Sunday, December 07, 2014



In several respects the transition from Oakwood to Haverford College was seamless (1), but what comes to mind, first, and second, about Haverford College, the third second of the handful of serious institutions I attended in adolescence, is not its idyllic campus, its at the very least, but for one, good enough professors or the liberality with which it allowed me to focus my course work (2), but what, invariably, keeps coming to my mind first about Haverford is the destruction at the end of his Freshmen year of Lower Marion, a dormitory that its inhabitants, all Freshmen, wrecked with a sudden outburst of energy and pent-up rage, the dilapidated rat hole into which they had been stuffed nine months prior; and, secondly, the entire Philosophy 101-102 course, to a man I think, going apeshit over Vaihinger’s Philosophy of the As If!

and terrific Professor Foss, a Kantian I believe, an immigrant, father of Lucas and Olivier, one of those who had found refuge among the Quakers, entering a stage of deep bafflement as to the reason for this unexpected phenomenon.

and I doubt that I would have ever understood that there was, or speculated that there might be, a connection, and a deep one, between these two events, the irruption of destructive energies & a disavowing state of mind, and I doubt that I would have if I had not done a psychoanalysis. For what the class entered into with the
Philosophy of the As If was a state of joy that one of the more sophisticated psychological defenses can provide, that transforms an unhappy state into something somewhat more bearable: after all, Haverford, but for its food (Ms. Nugent, you are not forgotten!), but for its honor code not to screw your girl friend on campus (or I suppose your boyfriend, although I do not recall overt homosexuality, a lot of the latent later turning overt, and the one suicide, of Musser, a Pennsylvania Dutch pansy) was the perfect if not ultimate example of what some of us later learned Herbert Marcuse categorized as “oppressive tolerance," in this instance anointed by, with a veneer of Quaker goodness which, in the instance, came with a soupçon of Quaker hypocrisy, plus the entire Eisenhower McCarthy-haunted Fifties could be consigned to an as if state – it was not really real, it was held in abeyance. This state of being is far superior to straight-out denial. It allows you to be honest and dishonest at one and the same time! To split! To be happily schizzoid! It is perfect for sleepwalking.
Such an “As If state of mind” is indeed a fine compromise – up to a point, the point at which it can no longer be maintained and begins to break down, to crumble, when its falseness is revealed, when it is no longer effective as a compromise of the wish to be somewhere else, in a more real state, and the unsatisfactory reality in which you exist, and the spontaneous, premature destructive re-novation of real estate, of Lower Marion, served as the first real warning sign, unheeded, that matters were very much amiss, and not only in the class of 1958. Prophetic in the sense that, looking back, this irruption of furies was not just standard spring fever but may have presaged the much more widespread irruptions of the 60s, a conflagration that did not spare Haverford.  
Once again, at Haverford, your sexuality was confined – and coming after the fairly liberal cauldron that had been Oakwood School - this time by an honor code, you were infantilized, the pianos were locked up most of the time, and people went around sniffing bed sheets after your date had left. Yet I couldn’t find serious fault with a single instructor but one – and he was so old dementia was to blame not him.
The effect of living at Haverford, as compared to the “real world,” was infantilizing and the several veterans amongst us realized as much. These were men, and we were kids.
It did not help that the editor of the student paper & Haverford Bryn Mawr Review, Bill Packard, a poet, who published my Sandro (best story of that time if not ever) cracked up, had a breakdown, perhaps because he over-worked himself, classmate Larry Hartmann - one of these rare super-bright folk who end up there - Tony Amsterdam comes to mind, Fred Jameson - leaving and going to Harvard, after equivocating about whether to stay at a Haverford that obviously disappointed his expectations, thus going to what had been his first choice; and was, memorably, the first person I heard pronounce the word “ambivalent”. Or class-mate Bradley saying he didn’t want to publish his poetry under his own name because he would be taken for a fagot, who looked and behaved nothing like it – U.S. high school, of which I had had a disastrous two-year whiff in Sour Orange, intruded into the environs, and American high school ways and eternal hand-wringing about it seem to persist. (I must say that my love of dancing was held in check for similar reasons, and didn't allow itself to manifest itself entirely until after psychoanalysis at Area in Tribeca in the 80s.)
Kurt Vonnegut observed that American politics never exceeded the machinations of high school; he might have said, and perhaps he did, the same for American romance.
It did not help that this then snob, whose bible was Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist (not that all snobishness has been extirpated, but it has been isolated, put in a cell of its very own, to allow enjoyment of the spectrum of existence) then found himself rooming with Steve Sarnoff, who and I now find something to talk about which we didn’t at the time, he of a much more garish cultural background. Yet what would I have done at the time if Frank Conroy and Harvey Phillips and I had not become fast and close and congenial friends. Very bright Harvey, who resided in Lower Marion, shared my interest in theater and literature, but seemed to be off-spring from Salinger’s Glass family (I realized that Salinger was an awfully good writer, but his subject matter was not mine), a family with off-shoots at Bryn Mawr. Harvey spent his Junior Year in Paris as I did mine in Munich and Berlin, and we met occasionally and shared some interesting experiences 
The way the various Lower Marion inhabitants went about tearing the place apart: The “wild one” of the Freshmen – Marion exclusively housed Freshmen – a big ax of a fellow named Hornbeck - I forget whether he actually drove a motor cycle or just looked and dressed as though he did - had located or had always had a sledge hammer, and raped large gashes into the sheet-rock covered slats, or was that me with the fire ax?; oh how it piled up, the clouds of sheet rock dust. Our two sensitive inhabitants, Harvey and Musser, used two of the so liberated broken, slim slats to pick, pathetically, that is the only word for it, at the sheet-rock. And those who fell between those extremes of utter ineffectuality and overwrought maleness, I suppose acted out their inchoate angers according to their respective then second natures and whatever tools they found aside their boots. What did Mattthew Mead Feik, Hornbeck's roomie do? Feik, an aesthete with fascist tendencies. Or my roomie, Steve Sarnoff? Sartorially so New York snazzy, and didn't he wear shoe-lifts?

Freshmen year closed with Musser, a Pennsylvania Dutch boy, committing suicide, my being invited to a very unhappy-making funeral (is there a happy funeral, yes I can imagine some, say for Dick Cheney!), unhappy-making for its apparent falseness, for its lack of, say, Arab exhibition of grief and sorrow, and failure to address what I thought might be the motive for his seeing nothing but black and ostracism in his future, and my then writing, at Frank Conroy’s mother's place in New York, a story,
Still Point, that had rain pissing on the dandelions. When Frank published the story in the Haverford-Bryn Mawr Review junior year, classmate Henry Dane seemed to feel that I was expressing a general anger, and that came as a surprise, since even then I knew, little as I knew, that the story, its heart, expressed – inarticulately - chiefly angers of then ancient personal provenance – however elicited by that Pennsylvania Dutch context. But murkily something else was going on, like the ice gradually thawing in the Yukon, while the surface temps would never make you think of what the waters beneath might be doing. The over-all problem, judging by Henry Dane’s comment seems to have been a general not just individual dissatisfaction among the variety of idiots that we were, and the solution to the problem, to the conundrum - as expressed via the inarticulate pre-mature destruction of Lower Merion, and a make believe we weren’t really there - lay elsewhere, and I realized it even then, the solution to the conundrum why so many, certainly a large percentage of the classes of 1957 and 1958 and 59 and perhaps others, were none too happy, none too happy at a school that spelled “how can you possibly not be happy here.”
At Haverford, once again, I found myself, near instantly, in a confining environment (my governess problem, of which I was then too unconscious to manage without acting out), the school quickly was too damn small (For my part I concluded that if I was going to go to college at all I’d have been far better off at a big Midwestern public university, or at a school like NYU or CCNY in the big city with a room of my own and not a dorm, and with a consisteny girl friend), no matter that Bryn Mawr had a far greater percentage of kindred spirits for those – not just myself - infused by the spirit of Stephen Daedalus.

