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Archive for April, 2010

ch. 3.6: Leaving

In those last years of Tex’s life while at Quadrangle, we talked about our relationship and this business of rivalry. Once I said that our careers had not been outstanding, only good; neither meriting biographies. I used a figure of speech appropriate to our background, saying they were like what used to be called “Texas leaguers,” unimpressive hits, but palpable hits, nevertheless. I added that it was more likely for me because I worked in a more defined arena, whereas he was in the big leagues, going against big hitters. I am not sure he liked this — though it was more complimentary than derogatory. Some times things got more Oedipal; arguing over whom mother loved the better. He said: “You were always the good-looking one,” to which I replied that this was from someone who held brains far more important than looks. In later life, mother preferred to visit me than Tex, but only because we had a warmer domestic life and she was more comfortable with Gale than with Wickie. His daughter, Ann, said that Tex complained that I was the loved one; I always felt the opposite. But on more mature reflection, I think this is a false question. I think we each got the same love and a good deal more than most, expressed both in actions and show of affection, but that mother had greater expectations for him than for me. I think that she had hoped to bask in his glory and not in mine, even though my area of accomplishment was more in keeping with her basic values. Her greater expectations put a big burden on Tex and I believe he felt he had let her down by not having a more visible career, and maybe she felt so, too. Once, shortly before he died, Tex gave a wistful expression of his own disappointment by saying that he had spent his life getting dams built all over the world, thinking they were the panacea for its woes, and now they are being vilified and torn down. It was an expression of the frustration of his sense of accomplishment, and I fully sympathized.

Nobody (including myself) could blame mother for putting her money on Tex, who not only showed academic excellence but obviously was popular and effective with his peers. She expected him to become a public figure but put him at a disadvantage by discouraging him from going into law. I think he secretly wanted to go into politics for he kept up ties in Texas as well as in Washington after he went to New York. It may have been that the UN assignment was too appealing; perhaps Wickie had nixed the idea. He would have made an excellent congressman. He never discussed the idea with me.

I don’t know what mother expected of or hoped for me; I suspect all the sweet talk about my presumed good looks meant she hoped for a good marriage into the local Burgherhood. But she took no measure to further such a program to develop the requisite talents – dancing school, guitar lessons, visits to the local haberdasher were never even considered. She, like me, was not entrepreneurial enough to realize that in order to get money, one must spend it even when one doesn’t have it, and that applies to trying to marry it, too. That would have gone against her ideas of propriety for I remember once Tex, home from college, made some gag about not marrying for money but it is no harm if the gal has some; mother frowned, disapprovingly. Such a plan for me would have appealed to papa, for his dream had been to find me a position in some firm in San Antonio. More on such speculation later.

There were two consequences of Buntz’s early bullying, one was the weakening of my ego and the other was my urge to be a success, to show everybody that I could. How much the former affected my early scholastic abilities I have no way of knowing, but one ultimate effect on me was never to be satisfied that whatever I had accomplished was enough. By the time one activity was done, I had planned the next. These are not the only positive psychic legacy from this big brother. He also played some of the roles that a father should but that papa was unable to because he lacked the cultural savvy and because his impoverished status gave him no moral authority or economic clout to make his case. Tex gave me a sense of the possible, along with my despair in achieving it and I don’t denigrate this positive role. Throughout life, whenever we were together I felt like and acted as the younger brother; he wanted it that way for he assumed the role of older brother.

A few words about my use of the concepts, Burgher and Bohemian. They represent for me two attitudes about how to conduct one’s life, not the lifestyles themselves. The Burgher emphasizes respectability and conformity, the Bohemian seeks creativity and freedom from social restraints. The word, Burgher, seems singularly appropriate for German Americans. As the words refer to outlooks and not categories of people, social-class terminology is inappropriate. I think this conflict runs through all middle-class America. I count myself among the Bohemians and therefore cannot so well talk about the Burghers, but I think all those of us Bohemians who end up in middle class roles are conflicted in this cultural dichotomy; being unable to avoid having and even desiring the trappings of Bohemian life and are often then caught in its inanities.[1] All of us are compromising. The cultural pressures to conformity, especially when there are children, is great. Papa’s Burgher orientation was not adamantine, while mother’s Bohemianism was tempered. I trace this internal conflict at least two generations back on both sides and I carry on the tradition

