Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Interview conducted at urban hillside residence of subject, born in 1949 - New Orleans.

When I was high school senior, I had a friend named Jack Erskin, and he was pretty well read. He turned me onto contemporary writers of the time who made me aware that something was about to happen - ‘67 in Shreveport, which was a little behind the coasts in terms of that movement. It didn’t really catch up to me until my freshman year in college -- my consciousness began to include that movement at about the same time I started smoking pot. War stuff, but it all seemed concurrent. The music - the Beatles were happening in a big way. I had an awareness of them when I was in high school - I remember it was a big deal to stay home from church one night to see them on Ed Sullivan, and of course, the music then was different. The music became more insightful and evocative later in their career. In college I was away from home for the first time, meeting people from all over the country, many of whom had been doing pot for years, and getting exposed to groups like the Velvet Underground -- and it was like, who are these guys. I’m just a little country boy from Shreveport, and I was being exposed to a lot of things I never knew was out there. Of course, that’s what’s going to college is supposed to be all about, and in that mix of things was drugs --- pot -- people who had smoked for awhile, and who taught me a new consciousness about my life, and an awareness of what was going on in the world.

Of course, there’s probably not anybody with a mind who—when they left home, no matter under what circumstances—didn’t begin to realize that what they thought the world consisted of was actually more than that, that there was a lot more out there. I mean, I was as parochial as the next guy, although I was a smart kid and thought I knew a lot. But it wasn’t just drugs and rock and roll, it was folk music, the New Christy Minstrels, poetry, long hair, a book called ‘been down so long it looks like up to me’ -- books that were at the edge of the literati movement of the time. I’d read it and think, shit, this is hot -- there’s something happening here. This is cool. I mean, a lot of it was ‘this feels good and I’m going to do it.’ I was a pretty straight kid -- I pledged Sigma Chi - and I was into it, but I was also getting high and listening to rock and roll and exploring the dark side of college and society. I had always figured my life would be wife, children, car, and job, without much thought about what those things would be or the nature of those things -- I had never even thought about it.

Another thing that happened at that time was that I got involved in theater -- started hanging out with theater people who were artists and maniacs. I went straight for this stuff that was distant from anything I’d ever done before. The war was an issue, but distant because I was a diabetic, and the draft thing was only an intellectual thing for me -- it wasn’t a personal issue. I saw that from the sidelines. I marched and wore my armband and threw rocks at the ROTC guys and I was angry about the impotence of us as young people in the political structure. One of the most amazing things that ever happened was my college roommate was married for the third time recently -- his dad who has been like a surrogate father of mine -- we were talking at the rehearsal dinner and he said, “You know, when you and Robin were in school, Millie and I were so outraged about the way you were behaving and the things you were saying, and what an affront it was to us and the things we believed, and you know it took me awhile to understand, but you were right!” It was kind of a justification long after the fact.

I have three stepchildren -- the youngest is into drugs and really rebelling, and at 15, I say she’s too young -- but I’m not unaware of the parallels between these children and us who did the same thing. I’ve learned that it’s not the act, it’s the propriety of the act against an age. It’s one thing to smoke pot when you’re 18, it’s another when you’re 14. It’s a very different situation, and it isn’t that it’s wrong, it’s just not the right time. It fucks you up in major way, not only with loss of ambition and loss of memory, but during a child’s development. It’s a mistake to introduce substances like alcohol and drugs that screws up their development.

The events I remember from my growing up years -- during my first semester at college I met this guy Tom a writer, and precocious kid. His parents had money. He declared that school was a farce, meaningless, a bunch of old farts trying to cram information into your head, and the only real way to learn was to experience life first hand. I’m hearing this from the 14-yr-old now. Tom and I decided we were going to quit school -- we’d go home at Christmas, tell our parents we were going to quit, buy a VW bus and travel across the country and work at odd jobs and write the great American novel or something. I was looking for expression for things that I didn’t even know what they were. One of the things that doing drugs has made me aware of is that there is another life apart from and in addition to the one that we live everyday. Acid really did this -- it’s the same life, but it kind of has different rules. I became aware of this other reality that I got to create, that was shaped by my dreams and my intuition and my sense of myself -- my sense that I was somebody who had something important to do. And so a turning point for me was going home for Christmas and telling my parents what I was going to do with Tom. My father set me down and called Tom’s parents and within a few minutes, the whole thing was undone. As I remember, Tom had failed to mention this to his parents. Two lessons -- be careful what you believe about people and don’t ever underestimate the power of your parents to interfere with what you want to do.

So I went back to school/ The following summer I went to LA to visit my sister. I lived in downtown LA summer of ‘68, worked at the LA Herald Examiner as an advertising writer, wrote a weekly column of drivel about products. I was around some very cool people in LA, and at the end of the summer, I thought ‘gee I could stay or go back to school...’ I went back, thinking it was the right thing to do, but halfway thru the semester I quit and hitchhiked back to CA thinking I would finally do what I wanted to do. Had some delicious experience and visions of America out there on the road, met very interesting people, got to LA, moved in with a girl I had met before, but couldn’t find a job. So I lay around the house and smoked pot most of the day while she worked, got angry and frustrated and wasn’t producing anything, and got to be unhappy.

I went back to Shreveport a few months later, and got into school there as a theater major, and kind of had an understanding that I needed to get a degree. Without a degree, you’re not much. You may not know what you’re going to do when you get it, but I began to buy into the idea that you’re more with one than without it. I hung out with some extraordinary people, very talented and intellectually stimulating people. We created an imaginary society on an island called Dominica down in the southern Carribean, a virtual country where I was the minister of culture and this other guy was the minister of health. We wanted an alternate but parallel universe that had all the stuff we wanted but none of the stuff we didn’t want. We wanted friendships, relationships that were close and intimate and sustaining. We wanted to get high because it helped build our sense of community. We envisioned an alternate economy. It was a peace love kind of thing. We’re going to try again, but our premise is going to be different, it won’t be capitalism exactly. It’ll be an enlightened kind of capitalism -- but not to this extent. This was a transforming experience [hands me the Whole Earth Catalog] -- what a great thing this was -- it’s a trip. I’ve moved it dozens of times. In a way, we were trying to whole earth catalog our way into this fantasy -- thinking through civilization from a ground zero kind of perspective. Like ok, not only can you do this in the way you want to, but you’ve got to do other things -- have an economy, an infrastructure, a lot of stuff. In all the time that we talked about it and made up stories about it, it was a place we thought would be a cool place to be.

In my senior year I married a classmate, and after graduation we moved to the country into a house in the middle of a cotton field. We didn’t want to live in the city, wanted out on the land, listened to John Denver. We grew pot , had animals, but it wasn’t an attempt to be a self sustaining homestead -- we worked in town. But then, pretty soon, it was like, ok, what’s next? So I decided to go to graduate school. We moved to Dallas -- and all along I’m trying to find something to do that I liked. Grad school gave the potential to have credentials and work in something that I knew something about and have some fun, which was theater. So I did that and ended up with a job in Tulsa in the theater as a business manager -- and found myself pretty far away from what had attracted me to theater in the first place. I did that six months, hated it, got recruited as a marketing guy in real estate, and started making more money at that.

Children have not ever been a clear goal for me. I’ve been a diabetic since I was six. I guess I assumed that having children was not necessarily in the best interest of the gene pool. Plus I’ve never had a strong desire to do it. It’s kind of ironic that I’ve been in the lives of three different children in the times of my marriages.

We were making plenty of money but not real happy, so we divorced, I quit my job and went looking for Dominica again. What I see looking back is that I do something, do it intensely and well, and then I start looking around saying is this all there is? And then I quit doing it. I used to think I had to pretend to be successful, pretend to be a businessman or pretend to be conservative, or whatever. My business deals a lot in illusory kinds of things, perceptions, and so for a long time I operated believing that people needed to perceive me in a certain way for me to get what I wanted. And I operate that way even now. But now I realize that I have to bring some of what I am to what I do or I end up feeling separated and if I do that I run the risk of breaking off again, saying what the fuck am I doing, I’m not getting anything out of this, where am I? And here I go again. Somehow the wisdom has come to me that I’ve got to bring enough of who I am to what I do to feel that I’m there, because if I don’t I end up feeling empty and cheated.

I have a live and let live attitude toward people. At my heart, I’m a peace love kind of guy. I want people to get what they want, to be fulfilled and be happy. I think there are ways to do that, ways to live life that are enormously satisfying and rewarding. In my dealings with people, I’ve tried to -- instead of saying what I think they should do, I’ve tried to ask questions like, is this what you want? And validate them in their own journey.

I was in the bathroom yesterday morning getting ready for work, and I thought my hair was getting pretty long, starting to flip up in the back, and I thought, man, I’d really like to let my hair grow long, and then I thought, no I can’t do that, I’m in contact in my work with people who look at me and judge the whole organization, and so I’ve decided to present the best image I can, one that is responsible and professional. When I don’t have to do that anymore, my hair will be in a ponytail. There’s still this part of me that wants to make sure that people recognize me and that they know I’m there, and there is a part of me that wants to throw my hair back over my shoulder and say ‘fuck you’. I think as much as I can I try to do that, even without my hair.

I do believe in preserving the planet. I believe that if we don’t do that then we should be damned because if we don’t live to see what we’ve done, our children will. There is life after we’re gone. If you value that, you’ve got to have some consciousness about the world and about how to treat it. Some people [of the ‘60s generation] started movements and began organizations that will help ensure that we don’t miss the point, and some people have consciously chosen a path to raise my consciousness about those issues on a regular and ongoing basis so that I don’t forget those things. After awhile, making money is just a way to keep score of your own accomplishment - you don’t need all that much to survive. Beyond a certain point, it doesn’t mean very much. That’s been a revelation.

There are three or four environmental things that I support -- Save the Whales, Greenpeace, Nature Conservancy. I give to social issues -- there are so many people in need it’s unconscionable to not give something. I’m challenged by race issues -- I’m a southern boy, grew up in the south -- I’m puzzled by the whole racial dynamic. It’s that bigotry has two sides now. There isn’t just white people who think black people are stupid, it’s that there is a lot of that coming from the other side -- blacks think Koreans are awful and Jews thinks the blacks are idiots. I have a friend who says that racism is economic, and that what we really don’t like are people who aren’t as well off as we are. I like to think of myself not as a racist or not as anything but a Christian kind of person when it comes to people of different color, but I don’t have many black friends, and my life doesn’t include black people on a regular basis. Yes, we’re different -- but then we’re not. We’re all pink on the inside, we’re all children of God, we’re all part of the same family, and it’s important to remember that. Those people have children, they worry about money, they worry about issues, they have kids who are in trouble, their moms get sick and die, there’s nothing that happens in my life that doesn’t happen in theirs, and yet I feel a real distance from people of color. It troubles me, because I feel impure, like I’m somehow not right. I’m real confused by issues of race and equality. I’m a good liberal and so I believe we’re all the same, it’s just that I look around my life I see some kinds of hidden bigotry and racism that worries me. I don’t like hillbillies -- guys without teeth that chew tobacco and have sex with their children - I don’t like them. Here’s something new: I have noticed a distinct lack of patience for people who do certain things - parents who don’t take care of their children, fathers particularly who divorce their children’s mother and don’t support their children. They seem to be prevalent in Arkansas.

