by Michael E. Berumen, October 2010
Only a handful of people are aware of some of the things disclosed, here: my mother, father, sisters, and wife, mainly. Some matters I've kept secret to avoid embarrassment, and, for reasons that will become obvious, I didn't divulge aspects of my uproarious past out of simple prudence while in "career mode" for the better part of the last 40 years. More importantly, while my daughter was in her most formative and, potentially, imitative years, I thought it inadvisable to share some parts of my past with her. I am no longer concerned about these things, and there's something cathartic about just getting it out and assembled in writing in one place. This hardly constitutes a complete autobiography, recounting every detail of my existence, for my life certainly does not warrant such a treatment; but it does set forth some of the events that had an impact on my development, which, might explain more about who I am to my daughter, or anyone else who cares to know. With that said, I am also withholding some things, for I also need to protect the innocent. Maybe I will relate more, someday; but in the meantime, this represents many layers of my onion.
I was born in 1952 in Long Beach, California at the Seaside Memorial Hospital, which no longer exists. My earliest memory is from about 3 years old, lying on the chaise lounge in the early evening in the backyard of our small, suburban Lakewood home with my father, William Sproull, watching the low-flying, noisy, and lumbering DC-3 airplanes on their approach to the Long Beach airport, nearby. I remember feeling very content and secure, and I can summon that very moment and feeling even now. My father was a young, dashing, insurance executive, and successful in business from a relatively early age. But his success went hand-in-hand with some bad habits: womanizing, gambling, and drinking.
He had a little sing-song jingle that I couldn't get enough of:
When I was about 4-years old, we lived in a summer rental on Balboa Island, California, right across from the water. I don't remember much about our stay there, other than falling off the outside banister, which resulted in some stitches in my head. I also learned to swim nearby in the Newport Beach Back Bay, where there were classes for kids. In those days, one didn't have to be particularly wealthy to live on Balboa or the Newport coastal area. My great-grandmother, Charlotte Anastasia Ward, gave my father a section of her farm acreage, which he promptly sold, using the proceeds to buy a tavern on the island. His sale of the property shocked family members, especially my great-grandmother, who wanted him to keep it for the farm income and for his progeny. I recall that the bar had a parachute draped across the ceiling, and that the place reeked of a boozy stench. The business was not a success, apparently, and he didn't keep it for very long.
My great-grandmother bequeathed the balance of her farms to my father's lineal descendants, and that turned out to be me. She wisely kept the bulk of the property out of my father's hands. Her daughters, my grandmother and great-aunt, had rights to the farm income while they lived, so I did not control the property until my great-aunt turned it all over to me when I was in my mid-30s in the 1980s. I do not remember my Great-grandmother Ward, as she died when I was an infant; but her unselfish act made many things possible for my family and me. Had the land been given to my father, I am certain it would have been sold and the proceeds dissipated.
My mother divorced my father when I was 5 because of his infidelity and raucous behavior. My father thought she was away with a friend for an entire weekend, but she returned to our Balboa summer home early and, unexpectedly, with me in tow, she found him asleep in their bed with another woman. As we both stood there, she waggled the big toe on his exposed foot to awaken him. After some verbal pyrotechnics, she packed-up a few things, and we took off in her baby blue, convertible, '55 T-Bird, and went back to our home in Lakewood. I remember the event well, and I recall crying at the time and protesting that I wanted to stay with my father. I saw him only a handful of times after that, before he succumbed to liver failure from alcoholism at age 38.
Many times I stood by our smallish Bay window in Lakewood, waiting for my father to show up on a pre-arranged visit; and many times he never came, calling my mother, eventually, to say that something had come-up. Sometimes she'd call him to remind him because he simply forgot. The last time I saw him I was 11-years old. He picked me up and we went to his upscale apartment on Wilshire Boulevard on the west side of Los Angeles. There was a doorman and it seemed quite posh to me. That afternoon, he was apparently wistful, for he called my mother on the telephone and they had a very long conversation that I overheard, or at least, I could hear him. He was crying and professing his love, repeatedly, and he told her how much he missed her. He was drinking. I will confess to hoping that reconciliation was then in the making, for I yearned to have him in my life and I was not entirely bonded with my step-father by that time. It never happened. Afterwards, he got drunk and passed-out for rest of the day and night, which I spent by myself, thumbing through the books he had on hand. The next day we were going to my favorite place, the Pike, an amusement park in Long Beach, where I spent many delightful Saturdays with my grandfather. It was a hangout for many young men in the Navy whose ships were docked in Long Beach or San Pedro, nearby. We stopped at a bar along the way, and I sat in the car waiting for him for several hours. I remember the bar, vividly, the Blarney Castle on Vermont in Los Angeles, a place insurance men frequented then and many years later when I worked in Los Angeles. He finally emerged, soused to the gills, and then he dropped me off with my grandmother, who lived in Long Beach We never made it to the Pike. I never saw him again.
A few years later, I attended my father's funeral. I was fourteen. There were only a handful of people there, including my mother. At the end, this once successful and popular man had very few friends. A military honor guard was there in recognition of his service during the Korean War, and they presented me with the neatly-folded flag that draped his coffin. I never really knew him, of course, just the things that a child perceives, mixed with both the good and bad things that my mother told me. And some of the bad things didn't really seem so bad to me, at the time... the gambling, womanizing, and carrying-on. My mother always loved my father, that was clear to me then, and she says as much even today.
I have often wondered how things might have turned out had my parents managed to stay together. I knew when my father died, though, that I wanted to be more like him, or more accurately, what I imagined him to be like... a certain coolness and insouciance being a large part of my romanticized view of him. My mother told me many stories about how he was quite the man about town, even in high school, where she first met him in Vancouver, Washington. It took several shocks to my system to alter my misconceptions about him. And though it was some years later, I was very fortunate to have found other men in my life who were much more worthy of emulation.
My mother, Jacqueline...Jackie...was a beautiful woman, about 5"2", thin, with beautiful, dark, red hair. She was a runway model for several department stores before I was born, but never tall enough to go very far in that field. As a child, she doted on me. After her divorce, she had to work, as my father was a deadbeat on child support. For a while she was a hostess at a country club. Mostly she worked days and was home with me at night. Mrs. Bauer, our neighbor in Lakewood, was usually my babysitter when I wasn't in school. She was a kindly woman and had a large, green parrot named Sam. One day when I was about 6, I was playing with my best friend, Sandra, who lived down the street, and we saw a nearby house with an open window. There were no cars outside, and we inferred that no one was home, so we climbed through the window and proceeded to gather some things that looked useful, mostly from the kitchen, and filled my wagon. We proudly showed Mrs. Bauer our ill-gotten gains. Being rightly appalled at our criminal enterprise, she promptly escorted us back to the house and made us put back the stuff where we got it while she watched sternly from the sidewalk.
My mother married Oscar Berumen... everyone called him Ozzie or Oz... when I was 7; largely, she told me later, to give me a father. She told me I would sometimes ask her various dates if they were going to be my new dad. I'd guess that was a bit of a shock to them, not to mention off-putting. My mother and Ozzie proceeded to give me four sisters (Tamara, Victoria, Heidi, and Cherise) over the ensuing years, and he had two daughters (Carole and Diana) from a prior marriage, which, I only learned later, ended due to his having impregnated a neighbor. His ex-wife, Toni, told me years later that she wanted to reconcile and tried to encourage counseling from a priest, but by that point, he was done. Toni is a gregarious, talkative woman, and I can see that that was never a match meant to be, for although Ozzie could be quite sociable, he was essentially a quiet man who required a good deal of personal space.
I grew up in an estrogen-filled environment and, perhaps as a consequence, I have always felt comfortable in the company of women. I am 8 years older than Tami, and 17 years older than my youngest sister, Cherise. Tami and I were especially close, and we remain so, today. I can well remember the day she was brought home from the hospital. She was my little doll, and she traveled across much of the United States on my lap in our peripatetic days. I changed many a diaper and administered lots of milk bottles and pats on the back for burping. From a very young age, I did a lot of babysitting whilst my parents were out on their frequent revelries, some lasting until the following day. When I was 10, I had charge of a toddler and an infant (my sister, Vicki) for hours on end. I am also very close to my step-sister, Carole, who is my age; she is my oldest and most constant friend from the time I was 7, and we shared some similar experiences in our teen years. We live close to one another in Colorado, and our families we spend our holidays together.
