Where I Came From and Why
(An Autobiographical Sketch composed for my daughters.)
Jerome Iglowitz, 1991
When I was a little boy, I lived in a world of nightmares. The violence and tension between those I loved was excruciating. Perhaps to another little person, less sensitive, this would have been less damaging. But it didn't happen to that one, it happened to me.
To a bright, growing little mind, a child's mind, the parents are the sun and the moon. No, they are of an even larger contextual significance. More like the laws of physics, the law of gravity, and the air that we breathe. The disruptions in that world could be likened to a reversal in the physical laws and happenings in the world of the adult, to superstitions and occult horror fantasies, or to earthquakes or tidal waves.
I saw two bright, strong, violent and totally uncompromising personalities in mortal combat. Of course, both of them lost. And so did I, and so did my brother, and so did my aunts and uncles, and so did anyone else near enough to them to come within their circle of violence. The last words I heard from my mother's sister before she died fifty years later were to blame my mother for the sterility of her (the sister's) life!
My mother developed into a full-blown clinical paranoid, (if she hadn't already been one). My father retreated into the unbelievably hard and bitter shell of loneliness which he carried till he died. There was always an almost palpable "sterile" quality about him, (as in a bacteriological "flamed" loop), which repulsed warmth or touching, the things I think he wanted above all things. But the shell was very sore, and the least touch provoked waves of pain and bitterness. He was like a parched and scorched desert, and I shall always associate him with the old testament God for his righteousness and his unforgiving nature.
My mother methodically drove away anyone who ever loved her, and there were many, of which I was one. It seems everyone tried to save her. Perhaps my father didn't, or, if he did, he had stopped trying by the time I gained any meaningful perception of reality. My mother, (in the side of her which seemed to conflict with her insanity), was an amazingly warm and rich nature. She, like my father, was an original, and not a copy. It was this that made us all so ambivalent about her. If she had been something less, it would have been easier.
Some of my earliest, and my strongest memories are of waking, it seems almost every night, to the intense and violent hatred that filled my universe, (I would hear their violence). My only response was to pray, to get on my knees by the side of my bed and pray to God to make them better, - to cure this insanity, (for I equated then, as now, hatred with insanity). (I have since come to extend the equation to "evil"). And so I stayed for hours on end, for nights on end, with first my simplistic prayer, and then stretching forth my raw consciousness, (or rather, backward, inward), trying to reach the mind and will of God. (This probably started at about seven or eight years of age and lasted until I was about thirteen.) Typically, I awoke on the floor in the morning.
I never saw God. And I never heard God. And yet, different powers of introspection and processes of thought, not totally or even primarily religious, opened for me through those times of contemplation. There was a profound peace. There were the childish conceits of goodness which have never in my life been merited. There was what I still conceive to be a legitimate understanding of the meaning and substance of life and of death.
I was never in any real sense raised in a religion. My father was a non-practicing Jew- and he was always on the other side of the war anyway, so I never really knew him or Judaism. My mother was an Irish Catholic, who was only nominally practicing- I will not be presumptuous enough to say why. Maybe because she married my father. Or maybe because the church refused to bury one of her sisters who had died under bad circumstances. In any case, my entire religious background consisted in being brought to mass on Sundays for a few years, a baptism at about twelve years of age, with a couple of hours, only, of instruction, and the sporadic accompaniment of my brother to mass when my mother had stopped going, and sent us on alone.
I can still remember the "trial". (I must have been about six or seven years old- maybe as young as five, and my brother two and a half years older than me). My father brought my uncle, my mother's brother, and his wife over to our house to "prove" to his two children, my brother and me, that our mother was crazy and that her accusations that he had been sleeping with our aunt were false, (this was the second or third of her fantasies).
We were all in the front room of our house, the witnesses, (my aunt and uncle), the accused, (my aunt and my father), the accuser, (my mother), the defense attorney, (my father), and the jury, (my brother and me)! He completed his masterly summary in the best courthouse and theatrical fashion, (he always fancied his resemblance to Edward G. Robinson -there was a resemblance), and then asked us, the jury, to find for him. I don't know if, in fact, I actually said that "I believe my mommy", or if I simply didn't say I believed him. But I believe he hated me from that day forever forward -and it showed, bitterly and meanly.
There was more to this war between my father and me- my mind rejects the pain of the complete picture, so I grab it in little, hurting bytes. I remember, years later, at their divorce trial, being told by her divorce lawyer that all his skill, and all his work, and all his brilliance for all the time he had spent, and all the rightness on the side of my mother--all this wasn't sufficient and that my mother would be out on the street with nothing, (read this as starving and freezing), - unless I perjured myself and lied against my father. I did!
I remember an earlier time when I had just entered high school, and was in intense emotional pain and reached out for his help. No, that's not true, no one in our family ever was so direct or humble as that. I went to his office and tried to talk to him- and was so "washed" with the hatred of my reception that we never got started and I had to leave. Pigheads, all!
My mother switched from mistresses to the Mafia and from the Mafia to the communist party and from the communist party to a universal "those people". Things got more and more violent, physically there was a broken finger and flashing butcher knives, -loaded tablecloths thrown to the floor, but the strongest violence was verbal. It was unbelievable.
My brother was sent away to a boarding high school, and I didn't know what to do with those people, my mother and my father. I'm sorry to say I still didn't want to see my father's side of the thing then, but I had always gravitated to the warmth that was in my mother. (I suspect my father married her for it, and I knew he hated her). I don't know if it was here or later that we came to blows. She was in his room, (they had slept in different rooms for some years), and they were into a violent physical or a violent verbal argument. I went in to "protect" her, either physically or verbally- I honestly don't remember which- and we came to blows- which I shall forever regret. It must have taken great self-restraint for this man who had grown up on the "rough" side of town not to have kicked the shit out of the fat, weak little twelve year old that I was. Even more significant was the fact that he never said what he did for me. I can only hope that it was an act of love on his part- a "seal" between us. For my part, I told him I would shoot him if he ever hurt my mother again. (He took the "22" out of my closet that night when I was asleep and hid it in his car trunk for some time).
