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WHAT I'VE DONE SINCE BIRTH (1941 - )
(MAYBE MORE THAN YOU CARE TO KNOW)
This document is for my sons so that they might get a better understanding of my life's journey
and perhaps in some indirect way better understand their own. Memories are like snapshots or short film clips which we recall in no particular order. So, it is with this work in progress as I skip around filling in the blanks... All of this is first draft stuff so typos, awkward sentences, etc. are everywhere.
I was born in a tent in San Saba on September 25, 1941. A woman named Lizzie Slaughter was to be the midwife, but at the last moment Dr. Ira Stone arrived on the scene and out of gratitude, Mom named me after the kind doctor.
My folks were migrant workers, but around my second year my mom met a Warrant Officer in the Army at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Owen Kennedy was in a bar where my Grandma Rosa was working. When he saw Mom standing outside he asked Grandma who she was and Grandma said, "That's Lucille, my daughter."
"Mind if I ask her for a date?"
"That'd be up to her, I reckon."
Mom was barefoot at the time (and she really doesn't like me telling this part of the story) so Dad asked her out, she agreed, and the next thing she knew he took her downtown San Antonio and bought her a new pair of shoes and a pretty new dress and took her to the officers club. Not long after they were married.
I didn't realize until years later that the marriage was a boon for me as my new Dad brought cases of canned milk from Fort Sam Houston so I was properly fed.
A few months after my birth, John Green Kelly, my great grandfather and husband of Sarah Jane Kelly, a full-blood Texas Cherokee, was on his death-bed. He called for me, I was placed in his arms, and then while holding me he drew his last breath and died. I can't explain why, but I've always believed that something passed between us at that moment. As I came to understand in a dream-poem years later, "We are the longing of our ancestors, we are their dream. Through us they dream themselves awake.."
When the war ended, Owen brought his two children by a previous marriage (Kay and Rusty), to Bastrop, Texas. We became instant family, and thus began a remarkable adventure.
And this was a difficult journey as well. As a part of this new "family" I felt like the odd man out. Here is how I saw the relationships: Rusty and Kay had Dad, Mom had Dad and me, yet I had only Mom to turn to, confide in and depend on. Her attentions were, quite rightfully divided between her husband and three children.
My earliest memory is from age 2-3 when I decided to add my touch to the decal of little bears with balloons on the inside frame of my baby bed. Within reach was mom's brilliant red fingernail polish. Would you believe, I added my finishing touches to the picture without getting the "paint" all over the place?
On August 29, 1943 I received my first haircut. Dad didn't care much for my long curly hair which hadn't been cut since birth. Needless to say I wasn't very happy over the occassion and the photo taken that day [left] attests to the claim.
My first memor of Japan was Hiroshima. Our train passed past the edge of the burnt landscape that was once the city. It appeared much like the results of a forest fire with black, charred sticks reaching up out of the ground.
When we arrived at Kokura (with Nagasaki and Hiroshiama 100 miles in either direction) no military housing was built so we lived in an exotic two-story Japanese home with a rock wall surrounding the compound and a Japanese guard at the gate.
Mom had anywhere from four to six maids, depending upon her needs -- there was one for every task: cooking, sewing, washing, and the main maid we called Toni. [photo left] She was much like a nanny to me and we spent many hours together. She taught me Japanese and I taught her English. Toni entertained me with instructions in origami, and we looked through Japanese books. She would point to something in a picture, name it in Japanese, then I in english. To this day, I frequently pick up a magazine and start from back to front, like Toni showed me.
I remember one evening watching Toni cleaning up the after-dinner mess a family with three children and a house full of maids is apt to leave behind. With astounding deliberation and and patient attention to detail she scraped every pot and pan so thoroughly as she put things away it seemed they hardly needed washing after that.
The Japanese were very gracious hosts to the occupying army and the dependents. Every were we went in our family car -- an army jeep -- we were surrounded by curious children in an Japan yet unchanged by western styles and customs.
One day, something very unsual happened. Dad took me to visit a Buddhist temple. I never understood why this moment was for me alone, but once inside I was awestruck by the beauty and serenity of the place. At five years old this moment imprinted itself on me and shaped my spiritual beliefs -- it opened up questions about different traditions and inspired religious tolerance.
While in Japan Mom and Dad acquired numerous Japanese artifacts -- scrolls, ceramics and such -- which I used at early age to copy for my drawings. Japanese art and comic books were my first introductions to art.
Two events stand out during this period. Our landlady in Groton was Ms. Peabody. Upon laying eyes on me she said, "My but you're pretty. That's too bad. Pretty children grow up to be ugly." She must have been a knockout in her youth. It seemed that for a year or two after that I looked in the mirror for signs of ugly to show up as predicted. That never really happened -- except maybe to Ms. Peabody.