In my early years, I spent a considerable amount of time with my paternal grandparents. My grandfather, Noble Sproull,worked variously as a newspaper editor and publisher, and as an executive for Kaiser Industries. Some of my fondest memories are of the time we spent reading together in his home library as he puffed away on his pipe, often with a book by Zane Grey or Earl Stanley Gardner in hand. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he turned 60, so I never knew him as I would have liked. My mother always had good things to say about him. My grandmother, Margaret, adored and lavished me with attention. She was a kind and gentle person, and she died only a few days after the death of my natural father, her only child... perhaps of a broken heart. Edna Ward, her spinster sister and my great-aunt, was a concert pianist and also was very good to me. I spent several summers with her at her home in Santa Barbara, and she sent me to a posh camp in Hope Ranch for several weeks, where I learned how to water ski and use a bow and arrow.
I did not really know my mother's people very well, other than her foster brother, Charles Shauman, and her mother's sister, Bee DeFritas. Uncle Charles lived with us for a while, and he later married a wonderful woman, perhaps possessing the finest temperament of anyone I've ever known, my Aunt Ruth. She never had an unkind word to say about anyone; was immersed in charitable activities in the Pismo Beach area, where they lived, and she was always cheerful and upbeat. I met Aunt Bee as a teenager, and got to know her well as young adult while I was living in Los Angeles. She lost both of her legs in an airplane accident in the 1950s. The other passengers in the small plane were killed, and she was stranded in the Tehachapi Mountains in the dead of winter for days before she was discovered by a search and rescue crew. She got along just fine on two prosthetic legs, even to the point of being able to dance quite well. She was a devout Christian and spent a lot of time unsuccessfully trying to convert me and providing me with various books that were largely silly. The only one that was somewhat worthwhile was C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.
My mother's biological mother, Mary, was a chorus girl, and she gave my mother (and her sister and brother) away as an infant. My mother was raised by her foster mother, Maude Shauman, who was in her fifties, a grandmother's age by the standards of the day. She did not meet her biological sister until she was in her 30s, and she never met her brother, who, I was told, was mentally disabled. I can remember her natural mother driving up to our house for our very first meeting in her new convertible Mustang with two poodles. My mother had not seen her since she was an infant. She was quite flamboyant, and in retrospect, I can see many similarities in personality and mannerisms to my mother, though they were never together more than a few times. She later committed suicide by shooting herself. My maternal grandfather, Maurice Haines, was involved with organized crime and served time in prison for several years; my mother eventually met him as a young adult. I have a letter that he wrote her while in prison. He was apparently quite gifted. I first met him when we were visiting Chicago, and saw him one other time when he came to our house in Fremont. He was very handsome and charming, and he gave me a silver and gold, western belt buckle, which I have to this day.
We moved around the country a great deal due to my stepfather's ... my dad's (which I started calling him around 12 years old) ... jobs in the aerospace industry in Colorado, Arkansas, Florida, and all around Southern, Central, and Northern California. We lived in 13 different homes and I attended 14 different schools before I was 16 (including a brief stint at a military school and several parochial schools). I did well in school, despite the many disruptions... though I began to get a little sideways in behavior while living in Orange County, CA, having by that time discovered drugs, sex, and rock and roll. It was the sixties, after all. With all the moving about, I learned to make friends easily or perish.I suppose it might have had an opposite effect on some, making them less social, but I think it is what gave me social confidence, something that had benefits later in life. I do envy those who've had lifelong friends from their early childhood, something I have not had due to the near constant moving. The closest to it is a recent re-connection with several friends from high school and college, and a couple of buddies from my Army days.
I do not recall my mother drinking very much alcohol before she remarried. That changed, though, and shortly after she married dad (Ozzie), she was seldom without a drink in the evenings. She had an enormous capacity for a woman her size, much greater than dad's, who would eventually pass out. Dad was not a friendly drunk; in fact, it is when he was at his most argumentative and baleful. In contrast, my mother became more maudlin and self-pitying when she drank, often reminiscing about her first marriage and the good times she had with my natural father and the events of her childhood. After I married and moved away, I used to get many sentimental phone calls late at night from my mother, who had been drinking.
My parents went to a lot of backyard parties in the 60s, threw quite a few of their own, and they always had their favorite local bar. Wherever we moved, they wasted little time finding the party-crowd, usually people from my dad's work, and occasionally our neighbors. I don't know if they were alcoholics in a clinical sense, but drinking was a big part of their life. I suspect my mother might have been an alcoholic, for she found any social situation difficult without having had a shot or two of whiskey beforehand.
When I was little, my mom was up early and breakfast was already on the table when I got up. She spent a lot of time with me, then, and reading was a big part of our life together. I owe my love of books to her. After she remarried, it became increasingly rare for her to get out of bed much before noon, having stayed up drinking the night before, and if my sisters or I wanted breakfast, we made it ourselves. I even took my sister Tami to her first day of school in Westminster, CA. My mother did cook dinners, though, usually frozen or canned foods, or on special days, hamburgers or hot dogs. She wasn't a very good cook, really, but I didn't know this until much later, especially after having had my mother-in-law's cooking, which was a quantum improvement. At the time, we thought mom was the best cook. My mother stayed up very late at night, and this was when we had our best conversations, with dad sound asleep in bed or on the couch.
As I got older, my mother confided in me a great deal, and she was often unhappy with her life. I think, somehow, she expected that I might be able to change things for her one day. I did end up providing a great deal of financial support for them in old age, and I've taken them on a number of nice trips, including one to Europe, but I don't think she has ever been a particularly happy person.
I was very religious for a period of time, as I enjoyed all the pomp and circumstance of Catholicism. I was even an altar boy, back in the days when the Mass was still recited in Latin. I enjoyed the several years of Catholic school, and I was both fascinated by and admired the priests and nuns. For a time, I even thought I might like to be a priest. Alas, I found liked women more, and then there's the not inconsequential problem of not believing in a deity. While at Saint Cyprian's school in Long Beach, I trespassed on the upperclassmen's lawn, and I was ceremoniously dragged diagonally across it by the ear by a watchful Irish cleric. No one else in my family was particularly religious, and they were not frequent church goers, although my Great-aunt Edna would sometimes sing in the church choir or play the organ. My dad would often attend Mass on Christmas Eve, and sometimes I'd go with him. I don't recall my mother ever attending church other than for weddings, funerals, baptisms, and my first communion.
In my mid-teens, I came across a small book with stories about the Saints, and it inspired me to learn more about several of them, including the Bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine. I poured over Augustine's City of God and Confessions, much of which I did not understand, and re-read them much later; and Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica, an abridged version, which I found very entertaining, especially the parts about how souls are transmitted. I also read books about the Essenes and the early Christians; the Old and New Testaments; and various, other religious tracts. I abandoned organized religion by the time I was 17, and my belief in god by the time I was 19, by then having read Bertrand Russell's Why I am not a Christian. I continued to be fascinated by religion, though, including Eastern religions, especially Buddhism, and I studied it well into my twenties. One of my favorite classes in college was a seminar on Martin Luther. I think for many years that I wanted a reason to believe in a deity, a cosmic purpose, and an afterlife, but I never found satisfactory evidence for any of it in logic or in science, and I have little patience with faith as the sole basis for it.
I mentioned Bertrand Russell's book. Here I should state that his work has been of particular importance to my intellectual life. Perusing the post library when I was in the Army, I came across a little book called The Problems of Philosophy, by Russell. This book had more influence on me than any other, for it sparked my interest in philosophy and opened a whole new world to my imagination. What is more, I discovered that Russell was also a renowned mathematician, which made me like him instantly. I have always had a prejudice favoring mathematical minds. In short order, I read his History of Western Philosophy and his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, which I more or less understood. Eventually, I picked up his Principles of Mathematics, but it was highly technical and much too complicated for me to understand. I read that a couple of years later, as I did the Principia Mathematica, once I had mastered the predicate calculus and had some grounding in number theory. In any case, while in the Army, and inspired by Russell, I read philosophy voraciously, including as many of Russell's multifarious works (he was a prolific writer) as I could get my hands on, along with the works of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, and Kant, which I would refer to many times again over the course of my life.
