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Home Columns View from Denver Too late to say thank you

Too late to say thank you

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Dick Gould on the eve of his reporting assignment in Nicaragua, 1984.TRUE enough, there is much — indeed, an overabundance — of happy moments to recall. Absurd moments. Fun. Craziness. Youthful hijinks. Also, deep discussions, and mutual amazement at mutually incompatible life paths, diverging from a single seedbed of friendship.

Enough of abstractions. They don’t fit the nature of the friendship.

Shall we start with the alleys of downtown Denver?

Magically, somehow, my mother’s car was available every afternoon. We were young. I hadn’t a clue as to what it must have taken for my mom to make her car available every day after school for months at a time.

Dick Gould and I headed downtown every day after high school to try to sell advertising for the high school newspaper we intended to publish in the summer of 1963, which we named The Inquirer. We could think of no other way to pay for it.

We had no funds, certainly not for parking. So, as we were navigating between establishments — two unknown teenagers trying to gain entrance without appointment to upscale business owners in downtown Denver — my mom’s car was illegally hugging the alley walls of Denver office buildings.

In the two half-years we did this — the second semester of my junior and senior years, which was the second semester of Dick’s sophomore and junior years — we never got a ticket.

Denver wasn’t as big, or busy, back then.

To our advertising pitches, we received a lot of “no’s” and rejoiced in the rare “yes’s.” There were enough of them to cover our printing expenses (and, yes, to pay my mom for what we calculated as gas expenses).

IN what was then a somewhat rundown Denver neighborhood, on about 19th Ave. and Lincoln St., was Les Tarot. It passed for a beatnik coffee house. Hanging around there a bit, Dick and I befriended Nicholas (Nick) DeScoise, who, just a couple of years older than we were, was already a photo phenom. If I recall correctly, he had already been published in Life magazine, the reigning arbiter of photographic taste and prestige in the US at the time.

Nick took a liking to us and, I guess, was impressed with the newspaper we published in 1963. He volunteered to do the magazine covers for our planned magazine, Tempo, in 1964. I no longer have the original prints, only some well worn copies of the magazine itself, the reproduction of whose covers is further degraded through the scanning process. Even so, take a look at the one cover produced on this page. These covers were art pieces.

Read the IJN editorial eulogizing Dick Gould

Allen Bell also took a liking to us. Owner of Golden Bell Press, he extended credit to us for three magazines. Even though we paid him, he definitely did not earn a profit, given the extensive rewriting and endless corrections that we, as novices, submitted to him.

On our side was Andy Fridlund, Bell’s plant foreman, who kept telling Bell that adults needed to invest in kids, that some day these kids, meaning us, would bring him some real business. We never did, but Bell did have faith in youth, and Fridlund kept Bell from making the eminently reasonable demand to increase his original bid to print Tempo.

The truth is, we were having too much fun to notice — a point worth remembering by teachers of youth, who are too immature, oblivious or simply inexperienced to absorb and acknowledge the true scope of the kindnesses extended to them.

Part of the fun, no doubt, was awakening one July morning in 1964 to find ourselves pictured in, and our magazine featured in, Time magazine.

YESHIVA study is based on chavrusas, study partners — people who critique each other’s thought processes in trying to comprehend a Talmudic text. Dick Gould and I were “writing chavrusas.” We had the same “rebbe” — the same journalism mentor — and then we went at it on our own, and together. A word about that teacher is in order.

Robert N. Rothstein was a hard-boiled veteran of the old Brooklyn Eagle who somehow ended up teaching creative writing and journalism at George Washington High School in Denver. He believed in freedom of the press. He believed in teenagers, in their potential, in the need to let them sail as far as their talents would take them; and if, along the way, they made mistakes, he believed they would have to take responsibility for them. As we ran the student newspaper, he let us do what we wanted. Usually, we succeeded admirably, for which he took no credit. But when we occasionally stumbled, he would not step in to blunt the criticism or discipline dished out by the administration. No in loco parentis for Robert N. Rothstein.

He convinced us that as the newspaper won awards year after year, it was we who did it. He was just along for the ride — that was the atmosphere he created. Hard-boiled — also, mischievous, humorous, creative, demanding, fun, sensitive. He went on to a distinguished career as a college professor in Texas, and 30 years after we last saw him, students of “Mr. R” gathered in Denver from around the country to honor him. We said “thank you” to  Robert Rothstein before it was too late. Among those in attendance were Dick Gould and myself. Now, I write to say thank you to Dick Gould, even though it is too late. He died suddenly a week ago Sunday.