I continue to think in a lot of the same ways I thought when I was in my 20s, and I’m almost 50. I know it won’t be a perfect world, but somehow I think if I keep acting like it -- I grew up in a real Christian ethic kind of a family, and what we grew up believing was that if you do the right thing, and you honestly try, then good things will happen for you. It’s crazy, because that’s no guarantee at all that good things will happen. It’s just been my good luck. I think if you keep trying and do the right things and treat people like they’re human beings like you, then God will smile on you and you’ll be happy.

I think many of us have failed as parents because we forgot that childhood has to include real specific black and white rights and wrongs. Long before they were ready for the nuance of the gray, we’ve told our children, well, sometimes that’s right and sometimes that’s wrong -- when they’re six years old. It’s way too confusing. You can’t. My friend has this great expression about parenting -- he says, ‘what I’ve learned is you can’t be an existentialist and raise a child. You can’t act out your basic existential view of the world and raise a child. You have to be definite, you have to black, you have to be white, and you have to teach them here’s this side of the road, here’s this side of the road. You get off the road, you get fucked up. Your job is to stay in the middle - stay out of the ruts. This over here is bad, don’t do that. And for all those who took classes like situational ethics in college, that’s a perfectly plausible and meritorious discussion to have with an adult, but it’s completely out of place for the children.’ We forgot that somewhere along the way. I worry about kids B--’s age [14] who don’t get the right and wrong -- it doesn’t mean anything -- it’s all relative to what they want -- and regrettably that’s mostly the kind of kid I see. I don’t think that’s all there are.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


We traveled to subject’s remote retreat and sat in the open evening air, looking east across a wide natural meadow toward a wooded mountainside.

For breakfast we would have what we called bread cereal, where we’d tear up bread and put on a little cinnamon. I loved it. It’s comfort food, even today. But my mother remarried when I was eight, and we became middle class, even upper middle class. I went to catholic schools all my life. Right out of high school I entered a monastery. I was there for a couple of years. I was in pursuit of spirituality and salvation. I lived at a monastery in Santa Fe with other young men who had become brothers or who would become brothers. I spent a lot of time reading, contemplating, questioning and basically I got to a point where I thought, hey, all this is bullshit. What the fuck am I doing here? There was a book I read, Narcissus and Goldmun (Herman Hesse) that really affected me. I had an older brother who was my mentor who was the intellectual type. We had a Narcissus and Goldmund type of relationship. We stayed connected throughout his life. So, I really related to the book. The book played a big role in me leaving the monastery. I left to experience the pleasures of the world, and since I wasn’t sure if I believed in God anymore -- I was an agnostic -- I thought, well, I should at least experience the pleasures of the world. I remember during that time thinking that entering the brothers was like my real conception into being and that leaving the brothers was like my birth into personage. I entered on my 18th birthday, and I was exposed to a lot of radical ideas in the brothers. A lot of the brothers were radical, on the war, and on religion -- When I think about the values of the ‘60s, it was truly questioning authority. And the brothers -- you took a vow of obedience, but there were a lot young brothers questioning everything. Then I went to St. Louis where other brothers, some who were still in and some who had left and started a school for delinquent boys.

I had gone to visit one of the brothers who had left, in Wash DC, and I arrived there when they were protesting the Vietnam War, closing down streets -- I had never really thought about this before, about the war and what was going on. I was up there with all these people who were protesting, getting up and making speeches -- I wound up being tear-gassed -- my whole world view fell apart then. I thought, what’s going on? Before that, I hadn’t thought about it. I had given a speech in high school about why we were in Vietnam, why it was necessary. I got my info out of a Reader’s Digest -- all of a sudden I’m going oh my gosh, and that’s when I really started questioning -- I couldn’t defend it any more -- I remember going home to New Orleans -- all my friends and neighbors had thought of me as this nice young man who had gone off to the monastery -- I had been well thought of, made good grades -- came back with long hair, beard, wrote letters to the editor about why we needed to get out of Vietnam.

Religion played a big role in my life -- I went to Catholic schools for 14 years, had been an altar boy, and gone to a monastery -- and some of those beliefs, when you think about it, put reason to it, didn’t make sense. I read a book called These Questions Mock Me, which made me question the whole basis of religion. ( Well, sometimes I think I threw the baby out with the bath water, because when I discarded religion, I threw out spirituality with religion.) Later on, I realized that a lot of things like intuition, and insights that are instantaneous without a lot of reasoning behind it, are real but not always reasonable. I think one of the things that came out of the ‘60s was questioning authority. You just don’t accept everything the government tells you, your religion tells you -- you have to figure it out for yourself. Just don’t be a blind follower. Take personal responsibility.

I remember working in St Louis with the brothers -- we were the only white people in the neighborhood. That was an eye opener. Everyday was like a month of experiences, just seeing how the other side of America lives. I mean, I was aware of black people in ghettos, but now I lived in the middle of a ghetto trying to survive. Six months or so. Not that long but it was like living in a foreign country compared to white middle class suburbia.

Trying not to capitalize on other people’s labor – not exploiting the masses -- that was another ‘60s value I adopted. I quickly got another perspective once I started my own business. I had started a painting business, by myself. Then somebody else wanted to work with me, and then I had several people working with me, and we had the attitude that we would all split the money evenly. But I was the one buying the materials, the one with the ladder and brushes. I was the one who went out after work and made the bids to get the jobs. -- I was doing more work than anybody else, but everybody expected to share equally. So there was this argument about what’s really work -- like if I’m going out getting the jobs, is that really work? They had this attitude that it’s only work when you’re painting. They thought they should be paid more than me. So finally, I decided I was being exploited. I told everybody you get so much an hour, and if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it and I’ll find somebody else. I learned that what’s fair is not always real clear.

I went to the University of North Dakota, in Grand Forks, because I read an article in Atlantic Monthly. It was an experimental school with no grades and no tests. It was quite an experience to go to a school where you literally created your own education. You could have slept for two years and probably get a degree, because everybody had an advisor, and you might find one who would say, yeah, that’s cool. In fact for my first semester -- the advisor said, what do you want to do? I said, well, I’d really like to see what it would be like to live by my wits alone -- just take off on the road with my backpack and thumb my way around the country and see where I end up, where I go, what I do, how I survive. See what happens, go for it. I did that for six months. That was really interesting -- I left with about $40, and came back with around $30 six months later. I wound up speaking at two universities as a guest lecturer. I remember being really excited about being able to tell my advisor that. I talked to an education class at the University of Kentucky -- and talked to a graduate class at the University of Maryland. UND had a reputation around the country for being experimental with how they were approaching education -- I was getting a degree in elementary education, and I was traveling around the country and getting credit. But the way I got to be a guest lecturer was that I was picked up by professors while I was hitching, and they would ask, well, what are you doing, and I would say, you’re not going to believe this, but I’m earning 22 semester hours. They were education Profs, and they wanted me to talk to their classes. Sometimes a carpenter picked me up, and I’d help him work. I had some destinations in mind, but sometimes I’d go where the ride would take me. Those were different times. What I remember was that people took care of me. This old lady in Mississippi picked me up, saying “honey what are you having for supper,” and I said, “I don’t know,” and she took me to her house and fed me and gave me $10 to make sure I had breakfast the next morning. Those sorts of things happened a lot. Amazing things. Early ‘70s, and more people were doing that.

I stayed at North Dakota and got a degree in elementary education and taught for a year, but my girlfriend left me for a poet and it broke my heart. All I could do was cry for a couple of years. I went back to New Orleans in a real funk about my life. Then a bunch of us city folks decided we wanted to get some land out in the country. We sat down and figured all the things we wanted -- an area with four seasons, we didn’t want to be too far away from New Orleans, we wanted to be near a university town, maybe bordering on national forest, maybe 300 acres of land. Then with all of our requirements one couple went off to scout for us. But after the first five days they decided it wasn’t much fun, too confusing trying to see so much, and then one day, J called and said “We found this place in Arkansas that has all our requirements but one. It’s pretty nice.” I wanted to know what requirement was missing. J said the land was 150 acres not 300. For some unknown reason I couldn’t accept 150 acres. “ No, that’s not enough. It has to be 300 acres.” J paused for a while and then asked, “ Do you know how big an acre is.” “No, I actually have no idea, but we need 300 of um.” Well, 150 acres is a lot. We bought it. I was such a city kid. Maybe I grew a tomato plant for a classroom project but that was it.

It was part of the Mother Earth News concept to be self sufficient, go to the country, live off the fat of the land -- society is crumbling, things are going to fall apart -- you had to have your five acres and independence. Lots of people were buying Ozark land -- it was cheap. We bought the 150 acres, with a house, barn, three creeks, a couple of ponds, an apple orchard -- for $38,000. There was a well, with electricity to it. Plus, it’s at the end of the road. No cars will pass in front of this field.

The first time I ever got drunk I was with the brothers at the monastery. The first time I ever got stoned I was in St. Louis, with brothers and ex-brothers, sitting around in this room all of us smoking, and I remember saying I don’t feel anything [and his arm is rising] and then oh my god, what’s this, and we all started laughing, rolling over. I think because of my experience of being stoned with the brothers, they tend to approach it as a spiritual experience. When I got out into society, a lot of people just wanted to get fucked up, and I always thought that was wrong, abusive. I really believed it was a spiritual thing. I still use it as a spiritual tool. It’s what brings me back to reality sometimes. And coming out here [to the land] is definitely a spiritual tool. When I’m absolutely stressed out or crazed -- I come out here and it slows me down. Coming out here, sitting out in the field for a couple of hours is great, At first I’m going, ok when I get back I need to take care of this and this, and I gotta do that, and tell this person that, and da ta da ta da ta, and about two hours later, I’m sitting there, and then it’s like oh look at those clouds, and then I forget all that stuff and leave it behind me. I can reach the point where I can say; I’m not going to worry about that for a while. Nature is pretty powerful. It’s a meditative place you can get that recharges your batteries and restores your soul. It is so important to me, that awareness. It gets you in touch with your soul, what your path is supposed to be. And that’s where the logic falls off. You just are, just being, you just know certain things, as opposed to trying to figure it out. I’m great at always trying to figure things out, plan things. A lot of people approach religion that way. Very legalistic, follow the law. There’s no room for spirituality. That’s the thing I rebelled against. You don’t even have to think. Someone’s already done that. Just follow the rules.

We were going to raise tomatoes when we came here. We planted three acres of tomatoes down there in that field. Somewhere along the line, we decided there must be something wrong with the tomatoes. We went to one of the old farmers out here. I’m sure he wondered what these young kids were down here doing, and he came and looked at our tomatoes and said, well, commercially, this is worth zero. He said, you young kids would do a lot better growing yourself some pot. This was one of the old back hill guys that we thought if he knew we smoked pot, he’d probably kill us. What was amazing to me during that time was how well accepted we were by our neighbors. One of the neighbors gave us a cow. Actually, we were talking about getting a cow and he said we could borrow his for a while to see if we really wanted one. We returned it a few months latter. The first winter, we were snowed in, and he came to the top of the hill and left us food. One of our guys had snow skis, and would go up to get the food. We couldn’t have made it without them. They would say how their kids were leaving, going to the city, and they were left alone. And here are these kids coming back to the country, and they were more than willing to share what they knew. Old Peewee would come down here and tell us about the trees, which trees we wanted to have around the house, which ones to cut. It was live and let live. They might have thought we looked weird, but shit they were real easy. Not what I expected. I thought of myself as a tolerant person but the truth was they taught me about tolerance.