I'm an introvert by nature, using the technical definition, though I don't have a shy bone in my body. I'm an INTJ on the Jungian/Myers-Briggs personality inventory, which I've taken many times, so it just might be nearly right. I like to be with people, enjoy social intercourse, though not for extended periods; I require solitude and time for regeneration. Books and mathematics were my principal refuge as a child, and that remains the case, today. I must have time to be in my own head, and with my own thoughts, or I become disagreeable. I am capable of extreme focus to the exclusion of nearly everything else, and I deal with interruption very poorly. Some find this characteristic annoying. Nothing is as restorative to my psyche as spending a few days--alone-- in a remote spot in the woods or at the seashore with something good to read and a pad and pencil. I like conversation and conviviality. But I need an equal amount of time to be by myself.
It is difficult, no, impossible to give an objective account of one's own personality. I can at least say I am comfortable in my own skin and self-confident about my abilities, perhaps more than I should be. Sometimes this can be interpreted as arrogance by others. I am egotistical, I think, but not especially self-centered or egocentric. As a youth, my self-confidence, coupled with impulsive tendencies, led to occasional trouble. There is substantial evidence to show that the part of our brains that controls rash behavior develops more slowly in males, reaching physiological maturity only by the early to mid-twenties. I think I might have been more impulsive and less risk-averse than most youngsters, and despite my analytic abilities in other areas, I did not always prejudge the consequences of my actions, or worse, I tended not even to care. The unfortunate result was that this caused others to suffer. This tendency diminished greatly as I grew older, but it remains an underlying trait that I must control.
From a social perspective, my most problematic traits and, at the same time, my greatest virtues, are that I am energetic, organized, and very inclined to control my environment, insofar as that is possible, rather than let it control me. I make plans and I execute them. I am very happy to let others lead when I think that has greater utility, and I can be a good, loyal follower. However, I also like to be in charge when I think that will produce a better result and, I will readily confess, that this has often been the case. I'm not especially competitive, though, for I don't spend much time thinking about myself or my status in relation to others, and "winning" a contest, besting another, does not drive me. Achieving my goal does matter, and I do not rest easily until I have finished what I set out to do, without regard to what others desire or achieve in relation to any particular measure. I do not compare myself to others, and I suppose it is a fault of mine, I am not especially concerned about what others' opinions of me might be.
I'm a compulsive planner, an organizer, and a doer. I manipulate my environment to the best of my ability in order to realize my ends, which may or may not comport with what others want. These are consistent with the attributes of a typical INTJ. These traits have served me well, but that also can sometimes result in unintended conflicts. Some are more casual about life, more accepting of things as they find them, and less apt to upset the apple-cart. I am not this way. I have few "Zen-like" tendencies; indeed, I am even inclined to be contemptuous of such a sensibility. I don't want to go with the flow or be "at one with the universe," as it is; rather, I want it to be the way I think that it ought to be. I know this characteristic can be off-putting to others, so I do try to manage it for the sake of more harmonious relations. I am more easy-going than I was as a youth, but I doubt that anyone would describe me as passive or a "go along to get along" sort of fellow.
My mind constantly races, I am often preoccupied, and I have difficulty changing my thoughts away from whatever is concerning me until I have fully analyzed, digested, and resolved the problem facing me. Then ... and only then ... am I able to devote myself fully to other matters. This is a useful trait in the intellectual pursuits I enjoy the most, but it can cause other problems, for it is difficult for me to set these things aside as other things arise in the natural course of daily life. This can on occasion cause others to think I am detached, indifferent, or even aloof, when, in fact, I am simply unable to switch gears mentally. I have never slept as much as most other people, even as a child. There is too much living to do that requires being engaged. If I could dispense with sleep, altogether, I would, for it has always seemed to me to be a terrible waste of time.
My capacity for extreme focus, for concentrating on the matters at hand, has had some practical applications outside of intellectual pursuits. I learned to fly airplanes from my dad, who was active in the Civil Air Patrol when I was 11, living in Searcy, Arkansas. Our most exciting event was looking for a missing woman in a Piper Cub, overflying the woods surrounding area. She was murdered, and her mutilated body was discovered later by hikers. Eventually I became instrument-rated and learned aerobatics. My wife, Carol, and I owned an airplane for a number of years, and we derived great enjoyment from it. I miss both that and my motorcycle (she made me get rid of my last bike when our daughter started eyeing it!). I loved motorcycles and rode them from the time I was about 12...and I nearly killed myself on two different occasions. Only in my forties did I start wearing a helmet, after they passed a law in California requiring it. I liked the wind in my hair and the sense of freedom on had.
I had a couple of close calls in my flying days, but perhaps the worst was when my wife, Carol, and I were flying up to the Monterey Bay area to spend Thanksgiving with our close friends, Clay and Nicki Yokota, who lived near San Francisco at the time. We were over the coastal mountains in a violent thunderstorm, unusual in California, with severe up and down drafts and zero visibility. My alternator went out, which meant that the battery would no longer recharge, a very bad thing to occur under the best of circumstances, but especially in poor weather conditions. Most of my flight instruments necessary in zero visibility, and, importantly, the radio, depended on electric power, which could go out in short order with a dead battery. I could manage the plane's attitude and general direction without the electronic instruments, but without a radio, I'd be on my own, and receive no guidance out of the mountains and to an airport. The tower at nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base helped us get to the closest airport in Santa Maria, where we safely landed in less than minimum visibility. My other alternative was to land at Vandenberg, in which case my plane would have to be hauled off by truck, for emergency landings of private aircraft were permitted at a government installation, but, curiously, not take-offs. With vector and altitude guidance from Vandenberg, we landed safely, the runway becoming visible only in the last seconds of flight. We had the alternator replaced in Santa Maria in a matter of hours. Carol was an indispensable co-pilot, helping me with the charts and radio on the bumpy ride. The weather soon cleared and we got on our way to Monterey without further mishap.
Dad was mechanically gifted, and if there is such a thing as a mechanical genius, where hands, eyes, and mind combine forces to shape materials in a way that is at once useful and aesthetically pleasing, surely he was an example of it. His ability to figure out how things work and to precisely manipulate physical objects is unmatched in my experience. It is no coincidence that he was a flight engineer in the Army Air Corps on a B-17 in the 40s. He flew milk-runs in-and-out of France and Germany during the occupation immediately following the war. He should have been a surgeon, for he could do anything with his hands ... fix anything, build anything. He built a homemade airplane, a speedboat, rebuilt auto engines, added rooms to a house, made furniture, carved things, sewed, and he could do any kind of electrical or plumbing work. He had a vast collection of tools for any occasion. I did not have nearly his skill, but I helped him with cars and learned enough to do much of my own work on my first cars. Our cars never went to outside mechanics. Today's cars are well beyond my know-how, but there was a time when I was relatively self-sufficient.
I loved to spend time with my dad when he wasn't angry or hitting me, which was quite often. I had lots of welts and bruises in my younger years, from belts, knuckles, and other objects, and I endured a few bloody noses at his hands. In the early years, he didn't like me very much. In fairness, though, I was a handful. I was another man's child; a mouthy know-it-all; and a show-off. In time, especially after I entered the Army, he treated me as his own, and I think, no, I know, that he did come to love me. I think my relative lack of fear of pain or confrontation resulted from his abuse. It could have worked out differently, and does for many, but fortunately for me, it didn't. I am not the worse for it.
My dad liked guns and hunting, especially deer hunting, and hunting with him was particularly special, for we got along best then.. For some reason, he was more patient towards me when we were away from home, and especially in the wilderness. Then it seemed I was the boy he wanted. I loved the outdoors, still do, and I miss those days we had together. I did not like hunting at all, and I found fishing boring; but I liked tromping around in the woods and the mountains with him, the crisp, early mornings, and the campfire at night. He taught me to shoot and I got pretty good at it, though the few times I had an opportunity to kill something I would purposefully miss the target. In the Army I had the highest marksmanship rating, "expert," with both the M-14 and M-16 rifles. Killing a beautiful animal never appealed to me. Fortunately, we seldom came home with anything. On the rare occasions we did, I could not eat his quarry. I have never owned a gun or rifle.
