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. 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.
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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