In My Room


It was one month ago that we arrived in Chicago with a car full of boxes and a truckload of UPS cartons already waiting in storage.

For months before that fateful day in September when we released our precious daughter Savannah to all the joys and tribulations of college life, my daughter and her loving and patient mother made trip after trip to malls across the far lands of New Jersey to purchase every conceivable item one might possibly need for college life.

There were continual ruminations throughout the house about bedding and the need for anti-bedbug protection followed by mattress protection supplemented by foam cushioning to produce extra comfort and lastly an additional layer to protect my delicate daughter from the heat of the foam.

By the time they were through a six inch high mattress had become a luxury endeavor of over fourteen inches. The Four Seasons Hotel couldn’t match the attention to detail in the bed making. Then on top of this, were the Palais Royal sheets with a duvet cover and extra pillows.

Besides the bedding trip after trip to Bed Bath and Beyond was made to purchase desk lamps, irons, ironing boards, hangers, waste baskets, shelving, vacuum cleaner, soap, laundry baskets, etc.

We arrived at the University of Chicago dorm prepared for every conceivable need and malady. One more quick trip to target was required for some last minute extras, and by late morning we had carried hauled and trekked over forty boxes up to a room with space for a bed and a desk and little else.

Her roommate was far more sagacious in her shopping and had quickly with the help of her parents completed her side of the room before we had begun unpacking our first box.

Her roommate and Savannah are a perfect pair. How lucky for them, but that is a story for a later date.

So, in the early Fall of a beautiful September day in Chicago my wife in her usual patient and ever gracious way slowly began the task of making Savannah’s bed and helping carefully unpack each box and place every item of clothes and housewares in a neat and careful spot.

Hour upon hour they unpacked and finally near the end of the day they were finished. There were some items to be returned but in all Leslie had carefully and beautifully made the bed, hung pictures and shelving, cleaned the bathroom, folded towels, and otherwise made Savannah’s room a near perfect example of a caring mother’s need to help her daughter nest comfortably in her new space away from home.

We said our tearful goodbyes and left Chicago only to return one month later, for the annual if not extremely premature Homecoming parents weekend. We had barely said goodbye and were each enjoying our freedom, when we were called back into service to reunite with our daughter and her university.

On Friday morning we climbed the stairs of her dorm to her room, knocked on the door, and were welcomed in by our daughter.

It was as if a bomb had exploded! The carefully made bed with Palais Royal sheets was in a complete disarray. Clothes and books were everywhere. Items thrown casually around the room and the desk barely had room for a computer. The room was a total mess.

How could this happen in one month. Just at that moment Savannah’s roommate’s parents arrived, and we both looked at each other in shock.

By the end of the day the parents had pulled out the vacuum, freshly made the beds, cleaned the bathroom, and slowly once again you could make your way around the room.

Oh Savannah, how happy I am for thee, because I came from New York, and you are clearly not on my knee.

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In the Land of Light Part 2


In the late 1970s and the very early 80’s my life financially and emotionally was very difficult. I was continually struggling to pay my bills and I often found myself a continual disappointment to my mother, my in-laws, and many around me.

I was continually rejected for my work and my life choices, by many around me, and it was only my wife who without failure continually sustained and believed in me.

The daily routine was a call from my mother stating her disappointment in me for choosing such a useless occupation. It was time to come to my senses and find a real job.

And with all this as background noise, something wonderful happened. I was getting my first book published by a distinguished editor and publisher, and to show their faith in me I would be receiving a $5,000 advance (half of my yearly salary).

I can remember feeling overwhelming elation and enormous relief that someone actually believed in me and in fact was willing to pay me for my vision.

Everything was going well. I had the editor I dreamed about, the designer I wanted, and the printer I requested. As usual I was putting my heart and it’s very soul into the making of this book. Nothing that I could do was spared. Even my mother for the moment stopped her relentless criticism of me.

Finally we were ready to print the book and off to Medford, Massachusetts I went. I was there to help oversee the printing of the book along with the production people from the publisher.

Like the proofs we had done some months before the first forms of the book came out looking beautiful. I remember starring at them and smiling to myself. The work required deep rich shadow detail and a luminosity in the highlights. It was all there. A deep rich evocation of emotion. The color of the ink was a warm vibrant black.