We developed a network with other people who had moved here. We would have workdays when everybody would go to one farm and work for a day. It was great – the mid to late ‘70s --we helped clear land, work on their house, garden, -- my house had a roof-raising party. I can remember when I made a change from the ‘back to the land, live a simple life’ and believing everything was going to fall apart in society. People would always talk about what we were doing, and when things were going to fall apart -- things were supposed to fall apart soon, but whenever we heard any good news about the economy, we would get disappointed. That wasn’t supposed to happen. I didn’t want to live my life like this. Bitching that I don’t have enough money and upset when I would hear that the rest of the economy was recovering. There’s something wrong with this life view-- I can remember when I was having a conversations with some friends and we were discussing all the things we wanted to do with our land to prepare for the collapse. We all needed more money to do some of these things yet didn’t want the economy to improve. I can remember deciding I wanted the economy to improve and I wanted to make some more money.

In New Orleans I had been buying old houses, remodeling them, and then renting them or selling them. I had a reputation, doing it a few times, the bankers knew me -- I had some history there. I decided I’d go Fayetteville and see if I can find some houses, etc. -- I walked into the bank, to talk to a loan officer, and I felt so stupid -- I knew there was no way in the world this guy was going to lend me anything. He doesn’t care what I did in New Orleans -- I remember thinking I had cut off all my roots, no family, no one who knew me, -- I was up here and I was a nobody -- I’m never going to get money to go do this. What the hell am I going to do? I felt very insignificant and lost.

So I decided to use my teaching degree, but it was impossible to get an elementary teachers job in town because there were too many of them. I liked math and science, and I knew there was shortage of math and science teachers, so I went back to school and took some classes to get my certification in secondary math and science. I got a job. I had to make a living. I loved teaching, once I learned how to discipline. I was a popular teacher, known for being hard and strict and fair and funny, and they loved being in my class. I loved to teach, I loved the kids. One of the highlights was at the end of the year, one of the kids, a tough kid, walked out, and then came back and said, “I just wanted to tell you that when I first took your class, I knew I was no good at math, but now, I know I’m good in math. Thanks.’ I almost started crying. I got out of it when we had our second child, and we decided that one of us would stay home with the kids. My wife could make more money as a nurse than I could as a teacher, so I stayed home as Mr. Mom for over a year. I was going nuts. I remember thinking that being a homemaker was not as easy as it looks. I had a hard time. I once made banana pudding that would bounce off the wall. It was like rubber. But I also really enjoyed taking care of the children. D was much better at being a homemaker than I ever was, but still it was quite an experience.

After that I got a job selling insurance with one of those mass marketing companies. I had an experience when I discovered that I could excite a crowd, move a crowd, and that was strange. It scared me actually. I went to this meeting, and they picked me to give a speech. I prepared what I thought would be an inspiring speech. I was so nervous. But as I was giving the speech people were standing up and cheering. I imagine it’s like it would be for a preacher, who gets up there and the people are going crazy. I mean, I was scared to get up in front, but I also realized I can do this. This is an interesting skill, talent -- something -- but I’ve never done anything with that. Scary, exciting, fearful -- I was on a crusade. I was not selling life insurance to make money. Of course, I wanted to make money, but that’s not why I did it -- if you had asked me before that time, like when I was living out here, one of the worst things to do with your life was to sell life insurance. It was a joke. It was like that line in the comedy The Two-Thousand Year Old Man, “You mock the things you are to be.” I really got into the difference between whole life and term -- what the insurance companies had fostered upon the poor -- I was a hell of a salesman, but I wasn’t making much money. I went to this regional meeting and got this award for selling more policies than anyone else. And I’m thinking I can’t even pay my rent. And this is big sales? But in the process I met this guy in Bentonville who said, I like you, did you ever think about selling real estate? So I went to Bella Vista and sold lots. I sold lots of lots and I learned a lot. That was interesting because when I went there, I thought, oh I’ll make about $20 or 30,000 a year -- and after the first month, I freaked out, because I realized I could make $60, 80, 100 thousand a year -- but I didn’t have an image of myself making that much money. I realized that I would never do that -- if you don’t have an image of yourself doing that, or think you’re worthy, then you’ll never do it. I felt I was inadequate, that I didn’t deserve to make $60,000 -- for stupid reasons. D asked me why, and I said, I don’t look like somebody who makes that much. My fingers are too thin. And I realized that it was because my father was successful but he was a thick kind of guy, and I didn’t think I fit the image. How stupid. I realized how stupid it was, but you have to deal with that stuff.

I got over it -- I made money. I did that for about 7 or 8 years -- but actually, I look on that time as one of the worst times of my life. I would get real depressed. Looking back on it now, I would say it was because I wasn’t on my path. Maybe it would have been all right for a year or two, but I should have stopped. But I kept doing something just for the money that did not speak to the higher aspirations of my life, or to the needs of my soul. I remember talking to a counselor, and he told me that my depression was blessing. I wanted to kill the sonofabitch -- this is not a blessing! But I understand now, it was a blessing. It was a sign that I wasn’t doing [what I was supposed to be doing]. I mean you can mask depression with alcohol, drugs, or a lot of activity without being aware of it.

I would get up, go thru the motions, do what I had to do, but I was miserable. The doctor gave me an anti-depressant, but I didn’t want to take drugs. I had the prescription with me, and he said, if I was ever at a point where I thought I couldn’t handle it, go get the prescription filled. I kept it with me in my wallet. At one point, I was so depressed, and thinking about getting the prescription just to see if it would relieve the symptoms. I thought I’d fill it in the morning. That night I went to read a story to my middle daughter, she was about six -- I hope I don’t cry when I tell this story -- but I was reading to her, and she was as cute as a 6 year old can be -- just talking a mile a minute, and then I realized she was the age I was when my father left me, and I didn’t know what had happened to him, hadn’t seen him in twenty years -- I wasn’t allowed to bring up his name -- and my marriage to D was not good - I was thinking about leaving-- and leaving her meant leaving the kids -- and I thought about not having my father and what that meant to me, and thought about my daughter not having me. Tears started running down my face, and I got up and walked into the hallway, and all I can describe it as is a primal scream. Grief overcame me so much I fell to the ground and wept. All I could think about was losing my father, all that stuff just cascaded in on me. I remember pulling myself up and going don’t do this, pull yourself together, and then I fell down again, crying. It was intense. The next day I woke up and I was taking a shower, and it was, oh, I’m not depressed. I must have been holding all these fears and feelings inside all that time, and just realized it. I was so glad I hadn’t taken the drug, because I don’t think I would have been able to feel all that. From that, I think I learned the importance of going through the pain, because you come out on the other side a lot stronger.

D and I were at a point in our relationship where D didn’t even want me to touch her. I thought, why am I in this relationship? I’m not a mean sob, I provide for the family, I work hard, we have our house. What am I doing wrong here? I’m not even doing what I want to do, but I am doing what I’m supposed to do. We had just had an argument. I went into my room and banged my hand on the cabinet; hurt the hell out of my hand. I’m sitting there and she came in to me and says, A--, I just don’t respect you any more. My reaction was to start laughing hysterically. It struck me as absurd that she doesn’t respect me. I’m doing things I don’t even want to do because I think they’re the right things to do, and she doesn’t respect me! How absurd!! I should be doing something I want to do. I started laughing. She told me later that it was the hardest thing she ever had to tell me. She thought I was going to be real upset and was kind of dumbfounded when I started laughing. It became so obvious to me that ‘I’m not on the right path here! She was just letting me know.

The next day, I went to Winfest, and I was about as low as one could get. I went alone. I didn’t want any of my family to go. I’m thinking my life is worthless. What the hell am I going to do? So, I’m at Winfest, and I give my ticket to this guy at the gate, and he says, are you Mr. R? I said, yeah, and he said, oh, man, it’s good to see you -- you were such a shining light for me. I hated school but you did me a good deed. It really affected me. I mean, here is this young man who remembers me in a positive way. That was kind of nice, a little bit of an uplift. And so then I go set my chair up, and I’m really early. People start coming, and then this guy sits his chair next to me. He looks familiar but I can’t quite place him. So I asked him if we’ve met before. He says no he has never been here before. He’s just arrived from New Orleans and just wanted to get away. He heard this was a pretty nice music festival. I tell him I’m from N.O. and it turned out we are from the same high school. He asked me my name and I tell him. He says you’ve got to be kidding I just came back from my high school reunion and we were talking about some of the funny things we remembered. Someone brought up the time you took your sweats off to go into the basketball game and all you had on was your jock strap. We all had a good laugh because you were out there for a while before you realized it. No one knew what you were doing. Someone said the last they heard was that you were in the monastery. I remember thinking that my life seemed pretty worthless but at least I had made some people laugh and they were still talking about it.

Then Washboard Leo gets up, -- he plays the electric washboard -- he’s the self-proclaimed king of the Nutrafrog Kingdom -- he has this whole aura about what he does with his music -- and anyway, he decided that part of Winfest is to do the Nutrafrog Stomp. I’m sitting in front of the stage and he throws me some Mardi Gras beads and little plastic eggs that are supposed to be Nutrafrog eggs, whatever that is. He tells me I’m supposed to lead the Nutra Frog Stomp. I do NOT want to do this but I start doing this little stomp and then I start to ribbit like a frog. I feel pretty stupid. I start motioning to other people to get up and stomp with me. Pretty soon I’m stomping and ribbiting with a little more enthusiasm. I’m up there and I begin to let go. I had my Nutrafrog egg, and I’m yelling RIBBIT, dancing, stomping around, and started really yelling, RIBITRIBITRIBIT and stomping like a Wildman -- getting more people to join me, and we’re stomping around the place, and everybody is laughing. It seemed like we danced for a while. We stirred up a lot of dust because there must have been a hundred people following me around the ballpark. I don’t know what place I went to, but when the whole thing ended I was exhausted, sweaty and covered with dust. It was then that I had an epiphany. I know what I want to do with my life. I want to open a (;lkjhasdfg).

I went home and told D and the kids. I said, I’m going to open a (;lkjhasdfg )-- it’s what I want to do. For me, what (;lkjhasdfg) meant was real communication -- a place for people to talk. I wanted to create a place where I wasn’t always trying to sell people something, I could just talk to people, just be with people, create a sense of community -- I was an obsessed person. I quit my job and -- I did it.

This was not figured out by looking through business magazines or figuring out what business to start. It was totally -- well, it was the process of dancing. I think it lets you get in touch with your soul in some ways. Dancing, music -- there was a shedding of all that I thought I was supposed to be, really getting in touch with my essence. There is a banner at Winfest that says ,”Music washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” I felt that is what happened to me. I didn’t care that I was making a fool of myself. I remember some friends looking at me when I was dancing and wondering about me. I mean, I was out there. I didn’t question it. It felt right. I’ve thought about ;lkjhasdfg every day since then.

I believe the desire to do this type of business had to do with my experience being with the brothers and a sense of community. I feel a sense of community at the ;lkjhasdfg -- a sense of connection with the people. It’s not just trying to sell you something or what’s your marketing purpose for meeting me? I find myself in a role in the community where I can connect other people -- I talk to the young kids, some down and out, homeless people, then I talk to the business men with the coats and ties, and they see me talking to each of them, and there’s a connection made, maybe they’ll start talking to one another. I’m very conscious of that role that I play. I really try to do that, now that I’ve realized I do it. I see that as my purpose in life, getting people together, not concentrating on our differences, but concentrating on our humanness, what brings us together. That’s why I love my business. It gives me an opportunity to be with people in a very basic way.

