The Cleveland Limited

When I traveled back and forth from Cleveland to Dartmouth College (in Hanover, NH) from 1962 to 1966, I had to take an involved route that involved one train and two different bus companies:

  • The New York Central Cleveland Limited, Train #58, connected Cleveland to New York City by way of Albany. Westbound, it was Train #57.
  • The Vermont Transit bus picked me up in front of Albany’s Union Station and dropped me off it Rutland, VT.
  • A White River Coach Company bus picked me up in Rutland and drove me to White River Junction, VT, where I transferred to another White River bus to Hanover.

In September, the family made a vacation of driving the 609 miles (977 km) to Hanover and staying at the Chieftain Motel for a few days while they enjoyed the New England countryside. Also, when I graduated, the family drove me and my gear home. All other times, I had to take the train and buses.

A year or two after I graduated, the New York Central, as such, was no more; and the Albany train station, which I described in a pretentious poem I wrote as a student as “oldgold in decrepitude,” was turned into an office building; and the trains stopped across the river at a new Albany-Rensselaer Station.

Typically, I was the only Dartmouth student to take the Cleveland Limited. Most of the others were bound for Chicago and points west and took the New York Central Wolverine, which bypassed Cleveland by going through Canada between Buffalo and Detroit.

The train was grotesquely uncomfortable. The cars were either too hot or too cold, sometimes both on the same trip. Once I made the mistake by buying over-the-counter sleeping pills (I think it was Sominex), which kept my eyes propped open all night. Only once did I get a sleeping compartment: It was too expensive, but it was rather nice.

Once, I transferred to another train in Albany and got off at Springfield, MA. There I waited for several hours for a Boston & Maine passenger train to White River Junction.

Escaping Thayer

It’s now called the Class of 1953 Commons, but when I was attending Dartmouth College between 1962 and 1966, it was called Thayer Hall. All students were required to eat there, which for me was a disaster. The meat was like slabs of granite, accompanied by bland potatoes and overcooked vegetables.

Supposedly it has improved since the days when Miss Jeanette Gill (who was reputed to be a retired marine) ruled the dining hall with an iron spatula. But then there were troops of dogs fighting for table scraps. When we saw the truck from the Precinct Pig Farm parked outside of Thayer, we were wondering whether they were picking up to slop the hogs or delivering to slop the students.

When I returned to Cleveland for Christmas vacation in December 1962, I managed to get a doctor’s note excusing me from eating at Thayer because it was making me sick. Which it was.

That left the handful of restaurants in Hanover, New Hampshire for me to explore. Probably my favorite was Lou’s Restaurant, owned by Louis Bressett, who, once every blue moon, served a devilish good spaghetti with meatballs. There was the usually reliable College Inn, and always the possibility of a splurge at the Hanover Inn.

I also enjoyed a local restaurant called Minichiello’s. Let me quote a 2015 post:

One of the places I ate was Minichiello’s: They had good pizza and were friendly. The only problem was they thought I was such a nice boy. You must remember that when I was a college senior, I looked as if I were still twelve; and I was subject to bullying by the local high schoolers until they saw I was carrying a college ID. So there I was, munching away at my pizza, when they introduce their daughter to me. She was very cute in a bad girl sort of way, and here her parents were holding me up as an example she should follow—instead of those bad boys who worked at the local garage.

God knows, if it weren’t for the fact that I was seriously ill with a pituitary tumor and, as a result, had not yet physically reached the age of puberty, I would much rather be doing with her those things her parents feared she was doing with the bad boys.

So for the rest of my college career, I avoided Thayer Hall. Where food is concerned, there’s a lot to be said for the privilege of being able to choose.

Glory Days

There are many possible pathways through a life. For many, the high point of their lives came early, in high school or college. As they settled down into family life, they rarely ever cracked a book or veered in a different direction. When one talks to them, most of their talk is of their glory days—and their present lives are a long comedown.

Although I was a high school valedictorian who was accepted for a four-year scholarship at an Ivy League college, I never felt I had any real laurels upon which to rest. The first seven years of my life were spent in a Hungarian household, where the Magyar language was the only one spoken. This gave me a slightly different outlook from most others. As I learned English and began to see myself as an American, I also saw myself as something of a hyphenated American who had his feet in two cultures.

During my high school and college years, I was walking around with a pituitary tumor that gave me severe headaches as it pressed against the optic nerve. So my glory days of youth were spent mostly in pain. When I was successfully operated on after I graduated in 1966, I looked like an 11-year-old rather than a college graduate. You can imagine how that affected my self-image.