Each form that came out of the presses that day seemed to match the others in contrast and shadow separation. I supervised the printing nudging more ink on some forms less on others, but overall the pressman on our press seemed to get me and together we were humming along beautifully. He too was very proud of the sheets his press was rolling off the line. We became quite a team.

At the end of the first day I went back to the hotel content and very happy. All the years of work were in these pages and everything was as I had hoped. Finally I felt I was ready to meet the world in my best clothes and with my shoes shined.

The next morning I returned and looked at the forms we had printed the previous day, and all that I had loved in the images was gone. The sheets had dried down flat and had simply gone dead. The ink instead of remaining on the surface had for some reason been absorbed into the paper (perhaps humidity in the air) and as a result the images looked lifeless. I was beside myself.

I confronted the production people from the publisher and said we had to reprint. After this confrontation I was officially and very bluntly told by a senior person at the publisher along with my editor that under no circumstances would the publisher stop the printing or pay any additional costs. From their point of view they had done all they could, and besides to them the printing looked fine if not beautiful and I was told I was simply being too emotional.

For the entire day and well into the late of night we continued printing with the same results occurring. Beautiful at first unacceptable at last.

It all came to a finality at 3AM one morning when we were printing some of the same images that had been made on the press proof, and I was alone on the press with the original pressman this whole process began with.

I asked him quietly and honestly which looked better the initial press proofs we had made some months earlier or what we were printing now? By about 5AM the sheet had dried down and together we looked at both sheets, and he said quietly without question that the original press proofs looked better when compared side by side.

That did it! I knew I wasn’t just making noise and being too emotional. I stopped everything. The next morning the production supervisor from the publisher came rushing into the press room screaming at me that I was being bared from the press and that I should leave immediately. I was obviously not making any friends.

I had already cost them substantial money by stopping the press and she was furious.

I replied to her “I’m sorry you are so angry at me but the printing is simply not good enough! It should be better.” I called the owner of the press over to join our heated conversation and he and the pressman discussed everything.

They came back an hour later and said in their opinion there was only one thing that they could try to save the printing and to restore it to what we originally produced. They suggested running all the sheets through the press one additional time and applying an off-line gloss varnish to the images only. They tried it on one sheet and voila, it worked.

My images once again became powerful and alive. The publisher said they could not afford one more cent and did not feel it necessary. They still felt the printing was sufficient or good enough, which is a term I do not accept.

I asked how much it would cost and was told that the off-line varnish would cost an additional $5,000.

With my advance check still warm in my pocket from receiving it earlier in the week with a nice note from my editor, I endorsed it over to the printer, and although I lost financial security for some months I gained a book that I was truly proud of.

Upon hearing this my editor Nan called me and asked me if this was all right. She knew how important the money was in my life. I guess easy come easy go.


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In the Land of Light Part 1


In the spring of 1981 it all came together. After years and years of cajoling and beseeching my editor Nan Talese, she was finally able to convince her higher ups at Houghton Mifflin to publish my first book.

I had met Nan many years before through my then father in law Robert Anderson and over the years, she had become a strong supporter of my work. Finally, after years of effort she convinced her publisher that an unknown and untested photographer was worth the publishing risk. It was agreed that  In the Land of Light, a collection of photographs I had made some years earlier while living in the Middle East on a fellowship, would be published, accepting most of my specifications. What a glorious day it was to hear that finally I was to be published.

Nan suggested I write a small amount of text to accompany some of the photographs as she always liked my stories, and she was primarily a literary editor, having published some of America’s most distinguished novelists. She also thought it imperative that we have someone of note to write the introduction to accompany these highly emotional photographs.

Through Nan, it was arranged that one afternoon I would meet for a few hours with Elie Wiesel the Nobel Piece Prize winner and author of many books about The Holocaust. He is a Holocaust survivor and has been a voice of sadness as well as a voice for the affirmation of life after that tragic event. At the time he was a Chubb Fellow at Yale University. It was there, in a building devoted, appropriately enough to the humanities that I first met Mr. Wiesel. I walked into a sacred space, not because of the space, but because of the humble man sitting in the corner. There in that room this simple man sucked all the noise and energy from the outside into a quiet serene vacuum. No one dared speak loudly or inappropriately in his presence.  You felt his enormous power and charisma not by what he said but by what he quietly demanded, respect.