When I think about my path, my purpose, it has to do with community, connecting people. I want them to feel a sense of community, and I try to convey that to the people who work there -- this is not just about (;lkjhasdfg). It’s about connections people make when they come in. And it’s about space, too. A lot about art in space, because -- you go into McDonalds, it’s not warm, you know, it’s designed that way, get you in, get you out -- my whole thing is ‘Come and stay awhile. The colors are warm, the space has a quality of art to it that makes you want to hang around, maybe talk to somebody. And when you’re in the( ;lkjhasdfg), you can start talking to somebody and meet a new friend.

That’s why I think depression was a blessing, and that’s why I’m glad I didn’t take the drugs to make me not feel depressed. I think our whole country is fucked up because we have so many people on Prozac and what not. They can’t feel the pain. And if you can’t feel the pain, you’re not going to get to the other side. I’m not going to say that people don’t have chemical depression and that drugs are always bad -- all I can really talk about is my experience. If I would have taken those anti-depressants I don’t think I would have had that experience. We need to be careful. We could drug ourselves to oblivion.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Subject G. and I sat in the dining room of her restored Victorian home in the historical district of town, surrounded by eclectic art, antique furniture and brightly colored walls, occasionally distracted by the demands for petting by her old yellow tomcat.

I first married in 1966 to a mathematician who was pretty straight. He was an extremely straight and narrow kind of guy. At one point, about a year into the marriage, I realized I did not want to be a housewife. I didn’t want to clean house every day, entertain his associates, and have babies. I realized there was something else going on. At that time I was in publishing and I decided, with my husband’s approval, to go to the school of visual arts in NY to study photography and graphic art. I had been an artist in high school, my friends had pretty much talked me out of that, talked me into going to law school -- [with art] I would never make money. I decided to do that, and that’s when it first really hit me, at the school of visual arts - we were making films in class, looking at graphic arts as a way to truly express your values. I was the straightest kid in the class going, yeah, uhhuh, yeah! I had never done drugs, I was totally straight. At that point, so much of what I had seen and felt while I was at school -- I met some people who were smoking marijuana and doing LSD and taking mushrooms, and I didn’t know if I wanted to relinquish control -- but ultimately, I got past that -- I would say ‘67 is where it really hit me between the eyes at school. I walked around with a camera slung across my shoulders, changed my mode of dress -- I had always been fascinated with antique clothing but really got into 30s clothes -- evolved ultimately. I did have to make a living since I was a single woman -- I went to Wall Street at that point, doing marketing for tax shelters and oil drilling funds. Pretty successful at it -- working for a big brokerage house -- pursuing my alternative lifestyle at night -- carrying my briefcase, getting on the subway every morning completely dolled up in my full douche regalia, going to work, and then on the weekends going to the Fillmore East and seeing the Grateful Dead. That lasted until ‘71. I was making a lot of money at that time, and I was single woman, maintaining an apartment in Brooklyn, maintaining a life style, and I didn’t see any way around it.

I finally got to the point where I was sick and tired of those asshole bosses, shaking their finger at me, telling me how it was, I finally just quit. I said, that’s it, I’m never working for anyone else again, I don’t give a crap about anybody ever paying my rent, I’ll figure it out. I went off to Europe for 6 weeks, and when I came back, I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology and studied clothing design. I did that off and on until ‘87. I made leather clothing, went to several boutique shows in NY, had clients in Tucson, Chicago, NY -- I did a lot of hand painted clothing, mostly deer skin and lamb suede. I ended up opening a store on Long Island, and did that for awhile -- and wearing what I considered the most beautiful clothes in the world, fashions from the 30s and 40s. I would get on the Long Island Railroad in some long silk dress with a little short fur jacket and a big hat, decked with jewelry -- at one point I finally realized that antique clothing was really my love, and I gave up the leather, closed the store for two months, painted it all white, bought all these beautiful antique clothes, and reopened the store as an antique clothing store. That was in ‘73. The man I was buying clothes from had stashed away all these huge dresses made out of these beautiful fabrics, and he had bundles and bundles of clothes, so he talked me into closing my store and moving my business into Manhattan and manufacturing clothing out of recycled dresses. We had ourselves a business called Garbo Garbs -- we made it at Bloomingdale’s. We had windows on Lexington Ave., the highlight of my career.

Then I met N--, and I couldn’t not go with him, so I gave Garbo Garbs back to my partner and moved to California. I made belly dancing costumes. We lived on top of Mt. St. Helena at Calistoga, and he was working in a vineyard. Baking bread -- it was fabulous. But we couldn’t afford to buy land. We knew we were doomed to be together for the rest of our lives, and we wanted to settle down, have a family, have a garden, do the do. Neither one of us wanted to go back to the city. He had escaped NY when he was 18, and the only time he ever came back was that one summer when he found me.

So we wandered the country in a van, looking for a place to live -- made it to Florida, wandered around until we came to Fayetteville AR in ‘75. We had met a woman in Madeira Beach FL -- she had run away from her husband but she had grown up here. She had bought a little motel in Madeira Beach and was making pottery. She was doing her hippie thing. Our basic plan was, we wanted to be in a university town, I wanted to open an antique clothing store, and N-- wanted to learn a trade. He was a window trimmer when he had been in NY as a kid, and he had worked in the vineyards in CA, and he was a fisherman, none of which translated to -- he’s seven younger than I am, so he didn’t go through the initial angst of having to leave the straight world. He graduated high school in ‘68. He was already there. He knew he was never going to fit into corporate America. So we didn’t have that issue on his life. I was the one who had to step through that door.

So we followed this path, going through Tennessee, the Carolinas -- we went to Eureka Springs first, and it was uh, no, not Eureka, too cool for us, we’re not so spiritual. We showed up on Dickson St. in Fayetteville and went, hmm, this looks like the place, and we haven’t left since. I opened Second Time Around.

Most of it was the anonymity of being in a city and having three friends and five friends and never really being intimate with anything -- not the earth, not people, barely yourself. You got up and you functioned. You created whatever aura you could to make yourself happy, but there’s this very big feeling of isolation, no matter what you’re doing. I grew up in a small town, but when I went to NY and got into the excitement of what the city had to offer, I had 12 years of it, got real juiced on it, took advantage of it as much as I could, but I was 30, and it was time to evolve into who I really wanted to be when I grew up. California was a groove, a wonderful place, very laid back. Napa Valley now is not what the valley was in the 70s. It depends on how far you want to buy into it -- it takes an incredible amount of money to maintain this very groovy lifestyle. We didn’t particularly want to do that. We had friends there very much like us, the only problem was that we couldn’t afford to do what we wanted to do, which was buy a piece of property, build a house -- even then, raw land was $25,000 an acre in the valley. We lived just below Mt. St. Helena on the Silverado Ranch -- I went from Brooklyn to the Silverado Ranch. It’s A Beautiful Day had lived there, and Taj Mahal lived there. We lived in a little cabin with wood heat and it was wow, this is it -- this is what N-- had promised me, come away with me darling this is what I’ll give you. We had a beautiful garden, and in the middle of our beautiful garden we had this bed -- he built me a four poster queen size bed with a big foam mattress, and we would lay out there at night and stare up at the stars, I mean, come on, it was perfect. And that was the adventure -- it was so spiritually satisfying. It was real, me hoeing the garden, or him splitting firewood, sitting by a roaring fire, making soup, sewing belly dancing costumes.

We were looking for cheaper real estate and something that would sustain us. Although we were hippies, we both came from middle class families, both of our fathers were in the jewelry business. His dad was a diamond cutter and my father was a watch maker, self supporting -- both Jewish -- anyway, the values we were raised with -- we wanted indoor plumbing and hot water. We lived the wood stove, but I wanted a toilet that flushed, and so to synthesize all it required that we actually work for a living, not ever being on the dole anywhere, and create our own world. So this proved to be the perfect place for it.

The first day we got here we walked into ROTC for lunch, and G-- M-- came over and said, hi, who are you, are you planning to live here, do you need a house to rent? I mean, the first day. We said, hey, this is a community. Another person said, we’re having pot luck tonight, come over, we’re going to play some music, come on over, meet some people. We knew we had arrived immediately. It took us awhile. Fortunately N-- got work, the guy we lived next door to was building dairy barns and he hired N-- on as a laborer, taught him how to lay stone and brick, he took it from there. The following April I had opened Second Time Around -- my parents and N--’s parents lent us money, and I flew to NY and went to my old partner and bought clothes, and he gave me the name of a rag house in KC and in Dallas and in St Louis, and I made those connections.

Then I got pregnant, and we bought a piece of property -- and it was like, here we are. I have a child -- she just graduated college. She’s more ambitious, straighter, than we are -- she drinks a little, but doesn’t do drugs at all. I smoked pot in front of her, and it wasn’t until she was about ten that we pretty much stopped smoking in front of her. She says some of her most amazing recollections were at the house we built out in the country. We had this big deck that wrapped around the house, and we would sit out there and roll joints at night -- we exposed her to stuff like that. We skinny dipped in the White River every day in the summertime. She learned to swim naked in the river, I nursed her when she was 3 months old in the river, so that she would have no fear of water. I would stand in the water, and N-- would throw her at me, and we’d put her under, bring her up. She never had a fear of water, in fact, she swam competitively. We ran around naked. To this day, she’s like, mom, dad, but then, she’ll get undressed in front of us, and she’ll say, don’t look, and it’s like, oh come on, like we’ve never seen your body, come on -- and there’s a part of her that’s very modest.

As far as drugs, her rationale is, I know how brain damaged you get smoking pot, so why would I want to do that? [laughs] I’ve said to her many times, you know you ought to smoke a joint and kick back, and she says, thanks anyway, mom, but... She drank one summer, between her junior and senior year. They had this big deal, a place they called safe spot, and they would go, had a designated driver -- I was the only adult who knew where safe spot was -- in case something ever happened, they wanted one adult who knew where they were. I became the designated adult. And those kids still come over here and hang with me -- they bring beers over - I’ve had kids come over and say, we’ve got this killer pot, you want to smoke some with us? You’ve got to try this shit. -- I don’t see anything wrong with it. The things that concerned me when I decided to have a kid -- I had taken LSD, is my kid going to come out totally warped. I mean the kid is so bright and so driven, and refutes all these horrible things in the media about -- I mean, I have never said to my child, did you do your homework? I never had to. I gave her the option in her life -- you are responsible for your own life - here is your choice, this path, or this path -- you choose, you do, I’ll help you.

