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Archive for the ‘anthro’ Category

My next job taught me that work could be fun. A friend had had this job a year before, so I applied and became a stringer (I didn’t know the term then) for Brackenridge High School with the San Antonio Express, the morning daily. I was to report on social and sports events and whatever news I thought appropriate, clip what was published and be paid by the column inch. It happened that a new boy came to Brackenridge as a senior that year and we became something of a team. Charles (C.C) Convers had a Model A Ford roadster and I had passes to everything. Once we drove to Austin for some games – and it came very close to ending these memoirs right there. It was a lovely spring day and we took Lorraine Nicholson, the pretty girl in my class since kindergarten, now one of the class beauties, with us to the track meet there. I still get shivers up my spine visualizing the scene. On the ride home, Charles was driving and I was on the passenger side, with Lorraine between. (Those were the days of bench seats, much cozier on dates than the bucket seats of today.) We were going at a pretty good clip on the two-lane road and Charles thought he had time to pass a lumbering truck before an on-coming one could reach us. As he cut in front of that truck I looked at it and could swear there were no more than two inches of clearance. None of us said a word until Charles, white as a ghost, coasted into a filling station driveway and asked me to take the wheel. The event that didn’t happen was forever etched into our three minds. (Charles wrote me a note a few years ago when he saw me on TV and I looked him up and we had lunch together. He was retired from a prosperous engineering career and living in Santa Barbara. It was the first time I had ever said a word to anybody about the incident. He remembered it as clearly as I did.)

When Brackenridge High went to play against the Brownsville champions, it was so distant that I was given a Pullman berth ticket. A complement of fans were having fun and teasing me about being a softy when I left the chair car with some reluctance at missing the camaraderie but also with some pride at being special. Our team was no match and the game was a disaster; I doubt that my dispatch was coherent, but I felt very grown up sending a long telegram.   It was small consolation that the home team was later disqualified for having ineligible players on the field.

I got no instructions at the Express, I was shown what typewriters and desks I could use, where to find paper and the like, but was otherwise on my own. It made me feel grown up, though of course I was never part of them, never went out for coffee (no beer; it was the prohibition era) or the like. Nor do I have any memory of editorial comments on what I wrote. I often had a by-line and I talked the sports editor into letting me have a by-line for a second entry with just “Wally,” in imitation of their regulars. The city desk reporters paid me no mind as I sweated out my little stories. I had to turn in my contributions and didn’t keep a scrapbook and so have never read them since. I decided I wanted to be a journalist, though I surely didn’t have the talents for it – the outgoingness, the chutzpah, the courage. I used to say that I gave up journalism because I couldn’t type with a cigarette hanging from my lips, as the veteran reporters always did. No matter how hard I tried, the smoke always got into my eyes. I did ask for a job at the end of the year — but by now it was 1930! They pointed out that they had run the whole of the list of graduates and considered this to have been a kind of bonus. Fair enough.

The summer of 1927, Buntz and I took on a task that was really beyond us: painting the front porch. Painting is easy, it is the prepping that is the problem and this meant taking the paint off the Victorian gingerbread on the banisters and dripping down from the roof that had accumulated over the half century since they were installed. The paint was as thick as cowhide in shaded areas and burnt away in the exposed ones. This involved softening the paint in the curlicues with a blow torch and scraping with putty knife, perched atop a ladder. I wonder now that we didn’t burn down the house, for we had had no instructions or supervision. The tedium of this hot task in the Texas summer was calculated to strain the tensions and one morning while I was working the blow torch my temper broke at whatever stimulus and I started chasing Buntz around the house with burning torch in m hand. I distinctly recall thinking as I was running, “what in the hell am I going to do if I should catch him with him with this; I couldn’t set him on fire, after all?”  (Remember those pulled punches in the boxing match.) At that very moment, mother came out back and yelled, “Hey, Buntz, you’ve got a telegram!”

