K talked in the living room of his home, looking out through large windows over a steep hillside caught up in a natural tangle of urban woodland. Born 1946, New York.
When I was 13 or 14, my older brother was involved in the rock and roll movement. He wrote Elvis Presley’s first big hit, and he did some records himself. So as his younger brother, I was sort of peripherally involved in that stuff, and it wasn’t exactly the flower power aspect, but it was counter the standard culture. He would come back to the house and Bobby Darin would be there, Sal Mineo would be there, and they’d be playing poker downstairs. They weren’t as cool as James Dean, but they were on that type of path. It showed me that there was something different out there from what the parents were telling you.
I was the first of the baby boomers. Nowadays they start smoking pot when they’re 13 or 14. In those days, we didn’t. I didn’t do it til I got to college, probably 18. And I don’t recall my brother doing it at all. They did do alcohol. I don’t remember them doing any drugs. Later on, they must have, because Sal Mineo died of a drug overdose and Bobby Darin did some too. Anyway, I don’t know that it did for me as much as I would have liked it to, in retrospect.
There was always this tension because I was the third of four children. My older brother and older sister didn’t do anything in the way of education, and both of my parents were very strong into getting your education, the college degree. There’s seven years of difference between my older sister and myself, so it’s almost like two sets of children. I always to a certain extent stayed the course by staying in college and getting my degree. I guess I felt that getting an education would benefit me, so to not get it just because they said to get it would have been self-destructive. However, I worked my way through college by playing in a rock and roll band. I started out at Cornell University, and I played a band there. And that, at that time, early ‘60s, that was pretty radical. Strangely enough, it didn’t bother my parents. Maybe they were more liberal than others. My mother was actually sort of happy that I was going into music because that’s what she was in. She was an opera singer.
I was pre-med when I went to school, because that’s what I thought I should be. That didn’t work out, and I decided I was going to do what I wanted to do. Still within an educational venue, but I was going to do it.
At Cornell, we did marches for individual freedom in general – the right to speak your mind on whatever you wanted to speak your mind on, not be censured in certain areas from saying things. Still, at that point in time, you couldn’t go to the dean or sit in the dean’s office or do a protest or something like that and talk about things, except according to their agenda. So it was fairly tight. Myself and some of the people I hung out with – we protested things we felt affected our personal freedom, freedom to move around, freedom to speak, or whatever.
And when I moved to Illinois in ‘66 and went to school there, I had changed totally. I went into creative writing. That was more a personal expression. I was still doing the college thing, but doing it in a way I wanted to do it. And it’s like – in the ‘50s there were beatniks and stuff doing all sorts of different things, but I mean, for our generation, we were the first who started experimenting with these various means of self expression, drugs, whatever you want to call them. We didn’t take what would now seem to be giant steps. Then, even just smoking marijuana seemed like a real giant step.
I was probably a little bit slower to develop. I was in Washington D. C. two or three times. I was there for the Martin Luther King rally, the march of Washington. And I was there a couple of times for various types of protest against the war, and I remember, we marched in the streets toward the White House, and the police started throwing tear gas. I was at the very end of that, so I didn’t get affected that greatly. It stunk, but I didn’t get that much because I was further removed in the area I was marching in from the area where the tear gas was being thrown. We just scattered. There was nobody who rushed the police, nobody was throwing rocks – it wasn’t violent. All the ones I was part of were like that. It was more of a moral statement.
If you had to draw a journey, I would say it started out as an individual expression, but then there were certain things that seemed like it was more than an individual expression. It was more like a national expression. We were doing it as individuals, but it seemed like there was this moral imperative out there that had to be changed.