I had a repressive mother, and all my life I was very resentful of the fact that she threw my art away and told me I would never make it. She should have seen that my father got up every morning whistling -- he was an artist, a watchmaker -- about the fact that he dropped out of law school and became a watchmaker. From dealing with a resentment toward that, and suddenly getting this incredible clarity on LSD, that there was more to life than the little ant going to work and coming back, going to work, coming back, etc. stash it away, money is so important -- I mean, it was a combination of my own hurt feelings, working out of that, and suddenly realizing that there was so much out there that didn’t have anything to do with commerce, and you only got to go around once, I didn’t care what anybody else said, it better be fun, dammit. That’s been my life -- I want to lay down every day and say thank you god that was a great day, and most days I can do that. You have to look at the big picture --human rights, environmental issues -- the fact that you yourself make a difference in the universe -- take responsibility for it. Every action that you take is karmic, on every level. If you impact one other person in the world and they in turn take responsibility, and acknowledge that what they do is karmic, they’ll impact somebody else, and constantly expand that base of knowing --

I always talk about these issues, usually on a one to one basis. Stuff like recycling and environmental issues, I’ll do whatever I can, whatever it takes. Petitions, signs, go out to talk to every person on this block and say, when it’s time to do the recycling, I want you to participate, and this is important... When we first moved here, everybody on this block was a bunch of old ladies -- it’s changed a lot in the 15 years we’ve lived here. But it was important for me to talk to everybody -- like, ok, we’re going to have recycling over here at IGA. If you want me to, I’ll take your stuff -- if you don’t and you want to do it, fine, but I think it’s important, so if you will separate, I’ll do this.

I prefer dealing with people on a one to one, but I’ll go and talk to the little old lady on the corner, it’s time to have a mammogram, they’re having cheap mammograms in Springdale -- if you need a ride, call me -- make an appointment.

At this very moment, there is a difference, in that I work in a new job, and it is for a big corporation. Now, the vice president, who is in charge of our office, is a guy I got high with for years, so he knows and I know -- I don’t know if anybody else knows. There are a couple of other people in the office that I would bet -- but we have never said -- I would never at this point feel free to say hey, you want to smoke a joint, come on over. I don’t know if that will change. About a week after I was hired -- I had no idea my friend worked for this company -- he came up from Little Rock and walked into the office, and said, what the hell are you doing here, and I said, I work here, what the hell are you doing here, and he said, oh, well, I’m vice president in charge of this office, and we both went, oh, ok. He turned around to the office manager and said do you have any idea how lucky you are that you have this woman working for you? It made everything different, immediately, for me, this tacit understanding that the broom wasn’t stuffed all the way up.

I’m not pessimistic [that our vision] will never come to pass - -I think it’s cyclical, I think the pendulum has swung the other way, that the generation of children that we have raised, when they get to be in their late 20s and early 30s will again pick it up and carry the banner and really impact -- so on that level I’m very optimistic. I truly believe our children know what’s really real, and as soon as they are ready to seize power, they’ll do it with a vengence. Not only did they have their parents’ idealism, but they have also been in the world and they’re working for Compac computers and ATT and ugly stuff, and they’re saying to themselves, as we said to ourselves in the 60s, hey wait a minute. It was foisted on us. They have chosen this. As we walked away from consumerism, they will too -- I truly believe they have our values in their guts and no matter what, when it gets really ugly they’re going to say fuck all this and walk away from it. Plus the economy is going to crash around us pretty quick -- Japan, it’s all going to come tumbling down here in a few years, and all these kids who make $70,000 are going to be out of work, and then what. They’re going to have to downsize their lives and find out what is really important to them, what they truly want, whether that brand new $50,000 car every other year is really important, or if putting food on their table and feeling a sense of self pride isn’t really more important.

The generation who is now in their mid-30s were raised by the generation just older than us, and that generation grew up in the 50s, and they’re very straight. Most of my cousins are at least a generation older than I am, and their kids in their 30s are the young excutives and young bulls, and they’re just out there, building quarter-million dollar homes, buying BMWs, -- I don’t buy anything new if I can help it. My concept of consumerism is, if you can find it used, it’s better. It’s recycling, dammit. The real deal. I do that as much as I possibly can.

I think the reason I haven’t left here is that I have found the greatest concentration of people of like mind here, and a whole lot very crazy people that make me feel normal - you’re allowed to be eccentric, even encouraged -- You don’t need a whole lot of money to live reasonably well here, so that craving for money, that desire, lessens. You can maintain a pretty decent lifestyle -- my friends in the city laugh at what it costs us to live here - the mortgage is $450 a month. It doesn’t matter - we could scrape together enough money no matter what to keep this house -- I can walk anywhere I want, I really don’t even need a car -- if it came down to it, I could grow a garden, raise vegetables -- I can survive here, easily. We have squeezed through several economic situations in this area and came through it with a very pleasant life. We still play with our friends -- instead of going out to eat, everybody has a pot luck. Everybody brings food, we party, play cards, listen to music, dance -- life is wonderful. You can have everything, as long as you can have the things that are important, the sense of community, the sense that you’re not tearing out each other’s guts to survive, no matter what. A lot of us talk about, and when we’re old, this is what we’re doing... I have a bunch of friends who bought land up on Beaver Lake -- there is a whole community being created of people who, in their late 40s and early 50s, that when it’s time, they’re all going to live together, farm together, take care of one another until we’re all dead, and then pass it on to our kids. It’s an old folks commune. We talk about it a lot, about when we get too old and feeble to take care of ourselves, do you want to be in a nursing home, or do you want to live with a bunch of friends, share the cooking and cleaning, and nursing, pool the Social Security, play bridge every Sunday night, live out our days then the way we’ve lived out our days. Say every day, god that was good. What more could you want? We’ve talked about lining up the rocking chairs, rolling joints, and passing the joints up and down -- I’ve told everybody that for my 70th birthday I want a walker so that I can go hear the Cate Brothers and still dance, cause they’ll still be playing.

This is a regional community. I have friends who live out on the Buffalo River -- we play with people out there, we have friends in Little Rock. I had a T’ai Chi teacher who lives in Boulder, and he said that this is one of the high places on the earth, that there was an energy here that made magic, and that was why he came back here and taught so much, because the earth had magic here. There is a peace, and when you walk down the street, people say “Hi” to you - -when you drive down the road and you pass a car, you wave -- or give the peace sign -- it’s an acknowledgment.

My nephew is thinking of moving here, and I told him, I walked into Wal-Mart the other day to buy some shrimp, and I had this conversation with this guy behind the counter, about travel. Out of the clear blue, very deeply satisfying, a wonderful conversation. We thanked each other.

I mean, I greet people every day with a hug and a kiss. Where else in this country do you greet people that way? There are people I’m friends with that it’s like, no no, not over the counter, I want full body contact -- come mere. I want to feel that energy, I want that body in my arms. friends. that full body contact, you don’t get that many places. you can’t see that in Chicago -- full body contact? That is a very fulfilling thing to me on a spiritual level, having physical contact with people -- I don’t know how I would have evolved any place else. There is no way of knowing that. But the people I am friends with would say about me, she’s always there with a hug -- if something is bad for them, I will put my body on theirs and give them my energy, plug into this. And when I’m having a bad day, that is the best thing in the world, when somebody just puts their body right there and says, hey, have some --zzzzt. Even if it’s just for a few minutes. I try to get it and give it as much as I can.

I go an exercise class, called NIA, neuro-intramuscular something - it’s a combination of yoga, tai chi, karate, dancing, breathing, laughing. I feel I’ve been blessed -- I tried to not put my own prejudice in the way, tried to step out -- I’ve tried to find the right thing to do. I have a sister three years younger than me, but she missed the whole thing. And her son is 28 yrs old, and he doesn’t have one clue - my sister never gave him the responsibility to figure it out. My kid, it was like from the time she was born, hey, you make your decisions, if they’re really bad, I’ll stop you -- and she’s got incredible values. I just say, darlin’ whatever makes you happy makes me happy, as long as you get up every morning with a song in your heart and pay your own goddamn way! Made dean’s list with 19 hours -- twice in one year...

Sunday, April 13, 2008


S. and I met in his office, comfortably but narrowly fitted between books, files, souvenirs, photos of his family, and plants. Born 1947, Massachusetts.

When I went to college in the mid-60s, I was aware of alternative lifestyles and the hippie movement, but it wasn’t until I graduated in ‘68 that I ever really did anything out of the ordinary. I did spend a couple of summers working in social service areas -- I was aware of the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam war -- I went to a few demonstrations while I was in college. Several midnight trips to Washington D.C. on buses. It was when I got out of college and entered the Vista program that I began to see things in a different way. All the males were under a great deal of pressure because of the draft, and Vista seemed a good alternative at the time, to give myself time to think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and also to be of use to someone else, and at the same to avoid being drafted into a war I knew I didn’t want to participate in. I knew the war was the wrong thing. I applied for conscientious objector status, which was denied to me. Regardless, I was always totally against the war. We had quite a lot of discussion about it on campus, several professors were adamantly opposed, and they really encouraged us to think about it.

In my experience, marijuana wasn’t really prevalent at the college I went to, as much as alcohol. Drinking age was 18, and liquor was available and prevalent.

I had a vague idea of becoming a social worker, and I also wanted to use the language I had studied - Spanish -- some clear ideas of using language somehow. My family had owned a retail merchandise store, and that was the farthest thing from my mind, because my dad had spent his live slaving at that store, and that was a model I didn’t want to follow. He spent no time with his family. our relationship was always strained because he was working and he demanded that his children, regardless of what else they had planned, come and help him at the store. It was something I wanted to steer clear of. My dad was a very fine person, but one of my greatest regrets today is that I didn’t really get to know him. He died when I was 22. All thru those years when I was growing up, he was a wonderful provider, loyal to my mom, perfect as a father in almost every way, except he was driven to work. He did not spend time with his kids, or show us the value of a father/child relationship from the perspective of just spending time with us. That left a big hole.

At the time I served in Vista, there was a tremendous political upheaval in Chicago. It was the time of the Democratic convention in Chicago. There were all sorts of ethnic groups there, Indians, Puerto Ricans, hillbillies from the mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky who had come to Chicago to work after World War II and their children were my age and they would spend the week in the city and then take off for the mountains on the weekend and even they were politicized to some extent. There were poor people’s coalitions, welfare recipients coalitions, blacks, Puerto Ricans, every variety of human being active in some kind of organization, and that was the world that swallowed me up in ‘68, ‘70. The first year I worked in a mental health project in a very poor area of Chicago -- that’s where I met my wife. We were both Vista volunteers-- and in fact we had grown up 25 miles from each other, but met in Chicago -- very odd.

The mental health project where we worked there were a lot of chronically mentally ill who had been dislodged from the state mental hospitals and put into halfway houses, these old converted hotels, packed three to a room. The owners got a lot of money out of it. Our job was to re-integrate them into the community, provide them with activities, socialize them and do whatever we could to increase the chance that they wouldn’t be sent back to the state hospital. One woman had been on the wards of the state hospital for 40-50 years because she was crippled, and in those days, if you had someone who couldn’t walk, it was just as easy to put them in a sanitarium as to try to provide for them at home. and the surprising thing about her was that she was mentally clear, able to function and think, despite having been put in that hospital for all that time. She actually got her civil rights back and moved into her own apartment, and accessed social services that she needed. It was kind of fun to get to know her. I have an old Studs Terkel newspaper article that was written about her.

The 2nd year I worked in a much more political environment. There was a group called Uptown Coalition in that area of Chicago and they were trying to make improvement in the living conditions of the people there, and the project I worked on was a housing project. We were fighting urban removal by trying to determine who owned some of the huge apartment buildings there. The idea was that if we could get in touch with the owners and get them to consider selling to this coalition, then the coalition would encourage cooperative development in these buildings, give the tenants a sense of ownership. It was pretty much a failure. We did a lot of title research. There was a lot of conflict between the lower income people fighting for a little piece of the pie.