I walked over to this humble man sitting in the corner introduced myself and handed him a loaf of bread that had been baked by my wife. He smiled held it delicately and reverently. I began to tell him of my request. I wished him to write the introduction and I handed him a box of prints along with some paper containing the text I had written. It was at this point that I realized that I was not alone in the room. There were a number of people there but no one spoke. It was as if you were in the presence of a truly spiritual person. Very little had to be said.

He spoke to me in a whisper and I found myself mesmerized by his words. He accepted the box of prints and the text along with the loaf of bread. He told me to come back next week and he would give me his answer.

One week later to the day I returned to the same room to see this gracious man, and there in the same corner of the same room I saw Mr. Wiesel again.

We spoke for a short while and I remember thinking he was interested in me but unfortunately was not going to write the introduction because of previous commitments, when suddenly he looked past me and asked if the woman behind me was my wife. I said yes and he asked to speak to her. He turned to her and said  “how can I refuse someone who has given me such a wonderful gift such as a loaf of bread,”  and with that brief statement he said I must accept the invitation to write the introduction to your husbands book.

So maybe it was not me nor my pictures, nor my words, although I think they helped judging from the introduction he wrote, but rather the simple gift of a home baked loaf of bread. This simple gift obviously spoke eloquently to this simple man.

With this I was elated. Everything was coming together. The publisher allowed me to choose the printer, which was Acme in Medford Massachusetts. They were the first printer in America to do laser scanned images which produced a much sharper reproduction than traditional camera ready offset printing. They ran numerous tests for me on many of my images and I chose a paper that best suited the imagery. The tests produced the perfect image. The tonality was rich, the imagery sharp, the shadow detail vibrant. Everything was falling into place.

But this is where my story really begins. It reminds me of Isak Dinesen’s story Out of Africa, where the Baroness Karen von Blixen turns to one of her workers on her coffee plantation as the first harvest is caught up in flames, and she states “that just as the gods give you what you have been praying for, they take it all away.” So as life was merrily going along. All my efforts to bring this book to fruition seemed at this point to have finally happened but life has a way of putting a wrench in the wheels of your car. Before you can realize your dreams you must pay the price. See you next week.

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For Whom the Bells Toll


It happened quite unremarkably about three weeks ago after many months of wait and see. I received an email from Zurich informing me that I had finally been selected to photograph for a large Swiss bank and that I would hear shortly about the details.

This was a project I was happy about. Over the course of the summer in my emails back and forth I had felt enormous respect from the bank for me and my work, and I was hoping that there was a potential for a great collaboration. Besides I have always had German schnitzel and potatoes for blood.

I love the precision and exactness of Switzerland and their intrinsic respect for craft, and a job done to perfection.

Then some days later I received an email from the project manager asking me to come to Zurich for discussion with the bank and it’s representatives.

Without much time to reflect, I and Adam, (my new studio manager), boarded an immaculately clean Swiss airplane. I was sitting in the front of the plane snacking on cheese after cheese with Swiss wine and pate with gracious service. I lazily began to fall into a restful sleep as we crossed the ocean at 38,000 feet.

Immediately upon arrival I was met by an impeccable Mercedes Sedan that whipped Adam and I effortlessly to our hotel for a very brief breakfast before the negotiations began over the pictures.

But this is not a story about what could have been. This is a story about evenings in Zurich.

After a day of discussion we retired to our hotel for dinner with an early to bed so we could rise early the next morning to continue our discussion about the pictures.

Our hotel was a five star hotel nestled into the old part of Zurich. From my bedroom with the windows open I could look out onto medieval slate rooftops and numerous ancient churches with tall spires aspiring upward. It was a picture perfect place right out of a medieval Christmas story. It was as if the reformation had never left this small Swiss canton.

Everything was perfect. I had my new suit pressed and ready for next days meeting with very senior management. Dinner had been beautiful and relaxing, the streets were being cleaned by a contraption that was throwing fresh water everywhere. The air was fresh with Fall and life was feeling for the moment, wonderful. People respected me in Switzerland. They liked my work and perhaps they even liked me.

