Middle Wigwam

The Hanover NH Cemetery

As a student at Dartmouth College in the mid 1960s, I spent four years in the second farthest dormitory from the center of campus. Why? It was one of three new dormitories, and many of the older dormitories didn’t appeal to me for various reasons. Initially, my dorm was called Middle Wigwam; then it changed its name to McLane Hall. God knows what it’s called now, as the college erected numerous other buildings in the immediate vicinity and called another building McLane Hall. I certainly hope that the McLanes are happy with that.

There were several problems about being so far from the center, which mostly became apparent in the fierce New Hampshire winter. First of all, the central heating plant was more than a mile away. When the temperature dipped down to -30° degrees Fahrenheit (-34° Celsius), it wasn’t particularly easy to heat the building. Fortunately, I had an electric blanket for those days when the mercury sank way below comfort level. We never needed a refrigerator most of the year: windows were festooned with gallon jugs of apple cider.

Secondly, in going to and from classes and meals, I had to take a long walk on a frequently icy (and in Spring slushy) Tuck Mall past the Hanover town cemetery, which at night was a scary experience. Many of the graves dated back to the 18th century and looked ominous from dusk on.

Baker Library (As It Was Called Then) at Dartmouth

In my college years, I was frequently sick with severe frontal headaches that made going to class or the dining hall a misery. It was only after I graduated that I found the cause: a benign tumor was growing in my pituitary gland and pressing on the optic nerve. I was basically a pretty unhealthy young man who was taking long walks every day during the school year. Of course, once I got to my classes or the dining hall, I hung out in the Baker Library (now the Baker-Berry Library) or the Hopkins Center or—that’s where my habit began—the Dartmouth Bookstore.

I was fortunate to have survived my college years. All the times I showed up to the student infirmary, I was told I had migraines or hay fever or some such—pure bosh! But then, in those early years, all they had to go on were X-Rays; and the pituitary, being directly in the center of the head, did not show up well on the X-Rays of the period. MRIs and CAT Scans were all in the future.

Even so, I enjoyed most of my time at Dartmouth. It was a beautiful place, with majestic elm trees all over the place. No more! And the college’s aggressive building program has destroyed much of the campus’s charm.

The Year of Reading Dictionaries

My first real job in Los Angeles was for System Development Corporation (SDC) in Santa Monica. My predecessor in the job was a young woman who was murdered by a UCLA film student. How odd that she was succeeded by another UCLA film student—me!

The nature of the job was to proofread two transcriptions of Merriam-Webster dictionaries. Thy had been punched on paper tape and converted to character files that were sent to a line printer. The first was the Merriam-Webster Seventh Collegiate Dictionary and the other was the M-W Pocket Dictionary.

Everything had been entered—not only the definitions but the pronunciations and etymologies as well. This was a database to be used to assist in computer translation between languages. Was it, in fact, ever used for this purpose? I don’t really know, because my part of the project ended before the database was ever used for any practical purpose.

The project ended with a publication in June 1969 of which I was a co-author: Two Dictionary Transcripts and Programs for Processing Them. Volume I. The Encoding Scheme, PARSENT, and CONIX. My co-authors were Richard Reichert and John Olney. If you are interested in reading it, you will find a copy in the Library of Congress.

Apparently Not a Parent

Somebody Else’s Life

I found out in the most brutal way possible. I was in the endocrinologist’s clinic. The doctor mentioned in an aside, “You know, of course, that you’re sterile?” At that point in my life, I was appalled. Of course I wanted to raise a family, with perhaps two offspring. But it was apparently not to be. I had one major adjustment surviving brain surgery a couple years earlier, but now I had another major adjustment in the offing. No kids. No normal family life.

Upon hearing this several acquaintances (they could never really be my friends) would pipe in with, “You can always adopt!” If I adopted a child, it would be mine only by an act of will stretching decades into the future … to care for someone who, biologically, had nothing in common with me. Okay, so I am not Mother Teresa. I make no claims to sainthood.

I made the adjustment. The women I went out with just assumed that I was telling an untruth when I told them I was sterile, so I went along with it until I went to my doctor who tested me and certified that, yes, indeed, I was shooting only blanks.