The other event occurred when Grandma Rosa came for a visit. She pulled me aside and in a secretive tone whispered that I was part Indian. Cherokee. I didn't understand why she wanted me to be so quiet about this remarkable fact until years later when I learned that her mother, Sarah Jane, a full-blood Texas Cherokee had to pass for white to stay in Texas. Texans weren't very kind to Native Americans back in the late 1800s
The first year we lived on Kirby's farm. A combination tobacco and dairy farm. It was here I learned with my older brother, Rusty, how to harvest tobacco, hand tobacco (more about that later), and maintain the heat in the tobacco barn while we stayed up all night long laying on the back of a flat-bed truck looking up at the stars, imagining all sorts of stories and keeping each other awake. Grandma came to visit while we were there and before we knew what happened she had us out picking wild blackberries (thrashing the vines down near the bottom to scare off shakes) and harvesting wild blueberries as well. The abundance was there all along but it took Grandma to help us find those little hidden secrets.
The family was having dinner one night and after working at the tobacco barn with a very black man (why did they call him "Snowball"?) I began to wonder, so a asked Dad, "Why hasn't a negro been President?"
Dad's response was very blunt, "Don't be stupid."
All my life I have discovered, as only a inquisitive and sensitive white boy could, the inequities of racism.
Staten Island 1951-1952
Scary. It was a really big school and the kids all seemed tough and street-wise. I always had a hard time fitting in and making friends in new schools, but this was the worst. Fortunately our stay there was short lived. I remember vividly my last day of school. We moved during the year on our way to Blanco where Grandma Rosa lived; after getting us moved in Dad went to the Korean War. Anyway, back to that last day. The teacher, I can't remember her name but she was young and pretty and on my way out of the classroom she pulled me aside and asked me to stay for a moment. She had me sit on her lap and after wishing me farewell she gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek. Embarrassed that maybe there would be some lipstick on my face I rubbed the spot. "Oh, no," she said, "you're rubbing it off." I was a pretty clever little boy and without missing a beat I said, "No, Mam. I'm rubbing it in."
Blanco was great! I worked in the the Blanco Bowling Alley, made lots of money and in the summers I stayed with Aunt Mary, Uncle Henry Muse and their son I called Uncle Bud. While Dad was in Korea Uncle Bud was kinda like a pretend father. He taught me to hunt and once we went to Luling in the old cedar truck, bought a load of watermelons (after sitting in the shade of a series of flat-bed trucks, cutting the hearts out of melons with our pocket knives for samples) and drove all the way back to the ranch near Bulverde. We stopped at every town, bar, and road house on the way selling and giving away melons. I don't know that we made much off of the trip but it sure was fun.
I could go on at length about Uncle Bud. He bald head was always covered with a sweat-stained Stetson, he limped from some accident long ago, and when he talked it was like his jaw would slip out of joint and he'd have to wiggle it back and forth sideways then continue talking as if nothing happened. I know this isn't politically correct but at the time what I'm going to relate was common. Uncle Bud always had a Pearl beer (with salt) held between his legs when he drove and I remember I'd hold my Nehi Orange soda pop the same way and drink when he did, and wiggle my jaw sideways when he wasn't looking just to see how it felt. I admired that man despite the fact that the first time we were reunited after so many years away he pulled a practical joke on me. We were sitting at the kitchen table and there was a small Mason jar with the smallest pickles I ever saw in my life.
"What are those?" I asked.
"Oh, them," Bud replied, "thems sweet pickles. Here try a spoon full of 'em."
That was my first introduction to chili pequin peppers. Aunt Mary scolded Uncle Bud and fetched me a glass of fresh milk to combat the fire raging in my mouth.
The school in Blanco was small and I was actually related to a couple of folks in town so my shyness, which has plagued me all my life, was minimized. I fit in okay and was sad to leave. Around my 11th year I began drawing in ernest and here is one piece that has survived which was copied from a Japanese vase Dad acquired way back then. (more here)
These were the best years of my late youth. Being an Army Brat is a situation that can only be understood and appreciated by others who share the same fate. The high school in Baumholder were we lived was like any in the states except for the first time since Japan I was surrounded by other military kids. We were all keenly aware of the difficulties of fitting in to a new school and all newcomer
My junior year (57-58) I was president of my class, vice president of the student council, reported on the school newspaper, treasurer of the teen club, artist for the school annual and lettered in basketball, football, baseball and track. (It was a small school and the football team was six-man.)
After several unlucky relationships I went crazy for Tammy Burger and we dated for a year. After I returned to the states she and her folks were transferred to Abilene, Texas. (lots more here esp. visiting East Berlin before the wall.)
That's me and my classic "ducktail" hairdo on the right watching an Elvis impersonator at the Baumholder Teen Club
Dad retired and we returned to Belton my senior year. Although I had lived in Belton before my return was less than I expected. This was a real awakening to the short-lived nature of popularity. In Germany my brother Rusty and I were at the center of social life. Now, once again, I was the new kid in school -- a stranger. As it turned out there were a couple of other Army Brats that had lived in Germany, Dewey Williams and Norman Umholtz. We had common bonds that only children of the military can appreciate. Norman became manager of the high school football team. Dewey and I, being less gregarious, were socially marginilized and hung out with a group considered by some to be hoods or punks.