As I was preparing for bed humming everything I could think of from The Sound of Music (I know it’s about Austria but it’s close enough), “The hills were alive”, I was alive, and as I lay myself down to sleep, reflecting on the near perfection surrounding our hotel, nibbling on the very last piece of some perfect Swiss chocolate I remember smiling happily over the events of the last few days, and slowly drifted into my fairytale.

All the sudden the medieval story outside my window sprang to life. Every fifteen minutes the church bells chimed. Not a delicate little chime but a loud tolling to convince any would-be strayers from Christianity to hold tight. Bells, bells, bells, and more bells. One after another these bells chimed, until there were bells going off in my head. I don’t know what happened to Swiss precision because these bells never chimed together at the same moment but rather each church seemed to respond to each other. Getting more and more clamorous as the night wore on, each outdoing the other until midnight arrived with a boom, where one after the other each church bell exploded twelve times to set the hour and to commence the new day.

By now I had shut every window and covered my head in pillows to drown out the continual tolling of bells throughout the night. The bells didn’t even have to go off anymore, I had it down perfectly every fifteen minutes I would wake with a start ready for the new bell.

I swore I would remain penitent if the bells would stop. They never did. Even after my return home to the total confusion of New York, I still have heard bells chiming in my head. Happily I had left Switzerland with very strict instructions to begin work on this project immediately upon my return.

The morning of September 18, 2013 at 9:45AM Eastern Standard Time, after a whole crew has for days been working frantically to prepare props, locations, talent, assistants, hair and makeup, production, etc. so that we could begin shooting early next week, I received a call from Switzerland. I was informed abruptly and with no true apparent reason that I could discern, that my services were no longer required. Just as I was about to start I was told to stop. All the Swiss chocolate and cheese came tumbling down. I had gone from being on top of the world to landing at the bottom. All of this came as a complete shock and surprise, but then again did it? The bells of Zurich had foretold of something impending.

So as the poet John Donne prophesized I guess the bells were tolling for me.

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Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlings

I know I’ve been delinquent, out of service, out of mind, out of place, and most of all out of the country but I’m back and I promise early next week to start posting again. The summer is over and I’m back. I miss you all. Please tune in again early next week.


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Sometimes The Middle is really The End


In the late spring of 1996, while driving around the French countryside in Provence searching for elusive photographs, I would often drive up to some manner house and introduce myself and ask for permission to photograph on the grounds.

If I was lucky, I would be invited into the home or chateau by the owners and be offered a wonderful lunch of cheese, ham, bread, olives, and wine. Often I would return with bottles of wine given to me by the chateau owner from his vineyards.

One afternoon, while traveling to the outer perimeters of my adventures, I saw a little unmarked gravel road. In my usual fashion there was something about it that intrigued me and off I went down this long private road until at the very end I reached these enormous gates, which fortuitously were opened, and I drove through to the entrance to a large and forbidding manor house.

Immediately I was struck by the eccentricity of the surroundings. There were many large pure white peacocks prancing through the courtyard, and on occasion I would see in the distance a servant in a long white robe delicately wafting from one building to the next. Their robes would flow with the breeze, and they too like the peacocks seemed ready for flight. It was perfectly choreographed.

I could see many formal walled-in gardens manicured and clipped to perfection. It was exotic and unknown with one outdoor room leading to another.

I knocked on the front door, was met by a Moroccan servant in his white attire and ushered into a room where I was told to wait.

Finally a man enters the room and in my halting and embarrassingly bad French try to describe that I was an American photographer who would love to photograph the gardens.

Before I could get passed the first sentence the man immediately halted me and declared “I’m Kenyon Kramer and I’m from Texas. You can speak English.” What a relief.

So I tried again, introduced myself, showed him some of my work, and in English told him I would love to photograph the grounds of the estate.

Again, I was quickly interrupted and told that his partner owned the property, and under no circumstances would he allow anyone to photograph it. I pleaded, offered photographs, and tried almost everything, but despite all my endeavors I failed to make any headway and was abruptly bid goodbye.

