DONE SINCE BIRTH (1941 - )
(MAYBE MORE THAN YOU CARE TO KNOW)
This document is
for my sons so that they might get a better understanding of my life's journey
Memories are like snapshots or short film clips which we recall in no particular order. So, it is with this work in progress as I skip around filling in the blanks... All of this is first draft stuff so typos, awkward sentences, etc. are everywhere.
I was born in a tent in San Saba on September 25, 1941. A woman named Lizzie Slaughter was to be the midwife, but at the last moment Dr. Ira Stone arrived on the scene and out of gratitude, Mom named me after the kind doctor.
My folks were
migrant workers, but around my second year my mom met a Warrant Officer in the Army at
Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Owen Kennedy was in a bar where my Grandma
Rosa was working. When he saw Mom standing outside he asked Grandma who she was and
Grandma said, "That's Lucille, my daughter."
A few months
after my birth, John Green Kelly, my great grandfather and husband of Sarah Jane Kelly, a
full-blood Texas Cherokee, was on his death-bed. He called for me, I was placed in
his arms, and then while holding me he drew his last breath and died. I can't explain why,
but I've always believed that something passed between us at that moment. As I came to
understand in a dream-poem years later, "We are the longing of our ancestors, we are
their dream. Through us they dream themselves awake.."
On August 29, 1943 I received my first
haircut. Dad didn't care much for my long curly hair which hadn't been cut since
birth. Needless to say I wasn't very happy over the occassion and the photo taken
that day [left] attests to the claim.
Going to Japan was like
being picked up in a space ship and taken to a very distant planet. And my memories
of that time and place are vivid to this day. My first impression of Japan was
Hiroshima. Our train passed the edge of the burnt landscape that was once the city.
It appeared much like the results of a forest fire with black, charred sticks reaching up
out of the ground.
Mom had anywhere from four to six maids, depending upon her needs -- there was one for every task: cooking, sewing, washing, and the main maid we called Toni. [photo right] She was much like a nanny to me and we spent many hours together. She taught me Japanese and I taught her English. Toni entertained me with instructions in origami, and we looked through Japanese books. She would point to something in a picture, name it in Japanese, then I in english. To this day, I frequently pick up a magazine and start from back to front, like Toni showed me.
I remember one evening watching Toni cleaning up the after-dinner mess a family with three children and a house full of maids is apt to leave behind. With astounding deliberation and and patient attention to detail she scraped every pot and pan so thoroughly as she put things away it seemed they hardly needed washing after that.
|.||The Japanese were very gracious hosts to the
occupying army and the dependents. Every were we went in our family car -- an army
jeep -- we were surrounded by curious children in an Japan yet unchanged by western styles
One day, something very unsual happened. Dad took me to visit a Buddhist temple. I never understood why this moment was for me alone, but once inside I was awestruck by the beauty and serenity of the place. At five years old this moment imprinted itself on me and shaped my spiritual beliefs -- it opened up questions about different traditions and inspired religious tolerance.
While in Japan Mom and Dad acquired numerous Japanese artifacts -- scrolls, ceramics and such -- which I used at early age to copy for my drawings. Japanese art and comic books were my first introductions to art.
events stand out during this period. Our landlady in Groton was Ms. Peabody. Upon
laying eyes on me she said, "My but you're pretty. That's too bad. Pretty children
grow up to be ugly." She must have been a knockout in her youth. It
seemed that for a year or two after that I looked in the mirror for signs of ugly to show
up as predicted. That never really happened -- except maybe to Ms. Peabody.
The first year we lived on Kirby's farm. A combination tobacco
and dairy farm. It was here I learned with my older brother, Rusty, how to harvest
tobacco, hand tobacco (more about that later), and maintain the heat in the tobacco barn
while we stayed up all night long laying on the back of a flat-bed truck looking up at the
stars, imagining all sorts of stories and keeping each other awake. Grandma came to
visit while we were there and before we knew what happened she had us out picking wild
blackberries (thrashing the vines down near the bottom to scare off shakes) and harvesting
wild blueberries as well. The abundance was there all along but it took Grandma to
help us find those little hidden secrets.
Staten Island 1951-1952
Scary. It was a really big school and the kids all seemed tough and street-wise. I always had a hard time fitting in and making friends in new schools, but this was the worst. Fortunately our stay there was short lived.
One winter day, with piles of snow everywere I made the short walk to school. On the way several bit]g boys across the street began throwing snowballs in my direction. I ignored them, rather than run, and the tactic worked because their aim was way off. Otherwise I might have actually ran into one of their missels.
I remember vividly my last day of school. We moved during the year on our way to Blanco where Grandma Rosa lived; after getting us moved in Dad went to the Korean War.
Anyway, back to that last day. The teacher, I can't remember her name but she was young and pretty and on my way out of the classroom she pulled me aside and asked me to stay for a moment. She had me sit on her lap and after wishing me farewell she gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek. Embarrassed that maybe there would be some lipstick on my face I rubbed the spot. "Oh, no," she said, "you're rubbing it off." I was a pretty clever little boy and without missing a beat I said, "No, Mam. I'm rubbing it in."
|[Photo: Left to right. Bill, myself, Ginner, Mom
Blanco was great! I worked in the the Blanco Bowling Alley, made lots of money and in the summers I stayed with Aunt Mary, Uncle Henry Muse and their son I called Uncle Bud. [See The Muses of Bulverde.] While Dad was in Korea Uncle Bud was kinda like a pretend father. He taught me to hunt and once we went to Luling in the old cedar truck, bought a load of watermelons (after sitting in the shade of a series of flat-bed trucks, cutting the hearts out of melons with our pocket knives for samples) and drove all the way back to the ranch near Bulverde. We stopped at every town, bar, and road house on the way selling and giving away melons. I don't know that we made much off of the trip but it sure was fun. I could go on at length about Uncle Bud. He bald head was always covered with a sweat-stained Stetson, he limped from some accident long ago, and when he talked it was like his jaw would slip out of joint and he'd have to wiggle it back and forth sideways then continue talking as if nothing happened. I know this isn't politically correct but at the time what I'm goning to relate was common. Uncle Bud always had a Pearl beer (with salt) held between his legs when he drove and I remember I'd hold my Nehi Orange soda pop the same way and drink when he did, and wiggle my jaw sideways when he wasn't looking just to see how it felt. I admired that man despite the fact that the first time we were reunited after so many years away he pulled a practical joke on me. We were sitting at the kitchen table and there was a small Mason jar with the smallest pickles I ever saw in my life.