By end of Freshman year, the soccer coach, Jimmy Mills, didn’t really coach and I dropped out when he did not use me except to demonstrate how to kick! A shame of sorts! I didn't continue to pursue my running career, but for a few turns on the then utterly ludicrous Pop Haddleton (I think was its name) above ground, second floor running track that covered what? A couple of hundred yards? A true aberration that I expect has been torn down, although even then it belonged into a museum of a special kind. I also entirely neglected my abilities as a tennis player – until Stanford, where the sight of these humongous West Coast studs, all on the National Junior team, and their smashing serves, put a final stop to my ambition to be another Ken Rosewall (a famous bantam weight Australian player whose persistence and ingenuity managed to overcome raw power).
By Sophomore year I lived with congenial roommates – Frank Conroy, Marty Weigart, and Jamie Johnston (Jamie, too, had attended Oakwood) and in a far more congenial dormitory, Lloyds, and Frank Conroy and Jamie Johnston and I - concluded that future writers learning Greek would be a good thing – but Dr. Post, the Greek teacher, was instantly aberrant, obsessively repeating the word thalassos… over and over… over and over… and the threesome decamped to a writing course at Bryn Mawr, given by a Reader’s Digest contributor - to show you where those matters were at then! However, the girls were not only bright also mostly pretty. I recall two women from that class and one particular event. – My love of Faulkner persisted and I had a particular liking for his long story A Rose for Emily – it is a necrophiliac’s story, and reading it I had realized I thought not only something about myself, but about great art, that is was a necrophiliac’s activity. Later Benjamin once again summed this up in one sentence “The work is the death mask of the experience.” Perhaps you must have died in some fashion very early on in life to experience the truth of that statement. – At any event, a somewhat mannish D. McNab-Brown, instantly, on hearing me admire the story, exclaimed, “You must be queer to like that story.” – I felt anything but queer in any sense of that word at the time or moment, especially since I had more than an eye on a tempestuous redhead in the class. The redhead, tempestuous Barbara, then made for the first remembered “altar” experience, the altar being a mattress that the foursome at Lloyd’s had placed before our fireplace and wrapped in red velvet or corduroy! After reading, very intensely, some Dylan Thomas poems, I lifted her hefty body up into my arms and deposited her on the altar… but there was no consummation; first of all, the basketball game roomies would return shortly. Secondly, I had been made apprehensive when Barbara had said, as we were necking in Frank’s car, and were on the verge, as I was dropping her off at French House at Bryn Mawr, that our becoming lovers would be catastrophic. That seemed to have reminded me of a similar knowledge, that children at such a young age, would be an extraordinary encumbrance, I would be imprisoned by the responsibility, which – moreover - I must have sensed, I felt quite incapable of shouldering. - Barbara was someone to have a Wild Palms with, she was from Maryland horse country, to put it in Faulknerian terms, she was perfect as Lady Chatterly! and asked me whether I preferred a woman to be in a missionary position and she was pleased when I said yes – little as I knew, then, of the pleasure of other positions, as she seemed to not to like them in her self-image of what a woman had to be. She then married a Haverford 200+ pounder, a true stud, but it appears the marriage did not last.
Mention of Lloyd bring to mind a passel of intelligent folks who resides in the central entry, all one year ahead of us, Steph Chodorov, George Malko, Paul Goodman. I worked with Steph later when he did a Camera 3 piece on my translation of Handke's Kaspar as it was done by Kalfin's Chelsea Theater at B.A.M. & a translation show. Malko I saw quite a bit of in New York, and George is responsible for the idea that I could take one scene from a Fellinequesqe screenplay Darling & Monsters (that also served as the outline for a huge novel I doubt I will complete) for the highly formalistic Graduation Party Boogie, which turned out excellently, and I might have put more energy into getting it produced; and for the occasional useful critique.
At the end of Sophomore year a poetess, not a member of the writing class, Connie, started to drift around campus, ending up on our altar of love, that mattress encased in red corduroy that was put in front of the fire place and that had been the foursome’s first objective for our second story two bedroom apartment at 2nd entry at Lloyd Hall. “No panties!” beneath her Bermuda shorts, “No Panties” Connie, the invariable promise of easy loving, Connie was its fulfillment and we were easy with each other and she even came to live with me in Alexandria, Va. (where I repaired for the summer to spend time with parents finally returned from the Far East) until my hypocrite stepfather gave her the boot; and if I hadn’t been on my way to my year abroad and wanted to spend time with parents I had not seen for four years I imagine we would have joined Frank and Patty and Jamie and Hilda in Nantucket, Connie even had a twin who was just as easy, and on easy street it would have lasted quite a while, that was the easy-going promiscuous side of me. I didn’t live on easy street that often, I did for stretches during my ten years in Tribeca, where sex became as easy as breathing, and it turned out suited me.
The question arises: Was the Junior Year abroad a good thing or not? I tend to think not (no matter that the half year in Berlin was worth all of Haverford.[5]), especially for me who was just getting oriented - “When am I not?” I ask myself even now - and sinking a few roots. The German disappointments would have still been there a few years hence as would the matters that did not disappoint: Wolfgang Clemens at the University of Munich, and his course on the moderns. American & British Literature, where I failed to make contact with future author of one of my favorite books, The Essay on Smut, Christian Enzsenberger, who could certainly have alerted me to German writers living in the Munich of that time, which I failed to find by my lonely self – but for a group of hopeless neighborhood Schwabing scribblers. Berlin would still have been there, as well as the Berliner Ensemble and all the other theaters, and operas, the work of Lukacs and Brecht, where I finally put in an excellent semester of extremely hard work after easy going Munich and Paris. Did I really need a bout of Fasching decadence? I suppose I had to get it out of my system that one time. Paris would still have been there, Ionesco at the Theatre la Huchette ran for decades! So did the other theaters, the TNP, the Vieux Colombier - I had developed a fine taste for theater in Munich with steady beautiful date Dorothea who, however, wouldn’t fuck. The great Yugoslav director Vlado Habonek whom I’d met in Munich and hooked back up with in Paris and who suggested I attend the Dubrovnik festival were not crucial although Dubrovnik and its festival became a measure for certain kinds of dramatic performance. Berlin was worth the entire four years at Haverford.
On my return I found no link to Lukacs at Haverford Bryn Mawr, although I certainly ctd. to feel “transcendentally homeless” – yet a few stitches had been put into putting the German and American parts together, I did have a clearer idea whence I came, of the past left behind but also in part retrieved, and behind that effort lies the attempt, forever futile, to put together many other matters that had been sundered. - Nor really was I able to do anything with Brecht at the time, although later both Lukacs and Brecht would prove to be sound background for further ventures in that direction. A life in the theater – I would have a bit of it in the late Sixties when I started to translate the Peter Handke plays and become involved with performing them, and then writing plays myself. Being involved in the production process was the best part of it. However, I translated one of two Lehrstücke – The Measure Taken or The Exception and the Rule - for my senior project and can’t make up my mind which one, it might be among Harry Pfund’s papers - a wonderful man and Goethe scholar, as most Goethe scholars are.
The Munich course in the Moderns brought me to Ezra Pound. Pound trained my ear and my long piece on Hugh Selwyn Mauberly found a high rate of acceptance both at a terrific modern poetry course at Bryn Mawr where I now spent more time than at Haverford (a blond kid professor and his blonde wife and blonde childe, Wallace?) and with Ashmead at Haverford treating me with cool and welcomed maturity, a toughie, a bit too sardonic at times. Specifically, Pound’s Personae, his amazing translations, his ABC OF READING, and the most important thing I took away with me from him: the degree to which he had backed no end of other writers. If you yourself might not be a writer, you could still have a magazine and back writers to find an audience for what they tried to say; you could have an interesting life as an editor - I think, no obviously that is where I picked up an idea that then seized me in the icy wastes of Alaska, then three years hence, while I was starting to live a McCabe & Mrs. Miller life among the hard-partying folks of Chena Ridge in Fairbanks. Something like that would be a kind of guiding light during my years in publishing in New York. Also much cottoned to Pounds letters, such wonderful angry letters! Something in me was furious all right. However, I was not about to haul to St. Elizabeth as certain Poundians - Frank Versaci (at Haverford) and Michael Lebeck in New York - did. A budding Marxist was not going to follow Pound's ramblings about economics and his peculiar anti-semitism, the two seemed connected. Yes, money was the ruin of everything of course but venerating him was out of the question. Another very useful teacher for the eternal student!
I had contracted mono during my year abroad and was barely able to crawl around Frank Conroy’s mother’s apartment prior to our senior year. I recall its inception at a moment in Berlin and its first manifestation while ascending the hillside behind Dubrovnik and which mono made for anything but a spectacular senior year. The prospect of returning to the U.S. or to Haverford had not been terribly enticing. However, at that time, where else would I go now that postwar Germany, too, had disenchanted? If someone had enticed me to stay in Berlin I would most likely have become involved in theater – that, after all, had been the most interesting and positive experience during the year abroad, in Munich, Paris, Berlin, and at the Dubrovnik festival.
Considering the effects of the Mono (which I didn’t shake entirely until I had spent nine months in Alaska in 1960) I am astonished that I actually managed to get a few good things done. Indeed, what a world to come back to after such or any year abroad! To be cooped back up in Kindergarten! – Jamie Johnson left Haverford after Junior year – he had had a sufficiency of the idyll, and went to Manhattan and I think enrolled in The New School. Not that Jamie and I were that close, but he also constituted continuity from Oakwood. Jamie was my first encounter with the easy-going West Coast, his mother screenwriter lived in Malibu, had lived in Mexico part-time. Frank and Patty, once Frank was married, and I would visit him in Malibu a year after graduation.
I might have left for Manhattan, too, but for me it was a matter of the scholarship, which required a certain amount of work – that I was too weak to perform with Mono. Thus I donated several pints of blood and let them pour one pint of it, radio-activated, back into me, for $ 500.00! which then was tested once a month for its vanishing half-lives, and this donation I think took care of board I think. I have donated a fair amount of blood in my life and have the story of the blue spot on the inside of my right arm to tell the tale of surviving radio-activated blood, to amuse the phlebotomists, now for more than 50 years! Also, my father, a first in all these years, vouchsafed a significant sum, however then failed to pay until 1975 when Haverford alerted me to an unpaid bill.
The foursome, absent Jamie, had for a stellar replacement the very model of decency in Tommy Thomas, but only in the sense that it was a foursome did senior year duplicate sophomore year at Lloyd’s 2nd Entry with its altar of love mattress wrapped in red corduroy by the fire place – Lleeds ground floor apartment, four separate rooms in a brand new dormitory, never jelled as a unit, it never had a focus, and the foursome was not a unit, but a succession of twosomes. I mean, I don’t recall any conflicts. The living room demonstrated that the four people living in that suite were not a unit – it was not lived in, it was like an airport lounge… you passed through it, there was discarded paper lying in the corners; though a brand new room, it looked disused, unclean, untaken care of, the couch was askew, as was the one solitary picture, I think it was a print, a Franz Marc, and it’s glass became cracked which upset Marty who felt that this had been done, intentionally, to him! so were the jalousies askew. How untogether the suite was could be ascertained by comparing it with the adjacent one, Lorenzo Milam and cohorts, which I recall not only for Lorenzo, a polio survivor and friend whom I visited in Jacksonville, to partake of my first American family “Long Day’s Journey into the Night” - that suite seemed to expel one super-heated Bryn Mawr girl after the other, they had either fucked their heads off or gotten so hot making out that they exuded flushed heat like baked apples coming out of the oven. My guess is that they were apples baked to the bursting point and they left at the last moment before succumbing.
I assume that my lack of energy contributed to the state of the living room, and that I quickly had a real girlfriend, and would have the same girlfriend for several years who eventually broke my heart, and I happen to be someone if there is anyone who does not ever really get over a broken heart, I’m the heartbreak kid nearly as of my birth and I blame Adolf Hitler for that! One other major reason why the suite lacked focus and life and something to hold it together was that Frank’s girlfriend Patty Ferguson was attending graduate school in New Haven and Frank spent most weekends with Patty. It had been quite an event sophomore year when Frank brought Patty Ferguson to the Lloyds Hall 2nd entry apartment. After all, lots of girls were brought in and out, not too many got laid on the altar of love. But I recall all room-mates happened to be there, and how we all looked up. We didn’t look up like that very often, I think it was the only time. This was an event. The opposite to this event, say, would have been if someone had brought in a chorus girl, a real chippy who made it clear on entering that she was eager to bed each and every room mate and would have done so in front of all of them and done so with utmost delight. A floozy with presence – a most unlikely event at Haverford, well not quite something on that order actually happened at one Lloyd entry, and is not idle fantasy. In this instance, Patty appeared, was introduced, sat down in a chair in a corner, and I think we all fell silent. And not because Patty was a stunning beauty, although a beauty she was for the gradual discovery. There was a serious young woman, yet not some kind of severe governess type, to which I would have reacted with instant negatively colored suspicion. First of all, because Patty was nicely tall, and mutedly motherly, and was not using her sexuality to communicate with us, yet you felt here as someone you could tell your deepest concerns to, your troubles, not that she would cure them, but you had the instant sense, here was someone who knew how to listen and understand. As a young man you tend not to run into young women your age who exude a quality like that. And that sense proved true. And thus you felt that you could trust her as you could your mother I suppose, you took her seriously, as you didn’t necessarily most girls. She was not a GIRL! She was not a product of American girl culture! And when Frank was not with Patty lots of beauties hung all over him when he played the Jazz piano.
Literature and music was what Frank and I shared as of our first meeting, three years prior. - Haverford, at that time, was not a good place for the artistically inclined, is one thing I am saying, it was a very small contingent.
I had Paula, my blonde lioness poet, who was the Bryn Mawr editor of the Haverford Bryn Mawr Review, and I succeeded Frank as Haverford Editor and Frank introduced us. Frank as the editor his Junior Year had done a splendid job, also with covers from a New York artist friend of his, covers that seemed to derive from Jackson Pollock’s shop, the many-colored drip drops were as expressive as they were decorative. Paula and I put out only a single issue (I think the lack of energy was my Mono manifesting itself). The cover was by Paula's life-long Bryn Mawr friend Betsy Nelson and it showed a descending Icarus. Faculty advisor, Mr. Satterthwaite, fresh from Harvard, had his Harvard fun with the “falling” theme in his review of the entire issue. I put the second version of my haunting dead pilot’s wife tonsillitis story – Acute Otis Media just was done for the final time! With the accuels of time and analysis! It's a story that contains a childhood novel! - into that issue and a translation of a Stadler poem. But recall nothing else about the issue: how Paula and I reached our decision, who else we consulted, etc etc etc. I recall a kid from N.Y. - Patrick? - who took drugs, a friend of Frank's and who wrote, and who later over-dosed. I recall the fellow who wrote the worst line of poetry I ever read! Hunt, a fellow devotee of Paula's beauty: "As I sat on the seat of my soul." Put that in your pipe and smoke it!
There were some wild young poets about. E.B. White, a Miller who ended up in Fellini's troupe, a gangly dark-haired poet whose name may recur, Versace the Poundian. Perhaps something of theirs? I’d have to look at the issue. Bryn Mawr at the time had the school of what we called the “snap crackle and pop” poets, who, if talented, mimicked New Yorker poet Ogden Nash. I believe the Edele (Rabbit) McVeigh whom I had fancied as a Freshmen was of that school. Renata Adler, a Junior at Bryn Mawr, I did not get to know until my years in New York. A fine writer she turned out to be, with some very, more than unusual, screwball sides that someone, who felt, feels like her older brother, was, is willing to abide. - Are there any other Bryn Mawr writers of those years? Marianne Moore I read of course, but no one of her talent was present that I became aware of. Did Ken Geist or Harvey Phillips, bright boys, contribute anything – Harvey, considering how close we had been, also in Europe, exists solely as a most peculiar lacuna in my recollection of that last year at Haverford. I can’t even think of where he roomed! Perhaps he will fill in the blank.
If I brought Paula we at once went into my room if I was not with her at French House at Bryn Mawr. And no end of times some inspector would come knocking at the door, sometimes a girl would follow us all the way from Bryn Mawr. Once – ir was winter - it took us half an hour to get dressed, and still she kept waiting before giving us a talking to. If you told her to go shove it, you might both be expelled for breaking the honor code – obviously it was an occasion to move off campus and get married, I think that was the only way it could be done at the time. Imagine coming back from a year, and abroad in Europe, during which love-making had begun to normalize itself, to Haverford Bryn Mawr of the middle to late 50ties! And I reverted to very tentative love-making on campus. Imagine Ms. Sensuality from Munich whose trampoline fucking could break down just about any wooden bed!
I think Dan had a girlfriend too, whom he married. Marty was still playing the field, much enamored of lickety-split as he called it, and made passes at Paula. Marty and I had seen each other during my summer in Alexandria. I liked science. If I’d been entirely sane and not so adventure-minded I would have been a wildlife biologist – Seton-Thomon had made a big impression at age 12 - and worked in the field, or done medicine.