I left and just as I was finally approaching the main road I heard a horn honking behind me. I stopped and pulled over and Kenyon, the man I had just met came over to me and smiled.

His first question was “Do I have sister named Marianne?” To which I immediately replied that I do. He said I know all about you through your sister whom I know through a mutual friends. I’ve been wanting to meet you for some time and I just realized who you were. I couldn’t believe it. Of all the years I’ve travelled I’ve never met anyone who knew anyone I knew and here, when I get rejected, the gods above decide to let me in. But maybe they let me in for a reason I didn’t know at the time.

He said come back in a week and I will introduce you to my partner and see if we can change his mind.

I went back in a week and received permission to photograph throughout the property but other than enjoying the mystery of the experience to my surprise no great photographs emerged. The location was wonderful but something was missing.

Life in Provence was wonderful that Spring. The smell of lavender, the delicate green of the shudders, the cheese, the wine, and the weather but from some good things I learned a few lessons well.

I realized I had reached the limit and perhaps even the end of my earlier life. No matter how much I tried to recreate it it just wasn’t there. I looked and looked but something was lost. Even though I thought I did, I no longer desired to travel alone searching for pictures. I had come to love large production and felt empty without it. Over time I am sure I could go back but at that point I didn’t want to. I now loved not to find but to make my own pictures. I needed the right location but once there I wanted my crew to help refine and co-produce something more, something with a figure, and maybe a few small props. No longer was the landscape enough. I had changed. The landscape now seemed empty to me without a figure. It needed a person, large or small, making it’s way through the maze we call life.


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I Have a Friend in Dr. Millman


It all started completely unexpectedly. Right after dinner, standing on the corner of Park and Chapel Streets in New Haven Connecticut. I was getting ready to say my goodbyes to my friends Rob and Lee when as if struck by lightening, I became completely dumbfounded.

I don’t know how else to describe this sudden overwhelming title-wave of emotion that overcame me. I stood before them unable to speak almost catatonic. I knew that this feeling although physical in its results, derived not from some physical malady, but rather from some deep cortex in my brain. I was totally overcome with fear and trembling. I stood before them as if I was watching myself from afar, completely self-conscious of myself so that for a few long seconds I was physically unable to speak or move. I simply stood there watching myself.

I was finally able to gain control of myself, whatever that means, and quickly said my goodbyes, but from that moment on that abrupt breakdown of my person completely changed me forever.

I went back to my small apartment on Parks St. feeling terrified and in a complete stupor. I had been anxious my whole life, so severe anxiety was nothing new to me. I battled with anxiety daily but this was a step into something way beyond my normal free-floating anxiety.

Without probably realizing it I was standing on a dangerous precipice of a complete mental breakdown.

From that moment on, my interior mental life has never been the same. I needed help.

I first went to a psychiatrist who was completely unhelpful if not destructive. He was distant, cool, rigid, and fearful to me, and seeing him only seemed to exacerbate my problems.

I often confronted myself in his office, finding myself unable to speak, sitting for long stretches, voiceless. He prescribed a severe anti-anxiety medicine Thorazine which completely exhausted me and I became completely useless. I stopped this medicine almost immediately and looked for a new physician.

I don’t know how I had the courage to leave him. This seems strange as he was so unhelpful but I have a hard time leaving someone even if they are destructive. Sometime later I found Dr. Millman.

And so . . . began my slow recovery from the abyss. For almost forty years Dr. Millman has helped me help myself. Through this long process of self-discovery I have found a true and lasting confidant.

What exactly has happened over these past years is very hard to explain but let me begin with the obvious.

Firstly, I became a photographer. This may sound easy but it went against the very fiber of my upbringing. He helped me allow this part of my life to flourish. There have been so many roadblocks along the way that he helped me fight off and allow me to focus my energies on my work.

But most importantly I began to understand myself and my feelings. How I thwart myself from succeeding, how I made others miserable with my anger and frustration, and most importantly no matter how unhappy or critical I am with myself he always believed in me.

This truly is his genius. All the while holding a mirror up to my behavior and expecting and hoping for more from me, he nonetheless has always been on my side. He is with me and has on occasion pulled me back from the abyss. For this Dr. Millman, besides being an extraordinary physician,  I will always be grateful and proud to say, that I have true friend in you. Thank You.