"What are those?" I asked.
"Oh, them," Bud replied, "them's sweet pickles. Here try a spoon full of 'em."
That was my first introduction to chili pequin peppers. Aunt Mary scolded Uncle Bud and fetched me a glass of fresh milk to combat the fire raging in my mouth.
The school in Blanco was small and I was actually related to a couple of folks in town so my shyness, which has plagued me all my life, was minimized. I fit in okay and was sad to leave. (more here)
|After Blanco the move to Belton was upsetting.
First, Dad was just back from Korea and I had been getting along just fine without
his discipline -- or so I thought; and the $8 - $15 a week, and sometimes more, that I
earned at the bowling alley was gone. Dad gave me on an allowance of $2 a week which
didn't change, ever.
I did okay socially, mostly because I joined the Baptist Church and became a member of the Royal Ambassadors and joined the Boy Scouts. That and the neighborhood I lived in was new so all the neighborhood kids were too. I had a few buddies, a bicycle and a nearby creek.
However, the summer before my freshman year was hell. Hazing was in vogue at the time and I spent most of my energy that summer eluding upperclassmen -- unsuccessfully. I was subjected to the worst haircut ever inflicted on any individual and was generally humiliated. But the hair grew back and I recovered. I had a hard time forgiving my older brother who had a hand in the whole business.
were the best years of my late youth. Being an Army Brat is a situation that can
only be understood and appreciated by others who share the
same fate. The high school in Baumholder were we lived was like any in the states
except for the first time since Japan I was surrounded by other military kids. We
were all keenly aware of the difficulties of fitting in to a new school and all newcomers
My junior year (57-58) I was president of my class, vice president of the student council, reported on the school newspaper, treasurer of the teen club, artist for the school annual and lettered in basketball, football, baseball and track. (It was a small school and the football team was six-man.) For a time I dated Lori Graham (photo left). A cheerleader! She seemed, in subtle ways so much more mature than I. As a remember we broke up, got back together and broke up again. However, she and I have maintained contact to this day (January 2009) and for Army Brats that's quite an accomplishment. Lori recently returned to Baumholder for a visit and emailed me this:
"There is a computer graphics/video class now
upstairs in a room at the top of the stairs and the kids interviewed me and
After several unlucky relationships I went crazy for Tammy Burger and we dated for a year. After I returned to the states she and her folks were transferred to Abeline, Texas. (lots more here esp. visiting East Berlin before the wall.)
That's me and my classic "ducktail" hairdo on the right watching an Elvis impersonator at the Baumholder Teen Club.
|Dad retired and we returned to Belton my senior year. Although I had
lived in Belton before my return was less than I expected. This was a real awakening
to the short-lived nature of popularity. In Germany my brother Rusty and I were at
the center of social life. Now, once again, I was the new kid in school -- a
stranger. As it turned out there were a couple of other Army Brats that had lived in
Germany, Dewey Williams and Norman Umholtz. We had common bonds that only children
of the military can appreciate. Norman became manager of the high school football team.
Dewey and I, being less gregarious, were socially marginalized and hung out with a group
considered by some to be hoods or punks.
After Germany where the school was integrated and many of my close friends were Black (Negro was the term at the time), Belton as an adjustment. Like most schools, north and south, it was segregated. It felt odd because when I was Belton Jr. High that fact never occurred to me, and now it haunted me like a ghost.
I remember an incident in sociology class which is as vivid today as it was at the moment. Belton had a AA championship basketball team and Killeen, a school just up the road with their fair share of military brats from Fort Hood had a AAA team but no championship. They challenged us to a pre-season game. The sociology teacher just happened to be the head coach and he told the class in no uncertain terms he wasn't going to let his boys play against Killeen.
Seems they had some negro students on the team and Coach Smith told us that some of that might rub off. Then he began to explain how their physical features resembled apes. From top to bottom. Heels to head.
Well, I had just returned from a great experience in an integrated school and I don't know what possessed me but I raised my hand and said nothing more than, "I think you're wrong about all that."
For several weeks afterwards I'd be walking down the hall between class and someone would say "nigger lover" to my back. When I turned around all I would be confronted with would be smiles. I really don't blame my classmates 'cause they never knew anything different. I guess it's like Kermit the Frog said, "It's not easy being green."
San Marcos 1959-1960
|Dad, bored with retirement, began a second career in the Army
Reserve and he was assigned to Camp Gary in San Marcos. After graduation from high
school I wanted to go to art school. Any art school. I compromised with Dad
and enrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers College as an art major and endured classes
in the Air Force ROTC. Imagine, if you can trying to fit in with the other artsy types on
campus during conversations of Abstract Expressionism and Beat poetry while wearing a
starched and pressed uniform and spit shined shoes.
I was a lousy student overall -- except for art -- and was constantly on scholastic probation. After two semesters I decided not to enroll in summer school and was reclassified 1-A by the draft board. My older brother, Rusty, was already in the Marines, I had been raised in the Army and worn an Air Force uniform. Understanding the benefits of a clean bed and warm food and decided to join the Navy. I'm not sure why. I had been aboard ship three times and was sea sick on every trip.
The fact that I had a major fender-bender with aother car while driving around with friends in New Braunfels added to my desire to leave the nest. I knew what I had to do: Tell Dad that I wrecked the car and hand the keys over without a word passing between us.
When I annnounced that I was going to join the nave with Dewey and Norman, Dad said, "Good, maybe it will make a man out of you." Boy did that piss me off. Now I know what he meant and I only thought I was grown up at the time.