Haverford and Bryn Mawr are a twenty minute walk apart, about a mile, and there were not too many places you might stop off along the way. There was the bar at the corner of Lancaster and College Avenue, which had a darts game, and the Blue Comet Diner. That is where you might take a date while walking to or from, and it is notable in the memory bank for two events, both of them occurring senior year.
One was Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally coming on the juke box and kicking everyone’s ass, mine and Paula’s in the instance. Rhythm and Blues was very different all right. Another alert to the world we were missing and that I then would partake of at the Apollo once in New York, and through friendship with Jerry Leiber.
The other memory, even more distinct, since it involved possible violence, was when some kids from a Catholic College up the road, Villanova I think, wanted to pick on me, and the fellow who did the picking had only half a neck, vertically. It appeared he felt safe being ultra-aggressive in that severely debilitated state, however he lost the missing half; either an accident or an operation; it was obvious that he had not been born that way. A very odd sight indeed. And my friends, I recall Marty, becoming very protective of me, not so much from Halfneck but from Halfneck’s hoodlum buddies. That was very nice, but it appeared no one knew that I was quite a good fighter and knew how to box, quite aside my prowess with an ax, and as a rider and with a canoe and a rifle, or f the fear of my own violence that resided in me - although how do you fight someone who already has only half a neck left? Those were Catholic kids from Villanova.
A fine class with Ashmead on American literature, James and Clemens (Mark Twain), and Paula was brought along. Ashmead asked about Paula the last time I saw him, in 1979. He, too, had an eye for blondes! An interesting class with the interchangeable Scotsmen Woodruff Quinn on aesthetics, criticism, it jibed nicely with my interest in Pound and the background acquired via Wolfgang Clemens in Munich - Blackmuir! The German part of my major made for lovely late afternoon coffee and cake at Harry Pfund’s house, lots of Goethe poems learned by heart, and it appears I wrote a great paper on the Faust legend which had caught my fancy. But no stories. Perhaps the moment of grievous disappointment that ensued on reading, was elicited by reading Lukacs’s Das Ende der Vernunft in Berlin was to blame? Also the moment I then felt, retrospectively, when I had come down with mono. I told myself then or perhaps later that I was a writer who could only write about the past, and I needed a new past to be able to write again. Meanwhile I was putting some mileage on the tires. And that estimate turns out to have been correct, there came a moment in the early 80s in New York, with nearly all rubber burnt off the tire & lots of patches, that I realized, had a feel for every aspect of the big city, high and low, and realized how it functioned in the most intimate moment by distinct moments of its inter-connections and dimensions. I could draw an image of that, like a subway map. As a snapshot. - I had found out things that you could’nt if you went looking for them.
However, no year abroad, but an easy summer with easy Connie in Nantucket? I might have fallen in love and we might have had the good sense to move off campus. Connie WAS married by the time I got back, to a fine mathematician, Newcomb Greenleaf. And they lived off campus! And had a baby? So was Barbara T., to the kind of stud she deserved!