One of my dad's occasional amusements when I was still in grammar school was to tie me up tightly like a mummy with a roll of masking tape, from head to toe, thereby immobilizing me. This was terrifying to me, and I felt as though I would suffocate (I was probably in no real danger of that), and I would beg him not to do it. He got a good laugh out of it, and there is more than just a hint of sadism on his part. There were other instances of this, for example, when he would hide a realistic but artificial human skull in my room at night to frighten me when I was only 8 or 9 years old , or lock me out of the house in my underwear in the Colorado snow (it would only last a couple of minutes). With that said, I do not want to give the wrong impression, and on the surface, it may sound much worse than it really was. It did not break me, and, I don't even think it affected me greatly over the long run, and certainly not in my own conduct with my child. It's much more complex than I can possibly convey in words.
Things are seldom black-and-white in human relationships. My dad could be very strict, even mean, and physically brutal; however, he also had many admirable qualities, could be very giving, and I learned a great many things from him. He always put food on our table and provided a roof over our heads. He was a hard worker, and for a period of time, he held down two full-time jobs to support his burgeoning family; he would always do what he had to do to make sure we lived decently. We never had much money, for my parents spent it just as quickly as they got it, but my dad always earned enough to ensure we did not suffer.
The violence ended a few months before I went into the Army, by which time I was physically much larger than dad. He was arguing with my mom, I stood in-between them, protectively, and he raised his hand towards me and I intercepted it, lifted him up, and tossed him several yards onto our large white sofa. He was unhurt, but shocked, and I said a few things, and we never had another argument after that. I left the house shortly thereafter and went over to a friend's place, thinking I was no longer welcome, and he went looking for me later that night and asked me to come home. As I grew older, as I said before, he showed greater respect for me and we became much closer. But as a kid, while I no doubt yearned for his approval and love, simultaneously, I also feared him. I did not look forward to his coming home from work on many nights. Perhaps, as a teen and young adult some of my risky behaviors resulted from some of these early, in effect, immunizing experiences. I suppose it could have made me a more reticent and cautious person; but whatever the underlying causal factors, and they may have been entirely different, even genetic, that certainly was not the result.
My mother was a frustrated thespian, and she had always longed for a life in show business, much as her mother did before her. She wanted the same for me. When I was 12, she signed me up with a talent agent... Mary Grady... who was the real-life mother of one of the sons on the TV series, My Three Sons. My mother tried to teach me to sing (she had an excellent voice) with very little success. Against my will, I tried out for a couple of parts, including the role of Eddie Munster on the series The Munsters. I hated this kind of thing and, eventually, my mother gave up the quest. If I have any talent on stage it is in public speaking, or so I'm told, but certainly not as an actor. I took drama in junior high school and enjoyed that, though, for I was a hit in several plays, one in particular where I played a beatnik (with a fake beard) in a comedic ghost story, and it served me well with girls.
Prior to my teens, I read mostly fiction, especially the works of Defoe, Dickens, Twain, and Verne, and various kinds of reference books. My favorite book of fiction, then and now, is Great Expectations. I also liked Bible stories written for children. I don't recall when I learned to read, exactly, but my mother says that I was quite young. I also enjoyed dictionaries and my children's encyclopedia. One of my prized possessions is my Grandfather Sproull's large Unabridged Webster's Dictionary, which my grandmother gave to me after he died. I spent a lot of time working out arithmetical problems and enjoyed various puzzle books while in grammar school. I also liked Superman comics and Mad Magazine. Around 11 years of age, I began to enjoy reading about science and technology. Popular Mechanics was one of my favorite things to read.
When I was in 6th grade, living in Arkansas, I got a chemistry set and a microscope, and I spent a lot of time following the experiments in the instruction book, making various messes around the house, and finding bugs and things to examine up closely. I remember dissecting a frog while it was still alive. Dr. Rogers, about whom I'll have more to say, had given me some old surgical instruments, including some very sharp scalpels. I told him I was thinking of becoming a medical doctor. When in a sudden moment of revulsion I realized the full extent of my cruelty to the frog, I put the poor creature out of its misery. The thought of it haunted me for many years. I hoped if frogs were in heaven that he would forgive me. I started learning algebra and geometry around that time, too. By the time I was 13, I was exploring the calculus, though my knowledge of it was quite superficial and scattered. In the coming years I became reasonably proficient with partial differential equations long before I had a formal class in the subject.
The other instance was only partly voluntary (I could have refused), and it occurred with an older man who picked me up hitchhiking in East Los Angeles when I was 14. He took me to his house and gave me some liquor, and while I knew full well he was attempting to manipulate me, I was curious and went along with his desire to "massage" me. He had a little machine that he attached to the back of his hand,. After he was "done" with me, he wanted me to hang around and reciprocate, but I left hurriedly and took the bus back (with money he gave me) to my Grandmother Jeff’s house. I was very ashamed at the time, and I spoke to no one about it. As a teenager in the ‘60s, I took every opportunity to have sex with girls, and I had a lot of it. As the father of a daughter, I very much regret my casual attitude towards it, then, and I think my sometimes cavalier outlook was insensitive and hurtful to others; for once I had my way, I was generally on my way to find someone else.
I mentioned Grandma Jeff...short for Jeffe, or "boss" in Spanish. Her real name was Simplicia. She was dad's mom, a widow of many years. I did not know his father, who I'm told was very stern and had brutal tendencies. She, on the other hand, was a very kind woman, and incredibly industrious, always cooking, cleaning, gardening... doing something, a bundle of energy. I well recall the marvelous Mexican feasts she would whip up on a moment's notice for family dropping by... enchiladas, chiles rellenos, chile verde, and sopapillas. She lived with her two old-maid sisters, Adela and Tana, in the barrio of East Los Angeles. Grandma Jeff spoke barely a word of English, and our communication consisted of my poor Spanish and lots of gesticulations, with occasional translation help from dad or Aunt Adela, who spoke perfect English. Jeff moved from El Paso, Texas to California after her husband died and when my dad was still a teenager. I spent a lot of time in East LA... and I stuck out like a sore thumb, a blond, blue-eyed kid... but I got on well with the other neighborhood kids, including some of the low-rider gang members. I even had an East L.A. uniform for our occasional visits: chinos, a t-shirt, and slicked- back, grease-laden hair.
Beginning at a young age, I was tested and retested with various standardized tests, and, because I did well, each new school I attended seemed to be fascinated with me. I even spent time with some researchers from Stanford specializing in IQ. I scored 189 on the Stanford Binet IQ test and 183 on the Weschler IQ test. While considerably higher than what is generally described by folks who deal in such matters as "genius" level, rest assured, I'm no genius. Richard Feynman, whose reported IQ is significantly lower than mine, WAS a genius. Louis Armstrong WAS a genius. It's a much misused term, I believe, as is the case with the overused term, "brilliant." Such creative intelligence cannot be measured or predicted by these kinds of tests. At best they might predict how one will do on other tests or in school. I simply had a certain kind of cleverness and a good memory for the facts that were important to me. One of the more unfortunate things to occur in my life was to be deemed--and repeatedly told--I was a genius and exceptional starting at an early age... for in my youth I believed it to be true, and, as a consequence, I had a distorted sense of my own capabilities.
This seems like a good juncture to say that I think that emotional stability is far more important and useful to an individual than having great intelligence as it is typically defined, and certainly insofar as one's happiness is concerned. Of course, high intelligence of the creative variety can be more useful to society, as a whole, than any one person's contentment. But for the purpose of one's having a successful life ... personal happiness, getting along with one's peers, satisfactory family relations, commercial activity or working in institutions, generally... I think a healthy emotional state is far more valuable. Intelligence, when taken alone, can be overrated, and it is not sufficient to lead a productive and satisfying life.