IN those springs and summers of 1963 and 1964, as the Civil Rights movement exploded all around us, Gould and I struggled to write magazine pieces. These were way beyond our practice and training. But using the principles that Robert Rothstein had taught us — get the facts, listen, be fair, put yourself in the interviewee’s shoes — we interviewed a lot of people, patiently critiqued each other’s offerings, and encouraged each other in the face of the twin challenges of deadlines and writer’s block.

If I recall correctly, it was I who did a piece on a young black student, Ronald Fisher by name, who dropped out of high school; and it was Dick who did the piece on the effects of integration in Denver high schools.

Even back then, in contacting students outside our social and educational circle, Gould picked up on the class tensions that would later dominate much of his life’s interests and work. For example, in a sports column about the football team at West High School, which regularly lost by scores of 41-6 and 50-0, and about the swimming team at West, which posted an even worse record, Gould knew enough to probe beneath the seemingly simple “good team vs. bad team” profile suggested by lopsided scores and terrible win-loss records. He quoted the school’s swimming coach, Jack Girtin:

“In swimming, the boys are pretty practical about losing; it doesn’t bother them too much. When they look over on the other side of the pool and see those guys who have been swimming and training since they could walk, they can’t help but realize they don’t have much of a chance. You really can’t blame them for taking losses easily. Ask yourself how you’d react.”

I RECENTLY ran across a passage by Doris Kerns Goodwin about Abraham Lincoln and his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton:

“No two men were ever more utterly and irreconcilably unlike,” Stanton’s private secretary, A. E. Johnson, observed, “ . . . Lincoln was as calm and unruffled as the summer sea in moments of the gravest peril; Stanton would lash himself into a fury over the same condition of things. Stanton would take hardships with a groan; Lincoln would find a funny story to fit them. Stanton was all dignity and sternness, Lincoln all simplicity and good nature . . . yet no two men ever did or could work better in harness. They supplemented each other’s nature, and they fully recognized the fact that they were a necessity to each other.”

Neither were Dick and I dealing with matters of high moment, such as a Civil War, nor were our differences as stark as those of Lincoln and Stanton. Dick, calm and unruffled, could be stern, and I, stern, could tell a funny story, and vice-versa. Yet, there is something in that precisely chiseled description — especially its end, about working in harness and recognizing that they were a necessity to each other — that captured our unlikely partnership as co-publishers at ages 17 and 18, and 18 and 19.

Dick became a writer, as did I. Though we were very different, both of our writing careers originated from Mr. Rothstein and from our writing chavrusa of 1963 and 1964. To my knowledge, neither Dick nor I ever took a formal writing course beyond high school. To us, writing was something you worked at more than something you studied. We spent hundreds of hours talking about our individual writing challenges, and critiquing and correcting each other’s efforts. Now, it is too late to say thank you, not least for the bond that a formative writing chavrusa created.

When the end of the summer loomed, so did the end of Tempo, as I was headed off to college in Berkeley and Dick was going back to George Washington for his senior year. But because of that Time write-up (and others in the Denver Post), we had achieved a certain notoriety, and we actually had offers to buy the magazine. With the help of the late Sam Freeman, an attorney who did the legal work pro bono, we sold Tempo for $700 to Arnie Grossman. We paid our debts and each pocketed a little money.

AT this point, I am less sure-footed, since, over the years, the  contact between Dick and me greatly diminished.

A year ahead of Dick in school, I went off to college. After high school, he delayed college in order to take a tour de horizon of America, coast to coast. He showed up one fine day at Yeshiva College (to which I had transferred from Berkeley) and we had a glorious reunion. Skipping ahead, jumping over many years and events, Dick eventually became a high school teacher himself, and cab driver.

Dick loved driving a cab because he needed rest from his intellectual labors, and he enjoyed being with “the people.” Blessed with a great capacity to put himself in the shoes of others, he enjoyed listening to people’s stories. When tensions loomed, Dick could always fall back on what he described to me as the mostly tension-free, and reliable, job of cab driving.

I deeply regret never having visited Dick teaching high school social studies. Something tells me he was as good a motivator as Mr. R.

As I look at what seem to me to be distinctions in our life paths, I can almost hear Gould like it was in the old days, critiquing my writing. I almost feel him looking over my shoulder and saying, “maybe you missed a nuance here” or “got that wrong” or “left this out” or “didn’t ask an important question.”

Our lives might seem to be a series of contrasts, arising out of the same seedbed, like different colored and shaped flowers growing in one garden.