The Navy 1960-1964
|After two decidedly unremarkable semesters at Southwest Texas State Teachers
College (now SWTSU -- NOW Texas State University) I enlisted in the Navy and served my
entire four years at Lemoore Naval Air Station in California as a cryptographer where I
attained the rank of Second Class Petty Officer (E-5).
When I left home to join the Navy Dad said, "Good. Maybe it will make a man of you." Those words added fuel to the summering anger I frequently held against my father. Yet, he was right. I was changed by the experience. I became not just a man, but a leader of men. I was a squad leader and Honor Man in boot camp. In radio school I graduated among the top four in the class
My growing self confidence was supplemented by the isolation working in crypto (encoding and decoding Secret messages) provided -- I read hundreds of books. James Joyce, Dostoyevsky, Hemmingway, Falkner, Colin Wilson poetry of all ages and styles. Existentialism was my abiding interest and Camus, Sartre, Nietzsche and a host of other authors prepared me for my future in San Francisco and New York. At the time I didn't realize that the bulk of my education was self inflicted. I just wanted to know as much as I could about art, literature and philosophy.
It wasn't long before the Cuban Missle Crisis occurred and I was on alert, expected to be shipped out at a moment's notice as a radioman for a bunch of Marines who were to execute a shore invasaion of Cuba. I Chief Petty Officer in communications didn't much like me or the other three cryptographers in the unit. We were way too special for his tastes. He told me, again and again, that my life expectancy was about 2 and one-halm minutes. With a radio on my back and that antenna sticking way up in the air, standing next to an officer I would be the target.
For some 48 hours I waited to be shipped out while sitting around in the Operations Center at Lemoore Naval Air Station watching TV with several other servicemen. The event was all over the news and when asked by journalists folks would say, "Nuke 'em." What I couldn't say, because it was Classified was that the Russians had submarines, barely within international waters, loaed with atomic warheads. So much for the missle threat from Cuba. The subs were much closer. What I didn't know at the time was there was a Pentagon plan to nuke Cuba if the invasion didn't work. s tha
With over a year remaining on my four year tour I had attained the rank of Second Class Petty Officer (E-5). For reasons I'll explain later HERE I applied for contientious objector status. (MORE)
Anytime I could get away I'd go to San Francisco and hang out in North Beach. I had the great good fortune to hear many of the jazz greats live: Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Aderly, Yoseef Latef (sp?), Cal Tjader, and more.
I recall going in the the Jazz Workshop and there was this really cool, really big black guy at the door. One night he said, "You look like Audie Murphy (a Texan and the most decorated hero of WWII), are you from Texas?"
"Yea, I am."
"That's too bad," he replied.
During the last year of my service as a Navy crypto specialist the Gulf of Tolken occurred. Quicker than thought the Gulf of Tolken Resolution was passed granting President Johnson unfettered war powers. From the communications I read, it was clear to me that something was not right about the whole affair and the way it was reported on the news and by the government.
|About the Gulf
I was a cryptographer at Lemoore Naval Air Station in 1964 when the Gulf of Tonkin Incident occurred. The U.S.S. Maddox and the Turner Joy were operating a covert mission, code name DeSoto, to gather electronic intelligence on The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). This was part of a covert U.S. program to apply continual overt pressures mounting in severity against North Vietnam.
drew fire from North Vietnam on the 2nd of August and on the 4th
the Turner Joy was alleged to have been fired upon. According to regular
briefings in the Pacific Fleet Intelligence Summary [PACFLTINTSUM] a secret
report which I read and remember well both ships had been within eight miles, or
less, of the shoreline. Being radio spy ships, there was no advantage in approaching
that close given the nature of radio waves in the area, closer is not better.
The LBJ tapes at the National Security Archive make it abundantly clear that on August 1 we attacked North Vietnam and set in motion the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. Speaking to President Johnson, Defense Secretary McNamara said:
this Op Plan 34-A, these covert operations. There's no question but what that had bearing on. And on Friday night, as you probably know, we had four PT boats from Vietnam manned by Vietnamese or other nationals, attack two islands. And we expended, oh, a thousand rounds of ammunition of one kind or another against them. We probably shot up a radar station and a few other miscellaneous buildings. And following twenty-four hours after that, with this destroyer in that same area, undoubtedly led them to connect the two events.
the incident of August 2, a second attack by the North was expected if not desired by
virtue of Op Plan 34-A which was to escalate pressure on the North. The Plan, initiated as
far back as 1961, consisted of black ops insertions, aerial reconnaissance missions and
naval sabotage operations.
The following conversation is between Johnson and McNamara, on August 4 at 9:43 a.m. -- prior to the second alleged attack.
will be ample time for us, after a second attack, to bring this problem to your attention,
and you can then decide how far you wish to pursue the attacker into his base area.
the perspective of North Vietnam the U.S. destroyers had been supporting the covert
attacks against their land bases for some time and now the U.S. appeared to be escalating
the covert action by employing overt offensive air attacks from the aircraft carrier U.S.S.
On August 4 the confrontation was escalated when a second destroyer, the Turner Joy, was deployed to reinforce the Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin. The ships were deliberately positioned 11 miles offshore to provoke an attack. The destroyers received radar and radio signals which they believed indicated another attack by the North Vietnamese. For approximately two hours the ships fired on radar targets and maneuvered vigorously amid electronic and visual reports of enemies. An hour later, at 1:27 p.m. Washington time, the U.S. task force commander in the Tonkin Gulf, Captain John J. Herrick sent a cable in which he admitted that the attack may never have happened and that there may actually have been no Vietnamese naval craft in the area:
"Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects on radar and overeager sonarmen may have accounted for many reports. No actual visual sightings by Maddox. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken"
truth is the Turner Joy was not fired upon. According to squadron commander
and future Vice Admiral and Medal of Honor recipient James Stockdale, who was one of the
pilots flying over the area during the alleged attack, there were no enemy ships anywhere
in the area. None of that mattered. The plan was operational..