Now, in my seventies, I look back on my life and am happy that I did not have to raise any children. My one long-term relationship has been with Martine, a woman who did not ever want to have children. I don’t think I would have been a good father, and as Francis Bacon wrote, “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.”

Not that I have ever had any great enterprises….

Howdy Doody and Harvey Rice

This is a repost from March 30, 2013.

That’s me on a tricycle, sometime around 1950. We were living at 2814 East 120th Street off Buckeye Road in Cleveland. The whole place was filthy with Hungarians. There were so many, in fact, that I did not know the English language existed until two things happened: First, we got a television set late in 1949, and I started watching the Howdy Doody show at 5 pm every day, just after Kate Smith closed her show by singing “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain.” (It took me a while to understand what Howdy and Buffalo Bob Smith were saying.)

Secondly, I started kindergarten at Harvey Rice School on East 116th Street in January of 1950. My parents thought that, living as we did in a Hungarian neighborhood, the public school teachers would speak Hungarian. Nothing doing! Mrs. Idell sent me home with a note pinned to my shirt that asked, “What language is this child speaking?” As if she didn’t know!

That last factor decided my Mom that we had to leave our little Hungarian womb on the East Side and move to the suburbs. Gone forever would be the Reverend Csutoros and the First Hungarian Reformed Church; the Regent and Moreland movie theaters; Kardos’s Butcher Shop with its delicious Hungarian sausages; the College Inn, where my Dad would take me for French Fries; and the Boulevard Lanes where my Dad bowled and I kept score.

It was a cohesive little world, but my parents ate the apple from the Tree of Knowledge when they decided to raise me as a Hungarian. You know what? I’m grateful that they did. I made my adjustment to English (and I’m still making it), but my heart belongs to the Magyar Puszta.

The Glorious Fourth

As I sit at the computer writing this blog, I am hearing a series of small explosions as firebugs everywhere are setting off illegal fireworks. Did all this happen because of our national anthem with its “rocket’s red glare,” or is it just some universal male incendiaries’ attempt to see how much of a bang they could get out of life without losing their fingers and toes?

I tend to ignore most holidays. The closest I came to celebrating the Glorious Fourth was to serve corn on the cob for dinner. No barbecue. No firecrackers. No patriotic movies or songs. No flags. No red, white, and blue.

[BANG! A particularly loud explosion just went off nearby.]

It is ironical that the people who most clothe themselves in the American flag are people who want to destroy what our country stands for. On January 26, 2021, the insurrection in Washington looked from a distance like a patriotic gathering. It was only when you zoomed in closer that you found just how appalling it all was. I’ll bet the attendees at that particular hullabaloo are second to no one in setting off fireworks and waving the flag—that is, those who are not serving time in prison.

So here I am, a guy who loves his country but doesn’t feel he has to prove it to anybody.

Waiting for the Bus at Bundy & Exposition

When I go downtown to the Central Library, I travel by bus and train to avoid paying the usual exorbitant parking rates (upwards of $30 in some places). This afternoon, when I got off the train to transfer to the Santa Monica #14 bus, I ran into a hard-core racist. It was ugly and disgusting.

He was sitting on the bus bench next to mine talking to himself. He obviously hated Asians, so he was enumerating the many things about Asians that teed him off. When three cute Mexican high school girls walked by talking in Spanish, he switched topics and complained that they were speaking Spanish in his United States.

This character was probably in his late twenties, with a skateboard and a cart full of clothing and other miscellaneous items. He didn’t appear to be homeless: He was relatively well dressed, and he boarded the #16 bus headed to Brentwood, which is a high rent district to the north.

At one point, he looked to me for confirmation of his racist patter. He received the shock of his life when the old white man at his right answered him in Hungarian, inviting him in the Magyar language to be sodomized by a horse. His response? “Another effing furriner!”

Morose Delectation, 1970s Style

Michael York and Jenny Agutter in Logan’s Run (1976)

The 1970s were a lonely decade for me. At the beginning of the decade, I was still a Master’s Candidate in UCLA’s film school, but rapidly discovering that the politics of the department were pushing me away. At the same time, I was recovering from a 1966 brain surgery that removed a pituitary tumor, as well as what was left of the pituitary gland. I looked absurdly young, yet felt that I was, for all intents and purposes, a hopeless celibate from Mars.