As I had sophomore year, I absolved my extra-curricular activity attending the Barnes Foundation and Violetta de Mezia’s lectures every Wednesday afternoon. If after two years – 18 months – 72 afternoons – of looking at that collection your eye is not halfway well-trained, it will never be.

There was a wonderful course in Astronomy, Profesor Greene taught it at the observatory. I happened to love physics – my grave deficiency was math – I had never recovered my genius for it after the encounter with that Indian Headmaster Master Sargent type at Oakwood. Oedipal shocks and encounters. However, via physics I came on Mach and via Mach to Musil who became the chief object of literary interest at Stanford – for his notion that literature might be as precise as physics. And much much later I actually got back up to snuff, working with a Quark specialist translating his book into English. Quarks proceeded to populate my dreams – e.g. “the charm is off” when I had fallen out of love! - the heart-shaped amulet, from a silver pillbox, dropped off. Yes. I could also fall out of love, not be with or in one or the other continuous beauty as I was for about fifteen years straight at one point in New York!
As graduation approached I recall the campus in a kind of disarray, folks were kicking soccer balls all around and breaking windows, things, I know Nat Wing, Betsy Nelson’s boyfriend, and I got in trouble breaking something in Barclay, that hideous indestuctible fortress. Yet another supposedly non-existing fraternity had popped up. There was conflict with jocks. The group of delinquents that had gone for nightly whiskey expeditions to Main Line liquor cabinets, the owners absent, still existed, but I was no longer part of it as I had been sophomore year. Friend Paul Hodges was expelled for something along that line, joined the army for a year and then shaped up. Folk who were not genuine conscientious objectors devised ways how to beat the draft & get a 4-F! A status I sleepwalked in with my sleepwalking during graduate school. Frank and I took a Chevy (not his) for a joyride and the campus Dick interviewed us – Frank has a story about fugueing in Mid-Air, perhaps it was that for him, too, at the time. For me it was the kind of acting out that had marked nights sophomore year. I didn’t belong into an institution, part of me would forever be the wilde child of my war-time childhood but there was a way of keeping wildeness alive in you without being at its mercy. Institutions, like my governess, proved emasculating. Frank and I were troubled, justifiably so, and in a troublingly, disconcertingly, insidiously troubling environment. The administration was not respected, suspect, for cause, the name Cadbury surfaces. The mood of the graduating class at graduation resembled that at Marion at the end of Freshmen year.

