Jack Ewing
"Yeah, I can write that."
 




















 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The right-brain version of Jack Ewing’s life and career

 

A member of the A-Bomb Generation

I was born an Aquarius of Scottish-Irish (my father’s side, the Ewing clan) and Prussian (my mother’s side, the Röeder corps) heritage in Chicago, Illinois, during the last year of World War II.

Since I arrived before Hiroshima and Nagasaki were leveled beneath nuclear blasts, I’ve always considered myself a true child of the Atomic Age.

Though I was named after my late father, John, I was never called Johnny or Junior, but always Jack, or Jackie when I was young.

California, here I come

When I was only a few months old, my family moved to Walnut Creek, California.

I spent a pleasant childhood there beside my older sister and younger brother (the second baby born in California on New Year’s Day 1951). My loving parents, both teachers—my father in college, my mother in grade school—encouraged my curiosity.

We lived in a three-level house, with Mount Diablo framed in our picture window.

There were pear and almond and black walnut trees, and grapes on vines in our fenced yard. In front stood a 50-foot redwood tree perfect for climbing, and in back lay an open field studded with strange-smelling eucalyptus. Off the patio, a colony of tiny, bright-green frogs dwelled in the drip of a back-door faucet, where iridescent ruby-throated hummingbirds came to sip from trumpet-shaped flowers.

We had as pets a yappy dog called Lucky, and a placid cat named Tawny, that never drew a claw.

Born to write? 

My parents read to me daily when I was small, and I’ve been immersed in stories and novels on my own since I was a kid.

A precocious child, I learned to read at two years of age by playing with wooden alphabet blocks. I was already starting to write by the time I entered first grade at age four.

(My 95-year-old mother still has a multi-stanza Christmas poem I wrote, in pencil not crayon, during my first year of school, the paper now yellowed and held together by adhesive tape. The poem is doggerel—something about Santa coming down the chimney with a nasty cold—obviously inspired by Clement Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas,” but it scanned well.)

X-ray Boy

At about six years of age, I was diagnosed with tuberculosis. I was so frequently subjected to chest X-rays into my teens that I practically glowed in the dark from all the roentgens built up in my body. In the beginning of my alleged illness, though I felt fine I was forced to stay out of direct sunlight —wearing long sleeves and a broad-brimmed hat even in summer—for a year, until I received a clean bill of health.

(Later examinations concluded that I had probably been misdiagnosed, and had never contracted TB at all. Perhaps my youthful over-familiarity with hospital examining rooms, doctors and nurses explains my reluctance to visit them
now.)

From sea to shining sea

In 1953, we moved cross-country to Tallahassee, Florida, where my father, a former instructor at Armstrong College, had accepted a teaching position in the Business Administration Department at Florida State University.

I hated to leave my friends and the comfortable house where I’d grown up. Many personal belongings (my father’s numerous cartons of clippings and my boxes full of rocks, fossils and petrified wood) had to be sacrificed because of weight and bulk. Our cat was given away, to live on a farm.

We spent months traveling by car to reach our ultimate destination.

We visited the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, and the Painted Desert, veered north to see Mount Rushmore and other sites.

We stopped for a time at the grandparents’ house in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

We sojourned for a while at the other grandparents’ place outside Cincinnati, Ohio.

Then we made a beeline south at the end of summer.

Just when we couldn’t stand being cooped up together any longer, we arrived at our new home.
 

  Culture shock

I admit it: I hated Florida from the first day.

Compared to California’s varied terrain, the new state was as flat as an ironing board.

The people seemed strange to me, too. They smiled a lot, but talked ever so slowly, their words all stretched out like warm taffy.

I made a social faux pas at a gas station just over the Florida-Georgia line: unaware of local customs in effect then, I drank out of a COLORED fountain because I wanted to know what shade the water was and how it tasted different from regular water. An angry station attendant explained the meaning to me in colorful language.

It was a bad start, and it never got much better for me in Florida.

(Fifty years later, Florida’s changed and grown considerably, and my memories have mellowed somewhat. But to a mountain-lover like me, it’s still an awfully flat state.)

                                                                  Home, sweat home

The big steep-roofed house my parents bought in Tallahassee was built in the 1930s, it was said, for Prince Murat, a distant relative of Napoleon.

The place sat on a half-acre of treed land on a quiet street, surrounded by cookie-cutter post-war tract houses. The building, like all surrounding houses, had no basement but rested on concrete pillars, several feet off the ground with crawl space beneath. It had three screened-in porches, cherry wood floors throughout, and a marble-floored bathroom. The previous tenant had built in large cabinets to house a collection of 78RPM records.

The house had a central heating system and a fireplace, but no air conditioning. We sweltered for several years, until the folks invested in huge, noisy window cooling units for practically every room.

My meager savings from allowances were invested in my family’s first television set, a black-and-white set on a spider-legged wrought iron stand, with rabbit ears, bought for $25 at a garage sale. The TV provided hours of much-needed escape. 

                                                        A naturalist’s dream

Fire ant mounds were nestled between the bricks of the front-door walk to our new home. Garden spiders with evil-looking quarter-sized black-and-yellow bodies lurked in bushes. Beneath the house were black widow funnels, making the retrieval of lost balls a hazard.

Inside, small scorpions waited to sting the unwary. Cockroaches the size of your thumb sometimes got squashed as you made your way barefoot to the bathroom in the dark.

During the daytime, birds were plentiful: blue jays, cardinals, orioles, red-winged blackbirds, cedar waxwings, and mockingbirds that I never tired listening to. At night, fireflies were as thick as the mosquitoes.

                                                      The creeping unknown

On the botanical front, our yard contained stinging nettles, camellias, azaleas, and creeping kudzu. The centerpiece was a huge gnarled wisteria bush hung with clusters of pale lavender flowers in season. You could practically see the vines move as the plant grew out in all directions to strangle the nearest of our more than 50 lightning-prone pine trees.

Our first week in the house, we were terrified by noises emanating from the attic.

Dad pulled down the retractable stairs, unfolded the ladder, and we all inched up en masse to investigate—discovering a family of opossums playfully dragging around an old roller skate by its strap.

The next day, Mom called somebody a neighbor recommended, and a black man arrived  to cheerfully capture the varmints. He remarked, as he left with a squirming bag,
how tasty ‘possum was when cooked just right.

                                                         Making the best of a bad situation


The tropical heat and humidity of northern Florida summers sapped my physical energy.

