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Another Autobiography

Our family moved to Italy, from Portland, Oregon in the United States, in about 1967. I was heading into third grade at the time. So far, school had been a good experience and I was getting the New Math, about number bases and so on. However, in my new school in Rome, along the Appian Way, we would be following a different curriculum. I was enrolled in the Junior English School of Rome, and wearing a tie and blazer.

We moved because my father was a career urban and regional planner who had dreamed of working overseas in developing countries. When an opportunity arose to work with Libya on long range plans, he jumped for it. We would be living in the EUR, a satellite city south of Rome, built in Mussolini’s day as a monument to Italian nationalism. I’m pretty sure he was working through the United Nations at the time. King Idris of Libya was still in office, and like Saddam Hussein, was interested in building palaces. The US was OK with that, as long as American oil companies were happy and the US could have a military base.

Later, Qaddafi took power and his regime nationalized the oil and evicted the US military, setting the stage for future feuding and revenge attacks. We enjoyed a period of relative peace through the early 1970s. Libya prospered and according to later reports, followed dad’s plans. We had moved to Viale Parioli and dad could walk to work. He was now with a company called Whiting and Associates and their offices were in a villa near the South Korean embassy. I got to be friends with the Korean ambassador’s younger son. By this time I was attending the Overseas School of Rome. I had a wonderful time growing up in Rome. Mom was a Cub Scout den mother. Our pack consisted of me and my friends, Joe, Reggie, Kijoon, Geoffrey and Hayden. Actually I don’t remember if all these friends were actually Cub Scouts. I tried Boy Scouts but by this time had other interests.

Dad hadn’t expected to work for Libya for so long, but all things come to an end and having finished 8th grade, we were to spend the summer in Israel-Palestine and then head to Florida, where my sister and I would be left with my mom’s parents, while dad searched for a new planning job in Washington D.C. and New York. A complication with this plan was dad and I both came down with hepatitis. Mine cleared up on its own, but dad had it worse and ended up being quarantined, as a house guest, somewhere up north. I was enrolled at Southeast High in Bradenton, Florida and lived in a retirement mobile home park named Golf Lakes Estates.

That summer in Israel-Palestine had been interesting. We worked hard in the mornings on a swimming pool. We were working with local Palestinians plus had a contingent of students from the American University in Beirut. The idea was we would work with Palestinians for awhile, then move to a kibbutz and hang out with Israelis. The kibbutz was in Bethlehem. The swimming pool had to be blasted from solid rock. My job was to fill rubber buckets with rocks and dump the contents into a wheel barrow, which I would then push to the rock pile and repeat. I became more lean and muscular, which was fine with me at sixteen or so.

After all those years going around Rome with my friends, using the bus system, life in Bradenton was a major gear shift. I didn’t drive yet. The economy was geared to serve retirees. We were somewhat crammed in with Tom and Margie and overstaying our welcome. Mom was with dad up north but decided she’d better move us all to a motel. I don’t recall the exact sequence of events, but I do remember the day when mom was going to pick me up at the high school with the news: whether dad had gotten the new job in the Philippines. I was eager to get out of there and pictured my quality of life as a graph, a plot, that would either go up or down depending on the verdict. She had good news: we were moving to Manila.

Dad was with the United Nations again and I believe his first assignment had to do with land reclamation in Manila Bay. This was interesting work but not the kind of grass roots decentralized planning he was more eager to engage in. He later moved to USAID, which is an extension of the US State Department. He was GS-13 as I recall, and we had access to the embassy commissary and the military bases. That’s when we took up scuba diving, as the equipment was affordable through the PX. We practiced in the Embassy Club pool. Our instructor, a commercial diver and ex Marine, was named Gill Gilleland. We became NAUI certified, “we” being dad and myself. Mom tried, but didn’t pass the open water test (she panicked about something). My sister Julie was not interested in learning scuba.

Given we had live-in servants and given the kids (my sister and I) were old enough to look after ourselves, mom was free to continue what she had started in Rome, writing novels. She worked on a novel centered around Jacoba of Settesoli (1190–1273), a friend of Saint Francis. However, she was also an activist who wanted to help people living in poverty. She worked with the women of Carmona, a large shanty town, on starting crafts businesses, and she worked to resurrect an NGO that had gone dormant with the advent of martial law under Marcos, PAFID. This NGO was about protecting the rights of indigenous peoples from the land grabbing lowlanders, who would show up armed with title to the land granted by government cronies. They would herd people into villages and turn their ancestral lands into plantations. This was an old pattern. The same thing was going on in Central America and of course North America.

