles behind us. I would guess something close to ten. We made the decision to go back.
This involved both turning the car around and negotiating the roadway for several miles with no visibility. Turning the car around on that narrow road with no shoulder turned out to be the more difficult of the two. My father and Neil and I got out, we certainly would not have been dressed for a blizzard, while my mother took the steering wheel. It was up to my mother to accomplish the turn, while it was our task outside to make sure that our Kaiser along with our beloved wife and mother, did not go sliding down into a mountain valley that very well could have been hundreds or thousands of feet deep. Also, because of the total lack of visibility, we were terrified that, as we were turning the car around, we might be plowed into by a vehicle coming from either direction.
My recollection is that it was touch and go. As my mother engineered the three-point turn, the car slipped and slid, and there were the three of us behind that part of the car that hovered over the decline, exerting every ounce of strength both not to slide down ourselves and to keep the Kaiser on the road.
We successfully accomplished the turn, just barely, and then we headed back eastward. All four of us (Colonel was exempted) had our heads out the window, shouting out latitude and longitude to Charlie, who was back in the driver’s seat. At first he attempted to stay on the road by following in the tracks of a truck that had preceded us. However, after a while, those disappeared. We crept along at a minimal speed, probably no more than five or ten miles per hour. So it must have taken somewhere in the vicinity of an hour, perhaps even longer, of this nerve wracking and dangerous driving before we finally reached the refuge of a motel in Grant, New Mexico.
We arrived in our motel room, cold and wet, exhausted and with our nerves shot. We brought Colonel inside with us, we always did, and it must have been a miracle that this powder blue parakeet, a species bred in the tropics, survived the cold temperature in a car with four windows open for that long a time. He got an extra dollop of Five Roses that night, but he wasn’t the only one. My parents clearly were in dire need of “a drink,” and they were both wise and flexible enough to realize that such was the case as well for Neil and me. We all hit the bottle, and though I can only speak with certainly for myself, I suspect that we all slept soundly that night.
The Notebook shows us leaving Grant at 8:15 the next morning, Saturday, the 11th. We had gladly spent $7.14 for our motel room, and breakfasted at the cost of $1.12 plus a fifteen cents tip. That same day we spent sixty five cents on post cards, eighteen cents on three cokes, and visited the Petrified Forest. We landed that evening in Williams, Arizona, where the radiator of the Kaiser gave out. We dined in a restaurant that none of us has ever forgotten. It was a steak house and had a sculptured likeness of a huge bull on its roof. We ordered sirloin tip (a glorified term for hamburger) that was served in the shape of a bull. We were duly charmed. They also served hot rolls with honey, something that also was a novelty to the still wet behind the ears (but soon to dry off in hot and arid Los Angeles) Hollander family.
We arrived at my Uncle Walter and Aunt Bertha’s home in Burbank (where we bunked down for the weeks that it took us to find our own place) at 7:36 PM. It was Sunday evening, and we had really pushed it that last day. We were received with the warm hospitality that is characteristic of both sides of my family. Bertha, a Mexican American, and Uncle Walter’s second wife, had two sons the same ages as Neil and I, and we got along famously. They also had a short haired terrier, Romeo, with whom I fell in love. There was a third son, “Junior,” whom we were told was away at college (the other two sons couldn’t wait to tell Neil and me in confidence that the “college” was Folsom Prison). Aunt Bertha introduced us to Mexican food, and I can still see her standing over a stove actually re-frying the beans for refried beans in a frying pan.
Th th th th th tha at’s all Folks. End of trip.
This was the first of many a cross-country by car trip for me, but it was not only the most memorable, but a defining event in my life, as it was for our entire nuclear family. Who knows what life would have held for us had we remained in New Jersey?