Winters were surprisingly cold, with a chill that struck to the bone.

During the rainy season, daily storms were brief but fierce. Mold and mildew sprang up everywhere in their wake.

Still, I managed to adapt somewhat to the weather, the flora and fauna.

Adjusting to the human inhabitants was a different matter. I had difficulty fitting in from the start, and after a while, I didn’t try.

I never picked up a drawl or used local slang, and my lack of accent always marked me as an outsider.

After California, where I’d freely mingled with kids of many races and cultures, I had trouble acclimating to homogenized schools filled with uniformly white students who considered inferior those who weren’t. (The only Negroes in any school I attended in Florida were janitors.)

Athletic, rather than intellectual prowess, was admired.

It wasn’t part of my upbringing, so I refused to stand for the raising of the Confederate flag or to sing “Dixie” in lieu of the national anthem.

I learned early not to debate integration or the relative merits of the combatants in the War Between the States among those, it seemed, who were ruled more by emotion than reason.

                                                                   Let me entertain me

I had few friends during my early years in Florida, so I became self-reliant.

Interested in lots of things, I collected: stamps, coins, rocks, fossils, arrowheads, butterflies, seashells, baseball cards, matchboxes, postcards and other objects. (I still maintain such collections, except for the baseball cards. Unable, in an era where cards of all sorts made interesting noises when attached to bicycle spokes, to foresee the sports memorabilia market that would have made some of my cards valuable, I traded the cards in the mid-1950s. The next-door kid swapped me for boxes of stamp covers from all over the world that his diamond merchant uncle had sent him.)

I read voluminously: for more than a half-century, I’ve completed one book per day on average). In my youth, I especially enjoyed short-story collections (Poe, de Maupassant, O. Henry) classic adventure novels (Dumas, Verne, Wells, Stevenson) biographies, and science fiction.

I wrote a lot, mostly poetry, because that seemed the best form for expression at the time. I also completed short articles for school newspapers, and penned stories I didn’t show to anybody.

                                                          Making the grade

In Florida, I began fourth grade at age eight. I went to Kate Sullivan School, a big, blocky ancient brick building with creaky wooden floors. It was a long bus ride from our home.

I don’t remember much of the experience now, except for my starring role in a school play as Lincoln, wearing a pasted-on beard and a cardboard top hat.

Soon after classes began, I started taking drumming lessons, but quickly switched to clarinet because percussion wasn’t very tuneful. I played an old Ebonite instrument my father gave me that he’d played as a boy,

                                                       Moving up in the world

From sixth to eighth grade, I moved next door to attend Elizabeth Cobb Junior High,

That’s where Miss Whitehead, an English teacher, demonstrated the wonders of the dictionary and drilled the eight parts of speech into us, for which gifts I’ve never before publicly thanked her.

I played second clarinet in the school concert and marching bands (first clarinet was a kid named Kenny Burns who could play like Benny Goodman) and also noodled on tenor saxophone.

My grades were pretty good, particularly in English, math and music. I developed an uncanny ability to score well on standardized, multiple-choice tests.

In the latter years of junior high, I became an entrepreneur. I made and sold little trinkets constructed from straight pins, seed beads and pieces of lanyard, shaped like tiny swords. These were worn on lapels or collars, and indicated at a glance the status of the wearer: going steady (crossed swords) or unattached (a single, lonely sword).

                                                      Attack of the hormones

Puberty hit me hard at age twelve: my voice dropped from tenor to bass, and I shot up in height, growing more than a foot. Before my thirteenth birthday, I had reached my final height of 6’1”, wore size 13 shoes, and had to shave.

I was a scrawny kid then, with the metabolism of a hummingbird. After arriving home from school, I could eat an entire loaf of bread with peanut butter and jelly, and still wolf down dinner a few hours later.

Since, in Florida at the time, you could begin driving at age twelve during daylight when accompanied by an adult, I took student driving and got my license.

I first went mobile in 1957, tooling around in a 1948 black DeSoto, a huge car with Fluid Drive and about 200,000 miles on the odometer. At age 14, I was licensed to drive as an adult.

                                                               A fresh start

In 1958, I entered Florida High School, a newer K-12 institution with perhaps 600 students, half in the upper four grades. (The school is now half-gone, and what’s left—some classrooms and science labs—was incorporated into Florida State University.)

The school was about a mile from our home. I usually took the bus to school in mornings and walked home in the afternoon. I seldom drove to school, because student parking hadn’t been provided for, and there were only about a dozen available spaces, reserved for seniors.

The building was mostly one-story, spread out in all directions, with concrete-floored open-air corridors connected by pillared walkways. The main high school section was a long two-story wing.

Facilities included band and choir rooms, an auditorium, cafeteria, shop, a new gymnasium, and modern language labs.

Athletics were well provided for at Florida High, with a quarter-mile cinder track surrounding a football field complete with scoreboard, high-rise stands for spectators, and glassed-in press boxes. There were several practice fields, a new baseball diamond with covered dugouts, three-wall handball-squash courts, lighted tennis courts, and a putting green.

                                                      The Seminoles next door

The school was adjacent to and encompassed on three sides by Florida State University (once upon a time, Florida State College for Women). 

College classes in tumbling, clowning, wire-walking, trapeze and other circus arts were conducted under a big-top tent next to out football field, and university athletes used our track for collegiate competitions.

Beyond our practice fields was the FSU baseball diamond (I used to hang out at the batting cages, where college players were happy to give me scuffed baseballs and cracked bats that I repaired with glue and tape—I acquired quite a collection of horsehide and timber.) 

Beyond the baseball field squatted Campbell Stadium, where the FSU Seminoles played. During football season, I climbed up and down the stadium steps hawking various foodstuffs to patrons—hot dogs, soft drinks or boiled peanuts. I’d earn from a dime (peanuts) to a quarter (hot dogs) for each unit sold, plus tips. At big games, like the annual Florida-FSU tilt, I’d collect as much as $25 for my efforts.

                                                                The low drama of high school

The students at Florida High comprised a strange mix. Half were bused in daily from communities surrounding Tallahassee (the state capital, then a city of about 50,000) that were too small or too poor to have their own schools. The other half consisted of the children of those who worked or taught at FSU, like my younger brother, older sister, and me.

Regardless of where they came from, for boys flattops and white socks were the order of the day. Girls wore blouses or sweaters, skirts and saddle shoes.