On the one hand, Gould built on his youthful attempts at quasi-biography and quasi-social commentary in The Inquirer and Tempo magazine to pen an award-winning biography of the late Denver human rights activist, Richard Castro. On the one hand, I remained more in the strictly journalistic mode, also branching out to academic writing — and finding meaning in writing in a memoiristic mode, too.

On the one hand, Dick used to say he would not get married until he was 39. And, in fact, that’s just how it worked out, when he married his wonderful life partner and soul mate, Susan Kaplan. On the other hand, by the time Elaine and I were 39, we had five children.

On the one hand, Dick was deeply troubled by the Vietnam War and by the concept of the “good German” who never stood up to Hitler. It is almost impossible to resummon for today’s young people the tensions and terrible choices that the Vietnam war imposed on young people then. Dick, characteristically seeking the truth, wherever it might lead,   came to the conclusion that he must stand up, must not duck out to Canada or with a fake deferment. He must take a stand, going to jail rather than to Vietnam. Elaine and I admired Dick’s courage and visited him in prison in Arizona

On the one hand, Dick was raised in a secular home, and was amazed at how I embraced religion. On the other hand, I was amazed that Dick, at the time, could navigate life without Shabbos. We talked a lot about religion. Didn’t debate, or argue. Just talked. Dick, whose opinions could be strongly held and were always well thought out and, even then, still subjected by him to further critique, did not argue. He was too gentle for that. Much later, Dick did find meaning in celebrating Shabbos with his family. And instinctively, he certainly found meaning in the musar tradition — Jewish ethics and character-building — which neither he nor I had heard of when we were co-publishers.

On the one hand, I ended up as a disciple of many musar personalities, and have written many studies of musar thought and lives. Dick, to my knowledge, never undertook these studies, but, more important, embodied some of musar’s finest teachings: humility, the ability to listen and to put others before oneself. People sense when another person is authentically kind and compassionate to the core. To the funeral of this school teacher, cab driver, activist and author came hundreds of people. He had taken the time and had the knack for that rare commodity —friendship — and that rarer quality —empathy.

DICK developed a love for the Spanish language and an identification with the Chicano populace. Perhaps that’s because in Denver the Chicano (or Latino or Hispanic) populace is the largest minority, and Dick’s caring about the downtrodden would naturally take him to Chicanos. Be that as it may, by the 1980s Dick had developed a certain fluency in Spanish and a distinct interest in Spanish culture and Central American conflicts and politics. So we got together and arranged for Dick to be a correspondent for the Intermountain Jewish News in Nicaragua in 1984, during the civil disturbances there.

Writing from Managua, Dick, typically, had an eye for the poor, and for the conditions without whose improvement, by whatever means, a society could not move forward. He wrote:

“Walk the streets of any Nicaraguan city and you will find dressmakers operating foot-powered sewing machines in their own homes, shoemakers stitching leather in their tiny shops, market women and their children by the thousands selling wares out of rented stalls. You will discover restaurants located in private living rooms and a multitude of corner stores selling Cokes, sweet bread and perhaps a handful of pocket combs.”

Just a few months ago, Dick closed a circle by returning to Nicaragua for the first time in 26 years and reuniting with his host, Luis Rodriguez Moreno, about whom he had written in his IJN series:

“On the day of my arrival a little lost pig wandered into the Moreno living room, stumbled into a fight with the dog and required a rescue operation from kids who were torn away from their favorite cartoon show on TV. I mention this because every ordinary detail on the dusty roads that lead to the Moreno household testifies to the profound clash of historical forces now in process. . . . Even the dogs, who roam at will, have that lean, gaunt look.”

DICK Gould died suddenly in the wee hours, caring for an ill person when it was 12 degrees below zero. That was Dick.

In his biography of Richard Castro, he described Castro’s sudden death, then wrote:

“Representative Tony Hernandez stood up before the state legislature, where he announced to a stunned and tearful crowd that Castro had just received last rites. Rich Castro died much loved and very young. A cerebral hemorrhage — a ruptured blood vessel in the brain — took his life at age forty-four. Mayor Pena ordered city flags lowered to half-mast. Governor Roy Romer issued the same order for flags at state buildings.”

For Richard Gould, much loved, whose passing has left many stunned and tearful, and at whose own last rites people sought some explanation, some consolation, some way to preserve the beautiful memories, the flags are flying half mast.

Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Last Updated ( Friday, 21 June 2013 12:31 )  

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