Me at 4 years old. Notice the rolled up sleeves of shirt made by Mom..
Me at 5. Notice - same shirt.
Confirmation with my Dad.
Grammar school graduation
High school graduation.
College graduation with parents.
My children, Heather and Greg at 4 and 1.
Heather, Greg, and me in 2001.
A couple of years ago.
My long time companion, S.V. Harmony
Swimming with the sharks at Atlantis Marine World.
I wrote this specifically for my children, who probably didn't know my life story. Anyone else who reads it should judge it with that in mind. It's not meant to be great literature.
I was born on 4 March 1950 in a place in the Bronx, NY where the Major Deagan Expressway now exists. This explains the move to Lindenhurst, Long Island when I was a year old. I am the second oldest of what eventually became a family of seven boys and six girls. My father was a postal clerk who had been an Air Force mechanic in World War II. My mother was a stay at home mom with a B.A. in chemistry from Hunter College. We were not rich.
My ancestry is German, Czech, Slavic, and Bohemian. My mother's father was a German immigrant to the United States. He was a baker by profession. By the time I knew him, he was brain injured, which made him somewhat remote to his grandchildren. He played solitaire with an old deck of cards whenever I saw him. My mother's mother was the Bohemian. She was the picture of an Eastern European grandmother who had been modernized. I still cook some of the recipes that she brought from the old country and passed on through my mother. One of my stongest childhood memories was her driving the three oldest of us to church in her standard-shift 1956 Ford Fairlane. We accompanied her more to get Italian bread from the bakery than from any deep-seated devotion. She also took us to the ocean in the summers. I remember being afraid to glance at the speedometer of her car by the time we got to the end of the parkway; her foot always got heavier and heavier as the miles ticked by.
My father's father was a remarkable man whom I never knew. He died before I was born. He and his wife were Czech and Slovak - I'm not sure which was which. For many years, I told people I was Czechoslovakian, because, after all, there was indeed a country called Czechoslovakia. One day, I had a conversation with a native Czech university professor who told me that this was impossible, as the Czechs and Slavs hated each other in the way that many ethnic groups hate each other. He told me that it was like a Protestant and a Catholic marrying in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, he was wrong. I always thought that my grandparents were enlightened to have overcome that obstacle. In any event, my grandfather wrote, produced, and directed plays in the Czech/Slavic ghetto in Manhattan. I like to think that my interest in writing came from him. Sadly, we have no copies of his plays and no record of his existence apart from word of mouth. I once searched for and found his theatre partner. However, he was long past retirement and said he had retained nothing of my grandfather's work.
Another sad aspect of the family history is that my father's mother was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. She spent the last decades of her life in an up state New York mental institution. I never met her, as it was considered a dark family secret. Having had some education in psychology, I discovered that schizophrenics can be creative. I like to think that some element of my own creativity -- such as it is -- comes from her. I hope I didn't get the other parts.
My father was the typical 50's dad who perceived his role as bringing home the bacon. He was mechanically inclined. He singlehandedly built a dining room on my childhood home. He also repaired the family car. As a child, I accompanied him on many of his tasks. This has served me well, as I am comfortable upgrading the little handyman special that is my home in East Patchogue. My father was an only child; I think a house full of 13 noisy, scampering children was a lot for him to handle. He was rather disengaged. I don't recall ever having a long, heartfelt conversation with him. He always seemed to be lecturing. If you doubted him, he perceived it as an attack. Such arguments invariably ended as an argumentum ad hominum, with him accusing his opponent of being either stupid or a communist, or both. If he wasn't too heated, he would call you a pinko instead of a communist.
My mother was an extremely religious woman who grew up in a tough neighborhood in New York City. When she moved to the undeveloped suburbs with the family, she brought her fears and toughness with her, plus adding a few more. She was obsessed with the dangers of sex, drugs, homosexuality, rock & roll, and black widow spiders. I learned to fear the dreaded arachnid that I knew was lurking in the wilds of Lindenhurst, ready to pounce un an unexpecting child.. All the Dlhopolsky's had a spider phobia. The truth is, I never saw a black widow spider until I was an adult. Still, we religiously scoured the yard for the fierce predators every morning when we went out to play.