As at most schools, then or now, cliques formed.

The jocks—husky boys with names like Buddy, Mac and Bubba—were at the top of the pecking order. Our football teams did well: my senior year (1961-1962) they went undefeated and weren’t scored upon until the final game of the season, outscoring opponents 279-12. We generally cleaned up in football, basketball and track-and-field, did so-so at baseball and lesser sports.

The prettiest girls (often with double names, like Betty Sue, Mary Jo and Bobby Jean, or with invented names like Tjawana or LaUna), usually dated the jocks, wearing their tape-wrapped school rings on chains around their necks. Good-looking girls often became cheerleaders or majorettes.

Those who sang or played instruments were in the middle of the pack, and scholars came in at the bottom.

There was a handful of pioneering geeks: scrawny guys with thick glasses and pocket protectors, who wore tweed jackets and ties among a mostly dungaree crowd, who hung around with girls who looked like them.

                                                          Making music

Because of the school’s relatively small population—our rivals, Leon High, by contrast, had a couple thousand students—most individuals were involved in several activities. The marching and concert bands I played in throughout high school numbered over 100, comprising one-third of the student body.

Besides marching band and orchestra, I sang in chorus, played in dance bands, contributed to the school paper, and made rings and hotplates and serving trays in shop.

I participated in the Classic League (winning a contest with an original rhyming poem in Latin), won speech contests in Forensic League, won a school Twist contest, and regularly won medals playing solos and in ensembles at regional and state band competitions.

I also assisted at the language lab, running instruction tapes and records for various classes. Florida High was one of few in the country then offering four years of Russian-language courses, and I completed all four years, supplementing the final two years with college-level classes at FSU.

Because I was too skinny to play football, I ran a mediocre track (the mile), played a year of basketball (I had a killer two-hand set shot I could swish from half-court during practice) and consistently beat most comers in three-wall handball.

But I was more interested in things academic rather than athletic. I was pretty quiet and didn’t mix much.

My main claim to fame was a patented double-flipper technique that made me nearly unbeatable at pinball at the Mecca restaurant on the FSU campus, especially on Gottlieb’s “Super Jumbo” and “Diamond Jubilee” machines.

                                                                        A new attitude

At the beginning of my junior year in high school, there was a new kid in class named Mike, from New York. As fellow outsiders, we gravitated to one another. Mike had a terrific, though odd sense of humor. He taught me to look at things from a completely different perspective, and brought me out of my shell.

Together, we began smoking a five-kilo brick of marijuana that Mike brought back from a Christmas trip to Mexico in 1960.

I started hitchhiking when I didn’t feel like driving.

I talked more in classes, discovering I had a hidden talent for wisecracks, and basked in newfound peer approval.

Encouraged by an English teacher, Stephen Dunning, I wrote reams of poems and stories: I’d started publishing poetry in little magazines at age thirteen, and first received a check for a short story in 1960. My theme papers and book reports became more creative.

Finally, in 1962, I graduated, with a B average.
 

                                                                 Oh-oh, Ohio 

I applied at colleges and universities across the country, in Canada, and abroad, because I wanted to see places I’d never been.

Though my high school grades had been decent, and my scores on standardized tests were top-notch, I couldn’t land a sufficient scholarship until I tried for the College of Wooster, south of Cleveland, Ohio, where my father had graduated in the mid-1930s.

At Wooster, I’d get a two-thirds free ride (tuition and books cost about $1500 per semester) if I played in the marching band and sang in the church choir.

It was an irresistible offer to my cash-strapped parents, so in the fall of 1962, the folks drove me up from Florida and dropped me off.

                                                             Little lambs eat ivy

Wooster, a Presbyterian institution established in 1866, was prototypical: ivy-covered brick classroom buildings and residence halls, a stone chapel, Kissing Rock, a skating pond, a student union, and local, not national fraternities and sororities. It was supposed to be in the same academic league as Antioch and Oberlin.

Most students were from Ohio and surrounding states—I was one of only two from Florida.  There was a strong contingent of foreign, mostly Christian, exchange students from all over the world, some of whom formed the nucleus of a good soccer team.

Shaking off the old, dull me, I took a new nickname: Zeke.

A classic and modern language major with a music minor, I signed up for 24 credit hours my first semester, including Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, English composition, history, sociology, calculus and Physical Education. Classes began at 8 a.m. and ran to 4 p.m. In addition to regular band and choir practice, I also informally tutored my Greek professor, who was teaching himself Russian.

It was too much for a 17-year-old kid, on his own and away from home for the first time.

                                                           The pressure builds

To relax, I regularly dipped into the going-away supply of marijuana Mike had given me.

Using my fake ID (a matched set: genuine Florida birth certificate, driver’s license and draft card, all of which agreed I was 21 years old), I sopped up 3.2 percent beer at bars and used book money to buy bottles of vodka or brandy at liquor stores. I gambled. I dated.

As was my habit from about age eight, I seldom slept more than four hours a night.

Still, I managed to maintain a C average with a tough schedule. (Calculus was way over my head, and a professor who explained mathematical concepts in a strong Scottish burr made me feel he was speaking Martian. so I dropped the course a month into the semester.)

I enjoyed playing in the marching band, which, in keeping with the theme of the school (sports teams were “The Fighting Scots”), wore kilts, sporrans, spats and the full Scottish regalia, and featured a troop of bagpipers.

(For the curious: the uniform included woolen under-drawers, in matching McLeod plaid—a popular and showy pattern of yellow and black, with a thin red line running through—that were welcome in cold weather when the wind blew. In warm weather, they were itchy, and some band members went without.)

In choir, I sang a bass solo, “I Wander as I Wander” during a pre-Christmas songfest.

                                                         Joining the brotherhood

Late in the first semester, I pledged a local fraternity, one of seven housed in a four-story, L-shaped building. Among the brethren was a contingent of inveterate hosers called “The Night Climbers.”

I was allowed to join the pranksters, and we indulged in a variety of mischief: stealing signs, rigging bells to ring in the middle of the night, disassembling and reassembling a car on the roof of a building, that sort of thing.

We achieved near-legendary status and an administrative reign of terror for hanging a skeleton on the cross and loading flour into the pipes of the organ at the college chapel. (As a Protestant-endowed institution, Wooster required attendance at chapel three times a week; if you were absent too often, grades could be lowered. Luckily, a frat brother served as monitor and signed me in, so I rarely went.)