  1. Haverford’s Humanities 101-102 I think it was called was a perfect continuum of the literature course that Yoshiro Sonbanmatsu had taught the Oakwood Seniors, a supplement consisting of works along the line of Sartre’s Le Nausee, D.H. Lawrence’s Sons & Lovers, Voyage to India, Malraux’s Man’s Fate, Maugham's The Moon & Six Pence... to cite instantaneously recalled titles. Most memorable moment: when short pudgy red-headed Gibson became immensely upset at the mother-son incest theme in Sons & Lovers.
    Night-Traffic between the Haverford and Bryn Mawr Dormitories, French House & a main entrance stairwell that led to the third floor and Betsy Baker's room, as main entrance to the hallways is recalled with great specificity. Betsy then became a big time art magazine editor in New York. There weren't any panty raids, as at Oakwood, at least none that I rcall, but toga parties, and I recall dancing on the Bryn Mawr library roof during May Pole day!
  2. - this pastoral paradise that most graduates remember as such (especially the city-raised), nor its at the very least good enough and often superb professors, nor the liberality with which it allowed me to devote the entirety of Freshman year - e.g every part of the sociological survey Soc-Sci 101-102 - to William Faulkner & aspects of the American South (sophomore year being devoted with equal intensity to Kafka) the introductory course to psychology with its devotion to mice being the exception I was unable to fit into an immediate Southern or Faulkner contex; e.g. Faulkner and that aberration of a state, Mississippi was accommodated in a jiffy within Political Science terms.
  3. And once again the walls quickly started to close in, again at fairly idyllic circumstances. I had my own problems and Haverford exacerbated some of them, and their solution, if any, were not to be found there. The urge for “life to begin”, something that all that studying, no matter how extraordinary, seemed to be keeping you from, whatever it might be for which you felt something in you was whetted.
  4. Frank Conroy and I remained close friends for approximately 20 years until he fled the Big City for the wages of having been unable to ride the steed entitled American success. I have a portrait of him that I may put in the Screen Memories appendix.
  5. Many of the performances, especially at the Ensemble & the East Berlin – Mother Courage in Paris & at Opera continue to be amazingly present, the Woyzeck, the Frau Ohne Schatten, the Arabella. So do those at Dubrovnik: you don't see too many Hamlets in a life-time at the edge of a castle beetling o'er an ocean; or Iphegenia in an olive grove. - Oh yes, I met Fred Jameson in Berlin & we became friends for a while and he became an editor of the Michael Lebeck funded Metamorphosis.