My mother was fascinated with Catholic martyrs who died rather than give in to the base pleasures that most humans find, well, pleasurable. She sought to make sure that none of her children would be tempted in the ways of the flesh. Consequently, we all received Catholic educations, which we couldn't afford on my father's salary. Her child-rearing philosophy was to exclude us from having friends who, after all, might lure us into the sordid world of drugs, sex, or homosexuality. She once lectured us to be alert about who sits next to us in church, as you never know when a heroin pusher will stick a needle in your arm and make you a drug addict for life. Lindenhurst was not exactly a den of iniquity in my youth, so I don't know where that was coming from. In her view, modern fads were the road to perdition. The outcome of this is that none of us were allowed to wear the current fashions. We got most of our clothes from the nuns anyway. So we were guaranteed to always wear last year's styles. As if that wasn't enough, she sought to physically beat morality into us in a manner that would have put her in jail by today's standards, but which, I admit, might have been the rule in 19th century Eastern Europe. I always found it curious that she borrowed terms from the Nazis to describe discipline -- phrases like "beware the iron fist".
I went to Our Lady of Perpetual Help from first to eighth grade. During that time, I was an altar boy (of course). I recall my mother giving me a choice of joining the altar boys or the boy scouts. As an altar boy, I would get to learn latin (Yay!) As a boy scout, there was bullying from bigger boys and a vague hint of homosexual victimization. I was pretty naive as a child. Some might say that I still am. In my mother's eyes, being an altar boy was the first step to priesthood. I dodged that bullet. Her brother, my favorite uncle, had been a Marist brother, a shoe-in to heaven for the whole family. He was the pride of the family until he decided to leave the order and pursue perdition - also known as dating and getting married, after which, he and his wife became pariahs for many years.
At the end of my grammar school years, a new threat entered the picture from my mother's point of view: girls -- those crafty sirens of immorality that would seduce a young man into getting them pregnant so that they could imprison him for the rest of his life, to be followed by an eternity burning in hell for his transgressions. So, I was sent to all-boy St. Anthony's High School, where the Franciscan monks would be certain to ensure my virtue.
St. Anthony's was Catholic of course. However, it didn't take long (15 minutes on the first bus ride to school) for me to discover that it appeared to specialize in boys who had been expelled from the public schools because of antisocial behavior. Parents sent their sons to St. Anthony's as a last ditch effort to keep them out of jail -- or so it seemed. I spent 45 minutes in the morning and again in the afternoon on a smoke-filled bus on which there were no monks to monitor behavior. Did I mention that I had been an altar boy? Talk about lambs to the slaughter. It was the only time in my life that I considered myself a smoker, as one couldn't see from the back of the school bus to the front due to the perennial haze. Nobody dared to open a window, as I learned too that smokers react to fresh air in much the same manner that cats take to showers.
My high school experience was to be set in stone at Christmas time of my first year. I realized on my first day of school that the boys on my bus were precisely the types from which my mother had sought to shield me for my entire childhood. Now I was immersed in them. It gave me chronic digestion problems for four years. Within the first weeks, I began a campaign to convince her that she really didn't want me there. I told her about the thuggish things the boys did -- like the smoking and making freshman wear soiled jock straps as a "Steve Canyon" mask. I guess she thought I was making it up. My goal was to convince her that it was paramount that she get me out of there. It didn't work.
On the last day of school before Christmas vacation, an event happened that I believed would get her attention. The boys on the bus were intent on having a good time. One brought a gallon jug of aspirin and cola, on the belief that one could get high on it. Another brought dried banana peels to smoke, believing the rumor that this was an alternative to LSD. Well, none of it worked, naturally. They got the bus driver to stop at a deli so that they could have the oldest-looking student by beer. He really did look like he was in his 20's, but the school bus parked out front probably clued in the deli clerk who refused to sell it to him. So they convinced the bus driver to buy the beer.
Ka' ching! I knew my mother would go ballistic over this one. It would soon be Lindenhurst High School for me.
It didn't quite work out as planned. She did go ballistic. I had that part right. However, she called the bus company to demand that the bus driver be fired. The bus company in turn called the school to have them discipline the boys who forced the poor bus driver to buy them beer. Without any knowledge of seething morass that was building in the background, I enjoyed a nice, smoke-free vacation.
After the break, I was called to the office where the principal and vice-principal sat me in a chair, turned on the klieg lights and proceeded to interrogate me for the better part of an hour. They wanted me to finger the boys who were involved. I knew that if I did, I would be dead. They told me that nobody would find out and they would protect me. Yeah, right. The only way I could be protected was to get me out of that school. In any event, I finally caved. They did it by reading a list of names and asking me to shake my head if the boy was not involved. They told me that they got the list from somebody else. So I convinced myself that I hadn't ratted anybody out.