After Germany where the school was integrated and many of my close friends were Black (Negro was the term at the time), Belton as an adjustment. Like most schools, north and south, it was segregated. It felt odd because when I was Belton Jr. High that fact never occurred to me, and now it haunted me like a ghost.
I remember an incident in sociology class which is as vivid today as it was at the moment. Belton had a AA championship basketball team and Killeen, a school just up the road with their fair share of military brats from Fort Hood had a AAA team but no championship. They challenged us to a pre-season game. The sociology teacher just happened to be the head coach and he told the class in no uncertain terms he wasn't going to let his boys play against Killeen.
Seems they had some negro students on the team and Coach Smith told us that some of that might rub off. Then he began to explain how their physical features resembled apes. From top to bottom. Heels to head.
Well, I had just returned from a great experience in an integrated school and I don't know what possessed me but I raised my hand and said nothing more than, "I think you're wrong about all that."
For several weeks afterwards I'd be walking down the hall between class and someone would say "nigger lover" to my back. When I turned around all I would be confronted with would be smiles. I really don't blame my classmates 'cause they never knew anything different. I guess it's like Kermit the Frog said, "It's not easy being green."
San Marcos 1959-1960
Dad, bored with retirement, began a second career in the Army Reserve and he was assigned to Camp Gary in San Marcos. After graduation from high school I wanted to go to art school. Any art school. I compromised with Dad and enrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers College as an art major and endured classes in the Air Force ROTC. Imagine, if you can trying to fit in with the other artsy types on campus during conversations of Abstract Expressionism and Beat poetry while wearing a starched and pressed uniform and spit shined shoes.
I was a lousy student overall -- except for art -- and was constantly on scholastic probation. After two semesters I decided not to enroll in summer school and was reclassified 1-A by the draft board. My older brother, Rusty, was already in the Marines, I had been raised in the Army and worn an Air Force uniform. Understanding the benefits of a clean bed and warm food and decided to join the Navy. I'm not sure why. I had been aboard ship three times and was sea sick on every trip.
The Navy 1960-1964
After two decidedly unremarkable semesters at Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now SWTSU -- NOW Texas State University) I enlisted in the Navy and served my entire four years at Lemoore Naval Air Station in California as a cryptographer where I attained the rank of Second Class Petty Officer (E-5).
When I left home to join the Navy Dad said, "Good. Maybe it will make a man of you." Those words added fuel to the summering anger I frequently held against my father. Yet, he was right. I was changed by the experience. I became not just a man, but a leader of men. I was a squad leader and Honor Man in boot camp. In radio school I graduated among the top four in the class.
My growing self confidence was supplemented by the isolation working in crypto (encoding and decoding Secret messages) provided -- I read hundreds of books. James Joyce, Dostoyevsky, Hemmingway, Falkner, Colin Wilson poetry of all ages and styles. Existentialism was my abiding interest and Camus, Sartre, Nietzsche and a host of other authors prepared me for my future in San Francisco and New York. At the time I didn't realize that the bulk of my education was self inflicted. I just wanted to know as much as I could about art, literature and philosophy.
On October 16, 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis occurred and as I recall it was around the 26th that I was on alert, expecting to be shipped out at a moment's notice as a radioman for a bunch of Marines who were to execute a shore invasion of Cuba. A Chief Petty Officer in communications didn't much like me or the other three cryptographers in the unit. We were way too special for his tastes. He told me, again and again, that my life expectancy was about 2 and one-half minutes. With a radio on my back and that antenna sticking way up in the air, standing next to an officer I would be the target.
For some 48 hours I waited to be shipped out while sitting around in the Operations Center at Lemoore Naval Air Station watching TV with several other servicemen. The event was all over the news and when asked by journalists folks would say, "Nuke 'em." What I couldn't say, because it was Classified Secret, was that the Russians had submarines, barely within international waters, loaded with atomic warheads. So much for the missile threat from Cuba. The subs were much closer. What I didn't know at the time was there was a Pentagon plan to nuke Cuba if the invasion didn't work.
A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE
Following The Gulf of Tonkin incident I had become disenchanted with both the military and the government. I was getting my news from secret documents in crypto and based on everything my fellow cryptographers and I understood, the USS Maddox was basically a radio spy ship and what we were hearing on the news didn't sound on the up-and-up. As it turned out we were right. Dad always said that we only fight defensive wars. He believed that and so did I, up until then.
With over a year remaining on my four year tour I had attained the rank of Second Class Petty Officer (E-5), and it was abou
t that time I applied for conscientious objector status. During my visit with the Chaplain he asked me, "Where do you get your ideas"
"Walt Whitman, Camus, Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus." Then, out of some inexplicable impulse I said, "At least I'm not serving the Devil to do Gods good work."
''Well, he responded, you know if I approve this you will be sent to Vietnam as a Medic ."
"Sir, I see no difference between repairing the soldier with a trigger finger, and pulling the trigger myself."
With that comment hanging in the air the Chaplain slammed the folder containing my military records on his desk and replied, "I'm going to deny your request. After you are discharged you can be a card caring pacifist."