Friday, December 05, 2014



OAKWOOD School School

is situated on the eastern banks of the Hudson River, a few miles south of the small city of Poughkeepsie.
According to Wikipedia,_New_York 
“the name Poughkeepsie derives from a word in the Wappinger language, roughly U-puku-ipi-sing, meaning "the reed-covered lodge by the little-water place", referring to a spring or stream feeding into the Hudson River, south of the present downtown area” – close to Oakwood School in fact, although I can’t say I ever saw that spring while the school certainly provided equally fine shelter as a good reed roof. The first thing, though, that I noticed about Oakwood Friends (1) School was that as you looked down, through sloping apple orchards, at the Hudson were three huge red letters spelling 
IBM, forever impinging your eyes, especially at night, and that these ever-present letters I B M were on top of a building that stretched what seemed to be a mile along the river and that in front of that building – it was a weekend, and what with my mother and stepfather stationed in the Far East, it was aunt “Baby” who dropped me off – extended an expanse of black macadam, the parking lot for the IBM workers, and sporting area to be for me when I became stir-crazy, as I had already in the doll’s house in West Orange (but surprisingly not at the previous boarding school, Ploen) and let myself drop out of the first floor window, just as I had from the doll’s house in Sour Orange, and went bicycling night times – until I had had my fill of absolute, self-designated freedom, also for my mind to roam, and then crawled back into bed.                                                                                                                          The true welcome accorded me at Oakwood School, in Fall 1952, subsequent to my traumatic two years in Los Estados Unidos de Norte Americano in Sour Orange New Jersey, acted as a kind of instant antacid, but also stunned, overwhelmed nearly as much as its opposite had two years prior. If the first two years left new life-long scars (and a frequent thought during these mounting years has been that I never managed to overcome the shock of Sour Orange after the high hopes that had been invested in the United States where I felt I had successfully escaped the murderous country of my origin) the second two years, at Oakwood, healed a few of the scars, without inflicting any others, though Oakwood, then, overall, provided far too optimistic an experience in that it gave you the idea that the country as a whole might be as comparatively idyllic.
  With my parents off in Korea (my stepfather an OSS/CIC/Corps of Engineer Officer helping to construct the peace village Panmunjon), aunt Baby, my mother's youngest sister, who, weirdly I already felt then, seemed to favor me over Alexander (the one son of hers she had taken along when she too had emigrated after finding an American officer to have an affair with after my mother was having her affair) dropped me off in Pow-Keepsee, a funny name for a town, and the first view of Oakwood - the red 
IBM letters of the plant by the Hudson glow forever in the night of your mind - apple orchards stretching up hillsides - will forever remain the first image.            Welcome was to find for a room-mate someone who became a friend, Kurt Anschel, a reader who introduced me to Socialist literature. Kurt felt that he could make any of the girls, and I think he was right if you were a good boyfriend to them, and he had a black girlfriend, Susy McClain, inter-racial and ethnic dating became a norm that was taken for normal. Kurt’s parents, Romanian Jews, had fought on the Republican side of the Spanish civil war. He may have been related to Paul Celan (the name Celan is based on his real name Anschel), and we tried to explore that line of thinking when we re-connected shortly before his premature death – Kurt now one of many ghosts with whom I commune, via unfinished internal conversations.            Overwhelming was the welcome accorded by the girls who seemed to think that they were doing me a favor in electing someone, who had not the faintest of the job, class vice president! (I eventually gained some footing becoming the photo editor of the Yearbook). Little did they know the problem child who arrived in their midst whom they elected, apparently entirely based on looks, without consulting me or the least knowledge that I hadn’t the faintest about such roles. Had I been a roué oh what a good time I could have had! Most of them were only too eager to be womanized and then of course, usually, have that one roué be their very own squeeze. Girls started getting pregnant a few years after the class of 1954 graduated.                     Unpredictable to myself, skittish, I must have seemed to be, inexplicably, even more so to the girls, but that I always seemed to need a g.f. Lynn Heiman not so long ago mentioned that I seemed crazy.
So what did I first do?  Whom did I want to marry first? (Why not all of them, they were all so pretty and bright!) who had only had the most unhappy and ludicrous experiences with American girls in Sour Orange?
Regarded from the point of view of later experience of doing readings and putting on plays at colleges I think I was welcomed as “fresh meat” by a distaff side that was a bit bored with the boys their familiars. 
I think I announced upon arriving that I was interested in sex, but confronted with such a wealth of eager female flesh I picked Melinda who if there was one who resembled in puritanism my governess, New England Melinda was it – the name says it all to a New Englander. Of course it did not last long. – Melinda, as attractive as a profoundly militantly puritanically imprinted girl can be, not even a kiss, I doubt that we ever as much held hands. The most puritanical of the crew, Melinda Getty, the governess side of my feminine equation, I think not only surprised the quickly dropped Melinda, later during a much-welcomed panty raid if it wasn’t Melinda who broke up Anita and my clinch in a closet. Not only actual governesses abounded, such as teacher Paul Taylor, but self-appointed students – officious Bob Auriti - and I clearly recall that within minutes of Alice and I disappearing (onto the floor of a classroom - from the headmaster's house perspective) there he was the worried headmaster to hasten an unclinching.
At another one of the many make-out parties off campus, either in N.Y. or at a home of an off-campus student in the Poughkeepsie area, I hug Kathy and start to breathe heavily, like a rutting male elephant, heave: everybody giggles, as I can these many years later. When a proverbial Ms. No interrupts a make-out session at a hotel in N.Y. and my hand retreats from Suzy's vagina as soon as Ms. No is back out of the room I resume but only hold Suzy’s delicious full breast, in an unusual fashion, from in back, Suzy exclaims, “What an awkward position” – as indeed it was, which elicits even stronger giggles and presumptions. I shy back at the invitation to spend the night with her, perhaps because there are witnesses in the elevator. Skittish, no? Sufficiently skittish to drive myself crazy. Yet there were occasional moments of absolute chasteness: I hold Kay, dressed only in pajama tops, who - I have not the faintest - might not have been equally chastely inclined. Her room mate, Suzy McClain has taken a powder to facilitate the assignation. Lots of night traffic between the dormitories.
What a hot house it was, and what a hot house adolescence is. Tales of sexual exploits, of what a couple had done after graduation abounded, were looked forward to be duplicated. - Anticipation. Lady Chatterly’s Lover, the Olympia Press edition was smuggled in, Henry Miller. Sinking into the moss at a picnic with luscious French Monique, whose breasts I had been caressing while she became immensely meltingly excited, I notice a scar on her cheek, a burn mark – and I shy back – the company of the scarred I would keep, and eventually I would understand and appreciate at least some of my own scars, or anyhow think I did. I miss Monique even now as well as all these beautiful girls, all of them eminently marriageable but for one whom the boys cruelly and obviously called “Busheltits” – who was said to sleep with her father and was too dangerously promiscuous, even - at that time - for me. The hottest couple was Liz & Lew, who had to “be doing it”, they were so wrapped up in each other and flushed. Ready for the sexual revolution of the sixties, imminent in retrospect. All that was needed was sound birth control.
I, who feels he can recall every kiss, was easily scared off, insecure. So were some of the girls of course. If the pill or other form of secure birth control had been available I don’t think any harm, but the opposite, would have accrued if instead of necking in the hallway by the coat rack we had all made love. How many of us recall that aspect of our lives without becoming hypocritical?
The dances in the all-purpose gym meeting hall basketball court were no sock hops, but transpired at a snail's pace as bodies ground into each other.
Ginny, a sophisticate from Manhattan thought me a country bumpkin. She and Jed and a few other from Manhattan had a leg up on the rest. Mark Strand’s sister was completely womanly in every respect. Such maturity was unusual, also in college among the forever adolescent population. Upon my second Thanksgiving at Oakwood, I and Alice, who were sort of engaged as it were and not just in heavy petting - this was suddenly serious stuff, we were talking about how many kids we would have! One of every kind is what Alice wanted, the early rainbow coalition spirit prevailed at Oakwood, you went to U.N. conferences – After all the petting we had done at Oakwood Alice & I did not instantly hop into bed when we got to her parents’ place in Connecticut. However, every chance we got we were entwined on a chaise with our hands on each other's genitals. Alice's parents wondered about this and Alice said we didn't have much of a chance to be physical at Oakwood, which I don't think was really the case. But that her parents didn’t seem to mind was nice. When they were gone one afternoon I asked Alice to undress, I finally wanted to have a look what a mature girl looked like in the complete nude, and then kissed her to the side of her bush, her groin - I was apprehensive about cunnlingus, Kurt had mentioned that he was wondering whether he would ever, perhaps if he loved a woman very much was his conclusionary comment. Not knowing about the clitoris I hadn't the faintest why women might enjoy a man going down on them, the fact that the urethra is right next to the clitoris made for uncleanliness! So why? However, a pleasant ocean odor emanated from the region, as I had tasted it on my fingers from petting: licking my fingers in front of Alice elicited the words: "How sensual you are, Michael" and may have sealed the deal for Alice slipping into my bed that night, and my rather stupidly humping away, and after I had come asking her whether she too had had an orgasm. She had not, but at least I didn't seem to be selfish. The physical act once performed was a bit disappointing, its psychological ramifications evidently anything but. For, after we had finally consummated I subsequently became so over-emotional - we had gone to the Big City that weekend and seen The Robe at Radio City Music Hall - I broke up with her: we are in the most typical Freudian territory where each first major romance tends to run aground the complex’s prohibitions. (However, I had not only the frightening reaction, but that extra complicating fillip, the “Governess No” – if not out there in real life then in my head and bones – absent it appears at age 12 it had then surfaced.) Alice of the long cheerleader’s legs, of the “we wear short shorts, itsy-bitsy teenzy-weeny bikini” was hurt and I am still full of regrets. Had I been half-way mature and secure we could have had a steady affair, her room-mate Carol King was most obliging in making herself scarce for such events. When Alice & I walked around campus entwined as only teenagers can be, Mr. Taylor the one puritan amongst the teachers glared fiercely.  