I spent most of my junior high time in the school library, exempt from classes (doing college-level math) except for physical education, wood shop, and drama. There were no formal advanced- placement programs in those days, and they didn't know quite what to do with me. I relished being an autodidact and not having to take many classes, and I learned how to impress teachers and administrators to continue my special treatment and curry their interest... periodically I would wow them with some differential calculus or highfalutin physics, or a quotation from Goethe or Voltaire, and that would usually suffice. However, this became more of a problem in high school. My "abnormality," and others' somewhat distorted perception of me, also encouraged a growing sense of autonomy and self-confidence, and, at the same time, with the unsettling death of my natural father when I was 14, and my increasing alienation from my parents (perhaps exacerbated by some pretty severe beatings and their constant drinking), I began to rebel and get into trouble..
I opted for more thoroughgoing juvenile delinquency when we moved to Campbell, California in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1966. I went downhill quickly at that point. Among other things, my friend Skip and I robbed a donut shop (I was the lookout, he was the robber... no gun, he faked it... with a face mask) when I was 15. He was apprehended while running away, and he later told them about me, and the police showed up and arrested me at my parent's house later that night. I spent several months in juvenile hall and, thankfully, after a year of probation, my record was expunged or I never would have received my security clearances in the Army. Oh, and I also stole a car, hubcaps, stereos, credit cards, gas, and shoplifted, among my other delinquent activities in this phase of my life. My time under incarceration for the robbery was a transformative event for me. I was lonely and scared, and I vowed then to never return to such a place and to fly straight and narrow. But before that catalyst occurred....
At age 14 in the summer of '66 I became a chronic runaway, leaving home for weeks at a time, ending up in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco as a hippie ('67), and later off of Sunset Blvd in Hollywood, amongst other wanderings, hither and thither. I took LSD, mescaline, hashish, weed, uppers and downers in the 60s, in addition to other revelries and debaucheries. After hitching car rides throughout the Southwest, I hopped a train in Flagstaff with my old Orange County friend, Jimmy Yates. We were caught and arrested (the cops called us long-haired hippies, queers, and such, in what appear in retrospect to be an attempt to scare us straight) and taken to jail, whereupon, we escaped through open window in the men's room when an officer sent us to wash off fingerprint ink. Growing increasingly frightened as fugitives from the law, we returned an hour later (after hiding in a washroom at the gas station down the street), meekly entering through the front door, and the embarrassed and angry officers promptly assigned us to a cold and dank drunk tank with no seat or toilet, just a drain hole in the center of the cell. They sent us home separately the next day by Greyhound bus (our parents wired the money for tickets), but I got off in Santa Barbara and ran away again! Once home, my mother took me to Agnew State Hospital, a mental institution, but they didn't admit me. Whatever was wrong with me didn't qualify me for the insane asylum. I enjoyed the attention, though.
It was the heyday of Haight-Ashbury when I lived there... the Age of Aquarius, hippies, flower power, and the psychedelic era. I stayed in the area for about 2 months before heading off to Southern California. The streets were full of kids, many of them runaways like me, with the scent of incense and patchouli oil wafting through the air; girls in colorful granny dresses with flowers in their hair; and long-haired boys with beads and Beatlesque, wire-rimmed sunglasses. We "crashed" in Fillmore tenements, behind bushes in the parks, or at the pads of generous strangers. It was a very libertine environment, a big adventure, and no one gave much thought to tomorrow or to practical concerns beyond having a good time, getting high, and finding some food. I doubt that such a lifestyle would have been as tolerable in the cooler Bay winters, though. When we weren't panhandling for money or stealing food (so much of the faux love and peace was at the expense of another's property), we could earn money doing odd jobs arranged by a local youth center. One really didn't need much to get by. I learned later that my parents heard from a neighbor that I went there, and they apparently spent a day with my sisters riding around the area looking for me. The entire thing was frivolous, meaningless, irresponsible, unproductive, superficial, juvenile, conforming, occasionally risky, and, to be sure, a lot of fun.
I got along well with all the various cliques of my era: jocks, brains, hippies, surfers, cruisers, popular kids and unpopular kids. Perhaps moving around as much as I did helped me feel more comfortable with many kinds of people, I don't know; but I never had a problem insinuating myself with a particular group, and I moved amongst the various coteries with relative ease. I seemed to have all kinds of friends. I was the smart kid who could function on the street, and I was big enough so that no one picked on me. I didn't look for fights, but I had my share of them, too, and I will confess, I rather enjoyed them, for there was something viscerally gratifying about the surge of adrenalin and the sheer physicality of the thing. My last physical altercation occurred while I was serving in the Army in Germany. I had been drinking at our local hangout, the Rosarium, and a staff sergeant disparaged my friend, and that set me off. By that time, I had begun with my study of Kung Fu. I had the better of him and, since he outranked me, I was very lucky he didn't get me into any trouble.
Shortly after my time in the San Jose juvenile hall, my parents moved us to Fremont, CA in the East Bay. With the concurrence of the school district, I started Ohlone College before turning 16, having done well on some tests. After little more than a year of high school, I had perfect SAT scores 800/800 (1600 max in those days), and I had instant celebrity in our town, having made the newspaper. I hated being at Ohlone, and I soon dropped out. It is unpleasant being that young and having no one else in college wanting to hang out with you. I barely shaved and a couple of years makes a huge difference at that age. This left my mother to deal with the authorities, who came to our house on at least one occasion, as I was still under age, and the California law required me to be in school. I would re-enroll and then not show up again. I found part-time jobs at various places, including a toy store, dog kennel, and restaurant, and I spent much of my time at the library and in my homemade laboratory doing experiments. My regrettable life of crime was over before I turned 17.
With my mother's permission, indeed, with her encouragement... I enlisted in the Army two weeks after turning 17. It was the height of the Vietnam War, but I was lucky and I was not sent there. Because I did well on some examinations, and was deemed to be good in symbolic reasoning, I was trained to encode and decode encrypted messages. After cryptography training, most of which was in Fort Gordon, Georgia (outside of Augusta), most of my service was in Germany, which was one of the most beneficial periods in my life. Indeed, the Army was a critical part of my maturation, and because of my specialty, I had the good fortune of being surrounded by slightly older, well-educated men who were role models while I was in Germany. In particular, my friend, my best friend at the time, only 4 or 5 years my senior, was a young lieutenant named Bill Baldwin, and his influence was instrumental to my development. We managed also to have a lot of fun traveling together in Europe, notwithstanding rules against officer-enlisted fraternization. I was honorably discharged in 31 months at the grand old age of 19. Thenceforth I led a life of relative, though imperfect rectitude.
While I was in Germany, I met a young beauty named Lucia, whom I nearly married. She was a student in Regensberg, and her family owned an appliance store in the village of Hemau, where I was stationed with 25 other Americans in a nuclear weapons facility. I recall my mother being terrified at the prospect of my bringing a German girl home as my wife at such a young age. As it turns out, Lucia did not want to come to the U.S. and I didn't want to stay in Europe, so we parted ways. She was very bright and spoke English flawlessly. I took German in school and was fairly proficient, but not entirely fluent. I told the recruiters I was fluent, though, and that put me in good sted. Lucia's further instruction in the German language made my later study of it in college all the easier for me.
Lucia's older sister's boyfriend was from Africa, a Marxist, and a professor of political philosophy, and I remember having some interesting discussions with him. I picked up a few writings by Karl Marx, as a result of those discussions, including The Communist Manifesto, and it all made a certain amount of sense to me, so I decided that I was a socialist. It wasn't until several years later, after reading Marx's masterwork, Capital,,and various critical works by the likes of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and others, that I came to realize that nearly everything Marx had to say about economics was nonsense. He completely misunderstood pricing, among other things, and the labor theory of value, on which much of his theory rests, and his notions of surplus value, are completely mistaken. He remains, however, an astute observer of history, and his insights about the darker aspects of social institutions and industrialism remain instructive.
My knowledge of physics at this time was rudimentary, at best. I had a basic understanding of Newton's laws and the fundamentals of non-relativistic gravity, aided primarily from my study of the calculus, as well as a smattering of knowledge about electro-magnetism and optics. I read a compendium of Einstein's fundamental papers on Brownian motion, the photo-electric effect, and special and general relativity. My Army associate, Jackie Miller, had an advanced degree in physics, and he helped me to understand much of it; special relativity was a brilliantly simple insight, and the mathematics is not especially taxing. It is a different story with general relativity, however, for neither Jackie nor I had sufficient grounding in non-Euclidean geometry, and as a consequence, I was unable to grasp it fully (insofar as that's possible) for several years to come.