During the rush process, the brothers took us pledges to a strip club, the Roxy, in Cleveland. We listened to baggy-pants comedians between acts featuring plump, over-the-hill women sporting caesarean scars and breasts so saggy they had to be held up with strings.

After the show, we went next door to a porn shop. Thumbing through pulp paperbacks with lurid covers, I decided I could write books as good as these, and jotted down the address of one publisher, called Nightstand.

                                                                         Paperback writer

Returning to college, I wrote the publisher, and they sent me submission guidelines. Certain common four-letter words, I learned, were forbidden (“Blue Laws” were in effect in Ohio then).  Descriptions of body parts and sexual acts had to be couched in euphemisms, like “her quivering passion pit” or “his throbbing manhood.” 

Fueled with pot for inspiration, and Benzedrine and Dexedrine for stamina (uppers were fairly easy to obtain, but marijuana was almost unknown at the college then) I started writing on my old portable Smith-Corona. I was thankful for the typing class I’d taken in eighth grade, during which I’d progressed from two fingers to ten, and capable of sustained bursts of 60-75 words per minute, with occasional gusts to 90.

In six weeks, barely stopping to attend classes or eat meals in the dining hall—and Wooster had excellent food for breakfast and dinner—I produced a 50,000-word novel, College Stud, as by Dirk Steele. (The novel, considering what is available in print or film today, would probably earn an “R” rating).

I sent it in, received a contract, and soon pocketed a check for $500, which seemed like a fortune in 1962. I later received a dozen copies of the printed book, which I gave away to guys I knew would appreciate the novel.

I skipped classes almost entirely after that, except for exams.

Over the next eight weeks I polished off two more novels for Nightstand, A Freshman’s Confession and Soft, More, both as by Penny A. Worder, and collected a cool thousand smackers for my efforts.

The college, not amused by my long absence from classes, in April 1963 decided they could do without my presence, and suspended me indefinitely.

Busy writing, I’d forgotten to register for the draft after turning 18, so I completed the task belatedly, and was immediately classified 1-A.

                                                          Heading for the border

Unable then to face my parents who were certain to be disappointed in me, I sold or gave away most of my belongings and shipped the rest home.

I bought a knapsack to hold necessities, and stuck out my thumb. I headed south by west, and arrived in Brownsville, Texas, in a week.

Crossing easily into Mexico, I made first for Monterey, where my sister had spent a semester while attending college.

Then I went west to Torreón, Durango, and Mazatlán, moved south to Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara, bent east to tour Chapultapec, Teotihuacan and Mexico City, and dropped down to Acapulco.

Finally, I turned east through Oaxaca to the Yucatan, where I prowled a number of Mayan ruins, an experience that stirred in me a lifelong interest in antiquity and archaeology.

When my money was almost gone, I headed home for Florida, arriving just in time to learn that my parents were moving north.

I joined them for the long drive to New York.

                                                                            I love New York

We headed to upstate New York. My father, tiring of teaching after earning his PhD at FSU, had accepted a position at a small Ag & Tech college in Morrisville, 30 miles from Syracuse. It was as much of a change of pace for me as Florida had been a decade earlier, but in a positive way.

There was more variety in the terrain and the weather. The people were more accessible, too,

My parents rented a house near the college for a time.

Then the institution began to expand, and my father bought a large old house—150 years of age at least, one of the first homes in that part of Madison County—with five fireplaces, that was to be torn down to make room for a new dormitory. He paid $500 for the building, and had it moved a mile down the road, where it was placed on a new foundation on a large, empty plot of land.

Over the course of several years, my folks spent tens of thousands of dollars adding a two-car garage, a glassed-in front porch, and otherwise modernizing ancient plumbing and electrical wiring throughout.

                                                            The milkman cometh

In the meantime, for the rest of the summer I worked as a hand at a local dairy farm for $20 per week, plus daily lunches.

Each day, I biked about five miles from my folks’ place to the farm, where I cut, crimped, baled and stored hay.

I milked more than 60 cows (by hand the first week because the Surge milking machine was broken).

I cleaned sloppy, smelly summer manure out of troughs, and dumped it into the “honey wagon” (the manure spreader) to fertilize the fields.

I chopped field corn for silage.

I learned the intricacies of the power takeoff, drove tractors, and operated a variety of farm machinery.

I got lessons in welding and animal husbandry.

I drove a grain truck, hauling oats into storage.

It was hard work, but somehow rewarding. The farming family—the owner, his wife and six children from two to 22—were decent, plain-speaking, likable people. The farmer’s 15-year-old daughter and I entered the square-dance competition at the State Fair, and won red ribbons for second place.

I grew tan and fit from slinging heavy milk cans and ninety-pound bales of hay, and was never healthier or more content in my life.

                                                         Why not give Iowa a try?

When summer waned, I decided to give college another go.

I applied to, and was accepted at Parsons College, in Fairfield, Iowa. That’s where my sister, three years ahead of me, had ended up, after starting at Florida State.

President Millard G. Roberts (affectionately known as “Doctor Bob”) then headed Parsons. It was an institution that had been founded amid the cornfields in the gently rolling terrain of southeast Iowa as a traditional Protestant college in 1875, and had a core of typical brick buildings to prove it. (The oldest structure on campus was, appropriately, the blocky Greek Revival-styled Ewing Hall.)

But the progressive Roberts had instituted numerous changes since taking over in the late 1950s.

New high-rise and multilevel dormitories had sprung up to accommodate an increasing number of students who, for one reason or another, had not succeeded elsewhere. (During my tenure at Parsons, from 1963 to 1966, the student population doubled from 3200 to about 6500.) Students, many of them wealthy, hailed from virtually every state. There was a particularly high concentration from the Eastern US, and from many foreign countries.

A modern glass-and-wood Student Union had beer on tap, a Cordon Bleu restaurant and other amenities. Around the campus were a modern library, chapters of major national fraternities and sororities, and a new football stadium and gymnasium.

The college was also on the trimester system, and operated year-round. During its heyday in the mid-to-late 1960s, Parsons operated several satellite campuses in other states, including Minnesota, Nebraska, and New Mexico. The faculty was first-rate, lured with high salaries to Parsons from some of the best colleges and universities at home and abroad.