From there I went to California, looking for L. I spent a lot of time in Venice Beach. I didn’t work for awhile. I had never lived in California before, and the scene seemed like a permanent vacation. I ended up coming back to Boston to try to go to graduate school in social work, but I just couldn’t get myself to concentrate. I wanted to be of some help in society -- I didn’t want to forever be a beach bum, and I’d grown up in Boston and knew that the school of social work at Boston College was just a stone’s throw from the house I’d grown up in. But after a semester I left again. I was mildly interested in health reform and community health programs, had taken a few courses in California and had volunteered at a free health clinic, making myself useful.

I went back to California and L and I ended up in San Francisco together - ‘73 or so. I did these little jobs driving a truck around San Francisco. I put an ad in the paper that said man needs work, survival at stake, do anything -- all sorts of crazy people called me to do odd jobs. I wasn’t that great with my hands, but I could do rough stuff, moving things, fixing little things. and that’s when our daughter was born. Then I got a little more serious about things, realized I had a child to support. We moved to southern California to be closer to L’s sisters who were living there, and I got a job at a community college, and started thinking more seriously about grad school and health educ. I was working as an aide. We left there because L’s brother had a kidney transplant back in Massachusetts.

Coming back to California from Massachusetts afterwards, we stopped in Russellville Arkansas. Some friends of ours, who we’d met as Vista volunteers in Chicago, had moved to a community on the Mulberry River. I was told a whole group of people from Chicago moved down to live the country life and start a school for city kids, removed from all the urban pressures. I don’t think the Mulberry Farm project lasted too long. The people scattered to different parts of Arkansas. Our friends ended up in Russellville We stayed because the job I had in California evaporated, the mental health center in Russellville had just opened with a huge Mental Health Institute grant, and they were pulling people off the street to work there. My friend said given your situation, why don’t you go over there and see if you can get a job for a little while, save up some money, and decide where you want to go. I was interested in mental health, and when I went to the center, a lot of good people were working there, and they had the best interests of the area population at heart, and I got a job.

I’ll always remember seeing Russellville for the first time - the day after Richard Nixon resigned -- August. the humidity was so intense and it was so hot, I thought you could easily fry an egg on the street, and the city looked like a set for a movie, for ‘Last Picture Show’ a sleepy little town. I mean, the town didn’t attract me, it was the people I was meeting. Little did I know that the Ozark National Forest was just north of Russellville, that these gorgeous areas – beautiful creeks and waterfalls, camping areas, trails – were up there, and virtually nobody used them. I was amazed. I guess back then, and maybe it’s still true, it gets real hot in July and August, and people stay inside. So there was this whole world you could have to yourself, and it was just beautiful. It was the scenery that really attracted me. Every second we got, we’d drive up to recreation areas and explore. And we met people who were living in the country, and started building friendships, which made it a lot more attractive to stay.

I realized that people were so stigmatized by coming into a mental center and being considered crazy or emotionally disturbed that what was really lacking was some kind of healthy environment where people could come without that stigma and be accepted, interact with other people, and so the idea of starting a free school there in Russellville helped as an alternative. People were coming for day appointments and not being integrated into the community, being treated for a disturbance but not offered an alternative to isolation. I had been driving back and forth between Russellville and Little Rock to meet people on the wards of the state hospital who would be released back into the Russellville area and my job was to introduce them into the health center and its services, be a bridge between people who had ended up in the state mental hospital with very severe problems.

The free school developed to encourage anyone who wanted to teach a course or lead a class to do so and encourage others to sign up for these classes under the umbrella of the mental health center. We formed a little board, and twice a year or so we’d have a catalog of courses and it was wonderful. Even some of the people we considered patients offered to teach classes in cake decorating -- no one knew who was a mental health patient. You might walk into a Chinese cooking class -- ten people in the kitchen learning to do this -- and you might have a bank president there and somebody who just got released from the state hospital -- and nobody knew. All of the status and stigma was gone. It was really neat.

This was at the beginning of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and they put money into it. Ultimately I got a salary to do just that, and while I was doing that, a guy came by who was a professor from Fayetteville, who taught adult education courses at UALR. We talked and he said, there is a whole academic, scholarly interest in adult education/community education that you fit into, and if you’re ever interested in taking a course to learn more about what other people are doing, or if you want to work toward a degree, I teach this course... and that’s when I started learning more about adult/community education. I started working toward a grad degree in adult education. Ultimately, we moved to Fayetteville so I could finish this degree, and my wife could position herself to be able to go to El Paso to study at a maternity center to be a midwife.

I was interested in how adults process information, how they learn, what they do with it. I saw myself as someone who could be a resource for other people, maybe give people ideas and help them develop them wherever they were. It wasn’t a precise vision. but intellectually, I was interested in adult learning. I wanted to get the degree out of the way and see where I went from there.

Having kids was one of the most wonderful things that ever happened to me. As a parent and a father, I wanted to do it in a way that would help and my kids at the same time, maybe make up for the relationship I didn’t have with my dad. I loved being with kids. It turned me into a story teller. You’d sit there and try to entertain them with a story, and soon, you’re making up stories and other people say, hey, that’s a good story.

When it came to the point where we had both finished school and we had to decide where we were going, we decided Fayetteville was a nice place, a great little town. I got a job at the Economic Opportunity Agenda as a CETA worker -- helping low income people train for employment. A few months after I started work there, the woman who had hired me quit -- she had been the planner, wrote grants, did community organizing work, submitted reports. She said, you could do this. So I became the planner at EOA. I had no idea about what a community action agency was, where these things came from, even though they were part of the same poverty program that developed Vista. I learned about Headstart, job training programs, battered women’s shelter, children’s house, weatherization -- all these things that had sprung out of the EOA - farmers market - a lot of things had sprung up and become independent. EOA was a clearinghouse for ideas people had for economic development projects, community action, facing problems. Staff was supposed to work with local people to empower them. That was the original idea behind community action - a ‘60s idea - Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty.

I was really interested in the principles of community organization, where a person in a position like mine could talk with different groups of people and say what is it that needs to be done, let me be of help in focusing on what the problem is and how we might bring resources to bear to solve it -- human and financial resources. I got involved in a project at Winslow to help people decide what their priorities were and how to get there. They had a cannery -- several other projects -- it was wonderful to go down there and talk to people and participate in meetings and get involved in the life of the community, addressing different problems. Did the same thing in Johnson.

Then in south Fayetteville, I got involved in bringing people together, doing surveys of the needs. We formed an organization, the SE Fayetteville Community Action Committee. The first few projects were small, putting the city to put a footbridge over this creek so kids didn’t have to dip down into the creek to get to school. The city built a sidewalk along south Washington to Jefferson Elementary school - we did housepainting projects for elderly people and then along came a doctor who was working at the health dept. She heard about our organization and she said they’re a lot of health needs that are not being met, a lot of people falling through the cracks, the health dept is very limited on what it can do -- the dr’s don’t want to see these people because they have no health insurance. So this doctor, who had come from West Virginia, said if we would provide the building, solicit volunteers, get equipment, I’ll be the doctor, if you want to work with me to develop a free health center. That was the beginning of what became the NWA Health and Dental Clinic, which is a very viable organization. It followed community organization principles: you go to people, you talk about what they see as being needs, ask them to come together and talk about it as a group, build a sense of community, and then whatever people want to do, whatever they identify as an issue or problem, you help them to work on it. and at the same time, the group becomes kind of a political force.

I moved up thru the ranks at EOA. I became the director in ‘85, and I was doing a little of everything. I did that for 5 yars, but I never really liked it. It took me away from the front line work that I was used to doing -- I didn’t like not having my own project. I needed something I could call my own. I wasn’t much of an authority figure, and I never felt that comfortable doing it. Early on, we had been asked to do a survey by our main funding source on the needs of people in Washington County. That’s when the idea of the Single Parent Scholarship Fund came through. People gave me very common sense responses to the survey -- what do you do about poverty? help people get education and help them train for jobs. I was educated about the needs of women and children by talking with people who were working directly with single parents -- vo-tech, welfare department, anyone who had contact with single mothers -- and the occasional single father.

I came back to the realization that there are people in society who are almost invisible, who you could see at the grocery store with food stamps, buying food, see walking alone the street with little kids, having no transportation, you could see them in the welfare department waiting to see a social worker, but you never really know what’s going on in their lives because you’re not part of that world. And that awareness of what women go thru when their husbands leave them and don’t give them child support, don’t come and pay any attention to the kids, especially women who don’t have an education, don’t have work experience to be able to fend for herself. In talking with other people, I realized there are all these local services out there -- my eyes suddenly opened and I saw all these women coming into EOA and asking for food, utility payments, rent, every immediate crisis -- I really wanted to know what could be done over the long haul to help women so that they wouldn’t have to beg, so they wouldn’t be in this very embarrassing situation and having to find money. They were powerless.

If you have a bunch of kids and you don’t have money or family that can help and the father is not around, what do you do? You can battle the system, but I’m not sure you make enough progress just taking on the whole system that puts people in those situations. You have a lot more success with the individual, building her ability and skills to deal with the world at large, and then, incrementally, in different institutions within the system. One thing we had to immediately deal with when we started the scholarship fund was the food stamp program. Soon as you gave a scholarship to someone and that money was reported to the food stamp authorities, in that month that they got a check for $300 or whatever, they’d yank the food stamps. And why on earth would someone apply for a scholarship if she knew she was going to lose a very important part of her ability to feed her family. So we marched down to Little Rock and talked to this guy in charge of the food stamp program. Look, this makes no sense at all, to penalize someone for wanting to better herself, and discourage her from doing what she needs to do. He said, you’re right, it makes no sense at all. He figured out a way to get around that Catch-22. It was merely a matter of taking a problem and figuring out who you can talk to in a sensible way. I don’t know if it’s chutzpah on my part, or just a sense that we’re all reasonable, rational people, now let’s talk about these problems that we’ve created -- now let’s do something about it.

We did the single parent scholarship fund project for several years before I decided this was something I wanted to work on full time. I went to Bernise Jones, our matron saint, and said if she would be willing to put some money up to cover a salary and travel expenses and few other incidentals for a year, I would be willing to throw myself into an effort to develop a statewide network of single parent scholarship funds, what we had done very successfully in Washington and Benton counties, to see if the rest of the state would work with us. And she did.

So since May ‘90, we’ve been working statewide. It’s hard to take something created here, where we’re very fortunate to have such a community that values education, is concerned and caring about its people, and has the affluence to put resources where they can do a lot of good. You go across the state to some of the Delta areas, or southwest Arkansas, and you don’t find anywhere near the same attitude toward people, education, or optimism. Their economy is completely different.

There’s the whole racial thing in other parts of the state. When I’ve been in the delta, I’ve realized that underlying everything is this issue. People may not talk about it, but it’s there. When you try to bring people together, blacks and whites, they’re not used to working together. So it either becomes an all white thing, or an all black thing. In one county, people north of the river wouldn’t work with people south of the river -- an inheritance from before the Civil War! It’s incredible. In some places, it’s seen as another handout. They assign a lot of blame. But it’s been interesting, going around the state and meeting people who view things in different ways.

But there have been those who view things in similar ways, and in those counties we’ve been very successful. We started this program thinking that if each county starts a scholarship fund like we have, and they have leadership that is taking responsibility for it and ownership of it, then that’s what we should be building -- their ownership, their empowerment, their acceptance of this project as their own. So we offer matching grants to them, and they have to qualify by raising their part. When they do that, they get a lot of people involved in the scholarship program. Maybe some of these will be self-sustaining someday. We’d like to be just a support system.