I don’t think that I was outraged per se. I wasn’t happy with things. I felt more frustration than anything. It was like, here we are exposing this great truth, and you’re not listening. I’m not a violent person. I would never have retaliated. I never felt that. That’s one of the reasons I went to the Martin Luther King rally, because I felt so strongly about the approach he was taking. Here’s a guy who was getting jailed and getting rocks thrown at him and he didn’t retaliate with a fist. He retaliated with words. To be honest about it, I mean, maybe my upbringing was different from a lot of people, but those ideas were not foreign to me. I was raised with those ideas. And I’m Jewish, so being raised in a Jewish household, those ideas are part of that ethic.
Getting into doing marijuana and other things, really for me, it was more – I mean, it was nice, everybody was doing it – it dissolved these artificial barriers that society sets up for you, if you buy into it, they can get you uptight. And of course, one of the things was sexuality – everybody was exploring that. But there were other things also. For me, probably in graduate school, I did more experimentation – that was when I came to Arkansas. And that was more of a spiritual quest. Something was missing, and I tried to find it. That’s not the answer, you don’t find it in that, but sometimes doing some of those things, it breaks down some of your inhibitions and – I’ve even talking about self-inhibitions – it allows you to explore inner parts of yourself that maybe you would not have had the courage to do if that hadn’t been available.
I experimented with psychedelics, and I don’t know if I realized it at the time, but looking back, I know that part of my life was a spiritual exploration. And I continue to do that now. I think, once you’re on a spiritual path, you don’t stop. But it changed. The purpose of taking it, the object of taking it, the results of taking it changed from the mid ‘60s to the early ‘70s. For me, it was spiritual, which is obviously individual. And at a certain point in time, I just stopped. It was like, boom. Don’t need this anymore. I don’t know whether that’s because what happened was that there was a door unlocked and once it’s unlocked and you start down that road, you don’t need to unlock the door anymore – but to me, that’s sort of what it was. There was a time when I didn’t need it, didn’t want it. I think it was part of a journey of self discovery and spirituality.
I stayed here in the Ozarks because I liked the life. I’ve told people many times, you can live a very fast-paced hectic life right here in Fayetteville, but if you do it, you do it because you choose to do it, whereas back in New York, if you didn’t live a mile a minute, people right behind you would be running you over. And I didn’t need that. I never did. It’s interesting, because when I say I was brought up in New York, most people assume that’s a very fast-paced life. But when I was raised on Long Island growing up, six to eight, that age range, I only had two houses in a half-mile radius. When I came down here – a lot of time, when people move from big cities, at least in the past, it’s really tough to adjust. I didn’t have any problem adjusting. I always thought I was a country kid anyway. I always thought the place I would want to live would be a small town with a university. And it didn’t occur to me until a couple of years ago that that’s where I was.
There are wonderful people here and you can find wonderful people anywhere, you can find nasty people anywhere. That’s a part of it, but more than that, there’s the university, there’s continual intellectual stimulus of a university-type nature. But there’s these marvelous rivers and acres and acres of woods, nature surrounds you. I don’t like the development. It’s necessary, but.
As a kid, when I was upset, I would go for walks in the woods, and I would talk to the trees. I mean, I didn’t go up and shake hands, but I talked to whatever was out there. That was my way of communing with God. As a kid, before all the societal expectations and all the norms and parameters and strait jackets it puts on you, before that happens, as a kid, you’re much more pure, more innocent in your thought processes. You don’t think anything about going into the woods and talking because you think that’s where God is. For me, that’s where it always was. And I think the whole journey, taking the drugs – and I was never heavily into any of that scene – It’s funny, but what it does is it winds up putting you back into a state of mind that you’d been in when you were a kid. Kids know that God exists and kids’ lives are not empty, at least from my perspective. I mean, they may not have friends, there’s other things, but that’s not an emptiness they have to search for. Later, they start searching, in their late teens or early twenties, because it’s been beaten out of them. I think that all of the stuff our generation went through was an attempt to get back to more innocence, and all those things we used were just instruments to get it back.