10p.m. on August 4 aircraft from carriers Ticonderoga and USS Constellation
destroyed an oil storage facility in North Vietnam and damaged or sank about 30 enemy
naval vessels in port or along the coast.
following day President Johnson addressed Congress:
Last night I announced to the American people that the North Vietnamese regime had conducted further deliberate attacks against U.S. naval vessels operating in international waters, and therefore directed air action against gunboats and supporting facilities used in these hostile operations. This air action has now been carried out with substantial damage to the boats and facilities. Two U.S. aircraft were lost in the action.
Based on a lie an attack on the Turner Joy Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on August 7, 1964 which gave President Johnson authorization to do what he had already done.
Johnson lied to the American people and in his address to Congress. There were no further deliberate attacks. That didnt matter. No one in government or the media asked the hard questions. The President received permission from Congress to repel any armed attacks against U.S. forces.
If you want to start a war you need a reason. If you dont have one, make one up. If there is no imminent danger provoke an attack. If the attack doesnt happen, lie about it, get permission, and go to war.
attacked them. They attacked us. We attacked them. We claimed they
attacked us again. They didnt... In 1965, Lyndon Johnson commented:
"For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there." Thus the
tragedy of the War of Vietnam began.
There you have it. The incident which taught me to question the government. Dad always said that we only fight defensive wars. He believed that and so did I, up until then. After my discharge I joined the anti-war movement in New York. When Mom found out she wrote saying, I thought we taught you better than that. And she didnt write again for another year.
All this has an important and honorable point. I have been singled out more than once because of my political beliefs. In San Marcos I experienced vandalism, threats and underwent surveillance. The administration of the university went around telling my teachers and others that I was recruited by the Weathermen to incite dissent and provoke violence. I later learned that the source of that information came from the head of campus security, a former FBI agent at President Johnsons alma mater. Also, the head of the Criminal Investigation Division in the San Marcos Police Department pulled me aside and warned me that the KKK had a contract out on me. I didn't take that seriously until, driving home one evening, the steering on my car was unresponsive. I discovered that four bolts which held the steering column to the chassis had loosened themselves simeltaniously.
San Francisco 1964-1965
|After my discharge in 1964 I lived briefly in San
Franciscos North Beach. I had been a regular visitor to North Beach
during my Navy years, but this time I was embarking on my long anticipated adventure as an
artist. Even though I couldn't sell any art at least I could live like an
Trudging up the long narrow stairway with my duffel bag to the second-floor hotel a voice from the top of the stairs said, "Back from the war, huh?"
I looked up. It was Lenny Bruce! The angry social commentator that made a living as a comedian who was more infamous that famous at the time. I was at a loss for words. I wanted to say something, anything. But being cool was the order of the day and I said, "Yep" or something equally pointless and checked into a room. When I was discharged I had $900 in Travelers Checks and in one month I managed to party away $800. I paid a months rent. Bought some food. With something like $50 to my name I was virtually broke. Welcome to civilian life.
Looking for work I discovered there was little need for cryptographers in the real world. Western Union didn't need my teletype experience so I turned to an employment agency and landed a job as a clerk typist for Bankers Mortgage Company. I worked in a huge open room with some 40 or 50 typists -- all women. A couple of weeks later they hired another young man, Adam Speaker. What a relief! Sure it was great in the abstract having all those women around, but most were older and/or married or held few if any common interests. Adam on the other hand was an aspiring poet from New York City and we found refuge in our lunch hour conversations from the impersonal bureaucracy of the workplace. On the day I spent my last two dollars I received my first paycheck.
I paid a months rent, bought fifteen cans of soup -- one for each day between paychecks -- and enrolled in the Art Students League. After several weeks in life drawing the teacher had us draw the same pose that we had worked on in the previous class. One student asked if we could have another pose. I don't remember exactly what the teacher said but I do remember it was rude and way out of line. I gathered up my supplies, folded my drawing tablet and walked out.
New York City 1965-1970
|With $35 and a one way ticket I arrived in what was to become The East
Village. My first job there was a dish washer at Gregorys Restaurant on St.
Marks Place, later I landed a job as a short order cook in a bar on the Lower East
Side, then I was a "cutter" in the garment industry.
During the first year in NYC while managing Gregory's Restaurant and working in a The Annex, a bar on Avenue B and 9th Street I learned everything I need to know about survival in the city -- not the least of which was having to "pay off" the Sanitation Department, Health Department, Fire Department, Police Department and the Mob. All demanded just a little here or a little there -- daily, weekly or monthly. But I understood that I would be safe from any unorganized crime and all in all it was a bargain.
Once, I came to the defense of an extremely mild mannered (and frightened) peacenik in The Annex. A huge out of controll Black dude was yelling in the boy's ear, "Shut up! I told you, you little prick, shut up!" Again and again and again. Finally I'd had enough, and from behind the bar I said, "Look. The guy's shut. Why not leave him alone." I became the focus of his anger and he tried to pull me over the bar. I relaxed my body, put my hands on his shoulders so he couldn't punch me in the face. Suddenly he released me, walked over to a chair across the narrow barroom and sat down. Every so often he'd jump up and shaking his large pointing finger in my face say, "I'm gonna kill you and all your mother-fucking children." Finally he was bored and left saying "I'll be back you little shit."
There were two other bartenders and two waiters there at the time and no one said a word. Well, actually one of them did walk over to me and slid a baseball bat behind the bar telling me to use it on him. "Are you nuts? He'll end up with it and I'll end up kinda dead." The dude did return but one of the owners was there talking to him and at quitting time I screwed up all the courage I could muster and walked out the door and home to my apartment.
The next night a young Puerto Rican walked up the the bar. "I saw what happened last night. If you want I can take care of him for you."
"Take care of him?"
"You know," he said with a wink and turning his fist into a pretend gun dropped the hammer. "Take care of him. Twenty dollars."
"That's alright. I think I can take care of myself."
He sized up my 5'6" frame as best as he could from the other side of the bar. "Suit yourself."
Roland, a waiter at the place overheard the conversation and said, "Smart move. If you'd said 'yes' he'd taken your money, looked up the other dude and you'd be the dead one for sure. For forty bucks."