After being honorably discharged in early 1972, I returned to college, at which time I also began to dabble in radical politics, including a stint as political education officer of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (I did not go to Vietnam, but I was a "Vietnam era" vet, and that seemed to be sufficient) and I hung out with some hardcore radicals from the Students for a Democratic Society. I even had dinner with Caesar Chavez, the farm labor leader, with my college friend, Jinny, a card-carrying communist and organized labor supporter. I was the Democratic Youth Caucus chairman for my area in the '72 campaign when George McGovern ran against Richard Nixon. I was also involved somewhat in student politics and president of the philosophy club. The Ohlone College trustees appointed me as the student representative on a committee charged with overseeing the campus police, whose presence was controversial at the time.
During this period, I applied myself to schoolwork at Ohlone and later at California State University, East Bay (formerly Cal State Hayward) with great seriousness, taking a very heavy load of classes and immersing myself in learning all that I could. I loved college at this time, and I took full advantage of all it had to offer. and I completed my undergraduate degree summa cum laude in 3 years. The GI Bill freed me up from having to work full-time, and I had some part-time positions, including working the graveyard shifts as a security guard at the local FAA facility in Hayward, a perfect job for doing my studies. By student standards, I was well-heeled, and with the help of a roommate, I was able to afford a nice apartment. I decided, then, that I was best suited to live a life of the mind, consciously cultivated an intellectual image, and I set out to become a writer and college professor. My wild days were behind me.
My principal interests in college were mathematical logic, physical sciences, and philosophy, and in the latter case, particularly analytic philosophy and the philosophy of science. Several of my professors took an interest in me, but especially Dr. Eugene Mayers, who headed up the Department of Philosophy. He thought I had some talent for philosophy and was very encouraging. He introduced me to the works of John Rawls and Robert Nozick, which have been very influential in my thinking, though my appreciation for Rawls increased only later and, in large part, once I had acquired a better understanding of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Practical Reason and the importance of impartial rationality. For a period of time, I thought I was a libertarian (a la Nozick), but I soon concluded that was a pipe-dream world, much like Marx's communism, or for that matter, all Utopian schemes, be they anarchic or statist in nature.
Three very important things occurred in my intellectual development in this period. My courses in deductive and inductive logic opened up a new world for me, and they gave me the essential tools for pursuing my interest in philosophy; the philosophy of science; and the foundations of mathematics. I added considerable depth to my understanding of science, especially physics and astronomy, and this was of inestimable value in forming both my scientific and philosophical outlook. And it was in college that I developed what was to become a lifelong interest in both history and economics.
There are opponents of liberty on the right and left, and I find no comfort in "moderation" when that is merely an encryption for a more middling kind of repression or for going along to get along. I think ideologues of all stripes, on both the right and left, have much more in common than they ever would care to admit, which is that they have an underlying emotional requirement for others to believe as they do, and that insisting on conformity and converting the non-believer is often more important than the principles they espouse. Facts and reason actually have little to do with their view of the world, for evidence and logic contradicting the received orthodoxy seldom dissuades the ideologue. As much as anything, it's a matter of temperament and a kind of Utopian faith. In this sense, political dogma is very similar to religious belief.
To encapsulate my only overarching political principles, I believe that each political issue must be analyzed pragmatically, on its merits, with an eye to optimizing individual liberty, while simultaneously minimizing the worst risks for the least among us, insofar as that is possible with the broad consensus of the governed, and without undue sacrifice of one segment of society to benefit another. Liberty must always have precedence, in my view, and society ought to be very restricted in limiting an individual's liberty in order to suit or benefit another. Therefore, I believe that Rawls' sweeping "difference principle," whereby the most advantaged can only benefit when the least advantaged do, is fundamentally unjust. However, his principle of impartiality, a Kantian idea, seems to me to be the only morally satisfactory way of restricting liberty, in the relatively limited number of instances that this is permissible. I have set forth my views on this in detail in my writings on ethics and economics.
Towards the end of my undergraduate work, I met my future wife, Carol Kearney, in 1975 at a nightclub in Campbell frequented by young people. She was attending the state university in nearby San Jose, where she lived at the time. I was unable to get her to go home with me that night, so I asked her out on a date for the following week. I picked her up in my old '52 Lincoln and she proceeded immediately to tell me how to drive, and she hasn't stopped doing so to this day. "Quick, get in the "only lane," she said. It took me a bit to figure out exactly what that was. Our first date was to see Santana in concert, with a then little known band, Journey, as the opening act. That was the only "expensive" date we had then, and thereafter we'd cavort in Golden Gate Park, ride around on my motorcycle, or hover over coffee and tea at Sambo's coffee shop for hours on end. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with her, and we married in early 1976.
A beautiful woman with a million-watt smile, intelligence, and an outgoing personality, Carol came from Irish stock on both sides, and she grew up in a decidedly normal way with both of her parents and a younger sister and brother. She was born and reared in the small farming community, Lodi, CA, located in the uppermost part of the San Joaquin Valley. Her mother was a nurse and her father worked at the General Mills plant just a few blocks from where they lived. They were hardscrabble, farming people, accustomed to privation and backbreaking work, whose families migrated from the Dust Bowl in Texas during the Great Depression. They managed to provide their children with a great many advantages that they did not have. Carol is as loyal, normal, straightforward, and strong a person as I've ever known, and, for whatever reason, she liked me then, and, even knowing me as well as she does now, she continues to care for me.
We started out with a very small apartment near the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angeles with a Murphy bed. Given my experiences living in cars, dumpsters, men's rooms, tenement housing, parks, tents, and stoops, it wasn't so bad! Our entertainment was bicycling around MacArthur Park, walking around the seediest parts of Hollywood to watch the people of the night, and going to inexpensive movie theaters. With very little money, we still managed to have a lot of fun. Later we traveled many places in the U.S. and abroad... usually without reservations and taking each day as it came. She was a career woman in the computer field until her mid-thirties, at which time we wanted to add to our family. Our daughter, Anastasia, came along in late 1989. She is our pride and joy, the center of our world, and she has grown into a lovely young woman. She was recently graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in history, and having specialized in African-American history.
In 1975, I joined Pacific Mutual (now Pacific Life) and moved to Los Angeles. My intention all along was to pursue an academic career, but as I was about to marry, I needed to earn some money, first. Several times in those initial years at Pacific Mutual, I was nominated for an academic scholarship and approached for opportunities at Trinity College at Cambridge University, England, and I received offers from U.C. Berkeley (I went there for a brief time, before, but the commute was too long) and U.C. Davis. I had established a small academic reputation, it seemed, and no doubt owing to Professor Mayer's tireless promotion of me behind the scenes. Becoming increasingly accustomed to an income that I could never earn in academia, however, I remained with the company and worked there for nearly 30 years.
I rose to head up one of Pacific Mutual's major business units after stints in research and development, marketing, and sales. I had operational and bottom-line responsibility for the group employee benefits operation. I left when someone was promoted to the top job over me, and it was just as well. It was a good company when I was there, and I was treated well from beginning to end, and I have many fond memories of working there. Several people were important mentors and influences in my early business career, and perhaps none more than Gene Lyons, who hired me and, as much as anyone, has been a father figure to me.
Aside from having surrounded myself with very capable people in the course of my management career, I think my major business accomplishment was taking Pacific Mutual into the self-funded, group benefits re-insurance market in 1987. I conducted careful product design, pricing, and market research in this highly-specialized field, and launched what would become Pacific Risk Management Services, one of the nation's largest and, arguably, its finest purveyor of stop-loss products for self-insured group plans. Our method of distribution was the key to its success, and it relied upon a formidable, highly-qualified network of third-party plan administrators. Pacific Mutual enjoyed considerable profit on this line for many consecutive years.
Pacific Mutual sent me to Stanford University's Graduate School of Business for their Marketing Strategies in 1989 and to the Stanford Executive Program in 1991. The latter was an intensive series of courses for general managers; we worked all day and much of the night, even on weekends. At least half of the participants were from abroad, and my experience there was interesting and intellectually challenging. In particular, I enjoyed the graduate course on economics, which focused on global issues.