Because mom was an American citizen connected with the embassy, she could host meetings at her house and work with Catholic priests and other activists, without as much fear of central government retaliation. She advocated transparency and allowed one Colonel Andaya, a representative of the government, to join meetings and even photograph participants. The US Embassy gave her an award for her pro human rights endeavors. She saw herself as helping to reestablish the norms of participatory democracy within an oligarchy and plutocracy. The Philippines was characterized by crony capitalism, one might call it.

I went through culture shock again, and did not immediately have close friends. However, over time, I found my clique of cronies. We were into competing academically. I did well on my SATs and my teachers raved about me in my college applications. I was accepted everywhere I applied. Although I had expected to probably go to a smaller Quaker college, such as Haverford or Swarthmore, I ended up going to Princeton. I was too curious to turn that down and my friends said I’d be crazy not to go Ivy League. I don’t regret that decision at all. I’m still in touch with a lot of my peers from those years. I was in the class of 1980.

Around the time I finished Princeton, my parents were moving to Cairo, Egypt. Dad had a planning job with the Egyptian Ministry of Planning. I visited them during the summer, before moving to Jersey City, where some of my friends had found a small house on Magnolia Avenue, behind Loew’s Theater, right near Journal Square. Getting to New York City was easy. I started looking for a job as a full time high school teacher, even though I hadn’t followed a teacher prep track. I’d been a philosophy major, but then chose not to apply to grad schools. I was concerned about how my peers in the philosophy department spoke of the “real world” as a faraway place and wanted to dive in to new experiences. I had done the Standard est Training by this time, which was all about exploring the possibilities.

I did manage to secure a plum job as a high school teacher, though through tragic circumstances. Some nuns, faculty at St. Dominic Academy, had died in a car crash, as my father later would. The school year was already underway and the school was in need of new faculty. I was the new teacher. My subjects were World History and several levels of mathematics, through calculus. The students were all young women. Most the faculty were Dominican nuns, but we had laypeople too, both women and men. I was one of about five male teachers.

I mentioned the est Training. Dad had a lot of books about encounter groups and other experimental psychology. This was a big period for East meets West, with transcendental meditation and other such trending movements. He’d joined an encounter group in Rome, and we visited Findhorne in Scotland on one of our around the world home leaves from the Philippines. Here I was back in the United States, with all these opportunities available to me. Walter Kaufmann, one of my professors, was saying est was worthwhile, and with encouragement from David Raymond, a local Princeton resident, I signed up. Charlene Afermow was one of my trainers (2nd weekend).

I bring this up because by the time I was living in Jersey City I was willing to volunteer as a logistics guy in New York City. The New York Area Center was in a Port Authority building, a bus station. est was trendy back then and the mayor’s wife was involved. I also attended several seminars, available to those who’d completed the training. These were usually in hotels. I eventually became a logistics supervisor, lugging bankers boxes full of golf pencils and such to and from major hotels around New York, usually by Checker Cab, sometimes in the snow.

Through this Centers Network work (as community service, not for money) I became more acquainted with the work of R. Buckminster Fuller, as Werner Erhard, founder of est, had become a Bucky fan and was making co-appearances with him on stage, including at Madison Square Garden. I didn’t manage to attend any of these events, however Macmillan Publishing was nearby in downtown Manhattan, so I did manage to get the two Synergetics volumes, as well as Critical Path (St. Martins Press) right about the time they came out. These made a big impression. When I went back to the Philippines in the 1980s, right before Cory Aquino took power, I gave a talk at the International School about some of this Bucky stuff, in the auditorium. I don’t remember the details except that I somehow brought Shakespeare into it. That was when my parents were pulling up stakes in Bangladesh, where they moved after Egypt.

I quit my job as a high school teacher, thinking I knew how to chase my dreams, only to find myself jobless, but not homeless thanks to parental help. I continued sharing the group home on Magnolia, with a rotating cast of housemates. Glenn Baker lived there awhile, a friend from Manila who had grown up moving around, like me. His family had lived in Islamabad and I think in Turkey.