I was sent to the same boarding school the next year for seventh grade. It was far across the city of
Then my mother drove down to see me one day in her shiny black '49' Pontiac- to tell me how "they" were following her and how she needed me to come home to protect and help her. (
Let me tell a happening at that school that made it special to me. I had continued my practice of "nightly prayer"- no, there was little supplication in all this, "contemplation" is a more precise description, for all these years- usually for several hours a night- I would usually still stay up most of the night.
I had once experienced what now seems to be the standard religious dream of "flying", -once only. I mention this dream mainly because it had the curious quality of having really happened, even though I immediately knew it could not have occurred!
This is not an accurate overall picture though. During these nightly contemplations and during their corollaries at church, my mind moved - how can I say it? It was not a matter of images, but rather one of concepts! Non-verbal and non-pictorial ideas and concepts and their interplays- I know of no better way to describe it- it was unbelievably rich and I don't think its subject matter was primarily religious- at least in the conventional sense.
But one morning in the spring, something very strange and very beautiful happened to me. I still remember it vividly and clearly. My attention turned to some trees I was near and I began to contemplate one of them. ("Contemplate" had a very distinct and precise meaning to me- it had to do with my basic method of "thought" -- but I have no proper words to describe it.) Something happened in my mind! The best I can describe it and understand it was that I entered a mode of perception on the common ground BETWEEN perception and understanding. It wasn't sensory, and it wasn't thinking- it was like both at once in one thing. I don't know how long this lasted, - it couldn't have been very long, but it has affected me the rest of my life. It was the most beautiful and most profound thing that has ever happened to me. I believe the perception was legitimate- there were no "visions", no "voices", and no self-aggrandizement. I have come to think that reality, and the means by which we interact with it fit a more difficult model than my fellows hold, and that that experience was a "touching" of some of the richer possibilities of that place. I have since read William James and others and feel comfortable in that company, (not as a major figure, but as a very minor one). Up to that time I had no contact nor knowledge of the existence of this body of writing. The only relevant texts, with which I had only a general experience, would be found in the "Gospels" and the "Epistles" of the Catholic Daily Missals.
I don't know if my dad was home then. They had separated and reconciled several times, and I really don't remember about that time. I know he had moved down to the basement into the "rec" room, and still she harangued him. Eventually she threw his clothes out the door, and he left for good. I guess the real question is why this strong and proud man stood for this humiliating treatment as long as he did. Some of the worst of it I will not expose to view- it was bad. I think I know the answer. As his son, I think I know the answer. He was as empty of life as I am, and he needed her to fill that- he needed her LIFE to fill his STERILITY. In this he was utterly dependent on her. I also believe that there was a moral integrity to his family to do the best he could for us.
I think, maybe, from her side, she came to despise him for exactly the same reason. The practical sides of life- where he excelled, she probably thought were only trivially significant, but she was richly full of an original awareness and contact with life in another sense. I have no real basis to make this judgment, except to observe that I think it applies in my own life. To apply it to my Dad probably isn't fair- he was more of a man than I am.
I think I first became aware of my mother as being truly and formally insane when I went to high school. Maybe I got far enough away from her that I could distinguish "insanity" from just one of the "dirty names" my father would yell at her. I didn't much like my father at this time either. I remember going into his office in the laundry and trying to talk to him -he shoved me back to the place we had always been. No compromise. Admit you're totally wrong. Admit I'm totally right. Admit your mother is totally crazy. Do all these things and then maybe I'll talk to you.
I am my father's and my mother's son. I have the same killing pride they had. I turned and left. During that period I hated both my father and my mother, and phantasized killing them both. And yet- I never had the courage to think of actually leaving - even to think of it!
I remember riding a bus to school one day of my first year in high school, and watching all the "happy", empty minds of my schoolmates, and comparing that to the constant torture that was inside of my own head. (I had always sensed them as "empty"- as they never seemed to respond to any part of the world of ideas which was so much a part of my world!- I was a very lonely kid.) I remember the humiliation of returning home with a friend one evening and hearing them screaming at the top of their lungs. I prayed a constant prayer then. "God, take away my mind! Take my mind so that the pain will go away." I think that in some fashion that prayer was answered. I wish it hadn't been.
I had been considered pretty bright up to that point, but for the rest of high school, I don't think that was true. I did passable work, I messed around with a girl- for which I am truly ashamed, mostly because I had not one particle of compassion for her, nor any knowledge of who or what she was.
When I entered college, (the University of
When I entered the university, I was overweight, and the student health doctor prescribed "diet pills" for me, (amphetamines, I think). I was taking these during the school year and became so "hyped" with them as well as the shocking load of work--AND IDEAS-- that I revolted against the medication and came off of it with a passion. I realized that the mental state that it put me in was exactly the opposite "place" to where I should be in understanding, (one of peace and contemplation instead of "hyper-ness"), and where I did, in fact, find myself when I came to understand the solution of a given problem. In other words, I reversed the "vector" and had a usable "roadmap" to a more efficient mental engine. I had also discovered classical music, (which I had never been truly exposed to before), and I fell wildly in love with it. Somehow this also became a tool which associated itself with breathing control, (discovered in association with the times of success in autodidactical math studies), and other physical and philosophical developments. I turned the process onto itself, and cycled it to completion, I thought. I have long since lost most of these processes, which I will discuss presently- they are losable as well as learnable, but this has to do with "sin" and with paradox.