                                                                 Repairing academic damage

Parsons, fortunately, was liberal with scholarships. I received a half-ride for joining the marching band where, in addition to playing clarinet and sax, I devised half-time shows at football games.

I also played tenor sax in a jazz-dance band, The Rhythmaires, which performed at numerous gigs in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri, entertaining at nightclubs, on radio and television. We traveled in a Cadillac hearse.

My grade point average had suffered at Wooster (my 2.4 GPA from the first semester had been cut in half the second semester, since I wasn’t around for finals, and was flunked in most subjects except Greek, Latin, history and Phys. Ed.), I knuckled down at Parsons, making the Dean’s List six out of seven trimesters, and earned additional academic scholarships for my efforts, essentially attending college for free the last two years.

I generally took at least 18 credit hours per term, with a heavy concentration of humanities and honors English composition, and acquired many more credit hours than I needed to graduate.

                                                           Outside interests

I participated in a few extracurricular activities while in college. I contributed poems and stories to the literary journal Image., and anonymous articles to the school newspaper, Portfolio. I was elected as a student senator, and later served as resident assistant at a dormitory. I played many intramural sports.

My first two years at Parsons, I lived in Turner House, a hotel converted into a male dormitory. The building was in downtown Fairfield, conveniently located next to a dingy pool hall run by an ex-boxer who served draft beer for a dime and a tasty hot kielbasa sandwich, known as a “Big Dick,” for a quarter. I spent a lot of spare time there, and became a pretty good snooker player. My roommate, Judd Morris from Chicago, and I palled around together.

I know exactly where I was when President Kennedy was shot in 1963: at a tonsorial parlor, getting a fresh crew cut, when the news came over the barber shop’s television.

In the spring of 1965, I was one of hundreds of Parsons students that flocked as volunteers to Muscatine, Iowa, where the Mississippi was overflowing its banks. We hauled and placed thousands of sand bags, and helped spare the town considerable flood damage—earning “Mr. Muscatine” certificates of appreciation.

                                                    Back on the keyboard again

Outside of classes, gambling, dating, traveling and drinking, my main occupation was wordsmith.

As an English/creative writing major, I’d done a favor for a friend studying science, and composed a term paper for him. Word got around, and soon I was being offered money to perform the same service for others. Before I knew it, I had a full-blown term paper writing franchise.

For three years, I wrote about 20 papers a week on a variety of subjects for students with more money than energy. I later supplemented my income selling sets of fake ID, and in my senior year took final exams for underclassmen at $50-100 a crack, depending on subject.

I spent what I earned almost as fast as it came in, on weekend trips to Chicago, Iowa City, Des Moines, Burlington, and other hot spots.

During summers or on other school breaks I hitchhiked all over the country, returning often to Mexico. Between 1963 and 1968, I made annual treks to the San Francisco Bay Area, where I’d grown up, and watched Haight-Ashbury evolve.

Eventually, I graduated on time, in June 1966, with a solid B+ average and a BA in English/creative writing.

                                                                 Life after college

After a couple months of travel, I returned home to New York.

I was lazing around one November weekend, watching a football game on TV, when I felt an intense, stabbing pain in my chest. I thought: I’m 21 years old, and I’m having a heart attack.

It turned out to be pericarditis, a serious, but temporary inflammation in the lining of the heart. I was in a Syracuse hospital for two weeks, with morphine pumped in and test tubes of my blood drawn out between regular EKGs.

After my discharge from the hospital, I was told to take it easy for six months.

But an opportunity to teach seventh-grade English, as a temporary full-time replacement for a woman on maternity leave, came along just weeks later.

By the time the new mother returned a few months later, I’d already found another job.

                                                                             Traveling in style

             
In early 1967, I rode trains from Syracuse to Portland, Oregon. Then it was by bus to Government Camp, and by shuttle up to Timberline Lodge, at the mile-high level on the slopes of Mount Hood.

The lodge had a lot of character. The WPA had built it during the Depression, and there were touches of art throughout: newel posts shaped like native animals, a huge multi-sided natural stone fireplace, and massive wrought-iron gates leading into the main dining room, so well balanced they could be swung at the touch of a finger.

I worked as front desk clerk, usually the morning man, in my snappy seersucker jacket. I checked people in and out, confirmed reservations, handled the switchboard, fielded complaints, answered visitor’s questions, and sold postcards.

In my off-hours, I drank at local bars, taking advantage of an employee discount. I learned to ski, after a fashion, and took to snowshoes. I climbed Mt. Hood from different directions with various groups. I careered down the mountain on everything from cafeteria trays to toboggans. I took a four-day trail hike around the mountain. Young women, both guests and employees, were plentiful, and easy.

I lived at first at the base of the mountain, in an employees’ lodge. Later, I lived with roommates in cabins or A-frames in other small woodsy settlements, like Rhododendron and Zigzag.

Each morning, on the way in to the lodge, I’d check snow depth on poles in key locations, so I could phone in skiing conditions (recorded live) to radio stations in Portland.

Later, I was made night auditor, and handled tens of thousands of dollars —from restaurants, lift tickets and Sno-Cat rides, rentals, bars, gift, and ski shops—in the course of balancing the daily accounts.

After seven action-packed months I was ready for a change.

                                                                            The Rez

When summer waned, I wrote to the administration at Browning High School on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. I’d spent a couple weeks, there in the spring of 1964, helping care for kids who’d lost homes or parents in a far-ranging flood that had trapped me in St. Mary’s at the entrance to Glacier Park. In the letter, I mentioned my degree in English and inquired whether there were any teaching positions open.

By way of reply, the school sent me a contract to teach two classes apiece of 9th and 10th grade English.

After I arrived via train in late August, I agreed to also teach a class in remedial math, to serve as sponsor for the school newspaper, and to lead the school band, which had been dormant for a dozen years. The extra duties upped my base salary from $4800 to $7200.

I found lodging in a singlewide in a trailer park behind a gas station.

During the several-week lag before classes started, I went in to work on the band instruments, which were in a sad state of repair. I replaced corks and springs on the woodwinds, oiled valves and hammered out dents in the brasses, put new heads on drums. Promised a 75-piece band, I optimistically ordered sheet music—mostly symphonic pieces and marches that I’d played in school— and was negotiating for band uniforms.

When school started, only about 25 students came out for band. Most couldn’t play instruments, so I started giving after-school lessons in reading music and taught the rudiments of playing.