Telegrams had a dramatic impact when they were delivered in a somnolent neighborhood, for they usually carried portentous news. – most often disastrous but always hopefully good. It was a wire from Carlos Granada, a charming, brilliant man in his thirties, I judge, son of family friends in Mexico who had been taken in by the Rochs family when he was a youth for reasons I do not know. Now he wanted to repay this old favor and drive my brother to New York. It must have been a wonderful drive in those days before highways and road maps, a dramatic way to be launched into his new persona, Buntz becoming Tex, with all the adventures of a bright young man in the Big Apple, and onward to his highly successful and gratifying career.[1] That brought a sudden end to our immediate collaboration as well as to our persistent bickering. I was left holding the bag on our project but in return got to move my bed off the all-purpose back porch, where I had slept for a decade, and take proud possession of the lean-to – my own room at last.

I was also now the only son at home and much of the burden of big brother was off my shoulder. But not all. I felt his presence in many ways when still in San Antonio; especially reading his exuberant accounts of his exploits — a constant reminder of his great capability in contrast to my pale life, sorting Joske’s mail or even being a reporter. He got a job as a runner on Wall Street and talked about the giant checks he delivered, he talked his way into Columbia with a scholarship, he was selected for a prestigious fraternity, he appeared on the front page of The New York Times as a leader in a student demonstration protesting the hardships in the West Virginia coal mines, all served up with accounts of the wonders of the Great White Way and the general excitement of the Big Apple. One year he brought home one of his professors to whom he was a protégé and on another he brought home Roger Angel, for whom Tex had been a live-in tutor/companion

Mother and I went one night to the Open Forum to hear a speech on Egyptian archeology, a dubious presentation that nevertheless was fascinating to a 14-year old. We were in the foyer afterwards and met mother’s friend, Mrs. Gutzeit, a Forum functionary who introduced us to Count Byron Khun de Prorock, the name the speaker went by. Saying I was a sturdy youth, he said that when he next came to San Antonio he would take me off with him for his next dig. I was young enough to be caught up in his magic and waited in vain for his return. I learned later that he was as phony as his name but he had given me the answer to that vexing question all the quasi-aunts asked, “what are you going to be when you grow up?’ namely, “I’m going to be an anthropologist.”. This stopped them cold for they had no idea what it was. Later I used it to explain why I became an anthropologist. But in fact, I did not read up on archeology or anthropology to prepare myself. I was not really preparing myself for being a scholar.

In the summer of 1929 mother visited her parents, partly so Tex would not come home, for she, like so many mothers, was unhappy with a liaison he had made the summer before with a girl she felt was beneath him, which in the more literal sense I am sure she was. It turned out to be a most fortunate visit for mother to have done, not only to see her parents after some 20 years but also for meeting some of papa’s kin for the first time, picking up family portraits, acquiring other heirlooms of value and elegance and having a much deserved holiday. It was not so good for me. She had arranged for me to spend the time at a ranch near San Angelo owned by Oscar Calloway and his wife. He was an Irish rancher and a former one-term congressman, whom she knew from college days. I was delighted. When I was about 8, we had visited a ranch in the hill country of Texas where I had spent half the day on horseback and I had images of being out with cowboys doing ranch chores. However, this was more of a dairy operation; the Calloways were sweet and considerate but there were no other young people whatsoever and they had no idea what to do with a lonely 16 years old. There were plenty of books but I didn’t want to read all day. So after about a month, Mrs. Calloway drove me back with no explanation but only some well-meant generalized moralization. I knew I had been a failure. Thea came down from Austin and we painted the house interior. We had a pleasant time and Thea must have been put out, but she never complained to me.

The insidious pervasiveness of Tex’s influence on my personality is revealed by a puzzling thing about my mind. I remembering trivial things Tex had said:  “On Coney Island you get Texas hot dogs while we here we get Coney Island ones”; “the sailors on board looked down on having college girls as being ‘charity butt’”; “Why does the sun shine on you in downtown New York when it doesn’t in sunny San Antonio? Because there are no overhangs on the front of buildings.” It is annoying to remember such trivia when I forget my own. Go figure.

Nothing can express this ghostly presence of my older brother better than a scene that took place in my senior year, some three years after Tex had left. I was pleased with the essay for an English class that I called “Many Mansions” (a title from the Bible, furnished by mother, of all people). It is the only school paper that I remember having written. Its theme was that each person went to a heaven of his own liking – an anticipation of cultural relativism, already in full bloom before I took my first anthropology course. That is not, however, why it has stuck in my memory. I have a vivid recollection of going to see Miss Johnson to pick it up. It had an A, as I had hoped and expected. But, as she handed it to me she said, “That’s very good, Wally; was it your brother’s idea?”  What can I say? What more than to note that this moment is indelibly etched in my mind.