I had tried when I first went to the university to ask for help from the Psychiatry department for my mother. When I finally got an appointment, I realized that the man was dangerous to me. He had tremendous power, liked to use it,- and there was no caring in him. He told me bluntly that he didn't want to discuss my mother, he wanted to discuss me. But I needed him to discuss her with me too. Maybe he thought I needed help too, but he could have been gracious enough to start there! I needed help with her. I also could have used a friend, a confidant. (Sometime I would like to develop the theme that children from dangerous parents or surroundings develop the ability to "read" peoples' emotions better than people from other environments. Also the related notion that children of paranoid parents become either better than the norm or worse than the norm at the evaluation of theories of reality- this from continual practice at it. This is a real practice for those raised in these surroundings- with a definite survival value!)
When I finished my freshman year I was intrigued with mathematics. Calculus was a pure joy. I was also perturbed with a low grade in Modern Algebra- caused by a "T.A." who taught the wrong course material, (his own rather than the book), -he was young and I think he was developing his own course materials and they tested solely on the book. I decided, therefore, to work through the whole book that summer, which I did, (it was written for a whole years' graduate course according to the introduction). What a beauty, it was like fine science fiction. I finished the book, worked all the starred problems to my satisfaction, read another book on Galois Theory, worked a summer job, (reviewing and contemplating algebraic concepts while working on the Sears assembly line--it was interesting --and even productive!!), and retaught myself to play the piano. I had taken lessons from six to twelve years old but not gotten very far. I rushed up the stairs to put on Arthur Rubinstein playing the Chopin polonaises, ran downstairs, put on my headphones, and played along with him. It was gorgeous, (the music, not my playing.) Chopin is so gorgeous and Rubinstein was phenomenal!
I also began to evolve and write a theory of psychology that summer. I had so far resolved my life at that point that I realized that I still loved my mother, and decided to try my utmost to cure her- since they couldn't or wouldn't! The theory was derived from the freshman level of exposure to Freud, plus my knowledge of my mother, but mostly, it was the processing of these two through the mechanism I had created mentally in my math studies. In my arrogance, I thought that there was no problem, no matter how complex or difficult that I could not solve, as the unsolvability of problems for me translated to the exclusion of certain "vectors" from the problem-solving process, --and I thought I had permanently and thoroughly resolved this. (Somehow it never occurred to me that DATA or the exposure to other ideas might be a necessity in this process-- somehow I don't think it occurred to Freud either!)
To put it succinctly, I was totally blown away intellectually and spiritually and filled with not just a little pride. (I will state for the record that there were no drugs involved in any of this, nor have I ever taken any. From what I read, though, some of the states seem similar.)
When I went back to school, I continued to work on my PSYCHOLOGY, and thought I could find a mentor. No, that's not honest. I sought to find someone to appreciate my "genius". (Rueull Denney was very kind to me here- he was a very decent human being!) I left school after a quarter to devote full time to what was becoming a full-blown book, (although I think it did not have some crucial aspects of one). Its sequence was temporally developmental from front to back instead of logical -- i.e. I was evolving the ideas as I wrote the book rather than writing a book to present a finished set of ideas--and I never reworked it! I presumed in my unbelievable arrogance that it was so good that the reader would be able and would want to follow along anyway! God, what I would have given for a word processor- as the thing was totally unintelligible!), and continued to seek appreciation and support. I finished that book, and started another equally presumptuous one on philosophy and physics based on reading Ernst Cassirer's "Einstein's Theory of Relativity". (I cannot say how much this embarrasses me today!)
I continued to seek support at the university, and submitted innumerable copies of my manuscripts for publication- isn't that how books are published? I received only polite, nonspecific refusals. You know, I think it would be kinder to be more specific, as the other kind only implies you aren't meaningful enough to talk to. To put it mildly, I was crushed. Put more realistically, I was destroyed. How much of the ego we put into something we write. And my "engine"!
I thought I could go back to school to get a degree and develop a better presentation of my "theories" while I continued to work on them. It didn't work. The knowledge I acquired that year fit in beautifully with the structure I had erected, (as I saw them crystallized in the last stages of creation, but not in the writing of them), but something jammed and locked in my mind. I tried to turn it loose again, and the harder I tried, the worse it got. I think the answer turns on an antinomy. Devices like this are central to the mechanism of creativity. Call it a Koan. Call it a paradox. The critical developmental devices, (the relaxation and the freedom-- and these are big words in relation to creativity), hinge on integrity and healthy-mindedness to overcome paradoxes. They can be overcome, but the process is delicate, and questions of integrity can become lethal.
I felt that I had betrayed my integrity in returning to school. I also felt like a fool in not knowing my ground- which amounts to disbelieving or distrusting the process. I had neither read extensively nor had I an experimental basis. It was the ultimate "bootstrap" operation!! (It had a lot to do with the "form" or "shape" of theories -it had to do with the internal aesthetics of the theoretical process itself hinged on certain analytic points of entry!) I guess my feeling now covers both sides. Theoretical knowledge needs testing, I was a young punk kid, and God, it was the most beautiful place I have ever been.
(These ideas have been in my mind and have been the driving force of my soul for the past thirty years, but though they have been under constant refinement through the fire of the pain of those many years, I have been absolutely restrained from elaborating them until very recently. Though I have seen absolutely clear (and connected) flashes of cohesive and valuable thought, I have been "locked" every time I have attempted to connect or write them down. I think I had to go through enough pain to wear away the ego whose pain and whose fear it was that blocked another attempt! When I was finally able to do this, it was at a time when I thought I had little chance of survival -I thought I would surely die under the stress and pressure I experienced.)