I have left Thea out of this analysis because there was neither conflict with her nor a close relationship. I think she found me slightly amusing and essentially harmless, a largely disinterested friendliness, somehow epitomized for me in the following riddle she proposed during my last year in high school: “Who is more collegiate than a college freshman? A conservative high school senior.” Said affectionately and taken the same way. We saw a bit of one another when we were both at Austin, but she was a graduate student and I a freshman, hardly conducive to double-dating. I was best man at her wedding to Kingsley Davis, a pro forma affair at home, but I never liked him. It didn’t help that he told me when I was an undergraduate that I didn’t have what it takes for an academic career. Thea and Kingsley went on a brief dig with us and she managed really to shock us guys with her topper of a response to our use of vulgarities for food at the table. Asking for bread, she said, “pass the Kotex.” On the way home from that dig, the old truck had a flat tire and three of us got out to fix it in the hot Texas sun. It didn’t matter that Kingsley wasn’t one of us, but when we climbed back into the truck and asked for the canteen, he had drained it. Mother was opposed to the marriage for she had known the family and found them odious, but was too wise to do more than remonstrate. When her pleadings fell on deaf ears, she said, “Sleep with him but don’t marry him,” but things had already gone beyond that. I was proud of this essentially Victorian woman, who never dreamt of doing such a thing, giving her daughter such sound, but unconventional, recommendation. Mother had been prescient. Thea divorced Kingsley a couple of years after they went to New York; something she expressed a loathing to do. I was not given the details, but I have no doubt it was justified, for Kingsley, though he became an eminent sociologist, had a reputation among academicians of being an extremely obnoxious person. Nothing in my experience of him leads me to contradict this assessment. I simply can’t resist putting here the story of our only meeting, some 30 years later because it was right out of a movie scene during this era of having men peeing. It was at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Science as a fellow and he was on its executive board. I went into the men’s room and bellied up to a urinal and looked to my right, and there he was, pissing. I said hello and he responded with, “Well, you people sure have made a mess or things,” referring to the war protests that had just started at Berkeley and so ready to be snide that he overlooked the fact that I was not at Berkeley.

A couple of years after the divorce, Thea met and married Lowell Field with whom she was perfectly compatible. I saw very little of them throughout the remainder of our lives – perhaps a dozen times in all. The last of these was a pleasant few days in Florida, where they had retired to be with their son and his family. Thea greeted me at the door with a big hug and took me to sit next to her on the couch. Then she turned to me and asked, “And just who are you?” She was suffering from Alzheimer’s, but it was sadly symbolic, for I think Thea had long given up on our family.

Departure.

When the summer of 1930 came, there was no more being a stringer to a school that was closed and I had to look for a job. I was lucky to get one as usher in a down town movie palaces. George Arliss in “The Green Hat,” or perhaps “Disraeli,” was on for the week I served. I ushered my parents to their seats, wearing a little monkey suit, and they were pleased. But I simply could not stand the job. I am not sure I know why. The other usher was my age but from another world; he was in his element and talked about the virtues of the work, some of which seemed a bit shady. My hatred of the job was not so much for its slightly demimonde potential, which my all too proper up-bringing made me ill-suited for, but because I found the work ridiculous, demeaning, and debilitating and I quit at the end of the week. The look on papa’s face made me think he felt he had a wastrel on his hands though I don’t remember what, if anything, he said. It was not a good time to find work, but I promised to try.

Thea, bless her heart, came to the rescue. She said that Pearce, the chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas for whom she was doing work as a student assistant, was using students for his digs and would probably hire me. I went off to work for him for most of the summer and then returned to San Antonio. Soon after, I packed my things in an old grey trunk that once must have brought some of Opa’s belongings from Germany half a century earlier and threw it into the pickup truck that Paul Walters, one of my roommates-to-be, had managed to get us a ride on, jumped in after it and started the long march from youth to manhood, eager to be on this road.

I also took with me a lot of psychic baggage – the accumulated attitudes and ideas from 315: The conviction that we are all products of biological evolution, sure that the differences among peoples were cultural and that no culture had a monopoly on either virtue, evil or talent; A strong sense of morality as behavioral imperative that was based on rational principles rather than laws or dicta from on high, The belief that every person should perform useful work to the best of his ability as a moral imperative, A desire to have a career in the academic world and to make an addition to human knowledge.

I was eager to leave home, but was not running from home, which had been a pleasurable place, but running to something – something that was both outside me and within me that I wanted to — to what? Certainly not to conquer; perhaps to comprehend; I must confess, it was mostly really just “to be somebody.” In my retrospective article (2000), I said that I wanted to find out why I wouldn’t engage in the hanky-panky that went on in the church basement among kids who were taught to fear the hell and damnation of an angry God. If you accept it as a synecdoche, it is as good a way as any to express my quest. The Bridge to Humanity is my final effort to fulfill this


[1] There is an elegant essay called “Attitudes of ‘Progressive’ Trade-Union Leaders”  by Alvin Gouldner, American Journal of Sociology, 1957, that I used in my Exploring the Ways of Mankind textbook (1960) that illustrates the issue.

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