The results were disappointing: the band could eagerly and lustily play a fractured version of the school fight song, but otherwise I felt as helpless as Professor Harold Hill in “The Music Man.” Eventually, I was forced to shut down the band and instead I led a girls’ chorus, which performed well at a number of school functions.

 

                                                             A teacher’s life is not a happy one

I tried hard during my year at Browning High, but I felt irrelevant.

The English curriculum I was supposed to teach during the 1967-1968 school year optimistically included elements of grammar, studies of American and British literature with recommended texts, and composition assignments appropriate for 9
th and 10th graders.

There were problems with this plan from the start.

Some of the thirty-odd students in each class were nearly as old as I was.

The reasons for this condition varied.

The school offered free hot lunches to students one-eighth Indian or more (ninety percent of the school population qualified), a strong incentive for perennially poor and hungry reservation inhabitants to attend classes for as long as possible.

The school provided more shelter in bleak Western Montana winters than some reservation homes: the back of a derelict car or a hovel thrown together from sheets of cardboard reinforced by flattened cans.  

A few students had worked on or off the reservation to help support families.

Several had done time: drunkenness, resisting arrest, property destruction, car theft, fighting, armed robbery, and mostly for the major crime of being born Indian.

Many couldn’t read, and the reading level among the literate averaged about third grade. A couple could not write their own names and instead drew symbols as signatures. (A great number of students had natural artistic ability, and produced wildlife carvings, paintings, quill and beadwork, pottery and jewelry.)

 

                                                                  Education by desperation

I threw lesson plans away, and reorganized my classes along can read-cannot read lines.

In the first groups, we worked on improving reading and writing skills, and their abilities rose by a couple of grades by the end of the term.

In the second groups, I mostly read to them an hour a day—sometimes testing out my own stories—and we’d discuss the work afterwards. Though it was difficult persuading students to volunteer opinions, once someone made a comment about a favorite story—White Fang or The Last of the Mohicans or Journey to the Center of the Earth—everybody wanted to say something. They’d surprise me with sharp, intuitive observations.

Ultimately, it was a frustrating experience. Though I grew to appreciate the kids, even those that never said a word in class, and my admiration for Indians as survivors swelled, my general lack of progress depressed me.

I grew lonely in my trailer. Without a car, I got a heavy dose of cabin fever. I started drinking to numb my senses.

Things picked up after the New Year, when a new math teacher, Andy, from Dillon, entered the school. He was a hiker and climber, and owned a car. I was itching to explore the great outdoors with a reliable companion. So together we headed for Glacier Park (closed for winter) on weekends, hiked in from the point where roads weren’t plowed, and climbed a mountain or two.

        Familiar territory

At the end of the school year, the administration offered me a two-year contract to teach all of ninth-grade English.

But I’d had enough of teaching, and longed to get back on the road.

With a pocket full of cash saved from my teaching job—there wasn’t much opportunity to spend it in Browning—I headed west with a girl I’d known from college days with whom I’d maintained correspondence. Ahnika (formerly Judy) happened to be traveling through town in her pickup on the scenic route from her mother’s place in Iowa to her new home in the Los Angeles area.

We drove as far as Spokane the first night, and got a motel room, where we watched in horror the news on TV that Bobby Kennedy had been shot.

We headed down the coast and spent a couple weeks in San Francisco, shopping (I bought a black silk Cossack shirt with gold trim, and Ahnika got a tie-dyed blouse), panhandling, dropping acid, and seeing acts like Iron Butterfly, Steppenwolf, Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane playing at places like the Straight Theater.

     More kid stuff

In L.A., I landed a job as houseparent at a facility for emotionally disturbed Jewish children. For several months, at $100 per week plus room and board, I lived among 16 intelligent, mischievous boys, aged 12 to 18. Their main psychological problems stemmed from having wealthy, irresponsible parents who preferred to warehouse their children rather than interrupt excessive lifestyles.

The kids were prone to stuttering, bedwetting, tantrums, vandalism, and wandering off—especially those that were heavily medicated.

I made breakfasts and lunches, attended Sabbath services with my wards, and learned to recite certain Hebrew passages. I endured numerous pranks—smoldering celluloid stink bombs, short-circuited alarm doors that wouldn’t shut off, electrified doorknobs, and other hi-jinks perpetrated by the creative minds of kids who wouldn’t have been troubled if their parents had been normal. 

The 24/7 nature of the job got to me after a while, and I moved on.

    Snow job

With Brad, a groundskeeper from the children’s home, I hitchhiked north to Oregon, and wound up back at Timberline Lodge.

A front-desk job at wasn’t available, so we both landed jobs on the lift crew. The work involved lots of snow shoveling, climbing towers to chip ice off of frozen gears and pulleys, lots of sitting in a heated, glassed-in booth pushing buttons to start or stop the lift line, and long, cold rides on the lift to and from the lodge.

The head of the international lift crew—there were guys from Czechoslovakia, Canada, Portugal, Greece, Spain, and Afghanistan—an Aryan, humorless type from Switzerland, was a martinet who we called “Adolf..” After a couple months of being ordered to shovel “dis vay, not dat vay,” I was contemplating other uses for the shovel.

      Homeward bound

After surviving a bout of Hong Kong flu, I quit the lodge and headed south again.

I meandered around San Francisco and Los Angeles for a couple weeks apiece, looking for work. But jobs were scarce, and I couldn’t hang around waiting for possibilities, so I invested in a bus ticket to New York.

I got home just in time to make the fall semester in the new Master’s degree program at Oswego, a picturesque satellite in the State University of New York system laid out along the shore of Lake Ontario.

Repeating my majors from college, with a concentration in British literature, I landed a position as dormitory resident assistant, responsible for the behavior of a whole floor of spunky freshmen in a high-rise.

Most of the many term papers I wrote during five semesters in grad school were for my own classes focusing on Spenser, Yeats, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Swift or British history. I maintained a steady B average and earned occasional A’s to lift my GPA above the bare minimum required for graduate students.

I fudged facts now and then when writing for my professors: if I couldn’t find a reference to support a thematic point, I made one up. (I could have made them all up: teachers never checked resources.)

      Times were a-changing

The late 1960s were action-packed years, in upstate New York and elsewhere.

In July of 1969, like everybody else I was fascinated by the Apollo Moon landing.

The following month, I joined a half-million other music-lovers at the original Woodstock Festival. I drove down in my clunker station wagon, filling it with hitchhikers bound for Bethel.