That's not quite the way the perps saw it. What? You bought that line that they wouldn't find out? To my amazement they never laid a hand on me. But that is not to say they they didn't want to, or that they didn't find other ways to get me. I guess the Franciscan brothers really did convince them that things would not go well for them if I were harmed. My younger brother was a year behind me. I always felt guilty that he had to get caught up in this.
The end result was that at a time in my life when I was supposed to be living the carefree years of adolescent male bonding and salivating over girls, I enjoyed an environment where I was hated and despised for three and a half years. I did start having some friends in the last half of my senior year. But by then it was too late.
I started St. John's University in 1968. Of course, coming from twelve years of Catholic education and four years of adolescence with no girls in my life, I fell in love with the first woman I met. Her name was Josephine. She was a fellow chemistry major. With stars in my eyes, I sat with her in the library every day, helping her pass calculus. Along the way, I fell in love with her. However, it was not a shared sentiment. (This story tends to repeat itself. It took me almost a half century before I noticed the pattern.) I didn't take it well. Ten years later, Josephine wrote me a letter to apologize.
During the height of the Vietnam War, I switched majors to psychology. I lost my interest in chemistry somewhere between the alkynes and benzene. I could not understand my Hungarian teacher. I also had this idea of trying to figure myself out. If I could figure out other people too, that would be an additional bonus. So I switched my major to psychology. Years later, I'm still trying to figure it all out.
I joined The Torch at St. John's. This was the student newspaper. By my senior year, I had gone from reporter to news editor to editor-in-chief. My guess is that I inherited some of my grandfather's writing skills. Writing editorials that were unpopular with the faculty and administrators of St. John's was to have an effect on my later life. I met my future wife at St. John's.
Graduating St. John's, I realized that there was not much one could do with an undergraduate psychology degree. I embarked on my first non-Catholic school educational experience, enrolling in the Experimental Psychology program at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. My plan was to gain entry into this program and then switch to the clinical program. I did not expect that I would be accepted directly into the highly competitive clinical program. I made some interesting discoveries in my first year. One was that the clinical students as a general rule were not nice people. They were chain smokers, which reminded my of my high school experience. Moreover, it was widely suspected that they were the ones who ran to the library and tore out articles that were assigned for class readings. It was much later that I learned, but was not surprised to hear, that the largest representation of narcissistic personality disorders of any profession is among clinical psychologists.
The second discovery that I made at Stony Brook was that the St. John's University psychology program was a woefully inadequate preparation for graduate school. I didn't even know what an independent variable was. It was difficult, but I finished my Ph.D. research after five and a half years and received my degree in the summer of 1978.
Backtracking a bit, I got married after a year of graduate school. This sort of happened without any evaluative planning on my part. It seemed that this was the next step that I was supposed to take. The woman who was to become my wife, on the other hand, was very good at planning. My marriage led to the birth of my two children, Heather and Gregory. Raising them is my most edifying experience.
Graduate school postponed the decision about what I would do with my career. When I no longer had that option, I faced the unhappy prospect of getting a job. I wanted to be a university teacher and researcher. However, the field was extremely competitive. I would have had to relocate just to get a community college job. At the time, my wife was making a better salary than I would make for several years. She would lose that if we moved. Plus there were two children to raise. I got a temporary position as a family counselor for juvenile delinquents under the supervision of the Suffolk County Probation Department. I had to take an exam to make the position permanent. I placed too low because I approached the boys and their families as therapeutic clients while the Probation Department expected them to be treated as criminals.
I received a call from, of all places, St. John's University -- not the main campus, which I had attended, but the Staten Island campus. I received an offer to join the faculty. I couldn't believe my luck. It was even worth enduring a 75-mile commute through three different rush hours. But there were storm clouds on the horizon. I learned that the Dean sought me as a St. John's graduate to dilute the power of a band of Marxists who had taken up residence in my department. The members of this band had the quaint notion that they had a voice over policy decisions in a university that prided itself on telling parents that they would teach their children to be good Catholics. In case you're a little rusty on the issue, Catholic and Marxists don't get along.
Nevertheless, I managed to stay out of the fray. By the time I came up for tenure, the Marxists were history.