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Sometimes Standing Still is Moving Forward


In the early nineties, when Terry, my longtime assistant, printer, and friend was in the darkroom printing one of my photographs, I suddenly heard the door open and out walked Terry, print tray in hand with a huge grin on his face.

He looked at me and said “You’ve done it again.  Did you know you were doing this?”

I looked at him quizzically as I had no idea what he was talking about, walked over to him and looked at the print he was holding in the tray.

He asked me again if I noticed anything unusual about the print, and other than thinking that it looked like another magical print produced by his skilled hands, I noticed nothing unusual.  I was still trying to figure out if I even liked the picture.

Finally Terry said to me, “You do this over and over again and you’re not even aware of it.”  With that comment, he pointed to the white painted trees and showed me that they aligned perfectly with the neighboring field.

He said that in many of my photographs the relationship between people and the landscape, or objects within the landscape are in perfect harmony.  They meet or juxtapose perfectly.  Their relationship in the frame is sympathetic and exacting.  “How do you do this?”  he exclaimed.

I looked at him because Terry was one of the wisest and most observant viewers of photography I had ever known and my response was, “I simply don’t know.”

All I can say is that when I release the shutter, in a fleeting burst of emotional energy, at that brief moment everything within the frame feels right.

If it is a landscape, I have moved around until I have found the singular right spot, where intuitively I feel connected to the place.

It is not an intellectual or conceptual endeavor.  It is a primordial quest for tranquility and resolve.  Everything in my viewfinder at that moment is perfectly aligned and just at that very instant, there is a driving powerful need and desire to press the shutter and capture that fleeting moment.

It is so ironic that this primal, sexual energy that is so powerful and energetic, can release and produce something that is so peaceful, composed and elegant.

But that is my belief.  Photography is a response to the world, not a reflection of it.  It is an attempt to bring order out of chaos, understanding out of confusion, wisdom out of ignorance and lastly, beauty out of despair.  It is my attempt to help us all find the right place at the right time so we can, once again, as a culture move forward in harmony.

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A Good Bed is Hard to Find


As a young boy in boarding school, Thursday mornings were the day to be feared.  Of all the days for this to happen, just as the weekend was approaching and there was a possibility of free time, Thursday inspection occurred.

Every hall in every dorm had it’s docent, usually a senior who was dreaded for his authority.  Cross him the wrong way and you’d be polishing his shoes for days.

In our small enclosed world, he was the boss, but nothing was as bad as Thursday mornings.  Every Thursday immediately following breakfast was room inspections.  From every infraction came an hour of hard labor to be performed on the weekend before you could leave campus.

So on every Thursday, Warren Van Deventer, a minister’s son, with no remorse for his cruelty and ruthlessness, would carefully and very deliberately put on his white gloves and with a steel glint in his eyes mosey on down the hall and start his weekly inspection.

If he had chores he wished done he was ever more eager to find failure in this useless brood of no good youth.  If he needed his shoes shined, his windows cleaned, his floor polished, this was his chance to find some free slave labor to be at his beck and call.

In he would walk into my tiny cubby hole of a room with revenge in his eyes, his gloves glistening white as he smoothed his finger over each and every surface of the room.  After every pass of his finger on a surface he would check his white glove to see if there was even a slight shadow of dust.  If he had any doubts off to the window he would go to doubly check his immaculate gloves for any sign of disdain.

Each time a surface was polished with his glove, if he were to find the slightest dust or dirt an hour of hard labor was bestowed upon you.  Woe to you if you were sloppy.  You’d be working all weekend.

My first few months of school I was never without some hours of labor to fulfill, but after sometime, I learned my lessons well, and I was ready for his onslaught.

I dared him to touch my desk, my closet, my floor, anything and find a sign of dust.  I was my mother’s son and cleaning had become one of my few triumphs.

But the real test, that distinguished me from my contemporaries was my bedmaking.  I could have been a general in the marines if they advanced you purely on your bedmaking skills.  There was not a ripple in the blankets.  The sheets were new, very tight and crisp.  The hospital corners were immaculate.