I arrived a day early—and from the inside watched a chain-link fence being erected around the site (it was trampled late the first day of the concert) —and left a day late. I felt privileged to be present for, and to participate in, the last gasp of the peace-and-love decade. I was awed by the quality of the music performed by some of the biggest names of the time (Joplin, Hendrix, Crosby, Stills & Nash, et al.), and amazed at the quantity of reasonably priced drugs openly available. 

 

                                                                       Now, here’s my idea …

Back at grad school in the fall, I noticed the atmosphere had changed there too. The anti-war movement was in full swing. Protest groups were forming, meetings were held, plans for disruption were formulating.

Meanwhile, I was working on my Master’s thesis.

I’d decided, rather than do as my advisor suggested—he opted for just another paper on some obscure point in Shakespeare’s work—I would conduct original research. I’d become interested in the outrageous British magus (and mountain-climber) Aleister Crowley and, rather than dwell on his colorful life, would survey his large body of written works: novels, poetry, and nonfiction books dealing with the occult. 

There was, I discovered, a good collection of Crowley’s oeuvre at the Rare Book Room of the New York Public Library in New York City, so I headed via train down to the city during the three-week Christmas-New Year’s break.

I rented a Spartan room at the YMCA on 42nd Street, and each day ran a gauntlet past hookers, topless joints, porn palaces, bars and other temptations for the sanctuary of the NY Public Library.

Since I’d recently studied the Book of Kells, I took time to admire the illuminated manuscripts on display throughout the library for the holidays. In the sanctuary of the Rare Book Room I quickly accumulated scads of Crowley notes and quotes, constructed a sound outline for my thesis, and started writing.

On New Year’s Eve 1969, I took a break, joining the throngs in Times Square to cheer the changeover to 1970. Afterward, I was swept along to parties and woke up in a stranger’s apartment without remembering how I got there.

     Students on strike

When I returned to the campus after the holidays, the air was charged with revolt. The outcry against the Vietnam War had escalated at other institutions around the country, and foment swept over Oswego.

Demonstrations cancelled some scheduled classes.

Fearing for their safety as perceived members of the establishment, some older professors took impromptu sabbaticals. Younger, hipper teachers joined the students in the uprising.

Buildings were captured, papers and equipment trashed, then retreat was sounded in the face of charging campus cops.

Students who’d ingested vast quantities of readily available drugs pranced about the fringes of the uprising, playing invisible Frisbee and voicing non-sequiturs.

The administration dithered.

Concerned parents converged in droves to drive their sons and daughters home until the storm blew over.

Those remaining called for a strike, and eventually it was enacted. The school semester whimpered to a close, though it wouldn’t become complete and official until after the Kent State incident in May 1970.

With my coursework virtually completed, except for cancelled finals, and my thesis half-written, I was in limbo.

                                                                     Mr. No-name finds a career

I needed paying work to tide me over, so I went to Syracuse and rented an apartment. The job market was tight: all I could find was a spot at a candle factory. On a piecework basis, I made 400,000 scented and unscented votive candles per day.

A couple months into the waxworks, I saw a want ad for a radio copywriter, applied, and was hired.

For more than three years, I stayed at WOLF-AM, where I learned to think fast and write faster.

Each working day, I took information from as many as eight account executives, and wrote thirty to fifty persuasive 30-second and 60-second spots for a wide variety of products and services. I also voiced many commercials, adding music and sound effects as necessary. As copywriter, I was responsible for continuity: making sure the right commercial ran at the right time.

The job didn’t pay much, but I found I had an affinity for writing to order. It was a blast making up mini-epics based on a few facts. It was rewarding listening to my ads just minutes after the page was pulled from the IBM Selectric typewriter.

It didn’t matter to me that I wrote anonymously. It was enough to receive recognition where it counted: at raise time, and at advertising industry awards shows, when I usually walked off with armloads of plaques and certificates of merit.

Halfway through my tenure at the station, I was named Public Service Director.  In the position, in addition to my normal copywriting duties, I was responsible for making certain we were serving community needs, a requirement for license renewal.

I was also given one-hour talk show to host. I interviewed community leaders, politicians, heads of various organizations, and produced a pre-recorded program. Called “Contact,” the show ran in the early morning and was Arbitron top-rated in its time slot.

                                                                         Officially an ad man 

I might have stayed at WOLF indefinitely—I built up a remarkable collection of perhaps 10,000 promo records handed out by company reps—but one day I got a call that was irresistible.

A local advertising agency had heard my radio work, liked it, and wanted to hire me for a considerably higher salary.

Silverman & Mower was a small agency when I joined them—just a handful of people in a cramped office—that, thanks to landing a few key accounts, more than quadrupled in size during the year I remained with them.

Within months, the agency moved from a nondescript downtown Syracuse building to take over several floors in a new high-rise above a thriving bank.

I started out doing out what I did best, writing radio copy, but soon expanded into television scripts, print ads, catalog copy, press releases, and other forms of marketing and public relations.

It was interesting and varied work, and my salary was such that I could afford to get married (to an attractive undergraduate coed English major I’d met at Oswego) and rent a nice apartment for us.

But I wasn’t completely happy.

For one thing, it was much more formal than the radio station had been. I was forced to wear suits and ties, and such clothing seemed to stifle my creativity.

My interior office, with sterile white walls where I wasn’t allowed to display my work, had no windows and that further cramped my imagination.

The copy I wrote, which when I started had gone directly to elderly Mr. Silverman for approval, now, upon his retirement, had a whole chain of command to pass through, and everybody left fingerprints on my work.

I started getting terrific headaches and backaches and neck aches. I visited chiropractors, dentists, optometrists, neurologists, and other medical professionals, but nobody could find anything physically wrong with me. Somebody suggested that tension might be causing the pain, and it made sense.

                        So after a year at the agency, I decided to quit.

                        Within a week, I wasn’t bothered by aches any more.
 

                                                                             Breaking free 

While my wife worked as a legal secretary, I set up as a freelance copywriter, doing business as Mr. E Enterprises. I landed a few small projects— a restaurant chain, a bookstore, a couple of nightclubs, a pizzeria—but the work was sporadic.

                        So to help tide us over during lean times, I took on other part time work.

                        I ran legal documents around town for a law firm.

I worked as a nude model for drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, and anatomy classes at Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College.