I got real sick then. I mean in the head. Somehow I lost about seven or eight years. I think I got lost in the "engine" somehow. I was morose and crushed. I thought of suicide often.
I couldn't leave because I thought my mother would die with no one to care for her- or at least someone would come and put her into a "snake pit", (people today cannot appreciate the context that mental illness generated then -before the medications -and the fears I held for someone I loved).
Finally, my brother had a divorce from his wife, and asked that he move back home with his two sons so that mom could help with them. He was very gracious and said that he did not want to push me out of the home! God! The crushing joy that exploded in me! I set a date with my mother for the day I would be leaving- I finished fixing up her house, left my wallet and keys in her desk, put on a warm jacket- it was winter, and kissed her goodbye. She cried.
I can still remember walking out of that house. Remember, I was not an adventurous sort. I thought I would be dead- that I could not survive in that outside world without a safe haven. But then, I walked a block, and then another block, and I began to smile, and then to laugh with joy -actually! I stuck out my thumb, and began to hitch-hike south.
Three days, two rides, and no meals later, I arrived on the outskirts of
When I got back to the road, I saw an orange grove and a farmhouse. I asked the old lady I saw behind her screen-door if I could have some oranges, as I hadn't eaten in days. She said I could,- but what I read in her voice, her compassion and caring for the bearded "bum" in front of her, was a thing of great beauty- I needed to see compassion then. She was a very beautiful soul. (Wonderful oranges!)
As I walked down the road toward
My problem when I got into
Delarosa! What a pretty old man. Picture a fifty year old, five foot tall, white mustached Mexican elf, all bouncy with sparkling eyes and full of the joy of life. (I have met perhaps a half-dozen such souls in my life and I treasure each one- Alan, can you hear that? You should get to know him!)
"Can you pick fruit?" he asked me. "I've never done it- but I'm strong and I'll work hard", I answered. He looked unhappy, looked around for anyone else, and since there was no one and the bus wasn't full, he took me, (reluctantly). I've heard guys say almost those exact words many times since then, and I think I know what went through Delarosa's mind. You see, to the uninitiated, it appears that any fool can pick fruit if he has even the minimum of co-ordination and willingness to work.
Well, I got out there in that field, and started working with a will. After about an hour, after quivering on that ladder that seemed to have no support in the tree, (you needed both hands to pick fruit), "Junior", Delarosa's son, came to see how I was doing. He took my precious half-bag of fruit and dumped it on the ground. "This is garbage", he said. "You plugged them." By this he meant that I had pulled the oranges off the stem and literally pulled a plug of the skin off in the process, making the oranges valueless. He showed me the proper way to pick one- by "rolling" it end over to snap the stem cleanly, and walked away disgustedly. The crews said that Junior was older than his father -what a sour young man. (Delarosa got a percentage on the fruit his crews picked, so he did have a reason to be concerned.)
At the end of a twelve hour, more or less, day, the bus dropped me back at the unemployment office. On the bus, one of the pickers, after sizing me up very carefully, decided I wasn't a cop and , showing compassion for me, recommended a "hotel", (flop-house), that was clean. Emphasize clean! We were paid in cash for the fruit we had picked that long day. For the best effort I could make, I think I got about three and a half bucks. Small problem. If I was to go back the next day, I would need to buy gloves, (oranges have nasty thorns), eat, and get a place to stay. I did first things first. I bought the cheap cotton gloves from Delarosa, went to the "hotel", and got a cot for the night, (I don't remember exactly how much- but the weekly rate which I soon utilized was four dollars/week). With the remainder of this honestly,- very honestly earned money- it was probably about a dollar and a half or so, I went downstairs to the local grocery/liquor store and bought--I think some cottage cheese, some canned beans, and, because I felt as though I wanted to fit in, some green jalapenos to mix it all up, (I am and have been a strict vegetarian since I was eighteen).
The result is predictable. My first real meal in four days, other than the oranges we ate in the fields, had to go into the garbage can. It was terrible, and it was laughable, and I was happier than I had been in years.
In the following weeks, I became friends with some of my coworkers- in particular the Francisco brothers. The smaller of the two looked a lot like the actor Gilbert Roland, and had more or less the same personality -vital,- full of life. The taller of the two, I can't remember their given names, had a classic face- long, lean and noble. They kind of took me under their wings and taught me the secrets of picking. I learned to "coyote"--not a nice thing to do, but we did it half-assed in jest. I learned to "short-sack", and in general learned the science of fruit picking.
Imagine meeting the fruit bus at four or five in the morning -making sure you get up because if you miss it you won't work, (nor eat), that day! You climb on and try to settle down to sleep if you can on the ride out to the fields. The Mexicans were the best adjusted at that point- they talked and joked, switching in blocks back and forth between English and Spanish as given words triggered the change, (as multilinguals often do), and ate huge breakfasts with chile peppers and drank beer. This was strange for me as I have a hard time eating anything that early. When we got to the fields, it would not be dawn yet, so we would make fires of the dead brush to warm up- I used to roast oranges, (you can't really roast an orange- you heat it).
Then, as the first light begins to break, you take your fruit-bag, a large canvas sack with a single padded canvas strap, and two snap-hooks fastening the bottom, and you take your ladder- I think it was fourteen feet long- aluminum, and you head out to the set of trees assigned to your crew. The rules are plain. Lets suppose the set is eight trees wide. The first man to the set of eight trees gets his pick for the best tree for fruit, and the rest of the crew gets what's left. But suppose there's a gorgeous tree in the next row. The rules say that nobody can go to the next row till all the first row have been chosen. And once you pick a tree, you're stuck with it till its cleaned, (no more fruit of any kind -at least when I picked).