In the intervening years I had two careers: first, as a computer programmer and director of marketing for a demographic data supplier, and then as a computer specialist and office manager for two tax accounting firms. In both professions, I saw myself as a mercenary who was actually after different game.

Now that I am retired, I am coming into my own as a writer here on this WordPress site. Oh, I am no “influencer.” I have no intention of getting you to buy crap, or anything else. If I am selling anything, it is my thoughts and feelings as a human being living in difficult times. I feel good and am considerably happier than I was during my youth.

It looks as if I am now living through my glory days.

After Apple-Picking

The Mailbox at Robert Frost’s Franconia, NH House

I attended a Robert Frost poetry reading at Dartmouth College shortly before he died in 1963. Although he was just short of ninety years old, the impression I got was of a wily octogenarian who knew what he was doing. The auditorium in Hopkins Center was filled to overflowing with an appreciative audience. After all, Frost had studied at Dartmouth for a while before he listened to the call of his muse and dropped out.

Although he was almost the quintessential New Englander, Frost was actually born in San Francisco. I think that was all part of his wiliness. I had the feeling he could fit in almost anywhere.

Here is one of my favorite poems of his:

After Apple-Picking

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep. 

You Can’t Go Home Again

My Old High School Gets Razed

As I sit here sweltering in Los Angeles, I am conscious of the scenes of my past being erased from view, almost as if they had never existed.

But they did. Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio was the scene of my triumphs. I was not only the valedictorian of my class, but also the recipient of the Mr. Chanel award for my contributions to the school. Because of budgetary constraints felt by the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, Chanel was shut down in 2013. Today, I discovered in an email from my brother Dan that the school is now being wrecked by the City of Bedford.

Chanel High, which ended its life as St. Peter Chanel High, was opened in 1957. I was in the second graduating class of the school (1962), having started out as a freshman when there was only a sophomore class ahead of me.

old St. Henry Elementary School on Harvard Road, which I attended between 1951 and 1958. has been closed down for some time. No longer are the devoted Dominican Sisters who taught me walking the halls rustling the large wooden rosaries they wore, and Father John Hreha has no one to yell at. I believe it now exists as the Harvard Community Services Center.

My very first school, Harvey Rice Elementary at 2730 East 116th Street in Cleveland, still exists. I went there for Kindergarten and half of First Grade. I didn’t do well because I didn’t speak English at that time, only Hungarian. When we moved to the Harvard-Lee area in the summer of 1951, I was signed up for Second Grade at the new St. Henry School, never having completed First Grade. (Sometimes, I still fear that knock at the door in the middle of the night reminding me that I have to go back to Cleveland to finish First Grade.)

Dites-moi où, dans quel pays,
Est Flora la belle Romaine,
Archipiades, et Thaïs,
Qui fut sa cousine germaine,
Echo, parlant quant bruit on mène
Dessus rivière ou sur étang,
Qui beauté eut surhumaine ?
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan ?

Sometimes, I feel as if my life were one of the novels of the Argentinian César Aira, whose stories progress like one of those Roomba vacuums—always going forward, and never back.

Even though much of my past has been erased, Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire is still around. But since most of the stately elm trees died of Dutch Elm Disease, and the school decided to fill every open space with new buildings, I don’t recognize the place any more.

Greed

José Clemente Orozco Mural at Dartmouth College

So many of our problems as a nation are due to the institutionalization of greed in our culture. Even in our Declaration of Independence, we are declared to have the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Originally, the text read “Property” instead of “the pursuit of Happiness.”

So here we are, with the 21st century well under way, admiring billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, as well as self-declared billionaires (but not really) like Donald J. Trump. As a people, we still believe the rich are job creators, even when they get rich by sending American jobs overseas, in which case they could be regarded as job destroyers. In the meantime, we are becoming poorer as a nation, even while believing the opposite.

When José Clemente Orozco painted his famous murals at Dartmouth College’s Baker Library, he was commenting on the betrayal of ideals in the wake of the Mexican Revolution, which came hard on the heels of the Porfiriato, the stifling military dictatorship of Don Porfirio Díaz, which ran from 1876 to 1910. He also painted elsewhere on campus, the so-called “Hovey Murals,” which were so controversial that they were painted over for offending wealthy alumni donors.