I became a process server, and nailed several thousand deadbeats around the county.

I obtained a realtor’s license and sold a few houses.

I managed a used bookstore.

I managed a record and tape store.

In my spare time, I wrote poetry and short stories.

We didn’t liv     We didn’t live, but we survived.

                                                                       Back to 9-to-5 again

In 1977, I landed a job as copy chief at a small (8-12 people, depending upon the workload), hot creative shop, PJ&L Advertising Agency (the initials stood for my new boss’s first three names, Paul, John and Lee). It was a completely different, and better, experience than my first agency.

The PJ&L agency head, rather than from the administrative side, was a copywriter himself, and very demanding when it came to concepts, which improved my output considerably.

We were a tight-knit, highly creative group with lots of energy that we poured into our work for the Syracuse Symphony, Syracuse Cablesystems, Frink Sno-Plows, Helluva Good Cheese, and other accounts on which imaginative approaches were demanded. The atmosphere was relaxed. We laughed a lot, and agency members often ate lunch together. At awards ceremonies, we cleaned up, particularly in print categories, our strength.

After a couple of years, I began to grow restless: I’d wanted to return to the Northwest—the aesthetic beauty of the mountains had done something to my psyche. So, while my wife and I were on vacation out West in the summer of 1979, I dropped off resumes at agencies across Montana, Idaho and Oregon.

I nearly landed a job in Missoula, but it fell through. Then, in early 1980, I was offered the position of Creative Director at an agency in Boise, Idaho, and I accepted. I flew out and located a house for us to rent.

                                                                            Heading West

I hated to leave behind all the good friends I’d made in New York—the agency folks all pitched in to help load the stuff from our apartment into a U-Haul—but I felt a strong urge to move on.

My wife and I, with our two cats in a cage beside us on the front seat of the truck cab, set out in early July, during one of the hottest summers on record. Daily we pulled into a motel in early afternoon—sometimes having to smuggle the cats to our room where pets weren’t allowed. We’d dine in a restaurant, then hit the sack and sleep until midnight when we’d climb back into the truck head for the highway.

I did all the driving, since my wife didn’t then have a license.

It’s a long haul from Syracuse to Boise, especially in a vehicle that had a governor and wouldn’t go over 50 mph. But I managed to cover 400-500 miles per day. We saw a few sights along the way: the South Dakota Badlands, Wall Drug, Mount Rushmore, and the Chief Crazy Horse monument.

We crawled through the mountains of Yellowstone in a driving snowstorm, trailed by a line of cars that couldn’t pass us on the winding roads. 

Finally, in the middle of July, we arrived in our new home.

                                                                      The bland leading the bland

Happy as I was to be in the Northwest, I quickly became disenchanted with the agency business in Boise.

I’d originally looked forward to coming out because, comparing my portfolio with the new agency’s, I’d noticed my stuff was a lot more dynamic, and I figured I could really help the Boise agency pick up their game.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t given the chance.

My new boss was a bland, humorless stick, a glorified salesman with a power complex, who fancied himself a copywriter. He always demanded the dull and obvious for his pet accounts, and didn’t really have a grasp of the principles of good advertising, despite the fact he’d been in business for more than 20 years.

 

I managed to hang on for 18 months. Then, the recession hit, and agency people began to be laid off. My hours and my salary were cut by 40 percent, and finally I was laid off too in early 1982. When I left, the agency consisted of the owner, his wife, his college-age son, and the accountant; it closed a few years later, to become a fast-foot franchise.

I immediately designed a business card to reenter freelancing, billing myself as “The Wizard of Words.” I made the rounds of other agencies and graphic designers, and began to pick up work.

                                                                      Making a name in Idaho

For the next four years, I was kept hopping with a constant stream of work, most of it either direct from a number of corporations, through agencies, or through a couple of hot graphic design firms.

I worked on a wide variety of projects with talented teams of creative artists, illustrators, photographers, and others who did excellent work. Individually and collectively, we won dozens of industry awards. I earned a reputation for effective, attention-getting work at reasonable prices.

In 1986, one of those agencies hired me as part-time creative director and advertising consultant, primarily to work on political campaigns. After the elections, I went back to full-time freelancing again.

In 1992, the same agency hired me as full-time creative director. Though the production staff was top-notch, the administration had become severely flawed: they now considered the creative department as no more than a necessary evil, and treated us accordingly. (This attitude, I learned, was typical of Boise agencies.)

The bosses decided to open a satellite office in Spokane, Washington, to pick up trade in a new market, but inadequately staffed the new office. As a consequence, we in Boise had to do their jobs as well as ours. The experiment lasted a year, and cost the agency hundreds of thousands of dollars, precluding regular raises for Boise employees.

After three years, I’d built up a decent bank account, and not needing the various twinges the job was beginning to cause, resigned.

                                                           Still working after all these years

Since 1995, I’ve freelanced fulltime as “Jack Ewing Advertising Concepts and Copy.” I’m happy, I’m relaxed, and I don’t intend to ever again be someone’s employee.

The work, as ever, is sporadic. I endure and, thanks to good luck and good investments, I survive. To supplement my income, I’ve taught copywriting classes at a local literary center.

When paying jobs are scare—9/11 put a real crimp in the market for awhile—I concentrate more on my fiction, and submit stories mostly to paying markets.

A compulsive wordsmith who for more than thirty years has put in 8-12 hours at the keyboard virtually every day, I’ve published about one story per month on average since 1960. I also published novels in 1998 and 2000.


In 2004, a friend and former video producer, Randy Fowler, for whom I’d written a number of scripts, asked me to write his life story. The material intrigued me—a talented drummer, Randy played for years on the nightclub circuit while carrying heavy baggage: his father had sexually abused him as a child, and his younger brother is actor Kevin Spacey. I agreed to take on the job.                       

The 90,000-word, profusely illustrated bio, Spacey’s Brother: Split By Secrets, is the result. The book and its CD version are currently being shopped. You can read more about it here. [spaceysbrother.com]

The last two years, I’ve been a contributor to a new resource, the Literary Reference Center, containing short bios of some 9000 authors who flourished in the 20th Century. By the time Salem Press releases the reference late in 2006, I’ll have written about 350 author bios, containing more than 175,000 words, about two novels’ worth.

Whatever it may be, I’m eager to tackle the next writing project.


Web site created by Breck Graphics, Randy B. Fowler, proprietor