Tex suggested that I come to Columbia and so I took the appropriate exams (whatever they were then) in my senior year. I was accepted. Tex went to see the Dean about my performance and reported that the dean said that though it hadn’t been very good, my answers “showed promise, considering the quality of Texas schools.” They offered me a partial tuition scholarship;, Tex said with a mixture of pride and envy that it was more than he had been given.

So now I was faced with a major decision: should I go to Columbia, an internationally famous university in the great metropolis or to the University of Texas, a far less prestigious and challenging place. After a good deal of agonizing I made the most consequential decision I ever made and one that I now consider the wisest of my life. It was not the fear of the challenge of Columbia or the excitement of New York that led to my decision, though they did seem a bit overwhelming. It was that I did not want again to be Tex’s little brother.


[1] This is Tex’s story and will be found in his oral history,  Arthur E. (Tex) Goldschmidt, Gerard Piel, interviewer. Columbia University Archives.

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A scene comes to mind from about the time I was entering puberty. We are in our parents’ bedroom, chairs and stools around the walls, the assembled family and, I vaguely remember, Unkie and Aunt Mary and perhaps their sons, Sonny and Bobby, also present. A boxing-match had been organized; it must have been one – the last, actually – of a series, for boxing gloves appeared and we were stripped to the waste and urged to go at it. The on-lookers were egging me on, for I was the underdog. I am not sure that I had become his equal in size and strength, but I came to realize that I was pulling my punches out of some subliminal feeling of deference. It seemed that his early strategy of lowering my self confidence, had worked. Once, much later, he quipped that it was then that he realized his dominance was being threatened and it was time for him to leave. I think that within a year he had, and I had entered high school.

The bane of my first two high school years was being in the ROTC; I never even got a corporal’s stripes — though I fantasized being an officer and swaggering around with saber and all. That would have undercut mother’s motive, which had nothing to do with patriotism or sympathy for the military, but was to save money on clothes. Success for me would have required more assiduous brass polishing (here in the literal sense) and the ability to wrap the leggings (putties, they were called) so they would stay up and still not cut off circulation. It was a strange mistake for mother to make; it was in itself not a healthy activity or environment and it kept me from gym classes that in retrospect, I feel made me miss some important things.

It did supply one fond memory — one so entirely out of character that it intrigues me. On my last day of the two-year stint, while on battalion parade, there was a long snafu and we ranks were held waiting on the far side of the tarmac while whatever it was got sorted out. We were set at ease but kept in place and there was the inevitable horsing around. An alien pixie entered me and I got to sparring with a truly spit-and-polish staff sergeant, during which I intentionally rubbed my hands over some of his brightly polished buttons. He started in after me with his fists up and I said, “You’d better stop; Bencke, you’ve got a lot more rank to lose than I do. ‘Okay, I’ll meet you after school.” “Sure, down near the river,” I said. When I arrived he was waiting in the middle of a crowd of kids anxious to see this match between the nerd and whatever Bencke represented, for I knew nothing else of him. Most of the kids didn’t expect me to show and so I was greeted with a surprised shout. We fought for some time and after awhile he got me in the eye. Soon the vice-principal appeared and brought the fight to a merciful end. I was the clear loser, but having showed up and stayed the course was a kind of moral victory. I remember this event with great clarity, because it was so out of character, from the silly provocation on. I felt a strange exhilaration at the very thought of my role, and that overwhelmed any fear of the consequences I might have had and this euphoria was tinged with but the thinnest taste of guilt. I was fully aware that I had been the aggressor and yet had no remorse. Though clearly Bencke had won the fight, I felt he had lost the battle. This put a new persona in my body. When I got home and mother fretted over my fighting. I just shrugged her off, saying in effect that a first fight by a high school junior does not a juvenile delinquent make. That night I went to the junior prom and felt unusually popular for the chutzpah of my going had been what we now call “cool.” Most of the kids had heard about the fight and were curious and the others wanted to know about it. I sensed a more accepting attitude and the girls seemed more ready to dance with me. This attitude accompanied me as I responded to the inevitable summons to the principal’s office. I made the expected apologies and felt that his appropriate reprimands were also pro forma. Looking back, I see myself as having briefly entered an alien culture, it was one that I had a secret desire to be a part of, but knew it was not what I was meant to be.  A totally different culture was already etched into my soul and I was not free to be that kind of guy.