On a previous occasion Roland came to my aid with a little street-wise advice. Seems a junkies girlfriend had died a block away. She had been stuffed in the trunk of an abandoned car and now the police were investigating. Two plainclothes detectives came into the place working their way down the bar and headed my way. Roland walked over to me.
"Listen. Don't move. When they come up to you don't touch your body. Don't scratch or nuthin'. When they show you the picture of that junkie just say, 'No I've never seen the guy.' Nothin' else. That guy has friends here and any movement might be taken as a signal and they'll figure you for a snitch. They're crazy man and they'll kill you like they did her."
I did as I was told and lived to tell the tale.
By 1967 I talked or bluffed my way into advertising & soon found success designing ads
for businesses which appeared in The Village Voice every week for over four
years. That exposure lead to work designing covers for The East Village Other,
plus illustrations in various publications including The Fillmore East Program Guide,
Circus Magazine, WBAIs program guide, a set for the Film Advertisers
Association and sets for underground films. Early on I also managed to participate in two
group shows at the UN Building. But it was the ads I did in the Village Voice
which brought attention to my work. As a result I had two one man shows at Parente
Gallery, and a group show "The Art of Money" at the Chelsea Gallery were my work
appeared alongside Andy Warhol, Larry Rivers and other really famous artists.
I had a grand time as a freelance artist earning in 1969 about $35,000. I would lunch at the Museum of Modern Art and the books, magazines, meal and cab fare were all tax deductions.
Limbo, my primary client, had an agreement with the Fillmore East. Their folks could buy clothes at wholesale and the employees of Limbo could get into the Fillmore for free. I saw The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, and Jimi Hendrix just to name a few.
Ironically, this success lead to my disenchantment with the "Art" world. I realized that unless I promoted myself at the expense of my work by attending the right parties and showing up in the right places I would never climb any further up that ladder. Also, if I did and was successful the best I could hope for would be less than a decade of acceptance before the new trend for the next decade swept everything else aside.
It was about this time I married Carolyn Livingston [right]. Our first child, Lisa, was born Mongoloid and died within three months. (More here) A year later were were blessed with a very healthy child, David .
Soon I found myself frequenting the American Indian Museum, reading about Native Americans in the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue. My interest in modern art was slipping away. I longed for the open spaces of Texasits rugged hills, clear skies and down home people.
San Marcos 1970-1976
|In 1970 I returned to Texas and
resumed my education at Southwest Texas State College. The GI Bill wasnt enough
income to support a family, so I worked on campus as a lab instructor and teachers
assistant. A year later my wife took off with a fellow named Kenny Cofffin leaving me to
raise our son, David, alone. After two years she contacted me asking if David to come to
Connecticut to stay with her and her parents during dead week and finals. I agreed. He
never returned. After successfully defending myself in a removal of custody case in New
England (I now had custody in two states), she disappeared. It would be ten years before I
would see my son, David, again.
My inlaws threatened that if I contested the case they would turn me in to the Veterans Administration. You see, after Carolyn left I was supposed to report the divorce which would have cut my income by exactly the same amount that I was paying for day-care. Both my parents and my inlaws recommended that I keep the divorce a secret. I refused to be blackmailed. They reported me and I lost the GI Bill. My attorney combined my writ of habeus corpus with Carolyn's appeal (and there is more here).
I don't know if anyone who has never experienced the death of a child and the kidnapping of another can understand, but I never carried or kept photos of either of them in plain view. They were reminders too painful to see every day.
As of this writing Dave Kennedy is a staff photographer for the San Francisco Examiner with more than a dozen awards to his credit. His work has appeared in People Magazine, The New York Post, and USA Today, just to mention a few.
After I returned from winning the court case (with nothing to show for it but bills) I learned I was persona non grata in the Art Department at SWTSU. My liberal politics and co-editorship for The Weather Report, an off-campus newspaper finally exacted its price. Also that semester I helped organize the Student Campaign Committee and ran for City Council. I knew there was no chance of winning; we registered students to vote as our intent was to count student votes to use as political leverage the coming year. We captured thirty percent of the vote.
The following year I ran a second time. That was more than the conservative chairman of the Art Department could tolerate. I was "replaced" by another student. It was during that campaign a student who resembled me had been hired to distribute me campaign materials in moderate neighborhoods, insult people, etc. Two years later I learned from my "replacement" that he was the one hired to distribute the materials. I lost that election by fewer than 130 votes.
With little money to live on and no GI Bill, I quit college and began working for a variety of newspapers including The Austin-American Statesman where I served as a courtroom artist for two trials in San Marcos. Among the other publications I served as founder and editor of an entertainment tabloid "Rumors (Gossip, Lies & Dreams)", writer and artist for TV Scene and a writer for Other News, another off-campus, off-beat tabloid.
|THE TOO BITTER: The story begins around September,1974. At the time I was
a student at SWT living upstairs (far left) above what was a furniture store when a young
man stopped me on my way to Fat Friars. He introduced himself as Jeff Henry (currently of
Schlitterbaun) my new landlord. Jeff was fresh out of high school and informed me he was
opening a place called the Too Bitter. The name is a play on the word two bits 25
In high school Jeff had his own business owning and servicing games like foosball and pong. His plan was to fill the building with such machines, plus pool tables and the like. Jeffs father owned Landa Resort in New Branunfels and gave him the choice of college or starting a business. Jeff decided he wanted to go into business and his dad financed the start-up.
We gotta talk, I said and told Jeff he should rethink his plan. Listen, I explained, do you want to make quarters or dollars? The place is likely to fill up with young kids from the Gary Job Corps and high school students with change in their pockets and a host of problems. Or, you could turn it into a club and restaurant and attract the college crowd with real money to spend.
I went on to explain that the interior with its mezzanine could overlook the stage and given the size of the structure he could pack them in the place. As it turned out the legal capacity was over 640.
He wanted to know if Id like a job. I asked for free rent and $100 week after taxes. That was pretty good pay at the time at least for me and Jeff agreed and I was hired as one of three managers, the other being a couple with the wife as personnel manager and the husband as construction manager.