Also, a first, I experienced hound-dogging by male friends! Fred See. Jamie Johnston. That was new to Oedipally extremely well-brought-up me.       Subsequent to the brief Melinda non-event, my first real yen was for luscious oriental Moroccan princess Nadja, who I think - though she, like everyone, else was willing to cuddle at the coat racks - had been consigned to a prince, it might as well have been at birth. The mention of the nightly coat rack sessions brings back the recollection of seeing Big Cuban clown Otto from in back, pretending to cuddle, embracing his own ears! And makes for forever comic interruptus when I think of that nightly ritual!  A really big fellow, a hi yella Cuban, whom I regret not having gotten to know better, pretending to be a couple by wrapping his big arms around his head in such a way as to make it appear that he was not alone – but was he actually lonely occurs to me now, or just being the – lonely? - clown?). For some others I was too slow and tentative, for others too fast. In general what was so delightful was that they were all bright and that this lightened class work to no end.
Ben, the son of the president of a Southern black college, shy about breaking the color barrier altogether, found Nadja’s North African tan to be the perfect compromise. Was Melinda marriageable? I imagine so, Puritans did perpetuate themselves, and perhaps she found a man who softened her cutting edge. Later I would spot her at Bryn Mawr, but the crowd was too large for her ever to interfere again. Nancy M. was then my one good intelligent friend where sex played no role, since Nancy at the time was not only not interested in sex but had a good mind and was interested in writing.               If West Orange had had a single live teacher (such a shock after postwar German boarding castle Ploen!) I cannot recall a single teacher but one (or for that matter, person) whom I found objectionable at Oakwood, or person the way I came to dislike others later on in life or had previously, and there was at least one life-changing encounter, with Nisei literature teacher Yoshiro Sonbanmatsu. I was a Joycean by the time I graduated and had started to write again, in English now, after a four year lay-off. Terry Matern, a victim of WW II coral fever courtesy of his work as a Navy Diver, is responsible for introducing me to Whitman who infused me for many years – ah those pantheistic days that experience with particulars then grinds down during the passing years into discerning differentiation. John Mason, who taught French and Art, pointed out, not so incorrectly, that I seemed to have a tad of steel in me that might be enabling in the Big City, although he might not believe some of the monsters ill-prepared me then encountered. Yet the most and actually only useful thing I learned was to type, from Mrs. Newlin, the wife of our excellent history professor Dr. Newlin with a deep affinity for the New Deal which appreciation I took away with me, until I realized that the New Deal had actually saved Capitalism’s ass! Scoring in the 99th percentile on my American history college boards – did not give me a swollen head, all I had done was read the New York Times for nearly four years and the textbook in its entirety, but surprised someone who had been in the country such a short time that he could score that high. Did that mean that practically no one knew anything at all? So it turned out to be. - But there appeared for senior year a formidable East Indian former high school principal autocrat who came to teach algebraics, the bearing of a British drill sergeant, straight-backed to the point of concave! We took one look at each other – and that was the end of my career as a math genius. A weird moment for sure to feel all desire and ability disappear in one fell. But that was entirely my problem, that I and authoritarians instantly locked horns, in this instance to the detriment of my abilities. Still puzzling even now that unique moment. All I can do is speculate, and I do.    Not just were the teachers as fine as need be, but suddenly I had two literature teachers, in succession. Yoshi taught a senior course where you encountered Ibsen, Samuel Butler, the Greek tragedies, Gide, Joyce (which segued nicely into the looming college Freshmen humanity course) all the way to Finnegan Wake’s Anna Livia Plurabelle – I became a life-long Joycean, the Russians – and I made first forays into writing in English – after the burst at Plön at age 12 I had ceased to write once in Sour Orange. When I happened to read that Bruckner was so grateful to someone for having performed one of his symphonies that he gave him a Thaler I took that as the theme of my first American story – I was going to be an editor in that field, a servant. Marcus Aurelius’ writings became a lode star, as did Laotse’s The Way - I, it turned out, was of the rural Tao, with a bit of the military cast, erotics the driving force, all this made crude sense considering my origins.
   Although Oakwood was a school of serious readers – Kay and her love for Thomas Wolfe, John Bernstein and his Camus, Kurt and his Farell come to immediate mind – that is not to say that the obverse of such interest would not be very much in evidence as well, the inevitably soft-headed goo of Kahlil Gibran… the soft underbelly – are there “hard” underbellies? not even a turtle has them! – but there has to be at least one animal that developed just a hard underbelly, no? - Feminine loving disposition can take some odd routes.
For reason entirely obscure at this point, perhaps it was a simple vacuum that needed to be filled, Kurt and John Ernst and I became a kind of power threesome on the Oakwood Campus during our senior year. The election of the next president was upon us and the threesome decided to teach the school a lesson in democracy. We nominated and backed someone completely unfit for the office, who won – and then we pointed out to our mates that they - sheeples would be the current designation - had slavishly followed the threesome's advice instead of making up their own minds. – I doubt that the three eminence grise gained much favor with their nasty act; however how did the poor fellow feel who then had to resign?                 There was a soccer team, and better foreign players than I in Khasro Nasr & Sandro Sabaci. Yet I was elected captain senior year, so I can’t have been that awful. As a twelve-year old I had been on the Ploen team that had many a player three and four year older. Yet the two main recollections, or three, of soccer at Oakwood - I think we exclusively played other Quaker and Quakerlike schools - was (1) of futilely seeking to score from six yards out while stuck - slipping and a-sliding around an entirely muddy pitch - the forever emblem of utter frustration, worse than Hamlet, more pathetic! - and (2) having a ball kicked into my testicles, and the ref lifting the elastic on my shorts up and down as I lay on the ground gasping in pain, pretending that providing me with air at my abdomen was what I needed, and the girls, the cheerleaders... giggling, girls are always giggling, why??? Why is all of life so funnee if you are a girl?           I had learned tennis from a famous player early on in life but I don’t think played much tennis at Oakwood. But in my attempt to become an American had already pursued baseball in Sour Orange. My past as a village rock and horse-chestnut tosser and my ability with the javelin made me into an oddly effective relief pitcher at Oakwood – with Benedict as my catcher also the kind of psychological backup which I began to realize was really appreciated, much as Lew sought to instill that kind of support also in himself. My delivery - the sum of numerous throwing activities since early childhood - resulted in a resemblance of a wheeling cricket-toss that proved truly disconcerting to American batters – at least for an inning or two. However, my love of the sidearm persisted, as did the ability of opposing batters, even the worst of them, to belt my side-arm deliveries - which they appeared to be able to see coming from left field heaven - to kingdom come - as I eventually allowed myself to realize. “All the way from left field” as the American expression has it, and had all the time to “tee off” on it, a golfing expression, with zip. My only other athletic achievement consisted of entering a half mile or mile race at a county meet.... and coming from quite a ways off the lead and surpassing everyone at the end, and winning. That come-from-behind win felt surprisingly good and I ought to have kept up running middle distances at Haverford.     There was one time that I was caught outside during my exploration of the IBM macadam expanse, and expelled for a week, but allowed to review a Stravinsky concert in New York City, and not the old Rite of Spring Stravinsky but atonal 12 tone Stravinsky of the 50s: I hadn’t the faintest then what to do with that.                       There were few “Nos” at Oakwood - sex was o.k. up to a point - however going aroaming at night was a definite no no, as was coming back drunk from a weekend, drinking and smoking were more than just frowned upon. Quaker edicts these were said to be. The twice a week Quaker meetings where you might be moved to speak or the spirit moved as of itself, were held in the barn-like gym, which also served as the dance hall, for very very slow, masturbatory type dancing, and not just for basketball games.
  Oakwood may have been a good college prep school but its loving easy-going ways, its integrated student body, its liberal politics did not prepare its students for the world outside its idyllic precinct.