Small wonder that they weren’t offended by the above panel from the Baker Library murals.

The wealthy are correct to regard the United States as the land of opportunity. This opportunity, however, comes at a cost. We are too ready to enthrone greed as an American virtue while treating the American poor as somehow losers in the game of life.

The Cleveland Limited

New York Central Passenger Train

I have been set musing by watching Satyajit Ray’s film Aparajito, with its hero Apu who goes off to school in Calcutta, leaving his widowed mother alone with a relative in rural Bengal. When I left home to go away to college, it was because my parents’ marriage appeared to be heading for the rocks; and I didn’t want to have to be in the middle of it. Plus, of course, I was proud to have a full scholarship to an Ivy League school.

When school started in the fall, my parents drove me to Dartmouth College and would stay for several days at the Chieftain Motel which was situated north of Hanover on the banks of the Connecticut River. But for the most part, I took public transportation to and from Hanover, New Hampshire, where my college was located.

There were three legs to the journey:

  • Between Cleveland and Albany, New York, I took a New York Central train called the Cleveland Limited Train #57 (Westbound) and #58 (Eastbound), which was all coach.
  • Between Albany and Rutland, Vermont, I took a Vermont Transit bus that originated in New York or Burlington, Vermont.
  • Between Rutland and Hanover, I took two White River Coaches, one to White River Junction, Vermont, and the other to Hanover, a scant five miles farther on.

In both directions, the Cleveland Limited was an overnighter. It was fiercely uncomfortable, especially in the winter when the same coach could be blisteringly hot and freezingly cold on the same trip. It was impossible to get a good night’s rest, because of the lights and noise whenever the train stopped at Utica, Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, and wherever else it stopped.

In Albany, I had to wait (in both directions) for several hours at the once grandiose Union Station. I remember writing a poem in which I called it “oldgold in decrepitude.” There was no place to get a meal at the station, so I had to munch on candy bars and drink sodas.

The Vermont Transit bus was a nice ride, except for its passage through Troy, New York, which I then thought was the ugliest city I had ever seen. And that from a resident of Cleveland!

There was a much better connection at Rutland to the White River Coach, which went along the banks of the Ottauqueechee River to White River Junction and with a quick transfer to Hanover.

I would travel both ways during my Christmas vacation (which lasted 2½-3 weeks) and the spring break (about 1½ weeks). If I was lucky, we would see the sun in Cleveland for upwards of twenty minutes during the whole vacation.

My First Poet

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021) As He Looked When I Met Him

It was my freshman year at Dartmouth College. When I heard that beatnik poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti was going to visit the campus, give a poetry reading from his recently published collection A Coney Island of the Mind, and answer questions, I decided to show up. In all, there were about twenty-five students in the audience, plus a few professors.

I really enjoyed the poems, such as this one, which is called “I Am Waiting”:

I am waiting for my case to come up  
and I am waiting 
for a rebirth of wonder  
and I am waiting          
          for someone to really discover America  
and wail 
and I am waiting  
for the discovery 
of a new symbolic western frontier  
and I am waiting 
for the American Eagle  
to really spread its wings  
and straighten up and fly right  
and I am waiting 
for the Age of Anxiety  
to drop dead  
and I am waiting  
for the war to be fought 
which will make the world safe  
for anarchy 
and I am waiting  
for the final withering away  
of all governments  
and I am perpetually awaiting  
a rebirth of wonder 
 
I am waiting for the Second Coming  
and I am waiting 
for a religious revival 
to sweep through the state of Arizona  
and I am waiting 
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored  
and I am waiting 
for them to prove  
that God is really American  
and I am waiting 
to see God on television  
piped’ onto church altars  
if only they can find  
the right channel  
to tune in on  
and I am waiting 
for the Last Supper to be served again  
with a strange new appetizer  
and I am perpetually awaiting  
a rebirth of wonder 
 
I am waiting for my number to be called  
and I am waiting 
for the Salvation Army to take over  
and I am waiting 
for the meek to be blessed 
and inherit the earth  
without taxes and I am waiting  
for forests and animals  
to reclaim the earth as theirs  
and I am waiting  
for a way to be devised  
to destroy all nationalisms  
without killing anybody 
and I am waiting 
for linnets and planets to fall like rain  
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers  
to lie down together again 
in a new rebirth of wonder 
 