Our first problem was getting an on-premises beer and wine license and for that we needed a zoning change. I had narrowly lost a city council election earlier that year and knew we didnt have the votes on the council to approve the rezoning. After some deliberation I came up with a plan. Two of the recently elected councilmen were certain to vote against the change unless they were convinced to either abstain or vote for the proposition. One was an electrician and the other was in the refrigeration business. If they responded as I expected we would get the zoning change. What to do? Hire them. Needless to say the plan worked.
Meantime I was busy designing the interior beginning with the mural behind the stage with the motto: Art is for Mans Sake, Support the Arts for Your Sake [Below: A photo of the mural in the abandoned building that housed the Too Bitter taken in 2003]. Then the columns supporting the mezzanine and a freeze above the columns with a rose motif were designed. The front doors received a like treatment.
bartop and tables were another spark of innovation. Jeff and the construction manager had
harvested huge tree trunk stumps to support the tables. But the tops were another problem.
I knew the city sanitation manager (Romero Lugo?) and he informed me that they were
hauling away large quantities of wooden pallets to the dump. I asked if we could have
them. He agreed with the stipulation that they had to be off the sidewalk within ten
minutes. With my promise, they were delivered until I yelled Uncle.
In the beginning we served lunch and everyone was so busy there was no time for work on the exterior. Before long, The Too Bitter was so successful that several problems began to worry me. One was the noise level. I couldnt stand to be in the place for long so I stationed myself at the entrance checking ID cards to head off another of our major problems at the pass. Meantime, I was hearing complaints from the waitresses that the hanging lights above the tables were being turned off by the customers and it was difficult for the help to make change. I suggested cutting off the chains hanging from lights but Jeff insisted that the customers comfort came first.
The final straw came when Jeff held a staff
meeting and said that three of us would have to compete for the honor of manager. The
other two would have to go. I was relegated to working behind the bar. Needless to say I
was none too happy with the situation. Apart from my instrumental efforts already
mentioned, I designed the menu, flyers and ads for the place while attempting to insure we
werent beyond capacity, and other tasks such as meeting with the Chief of Police to
keep uniformed officers from their walk-throughs during the evening.
P.S. Here is a short list of the bands that played at the Too Bitter: Marcia Ball, Blood, Sweat & Tears (with David Clayton Thomas), Joe King Carrasco, Steve Fromholtz, Greezy Wheels, Gary Lewis & The Playboys, Augie Meyers, Michael Murphy, The Neville Brothers, The Police (yeah, as in Sting), Doug Sahm, St. Elmo's Fire, Van Wilkes, Wommack Brothers. Oh I almost forgot the chick band, Lickety Split.
Marble Falls 1976-1978
|Everything seemed to be wearing down and out. I decided to move to Marble Falls where I found work designing ads for The Highlander, which was the largest weekly in the state at that time. The work proved to be less than a challenge and far from interesting -- and the pay was lousy. The Highlander was the first weekly in the state to computerize. I learned to use the huge and cumbersome Compugraphic system which came in handy when I decided, after a year, to return to New York City. I had met and started dating a writer for the newspaper, Suzanne Brown, and when I told her I was leaving she pouted so I invited her to come along and she did.|
New York City 1978-1980
|Back in New York my first job was creating maps
for a series of books Inns in various regions of the U.S., Canada, England and Ireland.
Then, by virtue of my experience with Compugraphic, I worked as a typesetter for Consumer
Electronics publications which paid well but at best it was boring. During this time
Suzanne had enrolled in NYU and started her higher education.
A friend, Skip Bushby, and I teamed up and began working as a subcontractor for interior construction projects. We worked on Bette Midlers loft although I never met her. One noonhour while all the other workers had gone out for lunch I sat in the loft alone eating lunch when I heard a voice say "Iry". When I turned around I realized I was still alone. Iry is what Mom, Grandma Rosa and other family members called me. When I returned to the apartment on Cleveland Place Suzanne told me she had received a call that Grandma Rosa had passed away earlier that day.
Following that job Skip and I were employed by Diane Keaton for several weeks. She was delightful and as dedicated a person as any I have known. Buy this time I was longing for Texas again and haunted by memories of camping trips at Enchanted Rock. I decided to return. While on the service elevator with Diane she asked me why I was returning to Texas. "Thats where my subject matter is." I replied and she understood. My friends thought I was just nuts. The next job was to be for Dustin Hoffman.
|Suzanne, my significant other and I settled in to a duplex near the airport. She went to UT and I worked the night shift at Best Printing. I didn't have any luck with the want ads and after passing Best Printing a few times I decided to walk in with my portfolio. With samples of my published work and my knowledge of Compugraphic I was hired on the spot and created a one-man night shift where I would typeset copy in one room, walk around to the next and paste-up the result. After nine months our son Brian was born and I begged off the night shift and they agreed. I worked for a year in Austin at Best Printing where my production skills for books and magazines were honed to a fine edge. A little booklet I designed for fun landed me a job at SWTSU with the Institute for Criminal Justice Studies.|
San Marcos 1981-1983
|The ad for the job opening ICJS placed
didnt mention any degree requirement, and after hiring me they found out to their
dismay my highest diploma was from Belton High School. At their insistence I was required
to complete my BA during my lunch hour. I was more than happy to comply. Twenty four years
after entering Southwest Texas Teachers College I graduated from Southwest Texas State
After I was there about a week a woman who headed up the public information office for the university tried to get ICJS to fire me. "You don't know who you hired," she was reported to have said, explaining that I was some wildeyed radical certain to bring disaster or at least controversy to the organization. I wasn't fired but it was clear that even a decade later and I was still paying the price for advocating such radical notions as encouraging young folks to vote, trying to get transportation for the elderly, a leagal aid facility for the poor and other equally dangerous notions.
Marble Falls 1984-1987
a couple of years with ICJS I moved to Marble Falls where I worked for Highland
Publications. Among other tasks I was the first art director for Texas Fish
& Game (more on that later). I also worked as a free-lance writer for The
Highlander Newspaper (this time in the editorial department) where I won two awards
from the National Newspaper AssociationFirst and Second Place in Environmental
Coverage. (These awards would prove to be the kiss of death preventing me from getting
hired a few years later with several Austin newspapers. Seems I was considered a loose
cannon in the journalism business. And environmental groups didn't want to hire me because
I was more useful if I found employment in journalism.)