  I think I was commemorated in the Class Yearbook as someone who could criticize at the drop of a hat. I was the yearbook photo editor and the fellow, Hoffman is his name, who was the photographer and who had been in Guatemala when the CIA overthrew that government, made for the one major catastrophe of sorts during my two years. His chemicals exploded in his lab and the men’s dorm had to be evacuated and the men all had to sleep outside. That was the night before graduation and I was too slow for Mustang Sally after picking her up and she wanted me to go down on her. All we did was pet below the waist, and I recall the look on her and Bang and his sleep-mate's- was it Lynn? - face as Sally zipped her pants back up in the morning. – Amazing actually: there is an explosion at the boy’s dorm, the boys have to sleep outside, and the young hussies are roaming around wanting to be picked up! – Actually, somewhat courtly, slow and easy, that was my The Way – always ready for the No to come swooping down, not entirely unuptight.                         Oakwood was also a haven to the children of those persecuted by Senator McCarthy! My early political education in the ravages of fascism re-awakened during the Army-McCarthy hearings. So this too, was Amerika! Shine and Cohn! Bobby Kennedy, the House Un-American committee. I wanted to put on Irwin Shaw's anti-war play Bury the Dead, but the author refused permission. I liked the guy's novels, he wasn't a great artist, but seemed to have his heart and sight in the right place, The Young Lions. Later I met Shaw at a restaurant where writers hung out and had the chance to ask him why he had refused permission back then. He had been afraid, he admitted, he did not want to be one of the hunted, on the black list. Pete Seeger who and The Weavers were blacklisted, came to sing in the all-purpose gym, and as he sang Wimoweh his lean body seemed to shoot up through the ceiling when his tenor hit a hit a high C. How he gazes up to the stars as he appears to ascend to them with his song even now sends shivers up my spine, also the sight of his so prominent Adam’s apple jiggling about! - It was McCarthy time, something sinister began to scratch at my knowledge of the country that I had fled to.                         I became a kind of music impresario and placed loud-speakers outside, broadcasting classical music, on weekends. I had hooked back up with my first American music, Ledbetter, the Blues and Jazz, which I favored with my record collection at Sour Orange, and it made sense that at least one famous folksinger, Bonnie Rait, derives from the school. Wish I’d known that when I heard her at Trancas, on CPH in Malibu, back in the mid 80s!                    As compared to the amorphous thousands of kids of Sour Orange High Oakwood was a small enough school - graduating class of about 25! – to be well defined, also by having a strong international component, European kids of all kinds if you want to include Morocco and Iran as European, I imagine Sam Ho, son of a Nationalist Chinese (Chiang Kai-shek) minister was one of the first of what seems to be a strong East Asia component. I of course welcomed the re-acquaintance with Europe after those two years in Wonder Bread Sour Orange and, considering my family origins, found it “normal” and was very much of the U.N. rainbow coalition disposition. - Camp Pocono had one Ukrainian my age and a Czech tennis coach via the defection of the Czech national tennis team after 1948. Oakwood had foreign teachers as well, not just the East Indian drill sargent; there was a Dutchman, barely remembered, in charge of our dorm one year, Yoshi the Nisei lit teacher, beloved by one and all – had he been interned or volunteered to fight in Europe during WW II? – I forget - a few years ago we were in touch again, but he’d become too uncritical. As a prep school Oakwood had just enough, a tad, of preppiness to leave a small after-taste, that was provided by parents who had been preppy but wanted to acquaint their children with an alternative. The Ernst brothers, John became a good close friend, future Yalies were the prime example and gave you a hint of the species for whom I never developed much liking. Yet thus I made the acquaintance of Brooks Brothers on Madison Avenue and Paul Stuart, and Brooks Brothers suits, and then just jackets became part of my uniform attire with denims for many years. I was not entirely unaware of the way I dressed it seems. I even detect a tad of narcissism – I borrowed Suzy McClain's patent leather I think was the material, ultra white shiny Jacket and wore it demonstratively for a week! After Alaska it was Ben Davis jeans, the original gold rush jeans, made of tent denim, when I could obtain them, and safari jackets instead of Brooks Brothers herring bone fabric jackets.
Upon graduating most everybody went to the good eastern schools or Quaker colleges or the like – the girls went to Sara Lawrence, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley Vassar etc., the men to a lot of the equivalents of Oakwood; that is, to Swarthmore, Haverford, Oberlin, Earlham, Antioch – and the many who feared that they would not be accepted by their favored choices applied to the Mississippi School of Mining and Engineering: even now I wonder what those folks in Mississippi thought of all those applications! and I forget if I was even accepted! It was a kind of bitter joke – Mississippi was the most hated state. One summer, shortly after graduating from Haverford, I spent some time in the Louisiana Delta. My friend and I drove back to New York and sped through Mississippi not stopping once. By that time I had also spent an entire year devoted to Faulkner and The South!
Oakwood, as you then start to learn, by way of the kinds of teams you play in soccer and other sports, was and may still be part of a series of Quaker or Quakerlike schools, a cabal ranging as far south as D.C. and north a Boston, a conference of sorts I suppose, Fieldston ethical culture outside NY is the most famous of the lot that did a different way of prepping for college and life, and at Haverford you then made acquaintance with those kindred spirits. Not that I was aware of much of that until later. "And where am I now?" is a question the still so easily disoriented me still ask himself just about every day of his life. Oakwood certainly was not a rich kids school, I'd say its backbone was the professional middle class, well to do, but parents with a definite somewhat socialist or at least very New Deal orientation, plus the Quaker ethos. There was also a side that had local roots. It also gave second chances to kids whom other schools had tossed. I recall a certain Sachs who at once took the girls into the basement of the gym – “into the sack with Sachs” - very ratty looking Sachs did not last long before he got tossed once again. Another kid was reputed to have killed someone, you didn’t inquire how and where and why, but he and his aura turned out not to be psychopath, a regular kid, probably as sex crazed as I considering that he, too, was willing to share Judy during a blizzard that we had her on a table in the library and alternately kissed her – and I have a hunch could have proceeded all the way on a very exceptional night. I became really keen on Judy and we dated for some time – until she got cold feet. Kurt thought we'd looked like such a fine couple!
During one of my nightly forays to the IBM parking lot there was another stir-crazy, a kid from New York, Italian-American, and he was carrying heat! Apparently everyone in his neighborhood did. Kids from the Big City were very different.        I was surprised to read on the Wikipedia entry that Oakwood is the oldest prep school in NY state! And yet still so small! and that it has an endowment of 46 million, a paltry entry that they need to change. Quakers are internationally minded, have been for a long time, at least their liberal faction. They give refuge, aid the destitute, have a long history of it and of the various sects are one of the few I care for. At Haverford you then ran into a fair amount of hypocrisy and holier than thou, with a kind of Quaker veneer that I may be able to define once I give an account of my days there, but not at Oakwood.
Upon graduation, in Kurt's presence, I actually cried at the thought that this was the end of Oakwood. The same tears I shed in my screen memory as shards of broken glass in the spring of 1941 as I leave my first paradise at the inception of the bombing that shatters all the window glass that then look like tear -dew in the flowers. But not upon leaving Fir Place for a final time in 1950, since coming to the U.S. appears to have obviated sentimental attachments to anything German.    Eleanor Roosevelt came to give the graduation speech to the class of 1954. That night (since I’d been too slow for Mustang Sally) I walked by myself across the Poughkeepsie Bridge and back, but did not feel particularly lonely. Something would get me for sure, but it wasn't going to be loneliness, not someone who had survived that ice and fire at age nine months.                  The summer vacation between Junior and Senior High School years was my last at Camp Pocono, and now as a full-fledged counselor, teaching canoeing, and with a cabin lean-to of my own with what was it four or half a dozen six year olds!? I always did love kids, especially since I can still regress at a moment’s notice just as my grandfather had been able to. -
About graduation time my father suddenly appeared from Ethiopia, reappeared in my life. And in Canada, in Montreal. My mother came from Japan, concerned. However, William in no time had a job – selling telephone voice amplifiers – and a wife # 4. Something had gone wrong in Addis, not only had wife # 3, lovely blonde Hannah, split for a physician, but the business with one of the sons of Haile, a duke, of Hassan?, had gone awry, and my father had fled with the help of British friends. In business with the wrong people, and in the wrong place. But he recovered and advanced again in short order to end up running RCA Canada!
I meanwhile had become a very young and light-weight first rate ax man, a specialist with a double bit, and planned to spend the summer on graduating from Oakwood as a lumberjack. My father knew someone at a lumber company in the Quebecois woods. But when I got to Montreal, the woods were closed because of the danger of forest fires, I read all of G.B. Shaw's plays, and then hitchhiked and had some very interesting adventures, in Ontario, also finally, in a car’s back seat. However, I am just trying to think what real lumberjacks would have said to 135 pound me showing up to swing an ax with them!  

(1)Friends, the Quakers, was, is possibly the only Protestant denomination that I came to regard with favor for their peaceable disposition, although I myself can be someone who “loves to fight” as I discovered in analysis, one of many fundamental conflicts and contradictions in my being. 

I reread the OAKWOOD section from SCREEN MEMORIES because my own recollection of what I wrote was becoming uncertain, but then needed to make only a few minor emendations, yet keep forgetting to put in the significant fact that during my senior year I played with a severely injured right inner thigh - during the first practice that year I tore most of that muscle   and even now all that is left is maybe one quarter of it, it never grew back! We were doing an excercise where you alternately and quickly lift the left and right leg really high and were doing so on an incline -  even though it had been physically a very active summer at Camp Pocono evidently I had not excercised those muscles. It was a most painful injury, but I managed to captain my way through it. 

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MICHAEL ROLOFF exMember Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS: "MAY THE FOGGY DEW BEDIAMONDIZE YOUR HOOSPRINGS!" {J. Joyce} "Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben] contact via my website


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