There is a lot of interest in welfare reform among all these groups. But you have to understand that not all these groups sprang out of nothing. It might be part of an organization that does a lot of other things at the same time. For those people who work within the system -- the clients -- they are being encouraged and forced into low paying jobs -- they don’t have the education -- that’s what they qualify for. Whether they can move up within those employment situations, I don’t know. A lot of people have been scared off welfare entirely. The rules keep changing, discouragements are there rather than encouragement, like to go to school -- and for our students, many of them think, why do I need welfare -- they’re telling me to get off welfare -- I’ll just go get a job, I won’t have to bother with all their regulations. And for those who have been in school, dependent on welfare to get them through school, if they give up school, and go into these jobs, they may be in that situation all their lives.

I got involved in this TEA coalition, the welfare reform local constituencies the state is saying, come up with new ideas and there’ll still be money - Transitional Employment Assistance -- a new acronym for AFDC, with the emphasis on work. I participated in an effort to write, design a new program, which they’re calling the diploma project, asking for state funding, as opposed to federal and state funding, so that the person who qualifies for TEA won’t have to go to work. She can stay in school, get all her benefits -- monthly stipend, food stamps, medicaid, child care assistance, etc. -- as long as she is career focused, making progress in her education, maintaining a certain grade point average -- and she won’t have to go do those 25 hours of work. According to welfare regulations now, there’s a rule that you have to work at least 25 hours a week to keep this stipend - federal -- and Washington County adds another 5 hours a week -- all built in to get rid of people on the dole. And women with kids is the largest single group of poor people in this country.

I don’t know if there is anything anyone can do about the trend in society where families are not staying together -- for a variety of reasons. I cannot personally understand -- because of how I grew up in a very close knit family with a father who was very responsible, and I feel like I have been a responsible parent/father myself, and with a very deep love and affection for my children. And when I hear about men who just abandon their families, they don’t visit their children, they don’t do anything financially, emotionally, to care for the children that they have played a role in bringing to life, it’s just beyond me. I don’t understand how they could do that. I think if you grew up without the love of a parent or enough love or attention, as a male, and you’re not made to feel that people love you and you can love back, then it would be a lot easier when you become a parent to completely disregard your children and your wife. Otherwise, you would feel that emotion, that responsibility, toward the people that are closest to you.

We’ve gotten a lot of inquiries over the years, dozens of people, who have said ‘gee, I’ve heard about your program, how can I get something started in Kansas, Missouri, California, wherever -- but I’ve never heard one word from those people after we’ve told them how we got started and what it takes to open a program like this. I think just the intensity of fund raising and organizing and committee work and everything it takes to do this successfully puts people off. It’s like, where’s the big grant? I would think that people in other states would be able to do this kind of thing, if they just gave it a little thought. If there is something like this somewhere else, I never heard about it.

Every so often we’ll get some kind of communication from Hillary Clinton’s office. She was our founding board president in our state program when she was in Little Rock, until ‘92. She was very helpful. Every so often, she’ll send us a note and say would you please send info to so and so, or what do you think about doing something on a national level. We haven’t even got all the counties in Arkansas to do this thing. Out of 75 counties, we’ve only got 48. It’s too grandiose to think of going off to who knows where to tell other people to do it when we haven’t completed the job here. And it comes down to time. Time is a very precious commodity, and the more you’re off doing something with people out of state, traveling, on the phone, writing letters, or whatever, the less you’re doing in your own area.

I see programs like Habitat for Humanity springing up, and I have lots of respect for people in that program, and things like it. I think of the old barn raising concept when I think of the houses they build, or scholarships being given, because everybody has a role in it. Then, after someone gets educated, or you’ve helped someone build a house, you can see the results, and feel a sense -- I participated. I get a lot of reward for doing this sort of thing. I think we have accomplished something here.

Every time I get something like this graduation announcement, I think all right, she did it. she got there. And every time I’m out somewhere and run into someone we’ve helped who is working in a hospital or a bank or teaching, -- we have a professor at the university, by the way -- one of our scholarship recipients in the mid-80s -- 9th grade dropout, GED -- went and got her doctorate in sociology and is teaching at the university. You meet people like this and see them in their environment, and think -- it’s worth it. It works.

I think that the social movements that occurred in the ‘50s and ‘60s -- civil rights movements, the war – had a lot to do with the social consciousness that the ‘60s generation seems to hold. But I also think a lot of us who grew up in prosperity realized that there’s more to life than just making money and accumulating possessions and living in the suburbs and driving big cars and spending the weekend at the country club. I think we saw our parents as extremely hardworking but upwardly mobile people who accumulated things in order to assure themselves that they were ok -- and we didn’t need to do that because it was all before us. In a sense, it’s an intellectual rejection of materialism. We had it. And therefore we had the luxury of rejecting it. If you don’t have it, you want it all that much more. But if you’ve been educated in a liberal arts way and you’ve had the advantages of parents working very hard to join the middle class, giving you what you needed, then you can look at your own life and say, well, what can I do to make this life meaningful? If you’re lucky enough to marry somebody, to live with someone who shares those values, you can do it together -- make a life for yourselves together that provides the basic needs but also allows you to give it back. And if there are people at the lower end of the economic ladder who need people like us who have things to offer, then you’ve got opportunity to be of service.

The wealth of my upbringing had translated into a good education, a brain, an ethic, to be able to do this. We live in such an affluent, resource-filled society, that you can find a niche for yourself somewhere -- it’s not like India, where there’s a tiny, extremely affluent group, and a huge underclass. If you wake up in the morning and you’re happy, happy to see the sun rise, happy to see your wife or husband lying next to you, happy to be doing what the day promises for you, then I guess you’re in a good place, you’ve done what you’re supposed to do. I feel extremely fortunate to have found a place like Fayetteville where so many wonderful people of such a diverse nature -- people from everywhere else seem to have collected here. I’ve heard someone describe it as a national chakra, a national energy center.

Monday, March 31, 2008


R. stopped working long enough to sit in his self-built house, bright morning sun warming us in his solar room, on property approached from the county road by driving alongside bluffs and creeks. Born 1949 Illinois.

I was a late bloomer. I didn’t figure it out until, well, until I started smoking pot. Then I figured it out. What everybody else had figured out. I was in college in Kansas City. It was an all-male Catholic college, pretty conservative. I went there without a clue. Very nice, very expensive education. But UMKC was across the street, Volker Park, Kansas City. So – I was smoking pot. All of a sudden I realized why people were protesting what was wrong with the war. That was pretty scary. I was afraid of being drafted and that was why I stayed in college. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I ended up with a degree in accounting. But it was total awareness of everything – why am I going down this road. I started questioning myself and figuring out things from how I was raised with 16 years of Catholic education.

I can remember when I was a freshman, these seniors who were friends of mine were getting their draft notice before they got their diplomas. Scared the shit out of me. I knew I was going to face the same thing when I graduated, so it was like, go to Canada or go to jail. Or go to war. Right before I became aware and started figuring things out, I joined the reserves to avoid the draft. I barely got through basic training, and we were really starting to smoke pot then, getting high, going to lots of concerts, the whole hippie scene, hanging out. I stopped watching TV. I’ve never owned a TV. It was music that I always focused on. There are a lot of messages there, in the music and the lyrics. I remember going to see Moody Blues and I told everybody I was going to see God. I said, it’s as close to God as you can possibly get. The messages were strong, real clear – it was an incredible time. And the ‘70s were great. It’s been great ever since. It’s still great!

We got into another way to eat, another way to live, started raising our own food, tried to use less energy, tried to live in peaceful co-existence. After college we – another man and I – lived in a racially mixed neighborhood, and I was working with kids. I was stuck in the reserves. I got a job working at the probate court in Kansas City. I also worked a second job waiting tables. I waited tables 7-8 years. There was better money in waiting tables than there was working with a degree in accounting, for me. I lived in this house five or six years, working with a youth group, troubled kids, mostly black. It was the YMCA. I had a real keen interest in working with kids, trying to give them a break. These kids never really had a chance.

During college, I worked at Kroger’s grocery store for six years. I was head of a department and part of the ethic that evolved for me was about the godawful waste that happened in grocery stores. Kroger’s had a policy that if there was one broken egg, you threw the other eleven away. If you had some ice cream melt, all the packages that were sticky got thrown away. If you had some moldy cheese, throw it away. If there was a broken carton on a Mrs. Smith’s cherry pie, throw it away. If a bag of frozen peas ripped, you threw it away. Crackers, bread, milk – things were dated. And we couldn’t just put it out on the back dock. We had to open it and pour it down the drain. That went against my grain.

I was trying to figure the other day how I got into what I’m doing and how I got to hate waste so much. I remember my mom sitting me on the steps and telling me I wasn’t getting to leave until I finished my stewed tomatoes. I had to eat everything on my plate. Maybe learning not to waste was part of my growing up. But I always saved little things here and there. I remember working at the grocery store. I would take that food and I wouldn’t dump it. I’d put it on the back dock and slip back there after work with my car and take it to these neighborhood families that I thought were in need, you know, five, six kids, poor section of town, and I distributed all this food. Kroger’s fired me for it. And it wasn’t ten years later that Dennis Weaver got some award for putting together a program that took food from stores in California and distributed it to the poor people. Great idea. But you’ve got to be famous to do it, or I was ten years ahead of it. What a shame, seeing all this food getting thrown out.

That evolved into a lifestyle when I moved to Arkansas, as far as not wasting energy. I got obsessed with not wasting energy. I felt like if I could burn wood and save energy for that little old lady in New York City who couldn’t afford it, maybe there would be electricity for her. If everybody burned wood, there would be more electricity for everyone. I mean, at that time, we didn’t think about air pollution. Wood was available, free, it was a renewable resource.

When I was sitting in that office working for the probate court, I could see I-70. There were all these people hanging their thumb out down there. They were all hitchhiking and traveling in those days, and I was having to sit in the office. It ate a hole in my soul. I had such wanderlust. So N and I were pretty tight, we had been together for nearly three years. We bought a house together, saved our money, she worked extra hours as a nurse, and I worked two jobs. We saved up $3500, put all our stuff in storage in the attic and had friends take care of the house, and we took off. We took a VW camper, a dog and a cat and a canoe, all our camping equipment, snorkeling equipment, took off for a year. We camped for a year – stayed in the east, went as far as Newfoundland and as far south as Yucatan and never once paid for camping. We ate out once a month and got by real cheap. At four o’clock every day, we looked for a secondary road that took us near a stream or a lake and that’s where we spent the night. We cooked on a campfire. It was great traveling.

And while we were doing this, we were trying to figure out where we wanted to live. I figured if the two of us could live in this VW for a year, we could survive a marriage. I was strong about that. I did not want to go through a divorce. So I went to those extremes to make sure we knew what we were doing before we got married. Her folks’ place got hit by a tornado, and that ended our travels. We helped them fix their place, then went back to Kansas City and stayed with friends, tried to get a group of us, maybe eight of us, to move to the Ozarks. We wanted to be within four hours of her family, eight hours of my family, within an hour’s drive from a hospital because she’s a nurse. Within an hour’s drive of a university. You start putting these things together – and on a school bus route, we had thought about having a family and weren’t going to home school – so all those things. We were looking for like-minded folks too.