Cable TV introduced me to a number of actresses who were all too willing to be nude on screen. They included Sylvia Kristel of Emmanuelle fame, the gorgeous Nastassja Kinski, and Britt Ekland. But my favorite was Jenny Agutter, a classy looking Brit who showed off her stuff in:

  • Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout (1971)
  • Michael Anderson’s Logan’s Run (1976)
  • Sidney Lumet’s Equus (1977)
  • Monte Hellman’s China 9 Liberty 37 (1978)
Jenny Agutter and David Gulpilil in Walkabout (1971)

My friend Alain called my interest in these young, delicious actresses a form of “morose delectation.” I am sure he was right. Fortunately, I got through the 1970s and discovered that I was not from Mars: I was just another lonely earthling.

Reconnecting

Mona Mistriel and Her Younger Son Wylder in 2013

I am always delighted to hear from an old friend with whom I have been out of touch for a while. Today, I received an e-mail from Mona Mistriel, with whom I had worked at Lewis, Joffe & Company for a few years back in the mid 2000s. She had been in Tucson and Sedona in Arizona and is now in Ventura, about an hour north of me.

Her two sons are now fully grown and reflect well on the care she had taken as a single mother with them, through good times and bad.

Mona is a natural healer and has been an influence (along with Martine) on nutritional supplements I am taking, with some success, to improve my health.

I look forward to meeting with her in a couple of weeks. Martine and I look forward to taking her out to dinner here in LA.

Highland View

Above is an aerial view of Highland View Hospital in Warrensville Township, Ohio circa 1965. For a number of years, my mother worked there as an occupational therapy assistant; and I spent several summers in high school as a volunteer in the occupational and physical therapy departments.

At the time I volunteered there, I thought of Highland View as a hospital for the terminally ill, because most of the patients were seriously ill. The average length of stay per patient was 67 days. I don’t have any statistics about what percent of patients died there vs. were released.

As a volunteer for occupational therapy, I helped bring bed- and wheelchair-ridden patients from their rooms to an auditorium where a visiting volunteer named Harry Zasz screened movies from a 16mm projector onto a screen. After the show, I helped take the patients back to their rooms. The movies were standard Hollywood fare: I remember Pocketful of Miracles (1961) and Seventh Cavalry (1956) as two films that were shown several times over the years.

I remember one ambulatory patient who had a very visible dent one or two inches deep in his forehead.

Probably what impressed me was something that happened toward the end of my volunteer gig. I played chess with an elderly Puerto Rican patient named Manuel. I was proud to have defeated him, but chagrined to find he had passed away that night. So much for triumph!

Later, my mother moved on to Saint Vincent Charity Hospital near downtown Cleveland. I had a very short stint there as a volunteer in surgery. First they had been clean up a very bloody operating room after a surgery. Then they had me shave around the genitals of a man scheduled to have a hernia operation. I just didn’t have the stomach for surgery and didn’t go back.

Incidentally, Saint Vincent Charity was the hospital that appeared in Billy Wilder’s film The Fortune Cookie (1966) with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. My Mom appeared in one shot, but the scene didn’t make it into the final cut.

A Black Cat Crosses Our Path

Some Days You Just Can’t Win

I don’t know if the black cat had anything to do with it, but today was not a lucky day. At least, it wasn’t a terrible day, but it certainly was a wasted one.

Martine had a doctor appointment in East Los Angeles, so I drove her there. On the way, we had lunch at one of her favorite restaurants, Philippe’s The Original on Alameda and Ord Street, just on the east edge of Chinatown. After we were finished, I propose that we walk to the bakery at Homeboy Industries, where gang girls bake and sell tasty pastries. On our way up Alameda to Bruno Street, a black kitten suddenly crossed our path. There was a forced intake of air on both our parts.

Of course, for some inexplicable reason, the bakery was closed today. That was numero uno.

Numero duo was a bit more annoying. We go to the Adventist Health White Memorial medical center on Cesar Chavez and wait for an hour, only to find out that Martine was not expected there, but at some location in Montebello with which we were unfamiliar. Her ophthalmologist had suddenly decided to no longer see patients there.

As I am unfamiliar with Montebello street network, all we could do is reschedule and head home—in rush hour traffic. That black cat sure didn’t help us much.