So obviously if you can get the better trees, the easy ones with the most fruit, you'll have an easier time and make more money. As for counting the fruit you pick, there are two methods- I've done both. In one method, a tractor hauls a fruit-bin up a trail down the middle of the row of trees. A supervisor, (read Junior), counts the times each picker runs up, unsnaps the clips on the bottom of his bag, and throws the contents over the edge of the bin. Yes, I said "runs"! A picker at that time got from seventeen to twenty cents per bag for picking approximately sixty pounds of oranges! (We did some picking later at the university agricultural station- the average bag contained between 120 and 140 oranges.) If you can extrapolate these numbers, you will begin to have some idea of the ferocious pace that is maintained. We ran constantly in the freshly disked dirt, carrying our ladders and full or partial sacks. Science dictated that you try to get the tree closest to the tractor, that you start at the beginning side- where the tractor is coming from and work around and finish where it will be then. You save your "skirts", (bottom fruit), to top off your bag so you don't have to climb with an almost full bag, etc...
Incidentally, you don't "pick" an orange, you make a very rapid arm and hand movement from the bottom to "slap" it- which fractures the stem and sends it sailing into the bag in one motion- which allows the quantities that are necessary- your hands and arms should be one continuous blur!
A top picker at that time got 100 bags per day or more. This is about 6000 pounds of oranges, or something in excess of twelve thousand oranges, for which he received twenty dollars- usually tax free.
I also picked grapefruits which follow the same pattern, except that the bag counts are higher, the prices less, and the final result about the same.
The other method of picking involves filling boxes at the base of the trees. Actually, the box method gives the farmer a more honest count- the crews like it because there is less running. With the tractor method, the tendency is to "short-sack" -stick your hip into the bag and never move it- and a two-thirds bag looks like a full one.
I slowly worked up my skill and endurance. I was able to get on the weekly rate at my "hotel" , I went to the Salvation Army store to get used jeans and sweatshirts., I bought some usable boots and leather picking gloves, - and became "Barbasul", (bluebeard, the Mexicans named me that -actually, I had a full, black beard). Eventually I got up to the 100 bag level.
I survived on skid row not because I was either brave or smart or tough, but rather, I think, because I was ignorant and naive. I liked those people, I did not judge them, and I had never really "seen" people before. I learned to play pool downstairs in the bar in the evenings, (I never drank), with its tears and holes in the tables. It was funny to watch the "quarter hustlers" "break"- they'd seen Paul Newman, I guess.. God, what a show. I figured out some of the angles, and learned to do some oddball shots with "english" which scared some of them. I also never played for money- which also confused them.
There is a funny fact about me, I believe. I think most people misread me. In general, crooks read me as a cop, and cops read me as a crook. I don't know why. I consider myself gentle, and others consider me violent. I have heard myself described as the "most dangerous man" in that company. Mostly, I guess, because someone that open and unprotected would have to be dangerous enough to sustain it. I think there's a reference in Dante's Inferno to something similar- of an angel, (not me!), - walking through hell, protected by his innocence, (read ignorance)- never seeing, never touched. In general, I was never bothered, though there were shootings and stabbings routinely on "our block". The prostitutes never approached me either- innocence again?? Those prostitutes were something else - they used to play games with the pool cues!
Once I was awakened from sleep by a Mexican guy who had a knife at my throat. Have you ever seen the kind with the little hook at the end? It seems he was a homosexual with ideas about me. I don't remember being scared- I guess I was too sleepy. I simply told him I had to go to the bathroom, which I did. He thought that was a good idea and followed me there. "Which one", he asked. "You go in that one, and I go in this one" I answered, upon which I went in and closed the door. He went into the other one, and I never saw him again.
I remember being awakened many times in the night by the screams of the prostitutes being abused in the few private rooms in the place. I can also remember awakening to see the manager, a young stocky redheaded guy with a southern accent,- naked and pimply to the waist, chasing another man with a baseball bat. Can you imagine the sound of a real baseball bat hitting a real man? (I'm not talking about a fake situation on T.V.). The other man went down a long flight of stairs!
I remember playing chess, (being beaten as one would a child), with an old man in the park, (I think I might know who that was--many years later -recently- I saw a Sammy something-or-other on TV as a world rated chess champion from Phoenix commenting on a championship playoff--I'm not really sure, but he sure looked familiar) -and trying to learn to high-dive at the public pool.
When the citrus was through for the season, I tried bucking hay, picking grapes, and picking watermelons- but there wasn't enough work at any of those to be worth while.
Watermelon picking was kind of funny, though, and is worth telling. Imagine a truck driving along a path through the field. The sides of the truck are about ten feet high. In the back of the truck are two men, one stacking, and the other catching the watermelons as they are thrown up over the side of the truck. The truck is moving slowly, at walking speed. Alongside of it are about eight men, spread out in a wide line. As each man comes upon a watermelon, he calls out "hold", which stops the next man from throwing one to him, reaches down and tosses it to the next man closer to the truck. Now obviously the outside man has the easiest job. He has only to pick up and throw his own watermelons. The next man has to toss his own plus the outside mans'. The next man has to toss both theirs and his own, and so forth. It all piles up then on the man closest to the truck- the man on the "down" row. He doesn't just toss the watermelons on a level toss either, but has to throw each and every watermelon that is picked by the whole crew ten feet in the air!
Normally, the crew that is not in the truck rotates regularly, with the man on the "downrow" going to the outside, and everyone else moving inward. Occasionally, however, some "bad" m.f., (guy), will insist that he can "handle it" , and this is the fun part. It's impossible! The going rate when I worked there was twenty cents per ton per man! For each man to make twenty dollars in a day,( the benchmark), the crew would have to pick one hundred tons of watermelons! If you can imagine throwing that total poundage ten feet high, you can get the idea. You can also get some notion of the phenomenal physical strength of people working in the fields- there is no comparable in ordinary society!