So we took off and started looking and found Northwest Arkansas, found the university, the hospital, and we found folks in Madison County. We found a place to rent, went back and got married, took the Carribean cruise on a 42-foot sailboat, then moved to Arkansas.

We wanted to live in the country because instead of gardening in a little plot in the back yard and raising kids in a little fenced in yard, I thought, well, let’s have a big place where we can raise more food and let the kids run as far as they want to run, and not have to be held in by fences and using to be worried about their safety. We wanted a place that was free and open and safe, safe for our kids. We wanted clean air and clean water.

I wanted to be with a like-minded community. I sought out the community, the people, the folks that were living here. That was in ‘77. People had started moving in here. I mean, there was one couple that had moved here from Haight-Ashbury and they were moving out when we were moving in. They had been here seven or eight years. I thought, OK, is that where I’m headed? No, I had a stronger commitment. Also, I’d always hunted and fished all my life because my family did, my father. So I had a real sense of rural woods-type living. We spent our summers in the woods. And had a garden, and N’s family gardened a lot. But a lot of city folks didn’t have a clue how to make it back here in the woods.

We were reading a lot of stuff about organic gardening, Mother Earth News, all those publications, East West Journal, Whole Earth Catalog. Now we still produce most of our own food, although this was a real bad year. We usually have two years’ worth of canned goods stored up, and this year, thank god we do, because we don’t have the potatoes we usually do. We butcher two hogs every year, a couple of goats. Starting last year we started butchering a beef. We’ve got three teenaged girls now and I trade my folks beef and pork for a cooler full of crappie fillets. My dad still fishes. And goose and duck and venison. They turn us on to a lot of game which is pretty clean food, generally speaking. So that’s good. We milk every morning – cows. We used to milk goats. We raised cows for fifteen years. We’ve got three milk cows, about seven head in a little beef cow/calf operation we have with our neighbors.

We have 90 acres – we’re in the middle. We have eight springs. No ponds, no clay dirt. We don’t need to store water, we have so much flowing water. The overflow from the springs runs to the cattle. One of our springs drops 70 feet in elevation, so we’ve got 35 pounds of pressure. I can irrigate overhead 24 hours a day, double and triple crop. No problems with crops. Some extension service film 30-40 years ago joked about a field of strawberries and somebody asking, what is that out there, and they said, rocks, and they said, you’re growing strawberries in rocks? Yeah. People don’t realize you can grow things in rocks. We’ve got a bottom here and it’s real silty soil. We can go in six hours after a three inch rain and till it.

I used to raise calves on goats and I used to milk goats. We still have goats – they’re hard on snakes. They free roam and keep brush down all around. Pretty much six feet up as far as you can see it’s clean and I like that. They really keep it clean. And I like goats. We’ve got our own eggs, our own milk, we have cream and make ice cream. We work really hard to stay away from processed foods. It’s been a focal point for our family and for N. We’ve always joked that we make more work than money at our farm. But I really firmly believe in teaching kids a good work ethic, and that’s what we have here. Every morning they’re up doing their lunches and their breakfast and every night they’re doing chores and they don’t even think about it. It’s just part of life. When they get out in the work force, not only will they have an education, but they’ll work. It won’t be something they disdain or hate because they’ve never had to do it because they were spoiled. It’s real work, real rewarding, it’s food. What a great way to raise kids.

We got some good advice when we moved here. People said don’t just buy something. There were folks who had lived here for a few years and knew the mistakes people make when they buy too far out. So we rented for $40 a month. We tried to live without electricity at first, because we didn’t know if we would buy something with electricity. We ran with 7 or 8 kerosene lamps – we did that for four years while we searched for a spot. We wanted a southern exposure, we wanted to overlook our garden, we wanted live water, gravity flow – and we’re just 20 minutes from town. We paid dearly for it – $700 an acre. Most land out here was $250 an acre. But he was selling the water. He knew what he had and I knew too, because after looking for four years, we knew there wasn’t anything available with live water on small acreage. This was a special place.

I prepared a little bit, after we got back from traveling, and I had worked in carpentry about a year in Kansas City after I got out of the probate court. And those four years I worked in carpentry. That was my goal, to be a carpenter and so I could learn how to build a house. That trade was a means to an end, not something I thought I’d stay with for the rest of my life. It sure fit in with what I wanted to do – working with wood, working with your hands, working outdoors, all those reasons were good healthy reasons to get a job in carpentry. So after four years of building homes, I pretty well knew how to build and design homes. There were solar books out there by that time. Lots of information, tried and true. But look – now I have an air conditioner.

The job that I have become involved with is an extension of this waste ethic that goes back to the Kroger’s where I hated how they wasted food so bad. Yesterday [at lunch with some professional associates] I looked around. I don’t eat out much, and I looked at what was left. You know, I feed two hogs. And there were big old pieces of shish-kabob beef. I asked for a container to put food in, a big piece of aluminum foil. We brought it home. There was a pile of food that high, just from eight people that are all in waste reduction, source reduction, recycling and integrated waste management. I guess it would be too weird to share a plate. So there we all were, all the waste reduction people sitting down for lunch, and all kinds of food waste.

That’s why I never made any money being a carpenter. I was obsessed with trying to use the wood in its best usage and not wasting anything. Don’t just grab any board. Quite often you can have a two-foot piece of scrap of less – you should never have more than two feet. But if you use it property you can cut that down to six inches. That’s just how my brain thinks. I’m constantly thinking about how I can reduce the amount I’m wasting, no matter what I’m doing.

We’ve received a lot of awards for the recycling center we’ve set up for this county. It’s nine and a half years now. I thought after ten years, if it’s not getting better, then are you just going to maintain it? But the long term – this is at least a generational thing. You’re just constantly going back and saying the same things over and over and over to new people, why you should do this, why we can take this but not that. My waste ethic is what I’m continually trying to teach people, one on one. I firmly believe in that one on one. And that’s what we have at the drop-off center. We see our customers every time they come in, there’s someone there to greet them. We ask them how they’re doing, if they need any help, “oh, I’m sorry, no we can’t take that, no caps have to be removed”. A gentle reminder, we try not to nag. Constantly teaching them to do a little better. And it’s difficult because it’s not a typical facility. There are so many things to remember. And you can’t let it bother you that these folks are not getting it right away. It’s a pretty small part of their world. You have to know that part of what you’re going to do is teach.

We’re still making incredible progress. We’ve got two VISTA volunteers starting Monday and grant money has continued to help us improve. Now our re-use sales program is around $8000-9000 per year, just selling stuff that other people want to get rid of: clothes, furniture, appliances, everything. And we’re going to get a household hazardous waste trailer so we can take HHW everyday. The paint, the thinners, bad gasoline, herbicides, pesticides, stuff we really want to get out of the community, along with household batteries and fluorescent bulbs. I don’t know of anybody else that has a program this intensive, at least in this state. I haven’t been to a national conference in four or five years, but I don’t see anybody doing this much.

Granted, it’s small. Volumes are low, and that’s what makes it manageable. We buy all the non-ferrous metals – copper, brass, stainless steel, heater cores, radiators, aluminum cans. That’s a whole other operation. We take tires, oil – plus we take all the trash. We take four different types of trash. We take wood waste, Class 4 demolition and construction debris, we take dimensional lumber, no plywood, particle board – and we run that through a grinder and a value-added process and it turns into a marketable product we sell by the scoopload for mulch. We’re still learning how to manage trash without a landfill.

We’re still struggling with markets, so I’m on the board with Ozark Recycling Enterprise. Right now we’re having trouble moving corrugated cardboard. The cooperative can’t move it because they can’t get any guarantees from the mills. It’s a mess right now. All the metal prices are down, so our business is off there. If it wasn’t for our re-use sales carrying a great load, we’d have a hard sell to our elected officials. The bottom line? Diversity, educate – it’s not just an environmental thing. It has to be an economic thing in order for it to be proven to the powers that be.

We want to put a video together that will go to the state coordinator who teaches classes for those who want to be certified to run transfer stations, where they pooh-pooh recycling because they say it doesn’t work. And the state coordinator is saying, but our county has the best program, they continue to survive, they’re successful. So we need to have that as a model, transfer that information, to get one going in every county.

If you want to plug into what we’re doing, then you can take it to whatever level you want. Use the facility. Don’t dump it on the back forty. That’s a lot of the ethic, just getting people to take care of the trash properly, much less recycle. So there are so many issues. But it comes down to air and water, water quality. I drink out of the ground. I haul that spring water wherever I go……it’s the cleanest water can get……..a natural order to things…….a natural cleansing.

This latest fifth grade class we toured through the center, I took it to the next level and got them close to the planet. After the tour of the recycling center, I ask if they have any more questions. And then I say, “Before you go, I’ve got a question for you. What is the most beautiful thing in the world?” And they go, “My girlfriend ... This place ... Uh, the stars, the mountains.” And I say, “Oh the stars are pretty and they mountains beautiful and the rivers are so pretty, but you know, I saw a picture one time and you know what I think? The most beautiful thing is the planet itself. Have you ever seen that?” I bring out a posterboard picture of the planet seen from the moon. “Isn’t it beautiful? It’s gorgeous. Did you know this is the only planet in our solar system that sustains life as we know it? Did you know when you’re sixty years old there’s going to be twice as many people on the planet as there is today, 16 billion people? We need to figure out better how to take care of this planet. We’ve got to have somebody to take the ball here, because we’re getting older and somebody’s got to do it and we’re not doing a very good job right now. We’re getting a start, but we’ve got to carry it further. I want to leave you with that, I want you to take that home and think about how you can make the planet a better place to live.”

So that’s really pushing the envelope, when I give them that rap. Some of the fifth grade teachers, new this year, are going – “oooh” and sucking air. They don’t want to hear it. It’s not their ethic, not the way they were raised. It’s too foreign, pushing the environmental envelope too far. So how far can you push it before they yank you back and say ‘we don’t like what you’re doing’ and try to get me out? I’m continually pushing that envelope as far as I can and still keep my job working for county government in a good ol’ boy county. I mean, can they pay me to be an environmental activist? Is that what the people in our county want? Is that what they elected their officials to do, to hire people who teach people how to take care of the planet? Yeah, that’s pushing it. I mean, I’m supposed to be out there taking care of the garbage, by golly. I mean, we’ve got to do this recycling because it’s required, and now he’s up there teaching the kids all this crap. You can just hear it.

In the middle of that, I have three teenage daughters and a wife who are plugged into the mainstream of America and they want to live the way they want to live, so I have to balance myself and my philosophy with that of my family’s. So here you see me building a house that’s bigger than most people have and a garage that’s bigger than most people need. Maybe 1800 square feet, 2200 with the garage. Excessive. Producing the food is getting harder all the time. Starting to feel some aches and pains.

I’m doing what I’m doing because of water. I moved to this area because I wanted to drink good clean water. I believed years ago that there would be a limit as to what water could absorb, as far as chemicals go. I mean, how many times can you go through the hydrological cycle and the water be truly cleansed of all contaminants? How many places in the world can you still drink good clean water out of the ground? That’s what I’m fighting for in northwest Arkansas. I mean, you can drink water out of Beaver Lake. Processing takes out the biological factors. But what about the chemicals? Are they taking all of them out? Give me a break. They don’t even know what’s in it.