Not willing to let that be the end of the discussion I said, "When I get out I'm not carrying any cards." Of course that was a silly response. Carrying identification is an unavoidable fact of life.
With all of the arrogance of youth, I made my point and went back to work in Crypto as if nothing had transpired.
Ironically, my last year in the Navy was the most enjoyable. Anytime I could get away from the base I'd go to San Francisco and hang out in North Beach. I had the great good fortune to hear many of the jazz greats live: Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, Yusef Lateef , Cal Tjader, and more.
I recall going in the the Jazz Workshop and there was this really cool, really big black guy at the door. One night he said, "You look like Audie Murphy (a Texan and the most decorated hero of WWII), are you from Texas?"
"Yea, I am."
"That's too bad," he replied.
After my discharge I joined the anti-war movement in New York. When Mom found out she wrote saying, “I thought we taught you better than that.” And she didn’t write again for another year.
All this has an important point. I have been singled out more than once because of my political beliefs. Several years later, In San Marcos I experienced vandalism, threats and underwent surveillance. The administration of the university went around telling my teachers and others that I was recruited by the Weathermen to incite dissent and provoke violence. I later learned that the source of that information came from the head of campus security, a “former” FBI agent at President Johnson’s alma mater. Also, the head of the Criminal Investigation Division in the San Marcos Police Department pulled me aside and warned me that the KKK had a contract out on me. I didn't take that seriously until, driving home one evening, the steering on my car was unresponsive. I discovered that four bolts which held the steering column to the chassis had loosened themselves simultaneously. Oh well...
San Francisco 1964-1965
After my discharge in 1964 I lived briefly in San Francisco’s North Beach. I had been a regular visitor to North Beach during my Navy years, but this time I was embarking on my long anticipated adventure as an artist. Even though I couldn't sell any art at least I could live like one.
Trudging up the long narrow stairway with my duffel bag to the second-floor hotel a voice from the top of the stairs said, "Back from the war, huh?"
I looked up. It was Lenny Bruce! The angry social commentator that made a living as a comedian who was more infamous that famous at the time. I was at a loss for words. I wanted to say something, anything. But being cool was the order of the day and I said, "Yep" or something equally pointless and checked into a room. When I was discharged I had $900 in Travelers Checks and in one month I managed to party away $800. I paid a months rent. Bought some food. With something like $15 to my name I was virtually broke. Welcome to civilian life.
Looking for work I discovered there was little need for cryptographers in the real world. Western Union didn't need my teletype experience so I turned to an employment agency and landed a job as a clerk typist for Bankers Mortgage Company. I worked in a huge open room with some 40 or 50 typists -- all women. A couple of weeks later they hired another young man, Adam Speaker. What a relief! Sure it was great in the abstract having all those women around, but most were older and/or married or held few if any common interests. Adam on the other hand was an aspiring poet from New York City and we found refuge in our lunch hour conversations from the impersonal bureaucracy of the workplace. The day I spent my last two dollars I received my first paycheck.
I paid a months rent, bought fifteen cans of soup -- one for each day of the week -- and enrolled in the Art Students League. After several weeks in life drawing the teacher had us draw the same pose that we had worked on in the previous class. One student asked if we could have another pose. I don't remember exactly what the teacher said but I do remember it was rude and way out of line. I gathered up my supplies, folded my drawing tablet and walked out.With $35 and a one way ticket I arrived in what was to become The East Village. My first job there was a dish washer at Gregory’s Restaurant on St. Mark’s Place, later I landed a job as a short order cook in a bar on the Lower East Side, then I was a "cutter" in the garment industry.
During the first year in NYC while managing Gregory's Restaurant and working in a The Annex, a bar on Avenue B and 9th Street I learned everything I need to know about survival in the city -- not the least of which was having to "pay off" the Sanitation Department, Health Department, Fire Department, Police Department and the Mob. All demanded just a little here or a little there -- daily, weekly or monthly. But I understood that I would be safe from any unorganized crime and all in all it was a bargain.
Once, I came to the defense of an extremely mild mannered (and frightened) peacenik in The Annex a bar on the Lower East Side (Avenue B and 10 Street). A huge out of controll Black dude was yelling in the boy's ear, "Shut up! I told you, you little prick, shut up!" Again and again and again. Finally I'd had enough, and from behind the bar I said, "Look. The guy's shut. Why not leave him alone." I became the focus of his anger and he tried to pull me over the bar. I relaxed my body, put my hands on his shoulders so he couldn't punch me in the face. Suddenly he released me, walked over to a chair across the narrow barroom and sat down. Every so often he'd jump up and shaking his large pointing finger in my face say, "I'm gonna kill you and all your mother-fucking children." Finally he was bored and left saying "I'll be back you little shit."
There were two other bartenders and two waiters there at the time and no one said a word. Well, actually one of them did walk over to me and slid a baseball bat behind the bar telling me to use it on him. "Are you nuts? He'll end up with it and I'll end up kind'a dead." The dude did return but one of the owners was there talking to him and at quitting time I screwed up all the courage I could muster and walked out the door and home to my apartment.