Highland Publications was another dead-end job. Getting a raise was impossible. Being salaried meant no overtime (I was putting about 60 hours a week) and our young son Brian was being shuffled about by two working parents. I quit after about six months and began free-lance writing and painting. During that period I was published by Texas Highways and Texas Monthly. Soon our son Kevin was born and I became known as "Mr. Mom" because I worked at home, took care of the house and the children.
I don't think anything ever irritated me more than being called "Mr. Mom" while Suzanne was "Super Mom". Forget that I was being published in major magazines, winning national awards in journalism, being interviewed by TV and radio stations about Enchanted Rock and selling paintings for $1,200 to $1,600 each. And taking care of baby Kevin. Because of Suzanne's position as editor of The Highlander we attended numerous functions and the word was out. I was the care-giver of our children. I was Mr. Mom. That was that and it came up everywhere we went and it set the tone for the way I was treated socially, which is to say the men pitied me and the women envied Suzanne.
|In 1987 Suzanne and I moved to
Austin and were divorced almost immediately. Suzanne had been having an affair with
David Freeman, the general manager of the Lower Colorado River Authority. Divorced and
unemployed I moved into a little place on La Casa Street just off South Lamar. I was
out of work for three months and to this day I don't understand how I survived. I
was devastated by the divorce and everything that went with it. Suzanne and I had
joint custody which meant that Brian and Kevin were being shuffled about so fast in the
beginning that some mornings they didn't know where they were when theyS woke up.
I can remember so vividly how hectic it was when they were with me and how desolate when they were gone. One evening they left their toy cars and men on the floor poised in some kind of unfinished game. I stared at the arraignment for hours undecided as to whether I should put them away or leave everything as it was and pretend they were just in their bedroom sleeping.
Knowing that my first child died and my oldest son David had been kidnapped by his mother and disappeared for a decade, Suzanne promised me she "would never take the boys away." In 1989 she and David moved to Sacramento taking the boys with them. Although I was allowed visitation three or four times a year, sometimes for several weeks, it was agony. It's been a decade of frequent tears and good-byes. It's more than a soul should bear. And we carry the scars that never have a chance to heal.
Finally, I found work at The American Botanical Council where I was brought onboard to convert a newsletter into a magazine. Five years later the magazine HerbalGram was a full color quarterly publication with international distribution from Australia to Zaire.
Enchanted Rock 1990-1995
|While working for the American Botanical Council I decided to take a camping
trip to Enchanted Rock and coutinue work on my history of the place which had bees shelved
for the last two years. My plans were derailed when I discovered an empty house on
the roadside adjacent to state park. I asked around and discovered the place was for
lease. Now all I had to do was to convince the owners in Houston and my boss in
Austin that I was perfect for the place and only they could make it happen.
When I brought up the subject with my boss, Mark Blumenthal, he said, "Well it looks like you're going to need a fax machine and computer." Everything fell into place. I signed the lease and was preparing for the move when on the way home from work on Hwy 183 in North Austin I had a wrecked my car while trying to avoid a wreck.
The police officer was very understanding but issued me a ticket anyway for an illegal lane change. The other car wasn't damaged at all but my year-old Geo was a mess. The officer said I should go to traffic court and get the ticket dismissed while informing me that he wouldn't be able to be there because he was going to Desert Storm. Well that worked and as luck would have it the Chevrolet dealer in Austin agreed to let me trade the wreck in for another new car as long as I didn't make an insurance claim. ( I learned later that if there is no claim there is no wreck and the car could be repaired and sold as used to another unfortunate buyer.)
I moved to the 680-acre XLN Ranch next to Enchanted Rock and was somewhere between the top of the world and heaven. I had to attend meetings once a week in Austin but the rest of the time mine. I worked mostly in the evenings so I could explore the ranch while looking for arrowheads and taking pictures of The Rock and the surronding area.
While living there I met Beverley [left] at party in Fredericksburg. She was then living in Santa Fe, NM. After a few months of phone calls and visits we married and she moved to the XLN. The marrage was one of those which started out with greatest promise and ended within a year.
After five years at the ABC there were no new challenges. I was bored again I resigned. But now with no job and no prospects I moved into a travel trailer and with some $75 to my name started Enchanted Rock Newsletter. Before the year was out it was Enchanted Rock Magazine and within five years it had distribution in 124 Texas counties and 26 states plus subscribers in Germany and Australia.
After years of research on Enchanted Rock and fullfulling
requests for educational talks on the place I not had a magazine and the opportunity to
begin publishing the history I had begin in 1980.
Now I was really on the outs and not long after the t-shirts I had been selling were discontinued and that revenue which helped finance the fledgling magazine was gone.
I'll never understand what really happened. I know the place was understaffed and overworked and my promotion of the place only exacerbated the issue. Strangely, my offer to recruit volunteers was soundly rejected. Then came the Clyde Bellecourt controversy. (more)
|The magazine was a rewarding experience which
brought me into contact with some remarkable people, excellent writers and a few notable
Native American leaders: Clyde Bellecourt, founder of the American Indian Movement, Looks
for Buffalo (Clyde Hand) a Lakota medicine man, and Wallace Coffee two term tribal
chairman for the Comanche Nation.
When I was a journalist back in the late 80s I covered city council and chamber of commerce meetings as well as court trials and local festivals in Burnet and Llano counties. Back they I always said Llano was the last place I would ever live. After moving there I decided, yes it would be the last place and I intended to become a very permanent resident. But after five years that all came to an abrupt end.
Sometime around 1997 I met Holly Scott and she moved in with me and hung in there for about five years. She was very instrumental in getting me to get my work on the Internet and later set up my domain name registration and web hosting business.