I had never thought about politics until a friend of mine said they thought I would be a good candidate for serving on the __. I gave it some thought and thought, well, I think I’d like to do that. It was a way for me to have my voice heard and the ideas that I have heard. And you know, government is pretty simple. We may make it seem complicated, but it’s pretty simple. The people cast their ballot, elect who they’re going to elect, the people who are elected then go and try to represent their constituency as much as possible. But people are electing officials because of the ideas they espouse, at least, if they’re espousing any ideas. I understand that may be a little idealistic. Certainly, on a local level, you have the opportunity to ask people what they feel about various ideas. If you like his ideas, you vote for him.
I thought my ideas in general, my views of the world, the things I thought were important, I felt they should be represented. So I ran and was lucky enough to get elected. But I think what happens is – I was in real estate at the time, so a lot of the real estate community knew me. My ideas hadn’t changed, in terms of the environment, in terms of – I built this house here. When you build a house, you have to a least clear a space where the house goes. So there’s always this juggling act that you’re performing. But I never went in and bulldozed. As a matter of fact, we changed the position of the house in order to save trees. That’s my orientation. So like, you’re going to build – fine, build. But build in the context of nature and situate your house – no big deal to change a house a foot or two, so you’re protecting nature as much as possible. And I only say that because I was on the __ for one term, and of course during that term we had the incinerator debacle, and as strange as it may seem, as an environmentalist, I thought, from the info I had gathered, that that actually would be the better environmental alternative than what we were doing then and what we continue to do now. It may have been the lesser of many evils.
I’m very much in favor of helping the less fortunate, and I did start a program, with the help of R., called "You Can," where the city was funding scholarships for less fortunate individuals. And I tried to get them to commit to a five-year, fifty-thousand dollar program. They did commit to the idea but they only committed the funds for one year. After I was off the board, that fell apart. And I proposed the tree ordinance, which got really watered down by the time it got passed. And the reason I’m mentioning these things is that there’s no reason you can’t have economic development and build houses and still do it with regard to the natural surroundings. And the reason I mention those specific things is that when I ran for re-election, which I thought about not doing because of the political climate, because of the incinerator, and I knew it would be real tough. But I also felt that for all those people who voted for me, it would be unfair for me not to try. I had some of the people who elected me initially probably voted against me because they didn’t like the fact that I wrote the tree ordinance, that I was environmental. There were some people who didn’t like the fact that I wanted to try to create a fund to help poor people in the community.
I can even look back on that experience now and realize that everybody should serve in a political situation for a year or two. Once you’ve done it, you realize – when you sit in that seat, the power gets corrupting. If you don’t have that spiritual center – I mean, even just at a local level, you can find yourself not sticking to your convictions. You don’t want to lose your position of power.
I was not in favor of term limits because that’s what the voting public is supposed to do. So we’ve essentially said that we’re not intelligent enough to vote for the right people or get people out of office. So we’ve called ourselves dummies, essentially. However, the one thing that it does do is, if you know you’re only going to be there for six or eight years, or whatever, certainly at least in the last few years, you don’t have to worry about being re-elected. You don’t have to worry about losing a position of power. You would hope that would mean it would be easier to stand on your principles. But I think, probably, I fear, that people in the state house, when their time comes, they’ll try to move up to the state senate, because those people will be moving on as well. It may not be that way. Part of all this is that I don’t think that we as a population want to hear people who stick strongly to their convictions.
The ‘60s was an ‘other person’ orientation. It wasn’t a ‘me’ orientation. The times I grew up with all the counterculture stuff, it was like, our generation took a stance. The interesting thing is that it was generational, and that to me was really interesting. It was like we were all saying, here’s this idea – the idea is that you don’t care about just yourself, you care about other people as well. That might seem to be not a radical idea, but it was the way our society was behaving at the time. I’m not blaming society for that behavior. Most of my generation’s parents were hard working people who were trying to recover from the Depression, World War II, and the Korean War, and they wanted a better life for their children. They thought the best way to do that was to go out and work your buns off and make as much money as you can and not worry about other things. Worry about that first. And I think that’s good.