I met some very straight people on those crews- and some that weren't. None worse than I had met anywhere else. I remember an old black guy whose pride made him stuff every bag to the limit- I think he made himself do twice the work of anybody else. He got ten or fifteen dollars a day- but they were damned honest dollars. I wish I could remember his name- he was a man I respected and who had honestly earned that respect. I met some hotshots who I think cheated- they skirted trees, and jumped rows.
I remember changing my shirt after work one day and going off the fruit bus to buy some buttermilk and listening to the locals talk about the "scum" on that bus- the same ones that put the food on their tables! I didn't comment- I didn't know how to!
In the end it went sour. I don't know why. I picked fruit for about six months, and then I had to leave. I gave my coat to some pathetic guy I had met in the flophouse, sent what money I had accrued to my mother and set out hitch-hiking to Los Angeles. I did pretty good until I got a ticket from the California Highway Patrol for hitch-hiking on the freeway. They were very polite about it, but still gave me the ticket.
When I got to
This lasted for some time, several months, but just wasn't right, so I decided to enlist in the army. Actually, I tried the marines first, but since I insisted on going as a non-combatant field medic, the only service open was the army. My enlistment contract stated I was to go as a field medic, be guaranteed non-combatant status, and that I was to go to Vietnam -these were the options I insisted upon- and was guaranteed though they told me I could have any MOS I wanted.
I had several reasons for this. For one, I had actively worked at avoiding military service when I was with my mother, and I felt guilty for the ones who had gone, and maybe died in my place. Also, I wanted to know just how real the non-violent philosophy I espoused was to me. Also, maybe I was depressed and just wanted to die. I don't know why I or anyone does anything. I don't think anyone else does either.
Anyhow, I signed up in
So here we have this non-violent vegetarian, non-pot-smoking, non-hip, bearded character going to fight in the war, (doesn't this remind you of Joseph Fielding again?), -riding the chartered bus up from the recruitment station in Los Angeles to Fort Ord. We were "inprocessed" in the old barracks in the usual way, were given the usual "how-would-you-like-it" skincut, (I was handed a safety razor and given five minutes to demolish my beard), and came to consciousness standing "firewatches" at the wee hours of the morning. It seems it was all we did for the first days and nights was be up at three or four in the morning drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, (I took up smoking again in Los Angeles, I think - also went to a few topless bars with an acquaintance -funny). I guess the idea was to get us used to our uniforms and being in an organization.
I can't remember which Basic Training company I was assigned to-- it seems like it was "B"- something or other. It was in one of the newer concrete dormitories. I remember being screamed out of bed for assemblies outside in the middle of the night. I remember running in a pack before dawn-- that was kind of fun.
I remember "walking" the "monkey bars" in the early morning dew before breakfast and the huge blisters I and everybody else had. I also remember trying to live on standard army food- I neither asked, nor expected anyone to make any concessions to my being a vegetarian. (I did not eat eggs then, which left me in pretty poor shape for nourishment!)
Shooting on the range was always fun to me as I had been on a target team in my first year of high school -I did pretty well -I got to ride home from the range one day. But there was this one sergeant I can only describe as a "son of a bitch"- this has nothing to do with his ancestry, as any man would realize, but rather, defines him as a member of the class of all the other people properly described as "sons of bitches". (Profanity seems to have two entirely separate genders -whether used by men or used by women.) I had defined my status as non-combatant when I joined, but did consent to carry a rifle in training.
When we did bayonet training, he wanted us to whirl and yell: "KILL". Since I had volunteered as a combat medic and non-combatant, it seemed appropriate to whirl and yell: "APPENDECTOMY" He didn't seem to agree with me- which he displayed in various subtle ways. (Looking back, he was righter than me.)
On a more serious level, I saw this same sergeant come from behind and knock down and tackle a heavily loaded, exhausted G.I. after a long march- he could have seriously hurt him, and it was totally malicious- there was no preamble.
Anyhow, after my work in the fields, I was pretty strong insofar as my lower body was concerned, (I could actually RUN- not trot- with a 200 pound man on my back), but I had never worked much with my upper body. I struggled through basic training, and was actually beating it. And then we came to the "CONFIDENCE COURSE". We had to do all these things that looked hard and dangerous, and then find out that we could and that they weren't really dangerous and that we were much better men than we thought we were!! Well, they had this ten or twelve foot, (I think it was ten), jump down from this wall onto packed earth, (packed from all the other people who had jumped down there). Everybody else did it, so I tried too!
The shock in my ankle felt like a literal explosion. A Phillipino lieutenant told me to get on my feet, but I "respectfully refused" until I had an X-ray of my ankle. A corpsman did a beautiful job of splinting my ankle, and I rode a jolting ride to the hospital there at
They were very thorough and very kind. The skin was not broken as the bone had not come through. I was X-rayed and told that the Medial Malleolus, (the inner part of my ankle), was almost totally disintegrated, and that they would attempt by surgery to screw together the largest remaining fragments to form a new joint. I was asked whether I wanted to be put to sleep or have a local anesthetic, and I told them I didn't want to see them cutting on me. Accordingly, I was wheeled into the operating room, injected, and counted from "ten" to "nine" and woke up in ward C-15. I remember the guy in the next bed trying to talk to me, and my telling him as politely as possible that I hadn't properly slept since Basic Training had begun. I asked the corpsmen to draw the curtains around my bed, and I think I slept, almost continuously, for three or four days.