My computer which I had inherited from the American Botanical Council started to crash -- it had terminal alzhimers and there was nothing to do but spring for new equipment. The internet had been getting my attention so I begain reading anything I could find on the topic. In Llano that meant buying the extremely limited number of magazines on the topic. (Understand, you couldn't even buy a dictionary in town.) Within a few months I had the computer but we were living two miles from the nearest telephone line on the second dirt road to the right. Holly contacted the phone company and two months later she managed to badger them into dropping in a land line through miles of granite.
Once everything was in place I designed my first site www.texfiles.com and I must tell you it was one of the biggest thrills of my life. And with that I began building a very extensive community web site. I had a page for the local movie, museum, real estate, lodging, restaurants, history, etc. A TV station out of Austin saw the quality of the site and traded TV advertising for a link to their site. I was on top of the world.
Now here comes the bad part. After my site was up the local Economic Development Council hired Glocal Vantage a consulting firm out of Austin to promote tourism and the first and practically only thing they did was create a dumb and ugly web site and give away free sites (pages) to local businesses. I protested. Talk about unfair competition. I took out a half page ad in the Llano News explaining what I believed was happening. I was threatened with a law suit while being subjected to a petition to take off all the information about the controversy I had posted on the Internet; and there was even a letter writing campaign to Centeral Texas Electric Co-op, my Internet Service Provider to dump my site. CTEC decided I was not worth fighting over. While they didn't drop my site I lost all of the subcontracting work I was getting from them for web design.
Then the city manager invited me to a council workshop to discuss the issue. When I arrived, with my young son Kevin ( I wanted him to see democracy in action ) I was told there would be no comments from the audience. What transpired was nothing less than a kangaroo court. I became the topic of discussion among the City Concil, the Development Council, and Glocal Vantage. Misrepresentations, half truths and outright lies were being tossed around. I raised my hand slightly in a weak effort to defend myself. One of the development members who had already threatened to put me out of business if I spoke up against any issue he held near and dear turned abruptly around and shouted "Yes Ira." Someone sitting next to him placed their hand on his arm to calm the angry man down and the meeting resumed. I walked out with Kevin. When we returned to the ranch I told Holly what happened and she said, "It's time to move."
It only took me 24 hours to agree. I understood I was an outsider and that would never change. A few months earlier I sold Enchanted Rock Magazine to a competitor. I was again persona non grata in a community and the years of groveling it would take to erase that was, as you probably understand by now, not in my nature. I integrated llanotexas.com into texfiles.com and in the process much of the community informaion was deleted. It took us until July 1 find a place and move move to San Marcos
I learned a really hard lesson in Llano. Despite publishing the first magazine ever to come out of that community and promoting Llano at every turn with articles and ads; and then creating a community web site at my own initative I was still a marginal member of the community. No one stood up publicly in my defense. I didn't belong and figured never would.
San Marcos 2001-2003
|Throughout the 70s, 80s & 90s it has been my interest in and service to Enchanted Rock (which actually began in the early 60s) that has brought me the greatest rewards and most significant personal growth. MORE AND MORE (tourin texas)|
| After leaving San Marcos I
returned to the Hill Country and Llano County. Unable to find a permanant place to
live LC Schnider called me and asked if I would like to move back to the Triple Creek
Ranch. Would I ? Located six miles direct line north of Enchanted Rock the
place is remote and quiet. A great place to live in quite contemplation, economic
stress, and other life pleasures.
In January 2006 I met Kathy over the Internet. After several weeks of phone calls we finally got together and since then we have been as inseperable as a four-hour drive between us permitted. I had never left the country on vacation, ever. Back in 1964 I was told by a palm reader that if I stayed "in the arts" I would live a long live and die in a forgien country. Kathy had been to Isla Mujeres, just off the coast of Cancun, Mexico, before and wanted to return -- with me. What was I do to but take my chances? It goes without saying I lived through the adventure and had the most incredible experience. The highlight of the trip was dinner on the beach -- literally. At my request a table was set up just a few feet from the water, tiki torches and candles, courteous wait staff in attendance... like in a movie.
Kathy and I were married in Santa Fe on September 25, 2008. After all these years I have finally found a vital and loving relationship. Kathy's sense of color, from flower gardens everywhere to remarkably creative decisions on how to paint the interior of our home was transformational. She moved in with me at Triple Creek and after we fixed the place up, painting all the rooms, installing a new kitchen floor, etc., L.C. announced that he was selling the place. Kathy insisted that we start looking for another place right away, which seemed a little overanxious. But, as usual, she was right. Through her work at Edward Jones we located another place in the country. Bigger & better without all the dirt roads. Naturally we painted every room, refinished the floors, laid a concrete paver patio in the back yard, on and on....
While I still work for others on their websites, after a decade of that I am pretty bored and moving onto other adventures. And though I promised myself I would never do anything professional in print again I am (as of November 2009) starting another magazine: Lone Star Quarterly. I reckon I have ink in my blood...
To be continued...
Lisa lives only in my memory along with the one and only brief
smile she ever managed. David is on the brink of a remarkable career in photography. Brian
is off on the adventure of manhood. Kevin and I now talk via phone most every day although
our visits are becoming more and more infrequent.
Setting aside all my losses, and all the injustices real or percieved. I have been blessed. Lisa's death made all life precious. And my three sons are fixed in my heart as surely as Orion's Belt is fixed in the heavens.
From my earliest memories art and poetry have served as my closest companions. As they serve me, I serve them. And from that I know this: It is only through the Arts we reach our highest potential as humans. And what greater honor can there be beyond service to that calling?
And my sons remember, although this voice will not last forever, I live a longer life through each of you. Look in any mirror and I am there in many subtle ways. Look into your hearts, look deeper, into your souls and I am there as well, for you are of me. My poets. My sons. I love you boys, with all my heart. Dad.
in a tent near San Saba, Ira Kennedy is a fifth generation Texan of Cherokee-Irish
descent. Growing up in numerous locations from Japan to Germany, his experiences are as
diverse as his talents. Ira served as a cryptographer in the U.S. Navy, exhibited with
Andy Warhol in New York, and received several writing and photojournalism awards in Texas.