In my journey for tenure, I was handicapped. The college sophomore is the bread and butter for experimental psychologists who need to do research to publish and thereafter be awarded tenure. Because of an embarrassing episode involving a class demonstration of hypnosis on the main campus, the president of the university had decreed that no research with human subjects would be done at St. John's University. My solution was to enter the awakening world of microcomputers. My dean gave me a budget to build the undergraduate psychology lab on my campus. I used some of the money to buy a Radio Shack Model III TRS-80 and some lab software. I started writing programs, some to simulate, others to carry out psychological experiments. I had a few programs published and I wrote several articles that appeared in peer-reviewed journals.
Other faculty members had received tenure with less. So I thought I was in a good position. I had made no enemies on my campus. There was even talk of making me chairman of the department the next year. I breezed through the Staten Island approval. However, my tenure decision would not be final until it was reviewed by the main campus board. Here's where the part about The Torch played out. In retrospect, it might have been seen as comedy, or ironic tragedy, chickens coming home to roost, or even karma. The board that was to grant final approval for my tenure was comprised largely of the faculty and administrators who remembered me as the firebrand editor-in-chief of The Torch. There were one or two friends whom I had made in those years. However, they either did not speak up for me or they were outnumbered. My research on using microcomputers as laboratory instruments was summarily dismissed as work with toys. The chairman of the meeting was quite rude to me. He cut me off before I could even present my case.
When I lost tenure, I knew I would not be able to get another teaching position. I did get an adjunct position at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University. So I decided to enter the software development world, based on the work I had started at St. John's. Except for a three-year stint as a human factors engineer, I've been doing that ever since.
That three-year stint. In the 80's, a headhunter approached me with a proposition for a job as a human factors engineer in the civilian space program of the Grumman Corporation. This promised to fulfill my lifelong fascination with space exploration. I had built a telescope when I was 18. I was an avid Star Trek fan. Grumman offered me the job.
You know, it has been a long time for me to arrive at a basic realization that I am na´ve and gullible, all too trusting of people. The first thing Grumman did was put me in an aircrew station lab where I was told that the lab's mission was to build airplanes that kill people. I learned too late that holding out the lure of civilian space work was a standard approach to tricking reluctant (read: moral) people into the morass of Department of Defense work. When I realized this, I had two children at home. I felt trapped. I stuck with it for three years, trying with little success to get into civilian space or commercial aerospace work. Finally, I left and returned to software development. As I was walking out the door, the Navy cancelled the project on which I had been working. With a clear conscience, therefore, I can say that the work that I did at Grumman did not result in anyone's death. In any event, my job had been to make sure the handles were the right size on boxes of electrical instruments. You need a Ph.D. for that.
At the moment of my daughter's birth, the next 21 years of my life came into focus. Watching Heather take her first breath, my duty became that of nurturing her so that she would never become anybody's victim. She graduated from Vermont Law School with a law degree and a masters in environmental law and is now working as a land use attorney.
Gregory was my born three years after Heather. He graduated with honors from Geneseo College and is teaching high school mathematics and coaching soccer on Long Island.
After 23 years of marriage, my wife and I went separate ways. I was married at 23. I was married for 23 years. I am single now. Perhaps I'll just date for another 23 years.
Oh, the dating scene. Kind of gave up on that. Too much time, effort, and expense. It mostly led to the realization that I was mostly an item on somebody's agenda. Along the way, I had a few interesting experiences, took a few lumps, dodged a few bullets. It's not that I have anything against relationships. I am amenable to the idea of true love. However, I think that 99.9% of those who pursue it end up spending their final breaths with the knowledge that all that effort led to nothing. If it someday slams me in the face in a quite random fashion, I would welcome it. However, I have other uses for my time.
So now I live in a little house in East Patchogue. It's big enough for me. I'm still being paid to develop software. I do some freelance work. One constancy in my life is my sailboat Harmony, which I sail on Great South Bay. I started learning the guitar when I was 17, dropped it, but have taken it up again. I am far from ready for my Carnegie Hall debut. I volunteer with environmental organizations. Among my volunteer experiences are two that stand out: getting to know some dolphins pretty well and scuba diving with sharks. The shark experience provided me with a good metaphor for the dating scene.
I pursue a lifelong interest in photography and writing. I've had some photos published, picked up an award or two along the way. I've written two novel manuscripts. The first -- traditionally too autobiographical and almost always a throw-away -- is a sailing adventure for young adult readers. The other is a character-driven science fiction work that is looking for a publisher. A New York City editor told me that I had to think trilogy, so I'm currently working on the second act of a three act play.
Rev. 14 December 2008
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