The guy in the next bed- Mike, (I don't remember his last name, and feel bad about it as both he and his wife were very kind to me, both then and later), was a both a sergeant and a drill instructor, and a very decent person, which did something to counter the effect of the drill instructor referred to previously. He had hurt himself in a motorcycle accident, I think- he had tried to put his head through somebody's radiator, and he won.
I remember the "Airborne" kid who was going the next day to have both legs amputated because of a motorcycle accident. His "Airborne" buddies came in to do a macho "rah-rah". I didn't particularly like the kid, but this was truly heartbreaking.
Life on the ward was distinct in itself. The head nurse for C-15 was a man, a Major, I don't remember his name. He was very decent, very proper, and prided himself on the quality-care he provided for his patients. In other words, he was goodness itself when it came to his patients, and terrible to the people under him when they neglected that duty. The patients were predominantly "
My leg began to hurt more and more- it wasn't supposed to -, I came down with high fevers, with the upshot being that my ankle had been infected during surgery with "hospital staph". When they cut the cast off to find it, two doctors came at my ankle- scalpels in hand, - no anesthetic-, one from each side, (one was a Colonel Malloy, I think), told me this "shouldn't hurt"- and went to work on me. I nearly bit my cigarette in half. They put me on heavy doses of Chloromycetin and I think I was delirious for a few weeks. I think I had a reaction to the drug also, as I lost about half of my R.B.C.'s during that time. I was in a coma for three weeks, I think.
I was doing a staggering recovery, (translate shaky), when I went off of my nut! I remember talking kind of weirdly, but most of all I remember the phenomenon of sensing my mind as RACING at high speed, faster than I could translate it, and the "jamming effect" of trying to speak! Literally, it felt as though I were jamming a bar into a set of moving gears! Disengage the mouth, and the system seemed to gain momentum and to move smoothly, albeit too fast, engage the mouth, and the "jam" occurred! STRANGE! (This lasted a couple of days, I think.) I don't know if this was a phenomenon of the enforced "solitary confinement", (I was in "Bacterial Isolation" at the time- they said I had Hepatitis -I had turned a bright orange color), or of the lower oxygen levels of my blood, (I think I was running a hematocrit of about twenty then -because of the Chloromycetin), or just because it decided to happen to me. I tend to think it was because of the first two factors. It lasted a couple of days. In any case, they stuck me into the "Psych Ward" for a couple of months! Nifty!
Needless to say, given my history and parentage, it scared me badly. They didn't ever have to let me out of there! I became super meticulous- I made sure I showered every morning and kept my room neater than anyone ever did, as these seemed to be my "keepers" measures of sanity.
My ankle was still healing, and casted, (I had a full-leg cast for over four months). I had put on a lot of weight in the hospital- so when I found out they were thinking about discharging me, I went on a four or six week fast to lose enough weight to fit my uniforms, (I have done this several times in my life, and it doesn't seem to damage my health.). I think they realized that I was more delirious than psychotic right away- I'm not sure, as nobody ever told me. I also think they were rather embarrassed about the whole comedy of errors-- I almost died from a broken ankle! All in all, though, I respect those people- they were caring and decent. Mainly I had bad luck! (Hospitals are not sure things!)
So here I was, fresh out of the hospital, skinny enough to fit into my uniform, barely able to walk, (it wasn't supposed to hurt-- they keep saying that, and it still does). I "hopped" back to
I was lucky enough to run into a really decent personnel officer who pulled several strings to get me assigned to a "Basic Laboratory Technician" school at the post- which had already started a week or so before. I got into the fourteen week course, worked really hard, (mostly against my forgetful nature- I had to develope systems so as not to kill anyone), and graduated as "Honor Graduate". The people at that school also pulled some strings and got me into the advanced, fifty week school which started two weeks before the other one ended- so for two weeks I was taking both concurrently.
The courses were O.K.- some parts were interesting- e.g. Parasitology, and the rest were routines to be perfected so as not to hurt the patients who would depend upon me. (The actual theories of the rest, e.g. bacteriology, chemistry, etc.- which could have been interesting, are not covered in such a course except in a very pragmatic way.)
Oh, yeah. I fell madly in love for the first time in my life! Her name was
I won't speculate on her motives, as I really don't have enough information- but as soon as I wanted her, (honorably), and told her so, , she distanced herself completely from me. Maybe I was in love with her eyes! Isn't that silly? But, in a way, not so silly- they were a focus for a world I had never imagined before -I would have died for her!
I also found a manual and spiritual capability for music in me at this time that I had never had before- I played Chopin for her as I had never played it before. How young I was- probably comparable to the average 13 or 14 year old. Maybe she knew this! I won't make excuses for her,- and I won't praise her, nor will I fault her-- I just really never knew her.
It hurt horribly! My spirit was torn in ways I didn't know were possible. I walked the streets of
I tried, though, actually,- to commit suicide. I took what I thought to be a potent poison, and sat down by a riverbank to die, peacefully and lucidly, I hoped.
Guess what? I sat there for a while trying to compose myself. My mind became lucid and calm as it hadn't been in years. The compelling logic came to me that if I died then, I would never have a chance to serve, to help or to try to complete what I had started. The exact crystallization wasn't quite like that-- more like-- if I didn't die, I might never accomplish my grand scheme, but if I did die, I surely wouldn't. The purely logical quality of the thought is hard to tell- it wasn't so much a thought as it was a "flavor"!
I wasn't afraid at all- strange. I did go back to the barracks and got the help of a friend there, (it's more complicated than that but that's the gist of it). Strange thing here- when I could see that she wasn't aware of my agony and my risk and my danger, (how could she have known)- then I was freer! Somehow my chosen one should have known! (There was a large feeling of predestination in all this.)