I am waiting for the Great Divide to ‘be crossed  
and I am anxiously waiting 
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered  
by an obscure general practitioner  
and I am waiting 
for the storms of life  
to be over  
and I am waiting  
to set sail for happiness  
and I am waiting  
for a reconstructed Mayflower  
to reach America  
with its picture story and tv rights  
sold in advance to the natives  
and I am waiting  
for the lost music to sound again  
in the Lost Continent  
in a new rebirth of wonder 
 
I am waiting for the day  
that maketh all things clear  
and I am awaiting retribution  
for what America did 
to Tom Sawyer  
and I am waiting  
for the American Boy  
to take off Beauty’s clothes  
and get on top of her  
and I am waiting  
for Alice in Wonderland  
to retransmit to me  
her total dream of innocence  
and I am waiting  
for Childe Roland to come  
to the final darkest tower  
and I am waiting  
for Aphrodite 
to grow live arms  
at a final disarmament conference  
in a new rebirth of wonder 
 
I am waiting  
to get some intimations  
of immortality  
by recollecting my early childhood  
and I am waiting  
for the green mornings to come again  
youth’s dumb green fields come back again  
and I am waiting  
for some strains of unpremeditated art  
to shake my typewriter  
and I am waiting to write 
the great indelible poem 
and I am waiting 
for the last long careless rapture  
and I am perpetually waiting  
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn  
to catch each other up at last  
and embrace 
and I am waiting  
perpetually and forever  
a renaissance of wonder            

Lawrence Ferlinghetti died on Monday, February 22, which is Washington’s birthday, at the ripe old age of 101, just a month shy of his 102nd.

I was too shy to ask the poet any questions, being a detested freshman. But I did enjoy seeing him handle the know-it-alls that asked questions only to make themselves look good. Ferlinghetti may have been a poet, but he knew how to handle wise asses.

The Muralist

Quetzalcoatl Mural at Dartmouth College’s Baker Library

During the four years I was at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, I spent many hours studying in the reserve room of Baker Library where, between 1932 and 1934, José Clemente Orozco painted a striking series of murals named “The Epic of American Civilization.” One of the images (above) was of the god Quetzalcoatl (or Plumed Serpent) crossing the Gulf of Mexico to Yucatán. It was largely due to Quetzalcoatl’s yellow beard in Aztec iconography that misled Moctezuma to believe that Hernán Cortés was Quetzalcoatl returned to the Aztecs. We all know how that turned out….

Orozco also did other murals at a dining hall at Dartmouth, but they were removed because they were thought to be Communist, and the Patricians in control at Dartmouth were aghast that the Mexican visitor would abuse their hospitality. (A similar thing happened in Los Angelist, where Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros painted a mural called “América Tropical” that was painted over for similar reasons.)

I love Orozco’s work. At one point, I even journeyed to Guadalajara to see more of his work, such as the image of Miguel Hidalgo below:

Mural by Jose Clemente Orozco featuring Miguel Hidalgo (leader of the Mexican War of Independence), Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace), in the historic Center of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico

Censorship of a great work of art because one does not believe in the political philosophy espoused by the artist is, to my mind, barbaric. Only in the United States is there a simultaneous attraction/repulsion response to Orozco’s emphatic mural style. Any attempt to paint over his work in Mexico would cause a bloody riot. But then, Mexico does not swing as far to the right as our country does.

 

The Houses of Poets

The Robert Frost House in Franconia, NH

When traveling, I like to visit the houses in which poets I admire lived. When I was in Chile in 2015, I made a point of visiting all three of Pablo Neruda’s houses: Isla Negra, La Sebastiana, and La Chascona. In Paris, I visited the flat in which Victor Hugo had lived. And, in Franconia, New Hampshire, I visited the farmhouse which Robert Frost occupied beginning in 1915 after he published his collection A Boy’s Will and afterwards as a summer house through most of the 1930s.

Frost remains one of my favorite American poets, along with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. If you look through the same window a great poet has looked through, you begin to understand something about his work.

Mailbox at the Franconia House

Before he died in 1963, I attended a poetry reading by Frost at the newly opened Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College. Frost had attended Dartmouth for a while, but dropped out. He also attended Harvard, but he never graduated college. As old as he was, Frost was in complete command of his mind at the age of 87. And I have been moved by his poetry ever since. I got the feeling that Frost was not the bumbling old poet who read his poem “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961: Hearing him speak, I had a feeling that Frost knew exactly what he was doing, and had no trouble handling an auditorium filled with sharp college undergraduates.