Our generation was an ‘other person’ generation, how can I help my fellow person, how can I go out into the world and help make the world a better place. So for me, those are the characteristics that I carry with me still. I went through that and I still try and do that. There obviously have been many generations that have come after us. They call them the X generation, the ‘me’ generation, or the ‘this’ generation. I don’t know why this is, but somehow, our generation created a stamp that is a recognizable, lasting stamp. These other generations haven’t really done that. It’s more of a temporary fad. And maybe they couldn’t after what we’ve done. I don’t know. It’s an interesting thing to me.
Our generation – I guess part of the reason was – it said look, these moral positions are not right. They should be this way. Maybe that’s judgmental on our part; obviously, it is. But if it didn’t strike a chord with the general populace, then we wouldn’t be talking today. Whatever assessment we said, whatever moral values we said were bad, whatever ones we espoused that were good, made a lasting impression. And I don’t see any generation take a big moral stance like that. Maybe that’s the difference. They wear nose rings, tongue rings, whatever, color their hair. And that’s fine. I’m not judging that negatively whatsoever. Whatever gets you through. Whatever allows you to find yourself.
There were world shaking events that happened during our generation, between ‘60 and ‘70. Both Kennedy assassinations, Martin Luther King’s assassination, the Vietnam war – it made it easier for us to express moral outrage and stay coalesced in that expression. There were events around which we could gather substance. We weren’t as cynical then. There were more wrongs that needed to be righted. There don’t seem to be as many wrongs that need to be righted. And that’s good. That’s wonderful. That’s what you work for. You can’t complain about that. But our generation – it filled our lives with purpose. For the generations that follow – I look at my kids – I have a 22-year-old girl and a 19-year-old boy. The girl – it seems she knows what she wants. The 19-year-old has no clue. For us that emptiness was filled in by this expression of outrage.
They know I experimented with drugs. They’re old enough now, so that if they asked me and wanted to know greater details, I would tell them. I don’t know that they’re aware of my work to right social wrongs. I’m not even sure they even care. Not that they don’t care. It’s just, all of those past experiences are who I am today. And who I was as their father. They look at me as who I am. They know I’m a staunch environmentalist. They know I care about trying to help other people. They know that if you’re totally in it for yourself, then that’s not a right attitude. They know I’m spiritual. All these things they know about me and see, and I think they accept – and accept for themselves as well. I see them as people who care about other people, people who are concerned about the environment.
My daughter hasn’t done drugs – maybe once. My son – yeah, he’s smoked marijuana probably since he was 14. I don’t think he does it very much anymore. At that age, recreational use is all it can be. In my opinion. Now over the next couple of years he may do what I did and use it to help in a spiritual quest and then all of a sudden, just boom, stop. But I don’t know that.
The world obviously still has problems. The problems change from generation to generation, and while the problems may not be as much with morality – there’s always going to be some of that. It may not be the moral abyss we felt we were going through in the ‘60s. I think you want your children to understand, at least from your perspective, to understand what you feel needs to be done. The environment still needs to be protected. I mean, we’re doing better, but for me the bottom line has always been, if you’ve got no environment, you got no business. So, it’s like, it’s not business comes first and then try to work the environment within a business and economic framework. I understand people have to make a living, and the economic engine has to continue to run. But the bottom line to me is that if you have no environment, there is no business, there’s no economic engine, there’s nothing.
The way our society works is, you instill it in your children. I instill it in my children, hopefully they instill it in their children and at some point in time, there are enough people who have that as a consciousness that – it’s like the hundredth monkey. Then the general consciousness is of that ilk. Then it gets done.
My kids are good kids. I think most people are good. You know, you wake up in the morning, you can frown or smile, be negative or positive. I chose to be positive. I don’t see the sense of being negative. That’s not to say I’m not negative at times and don’t have negative moments. We all do. But my general sense is positive.