I finished the school, (honor graduate again), lost my virginity (mostly in anger at her) in a Mexican brothel, (she was very plain, but she also taught me something about reality and honesty), went home on leave, and went off to
I bought a little green Fiat 850 convertible, (the "green hornet"), the first new car I'd ever owned, and drove first to
I was transferred out- and assigned to
I was assigned to the 406th Med. Lab. at
When I was there for about two months, "Bampagu", the world's fair, took place in
God that felt good! I think I covered about eighty miles the first day- this through the mountains of Hakone, (by
My language skills were at about the four or five year old level, but they got me around. (I knew about 100 kanji, and could read the kana-- or rather, sound them). A young man I met in ///////? invited me to stay with his family that night- and I did.
The next day, I bicycled along the coast- into the tail end of a typhoon- I was in low gear on the dead flat, but still made good time overall. I left my fully loaded bicycle on the beach while I swam-- that's the way
One of these days, since I had already covered so many miles, and was still feeling very strong, - I thought I'd take a lunch break. I had a basket of noodles, ("saru soba"), and one of those enormous Japanese beers. I would not recommend this for any bicyclist! I don't think I covered more than ten miles after this when I had to find a place to stay- I had absolutely no more strength!
I got to
I did a lot of traveling around
My language skills improved rapidly for about six months, but then I lost interest in the realization that my totally irrational hope that I might find a people more decent, more human than my own-- just didn't make sense. This had been the real basis of my motivation. Nor had my observation supported it. I can't really fault the Japanese: they have some very strong points, but they have some very petty ones as well.
I returned to the states in the summer of 1971 and "ETS'd" from the army in
I got a part time, night job in a medical laboratory, rented an "apartment", (converted motel), right across the street from the university-- and I met Chris!
She worked in one of the hospitals where I picked up specimens. I had absolutely no money left so that I couldn't ask her out. (One month's rent, security deposit, car insurance, etc.- totally wiped out the "ETS money" from the army!). So I hit up my supervisor for a week's advance, and found out how much the Van Cliburn concert tickets would be.
I looked kind of weird at this time- I was trying to grow back my beard, and had only a few weeks invested in it, but she consented to come -brave girl. Afterwards, we had dinner and drove high into the
I brought her home at some ungodly hour in the morning and got the "death look" from her grandma, (a wonderful lady, it turned out.)
My sequence is probably out on some of this, but I think I invested the rest of my money, (all of it), in some yellow roses and a card to tell her what I thought of her. I was very much in love. She was and is the most loving and the most compassionate human being I have ever met in my life! In some ways she is also the most real. She is an actual genius in reality. She may also be a saint in the real sense, (Shaw would have understood this -saints usually don't have peaceful lives, and are not easy to live with), but a very insecure, confused one.
On our second date, we drove up route one. I will not anywhere here attempt to describe Chris, as I am not capable of doing that- nor do I want to as this is personal between us. This is an illustrative situation, though. She packed this ENORMOUS picnic basket - five or six kinds of exotic cheese, special loaves of bread, wines, etc. - only a Berkeleyite could appreciate this! (She told me later that she would have packed more but a friend advised her "not to overwhelm me"). We had a wonderful day, (the hornet didn't want to start that night- "uh huh" she said), and at the end she gave me that basket to take home. She didn't know till much later that I actually lived on it for weeks as I was nearly flat broke.
The problem, though, was that I had no way of asking her out again until I got paid-- and that was weeks away. Chris solved that, however, by calling me and, upon my admitting the situation, she took me out for coffee.
I will not talk much more about Chris and me at this point. For one, it is the private and very special life between us. For another, it is still evolving. We were married that Christmas Eve- though we kept it a secret for several months to develope our own ground. (We finally had to get married again so that the family would believe us!) Her dad, (a wonderful man -Chris got some of her compassion from him), once came to visit her in "her" apartment and, finding me there, almost had an "apoplectic fit"!
I have never felt this way about any human being in my entire life. I feel very blessed to have found her-- we have had an unbelievably wonderful life, at least I think so. We have had truly terrible times also, but maybe that is the balance of life. I would not trade it for any other existence at all.
On other fronts, I "bombed" out of
We have just now, 1991, emerged from that time. We are basically on a marginal level now, but we have a chance to put our lives back together. I have, for the last year, almost, begun writing down the ideas I have formulated over the years. I think it is the best work I have ever done. I am submitting them for publication, now, - a very risky thing for me, and we will see what comes of it. I want to clear the enormous "knots" deep in my soul and put my life on a productive basis. I want to live in a simple and free correspondence to life.
On final thoughts, I believe that my creative processes come not, as I stated earlier, from the "TM-like" process I evolved, but rather, from the religious contemplative processes I developed young in my life. I would hope to free those faculties and be able to fly as I once did. This is my place of joy, and my place of fulfillment.
It is not a betrayal of my life to try to work out my ideas outside the educational system-- as they are essentially outside of it already. Whether I can truly do them justice or whether I can ever find any acceptance for them, I do not know-- but I will surely try. Whether I am truly a crazy man, or whether I possess a truth that is truly valuable, I cannot assess-- but pragmatically, I must proceed under the assumption of the latter.
They say that philosophers bloom late in life. Perhaps this is a philosophy.
One last note: do not get me wrong. I have no illusions that I have ever been "good". I respect goodness, and I value it, but I am not it. Every time I have tried to become that, I have become worse. Every time I have attempted bravery, I have become a bully. I truly understand Paul's words: "that which I desire not, that do I do, that which I desire, that do I not do...." This is an honest humility- as I truly believe it.
Perhaps, instead of being good, I can do good! This breaks the Koan of “goodness" and egotism!
Chenin-Blanc Yic-Mun-Fuung Iglowitz
Who taught me more about courage
than I ever thought possible!