So on Thursday I stood proudly by my bed waiting for that fitful moment when Warren Van Deventer took his white gloves off and put his hand deeply into his pocket and pulled out a new shiny American quarter.

He took this quarter and dropped it in the middle of the bed.  If it didn’t bounce and flip over, one hour of hard labor was your reward.  His quarter always bounced on my bed as I looked gleefully at my small triumph.

So as the years went on I became masterful at cleanliness and bedmaking.  I am here today to tell you that these lessons were not in vain.

My house today is immaculate, but more importantly, if you were to bounce a quarter on our bed, it would never retire gracefully but instead would bounce and soar.  The Germans have always had it right, except when they had it very wrong, that cleanliness learned through a minister’s son would bring you that much closer to godliness.

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The Summer of ’67

On a hot, humid, overbearing Summer’s day, in late July of 1967, I was standing in my cubby hole of a booth, working my Summer job collecting quarters for the Governor on the Atlantic Beach bridge on Long Island. I was dutifully filling in my time. There was a lull in the traffic going to the beach, and I was able to escape for a few moments, my normal lusting after the beautiful girls driving by in convertibles. They were off to have a fun filled day of lying in the sand while bronzing themselves to the cool sounds of “Cousin Brucie.”

Everything was as it should be. America was innocent, yet preeminent. The world seemed fun and full of adventure. My life was filled with girls, cherry pie and coconut cake, and the issues that perplexed me were simple and immediate.

All of the sudden my reverie was broken by the sounds of blaring police sirens. There must have been twenty black, unmarked sedans that appeared out of nowhere, all blaring their sirens and in rapid order pulled up to the station house that was adjacent to the tollbooths. Immediately, as my hearing was slowly returning to normal, out popped at least twenty to thirty serious looking men, wearing FBI jackets, all running with guns extended into the station house. What an entrance!

Oh my God! Nothing like this had happened before. I was sure I must have done something wrong. My lusting over the girls must have become public. They were here to arrest me for indecent thoughts. I couldn’t think of anything else I had done wrong.

On a few occasions my counting had been slightly off by 50 cents at the end of the day, but this couldn’t be the reason to send so many agents. My 50-cent discrepancy couldn’t be worth all this trouble. I promised myself I would personally pay whatever I was off. It couldn’t be more than one or two dollars for the whole summer. As I was preparing to be pulled away in handcuffs, the FBI agents along with some elderly toll collectors came out of the building. I noticed that all these permanent (non-summer) toll collectors were being handcuffed. Some FBI agents were walking down the long expanse of collection booths and were pulling out all the full-time collectors. When they came by my booth, they barely looked at me and kept walking.

At the end of the hour, they had collected almost all the men and a few women who were full-time and led them to a van in handcuffs and departed as rapidly as they came.

I had been spared for all the things I thought I had done wrong. I seemed to have survived whatever happened and finally was able to take a breath and go back to eating my chicken salad sandwich.

When I finally got off work at the end of the day, the sergeant inside the station told me what had happened. It seemed like almost every full-time employee had been arrested and taken away.

This is what I was told on that hot summer’s late afternoon. The tolls were collected based on the number of axels. A car had two axels and was charged 25 cents. If a large truck came through with four axels, it should have been charged 50 cents for it’s axels, plus an additional dollar or two based on its weight. So a truck could be charged $1.50 to $2.50. It seems though for years, these employees had been putting trucks through as two cars (four axels) and keeping the additional money they collected for the weight, for themselves. Over the years, I was told they had taken from our beloved Governor, hundreds of thousands of dollars, which had just now caught up with them. Obviously it’s not fun to steal from New York State, for as I understood, they all went to jail.

Life continued on at the tollbooth. They hired new collectors who were all read the Riot Act. The summer went lazily along with me collecting quarters and enjoying the view. I ate my share of cherry pie on the beach, got burnt to a crisp, swam in the cool salty water of the ocean, and loved my life for the moment. The beach for me was a place where life stood still, at least for the moment. It was a place where the normal rules of the anxieties that fill life were removed. The summer’s I spent as a boy on the beach I was able to undress my anxieties and let the young innocent boy I was come out.

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