That culture was the culture that I had absorbed at 315 Adams Street and couldn’t be shaken with one flight of fancy. I was the third Goldschmidt to go to Brackenridge High School and felt the presence of my older siblings strongly, particularly Tex’s. Not only was he more recent and male, but also the more public and memorable figure. Thea had been an adorable and adored small child and later a good student. She had long blonde hair (that evoked a fit of papa’s anger when she had it “bobbed”), with a slight figure, good looking enough but not really pretty and, I think, essentially shy. Her forte was literature and it would be right to say she was “bookish,” and for that she had been a favorite among the English teachers. She belonged but was not a leader.

Buntz was a different matter. He was not only a good student, he was active in all sorts of things, became a champion debater and was president of the debating society, the most prestigious club on campus, as well as of his senior class. He clearly had the qualities of a leadership; made friends easily and enjoyed the social prominence he attained. When I entered in mid-year of 1927, he was finishing his senior year and while I have total amnesia for any social interactions we might have had on campus, I was very conscious of his presence. He and his best friend, editor of the school paper, Kay Miller (the nickname was so that they could ask, “well, if you see Kay . .  [sniggers]. .” ) Kay and my brother were easily the most prominent intellectual (as distinct from athletic) students that year, as the numerous cartoons of Tex and Kay in their yearbook shows. I felt his presence and despaired of meeting the standard he had set, though I vainly emulated him. I, too, joined the debating society though I was no debater, and less surprised than disappointed to have been defeated for its presidency – which I should never have tried for. My grades were good enough to get me into the University of Texas, but netted me no graduation honors. In my toast at Tex and Wickie’s 50th anniversary in 1983 at their farm in upstate New York, I said that Tex had been a hard act to follow. I doubted his sincerity when he responded that Thea had been harder, politic as it was.

I was never an outstanding student; I could handle the undemanding curriculum in a Texas high school of the era – perhaps making as many Bs as As, a few Cs and no failures. I did not do extra work to show off or make a name for myself; I have never been a great reader. I never had an outstanding teacher; one I felt attached to or who took special interest in me or even that I look back on with special appreciation. There was a new teacher who taught journalism, which I took, and she had students at her house to hear Frost and Sandberg reading their poetry on records. Once she was asked to supply some extras to serve as soldiers for a one night production of Carmen at the public auditorium down town. It was a heady experience and constitutes the totality of my operatic career. She was a breath of fresh air, for most of the teachers were much older, a pleasure to have, but not an inspiration – though, under her tutelage I thought of applying to the University of Missouri, which was said to have the best journalism school in the country. As you will see in a minute, I was already a “professional journalist.”

In my second year of High School, I got a job at Joske’s Department Store as a kind of mail clerk. I had to get up at four each morning and bicycle the mile and a half to get the mail at the Post Office, then go to the store so the night watchman could let me in, take the elevator to the top floor to open and sort out the mail and then bicycle on to school. At first, there were three of us, then two, and finally just me. After some 18 months, I was asked to come to the office and was told not to return on Monday as they were discontinuing the operation. It was my first lesson in corporate culture and has never left me, but in fact it was spring of my junior year and I was glad to have the summer off and to leave that tiresome (and tiring) task.

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I have just been reading, or more accurately Shawn has been reading to me, Frans De Waal’s “Age of Empathy, “– his newest book,  which will make old hat of a lot of discourse in Robert Sussman’s upcoming book on the conference I attended last spring (We will get back to that in the near future).

Shawn, incidentally, is my assistant, the one person who responded intelligently to my request for an amauensis, and upon my death will be responsible for this blog (Scribe’s note; I am blushing as I type this 😉 ).

I have put off reading de Waal, as I thought he might be too bad, and I would be sorry. And now I am sorry to have put it off. The book is a delight not only for what it says which is intelligent and well-informed, but for the way it says it, which makes reading him such a pleasure.

I recommend him highly which is not my usual style.

warmest regards to you all,

Walter

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