While at Stanford, I made friends with one of the students, Eddie Mugabe, a handsome playboy from a South African homeland. Turns out that he was the son of the homeland's tribal chief and President, and though black, his father supported the apartheid regime in Pretoria, no doubt in order to hold onto his own sinecure. His father apparently controlled some of the diamond mines and was very wealthy. Eddie was the Minister of Economic Development. He had living quarters in many major cities throughout the world, including nearby San Francisco, where he housed himself instead of the dorms where most of us stayed. He'd show up at each of our Friday evening parties with a different beautiful woman on his arm. Eddie invited Carol and me to come to Africa several years later, all-expenses paid, but we declined because our daughter was too young to go, we didn't want to leave her behind, and we also had some reservations about being hosted by a beneficiary of that awful regime. His father was eventually overthrown, and some years later I read in the Stanford alumni magazine that Eddie died, but I never knew the cause.
In 1993, I was selected by the Self-Insurance Association of America and my company to represent the insurance industry before a U.S. House of Representatives committee considering health care reform. President and Hillary Clinton had proposed a series of sweeping reforms which our industry mostly opposed. I have since come to believe that the industry was mistaken, and that the administration was more correct. I had on several occasions already worked with state-level politicians and with various regulatory agencies, but this was the first and only time I participated in a congressional hearing. I was there as an "expert" witness on self-insurance. It was an interesting experience, and one of the things I remember is that the politicians were often talking to one another, moving about, and generally not paying much attention to the testimony offered by representatives of the various interest groups. It was not televised, and I suspect it is far more typical of what occurs, and a far cry from what one sees when the cameras are rolling. I was disgusted by their arrogant, impolite behavior, and it cemented my general distrust of the political class.
During this period, I was interviewed by various major newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times, and I appeared on several television broadcasts dealing with health insurance reform. Once I was interviewed on a business show called "American Spotlight" out of Chicago for a half-hour segment on group employee benefits. I remember the host, before the show, seemed kind of shy and retiring, hardly what one would expect of a television broadcaster. He spoke softly and almost seemed to be something of a milquetoast. When seated at the table, however, after the director counted down and the cameras started rolling towards us, he was transformed. He seemed to grow a couple of inches in his chair; his chest seemed larger; and in a booming, deep voice that belied my earlier impression, he said "From Chicago, Welcome to American Spotlight on Business." If you're not used to it, with all the lights, cameras, and make-up people sidling up to you to brush your face with some powdery stuff, it can be rather intimidating. I developed a new respect for "talking heads," even if they do use a teleprompter (as he did), for it's not as easy as they make it look.
I also spoke before a number of civic and industry groups on the issue of health insurance reform. One of the most memorable talks I gave was at the Richard Nixon Library, in Yorba Linda, where I also had occasion to meet several men on the board of the library who knew President Nixon quite well. One fellow went to school with him at Whittier College, and he told me a couple of interesting stories, including how Nixon dutifully helped a handicapped student up the stairs each day at Whittier College, as the building did not have elevators. Reviled by many, and a failed president, Nixon did have some good qualities. His life is like a Shakespearean tragedy in many ways. Like most of us, he was neither completely good nor completely bad, and certainly not the monster I thought him to be in my youth. With that said, I believe he ought to have been convicted and jailed for very serious crimes against his country.
When I retired from Pacific Mutual in 2001, I felt "burned-out" on insurance, and after devoting most of my waking hours to it for several decades, I wanted to do something significantly different. Pacific Mutual's modest "golden parachute" and some lucky investments made this possible. After spending some time on scholarly pursuits, writing a book on ethics, and even toying with the idea of returning to academia, I decided I needed to be involved with a business, working with people, and so I bought a medium-sized security business in 2003 that had about 300 employees and offices in Temecula and San Diego. I gladly sold it to another company in 2009. I did not especially enjoy this business, and I mostly regret being involved with it, though I did make several friends and managed to make some money doing it. In retrospect, however, I could have invested my time and money more productively. The experience was an eye-opener for me about a more unseemly side of the business world, and it did make me much more skeptical about commercial interests, generally. Many who think of themselves as capitalists put disproportionate trust in business, much as many others put too much trust in government. I am suspicious of all organizations. What I do believe is that markets (not individual businesses, most of which fail) are the most efficient means of distributing goods to the greatest number at the lowest cost. This is an empirical fact. But it is not without limitations, health care being a notable example.
I think I was at least a satisfactory businessman and manager. I have been told this by others enough times, but I'm fairly immune to flattery and even suspicious of it. All the same, I think I did okay, and for the most part, I also enjoyed my business career. It also informed my outlook on authority and organizations and their inherent dangers, and I have become increasingly skeptical about both public and private authority, those people and organizations who seek to arrange the lives of others. And while I remain a capitalist, or more accurately, a supporter of markets, primarily because of my views on private property and liberty, I am under no illusions about corporate beneficence or efficiency. People confuse the efficiency of markets with that of the particular players in it, when they are really quite different. In any case, for the most part, my business success, such as it was, was largely a matter of luck ... simply being in the right place at the right time with the right people, though I think I did a couple of worthwhile things, especially in the product development area.
I will have to say, though, the business in which I was involved (private, employer-sponsored health insurance), one from which I personally benefited, is a very poor way to finance heath care for a host of reasons. Health care financing and the delivery of health care in the U.S. is entirely dysfunctional, inefficient, and unfair, and it arose from a perversion in wage and price controls in WWII and subsequent tax policies. While we have the best of health care for some, it is wildly mal-distributed, and, in aggregate, ours is decidedly the worst system among the industrialized democracies. Powerful commercial interests, along with the corrupt and inept public officials that support and benefit from those interests, are determined to keep it that way for as long as possible.
It seems appropriate to mention the milieu of the business world when I entered it, for it is very different now. In the mid-seventies, the WWII and Korean War generation occupied most of the key middle and senior management positions, and not surprisingly, there was a decidedly military-like sensibility about hierarchy, loyalty, and working and playing together. The abstract notion of "company" took on a special significance and had an almost nationalistic or tribal aspect, then. There was much more drinking than today, both during and after work; indeed, play and work, whether in the office, restaurant or bar, and on the golf course or even vacation, were more seamless and without clear-cut boundaries. One's associates were a kind of extended-family, and family played a greater role than one would ordinarily find today. The corporate wife, especially, was an integral adjunct to one's climb up the corporate ladder. And perhaps most significantly, there were relatively few women outside of clerical and administrative positions, and the handful with positions of responsibility were a determined, thick-skinned lot, having had to tough it out in a very male-dominated world.
The advent of women in positions of authority certainly forced a different kind of ethos in the workplace, in many ways, a more responsible one, and certainly a fairer one. At the same time, loyalty to and from the company also diminished, and it was the end of the stereotypical company man, the "up-the-organization" man in a gray flannel suit, one that came into prominence in the late 40s and early 50s. It was the ascendancy of the individual superstar, the technocrat, and many of the traditional corporate mores and ties that bound employees and company together began to unravel. I don't lament many of these changes, for some of those loyalties were misplaced, and there were many destructive and unfair practices (especially to women and minorities). But some things, notably the growing egoism and unbridled compensatory practices, and the increased power of human resource departments and concomitant demise of hands-on management, were for the worse. It was a mixed bag, then, as it is now; but my main point is that the corporate world is now very different than when I began my business career.
Since leaving Pacific Mutual (now Pacific Life), I have had the opportunity to have some of my philosophical and other writings published, and I have lectured on various topics before civic, business, and academic groups. I have also served on several boards as a director, and I have maintained several other business interests, including my farm in Washington and several residential rental properties. Reading and writing have occupied much of my time, and aside from my work in philosophy, mainly in the area of ethics and epistemology, I have worked assiduously on certain problems related to the underlying mathematical structure of space-time, though without great success.
Gene Lyons, my aforesaid friend and mentor, and I have had several adventures in business together, but also in backpacking, boating, and river rafting. As I mentioned, he hired me at Pacific Mutual, and he was several levels above me until he retired in the early 80s as head of our business unit. I eventually held the same position. Many of the important things I know about business and management I learned from him over the course of many years. Outside of my academic life, he is the most influential man in my adult life. We have been close friends for 4 decades now, and for many years, we have met each week for a long walk followed by breakfast with mutual friends. Some years ago, Gene and I took an 8-day river rafting trip down the Colorado River. The Little Colorado, an azure, warm-water river running perpendicular to the icy-cold Colorado, seemed especially inviting for some body-surfing in the rapids. The rapids were strong and there were many rocks. I mentioned my occasional impulsiveness, already; well, Gene had the good sense to get out early, whereas I continued down the river and ended up banging into a large rock, feet-first... thereby, permanently damaging my leg by destroying the lymphatic valves below the knee due to the impact. It's mostly tolerable, but occasionally it results in a great deal of pain, and I am now much more susceptible to infections, so I've become a bit of a germaphobe.
Since I can remember, I have been rather obsessive about putting my thoughts in writing. Writing and mathematics are my principal therapies. However, as I grow older, higher mathematics has become increasingly taxing. I wish I had done some of the work I am now doing when I was younger and brighter. Some of my earliest writings consist of bad poetry. I have no talent for fiction, though on occasion I have attempted it. What I like to do is explain and analyze things, especially of a philosophical or scientific nature. Other than some original syntheses of other people's ideas, I have done nothing particularly remarkable in my work. If I have a talent in scholarship, it is in analyzing, understanding, and then expressing the ideas of others, with an occasional insight of my own. I am also fascinated by the aesthetics of the English language: its rhythms, its cadence, its sounds, and its power to inspire and illuminate. Few things are as elegant as a well-crafted sentence; I struggle to do what Shakespeare could do repeatedly and with apparent ease: write a perfect one. Every once in a while I am pleased with something I write, but not very often.
At any given time I have a rather large "to do" list for reading, and I add something new only after fairly careful research of other sources. Really, I have two lists: one for pleasure, another for my work. I try not to deviate from my carefully devised plan, though occasionally, I'm able to overcome my minor obsessive-compulsive disorder and interrupt the plan when something new and very interesting comes along. I read philosophy, mathematics, and science (physics) for my research and writing (and enjoyment, too, of course). For more pure and less useful pleasure, I read biography, history, and economics. I need to read more fiction, which I've mostly abandoned since childhood. In particular, I would like to re-read some classics and read some that I have not read. High on the list is the desire to re-read Dickens (I have first editions of all his major works!), my favorite author of fiction.
I have been a registered Democrat since I first voted in 1972, though I've voted for a few Libertarians, Republicans, and Independents over the years. There's not much I like about either political party, but I dislike the Democrats less than I do the Republicans, whose party has been co-opted by zany religious people, corporate welfarists, and assorted unlettered people. The Democratic Party has been overrun by various special interests, trial lawyers, and statists, and you can put the economic knowledge of most of its leaders in a thimble. The Republicans aren't any better on economics, despite their reputation for it. Indeed, their real claim for success is in marketing, not finance. Most businesses fail, people forget, and doing business, even doing it very well, is not the same as understanding economics. And in any event, by almost every measure, Republicans have had the worst economic results. Thus, I contend, on the whole, the Democrats are less corrupt and not as dangerous, but only as a matter of degree.
I have come to distrust government a great deal, indeed, institutions more generally, though they are at once socially necessary and unavoidable. And politicians of all stripes, people whose vocation is to tell others how to live, are highly suspect to me. First and foremost, I am a proponent of liberty, freedom from restraint, and I accept democracy only reluctantly, as there is no good alternative. I am suspicious of majoritarian rule. But more suspicious of autocrats, idealists, and intellectuals who believe they know best how others ought to live. It is simply a fact that, on average, most people are not particularly bright, and I would prefer that they not be involved at all in arranging my life. On the other hand, smart people are sometimes dangerous when they hold power, and we seldom know this beforehand, so there is little reason, perhaps even less of a reason, to trust them. Would-be philosopher kings have caused much more grief and destruction in history, especially in the last century, than any hereditary monarch or populist pol. One hopes, mostly, to get lucky with our leaders, and every once in a while, we do. But it is probably a good thing that politicians and presidents, on the whole, are of middling talents.
Other than boxing, I've never enjoyed following sports very much, that is, with the exception of occasionally watching games with my friends for social conviviality. However, I did enjoy participating in sports as a kid. I was a decent swimmer and surfer, and I did a stint as a lifeguard. I also tried my hand at football in Pop Warner, school, and the Army in divisional programs. I played at Ohlone College for part of a season, but I lost interest. I was neither gifted nor inept in athletics, and I was always able to hold my own. I never stayed anywhere or with anything long enough to excel at anything, other than perhaps kung fu, which I took up as a teenager (white crane) and continue to study and occasionally teach, today (wing chun).
I never gave much thought about physical fitness for its own sake or for its obvious health benefits. I was always active as a youth, and things just seemed to take care of themselves. I was lucky to have a strong constitution and I didn't incur any obvious health problems. But relative torpor in my 30s took its toll on my physique, and especially after my river-rafting accident. I decided to correct this state of affairs after a difficult recovery from a flu in 2007. I figured that I wouldn't be able to survive such an illness in old-age, which had not arrived, but was definitely on the horizon. As a consequence, I embarked on a program of more rigorous exercise and calorie-counting and was able to regain control of my fundamentals.
If I could have any one gift, I think it would be the gift of musicality. Musical genius is probably what I admire the most among the varieties of human achievement. While I love music, all the major genres, the fact of the matter is that I have no musical talent. I learned to play trumpet passably as a kid and I got to the point of being able to punch out a few Herb Alpert tunes. Having the ability to read music, I taught myself to play piano, and I could manage to get through Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata at the height of my powers. But I could not improve and I had no natural ability, so I gave it up in my twenties.
Sometimes I think some of the events in my life have been stranger than fiction, and I marvel that some of them have even occurred. One of the more unusual things in recent years is that I was actually the inspiration for a bit of fiction, "The Pope of Pontification," a short story written by my mystery-writer friend, Leon Barnes. The main character, based on me, is a consulting detective (in the tradition of Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's smarter brother!) helping a more traditional gumshoe. He plays the pivotal role in helping the latter to solve a murder case (without moving from his chair!) by rejecting the either/or logic of the law of the excluded middle, and by using the more indeterminate principles of so-called "fuzzy logic" in analyzing the evidence presented to him. The piece was published in a collection of short stories, and Leon gave me a copy inscribed with a nice dedication, which I cherish.
It is difficult to sum up one's life, but I think it might be accurate to say that I have had some dark moments, many more bright ones, and throughout, my life has seldom been dull. Perhaps the banality of a humdrum, lackluster existence is what I have sought most to avoid. I took a great many unnecessary risks earlier in my life, and I was lucky to have come through them all, mostly unscathed. It is interesting how only in retrospect are we able to see the importance of events that seemed ordinary or unimportant when they first occurred. In my case, encountering the right people at the right time has made all the difference in the salutary outcomes in my life. In late middle age, or early seniority, I am much more content with relative stasis and more tractable levels of excitement; and yet, I continue to feel that I should have done more worthwhile things than I have, which, I suppose, amounts to a curious admixture of vanity and a sense of failure. Perhaps my most important accomplishment is being present and available during my daughter's formative years. As for competency, only she can really judge. Parenting is not something for which one can ever adequately prepare. But at the very least, I began with a pretty good idea about what not to do.
I hope to write more one day. In the meantime, I'll close with this: we are more than the sum of our genes and experiences, for in the course of our lives we also make choices about the future as rational beings with a common-sense understanding of right and wrong, notwithstanding our baser inclinations or antecedent experiences. At some point we own our lives, and we are solely responsible for our actions. The past need not be prologue, and we need not be slaves to our dispositions or desires. I cannot justify or excuse some of the things I've done, and I have no one to blame for them but myself. If I could live my life over again I'd like to do some things very differently, that's for certain. My biggest regret is that along the way I've hurt some people with my bad behavior. I've also had a full life and much of it has been rewarding. I have been very lucky, to be sure, and, from time to time, I think I've also managed to do the right thing.