I took up babysitting for a working couple, Ray and Bonnie Simon, and their daughter Julie. They would go into work, Bonnie a nurse, Ray a temp, and I would look after their new baby Julie in Jersey City. These were difficult days as I was going through the proverbial dark night of the soul as discussed in Jungian literature. I was having visions of Tibet and reading esoteric Buddhism. My parents then moved to Bhutan. I would later visit them twice, the second time with my wife Dawn Wicca and step daughter Alexia. By this time I was based in Portland, Oregon, having worked with Ray Simon at McGraw-Hill and gotten fired because I wrote some memo saying we needed to do more with the Fuller Projection, a world map that doesn’t show nations.

I raised a family in Portland, working as a computer skills trainer and applications developer, mostly for non-profits. I was an xbase programmer, a language commercialized first as dBase, then as Foxpro and bought by Microsoft. I worked in the Providence hospital system for many years, as a contractor.

However I’m skipping over a lot of loose ends regarding my east coast chapter. I’ll end this autobiographical posting with some more recollections from back then.

I stayed with my grandma Margie in Apple Valley, North Carolina for awhile. These were rough days still, as I was focused on esoterica, internalizing a lot of the stuff I’d learned. I was also wondering if there was something to telepathy after all. I’d been writing to Fuller, Erhard and others and felt I was thinking on another wavelength, or maybe cracking up, or both. When I met with Kiyoshi Kuromiya, one of Fuller’s adjuvants, he assured me this was all part of a life of the mind, especially where Bucky was concerned, as he was into telepathy too, though admitted we didn’t yet have the science to address it properly.

I also worked for Project Vote! aka Americans for Civic Participation, an NGO that tried to register the most disenfranchised. I learned some things about voter suppression. Party thugs would have our voter registrars arrested and strip searched for daring to reach out to non-voters. That happened in at least one case anyway, I think in Ohio. But for a field trip to Camden, New Jersey, I was mostly in the main office in Washington DC. This was during the Reagan- Mondale contest. After the election, in 1984, is when I moved back to New York and took up residence in a small hallway outside Ray Simon’s door. He was subletting from a Chinese grad student in Queens as I recall. We would taxi to McGraw-Hill, part of Rockefeller Center, in mid morning and work until 2 or 3 AM. I’d read some Byte Magazines. I was especially admiring of columnist Hugh Kenner, likewise a Bucky collaborator.

Somewhere in all this, I got one of those Greyhound bus passes that let one go anywhere. I went to LA and met some of the Bucky people. This was after Fuller died. I don’t remember where all I went.

Eventually, I joined my parents in Bangladesh. Mom had again been working with impoverished women, helping them start a business selling quilts, which had to be colorfast (most of the textiles were not). Dad had started out with the UN, then moved to working for the US embassy, not unlike his trajectory in the Philippines. That was ending. They didn’t yet know Bhutan would be in their future. On the way back through Portland, I decided to stay behind and live in the Boltons’ basement. Chuck and Mary Bolton were old friends of my parents and they adopted me almost as another family member and helped me get established in Portland. Both have died by the time of this writing.

After Bhutan, mom and dad would move to Lesotho. My new family, including Tara, just learning to walk, joined them for the Parliament of World Religions in Cape Town, in 1999. October 2000 is when mom and dad had a head on collision with a truck that had strayed from its lane, on a dangerous section of road between Maseru and Bloemfontein. Jack was killed and mom was not expected to live. I flew there from Portland and helped settle their affairs, with help from mom in her hospital bed. I arranged a memorial service for dad, to which hundreds came. Mom and dad had been weighty Friends as well, serving as co-clerks of a Yearly Meeting around that same time. On a previous visit, Dawn and I had attended an Annual Session. Dawn taught a workshop in how to draw labyrinths. She would later die of breast cancer, in 2007. Carol moved back to North America and resided with my sister in Whittier in winter-spring and with me in the summer-fall. She is 89 at the time of this writing. I’m 60, and work as a computer programming instructor and sometimes in local schools, both public and private, for Coding with Kids.

I’m still into the Bucky stuff, as you’ll discover if you read some of my other writings on Medium.

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