The next night a young Puerto Rican walked up the the bar. "I saw what happened last night. If you want I can take care of him for you."
"You know," he said with a wink and turning his fist into a pretend gun dropped the hammer. "Take care of him. Twenty dollars."
"That's alright. I think I can take care of myself."
He sized up my 5'6" frame as best as he could from the other side of the bar. "Suit yourself."
Roland, a waiter at the place overheard the conversation and said, "Smart move. If you'd said 'yes' he'd taken your money, looked up the other dude and you'd be the dead one for sure. For forty bucks."
On a previous occasion Roland came to my aid with a little street-wise advice. Seems a junkies girlfriend had died a block away. She had been stuffed in the trunk of an abandoned car and now the police were investigating. Two plainclothes detectives came into the place working their way down the bar and headed my way. Roland walked over to me.
"Listen. Don't move. When they come up to you don't touch your body. Don't scratch or nuthin'. When they show you the picture of that junkie just say, 'No I've never seen the guy.' Nothin' else. That guy has friends here and any movement might be taken as a signal and they'll figure you for a snitch. They're crazy man and they'll kill you like they did her."
I did as I was told and lived to tell the tale.
New York City 1965-1970
By 1967 I talked or bluffed my way into advertising & soon found success designing ads for Limbo, a trend-setting clothing store ,which appeared in The Village Voice every week for over four years. Here is the first ad, and this is representative of the ads that became the standard. That exposure lead to work designing covers for The East Village Other, plus illustrations in various publications including The Fillmore East Program Guide, Circus Magazine, WBAI’s program guide, a set for the Film Advertisers Association and sets for underground films. Early on I also managed to participate in two group shows at the UN Building. But it was the ads I did in the Village Voice which brought attention to my work. As a result I had two one man shows at Parente Gallery, and a group show "The Art of Money" at the Chelsea Gallery were my work appeared alongside Andy Warhol, Larry Rivers and other really famous artists.
I had a grand time as a freelance artist earning in 1969 about $35,000. I would lunch at the Museum of Modern Art and the books, magazines, meal and cab fare were all tax deductions.
Limbo, my primary client, had an agreement with the Fillmore East. Their folks could buy clothes at wholesale and the employees of Limbo could get into the Fillmore for free. I saw The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, and Jimi Hendrix just to name a few.
Ironically, this success lead to my disenchantment with the "Art" world. I realized that unless I promoted myself at the expense of my work by attending the right parties and showing up in the right places I would never climb any further up that ladder. Also, if I did and was successful the best I could hope for would be less than a decade of acceptance before the new trend for the next decade swept everything else aside.
It was about this time I married Carolyn Livingston. Our first child, Lisa, was born Mongoloid and died within three months. A year later were were blessed with a very healthy child, David .
Soon I found myself frequenting the American Indian Museum, reading about Native Americans in the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue. My interest in modern art was slipping away. I longed for the open spaces of Texas—its rugged hills, clear skies and down home people.
San Marcos 1970-1976
In 1970 I returned to Texas and resumed my education at Southwest Texas State College. The GI Bill wasn’t enough income to support a family, so I worked on campus as a lab instructor and teachers assistant. A year later my wife took off leaving me to raise our son, David, alone. After two years she contacted me asking if David to come to Connecticut to stay with her and her parents during dead week and finals. I agreed. He never returned. After successfully defending myself in a removal of custody case in New England (I now had custody in two states), she disappeared. It would be ten years before I would see my son, David, again.
My inlaws threatened that if I contested the case they would turn me in to the Veterans Administration. You see, after Carolyn left I was supposed to report the divorce which would have cut my income by exactly the same amount that I was paying for day-care. Both my parents and my inlaws recommended that I keep the divorce a secret. I refused to be blackmailed. They reported me and I lost the GI Bill. My attorney combined my writ of habeus corpus with Carolyn's appeal (and there is more here).
I don't know if anyone who has never experienced the death of a child and the kidnapping of another can understand, but I never carried or kept photos of either of them in plain view. They were reminders too painful to see every day.
Later Dave became a staff photographer for the San Francisco Examiner with more than a dozen awards to his credit. His work has appeared in People Magazine, The New York Post, and USA Today, just to mention a few.
After I returned from winning the court case (with nothing to show for it but bills) I learned I was persona non grata in the Art Department at SWTSU. My liberal politics and co-editorship for The Weather Report, an off-campus newspaper finally exacted its price. Also that semester I helped organize the Student Campaign Committee and ran for City Council. I knew there was no chance of winning; we registered students to vote as our intent was to count student votes to use as political leverage the coming year. We captured thirty percent of the vote. The following year I ran a second time. That was more than the conservative chairman of the Art Department could tolerate. I was "replaced" by another student. It was during that campaign a student who resembled me had been hired to distribute me campaign materials in moderate neighborhoods, insult people, etc. Two years later I learned from my "replacement" that he was the one hired to distribute the materials. I lost that election by fewer than 130 votes.
With little money to live on and no GI Bill, I quit college and began working for a variety of newspapers including The Austin-American Statesman where I served as a courtroom artist for two trials in San Marcos. Among the other publications I served as founder and editor of an entertainment tabloid "Rumors (Gossip, Lies & Dreams)", writer and artist for TV Scene and a writer for Other News, another off-campus, off-beat tabloid.
Marble Falls 1976-1978
Everything seemed to be wearing down and out. I decided to move to Marble Falls where I found work designing ads for The Highlander, which was the largest weekly in the state at that time. The work proved to be less than a challenge and far from interesting -- and the pay was lousy. The Highlander was the first weekly in the state to computerize. I learned to use the huge and cumbersome Compugraphic system which came in handy when I decided, after a year, to return to New York City. I had met and started dating a writer for the newspaper, Suzanne Brown, and when I told her I was leaving she pouted so I invited her to come along and she did.
New York City 1978-1980
Back in New York my first job was creating maps for a series of books Inns in various regions of the U.S., Canada, England and Ireland. Then, by virtue of my experience with Compugraphic, I worked as a typesetter for Consumer Electronics publications which paid well but at best it was boring. During this time Suzanne had enrolled in NYU and started her higher education.
A friend, Skip Bushby, and I teamed up and began working as a subcontractor for interior construction projects. We worked on Bette Midler’s loft although I never met her, then for several weeks we were employed by Diane Keaton. She was delightful and as dedicated a person as any I have known. Buy this time I was longing for Texas again and haunted by memories of camping trips at Enchanted Rock. I decided to return. While on the service elevator with Diane she asked me why I was returning to Texas. "That’s where my subject matter is." I replied and she understood. My friends thought I was just nuts. The next job was to be for Dustin Hoffman.
Suzanne, my significant other and I settled in to a duplex near the airport. She went to UT and I worked the night shift at Best Printing. I didn't have any luck with the want ads and after passing Best Printing a few times I decided to walk in with my portfolio. With samples of my published work and my knowledge of Compugraphic I was hired on the spot and created a one-man night shift where I would typeset copy in one room, walk around to the next and paste-up the result. After nine months our son Brian was born and I begged off the night shift and they agreed. Brian enlisted in the Air Force, survived boot camp with flying colors -- honor grad -- and was a Crew Chief for F-16's. I worked for a year in Austin at Best Printing where my production skills for books and magazines were honed to a fine edge. A little booklet I designed for fun landed me a job at SWTSU with the Institute for Criminal Justice Studies.
San Marcos 1981-1983
The ad for the job opening ICJS placed didn’t mention any degree requirement, and after hiring me they found out to their dismay my highest diploma was from Belton High School. At their insistence I was required to complete my BA during my lunch hour. I was more than happy to comply. Twenty four years after entering Southwest Texas Teachers College I graduated from Southwest Texas State University.
After I was there about a week a woman who headed up the public information office for the university tried to get ICJS to fire me. "You don't know who you hired," she was reported to have said, explaining that I was some wildeyed radical certain to bring disaster or at least controversy to the organization. I wasn't fired but it was clear that even a decade later and I was still paying the price for advocating such radical notions as encouraging young folks to vote, trying to get transportation for the elderly, a leagal aid facility for the poor and other equally dangerous notions.
Marble Falls 1984-1987
After a couple of years with ICJS I moved to Marble Falls where I worked for Highland Publications. Among other tasks I was the first art director for Texas Fish & Game (more on that later). I also worked as a free-lance writer for The Highlander Newspaper (this time in the editorial department) where I won two awards from the National Newspaper Association—First and Second Place in Environmental Coverage. (These awards would prove to be the kiss of death preventing me from getting hired a few years later with several Austin newspapers. Seems I was considered a loose cannon in the journalism business. And environmental groups didn't want to hire me because I was more useful if I found employment in journalism.)
Highland Publications was another dead-end job. Getting a raise was impossible. Being salaried meant no overtime (I was putting about 60 hours a week) and our young son Brian was being shuffled about by two working parents. I quit after about six months and began free-lance writing and painting. During that period I was published by Texas Highways and Texas Monthly. Soon our son Kevin was born and I became known as "Mr. Mom" because I worked at home, took care of the house and the children.
I don't think anything ever irritated me more than being called "Mr. Mom" while Suzanne was "Super Mom". Forget that I was being published in major magazines, winning national awards in journalism, being interviewed by TV and radio stations about Enchanted Rock and selling paintings for $1,200 to $1,600 each. And taking care of baby Kevin. Because of Suzanne's position as editor of The Highlander we attended numerous functions and the word was out. I was the care-giver of our children. I was Mr. Mom. That was that and it came up everywhere we went and it set the tone for the way I was treated socially, which is to say the men pitied me and the women envied Suzanne.
In 1987 Suzanne and I moved to Austin and were divorced almost immediately. Suzanne had been having an affair with David Freeman, the general manager of the Lower Colorado River Authority. Divorced and unemployed I moved into a little place on La Casa Street just off South Lamar. I was out of work for three months and to this day I don't understand how I survived. I was devastated by the divorce and everything that went with it. Suzanne and I had joint custody which meant that Brian and Kevin were being shuffled about so fast in the beginning that some mornings they didn't know where they were when theyS woke up.
I can remember so vividly how hectic it was when they were with me and how desolate when they were gone. One evening they left their toy cars and men on the floor poised in some kind of unfinished game. I stared at the arraignment for hours undecided as to whether I should put them away or leave everything as it was and pretend they were just in their bedroom sleeping.
Knowing that my first child died and my oldest son David had been kidnapped by his mother and disappeared for a decade, Suzanne promised me she "would never take the boys away." In 1989 she and David moved to Sacramento taking the boys with them. Although I was allowed visitation three or four times a year, sometimes for several weeks, it was agony. It's been a decade of frequent tears and good-byes. It's more than a soul should bear. And we carry the scars that never have a chance to heal.
Finally, I found work at The American Botanical Council where I was brought onboard to convert a newsletter into a magazine. Five years later the magazine HerbalGram was a full color quarterly publication with international distribution — from Australia to Zaire
Enchanted Rock 1990-1995
While working for the American Botanical Council I decided to take a camping trip to Enchanted Rock and continue work on my history of the place which had bees shelved for the last two years. My plans were derailed when I discovered an empty house on the roadside adjacent to state park. I asked around and discovered the place was for lease. Now all I had to do was to convince the owners in Houston and my boss in Austin that I was perfect for the place and only they could make it happen.
When I brought up the subject with my boss, Mark Blumenthal, he said, "Well it looks like you're going to need a fax machine and computer." Everything fell into place. I signed the lease and was preparing for the move when on the way home from work on Hwy 183 in North Austin I had a wrecked my car while trying to avoid a wreck.
The police officer was very understanding but issued me a ticket anyway for an illegal lane change. The other car wasn't damaged at all but my year-old Geo was a mess. The officer said I should go to traffic court and get the ticket dismissed while informing me that he wouldn't be able to be there because he was going to Desert Storm. Well that worked and as luck would have it the Chevrolet dealer in Austin agreed to let me trade the wreck in for another new car as long as I didn't make an insurance claim. ( I learned later that if there is no claim there is no wreck and the car could be repaired and sold as used to another unfortunate buyer.)
I moved to the 680-acre XLN Ranch next to Enchanted Rock and was somewhere between the top of the world and heaven. I had to attend meetings once a week in Austin but the rest of the time mine. I worked mostly in the evenings so I could explore the ranch while looking for arrowheads and taking pictures of The Rock and the surronding area.
After five years at the ABC there were no new challenges. I was bored again I resigned. But now with no job and no prospects I moved into a travel trailer and with some $75 to my name started Enchanted Rock Newsletter. Before the year was out it was Enchanted Rock Magazine and within five years it had distribution in 124 Texas counties and 26 states plus subscribers in Germany and Australia.
After years of research on Enchanted Rock and fullfulling requests for educational talks on the place I not had a magazine and the opportunity to begin publishing the history I had begin in 1980.
Then, almost overnight, most of the parks employees decided I was an advesary. It begain when I started getting letters complaining about the hostile or indifferent treatment visitors were receiving from the employees. I called Sony Solis, a longtime friend and the supervisior, and told him what I was hearing. He said that I should ask for a meeting with the staff and tell them directly. I did. Big mistake.
Now I was really on the outs and not long after the t-shirts I had been selling were discontinued and that revenue which helped finance the fledgling magazine was gone.
I'll never understand what really happened. I know the place was understaffed and overworked and my promotion of the place only exacerbated the issue. Strangely, my offer to recruit volunteers was soundly rejected.
Then came the Clyde Bellecourt controversy. (more)
The magazine was a rewarding experience which brought me into contact with some remarkable people, excellent writers and a few notable Native American leaders: Clyde Bellecourt, founder of the American Indian Movement, Looks for Buffalo (Clyde Hand) a Lakota medicine man, and Wallace Coffee two term tribal chairman for the Comanche Nation.
When I was a journalist back in the late 80s I covered city council and chamber of commerce meetings as well as court trials and local festivals in Burnet and Llano counties. Back they I always said Llano was the last place I would ever live. After moving there I decided, yes it would be the last place and I intended to become a very permanent resident. But after five years that all came to an abrupt end.
My computer which I had inherited from the American Botanical Council started to crash -- it had terminal alzhimers and there was nothing to do but spring for new equipment. The internet had been getting my attention so I begain reading anything I could find on the topic. In Llano that meant buying the extremely limited number of magazines on the topic. (Understand, you couldn't even buy a dictionary in town.) Within a few months I had the computer but we were living two miles from the nearest telephone line on the second dirt road to the right. Holly contacted the phone company and two months later she managed to badger them into dropping in a land line through miles of granite.
Once everything was in place I designed my first site www.texfiles.com and I must tell you it was one of the biggest thrills of my life. Within a few months I had another domain: www.llanotexas.com (which I have since sold) . And with that I began building a very extensive community web site. I had a page for the local movie, museum, real estate, lodging, restaurants, history, etc. A TV station out of Austin saw the quality of the site and traded TV advertising for a link to their site. I was on top of the world.
Now here comes the bad part. After my site was up the local Economic Development Council hired Glocal Vantage a consulting firm out of Austin to promote tourism and the first and practically only thing they did was create a dumb and ugly web site and give away free sites (pages) to local businesses. I protested. Talk about unfair competition. I took out a half page ad in the Llano News explaining what I believed was happening. I was threatened with a law suit while being subjected to a petition to take off all the information about the controversy I had posted on the Internet; and there was even a letter writing campaign to Centeral Texas Electric Co-op, my Internet Service Provider to dump my site. CTEC decided I was not worth fighting over. While they didn't drop my site I lost all of the subcontracting work I was getting from them for web design.
The City Manager invited me to the next City Council meeting to discuss the issue. When I arrived, with my young son Kevin ( I wanted him to see democracy in action ) I was told there would be no comments from the audience. What transpired was nothing less than a kangaroo court. I became the topic of discussion among the City Council, the Development Council, and Glocal Vantage.
Misrepresentations, half truths and outright lies were being tossed around. I raised my hand slightly in a weak effort to defend myself. One of the development members who had already threatened to put me out of business if I spoke up against any issue he held near and dear turned abruptly around and shouted "Yes Ira." Someone sitting next to him placed their hand on his arm to calm the angry man down and the meeting resumed. I walked out with Kevin. When we returned to the ranch I told Holly what happened and she said, "It's time to move."
It only took me 24 hours to agree. I understood I was an outsider and that would never change. A few months earlier I sold Enchanted Rock Magazine to a competitor. I was again persona non grata in a community and the years of groveling it would take to erase that was, as you probably understand by now, not in my nature. I integrated llanotexas.com into texfiles.com and in the process much of the community informaion was deleted. It took us until July 1 find a place and move move to San Marcos
I learned a really hard lesson in Llano. Despite publishing the only magazine ever to come out of that community and promoting Llano at every turn with articles and ads; and then creating a community web site at my own initative I was still a marginal member of the community. No one stood up publicly in my defense. I didn't belong and never would.
San Marcos 2001-2003
Throughout the 70’s, 80’s & 90’s it has been my interest in and service to Enchanted Rock (which actually began in the early 60’s) that has brought me the greatest rewards and most significant personal growth. Apart from designing web sites, I began working on a film script. I’ve never written one before and I loved new challenges. More here...
After leaving San Marcos I returned to the Hill Country and Llano County. Unable to find a permanant place to live LC Schnider called me and asked if I would like to move back to the Triple Creek Ranch. Would I ? Located six miles direct line north of Enchanted Rock the place is remote and quiet.
In January 2006 I met Kathy over the Internet. After several weeks of phone calls we finally got together and since then we have been as inseparable as a four-hour drive between us permitted. I had never left the country on vacation, ever. Back in 1964 I was told by a palm reader that if I stayed "in the arts" I would live a long live and die in a forgien country. Kathy had been to Isla Mujeres, just off the coast of Cancun, Mexico, before and wanted to return -- with me. What was I do to but take my chances?
It goes without saying I lived through the adventure and had the most incredible experience. The highlight of the trip was dinner on the beach -- literally. At my request a table was set up just a few feet from the water, tiki torches and candles, courteous wait staff in attendance... like in a movie.
Kathy and I were married in Santa Fe on September 25, 2008. After all these years I have finally found a vital and loving relationship. Kathy's sense of color, from flower gardens everywhere to remarkably creative decisions on how to paint the interior of our home was transformational. She moved in with me at Triple Creek and after we fixed the place up, painting all the rooms, installing a new kitchen floor, etc., L.C. announced that he was selling the place. Kathy insisted that we start looking for another place right away, which seemed a little overanxious. But, as usual, she was right. Through her work at Edward Jones we located another place in the country. Bigger & better without all the dirt roads. Naturally we painted every room, refinished the floors, laid a concrete paver patio in the back yard, on and on....
About my children: Lisa was cremated and buried in the wind near Mount Vernon.
Lisa lives only in my memory along with the one and only brief smile she ever managed. I wrote a poem for Lisa, David, Brian and Kevin which might be worth a look.
Setting all my losses, and all the injustices real or perceived aside, I have been blessed. Lisa's death made all life precious. And my three sons are fixed in my heart as surely as Orion's Belt is fixed in the heavens.
From my earliest memories art and poetry have served as my closest companions. As they serve me, I serve them. And from that I know this: It is only through the Arts we reach our highest potential as humans. And what greater honor can there be beyond service to that calling?
And my sons remember, although this voice will not last forever, I live a longer life through each of you. Look in any mirror and I am there in many subtle ways. Look into your hearts, look deeper, into your souls and I am there as well, for you are of me. My poets. My sons. I love you boys, with all my heart. Dad.
P.S. Sadly, my youngest son, Kevin, passed away April 21, 2020. I will comment later....
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