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.

No comments: