A Beginning Writer’s Journal: 1970-1972 reveals what Joseph Sutton went through to finish the first writing project of his life, a novel about his experimental teaching experience at an inner-city high school in Los Angeles. Although Sutton struggled with bouts of writer’s block and fluctuation of moods, this book shows how he evolved to overcome those obstacles. Never has there been a more honest, intimate and telling portrait of what a writer was thinking, feeling and doing at the onset of his writing career.
In the summer of 1969, at the age of 29, I started writing a novel about my experimental semester of teaching history at an inner-city high school in Los Angeles. In order to focus completely on my writing career, I had saved enough money to last at least a couple of years. I moved out of Los Angeles and settled in El Cerrito (next door to Berkeley) to start, with highest of hopes, the first writing project of my life. While writing the first draft of my novel, I met Sharon Murphy who was about to graduate UC Berkeley in Library Science. After dating several months, we took over a small furnished house in Berkeley from a friend who was leaving the country for a year. Two female cats, Pupic and Birdie, came with the house. Our friend gave us specific instructions: “Don’t spay the cats.”
Five months after Sharon and I started living together, I began my first journal entry.
Friday, September 25, 1970 – My First Journal Entry
I couldn’t sleep last night. I laid in bed thinking that I’d like to kill that calico cat Pupic for being so damn hungry all the time. She’s really getting on my nerves. She can’t think of anything but food and it really irritates me.
But Pupic wasn’t my only worry. I kept thinking of the Pakistani fellow who was going to bring his Rambler over at eight in the morning for Sharon to test drive it. It screws up everything, as of the past five months, when I know somebody is coming by the house. It wrecks my writing schedule. I want to write every day and do it consistently, not when the mood hits me. I’m out of whack when I know someone is coming by the house.
Instead of tossing and turning, I picked up John Dos Passos’ The Best Times: An Informal Memoir. Dos Passos, to me, is kind of a snob intellectual. He’s always mentioning Harvard and using Greek, French and Latin phrases without translating them. That’s no way to stand for the common man, Mr. Dos Passos.
I think I finally dozed off around five a.m.
After waking up at seven, I went downstairs to check on Pupic’s kittens—a strong litter of five. I hadn’t done anything physical the day before and I could feel my body say, “Do something physical or you’ll never get a good night’s sleep!” I did 40 push-ups—20 at a time with a minute rest period. I went upstairs, laid next to Sharon’s warm body and dozed off.
All of a sudden it was eight o’clock. I quickly dressed and then there was a knock on the door.
Sharon drove the car while I tried to find out more about it from the Pakistani fellow (I had driven it yesterday afternoon). I thought it was in good shape and saw that Sharon handled it well. I made an offer of $270 (original asking price was $290). The Pakistani fellow said, “$275.” “It’s a deal,” I said.
Sharon went to work at her new job at the Orinda library in her mother’s car, while the Pakistani fellow and I went to get a smog check and register the Rambler at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
When I got home around noon, I wanted to get to work on my football short story, but couldn’t (I’m taking time off from revising my teacher novel). Maybe I can’t work when the temperature is in the 90s. Sharon brought that up last night.
When Sharon came home, I followed her in my VW bus so she could return her mother’s car.
After eating dinner at Maiko Restaurant, we drove home. Sharon went for cigarettes in her “new” car, and that’s when I started writing my first journal entry.
Saturday, September 26, 1970 – A Feud
We’re having a feud with our next door neighbor.
Pupic, a few days ago, took her kittens next door to Charlene’s small backyard. Today I saw Charlene clean out the yard and I didn’t see the kittens from our bathroom window. I can’t help but think Charlene did something to them. I hope I’m wrong and I’ll find out tomorrow when I go and talk to her about it.
Charlene is one powerful person to her two boys and one girl—Phil (21), Billy (13) and Tahoe (5). She’s the authoritarian ruler of the roost. I have no respect for her son Phil. He was living with Darien across the street, they had a fight, and so he moved back in with his mother. Charlene thinks I’m trying to protect Darien from Phil. The thought never crossed my mind. Charlene has since shied away from me and Sharon. We haven’t said a word to each other in over a month.
Her two younger kids used to play in their front yard and our front yard before this rift; now they don’t. Their freedom is being restricted. Mine, too. As I was looking out the bathroom window, to see if the kittens were there, I stepped back from the window so Charlene wouldn’t see me. That’s why I don’t like Pupic taking her kittens over there. That’s why I’m going to talk to Charlene tomorrow, to try and straighten things out.
Sharon and I lazed around the house today. She read while I watched the Pirates-Mets game. The Pirates, with Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, clinched the National League East title. They’ll now play the Cincinnati Reds, with Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, for the National League pennant.
After dinner, Sharon and I went to see Shop on Main Street and Z (a Greek slogan meaning “he still lives.”). Two excellent films. Shop on Main Street was about a town in Czechoslovakia during World War II where the Nazis rounded up all the Jews to transport them to death camps. A Czech man had formed a business partnership at a small shop with an older Jewish woman. He abhorred what the Nazis were doing, felt helpless that he couldn’t stop them, and so at the end of the film he hung himself. Here’s a good question to think about: What do you do if you see an immoral act going on? Do you go underground, organize, speak up or what?
Z was about a police department in a large Greek city that assassinates a political figure who stands for peace, truth and justice. An Inspector gathers evidence of the police department’s wrongdoing and presents it to the court. Everyone thinks the ending would turn out where justice prevails, but the “good guys” were eventually killed off and a military dictatorship takes over. True story.
Sharon and I came home and talked about our problem with Charlene. It all stems from a misunderstanding. It reminds me of a Tolstoy short story, where two neighboring farmers have a disagreement that eventually leads them to burning down each other’s farmhouses.
Sunday, September 27, 1970 – Goodbye Kittens
I woke up, dressed and was going to go next door to talk to Charlene. Her son Billy was out front and I asked if he knew where the kittens were. “Yes,” he said, pointing under the front porch of his house. I brought all five kittens back to our house. My contempt for Charlene is over—just as long as the kittens are safe.
Sharon and I put the five kittens in a box and drove to Oakland to visit Marlene, Eddie, Chris and Bob (all four of my L.A. friends who recently moved up from L.A.). We rang the bell. Chris opened the door and told us to close our eyes when we got upstairs. I didn’t close my eyes and walked into their living room to see someone covered with a blanket. It turned out to be my old friend Nate Wirt who had driven up from L.A. We talked of the fires sweeping L.A. and how frustrating it is to know that they’ve been going on for three days.
Marlene and Eddie picked out yellow kitten and climbing kitten from the litter. Nate, Chris, Sharon and I started back to our house. As we passed by Provo Park and saw a crowd of people, I thought of giving away two more kittens. I printed “Free Kittens” on the box and within five minutes they were gone. We kept one kitten so Pupic wouldn’t feel too bad losing most of her litter.
Monday, September 28, 1970 – Pupic Follows Me
Three big news events. John Dos Passos died, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt died, and the fires are still raging in L.A. and San Diego (400,000 acres and 400 homes destroyed, eight lives lost). The funny thing is, I just finished reading Dos Passos’ The Best Times today.
I worked at my desk for a couple of hours, went shopping, watched the news on public television, ate dinner by myself because Sharon works till 9 p.m. I then went for a walk.
Pupic’s milk is drying up after losing four of her litter yesterday. On my walk, she followed me a few blocks, hoping I’d help her find her kittens. It’s the first time she’s ever asked for my help.
Tuesday, September 29, 1970 – Two Cats and a Kitten
I tried to work at my desk today but Birdie (a tabby cat), Pupic and her lone kitten kept bothering me. I have to finish the story I’m working on by tomorrow.
Wednesday, September 30, 1970 – Finished
I did what I set out to do—I finished my football short story by the end of the month. I worked ten hours on “The Fourth Stringer” today.
Thursday, October 1, 1970 – A Conversation with Myself
Everything is getting me down: Sharon working every day, the cats and kitten taking up too much of my time and the hot, smoggy weather. I’m really feelin’ low.
Sharon and I aren’t getting along. I don’t feel like cooking every night when she gets home. She knows that. I feel sorry for her and don’t want her to cook, either. I don’t know how we’ll work it out, but we will if we want to.
Suddenly I feel tied down. She just got a full-time job in Orinda as an assistant librarian. I feel tied down now because she can’t move out of Berkeley with me. I don’t know what will become of us.
I got up late this morning and wanted to go out to breakfast with Sharon before she went to work at noon. I couldn’t—she had a flute lesson. She’s the busiest woman alive.
I put all the dirty wash in my bus and drove to the laundromat. I forgot the soap, so I drove back home. That’s when I saw Adriana, Tony Kutner’s girlfriend, in the front yard. She was letting their dog Harrold out so he could relieve himself. The three of them got in at 1:30 a.m. They said they found a house to rent in Bandon, Oregon, right on the beach. They’ll be going back in a few days.
I got the soap and the short story I’ve been working on and stopped by Kim Teramoto’s house. I told her I’d eventually have her type it up to get it out of my hands. Then I went to the bank to transfer money from my saving’s account to my checking account. I left the bank and mailed two checks, one to our landlord and the other to the phone company. I forgot to deduct the 10% U.S. tax on my phone bill for my stand against the Vietnam War. I’ve been doing this since we moved into the house in May.
I put the wash in the machine and went next door to Cafe Espresso to order a coffee and bagel. I sat outside and started making changes to my story again. It’s a never ending battle with me and revisions. That’s why I have to get it to Kim fast.
I brought the wash home and met Tony out in the front yard reading Justice William O. Douglas’ book, Points of Rebellion, a wonderful book that I read two weeks ago. I was amazed that a Supreme Court Justice, a man in his 70s, can stand up for the poor of this country. The man is remarkable, simply remarkable.
Tony and I talked of his two-week adventure in Oregon. He, Adriana and Harrold (can’t forget wiry-haired Harrold) camped out most of the time in their tent on communes or someone’s property.
I forgot to mention that I saw Pupic’s lone kitten for the first time in three days. I don’t know where it’s been, but it’s alive and well. I notice that kittens, when left outside a few days, are physically quicker and less trusting of humans. It seems that they find out fast about the cruel world. I’ve treated the kittens cruelly sometimes by throwing them away when they climb up my pant legs. It’s disgusting and debasing, but that’s what I do sometimes. It gives me an understanding of my fellow human beings. That’s why I can understand our neighbor Charlene a little better. Oh, she can be a cruel woman sometimes. I can’t stand her when she’s like that, but I can understand her a little better We are cruel because we ourselves think we’ve been treated cruelly. This is a form of paranoia. I know how it feels. I’m sometimes cruel because I get paranoid of people, kittens and cats taking advantage of me. I’m cruel toward Sharon because I don’t want to do everything around the house all the time.
“No one’s asking you to do all the housework.”
Who’s going to do it if I don’t?
“It will get done.”
But not fast enough.
“It will get done. Don’t hold a grudge against a woman who is working 45 hours a week and spending another five hours traveling to and from work.”
But why did she get a job?
“Don’t you want her to be happy?”
“Well, at least she got a job she was trained for and likes?”
Yes, but her job is tying me down.
“What do you mean?”
I can’t move out of Berkeley.
“Why do you want to move?”
“There are too many distractions. Too many cats, too many kittens, too many people dropping by or staying here.”
“Then pack up and go?”
I don’t want to leave without Sharon.
“You know she can’t go now.”
I know that. What am I going to do?
“Well, do you want to live with her?”
I don’t know.
“Why don’t you know?”
She doesn’t turn me on.
“How long will that last?”
I don’t know, but not long, I hope.
“Why doesn’t she turn you on?”
She’s always busy reading, doing her hair, going to flute lessons or working.
“Are you turning her on?”
She sees I’m mad for doing everything around the house.
“Don’t you think she has feelings?”
Of course she has feelings.
“Don’t you think she wants to go with you?”
We’ve talked about it, but now she has a job she really likes.
“So what are you going to do?”
I don’t know. All I know is, I have to finish my novel.
“That’s the first thing you have to do.”
You’re right. Why didn’t I think of that earlier? But it’s hard writing a book when I’m doing most of the cleaning, shopping, cooking and washing.
“That’s what you have to go through till you finish your book.”
Yeah, I guess you’re right.
Sunday, October 4, 1970 – Day of Decision
Today was a day of decision. Sharon, without warning, wouldn’t speak to me. What’s wrong, I thought, that she won’t speak to me and is looking in the want ads for an apartment? I tried to speak to her rationally but all she could say was, “I’m moving out.”
I went outside with so many thoughts spinning around in my mind. Should I just let her move out? What’s going to happen if she does? Will I be freer? Will I miss her?
I came inside and found her upstairs in our bedroom.
“Tell me what’s wrong?” I asked.
“I don’t turn you on,” she said.
She said she was looking for a pen and my journal fell on the floor to the page where it said she didn’t turn me on.
I was mad at her, not for reading it, but for not reading further.
We finally made up.
Tuesday, October 6, 1970 – “New” Football Short Story
I went for a walk with Tony’s dog Harrold to Kim Teramoto’s house. I told her I’d like to get my football story to her by the end of the week. It’s going to be tough, because when talking to Tony I found I could change it for the better.
Harrold and I met a little kitten a block from where we live. It followed me across the street and so I brought it home. It has yet to get along with Pupic’s kitten or Birdie’s five new kittens.
I’m going to try to finish my “new” football short story by Friday. Sharon and I can then drive up to the Russian River this weekend and relax for a few days.
Wednesday, October 7, 1970 – A Long Walk
I read a short story by Jack London before I got out of bed this morning—”To Light a Fire.” Very suspenseful and intriguing. Got out of bed and went downstairs for breakfast. The kittens were climbing all over my leg. “Tuffy,” the new kitten, was still fighting with Birdie, Pupic and the other kittens and shitting all over the place, so I put him on my shoulder and stomped up four blocks to People’s Park Annex on Hearst Street. I left him there to be picked up by someone who might enjoy him better. The last I heard of Tuffy was his loud meowing.
I needed a long walk and walked two miles to Live Oak Park. I decided to start my short story “The Fourth Stringer” all over again and stopped at the market to buy a writing tablet. I went back to the park and started writing. But there was too much noise from a grammar school class that was spending the day in the park.
I started walking again. It was such a beautiful, clear day that I felt that a view of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge would do me good. I ended up at the Berkeley Rose Garden, started to write and two hours later I didn’t accomplish a damn thing.
On my way home, I passed by People’s Park Annex, didn’t see Tuffy and arrived home five minutes later. I went upstairs to write, but couldn’t. I laid on the bed for a while, then went downstairs to cook supper.
The chicken I left out to thaw was broken into by Birdie. I chased her out of the house, cursing at her. She should know better, even though she just had kittens.
I left the chicken on the counter to start the barbecue. When I came back in, Pupic was chewing on it. I chased her out, cursing at her.
Sharon came home. The four of us ate barbecued chicken, or what was left of it. While we ate, we listened to the news about Nixon’s ceasefire proposal with North Vietnam.
Thursday, October 8, 1970 – Kim Teramoto
I took “The Fourth Stringer” to Kim to type up. It took approximately a month for me to finally let it go.
Kim and I talked of her high school days in Orange County—how prim and proper she had to be because she was the only Asian in the school. She also told me about the restrictions against the Black people in conservative Orange County.
I went to the library to look up magazines I could send my story to.
I came home and started reading Ring Lardner’s You Know Me Al, a humorous book about a struggling Major League pitcher writing letters to his friend Al. It’s hard for me to put the book down.
Adriana made a fantastic spaghetti meal. She’s a great Italian cook. As Tony says, “Momma mia, mi Adriana.”
Sharon looked sullen when she got home. She is sick in some way—maybe it’s her period.
Thursday, October 15, 1970 – A Bed for My Bus
This past weekend, Sharon and I drove up to the Russian River to “relax” at my cousin Benny and his wife Caren’s house. We couldn’t relax for three days because there were four other people staying there.
Other than going for a long walk in the hills, Sharon and I stayed around the house while there was a constant flow of joints being passed around. Because I don’t need that much marijuana to get high, I had to say “NO” about 50 times.
I built a sturdy bed for my VW bus yesterday. I removed the back seat, bought a large board that I nailed two 2×4 wooden legs to. The foam mattress I bought last week fits perfectly.
Sharon is excited about reading stories to kids in the library. But she has to wait till the red-tape OKs it. She seems in a good mood this week. When she’s happy, I’m happy.
I watched Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson lead the Baltimore Orioles to a World Series title against Cincinnati today. They won the Series four games to one.
Saturday, November 28, 1970 – She’s a Woman
I have thoughts, some damn good thoughts, and I want to communicate those thoughts to others in my writings. For example, I wrote “The Fourth Stringer” to get revenge on coach Len Casanova for not giving me a chance to play more when I was at the University of Oregon.
“Why didn’t he let you play?”
He thought I fumbled the ball too much. Let’s talk about something else.
“OK. How are you going to communicate your thoughts to others?”
By concentrating on what I’m writing. I don’t want to think of anything but writing. I don’t want to think of Sharon, the cats, dirty dishes, the laundry or cooking.
“Why did you choose to be a writer?”
I chose to be a writer because I have something to say. My novel is about a teacher who doesn’t want to tell his students what to think except to think for themselves. Who’s to say what the best teaching method is? The teacher in my novel taught the only way he knew how: by example. He tried to teach democracy by letting his students teach. He didn’t want his students to fear him—that’s why he gave them all a grade of A.
“What else did he teach?”
He tried to teach them to be themselves, to be proud of themselves, to not think lowly of themselves or their thoughts. Self-respect is what he hoped they learned.
Sharon will be home soon. She’s 5-foot-3. She dyes her hair red. She’s a sturdy, strong woman. She reads a lot. She cares for me. She doesn’t say much, but when she does, it’s something to listen to. She can get depressed, but only rarely. Sometimes I don’t know what she wants. But she’s a woman—she wants to be thought of, listened to, looked at and caressed.
Tuesday, January 12, 1971 – Concentration
It’s a new year in a new city: Eugene, Oregon. Sharon and I are living in a one-bedroom cottage on the outskirts of Eugene. This is the town where I went to college, the University of Oregon.
We’ve been here one week and it’s snowing. I haven’t seen snow since I was a student here nine years ago. It’s so new to me that I’ve gotten into two snow fights with the kids in the neighborhood.
Sharon and I haven’t gone anywhere in the past two days. The only time I go out is to feel the snow crunch under my feet. Everywhere I look it’s a Christmas card.
Why did I want to come back to Eugene? To get away from Birdie and Pupic and a constant flow of kittens and friends. But I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a writer. It takes a lot of concentration to write, and as of late I haven’t been able to concentrate on anything. As soon as a thought comes to mind it vanishes. There’s this to do and that to do. What is a writer to do in this world if he can’t concentrate?
“He has to concentrate.”
How? There’s so much to do.
“He has to concentrate.”
But I can’t concentrate.
“You’re feeling sorry for yourself.”
What if I do feel sorry for myself?
“Then go ahead and feel sorry for yourself. You’ll never get anything done if you keep feeling that way. People will tire of you just like you tire of yourself. So go right ahead and feel sorry for yourself.”
OK, OK. I sometimes wonder if I’m made out to be a writer?
“You can’t do anything if you’re always feeling negative about yourself.”
Yeah, the way I feel now, not being able to concentrate, I can’t do anything.
“How are you going to break out of your depression?”
I have to start concentrating.
Wednesday, January 13, 1971 – Snow
I woke up around 10:30 for about the sixth day in a row in this cold, cold Oregon winter. Sharon is cooking up a storm—she’s fantastic.
I went sledding for the first time today. Gee, I’ve been doing kid things lately—snow fights, sledding. It’s fun!
Sunday, January 17, 1971 – Super Bowl
Today Sharon and I went to see the Super Bowl between the Baltimore Colts and the Dallas Cowboys at Bruce Snyder’s house. The Colts defeated the Cowboys 16-13 on a field goal with 5 seconds left on the clock.
Bruce and I were roommates/teammates on the 1960 and ’61 Oregon Ducks football team when Len Casanova was the head coach. Bruce played fullback, I was a running back. Jerry Frei, the man who recruited me, is now Oregon’s head football coach. Bruce is the backfield coach on Jerry’s staff. He’s married and has a young daughter.
Tuesday, August 17, 1971 – Racism and the Smell
Eight months have passed and I’m still working on my book. I’m nearing the end, though, and it’s getting rougher and tougher to put words down. It’s hell, actually.
I’m writing in my journal because I’m not doing enough writing while revising A Class of Leaders. Sometimes I wish I could write a book straight through, without looking back, without examining every word, without worrying what the reader will think, just writing like I’m doing now in this journal.
Johnny Reb, our new adopted cat, has just walked into the house. Our neighbors from across the street, Dorothy Coleman and her two young sons, moved to Maine and left Johnny Reb and Hero, a female cat, with us.
Sharon and I are now living in a one-bedroom house not far from the center of Eugene. The address is 1180 W. 12th Avenue. Our street is pretty quiet, very few cars, but probably one of the busiest bike routes in town.
I remember Maxim Gorky once wrote that he couldn’t concentrate on one thing too long. Well, neither can I. I want to tear away from an idea as soon as I write it down.
I haven’t had a writing experience that compares with writing the first draft of A Class of Leaders. But look what it’s done to me: I’ve been trying to revise the book for the past 20 months. It’s been two years since I started writing it, on my 29th birthday, August 20, 1969. If I had known I’d be spending two years on my first novel, I don’t know if I would’ve become a writer. What keeps me going, though, is knowing that Joseph Heller spent six years working on Catch-22, and Thoreau nine years to finish Walden. E.B. White, of Stuart Little fame, takes a long time to finish a writing project.
A lot has happened in the eight months since I last wrote in this journal. We moved from 220 1/2 Elkay Drive in Eugene to Bellingham, Washington, for a couple of reasons. Number 1, Pete and Norma Montgomery, our neighbors who we shared a backyard with, when we were talking about Black people one day, Pete said, “I’ll shoot the first nigger I see who steps on that lawn.” Number 2, we moved to Bellingham because we heard some good things about it. A good friend of mine, Gary Dowd, who’d been to Bellingham and spoke highly of it, and then a guy I met at a market in Eugene praised it. Never again will I trust the word of anyone as where to live. Bellingham was the garbage can of the world. It was not only dirty, but it had a smell that drove Sharon and me crazy. We asked people about the smell and they said it came from the Georgia-Pacific pulp mill in town. Everyone said, “You’ll get used to the smell.” We went to Georgia-Pacific and I will paraphrase their policy in two words: “What smell?” We even met with the mayor of Bellingham in his office, and all he could say was, “You should have been here thirty years ago. The fish in that stream down there were jumpin’. Boy, those were the good old days.”
Sharon and I lasted only one month in Bellingham.
We went on a month-long trip that took us to see friends in Eugene, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Bandon, Oregon, and back to Eugene. While staying with Mike and Peggy Robson, it took us a week to find the little house we are now renting. We bought everything we needed—couch, desk, lamps, carpet, dresser, breakfast table and chairs—at garage sales. All for $65. Mike and Peggy gave us a king-size bed they weren’t using.
Thursday, August 19, 1971 – All the Places I/We Have Lived
I want to list all the addresses that I/we have lived since I moved out of Los Angeles in August 1969, along with the date I/we moved in.
1) August 14, 1969. 616 Elm Street, El Cerrito, California. John Coggen, roommate. $75 each for rent.
2) May 1, 1970. 1434 Hearst Avenue, Berkeley, California. Moved in with Sharon, who lived four blocks from the Elm Street duplex I shared with John Coggen. $125 rent.
3) January 5, 1971. 220 1/2 Elkay Drive, Eugene, Oregon. Sharon and I left Berkeley on January 2, 1971, and found the cottage on the 5th after stopping off at Tony and Adriana’s place in Bandon, Oregon. $90 rent.
4) May 5, 1971. 1627 Humboldt Street, Bellingham, Washington. We moved out of Eugene because our next door neighbors were racists. $90 rent.
5) July 16, 1971. 1180 W. 12th Avenue, Eugene, Oregon. We moved out of Bellingham because of “the smell.” $90 rent.
Sunday, September 19, 1971 – Go, Man, Go
On August 20, my 31st birthday, Sharon gave me a cooler for camping. We used it for a couple of days in the Willamette National Forest at Limberlost Campground, 65 miles east of Eugene. We relaxed and enjoyed camping by a stream in my VW bus.
The following week, we drove down to Roseburg to look up my friend Billy Wold (two years ahead of me at Fairfax High in L.A.; a great basketball player who went on to star at Oregon State), except we couldn’t find his name in the phone book. So we camped out one night near a Job Corp Center outside of Roseburg in the Umpqua National Forest.
The week after that was Labor Day. We spent two nights on the coast in Bandon at Tony and Adriana’s place. Tony, a singer/songwriter, said he’s going to start recording his own songs.
The following week, we drove 40 miles to Corvallis. I looked in the phone book and found Billy Wold’s name. My hunch was right, he did move to Corvallis. After not seeing him for eight years, he seems more nervous, has diabetes, a nervous wife and two young, rambunctious boys. Billy and his wife bought a house, and they’re working hard to pay the bills. Poor Billy, he’s caught in the web of material goods. God, I hope that never happens to me.
This weekend, Sharon and I stayed home. Today we took a walk to the University and happened upon a pick-up football game. I now have a kink in my neck, a slightly torn muscle in my thigh and a sore ankle.
No more Johnny Reb, who rebelled one day and took off for parts unknown. Hero is still with us. She doesn’t claw anymore, purr so loud, meow as much, and generally speaking, she’s a fine cat. I hope we haven’t inhibited her to the point of her losing her personality. It might seem that way on paper, but we now get along very well with her. If we didn’t, then good-riddance, Hero. She’s more relaxed and doesn’t move all about when you pet her. She isn’t afraid of strangers anymore. What can I say except I like her very much.
My book. Ah, my book. I haven’t accomplished zilch since May. It’s now September and I haven’t gotten past 20 pages of revision. It goes slow. I’m trying to figure it out. Is it that after two years I’m tired of working on A Class of Leaders? The answer is yes. Another reason, I’m becoming too inhibited. I’m afraid to let loose, to see how my writing gels, to get back to writing like I did when I wrote the first draft. I didn’t stop, didn’t look back and kept going forward, just like I’m doing now in this journal. If only the words would come as free and easy as they are right now.
“Why, what’s wrong?”
“Afraid of what?”
Of what people will think of my writing.
“Screw what people will think. You’ve got the hardest part of your book out of the way and now you should zoom on and finish it.
Yes, you’re right, I’ll finish the book.
“That’s the idea. Keep that typewriter clicking away. Go, man, go. Write like the wind. Don’t hesitate—just GO.”
Wednesday, October 27, 1971 – Jay Ludlow
I’m sitting in a room in a rooming house in Silverton, Oregon. I thought I’d get away from Eugene to finish my book. A few weeks ago I went to Bend, Oregon, stayed in a rooming house and rolled out 50 pages of the final draft. Now, all I can do is smoke cigarettes, drink whiskey and think of everything except finishing off that motherfuckin’ book of mine. I want to finish it so badly that I can’t. I sit at home and can’t work. I come to Silverton and can’t work. I’m trying everything to finish, but nothing seems to work.
Because I’m not sure of how to end the book.
Because I’m afraid I’ll choose the wrong ending.
“Is there ever a wrong ending?”
OK, but I still can’t sit down and concentrate.
“You’ve got a point there, but you’ll have to work that out yourself.”
I’m trying to work it out but can’t.
“Are you really trying?”
“Well then, try!”
I will. I guess trying is all we humans can do. I always seem to complain. I guess I picked it up from my mother who was always complaining. I’m just spent, fed up, tired, beat, bushed, worn out from writing about the same thing that has taken me over two years to write.
Sharon got a job a couple of weeks ago at the University in the Registrar’s Office.
I met Jay Ludlow on my trip to Bend a few weeks ago. He said his father’s short story was in Best Short Stories of 1938. Jay says his father was influenced by John Steinbeck. Here’s Jay’s story:
Jay Ludlow, 44, has been a snake trainer, truck driver, deep sea diver, race car driver, boxer, criminal (killed three men with his fists—two in the ring and one in San Jose. That’s why he went to San Quentin and escaped three times and was let off after three years). This guy is a eunuch, or so he says. He told me he never had sex with a woman because he wasn’t delivered naturally at birth. His mother was an Indian and she put him through the gauntlet of hot coals and beatings when he was a kid. He grew to 6-foot-1 and 150 pounds when he was nine years old. That’s when he left home to drive a truck across the country.
He said his brain grew too big and he had an operation when he was eleven. Jay has done everything—he played football, but had to quit because he kicked the ball too hard. In baseball he hit the ball too hard and had to quit. He became a dealer in Reno after he started winning too much from the House.
And Jay’s tall tales keep going. He caught and trained leopards. He’s been a general fix-it man. He was a Marine for three months, teaching recruits how to shoot rifles. Jay’s is a fantastic story of fact and fiction mixed. He’s all worn out now. He now sits in a small room in a rooming house in Bend, Oregon, painting pictures by the numbers.
I looked up Jay’s father’s story in the Best Short Stories of 1938—originally published in New Masses magazine, September 1937. “She Always Wanted Shoes” by Don Ludlow is about a transient family in California, living in poverty with a sickly daughter. The daughter always kept asking her father, “Do they wear shoes in school?” The father always replied, “Yes.” The poor, malnourished girl eventually dies and the father, the narrator, says she was put in a coffin wearing a dress and what she always wanted to wear: shoes. It’s a painful story of people in 1930s California who worked in the fields and lived in squalor.
Monday, November 15, 1971 – Is That What Life Is All About?
I sat down to write at 8:30 this morning and very little has come out. How the hell did Jack London write 1500 words a day for most of his life? Let’s see, today I’ve written…180 words. That’s 180 words more than I’ve done in the past two weeks. Wow! I’m starting again.
It’s hard for me to zero in on one thing and write about it. I’ve lost all confidence in myself.
“But you said you typed 180 words today.”
“Typing 180 words is something, isn’t it?”
I’m still not satisfied.
“But that’s what life is all about—an inch here, an inch there, struggle, struggle, fight, fight, keep on truckin’—it’s all a part of life.”
Is that what life is all about?
Monday, November 22, 1971 – Fear
Today is the anniversary of the death of John Kennedy. But I didn’t sit down to write about Kennedy. I sat down because I’m having trouble trying to figure out how to start writing again. I haven’t been able to get past the first paragraph of Chapter 25 in 1 1/2 months! That’s 45 days and I’ve only been able to put down maybe 200 words. People have written whole books in 45 days. Me, I’ve written 200 words.
“What’s wrong with you?”
I want to write a good book and I’m afraid it won’t be good if I’m not sure of every word.
“Man, you are sick. Do you realize that for 45 days you haven’t been able to write two paragraphs? That is sickness of the first order.”
But I want to be an excellent writer. I want to be as good as the greatest writers the world has ever produced.
“You are really, really sick. Look, get this straight: You are only as good as you are. Quit comparing yourself to others. It takes so much time and energy away from being who and what you are. You’re a human being. You’re not perfect. No one’s perfect. You’re Joe Sutton, 31 years old, who lives in Eugene, Oregon, with Sharon Murphy, 23. You have eyes, ears, hands, feet and a nose. You are physically healthy, you are a person who feels and thinks and questions and…”
OK, OK. Let me examine this problem myself. Here I sit, writing whatever comes to mind, writing without hesitation. I have chosen to write a novel about a teacher in an all-Black high school. I wrote the first draft in four months because I felt I had something to say. I still think I have something to say, and I’m going to say it. Oh, bullshit, I’m only trying to make myself feel better by writing the previous sentence. I still feel stifled, frustrated when I look at my novel. I can’t put two sentences together anymore. I’m afraid.
“Afraid of what?”
I’m afraid my thoughts are inane, stupid, of no worth. I torture myself into saying that I can’t write. But look, I’m writing right now. But when I sit down to revise A Class of Leaders, I can’t do it. Here I am trying to write about a teacher who found his way of teaching and I can’t even find my way of writing. Why is it that words come so much easier when I’m writing in my journal?
Thursday, January 20, 1972 – My Book Is Finished
It’s a new year and a new day! Looking at the last couple of entries, I see that I was in a very bad slump, a slump that can be compared to a baseball player’s batting slump. He can’t break out of it and he turns to trying this way and that way and his slump continues to get worse and worse until one day he relaxes and, lo and behold, no more slump.
I finished A Class of Leaders last week—January 14, 1972 to be exact. I didn’t have any trouble finishing it, it just came, with a lot of concentration and work, of course.
How did I break out of my slump? 1) I started playing half-court basketball at the University gym every day, and you should have seen the poisons that had accumulated in my body pour right out of me. 2) I knew how I was going to end the book. 3) I sat down and worked every day.
Put ’em all together and you have a person who, after 2 1/2 years, finally finished what he set out to do. Now, to get my book published. Now, to find something else to write.
My plans are to take a month’s “vacation” by driving down to Berkeley, going over what Kim Teramoto has typed, get a few copies Xeroxed, and start sending them to publishing houses and hope that someone who reads it will like it enough to go up to the Editor-in-Chief and say, “This book is great. If we don’t publish it, I’m gonna quit my job.”
Friday, January 21, 1972 – Joe Sisyphus
Sharon woke up at 7:30 (late for her) and rushed to get to work on time. I lay in bed and dreamt the whole morning away until 11 a.m. I got up, drank juice, ate some granola, then washed. I swept the living room carpet, made the bed, cleaned the kitchen and bathroom sinks, fed Hero, dressed, wrote a couple of letters, walked briskly to the post office and back, got into my sometimes stalling bus and drove to Wagon Works to find out what was wrong. I had some “mud” with the owners, Terry Hogan and Dick Fulwiler, and told them about my bus stalling. They told me not to worry about it and I told them I’d be back if it gives me any trouble. Just before I left them, I said, “I’m condemned to a vacation.” The reason being, Kim will not be able to type up the last 50 pages for another month. I’m condemned. So I guess I’ll take a vacation, which means I’ll do whatever I want to do.
I parked across the street from the Athletic Department. The night before, I heard Jerry Frei quit as the head football coach (he was probably forced out). I wanted to talk to Bruce Snyder to see what his plans for the future were.
I walked into his office to find him hustling for a job by talking long-distance to the new football coach at Stanford, Jack Christiansen.
After he hung up, we talked football. We talked about our old backfield coach, Max Coley, and how inept he was; we talked about Jerry Frei and his “soft” football philosophy of not trying to control his players’ hairstyles or political views; we talked about our old coach, Len Casanova, and how he gave free rein to his assistant coaches. We talked about the Dallas Cowboys’ dressing room and how lifeless it was after their Super Bowl victory over Miami. The TV announcer tried to fool the nation by saying, “There’s bedlam in this dressing room!” Bruce and I agreed it was the most solemn dressing room we’ve ever seen for even a losing football team. We talked about Mel Renfro, our old teammate and now All-Pro defensive back for the Cowboys, and how consistently good he is. And we talked about Duane Thomas, the Cowboys’ excellent running back, who had to have Jim Brown speak for him because he refuses to speak to the press or even his teammates.
I left Bruce and went to the gym to play some half-court basketball. And what a day I had! I passed the ball well, I made shots, I played good defense, and all in all it was the three most enjoyable games I’ve played in a long time. I couldn’t believe how well the four of us played together. The beauty of it was that we never met each other. We passed the ball around until one of us was open for a shot. Teamwork. That’s what the game is all about. Teamwork. No one hogged the ball as is usually the case in half-court games. We were communicating on the same wavelength: “Share the ball and we’ll all do better.” Teamwork. The reason why I never played better in previous games was that I rarely got my hands on the ball. Today I got it often enough so that I didn’t have to rush my shots. Teamwork.
Sharon got off work at 5:00 and I got out of the locker room at 5:05. The rain was really coming down hard and I felt bad that I couldn’t get to the Registrar’s Office on time—but goddammit, three other guys and myself were playing as ONE, we were playing as if we had played five years together. So I rushed to my bus, zipped on up to 18th Street, turned right and drove a half mile to Mill Street, turned right and went down to 13th Street. I didn’t see her as I drove towards the University. Where was she? I went down to 11th Street, drove a mile to Willamette, and doubled back on 13th. I saw her and honked.
Something was wrong. She looked mad. She looked soaked.
“What’s the matter?” I asked her.
“I don’t want to talk about it now,” she said, fumbling around in her purse for cigarettes.
Well, I thought, if she expects me to cater to her every wish, then she’s got another thing coming.
I dropped her off at home and without saying a word I drove off, destination Max’s Tavern. I sat at the bar drinking beer and munching on the free popcorn the bartenders handed out and talked with this guy—a nervous fellow, 48 years old, who had worked in the rain all day, who’s clothes smelled like mildew, and who talked a bunch of double talk. He was trying to act like an intellectual by bringing up words and names like Instrumentalism, Pragmatism, John Dewey, William James, Charles Pierce and George Santayana. I know of those names, but this guy was just parroting, he didn’t know what he was saying.
“Look, buddy, I don’t wanna hear you spouting philosophies and philosophers you know nothing about. You’re just a phony intellectual!”
That’s what I should have told him, but didn’t. Instead I was patient with him and asked him questions. But he kept on jabbering away in that low, nervous monotone of his in a tavern that had the music turned up to the highest decibel and whose patrons’ mouths were going a mile a minute. I was spent of all energy when I left him sitting there.
I came home to an empty house. So I rolled a joint and picked up Walter Kaufmann’s Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. I turned to a selection taken from Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus, the “futile laborer of the underworld,” the guy who is condemned to push a heavy boulder up a steep hill, the guy who strains himself and gives every ounce of energy to get that motherfucking boulder up the hill, finally succeeds, but then it rolls down to the bottom, to start all over again, and again, and again. That’s me, Joe Sisyphus.
Sharon just came home. She said she went drinking with our neighbor Rita Carey at the Brass Rail. I told her I went to Max’s Tavern. Those were the only words we exchanged. She’s getting ready for bed now.
Saturday, January 22, 1972 – A Miscommunication
I was completely wrong. Sharon wasn’t mad at me because I had picked her up a mile from campus in the pouring rain. She was mad because some blond guy put his hand up the back of her dress as she was walking home. She was so shook that she couldn’t speak about it when I picked her up. Oh, how the mind works sometimes! Oh, how we think the world revolves around us sometimes! Oh, impatience!
“Why didn’t you tell me about it last night?”
“You ran out on me before I could tell you.”
After we talked things over, we decided to go next door to Steve and Rita’s house to call the police. I hid the stash of marijuana in the house. Ten minutes later an Officer Fitzgerald knocked on our door. He asked Sharon a bunch of questions and then we drove to the scene of the crime. As Sharon was showing the mild-mannered officer where it took place, I noticed the sly looks the people were giving him as they walked by us. Boy, am I glad I’m not a cop. They hold an important role in society—if only they wouldn’t take advantage of it sometimes.
After we got home and ate, we decided to go for some ice cream. We bought two pints at Baskin Robbins and took them to Mike and Peggy Robson’s house.
Mike, who was the equipment manager when I was playing football at the University, mentioned something about Jerry Frei tonight. “Let’s let Jerry know we’re behind him.”
My answer to him was that I wasn’t exactly fond of Jerry for what he had me and Roscoe Cook do one day when he was the line coach. He had me and Roscoe run kickoffs back against the first, second and third string linemen. Here’s the thing: Roscoe and I didn’t have anyone blocking for us.
“Hey, you guys,” I told the five or six linemen who gang tackled me on the first of many kickoff returns, “take it easy.”
As we were untangling ourselves, one of them said, “Jerry’s watching, we can’t let up.”
So “Goodbye, Jerry, even though you were the one who recruited me out of L.A. Goodbye, Coach. I really respected you except for that one day when you used me and Roscoe as cannon fodder. I mean this with all my heart. I wish you all the best in the future.”
Sunday, January 23, 1972 – Our Neighbors
Steve came over today and we talked about his nearing the finish line of getting his Ph.D. in Philosophy here at the University. We also talked about his teaching two philosophy classes at Portland Community College. He can’t wait to finish that killer 200-mile round trip to Portland and back three days a week. We then went to play three sets of tennis at the University and he won them all—6-3, 6-1, 6-4. I think I played pretty well, considering I haven’t been on a tennis court since the summer and Steve’s been playing a few times a week at an indoor court.
Steve and Rita knocked on our door after dinner. They brought along two six packs of beer. We drank and talked for a few hours. They took home a copy of A Class of Leaders to read.
I’m reading Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Kesey, who lives in the Eugene area, is either a racist or he’s trying to show the racism that exists in our country.
Monday, January 24, 1972 – Sartre
It’s been raining hard all day. Steve gave me one of the paperback books he’s using in the Ethics class he’s teaching. He told me to read the selection by Jean-Paul Sartre.
Sartre says our being or existence precedes our essence, our total make-up, our inward nature, our character. What he’s saying is that if a person is broke and starving and steals food, it is his being, his life, that precedes his character, his essence.
Sartre believes in individualism. He says it is up to the individual to make up his own mind about what is right and what is wrong. He goes even further and says that we are actually “condemned to choose,” condemned to freedom.
But there are those who say there are universal rights and wrongs. These absolutists think there is no choice, but only “one way.” For instance, No human being shall be killed, absolutely no human being. But human beings are killed every day. Do you kill a man for killing someone else? Let’s say the blond guy who molested Sharon knocks on the door. Sharon answers it. He pushes her inside. He has a gun. He ties me up and begins to rape Sharon right in front of me. Before I can untie myself he shoots her in the head. I go crazy and grab him and ring his neck till he goes limp. I’d kick him and hit him with everything I had till he became a gooey mess. That’s what I would do—I’d get my revenge.
Anyway, it seems that the good of the whole and the good of the individual are at odds with one another. Which is more important? It depends. Steve asked me the other day, “If you had a choice to end the war in Vietnam or have your book published, which would you choose?” Without hesitating, my answer was, “I’d rather see the war end.” “Why?” he asked. “Because it’s genocide that’s going on over there, it’s been going on for too damn long and it’s draining the energy out of me and the whole country.” But what if Sharon and I were having a rough go of it financially? My answer would surely be that I’d rather have my book published.
Sartre tries to reconcile that incessant tug of war going on between utilitarianism and individualism by saying we are responsible for our actions. We can’t go around flaunting this freedom that we have, we have to be responsible for it. He says with every action we take, we should act as if “all of mankind were observing us.” The word “responsible” brings utilitarianism and individualism together. Sartre, The Great Conciliator.
The main thing is, we are free. We always have a choice. We always have freedom.
To choose is to take sides. Are you for or against Hitler? You choose, you are subjective, you are an individual.
The teacher in A Class of Leaders chooses to side with his students and not the system. He chooses to be the equal of his students. He chooses, he’s free. He is willing to take the consequences, too. He chooses to teach by his actions, not only his words. He doesn’t just talk democracy, there is democracy in his classroom. Sartre says that whatever choice you make, it’s the right choice.
A few years ago a student of mine (J.B. was her name) handed me a saying by Thoreau: “What a man thinks of himself, that is which determines, or rather indicates his fate.” Sartre says the same thing: “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.”
Wednesday, January 26, 1972 – Steve’s Philosophy Classes
I went to Portland with Steve yesterday. His first class was his Ethics class. We talked about genocide, capital punishment, Sartre, ethical relativism and ethical absolutism. I got involved in the discussion, as did most of his 30 students. That’s why Steve is a great teacher: his students got involved, they participated, they were thinking.
I think that talking about the issues of the day helps people formulate their own opinions. It is an accumulation of these individual opinions that make up the way our society thinks.
Steve and I disagree on a major point, though. He thinks that learning about Descartes is more important than learning about Vietnam. I think it’s more important to know that human beings are being bombed and what we can do to stop this atrocity rather than learn or argue about Descartes’ philosophy. But here’s a thought that just came to mind: If Steve had somehow connected Descartes with what’s going on in Vietnam, maybe his Introduction to Philosophy class might have been more interesting. Why do I say that? Because I think, therefore I am.
Saturday, January 29, 1972 – Detective Mattison
Our friends Dave and Andi Graham were at our house last night. After dinner the four of us sat around and smoked some of Dave’s strong weed. As we were talking, there was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” said Sharon.
The door was unlocked but no one came in.
Sharon got up to open the door.
“Does Sharon Murphy live here?” a voice said.
“I’m Detective Mattison from the Eugene Police Department. I’m here to talk to you about being molested on 13th Street.”
I ran to the door and tried to keep him out, but Sharon had already let him in. Dave ate the remainder of the joint we were smoking. The detective came in and sat down. There was no doubt he could smell the weed.
Dave and Andi didn’t know what to do. I tried to explain to them why the detective had come. Sharon insisted I shouldn’t tell them. To hell with Sharon, I had to relieve Dave and Andi of their paranoia.
Detective Mattison asked Sharon about the blond molester. Screw the blond molester. What was the detective going to do about smelling the weed in our living room? Lucky for us, his questions stuck only to the blond molester. So we played it cool, man, real cool.
I don’t especially like police knocking on my door. If we had a phone, he might have called in advance. But why did he come on a weekend? That’s not fair. And to top it off, he said he’d probably drop by again. He didn’t say when.
As soon as Detective Mattison left, I got my marijuana stash and hid it in the backyard.
Before I forget, I want to say the following: 1) I sprained my ankle playing basketball this week. 2) Bruce Snyder stayed on at Oregon as Dick Enright’s backfield coach. 3) I heard Dick Gregory’s album on radio today. He was talking about the Declaration of Independence. He said, “If the government don’t change its racist and inhuman ways, then we got a right to overthrow it.”
Sunday, January 30, 1972 – That’s All I Want
I went to the library the other day and pored over Writer’s Market and Literary Market Place for six or seven hours, looking for publishers who take unsolicited manuscripts. I narrowed the list down to 20. The 20 I chose are the biggest publishing houses in the country: Viking, Dell, Houghton Mifflin, Knopf, Random House, Simon and Schuster, etc., etc.
All I want is to make a decent living as a writer. All I want is enough to pay doctor bills, get a phone, eat out and go to a movie once in a while, drink beer, wine and sometimes a little whiskey, have enough food in the refrigerator when friends come over, go on a vacation once in a while, buy Sharon a present every so often, and buy a good pair of boots for the treacherous Oregon winters. That’s all I want.
This past Thursday I got into my bus to go for a ride in the country. It was a clear, cold day, the snow still on the side of the hills from the little storm we had the day before. Well, I’m driving along and I see two young girls hitchhiking.
We drove in silence for a few miles until one of them said, “We hitched up from San Jose yesterday. We’re staying with some friends in Veneta.”
The other girl said, “I’m fourteen and she’s fifteen.”
I was amazed. “You mean you hitched all that way and you’re only fourteen and fifteen?”
“Yes,” said one of them. “We left on the spur of the moment. We weren’t getting along with our parents. All we have is what we got on.” Each wore a pair of pants, boots and a light coat.
“In this weather?” I said.
“Yeah,” said the fifteen-year-old. “We didn’t even have no money on us when we left. Two men gave us five dollars each coming up here.”
We were driving past Fern Ridge Reservoir when the fifteen-year-old sitting in the middle of us put her hand on my thigh and said, “Can we park near the water for a while?”
I slowed down and turned onto this winding road to a secluded spot close to the water. Both of them were giggling the whole time.
As soon as we got out of my bus, they started taking their clothes off. Then they started prancing and dancing like two wood nymphs—a most fantastic sight. They were so beautiful and uninhibited that they almost got me to take my clothes off and join them. But, man, it was cold.
After about ten minutes, they put their clothes back on, got into my bus, and I drove them to where they were staying in Veneta.
Sharon stayed home from work Friday. She was just plain old tired out. She dreads the cold weather, especially when she has to hitchhike to work in the morning. Therefore, she’s been inside for three days straight. We had a little talk last night as the moon was being eclipsed by the Earth. She doesn’t feel good whenever my old girlfriend in L.A., Sandy Rutherford, pops up in a conversation or in my writing. I guess Sharon thinks I compare her with Sandy or that I’m neglecting her in some way, which isn’t the case at all. When Sharon inhibits me, I inhibit her by getting angry. Inhibit begets inhibit. It’s not healthy either way.
The night it snowed, Steve and I, both of us from L.A., were having a snow fight in Steve’s front yard. Along comes a cop car and Steve, feeling carefree, throws a snowball and hits the car. The cop stops, gets out and calls me over to him.
“How old are you, buddy?”
“What’s your name?”
Steve wanders on over and laughingly says, “I’m the one who did it, Officer.”
“How old are you, buddy?”
The cop gave us a little lecture as to why we shouldn’t throw snowballs at cop cars anymore.
Tuesday, February 1, 1972 – Marijuana
I went to the courthouse yesterday and walked into this courtroom where everyone was pleading guilty and the judge was letting them off with lenient sentences. Two-thirds of the cases had to do with marijuana. I got so riled up that I asked the court foreman, after court was over, if I could speak to the judge. A few minutes later I was in the judge’s office.
I looked Judge Bennett straight in the eye and told him that I smoked grass and that I thought it was unfair of him to sentence people for something that everyone was doing, including judges and lawyers. He compared marijuana to a traffic ticket—that if a person is caught breaking the law, then he has to pay the price for it. “Selective control” is what he called it.
“Look, Judge, if you think you’re teaching them anything by sentencing them to two days in jail, you’re wrong. You’re not going to stop them from smoking. They’re just going to be a little more careful the next time.”
“You’re right,” he said, “but the law must still be obeyed. If everyone breaks the law we’ll have chaos.”
“But the police are spending too much time on marijuana and not enough time on real crime. And the same goes for the courts.”
“The law must still be obeyed.”
We went back and forth like this for about 20 minutes but didn’t get anywhere with each other. We both agreed the law needed changing. The thing is, I went and talked to the judge, man-to-man, and he talked to me. I was shaking in my pants the whole time.
Wednesday, February 2, 1972 – Our Old Postman
I was mailing letters at the post office today when I met Fred Finch, our old postman at the first place we lived when we moved to Eugene. He was getting off work. We decided to talk over a beer.
Fred’s from Kansas. He’s an ex-sheriff. He has two adopted kids, 10 and 15; he works hard and saves his money; he and his wife belong to a nudist colony; he thinks property is more valuable than human life—”If a man is stealin’ my car, I’d shoot to kill.” Fred hunts, he quit his private messenger business because he was “gittin’ a raw deal.” His father died when he was 9. He left home at 13. Fred is short, has a hunchback, a twangy voice, a crewcut, and he walks with his feet pointed out—like me, but much more pronounced.
I have come to the conclusion that finishing a book is like breaking up with a woman you’ve lived with for a long time. You say to yourself, “When will the next one come along? How will it happen? Where will it happen?”
The best thing to do is not worry about my next book, that I should just let nature take its course. The thing is, what if you’re impatient like I am? Anyway, long live women and books!
Thursday, February 3, 1972 – Freud
I was at the University library today and met this librarian who I remember scurrying about when I was a student here in the early sixties. Melissa Lathrop is her name. She’s 64 now and is as chipper as she was when I first knew her. She’s small, has short red hair and is a hunchback. That’s odd, meeting two hunchbacks two days in a row. Fred’s been hunched over the wheel of his mail truck for 12 years; Melissa has worked at the same job on the second floor of the library for 17 years.
I was struck by a passage in a book titled Creativity, edited by P.E. Vernon, where Freud says that a writer of fiction is trying to go back to his childhood by building a fantasy world in his adult years so he can gain power, honor and women. Freud might be right. Sure, I’d like my ideas to have power. Sure, I’d like to be honored someday for my writing. As for the women part of Freud’s theory, when I first met Sharon and told her I was a writer, I’m sure the word “writer” attracted me to her.
Friday, February 4, 1972 – The Courthouse
I’m reading Henry Miller on Writing.
Miller on War: “…for here crime no longer has any meaning.” This is what Ingmar Bergman is saying in his film Shame. A couple have to leave their farm in a civil war and come upon a wounded soldier. The woman feels compelled to help the wounded soldier. The man, on the other hand, even though he’s on the same side as the soldier, kills him because he can use the soldier’s warm clothing and that it’s easier to feed two instead of three. Is this what Sartre means when he says, “Existence precedes essence?”
Miller and the Author: “The man who confesses his sins, his crimes or his misdeeds is never the same as the one who committed them. Is it necessary for me to underline the fact that the author, in exposing his guilt and suffering, his fears and his triumphs, is but announcing his liberation and emancipation?“
I went to the courthouse this afternoon. I walked into one courtroom where a divorce proceeding was taking place. It was sorrowful that two people who had lived together for all those years were telling the Court, in front of their children, how much they had hated each other all that time.
I walked into another courtroom where a bunch of traffic cases were being judged. Everyone had a lawyer except one defendant. I thought he defended himself well, but the judge gave him a stiff fine, probably because he didn’t hire a lawyer.
I was buzzing in and out of three courtrooms. One judge seemed pretty fair. Judge Bennett (who I talked to the other day) and another judge, were not fair. Oh, woe is me, the world we live in—how cruel and dehumanizing it is. It’ll never change, or will it? Our only hope are the young, otherwise I’m sickened by what is called Justice. The thing is, the human spirit will never die. It may seem that way at times, but there will always be a David Harris who will stand up and say, “Go on, put me in jail—I still refuse to fight in your stupid Vietnam War,” and a Muhammad Ali who was stripped of his heavyweight title and banned from boxing in the prime of his career because he refused to be drafted into the military and sent to Vietnam.
Saturday, February 5, 1972 – Influences
We don’t know it all the time, but there are countless influences in our life—people, movies, teachers, television, weather, food, dreams, events, books. Here are some people who have influenced my writing and thinking: Sartre, Camus, Henry Miller, William Saroyan, Walt Whitman, Jack Kerouac, Bertrand Russell, Socrates, Clancy Sigal, Maxim Gorky and Tom Paine. And then there’s I.F. Stone, Jack London, J. Krishnamurti and Jackie Robinson who have been great influences. The people I know and meet and hear and see, the places I go, and whatever else my senses take in, all these are influences.
Monday, February 7, 1972 – Education
Sharon and I went next door to Steve and Rita’s last night. We watched a BBC production on mainland China. One scene really struck me. A group of Chinese were reading in unison from Chairman Mao’s book. It reminded me of the days when I used to go to the synagogue with my brothers and parents and sat there listening to the congregation of Syrian Jewish men singing Hebrew from the prayer book in unison. There were times I even joined in. It was fun.
Steve loaned me a book by Herbert Spencer called Spencer on Education. I sat down and started reading it and couldn’t stop, finishing it off at around 4:00 in the morning. Spencer thinks that the education of our children should be more natural and not forced. This is what I’m trying to get across in A Class of Leaders, and it’s almost a hundred years since Spencer wrote his book.
Tuesday, February 8, 1972 – Keep Recycling
I checked out a couple of books about Albert Camus at the library today. In one book Camus is quoted as saying, “We know that when despair reaches a certain extreme point, indifference arises and with it the feeling of fatality.” It’s like collecting everything recyclable—bottles, cans, paper—and visiting the city dump and seeing that no one else is doing what you’ve been doing. But Camus feels as I do when he says, “The true greatness of man is to fight against that which is greater than him.” In other words, Keep Recycling.
Thursday, February 10, 1972 – Mother
Conflict makes us create, or should I say, rebel. What if there was no conflict in the world? There would be no art, no politics, no police, no weapons, no armies. There would be peace. In Report from Iron Mountain, fifteen men concluded that there would never be peace on Earth. They said we could clear up all the ills in the world in a short time if we got together, but after clearing up all the ills, what would be left to do? In short, conflict is needed to create.
J. Krishnamurti thinks differently. He thinks we can still create while there is peace in this world, and that there is no limit to our creativity.
I prefer J. Krishnamurti’s view.
I come from a large family—mother, father and five brothers. We were middle class. Our father had a small linen shop in downtown Los Angeles, and our mother stayed home to tend to the house and us boys. What I’m trying to say is, we were never poverty stricken, we never once had to worry where the next meal was coming from. The only problem my brothers and I had to overcome was our mother.
Mother: strong, dominant, devious. Mother: robust, healthy, watchful. Mother: forever on a diet. Mother: forever muffling us. Mother: homemaker, The Boss.
Sunday, February 13, 1972 – Attention
Before getting out of bed this morning, I came upon the realization that all of us—human beings, animals and plants—need attention. Sharon, our cat Hero, me and all life on this planet—we all need attention. Attention is a feeling for, a need to be reacted to. If we do something, we feel better if someone is watching or reacts to us. Attention, care, love, feeling, thoughtfulness.
Henry Miller quotes Buddha in Sunday after the War: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
Saturday, March 4, 1972 – L.A.
I’m in L.A. It’s hot. My father is on the verge of dying. My mother’s sister Rose Bijou and her brother Murray Shabot and his wife Lil are staying at the house. I guess they’re here to see my father for the last time. We all sat around the living room and talked last night.
I’m in L.A. to try and get my book published. I have to see Hugh Bonar, my history professor at Cal State L.A. I want to give him my manuscript to read. I’m going to call him right now.
Tuesday, March 7, 1972 – Words
Mind and body go together. When your stomach gets upset it’s time to quit eating. When your throat gets sore, it’s time to quit smoking. Your body is telling your mind to stop.
Another thing: when I was writing my book, I was stuck on the same chapter for over three months. So sometime in November 1971, I started playing half-court basketball at the University, getting slowly in shape to where I could play three or four games and come out feeling good. I zipped my book off in no time flat after that. Conclusion: the mind and body go together.
A professional is one who works every day at his job. I consider myself a professional, but I don’t work every day. Therefore, I’m not a professional. So, to alleviate any doubt, I’m going to sit down for however long it takes and write every day. It could be 20 minutes or six hours. I think four hours is sufficient enough time for a writer to work, especially a writer who likes to keep his body in shape. I’m young, I’m energetic, therefore four hours is enough for anyone to sit down and concentrate on words, thoughts, images and ideas.
Words—that’s what I hope to do for the rest of my life. Ah, words. Ah, to write down thoughts and images so they’ll mean something to me and to others someday. Words.
I miss Sharon and hope she’s in a positive state of mind. If she feels negative about my being in L.A., then that’s a negative for me. If she’s taking care of herself and stays in a good mood, I will feel like a King. That’s what she can make me feel like if she doesn’t hold it against me for being away from her for a few weeks.
Wednesday, March 8, 1972 – Die, Father
My father, just 10 minutes ago, was sitting on the edge of his bed, a glass of orange juice in his hand, when he suddenly fainted and fell face down to the floor. The blood is still gushing from his cheek and nose. My mother and her sister Rose are now taking care of him. O Death! why are you so cruel? Why does he have to suffer? Die, Father! Die! It will be best for you and everyone else. Die, but don’t think I will not be thinking of you. Die! Die in peace. Die, Father, die. You know I refuse to suffer along with you. I have to live my life with Sharon and I hope and pray that I’ll never have to suffer like you when my time is up. Die, Father. Die in peace.
Thursday, March 9, 1972 – Follow My Intuition
I’m nervous about my book because I’m getting so many differing views. “Don’t like this,” “Like this,” “Get an agent,” “Don’t get an agent.” What is one to do? The answer is to follow my own intuition. I mustn’t forget that.
I visited my old professor Hugh Bonar yesterday. He said he liked my book, but thought it could use some editing.
My brother Charles, a reporter for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, read the first chapter and liked it; Dr. Bonar thought differently. That’s what I mean—you can’t please everyone; it’s impossible if you try. I must always remember this: Follow my intuition. I have to tell Dr. Bonar that I’m going to leave the manuscript as is and send it out without trying to get an agent, but that I appreciate his time and concern.
Follow my intuition. But I must remember this: I can learn from others.
I called Sharon at Steve and Rita’s house last night. I think I’m ready to go back and make a good life with her. She’s beautiful. I know it’s lonely up there for her, but she doesn’t make me feel guilty about it. My love, my Sharon.
My mom looks very tired. My dad is very sick. It’s hell for both of them.
Friday, March 17, 1972 – My Friend Nate
I’m back in Eugene. My friend Nate and I drove up in my bus and arrived yesterday.
Nate is looking into teaching possibilities. He went to the University yesterday. The Biology department chairman told him he would have to go through the proper channels instead of barging into his office and showing him his credentials and saying, “Here I am. I want a job.”
Nate is a very extreme person, a very competitive person—really competitive. I feel that I have to compete with him all the time. I don’t have to prove anything—but then I do. On our drive up, between Ashland and Roseburg on Interstate 5, we got into a heated argument about the U.S. and the Soviet Union. He thinks we should worry about the Soviets taking over the #1 position from the U.S. We’re the ones who are the aggressors, and he’s worried about the Soviet Union? We have to worry about ourselves first. Then he tells me I’m escaping reality because I don’t know what’s going on in world politics. Goddammit, I do know what’s going on. The Soviet Union, the U.S. and now China are the three major powers. We have to live in peace with each other if the people of this world are to survive.
Nate is worried about the U.S. losing its power. I think we have too much power. We have troops stationed around the globe, we’re caught up in a war in Indochina, we have our Navy on all the seas and we support dictatorial regimes. The Soviets do these thing, too, except they’re not involved in a war like we are. They don’t have their Navy on as many seas as ours, and they don’t have as many troops stationed around the world. Therefore I’m for cutting down on troops and nuclear weapons. The Salt Talks, otherwise known as Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, with the Soviet Union are a top priority in my opinion. That’s a step in the right direction.
Saturday, March 18, 1972 – Nate the Hero
Nate and I were walking in the neighborhood today, when suddenly a teenage boy, his pants on fire, came running out of his garage. Me, I froze in my tracks. But Nate acted without the slightest hesitation. He knocked the boy down with a football block on the front lawn of the boy’s house and ripped his pants off. He saved the boy so much trouble and grief. He might’ve even saved the boy’s life.
When all had calmed down, Nate, the hero, and I started out on our walk again.
Monday, March 20, 1972 – Weather
Sharon had a toothache last night, Hero’s about to have kittens, Nate is leaving tomorrow, and here I am, sitting down and writing.
The weather couldn’t make up its mind yesterday. The sun would be out one minute and then it would be overcast the next. The three of us couldn’t make our minds up, either. We decided to do a few things but didn’t follow through on any of them. Weather, I guess, is a great influence.
This week I’m going to send my book out to publishers. I have to do two things first: 1) Proofread the manuscript one more time. 2) Go to the post office and find out about Special 4th Class Book Rate.
Monday, April 3, 1972 – Gary’s Poem
I’m writing this in my friend Gary Dowd’s car. We’re on our way to see his brother Mel who lives in Cottage Grove. It’s pretty hard to write in a moving car, so I’m going to stop—except I want to write down Gary’s poem before I forget:
the thing about livin’
is it not true?
is that each moment
is entirely new
Wednesday, April 5, 1972 – A Tangled Web
Gary Dowd left town this afternoon for Bellingham. I was the one who told him to leave. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, and I’m still not sure I did the right thing. I’ve known Gary for almost seven years and consider him one of my closest friends. Now that he’s left, I don’t know what will become of our friendship.
It all began last night. Sharon, Gary and I were going out for a drink. Rita dropped by as we were leaving and we asked if she wanted to join us. “Steve’s teaching in Portland tonight,” she said, “so why not.”
Brady’s Tavern. “Two pitchers of beer, bartender.” An argument between Gary and Rita. Finally peace. Shuffleboard. Sharon and I vs. Gary and Rita. They win the first game and hug each other. Sharon and I win the second game. In the third and final game, Rita, on the last shot, makes an incredible shot. Gary wraps his arms around Rita, picks her up and they kiss. Joy, laughter. Great. “Hey, let’s go to Max’s.” We drive in a pouring rain to Max’s Tavern. The four of us dance to the music in the tavern even though it’s prohibited, we sign a petition to legalize marijuana, we talk to the young bartender who wants us to vote for him so he can be a delegate to the Democratic Convention in Miami this summer. We’re all having the time of our lives drinking beer, joking, discussing, dancing, hugging.
Home. Gary gets me in a corner. “What’s going on, Joe? Should I make it with Rita or not?” I think of my friend Steve. We’re close friends. We play tennis, throw the football around, we go out for drinks and confide in one another. Steve tells me he’s been making it with one of his students in Portland. What should I tell Gary? I say, “Don’t do anything with Rita.”
“I haven’t been to bed with a woman in a year, Joe. I’m horny, man.”
“Don’t do anything,” I say. “Rita’s married to my good friend.”
Sharon and I go to bed. Gary and Rita go to her house.
Sharon and I get up early and Gary, on the couch, quickly goes into our bedroom and jumps into our bed.
After Gary gets up and eats, we wander on over to Steve and Rita’s. “Where’s Steve?” I ask. “He just left to play tennis,” says Rita. “Would you guys like to stay for a beer or coffee?”
I leave to catch up on a few things. Gary stays.
An hour or so later, Gary comes home and we go for a ride in my bus.
From out of nowhere, Gary says, “I went to bed with her.”
“Why?” I ask and I pull over to the side of the road.
“I told you not to do it, Gary.”
“Am I your slave or something?”
“No, man. It’s just that Steve and Rita are our good friends. What if one of my friends wanted to go to bed with your wife, wouldn’t you want me to tell him to lay off?”
“Let’s forget it, OK?”
“How do you expect me to forget it?”
“You just don’t believe in freedom, Joe.”
“How can you say that? Of course I believe in freedom, but freedom entails responsibility.”
“Let’s drop the subject,” he says.
We drive home in silence while I’m thinking, What should I do? What if Steve finds out about this?
I pull into our driveway. As I’m getting out of the bus, it just burst right out of me: “Gary,” I yell, “if you’re gonna keep doing what you’ve done, you’re no longer welcome in our house!”
We enter the house. Gary is trying to calm me. I can’t stop trembling. How can I treat my friend like this? Have I lost my mind?
“Calm down, Joe. Sharon,” Gary calls, “come here.”
We explain our predicament to Judge Sharon. She says everyone is an adult, knows what’s happening and that each person is responsible for their actions.
Gary—”This isn’t any of my doing. I was just doing what Rita wanted me to do.”
Sharon—”You just don’t let things happen to you, you’re the cause of things, too.”
Gary—”Then how can you tell me what I can or can’t feel. You have to let these sort of things flow naturally.”
Me—”But I’m Steve’s friend. You know why he didn’t hit you over the head when he got home last night? Because you’re my friend. Don’t you understand, he trusts you because he trusts me.”
Gary—”If Rita wants to go to bed with me that’s up to her. She’s free to do whatever she wants.”
Sharon—”When friends get tangled in a web like this, it’s not good for anyone involved.”
Gary left for Bellingham an hour ago. He left peacefully.
Sunday, April 9, 1972 – Hero Gives Birth
It’s 1:30 a.m. Dave and Andi knocked on the door at midnight and got Sharon and me out of bed. Soon after, Hero started having kittens. The crazy thing is, they wanted to be here when Hero was giving birth. She has three so far.
Tuesday, April 11, 1972 – The Mailman
Hero finished up with five kittens. It was a crazy night. Dave and Andi knew we were sleeping, but they knocked on the door anyway. Hero seemed so distressed that I put her in the bottom drawer of our dresser so she could have her kittens there. Sure enough she did. Dave and I went out and bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
I mowed the lawn in the backyard yesterday. It took the equivalent of playing four half-court basketball games out of me. It was tough cutting that almost foot-long grass in that holey, rocky and uneven backyard of ours. It was hell, but I enjoyed it because I was using muscles I haven’t used in a long time.
Ah, I hear the mailman. Will my book be accepted or not? No mail. Oh, well, there’s always another day.
I’ve been trying to figure out what to write next, but nothing seems to come. I hear ideas take a while to build up and then they just gush out. How long will I have to wait for that day? I guess it depends on economics, self-assurance and state of mind. All those and more.
Wednesday, April 12, 1972 – Aldous Huxley
I’ve been reading Writers at Work. Aldous Huxley, when he has trouble writing, picks up any book lying around, opens it to any page, reads what is termed art, finds that it’s just words put together and that gives him the courage to keep on writing. Huxley says he rewrites a hell of a lot, just like me. He doesn’t write to please any special audience, he only tries to do the best he can. I guess you can’t ask for more than that. He says he doesn’t read what the critics say about his books and, as a consequence, whatever they say doesn’t bother him. He says a writer is different from other people because a writer has the urge to order the facts he observes and give meaning to them. He says, “…writing is not a matter of intelligence.”
Monday, May 1, 1972 – Second Anniversary
Today is our second anniversary of living together.
Sunday, May 7, 1972 – Good to Be Home
I had to get away from the house last week because I was living every day just to hear the mailman drop mail in the box between 10:30 and 11 o’clock. Nothing was coming and I was getting more and more depressed. So Tuesday I drove up to Bellingham to visit Gary Dowd. We’re on good terms now. Gary is living in a house on the outskirts of Bellingham with a couple of roommates. Thank goodness it was out of the range of the Georgia-Pacific pulp mill that caused that smell that forced Sharon and me to leave town after one month. It was a good trip. I enjoyed going on walks with Gary. We took a couple of tokes of weed before each walk. I spent three full days there. There was never a mention of Rita.
Sharon wasn’t home when I got in at 8:30 last night. I went next door to Steve and Rita’s and they told me she had gone out to dinner. That’s all they told me. These questions went through my mind: Who is she having dinner with? A man? Why? I didn’t ask Steve or Rita those questions, but should have because I wanted to act open-minded. I stayed and watched Gogol’s The Overcoat on TV with them.
Sharon knocked on their door, and when I saw her face I knew everything was all right. She had gone to Dave and Andi’s for dinner. My mind was at ease, even though a rejection letter was staring me in the face when I got home after being on the road for nine hours and having trouble with my bus. Sharon and I went home to watch Hero’s five scrambling kittens climb, run, scratch and discover since they came into the world four weeks ago.
Tuesday, May 9, 1972 – Philosopher Walter Kaufmann
Last night President Nixon told the country he was dropping mines in Haiphong Harbor to prevent any delivery of armaments from Russia and China to the North Vietnam. It’s called a blockade. Nixon is risking a much larger war to save face. Everyone knows we don’t belong in the Civil War that’s going on in Vietnam. Everyone knows we’re the aggressors. Everyone knows we’re in the wrong. And our president thinks he is going to save face by not withdrawing our troops, weapons and money. The man is playing with disaster. It’s like a poker game with him. Well, this isn’t a card game to me, this is war, this is insanity, this is Americans and Vietnamese dying.
Today I went to the University to hear Walter Kaufmann speak. He’s the man who edited and translated Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre. He spoke about three existentialists—Kierkegaard, Camus and Sartre. He said they rely too much on their emotions rather than their reasoning, especially Kierkegaard.
Kaufmann believes there are four virtues—Humility/Ambition (Humbition is what he calls it), Love, Honesty and Courage. He said Nixon scores high in Humbition and Courage, but in Love and Honesty he scores very low.
He talked about Camus’ The Stranger at length. He said Camus wanted sympathy from the reader at the beginning of the novel where he writes that Meursault didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral. Kaufmann thinks there are many flaws in Camus. He thinks Camus could have been prejudice against Arabs. He thinks Sartre is head and shoulders above Camus and doesn’t see why Camus got the Nobel Prize before Sartre. He doesn’t consider Camus a philosopher, but a novelist. He said Frenchmen are raised to think that if they write they have to touch on all fields—plays, novels, philosophy, essays. American writers, he said, are more specialized by sticking to one thing—novels, plays or movies.
After his talk today I hung out at the University. Everyone was talking about the mines Nixon said the Navy would drop in North Vietnam’s two main harbors. In other words, the war was on a lot of students’ minds.
I don’t know when I’ll ever get another idea to write about. As Fritz Perls says, “Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.” I’ve got many ideas, but nothing I think that will keep me passionately involved for more than a few hours. Writing in my journal is a great writing practice. It can only help me become a better writer.
Friday, May 12, 1972 – Boycott
I’ve been on a number of peace marches in the last four or five years—one at Century City in L.A., three of them here in Eugene and one in Bellingham. “Hell no, we won’t go.” “One, two, three, four, we don’t want your fucking war.” “What do we want? Peace! When? Now!” These marches have been going on and on and nothing has changed our government’s stance. If they don’t listen to what these marches are saying, what will they listen to? Is rioting and violence and looting the way to change the minds of our government officials? Most assuredly they will overreact if there’s chaos in the streets. What then? I’ll have to think of an answer later.
“Think of the answer now, don’t put it off.”
In all these years no one has come close to an answer that might make our government end the war.
“It’s up to you to figure it out.”
Who am I to figure it out?
“You’re a human being is what you are.”
“Well, figure it out!”
The Berrigan brothers had ideas of pouring blood over draft cards, burning draft cards, kidnapping Henry Kissinger and blowing up the heating ducts of government buildings. There are those who organize marches, which only lets out a little steam. Like last night Sharon and I marched with others to the Selective Service, IBM, Honeywell, Internal Revenue Service, Transamerica and ROTC buildings. Of course it was symbolic, but it was at night and the people who work for those corporations and our government were not there to hear our anguished cries. Are peace vigils the answer? Are mock demonstrations the answer? Is blowing up a little crater on the football field the answer? Are digging craters outside the ROTC building and administration buildings the answer?
“You’re not supposed to ask questions, you’re supposed to answer how we can end the war in Vietnam.”
I’ve seen vigils at the Internal Revenue Service to denounce underground nuclear testing at Amchitka, Alaska. I’ve seen vigils at the government building in Bellingham to end the war. People have been standing on vigils and demonstrating for years and our government refuses to listen to reason. I’ve written a bunch of letters to the president in the past two years. Nothing. I’ve been to vigils. Nothing. I’ve been to demonstrations and marches. Nothing. I’ve signed petitions. Nothing. All I can say is, this week, since Nixon said he was going to drop mines in Haiphong and other harbors in North Vietnam, my sex drive has been zero. Damn that Nixon. Damn him.
“I’m getting impatient. Will you answer the question already?”
Don’t give money to those who support the war. General Electric, Honeywell, Westinghouse. It’s the large corporations that are raking in the money off the human misery going on in Vietnam. AT&T, ITT, Dupont, GM, Ford, Chrysler, Boeing, Lockheed, Weyerhaeuser, Georgia-Pacific. They’re all tied into the war machine. It’s the middle class that’s paying for the war, not the corporations. Anyone who works for someone, that’s the person whose taxes go to support these conglomerates. Gulf Oil, Standard Oil, Shell, U.S. Steel, all of them. One way is to not have a phone or car and know what those conglomerates produce and not buy from them. But it’s so hard to stay away from the war machine. For example, the company that makes light bulbs profits from the war. You have to be a hermit and grow your own food if you want to stay away from the war machine. Even soft drink companies are profiting. Pepsi, Coke, beer companies, all of them are turning profits. All of them! My God, what can one do?
“What have you done?”
What have I done? I haven’t made any money as a writer. That means I don’t have to pay taxes to help the war effort. We didn’t pay the phone tax when we had a phone in Berkeley. We haven’t had a phone since we moved out of Berkeley a year and a half ago. Maybe the answer is boycott. Boycott those companies that profit from the war. Find out who they are and BOYCOTT them.
Monday, May 15, 1972 – A Short Story Idea
A short story idea. It has to do with a writer who finishes his first novel that took him three years to write. He sends a copy of his manuscript to three publishers. A month later, he receives an acceptance letter from one of the publishers. The writer and his wife celebrate the good news by going out to dinner and ordering champagne. Two days later, he reads an article in the paper about the corporations that produce weapons of war, along with their subsidiary companies. He’s astonished to find that the publisher who wants to publish his book is a subsidiary of one of those large corporations. What should the writer do? He decides to write the publisher by saying he will not allow his book to be published by a company that supports and profits from an immoral and unjust war. The moral of the story is that once you give in, you’re part of the problem.
Yesterday afternoon I was walking in the Mall and came across a group of young men who were fasting to protest the war. I sat with them. One of them asked me, “Are you fasting?” I said, “No.” None of them tried to force me to join them in their protest and this somehow affected me. I didn’t eat anything last night or this morning. It wasn’t until two o’clock this afternoon that I ate something. I decided I wasn’t going to feel guilty for putting food in my stomach. I was going to use the energy food gives me to think, to write and to learn.
Tuesday, May 16, 1972 – Writing Advice from Two Authors
Here are some quotes on writing by Erskine Caldwell and Stephen Vincent Benet from Writing in America:
“Experiment and individuality and a keen awareness of contemporary life will always provide material and inspiration for more profound novels than the past has produced.”
“A writer to accomplish his fiction is to make his storytelling meaningful and convincing and interesting.”
“Contemporary subjects and recognizable scenes and keen observation of living persons are basic materials of enduring and meaningful fiction. Masters of storytelling always write of the times in which they live and faithfully record the economic, social and political (and moral) pressures and effects of such an era upon the lives and character of the persons they create.”
“Friction or conflict of character creates fiction; no amount of plotting is a substitute for creation. The plotted novel will always have the glaring earmarks of contrived and crafty and improbable fiction.”
Stephen Vincent Benet
“Don’t preach. Write simple and clear. Prune your words.”
“Experiment, or a person goes stale.”
“Know the end and build up to it. Plan, in a way, the story, then go to it with all you’ve got. After you’ve finished, then start the revising or pruning.”
Alabama governor George Wallace, Democratic candidate for president, was shot yesterday in Maryland. He will probably live. Although I despise the man for advocating segregation, no one should ever be shot for his political views. No one.
Wednesday, May 17, 1972 – Rejections
Today I received two rejections for A Class of Leaders. That’s a total of four rejections. I’m gonna keep sending it out until I receive 20 rejections. After that, I’ll start sending it to agents. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try to see agents and editors in person. Oh, the torture of waiting to see if your book is accepted. There’s a little ecstasy involved when you get a letter from a publisher, but then when you open the envelope and see a two paragraph rejection slip, it turns into agony. How can they reject the best book that’s ever been written about a teacher and his students? How? I’ll have to expect that, I guess.
I’m a writer. I’m going to be a writer till the day I die. I can picture myself sitting at a desk in old age typing away. I’m gonna write like Jack London, John Steinbeck and Erskine Caldwell. They were rejected tons of times until luck happened to come their way. Norman Mailer sent his Naked and the Dead to 19 publishers before it was accepted. Joseph Heller was rejected 20 times before Catch-22 was accepted. I’ve only had four rejections. But how can they reject my book? How?
Thursday, May 18, 1972 – Politics
Sharon stayed home from work yesterday. Since we don’t have a phone, Steve came over to give Sharon a message from her boss at the Registrar’s Office. We didn’t know what it could be. Was she being fired? Sharon called and found out she was promoted from Clerk I to Clerk II, that she’ll have a desk by the window, that she’ll get to talk to more students and that she’ll get a raise. Great news!
Hero’s kittens are starting to really bother me. Gray kitten is acting different than the calico and two white kittens. He’s more dependent on Hero than the others. He’s still determined to feed off of Hero. He’s the only one who hasn’t tasted the cat food or the milk that I set out for them.
I was talking with this man running for County Sheriff and told him I smoked grass. Just before we parted, I asked him what kind of job he had. He said, “I’m the Police Chief of Springfield.”
The primary elections are coming to Oregon Tuesday. Why do I get caught up in politics every two years? Because it’s an honor to vote. Democracy is voting and voting is democracy.
Last night this woman on radio pointed out all the things George McGovern stood for. She said the media fails to tell us that McGovern is for decriminalizing marijuana, for giving amnesty to draft dodgers and that he believes women should have a right to control their own bodies. Wonderful views in my opinion, except the media is afraid people will think McGovern is too radical. Not only does the media not tell us about McGovern, but they don’t tell us how Nixon oversteps his constitutional powers.
Saturday, May 20, 1972 – I Hate Rifles and Guns
The question remains: When will I get an idea for a book that will last more than one day, one week or even one year? Maybe it will come after great suffering. Maybe it will come when I am totally at a loss for what to do. All I know is, it’ll come. I don’t know when, but it’ll come, just like A Class of Leaders came to me when I was teaching.
I was reading a little of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road yesterday. You can tell there’s quality in his writing. He is very clear in what he says. He doesn’t have that flowery prose, but an honest and natural prose, which I dig. I’m gonna have to read his book again, and his other books as well.
I read Stephen Vincent Benet’s story “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” He certainly had talent. He was a patriotic soul, a sign of his times. I can’t see anything to be patriotic about our country at present. I can’t seem to feel for this country like other writers did in Benet’s time. Of course the U.S. has its positive side, but there’s also a lot of negativity going on in this country today.
I was in the Coast Guard Reserve from 1963-69. Vietnam became a very big issue in those years. I joined the Coast Guard because they don’t shoot at anyone, nor do they get shot at. I shot a rifle once and a pistol twice in the six years I served. Rifles and guns, I hate them.
I have to mention the hay fever I have. I’ve had it every spring since I turned 13 in 1953. I despise hay fever. I remember the first time it hit me. I was hiking in the Hollywood hills by myself when all of a sudden I started sneezing and my nose wouldn’t stop running. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. And so every spring for the past 18 years I’ve had hay fever. Whenever it hits me hard, I have to take hay fever pills, which make me drowsy.
Monday, May 22, 1972 – The Housekeeper
I feel confined, tied-up, unable to break loose. What’s causing this feeling? Sharon? the mail? the kittens? keeping the house in order? Here I am, a man of 31 and I’m so damn fidgety about keeping the house clean. All Sharon does is fix the bed sometimes, wash the dishes sometimes, go shopping sometimes, cooks sometimes, and never cleans the house. She sometimes cleans the bathroom. The brunt of keeping this house going is up to me. Why did I get myself into this fix? Is being a housekeeper my lot in life? I mop, I sweep, I wash, I take out the trash, I put things back in their place. In other words, I, Joe Sutton, am a housekeeper and I’m getting pretty damn mad at myself for being one. If I worked outside of the house I would probably still be the housekeeper. Gee, I abhor being what I am. The thing is, I still do it. It’s like a drug. I wish I could write as well as I keep the house going.
But I must remember that I can write, I can read, I can converse, I can walk and I can run. My reflexes are pretty good. I never get into fights, either verbally or physically. I actually prevent fights between people. I try to be fair to people, although it’s very hard when you think they’re taking advantage of you.
Which reminds me about the tennis game Steve and I played this past Saturday. I actually felt sorry for him because he was losing to me. Here I am, a person who’s only played tennis three or four times in one year against a man who plays three or four times a week, and he made me feel sorry for being on the brink of beating him. It was his temper tantrums, plus he was extremely inconsiderate for making me chase after the balls when he supposedly hit them back over the net to me. He tried to psych me out and he succeeded.
Yesterday I read Tolstoy’s short novel The Death of Ivan Ilyich. The story is about a dying man—what he thinks and goes through with himself and his family. It was so close to what is happening to my father. My father is suffering so much, he wants and then doesn’t want pity, he wants and then doesn’t want people helping him. He must think of death like Ivan Ilyich.
Last night Sharon and I went to see The Last Picture Show. It took place in the early ’50s. It brought back memories about sex and music and television and the sort of blah kind of life the ’50s were. Maybe it was a blah type of existence after everyone had to live through the excruciating experience of World War II and the beginning of the Korean War.
Thursday, May 25, 1972 – Fed Up
I feel like I’m going crazy. This hay fever is really getting me down. My life with Sharon is on the rocks. I don’t know what to do anymore—should I clean the house? wash the dishes? sweep the floor? fix the bed? clean the sink? cook dinner? write? get sinus pills? take herbs for hay fever? work out? go for a walk? go to the library? read a book? work on the car? break up with Sharon? eat only vegetables and fruit? smoke pot? I really think I’m going crazy. I can’t make up my mind about anything anymore. I’m so damn nervous that I’m about to explode. I can’t get along with anyone. I’m really depressed and I don’t know why. Is it the hay fever that’s doing it (I go through at least five handkerchiefs a day)? Is it living in Eugene? Is it Sharon? Is it the life I’m leading as a writer? All I know is, I need a change.
“Look at you, you’re so down on yourself you don’t know whether you’re coming or going.”
You’re right. That’s why I’m down. I can’t breathe with this hay fever, I can’t stand Sharon or anyone for that matter, I’m exploding inside if anything goes against the way I think it should go.
“Wow, you really are sick. Tell me one person who gets what he wants all the time?”
No one, but nothing seems to be going my way. Nothing. I’ve become the housemaid of this house by shopping, cleaning and cooking. I do everything in this house and it’s driving me up the wall. Why doesn’t Sharon lift a finger to show that she’s willing to help?
“Wait a minute. Do you give her a chance?”
I’d have to wait 10 years before she’d clean the floors or take out the garbage. I’m just fed up. I’m going to quit writing I’m so damn fed up.
Friday, May 26, 1972 – Remembrances of My Father
Boy, was I in a deep, deep depression yesterday. Now it’s over. Whew!
I picked up Sharon at the University yesterday and we drove home in silence. We were silent for about four days straight. We didn’t eat, talk or do anything together. She did her thing by reading a book or by working on an afghan she’s going to give her sister for her upcoming wedding. I did my thing which was to feel sorry for myself because of hay fever and also to try and rest my aching body and brain. What a tough week it was. I was thinking very seriously of breaking our ties. All this past week was a bunch of negative thoughts. It got so bad until I started a conversation with her. That broke the ice. We started giving each other some attention. ATTENTION—that’s what was missing all week. We got along so well that we ended up making love.
My hay fever got so bad yesterday that I broke down and bought some pills. I can breathe now. My nose doesn’t run every minute and I’m not sneezing anymore.
I felt so good that I woke up and got out of bed at 4:30 this morning. For me to get out of bed at 4:30 is like L.A. getting snow in August. Once in a blue moon. I took my little red hay fever pill, washed, drank some coffee and had granola, raisins and yogurt. I dressed and was out of the house by 5:30. I walked a couple of miles in the cool morning air and watched the town wake up. I felt like shouting, “Get up, Eugene, it’s time to get up! If I can do it, you can do it too!” Sharon woke up and got ready for work. She had some coffee while I watched Hero and her lone remaining kitten who I call Shadow because he’s always following her around, refuses to eat the dry food that Hero eats and is constantly feeding off of her. I drove Sharon to the University.
Tonight at nine we will be off for Berkeley with two other people in their VW bus. I got the ride through Switchboard.
George McGovern won the Tuesday primary, as did Senator Wayne Morse. Most of the people and propositions we voted for won. Maybe Oregon might be the place to settle down. It’s a pretty democratic state.
Remembrances of my father (not exactly in order). Working in the garden with him; him reciting in Hebrew the Friday night Sabbath prayer before dinner; him buying me, a four year old, a miniature turtle outside his store on 7th Street (between Broadway and Hill Street) in downtown L.A.; me kissing him on the cheek when coming home from work; I remember sitting shiva at our house after his mother in New York passed away; a quiet man; never coerced anyone; while working in the store with him, he never said it but you could tell he didn’t want you to sit down and read if business was slow; he and I stayed home when Mom went to New York with my younger brother Albert after her mother died; I cooked breakfast and dinner for Dad while Mom was in New York; he rarely complained or got mad; he never ate much at all and was always fighting with Mom at the dinner table, she wanting him to eat more; during dinner, when Mom was in the kitchen, Dad would shove half the food on his plate to either my plate or one of my brother’s plates; he rarely bought new clothes; I never said anything to him about his drinking problem, but should have; him teaching me Hebrew at home and both of us hating the experience; him staying home sick on my 13th birthday and holding my bar mitzvah in his and Mom’s bedroom.
Wednesday, May 31, 1972 – The Balance
Sharon and I got home last night after spending four days in Berkeley. We went down to see her sister Leslie get married to Bill Cook in Tilden Park on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We lucked out by hitching a ride all the way from Berkeley to Eugene with a man on his way to Seattle (I drove half the way).
While in Berkeley, I ran into Lenny Rothenberg, an old junior high and high school classmate, at People’s Park. Lenny is not in his right mind. We talked for a while and he told me he was getting state and federal assistance. He said he considers himself “The Balance.” He got clubbed because of that during a demonstration between the UC students and the cops because of the Vietnam mining incident. Students were throwing rocks at the police and the police rushed the students with clubs. Lenny, “The Balance,” trying to appease both sides, got caught in the middle and was clubbed repeatedly by the police.
Monday, June 5, 1972 – Hay Fever
Gray kitten, otherwise known as Shadow, is gone. As soon as I saw him trying to nurse from Hero, after bringing her home from the vet who spayed her, I picked him up and took him to the Saturday Market. Within 15 minutes he was gone. No more kittens, that’s it, finished, done, no más, arrivederci, goodbye, so long, farewell, see ya, adios, that’s all folks.
My hay fever got so bad one night last week that my chest was clogged. I stayed in bed the next day. The thing about hay fever is, you don’t know if you’re sick with a bad cold or not. What I mean to say is, I feel tired all the time. Why? Two things. The physical part—constant sneezing, it’s tough to breathe, your chest gets congested, your sleep is bothered and your energy is low. The mental part—your mind is constantly thinking HAY FEVER and how to overcome it. You think, Should I see a doctor or buy different pills?
Spring should be full of energy, but look what it does to a person with hay fever—you can’t go hiking, you can’t mow the lawn, you can’t smell flowers, you can’t do anything that has to do with Nature. The sun shines and you’re stuck inside. You fight it by going outside to experience springtime, but all that fighting makes the hay fever worse. It rains six months out of the year in Oregon. You haven’t see the sun in such a long time that you want to get down on your hands and knees and worship it. And so as soon as it comes out, hay fever hits you. When the sun comes out you want to take it all in. But no, you can’t, because spring is pollen season. A person with hay fever is stuck. He wants to be in Nature but can’t because of the devil pollen. He aggravates the hay fever by going outside. Even if he stays inside he gets hay fever, but not as bad as outside. Oh, hay fever, you motherfucker, you.
Wednesday, June 7, 1972 – We Need Others
My muscles are tense, my thoughts go from here to there, and I have a negative feeling about myself. I can’t discipline my thoughts. I can’t stick to one thought for long, even if it’s a simple, beautiful thought. I want to write all my thoughts down. I want my thoughts to be read by everyone in the world.
I want to show the world that I’m a human being.
“What is a human being?”
A human being is first of all imperfect, a bumbler at times, a genius at other times. A human being is one who has depressions and elations, he thinks cruel and beautiful thoughts, he does cruel and beautiful things, he helps and hinders, he sleeps and dreams.
Enough for human beings. I’m thinking of what Maxim Gorky once wrote. He said he always had a hard time concentrating on one thing or disciplining himself. It helps me to know that Gorky, a great Russian writer, admitted it. It’s good for me to know that I’m not alone, that I’m not the only writer who finds it hard to concentrate or discipline myself. That’s what I feel is wrong with me right now—I can’t discipline my thoughts.
“But didn’t you write a book, something that needs intense discipline?”
You’re trying to make me feel good that I did something that demanded discipline and concentration. That’s over and done with. I’m living in the present, not the past, and right now I can’t discipline myself.
There are so many thoughts going through my mind. I want to put them all into one cohesive Whole. I want to see some logic in all those thoughts and experiences. I want to put all the pieces of the puzzle together in one fell swoop without starting from the beginning and working toward an end. What it comes down to is this: I don’t want to work, I don’t want to think. I want my thoughts labeled and categorized without working. Yes, all right, all right, I know what you’re thinking—that it’s impossible and unrealistic to think that way. Life is work and work is life. No force or person is going to live or make my life except me.
But I can’t go it alone. I’m not a hermit, I’m a human being, I need others to survive. If there weren’t others to give me a reflection of who I am, then what would be the use of living? What would it be like if there was no one to hear, see, touch, smell or think of us? What would it be like? I shudder at the thought. Isolation. It’s impossible. We need some kind of mirror to survive.
This thought comes to mind: How long can a human being survive without seeing, hearing or feeling another human being? I remember reading in Robert Ardrey’s The Territorial Imperative about this man who lived with baboons for three consecutive years. Here was a human being who was isolated from other human beings for three long years. Quite a feat. I’m getting the thought right now of going to the library to find out this man’s name, gathering all the information I can about him, and then writing a story about him. That would be called historical fiction, something Irving Stone does so well. Stone has written fictional accounts of Jack London and Sigmund Freud.
Now I want to read Stone’s Sailor on Horseback and The Passions of the Mind and get an idea of how he does it so I can write about this guy who lived with baboons.
See how my mind wanders?
“Why are you asking me that question? I’m the one who is supposed to ask the questions to help you formulate your thoughts.”
I don’t need you. On second thought, I do need you. You’re a mirror of me. Your mirror directs me back to the path, if there is such a thing as a path. You’re the leader, so to speak. Hey, why am I trying to explain you? All I can say is, I need you sometimes and other times I don’t need you. I can go it alone, see? I got a cigar in my mouth, just like Edward G. Robinson in the movies, see? I can go it alone, see? Who needs you? You’re a part of me; I don’t need you.
“Do you know what you just said?”
Yeah, that you’re a part of me. OK, OK, I need you. OK. But I don’t need you all the time. Right?
“Why are you asking me?”
Because I can’t go it alone in this world.
“But I’m a part of you.”
Man, you’re mixing me up. If you’re a part of me, and if I follow what I said earlier—that we humans need others to survive—then what do we need others for if you and I have each other?
“You and I, we’re a single entity. We need other entities, we need other humans in our life.”
You know, if I talked to you all the time, and only you, I’d go out of my mind.
“So what’s new?”
Thursday, June 8, 1972 – The Pot Got Me Going
Yesterday’s entry was written under the influence of marijuana. It doesn’t make sense in parts, but in some parts it makes damn good sense.
Speaking of writing and marijuana, I wrote the whole first draft of A Class of Leaders under the influence of marijuana. I zipped out that first draft in four months. Here’s the thing, though—it took me two years to revise and finish the book. But at least the pot got me going.
Friday, June 9, 1972 – Myself Upon the Earth
A few days ago I finally broke down and went to a doctor to get a cortisone shot to alleviate my hay fever. The shot worked. Yesterday I didn’t have to blow my nose once and was able to breathe. The $19 I paid for the shot was well worth it. This morning, though, I’m having trouble with a runny nose.
I just finished reading William Saroyan’s “Myself Upon the Earth,” a short story about a young, starving writer. The writer is hungry and tired of being poor in 1933 San Francisco, so he pawns his $65 typewriter and gets $19 for it. He treats himself to a huge meal that cost him $2. He even tips the waiter, pays for a shoeshine, goes to watch beautiful women in a Hollywood movie and ends up walking the “dark streets, the streets where the women are.” Going a month without his typewriter, he realizes he can’t do without it, so he goes back to the pawnshop and buys it back.
These are the words he wrote the day he got his typewriter back: “How can one living man possibly be greater than another? And what difference does it make if one man writes great novels which are printed and another writes great novels which are not? What has the printing of novels to do with their greatness? What has money or the lack of it to do with the character of a man?”
I identified so much with the writer in Saroyan’s story that it’s given me the courage to keep on truckin’.
Tuesday, June 13, 1972 – Worry a Whole Day
It started two nights ago, the penalty of being a writer, when I made a tennis date with Steve Carey for yesterday afternoon. I didn’t sleep well that night because I kept saying to myself, “You must get your writing in before playing tennis tomorrow.”
My whole day yesterday was ruined because I knew I had that tennis date with Steve and it beat on my brain so much that I didn’t even sit down to write.
And then came my late afternoon appointment with the dentist today. I didn’t sit down till now, 9 p.m., because of that late appointment. That’s two days shot to hell due to the anticipation of an appointment.
I’m reminded of what I wrote the first day I began writing this journal: “I kept thinking of the Pakistani fellow who was going to bring his Rambler over at eight in the morning for Sharon to test drive it. It screws up everything, as of the past five months, when I know somebody is coming by the house. It wrecks my writing schedule. I want to write every day and do it consistently, not when the mood hits me. I’m out of whack when I know someone is coming by the house.”
Charles Dickens wrote the following sentence over a hundred years ago: “…the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometimes worry a whole day.”
Thursday, June 15, 1972 – Short Story Ideas
Writing in my journal is valuable for two reasons: 1) It’s writing and 2) It gives birth to ideas.
Writing is putting your ass in a chair and picking up a pen or tapping the keys of a typewriter. It can’t be done any other way. Here’s what I should always think when writing: What am I trying to say? And then write clearly, concisely, honestly.
I have a true short story to write about. It’s about the home run I hit in our junior high’s biggest game of the year. It was in front of the whole student body of maybe 1200. After the umpire called my homer a fair ball (it was close to the foul line), I blissfully made my way around the bases. One of the teachers, Mr. Munach, just a spectator who wasn’t connected to the game in any way, walked up to the umpire, a high school student named Gordon Schiff, and Munach told him my home run was a foul ball. No one questioned Munach. Not the umpire. Not my coach. Not even me. It was the mid-1950s—Ozzie and Harriet, Eisenhower, McCarthyism, conform-to-the-norm type of thinking. The word of the day was, “Don’t question authority.”
Here’s another story idea. Write about meeting Jay Ludlow in Bend, Oregon, at a rooming house where I stayed a few days to work on A Class of Leaders. Jay told me stories about himself that were incredible and hard to believe. He said he killed three men in his life—two when he was a boxer and one when a drunk in San Jose accused him of having sex with his wife. Jay said he never in his life had sex with a woman. He said he was sent to San Quentin for the killings and broke out twice. He told me that he caught leopards in the jungle and trained them, that he was a snake trainer, that when he was a baseball player who hit the ball so hard the hide would come off, and that when he was a football player he kicked the ball so hard it took the air out of it. He said his mother brought him up to be an Indian warrior by making him walk through hot coals. Jay, at 44, was all burnt out when I met him. He was adding colors to paintings with numbers. Here’s the thing: he told me his father, Don Ludlow, was a writer who had a short story published in The Best Short Stories of 1938. I looked up the story at the main library in Eugene and he was telling me the truth—on that one at least.
And then there’s the story how Sharon and I met. I first saw her on the street near where I lived in El Cerrito. At around the same time the next day, while out for a walk, after working on the first draft of my novel, I saw her again. Neither of us said hello. A day or two passed and I walked into the El Cerrito library. There she was—she worked there. She was wearing a mini dress and gray boots that came to just below her knees. She looked sexy as hell as I saw her putting books back on the shelf. I wanted to check out James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that day, but couldn’t find it. I asked Sharon for her assistance. She checked here, there and everywhere and couldn’t find the book. It gave me a chance to see a part of her character: persistence. The next day I went to the library, just to see her. She was sitting at a table reading a book before she started work. We talked a little and found out we lived only a few blocks from one another. I got her phone number, called her the next day, and the rest is history.
Friday, June 23, 1972 – Driving South
Sharon and I are in Hollywood to be at my friend Nate Wirt’s wedding. We started out from Eugene in my VW bus Wednesday night but got only three miles out of town before I heard a ringing sound coming from the engine. Precaution should be taken when a car acts up on a long trip, and so I drove back to town.
After waking up early Thursday morning, I got under the car to check the valves. One valve nut was loose, which I tightened. I also went to an auto parts store, bought some sparkplugs and installed them. Sharon and I left Eugene and arrived in Berkeley 10 1/2 hours later. The car drove like a charm, except I had to add three quarts of oil on the way down. Not a good sign. We stayed at Sharon’s newly-wedded sister’s house.
It took us seven hours driving on Interstate 5 before we got into L.A.
We’re staying at my cousin Vic’s apartment in West Hollywood.
Sunday, June 25, 1972 – My Friend Nate’s Wedding and My Parents’ House
Yesterday we went to the wedding of my good friend Nate Wirt to Chris Danzo. A judge married them in Nate’s aunt’s backyard. It was nice seeing a bunch of my old high school friends. There was an abundance of food and drink.
Sharon and I went to my parents’ house afterwards. My dad looked dashing with a moustache. My mom looked good, too. My dad, because he can hardly walk, has to stay inside all the time. My mom is still her same cruel self whenever I bring Sharon to the house; all because Sharon isn’t Jewish. We four sat around and watched TV before Sharon and I left.
Wednesday, June 28, 1972 – L.A.
Sharon flew back to Eugene last night. She took the first plane of her life and seemed pretty calm about it. I looked in the paper today—no crashes.
Business, business, business. I called Dolly Bell this morning. She works at a literary agency. I got her name from my brother Maurice. I’m going to see her in less than an hour. I’ve got to start thinking that whatever I write is important. If no one else thinks what I do is important, then I sure as hell better think it’s important.
L.A. is getting more crowded, the traffic is getting worse and the pace is getting faster. Everyone is constantly on the go. No one has time to go to a park, the beach or just relax for ten minutes. It’s a go-go town, L.A. is.
I went to see Dolly Bell. She’s a secretary at a literary agency. I talked with her for about ten minutes and left my manuscript to give to one of the agents.
I’ve come to L.A. for some stimulation, and stimulation I’m getting. I’m constantly on the go. I can’t sit still for a minute. I have to be either talking on the phone or driving somewhere. I have no regard of what I put into my stomach or how little I sleep.
I’ve been away from Sharon for one day and miss her already.
Tuesday, August 1, 1972 – Car Trouble
I’ve been in Eugene since July 19. I had a very hectic trip back from L.A. My bus broke down on Interstate 5. Luckily a Highway Patrolman stopped me near Lost Hills (about 125 miles north of L.A.) and told me my car’s engine was smoking. The gas station attendant in Lost Hills told me it was probably a piston problem and that the nearest VW mechanic in the area was located in Wasco, about 20 miles east of Los Hills. I drove slowly so my bus’s engine wouldn’t blow up to Wasco on the night of July 13 and asked the attendant at the first gas station I came to where the VW mechanic’s shop was located. The station attendant told me it was near the center of town. Everything was closed, so I asked him where I could park for the night. He pointed to the vacant lot across the street. I parked and drew all the curtains in my bus. It took me a while to fall asleep in the 110 degree heat.
In the morning, I drove slowly into the center of Wasco, my engine still smoking, and parked next to the closed mechanic’s shop. I walked around and found a doughnut shop. After a doughnut and coffee, I walked back to the mechanic’s shop. The Hallmarks, a father and son team, were the mechanics. They told me my bus had a bad piston, but they couldn’t get to it for a couple of days. I told them I was going to hitchhike down to L.A. and stay there until they finished the job. The father, Neal Hallmark, drove me to Highway 99. As he drove, he pointed out the main features of this small agricultural town: roses, walnut trees, cotton, potatoes. He said, “Give this here land a little water and it’ll grow anything.” It was scorching hot, around 115 degrees, when he let me off at an onramp going south to L.A. He told me it would be best to take the bus to L.A. for $5. The bus station was just across the highway. But I had my mind set on hitching to L.A.
I stood a little beyond the onramp on the highway. Cars zoomed by as I held my thumb out. My arm was getting tired as I stood for about 30 minutes as the hot, blazing sun beat down on me.
A Highway Patrol car pulled over to the side of the road. An officer got out and walked up to me. “You got any identification?” I put my blue canvas bag down, took out my wallet and handed him my license. “Officer,” I told him as the sweat was streaming down my face and under my clothes, “my car broke down last night and now it’s at the mechanic’s shop. I’m trying to get out of this blasted heat.”
He looked at my driver’s license and said, “Why are you going south when your address here says you live in Oregon?”
“The mechanic said it’s gonna take a couple of days before he gets to my car. My family lives in L.A. Can’t you give me a warning, Officer? Do you have to give me a ticket today?”
“You saw that warning sign as you got on the highway.”
After he wrote me a ticket, I walked back to where the sign was posted and right off the bat a young man stopped his white pickup.
“I see you got stopped by one of your friends,” he said, as I jumped in.
“Yeah,” I muttered, “he gave me a ticket for hitching on the highway.”
“Were you in the Navy?” he asked me.
“No, I was in the Coast Guard. Why do you ask?”
“It’s your beard, the blue chambray shirt you got on and the blue bag you’re carrying.”
We talked about the heat before he let me off at a desolate spot about 10 miles down the road.
Luckily an older couple in an old, beat-up Ford picked me up and drove me into Bakersfield. I crossed the street and went into a gas station’s restroom to wash myself. I decided to stay in Bakersfield and look for a cheap room instead of trying to hitch a ride to L.A. and back.
I saw a sign that said Cal State Bakersfield. Ah ha, I thought, I’ll go to the campus and find out about a room there.
I stood under a tree and put my thumb out. Two hours later I was still standing there. It took me only a half hour to figure out Bakersfield: No one picks up hitchhikers. All you see are big, shiny cars zooming by. They’re more in a hurry in Bakersfield than they are in L.A. They wouldn’t stop if they saw someone dying in the middle of the street. You can tell right off that all they care about is speed and power and to hell with anyone who doesn’t have a car, especially some guy with a beard who looks like a hippie.
“I’d never live in this hellhole of a town,” I shouted at the cars roaring past me. “Fuck you, Bakersfield, you unfeeling town! Fuck you! All I want is a ride four miles down the road and all you can think of in this sterile town is getting your big, shiny cars from here to there as fast as you can. You care more for those machines than a human being standing in this hot fucking sun. Fuck you, Bakersfield!”
I sat under the shade of a great big leafy tree cooling off as all the tank-like cars zoomed by. I uncrumpled a piece of typing paper I found on the ground and printed CAL STATE on it with my pen. Within five minutes I got a ride with a girl and two guys in a souped-up Datsun.
Cal State Bakersfield was literally a bunch of buildings in the middle of the desert. I found the Housing Office and told them I was visiting Bakersfield to check out the college. I told them my car broke down and did they know anyone who might have a room to rent for a couple of days. The lady I was talking to pulled out a sheet of paper from a drawer with phone numbers on it. The first person she called was willing to rent me a room for $10 a day, except the place was about eight miles from the campus. I almost told the man on the phone that I’d see him tomorrow before I could get a ride to his house. Another woman in the office told me about a bus that was going into town in a few minutes. I quickly thanked the two women and hurried out to catch the bus. On my way, I came across a skinny Black guy, a student, getting into his Opel and asked if he was going into town.
“Yes,” he said, and he was kind enough to drop me off at the doorstep of the house where I was going. I thanked him with all my heart.
I knocked on the door, the sun beating down as I had never experienced before. A guy, shaped like a pear or a Michelob beer bottle, opened the door.
“Does Keith Blake live here?”
“I’m Keith Blake.”
“I’m the guy who called you about renting a room for a couple of nights.”
“Oh, thow you’re the guy,” he said in a lisp. “You got here fatht.”
There was a man and a woman watching TV in the living room. The air-conditioner was on full blast and, boy, it felt so good. We introduced ourselves all around before Keith showed me my room.
Keith said he was going out on a few errands and asked if he could get me something from the store. I gave him a couple of dollars to bring back a six-pack of cold beer.
After spending three days inside an air-conditioned house and catching up on all the daytime television shows, Keith was nice enough to drive me 30 miles to Wasco.
I wrote out a check to the Hallmarks and followed their advice by not going over 50 mph the whole way back to Eugene.
Wednesday, August 2, 1972 – I Wish
Since arriving back in Eugene, I’ve been trying to get a routine going by waking up no later than eight, writing something, working out every day, eating healthy food and enjoying life with Sharon. In other words, I want to be mentally and physically healthy. I want to be aware of what’s going on in my world and the world around me.
I wish I could be in the best physical condition of my life. I wish Richard Nixon loses the presidential election in November. I wish I could be the best writer in the world. I wish.
I wish I could earn a living as a writer. I wish there was justice in the world. I wish there would be no passports so you could get up and go to any country in the world on a moment’s notice. I wish.
I wish I could write a story in one sitting. I wish my body would never grow old. I wish my mind would always be alert. I wish there were no killings in the world. I wish people wouldn’t take advantage of others. I wish.
I wish I could wake up from a night’s sleep, jump out of bed and meet the new day with zest and vigor. I wish.
I was a seaman for six years in the Coast Guard Reserve. A seaman is equivalent to a private in the Army. I felt that if I rose higher in rank I would lose my freedom. It’s best to be a seaman because you have nothing to lose. If you rise higher, you have to constantly watch your step and protect yourself. And by protecting yourself, you’re afraid to live, to take chances, to experiment with the only thing you have—your life.
Now that I’ve written in my journal today, I don’t have to feel guilty that I didn’t write. I can now do things like adjusting the valves in my car, going to the library to look up agents and publishers and playing half-court basketball at the University.
Thursday, August 3, 1972 – Work is Life, Life is Work
It’s hot outside. My body is tired from playing basketball yesterday. My nose has been running. Yesterday my breathing was normal, the same the day before that, but today I’m going crazy sniffing and sneezing. I’ve never had hay fever in August before.
Sharon and I are going to see Bernard Malamud at the University tonight. I’ve read three of his novels: A New Life, The Natural and The Fixer. I’d like to talk to him if I can get close to him after he finishes his talk. I’d like to ask him the secret of being a writer, although I already know the secret. The secret is, of course, nothing but hard work, disciplined work and just plain old work. That’s the secret. For an athlete to do well in a sport, he or she has to work at it. The same goes for a writer, painter, sculptor, pianist, teacher, carpenter and lawyer. Work is life. Life is work.
Friday, August 4, 1972 – Bernard Malamud
Bernard Malamud gave a little introduction before he started reading three of his short stories last night. He said that after finishing a novel, he likes to write short stories to experiment, to see where he’s at. Well, I finished my novel a little more than six months ago and I’m ready to write short stories, to experiment and to see where I’m at.
Malamud also said that a writer lives through the suffering and pain that he writes about. He said the writer can alleviate that suffering and pain by finding solutions to it in his writing.
A very large crowd surrounded Malamud after his presentation. I couldn’t get close enough to ask any questions.
Monday, August 7, 1972 – On Becoming a Teacher
What big things, so far, have happened this year? 1) Nixon went to China and Russia. 2) Nixon orders the mining of the North Vietnamese harbors and the subsequent protest marches. 3) George McGovern becomes the party’s candidate at the Democratic National Convention. 4) Senator Thomas Eagleton had to resign as McGovern’s running mate after it was found that he was treated with electric shock therapy for depression. 5) George Wallace getting shot by Arthur Bremer. 6) Busing to desegregate schools. 7) I finished my novel A Class of Leaders.
How did I become a teacher? After graduating Oregon in June 1963, undecided about my future, I joined the Coast Guard Reserve instead of being drafted into the Army. After three months of boot camp, I was assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Dexter, a 300-foot long training ship. While we were out at sea, on our way from our home port of Alameda, California, to Acapulco, it just came to me to be a history teacher. After finishing six months of active duty, I enrolled at Cal State Los Angeles where I started taking history courses to get a major to teach, and education courses to get my teaching credential. I took courses in European history from Professors Chapin and Bonar, Russian history from Professor Zimmerman and American history from Professor Fingerhut. I remember what Professor Fingerhut said in class one day about John Smith, the founder of Jamestown. He said Smith was a good leader in that he didn’t just give orders and watch his men build Jamestown, he joined them in the physical work. That stuck with me and influenced my teaching philosophy, especially my last semester at Fremont High School, where I sat amongst my students and joined in the student-led discussions. Professor Bonar was another influence. All we did in his class was discuss the current events of the day. He gave us one assignment to complete by the end of the semester. We were to research one week of the First World War, write a paper and present it to the class. It wasn’t only the news of the war that I researched and wrote about, it was also what took place in Los Angeles during the war. I spent many long hours at the UCLA library going over microfiche of the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Herald.
In the education courses I took, it was Elsa Mae Smith, a wonderful teacher of teachers, who encouraged me to teach in the inner-city schools. As a student teacher of history I was under the tutelage of Leon Jordan and Newell Eason at Jordan High School in Watts. Then there was Dr. Martin from Cal State L.A. who evaluated us student teachers and commented on our teaching. Dr. Martin caught me unprepared to teach a U.S. History class one day and reprimanded me for it.
I student-taught from 1964-1965. As soon as I received my teaching credential in the summer of 1965, I applied to become a full-time teacher in the L.A. Public Schools, but I think Dr. Martin’s evaluation of my being unprepared that one day hurt my chances. Instead of teaching full-time, I became a substitute teacher. If the regular teacher didn’t leave instructions, I’d walk into a class and start a discussion on the current events of the day, just like Professor Bonar did in his class at Cal State L.A. I subbed mainly in the inner-city schools for a year.
In the summer of 1966, I traveled to most of the big cities in Europe on the money I saved as a substitute and came back with more confidence in myself. I subbed for another year and a half. In that time I met Sandy Rutherford, who had just graduated from UCLA, and we started living together. It was time for me to get a permanent teaching job. That’s when my former junior high teacher at Bancroft, Bob Malcolm, enters the picture. He was the principal at Fremont High School in South Central L.A. and hired me as a social studies teacher. In my first two semesters at Fremont, I had to teach in five different classrooms. It was hell running from one class to another every hour. My third semester at Fremont, I finally got my own classroom. I decided to teach the way I wanted to teach. What took place in that one semester, February to June 1969, is what A Class of Leaders is all about.
Tuesday, August 8, 1972 – Capitalism vs. Socialism
I had a political discussion today with Mary, our Socialist neighbor across the street. She believes, as Marx wrote, that our society will eventually end up communistic. She said that other utopians said there was going to be a society where everyone got along, but Marx was the first to say how society would get to that utopia—through the production of goods.
Socialism is different from Communism. Socialism is that you work, it doesn’t matter where, and you get paid for it. In Communism you work at what you want to do and get what you need to live on. Communism is the next step after Socialism.
The Marxist theory has a lot of holes in it. Marx didn’t see, for example, the forming of labor unions, or imperialism, or that Russia, a country of mainly peasants, didn’t have to go through the evolution of Capitalism to reach Socialism. The same goes for China, Vietnam and Cuba.
As for Nixon vs. McGovern, Mary isn’t for either man. She’s for Linda Jenness, who is running for president on the Socialist ticket. Mary said that Nixon and McGovern were the same type of men—Capitalists. I countered by saying that there is a difference between the two men—one is sleazy and the other decent. “No, no,” she said, “they’re the same. They’re capitalistic and imperialistic. There’s no difference between the two.”
“There is a choice,” I replied. “We don’t know exactly how McGovern will be when he’s president, but we have to take that chance because Nixon can’t be reached, he doesn’t have an open ear, he won’t listen to those who disagree with him. He’s in a bubble and doesn’t see the reality of the situation. At least McGovern seems to be open to ideas before he makes a decision, and most importantly, he can be told he’s wrong. For instance, he had just appointed Jean Westwood as chairwoman of the Democratic Party and she came right out and said Thomas Eagleton would hinder the ticket because of his shock treatments. McGovern finally relented and told Eagleton to step down. Eagleton was wrong for not telling McGovern about his medical record. I see the Democratic Party as one that is open to new ideas, willing to change, whereas the Republicans are stuck in their old ways. It’s not practical being a Socialist. You are trying to skip ten steps when only one or two can be made at the moment. I’m more practical. I say we have to get rid of Nixon, first and foremost. We have to get rid of this unfeeling person who doesn’t bend from a decision once he’s made it. That’s why I will not waste a vote for Linda Jenness.”
I couldn’t change Mary’s mind and she couldn’t change mine.
Thursday, August 10, 1972 – Kerowhacked
I didn’t sleep last night. Sharon and I had a fight. I finished reading Kerouac’s Vanity of Duluoz on the couch. It was a unique, interesting book that showed Kerouac at his best. I’ve now read two of his books, On the Road and Vanity of Duluoz.
In Vanity, Kerouac got bored easily. For instance, when he didn’t get a chance to play first string halfback on Columbia’s football team in 1941 under coach Lou Little (Lu Libble in the book), he quit the team. It reminds me of a guy I once knew, Norm Patera, who quit the Oregon football team by walking off the field after being bawled out by our backfield coach, never to be seen again.
So I’m walking to the bank on a hot day after telling Steve Carey about Norm Patera, which came (the thought, that is) after talking about Kerouac. Kerouac, The Energy Giver, The Idea Giver, The Experimentalist, The Source.
So I walk into the bank to cash my $200 check, and the teller-lady notices me and doesn’t have to look up my account number. Wow! Bop bang, scubi-doo-wee, I’m not just an ordinary face.
Kerouac, he experimented so much that he died at 47. Neal Cassady, his close friend, died at 42. So I’m reading Kerouac, who conveys to the reader to experiment, to live, to see, to feel, to touch. Me and Sharon get into a fight last night. She brings up my previous girlfriend, Sandy Rutherford. She doesn’t think she’s as good as Sandy. Well, I don’t compare her with Sandy. Never did. Sandy’s gone, really gone, except the last time I saw her, right after I met Sharon, we rolled in bed in a motel room one night.
So Kerouac, when he got tired and bored of something he would just up and go onto another trip, and I mean that literally. If he didn’t like being in one town, he’d go to another. When he quit the Columbia football team he joined the Merchant Marine and went a-sailin’ during World War II. He went swashin’ and swooshin’ and fwoopin’ and yawin’ in the Atlantic that was filled with German U-boats. So if Kerouac got tired of his ol’ lady or the town he was in, he’d pack up all his belongings in a suitcase and whiz-bang out of town in no time flat.
So instead of whiz-bangin’ it somewhere outta Eugene to leave Sharon, I whiz-bang thru Vanity of Duluoz on the couch in the front room of our one-bedroom house with an apple tree in back. I finished that thick mother of a book at 5:30 in the morning. I was still fully awake and didn’t want to get in bed with Sharon, so I go out for a walk, Kerouac-style, hunched forward with my hands in the front pockets of my cutoff jeans. I end up at Woody’s, this 24 hour restaurant where all the delivery boys (bread, milk, postmen) meet. How do I know? Easy. They got their clean-pressed shirts on with their names sewed on one pocket and a decal of their company on the other pocket.
Now where was I? Kerouac, experiment, break away from Sharon, and it’s only a mood that I’ll get over, just like in the past. So I stay home and identify and trip along with Jacques Kerouac, ancestry French-Canadian.
I go next door and talk to Steve about me and Sharon, God, faith, honesty, Norm Patera and gettin’ out of Eugene. That’s when I go for a walk and start thinking of Norm Patera. The story line goes how this one guy, Patera, comes to his first summer football practice, is constantly being harassed by our backfield coach and he just ups and walks off the field. The narrator, me, who also has been treated unfairly by our backfield coach, sees Patera walk off the field. I follow him. And then a Black guy on the team, Sam Owens, follows me, and then another Black guy, Roscoe Cook, follows Sam. I’m gonna call the story “Revolt on a Summer Day.” If every footballer revolts, the coaches wouldn’t have anyone to play for them, nor would they make a salary until all football players are treated like human beings should be treated—with respect.
So after finishin’ up at the bank, I walk a little ways and come to this bookstore and start browsin’ around. Jerzy Kosinski comes to mind. I ask the lady behind the counter if she has Jerzy’s Being There. She shows me where it is. I pick up Jerzy’s book, a satirical novel about a gardener who can’t read or write, and through some queer turn of events he becomes an adviser to the president of the U.S. I pay $1.25 for the 111-page book. I slip it in my back pocket and saunter on over to my mechanics at Wagon Works. I see Dick Fulwiler under his yellow Anglia that he calls Scheherazade.
“What’s wrong with your car, Dick?”
“Goin’ to San Jose tonight to get Hogan.”
“Hey, I just bought this book Hogan told me about last year,” and I take Jerzy’s book out of my pocket to show him, but his head’s still under Scheherazade. “When’re you coming back?”
“You gonna leave Paul here all by his lonesome?”
“Yeah,” he says, sliding himself out from under the car. “Paul can take care of this place better’n I can.”
Paul peeks his greasy face out from under a red VW bus and says, “You’re damn tootin’!”
I leave the men at their work and start footin’ it home. Five blocks from home, I says to myself, “You need a little work-out, my boy,” and so I shift my legs into high gear and start zoomin’, just like I used to do in the sprints at good old Fairfax High in L.A.
I’m sweatin’ when I get home. I go in and wash my face and arms with cold water.
Sharon gets home and we make up. Here’s how: “Let’s move back to Berkeley after the election.”
She answers with a mile-wide smile and puts her arms around my neck and kisses me. As soon as she does that I feel my old thing getting hard. I unbutton her shirt. Ooooo-weee, no bra. She reciprocates and helps me with my T-shirt. I unbutton her slacks and slide ’em down to her feet. After she unbuttons my cutoff jeans, I carry her into the bedroom.
After we finish rufflin’ the sheets, I start firin’ up the coals in the barbecue. While the chicken’s on the grill, I start readin’ Jerzy’s Being There.
You know, if Sharon and me ever have a kid we’ll name him Jerzy. I’m gonna take us to Brooklyn for one reason and one reason only—so I can stand on the front porch and yell out in Brooklynese at the top of my lungs, “Joyzi! Hey, Joyzi! Dinner’s ready!”
So after finishin’ the juicy tastin’ chicken and crunchy string beans, I decide to finish Being There. I think of Terry Hogan, who originally told me about the book. After Dick brings him back from San Jose in Scheherazade, I’ll present it to him as a homecoming gift.
Monday, August 14, 1972 – Energy to No Energy
I woke up at 5:30 full of energy. Where was it coming from? Saturday I played tennis with Steve for 2 1/2 hours in one of the greatest matches I’ve ever had with him. I still haven’t beaten him since we started playing a year ago. I beat him in the first set 6-4. I had him down 5-2 in the second set. All I needed was one more game and I’d finally beat him. One more game is all I needed! I couldn’t do it. He finally beat me 11-9 in the second set and went on to crush me in the third set.
Yesterday, Sharon and I went hiking near the town of Marcola. A couple of hours on those deer trails is quite an exercise.
So I wake up at 5:30 in the morn. I wash, make coffee and eat a little breakfast. Sharon gets up and I make her scrambled eggs for breakfast. After she leaves for work, I start having trouble keeping my eyes open. The tennis and hiking finally got to me, not only in the morning but all day today.
Friday, August 18, 1972 – Grassless
It’s two days before I turn 32. Tomorrow Sharon and I are going to throw a Kegger. I’ve never invited so many people to my house. On second thought, I invited my students to my apartment in Hollywood a few years ago. The place was jam-packed.
It was Tuesday that I finally beat Steve in tennis. The main reason being that I’ve had more practice with him than with anyone else in my life. Now I have confidence in my backhand, net game and serve. It took practice, practice, practice to finally beat my friend.
Last night was a crazy night. Sharon and I went to Max’s Tavern to find out about buying a keg of beer for my birthday. We met this woman, Marty, who was talking about some guy she knew who wanted to sell some grass. Well, being that I’m in desperate need of grass, I asked her how I could buy an ounce. “Come to my house at nine and try out a joint the guy gave me,” she said.
At nine, I only had to walk one block to Marty’s house. I knocked on the screen door. “Come on in.” I walked in to find five guys, all of them trying out the grass. Anyway, Marty, an attractive nursery and Sunday school teacher, in her late twenties, mother of two kids (8 and 5), brought six of us guys together.
One of the guys was Curtis. He remembered me from over a year and a half ago. It was when Sharon and I went to Western Graphics on 6th and Willamette with Pastor Niemoller’s saying: “In Germany, they first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.” We wanted Western Graphics to make a poster of Niemoller’s saying. We had gotten into an argument about Black people with our neighbor, Pete Montgomery, at the first place we lived in Eugene. Pete said, “If I see a nigger in your backyard he’s as good as dead.” Pete used to be a deputy sheriff. Sharon and I got so upset that we went to the Eugene Register-Guard and talked to a reporter of our plight. We also went to the University and talked to a sociology professor to relieve the frustration we had from talking to a racist asshole like Pete Montgomery. (Speaking about racism, every time I play half-court basketball at the University with Black and white guys, and every time I enter the shower, without fail, there’s always a racist remark by one of the white guys who was playing in the game. It never fails.). There are a lot of people in Oregon, and America, who are racists. Racism must be so hard on Black people that I don’t see how they survive in this country.
I met Curtis, the man who created the poster with Pastor Niemoller’s quote on it. It’s a large poster we’ve pinned to our living room wall of a young woman kneeling at a grave in a cemetery shrouded in fog, tears coming down her cheeks, a forlorn look on her face. Curtis told me he found the photo in a book about World War II. He said he remembered Sharon’s looks and it reminded him of the young woman in the photo.
So Marty and I and two other guys jump into my bus and we drive to this guy’s pad. Marty was so innocent that she didn’t know that bringing two strangers to the guy’s house was the wrong thing to do. The guy at the house said he didn’t know anything about grass, and so we left his place grassless.
Tuesday, September 19, 1972 – The Kegger
I’m an erratic writer. I do good in spurts. I usually struggle along and then zap, I can write. This happened a couple of weeks back with my short story “History Lesson” (but maybe I’ll call it “At the Store”)—about working with my dad one day at his small linen store in downtown L.A. when I was about nine years old. It came out of me so smoothly. It took me two weeks to write it because I knew what I wanted to say. I didn’t get bogged down, I wrote and wrote and revised and revised. It was two weeks of joy. Sharon liked it. She’s the one who got me to like my own writing. She gives me hope and confidence to keep on writing, just like she did with A Class of Leaders when I first met her. When she says she likes something she really likes it. That’s my dear Sharon.
Last month was the day of the Kegger, the day before my 32nd birthday. It started out slow at first, and then people started coming at all hours till late at night. People I never met were coming. One person in particular really took advantage: Mary, our Socialist neighbor from across the street, invited about four people who in turn invited four people. I really wasn’t bothered by this because I had only one goal in mind: to finish the keg. And finish the keg we did.
I regret not telling Mary to quit making my party her party because I saw one of her friends in Max’s Tavern the other night who didn’t even say hello to me. I’ve seen this woman a few times since and she’s given me the impression that she doesn’t even know or recognize me.
“Hello,” I said to her the other night.
She gave me a disdainful look.
“Hello,” I said.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I’m the guy whose house you came to last month with four of your friends. We all sat and talked and drank beer together.”
“Joe,” she muttered.
“Yes, that’s me. All I’m doing is saying hello to you because I recognize you and remember the conversation I had with you and your friends.”
Yesterday I didn’t work, eat or spend a penny. I fasted. It was Yom Kippur, the day of atonement for Jews. I got out of bed, washed, dressed and went into the living room to finish Clarence Darrow’s Story of My Life. Darrow wrote about his law career and philosophy of life. His beliefs in evolution, religion (against), capital punishment (against), politics, freedom, fighting tyranny and standing up for the poor and oppressed have somehow penetrated my mind without my knowing it. Darrow influenced his time, but mainly the future, in that his ideas were ahead of his time.
After finishing Darrow’s book, I walked to the courthouse, on an empty stomach, and looked in on some trials. I didn’t drink water or coffee the whole day.
Darrow never cared much for what he wore in court. But the lawyers in Eugene, and probably everywhere else, seem so conscious of their dress. All of them wear suits, write on those yellow legal notepads with felt tip pens and they all wear brown winged-tipped shoes.
The Munich Olympic Games just ended. Earlier this month, eight members of a Palestinian terrorist group, Black September, held eleven Israeli Olympic athletes hostage. All the hostages, five of the terrorists and a West German policeman died in the standoff. Sad, sad, sad.
Wednesday, September 20, 1972 – A Reader Turns Into a Writer
How did I become a writer? I read every chance I had as a kid. I used to like reading the encyclopedia and went on jags reading about the different subjects from the set of books we had in our living room.
I remember one day at Gardner Street School when our fourth grade teacher, Miss Gehling, led the class two blocks to the public library. I checked out two biographies: Daniel Boone and Jackie Robinson. I liked reading about famous people.
My oldest brother Charles used to send books to my brothers and me. One book he sent me when I was 10 years old was Howard Fast’s Citizen Tom Paine. I still have the book and every few years I start reading about the man who wrote those stirring words: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
I remember, as a young teen, when I used to go over my friend Nate’s house and reading whatever was in sight, a magazine or newspaper. Nate would say, “Joe, you’re always reading.”
I used to read the sports page in the Los Angeles Herald that my dad brought home every night. I was always reading a book when I got into bed every night.
One day, after playing a great game at quarterback for Fairfax High against our crosstown rival Hollywood High, Penny Kaplan came running up to me from out of nowhere and starting kissing and hugging me. I thought to myself, “Man, I’m going to write about this someday.” It was the first time the thought of being a writer entered my mind.
My high school English teacher, Miss Olson, encouraged me, without knowing it, to be a writer when she called on me to read two of my essays, at different times, of course, to the class. One essay was to choose between being an unhappy Socrates or a happy fool (I chose Socrates); the other was how I would spend my last day on Earth.
Ever since high school I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I thought being a writer would be romantic.
Friday, September 22, 1972 – The Observer
Fiction, as I was explaining the other day to Jim Edwards, who lives across the street, is anything a person writes down. In other words, if I tried to write down our conversation, it would be fiction. It would be what I saw and felt. It would be very subjective. It would be only a part of the truth, not the whole truth. I think it’s impossible to get the whole truth. The reason being, I was facing him and he was facing me. I had a different view than he did. I was sitting on my porch facing the street while he was standing on the walkway leading to my porch. I was water-proofing a pair of boots, for you see autumn is coming to Eugene. So anyway, Jim asked me if I’d heard from a publisher yet. I told him it was a long waiting game trying to get a book published. He asked what kind of subjects I wrote about. I told him my writing is based mainly on my experience, but I was sure to add that it was fiction.
Henry Miller writes from his own experience and fictionalizes it. The same with Jack Kerouac, Clancy Sigal, William Saroyan and thousands of other writers.
My friend Steve Carey mentioned last week that most things written are based on what the writer sees or hears and not much on smell, touch or taste. What is a writer? Nothing but an observer.
I’d like to begin a story one day with a thought that came to me while I was drinking coffee in the Student Union at the University today. I was sitting there on a beautiful autumn morning, looking outside, where every color stood out like Raquel Welch’s body and thought of these words: “While playing football for the University of Oregon, I was as an observer.”
A person might ask him or herself, “How can someone observe while he’s playing football?” Well, the simple answer is, I didn’t play that much. I observed most of the games from the sideline.
I didn’t like being on what was called the Scout Squad, the squad where we had to simulate the offensive plays and defensive alignments of Saturday’s opponent. I was always playing the other team’s top running back. One week, instead of being known by my own name, I’d be known as Arizona’s Bobby Lee Thompson or Oregon State’s Terry Baker or Washington State’s Keith Lincoln or Ohio State’s Paul Warfield.
Football took up so much of our time. We suited up around 2:30 and practiced till 5:00. After showering, we’d meet in a room in the Student Union to eat a hearty dinner. We’d walk back to the dressing room, watch film of our upcoming opponent, listen to the coaches tell us what our offensive and defensive strategies would be and finally get home at 10:30 or 11 p.m. This went on throughout the football season. The only respite I had from football was when the team traveled. Being that I rarely traveled with them, it gave me time to catch up on my studies. The sad part is, I didn’t get to travel to Minneapolis, Columbus, Ann Arbor, Salt Lake City, Seattle or Berkeley to at least get a glimpse of those cities.
I had several roommates in the three years I was at the University. Three or four of us would rent an apartment near the University. Ben Brown is now coaching the Yuba City High School football team. Tom Cash is the rugby coach at the University of California, Davis. Bruce Snyder is the backfield coach here at Oregon. Al Weigel is an architect living in San Francisco. Ron Veres is coaching football and baseball at Torrance High School in the L.A. area.
Monday, September 25, 1972 – The Greatest
Yesterday I finished reading William Saroyan’s autobiography Here Comes, There Goes, You Know Who. I read this man with great relish. He’s another Muhammad Ali, or I should say Muhammad Ali is another Saroyan when they both shout out to the world, “I’m the greatest.” Saroyan compares himself to Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare. Who knows, he just might be one of the greatest. At least he is to me. He writes things that are of interest to me: how a writer writes, thinks and feels. What hit home with me was one sentence in his book: “A writer should use the words he knows best and not try to be something he’s not.” That was an extremely encouraging line to me. He’s telling me to be completely myself as a writer.
While I was talking to Steve last night, I mentioned that Saroyan thinks he’s the greatest writer that ever lived.
Steve asked me, “What are you great at?”
I thought for a second, then said, “I’m one of the greatest whistlers of all time. I can whistle jazz, popular, classical or even make up songs if I’m in the mood. When I get going no one is better than me.” I thought for another second and said, “I am one of the greatest sweepers of all time. Give me a broom and I can out-sweep anyone any day of the year.”
Steve’s claim to fame is that he can fall asleep anytime he wants. Boy, I’d sure love to have that ability. He also told me he’s one of the greatest listeners in the world. I totally agree, he is a great listener.
Tuesday, September 26, 1972 – Freedom
I spent most of the day working on the first poem of my life:
I finally sit.
Inches away is a friend’s unpublished manuscript.
On the record player is John Lennon’s Imagine.
The floor in the kitchen needs sweeping.
Outside is a beautiful Autumn day.
The mailman is late.
Saturday, September 30, 1972 – Know Yourself
Learning is discovering yourself and your potential. To know yourself—your weaknesses, strengths, abilities—is so important. To know yourself is also one of the hardest things for an individual to know.
I’m starting to grow my beard back after shaving for four days in a row. I just don’t like scraping the skin of my face with a razor. I know at least one thing about myself: I don’t like shaving.
Sharon and I helped Steve and Rita move to Portland today. It was a rough day, not only because there was a lot of physical work involved, but because I didn’t get much sleep last night.
Monday, October 2, 1972 – I’m Writing!
We are condemned to choose, says Sartre, no matter who we are, what we are or where we are. A writer, a lawyer, a convict in solitary confinement, a teenager, a teacher—we are all condemned to choose.
Right now I’m torn as what to choose. When I was writing A Class of Leaders I was condemned to choose the words and sentences I wanted to put in the book. Now I’m condemned to choose what I want to write next. Should it be a short story, a letter or what? No one can choose for me, I have to do it myself.
I can see that I was brought up by not making many decisions on my own. I lived in an authoritarian household, I had authoritarian teachers, I played sports that had coaches whose word was the word of God. Almost my whole life I was told what to do. Other people’s decisions greatly influenced my life. I rarely chose for myself. Now, because of that, I find it hard to choose what I want to write next.
On the other hand, I did choose my own life. I chose to be treated the way I was treated. I wouldn’t have had to take a bunch of crap from my mom if I had more confidence in myself. I let her get away with ordering me around without standing up to her. I let others get away with too much without standing up to them. I was afraid of either being punished or caring too much about my future if I stood up for myself. I was afraid to show my thoughts and feelings for fear of having to rely on myself.
But here I am today. I realize my past mistakes. As much as I possibly can, I ain’t gonna take crap from anyone anymore. Why? Because I’ve learned that if I can’t stand on my own two feet, what’s the use of living?
Wait a minute. I did stand on my own two feet. It was my choice to accept a football scholarship to Oregon. The football team needed me as much as I needed them. Why am I my own worst enemy sometimes? I’m needed in this world, just like everyone who thinks he’s needed is needed. My parents needed me just as much as I needed them. At the school where I taught, the students needed me just as much as I needed them.
As I said to Sharon last night, “We can rationalize anything we do.” I rationalized shaving my beard off last week and now I’ve rationalized growing it back. Is that how the world turns—by rationalizing?
But let’s get back to choice and writing. It was my choice to quit teaching and become a writer. I asked myself at the beginning of today’s entry, “What should I write—a short story, a letter or what?” That question is superfluous to me right now. It’s meaningless. I’m writing. It doesn’t matter what I’m writing—the thing is, I’m writing. I’m writing an entry in my journal. I’m writing about my life, what I’ve done, what I’m doing, what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking. I’m writing! That’s all that matters. I’m writing! And I’ll keep on writing.
Sharon Murphy and I moved back to Berkeley after Richard Nixon trounced George McGovern in the 1972 election. We rented a two-bedroom house for $165 a month. Sharon got a librarian job in nearby Richmond while I wrote short stories, wrote in my journal, kept receiving rejections for A Class of Leaders and was always trying to figure out what my next novel was going to be.
In December 1973, Sharon’s and my relationship came to an end. I took the breakup hard. I stayed at a friend’s apartment—unable to sleep, extremely depressed—before I packed my belongings into my VW bus and left Berkeley for my parents’ house in Los Angeles. Because my father was bedridden, about to die and not in his right mind, it was the wrong place for me to straighten out my troubled mind. I moved in with my brother Maurice and started working for him at his record distributing warehouse. In the middle of February 1974, we received a call at the warehouse that our father had just passed away of a heart attack. A week of mourning followed. While sitting shiva for my father, it dawned on me that hitting the highways of America in my VW bus would salve the grief of the two great losses in my life.
Five months later, after experiencing the highs and lows of my odyssey around the United States, I arrived in Portland, Oregon, on the day Richard Nixon resigned as president—August 9, 1974. Portland was the perfect place for me to settle down. First of all, it was an affordable city to live in; secondly, Steve Carey, my good friend and next door neighbor in Eugene, lived there (he was no longer married to Rita). I knew exactly what I was going to do, and that was to use my journal notes to write a novel of my great adventure. I even knew the title of the book: Highway Sailor: A Rollicking American Journey.