Memoirs of Elihu King

Eli Home | Roots | Childhood | Adolescence | Young Warrior | Imperialist | And After... | Philosophy

Chapter 1a: CHILDHOOD

From birth to age 14, 1928-1942

I was born at a time when the theories of a psychologist named Watson were current and widely accepted as a guide to bringing children up. Apparently Watson was a behaviorist who held that demand feeding trained little babies to be demanding and so scheduled feeding was the order and if the little bastards cried for food it would be bad to reward crying behavior by feeding them. Hugging was bad, it was too stimulating. So I was fed on a schedule, and never hugged.

God damn and blast those theories and may they rot in hell.

I don't blame Israel and Miriam for following them. They were "intelligent" and "progressive" and so did what they were told by the authority figure. In both their cases, they were so shielded in their emotions and so afraid to display them that the sodding theory marched well with their sodding personal styles. I think, overall, that they didn't want a child. No blame.

Miriam told me when I was in my 50s that she had no background to have a child, and nobody to help her cope with a baby. Israel had alienated her family - pushed them away and overtly forbidden her to see them, and anyway she had no feelings of being a daughter or in fact a part of her family. Her little sister Lela, then in her teens, snuck over to help when Miriam broght me home - but she had no knowledge or skills either.

Israel was always more able to relate to others at a distance - even with the children in Meir Shfeyah - or keep control by playing the "dominant" or "rescuer" role as he did with Berenica. As to Miriam it is significant to me that she sent all three sons away from her when we were small boys (though there were existential reasons, of course, and she's always been strong at foreclosing criticism). At this perspective it seems clear. Both acted towards me with a certain air of deference once I was a man, a behavior that I now attribute partly to their (well justified) feelings of guilt.

No wonder it took me years of psychotherapy before I learned to hug, and to this day am shy about it. No wonder my sexual problems relate to touching, and I invest sexuality with such inflated significance.

(But at least that was one mistake I didn't make with my kids. From the moment I first took each one in my arms, I hugged and stroked and kissed and hugged them. Thank you lord for that!)

I don't remember anything about how my mother treated me when I was little. I have a vague feeling of more "pals" than nurturing mother and very small son. She certainly betrayed me, probably because she was uncomfortable with having to tell me she was sending me away or going away from me, when she sent me off to boarding school without informing me that I would not be coming home that night, and when she left me in Chicago to go to Malaya and be Jonathan's wife. In both instances I remember no warning or explanation from her at all. When I asked her about it, not long ago, she said she had felt I was too young to have understood and so she said nothing.

I remember my father treating me with "reason", which meant that he "reasoned" with me in each situation until I "agreed" with his position.

When his new young wife, Berenica, decided it was not to her liking that I be in their home.......he hired Lela to take me to Los Angeles from Chicago, and keep me there. When Berenica joined the WAC, he unhesitatingly left me in Chicago (well I was 15, after all) to go to live in New York to be near her, with no concern about nor interest in me that I could see.

One strong, clear early memory. I was four. Israel and Gene Pines and I were walking along the shore of Lake Michigan in a howling gale. After a while, I was tired, and asked Israel to carry me. He refused. I begged and implored him, it had somehow become tremendously important to me emotionally - more than a matter of comfort for a tired little boy. Still he refused. This memory is one of the very few of have of that age, and remembering it always triggers a strong emotional reaction in me. Even now, my heart starts to pound and my breathing becomes difficult when I say or write it.

So it has always been clear to me how I ranked with him, though it is only in the last few years that I allowed myself to see that. Before........he was Father, he was like God, and it never occurred to me that he might have such human qualities as fear of closeness, or selfishness.

In his last years he came to love me and respect me when we related more as adults.......but Berenica was always his real baby and he did not find it in his heart to leave me any of this fortune.

As a bright and verbal child, in those early years in Chicago, Israel's friends loved me and played with me. Sam and Rose Shanoff, Edward and Sophie Nudelman, Leo and Ida Honor, the Panitchs, Sam and Matilda Gilbert, Harry Coopersmith....they were warm and friendly to me. And my aunts and uncles in Chicago: Zyama and Ethel, Pinhas and Elsie, and their children Bernie and Dov and Nonnie and Danny - they were truly family, even though we saw them only sporadically (well, maybe it seemed that way to me because I moved around so much). And after the earliest years, Julius and Anna were in my consciousness, and Nate and Emma and Dick.

I didn't have any child friends. I played with Aviva Shanoff, Judy Nudelman, Richard Zimberoff, Jerry Gilbert......but rarely.


I do not remember being born, nor anything before that.

I have no memories of my first trip to Palestine, at the age of 2 nor my return to Chicago at the age of 4, in 1931-32, nor anything during that period.

My first memories, insofar as I remember, are in Chicago in 1932 and 1933. I'm told that I went to the University of Chicago Nursery School or Kindergarten then. I very faintly remember that I was "in love" with a girl named Priscilla, in that I see myself in a round game choosing her ("Pussywillow, Pussywillow, I love YOU!") and giving her, in my heart, the nickname "Pussywillow". That's all.

The next memory may be out of sequence. Miriam and I were travelling - but it may have been back from Palestine rather than to it - in an Italian ship whose name I remember as "Conte di Savoia". We were in port, but the ship was rolling and we were both seasick. My memory is that the Purser of Chief Steward, some high official, brought us food in our cabin. Somehow my notion is that he and Miriam were lovers, or at least flirting. He brought us greasy food but swore it would help us get over the nausea. We ate it, and went upstairs....soon to dash down to the cabin to vomit and it seems to me that Miriam pushed me aside so she could vomit first.

In 1934, I was 6. We were living in Jerusalem, in a small apartment on the ground floor of a cool, stone courtyard. What I remember is getting up one morning and getting dressed to go to school for the first time. Miriam put me on the school bus, and off I went to Miss Kallen's School with no idea about anything. (It is clear to me now that Miriam did not tell me anything about what was going on, even though I was the one or at least a one to be sharply affected. I think she rationalized by imagining that I had no understanding or feelings). When school was over, all the kids who had come with me on the school bus in the morning got on the bus to go home; I got on with them, of course. Nobody had told me otherwise. The bus went through the city dropping off kids until I alone was left. The driver asked me where he was to drop me. I didn't know where I lived. I said something like "home", but the driver didn't know where my home was. He took me back to the school. There it became manifest that I was to live at the school, I was a boarder and not a day-student. Nobody had told me. Tears come to my eyes still now when I write about it over 50 years later. Nobody had told me that I was to not live at home with my mother, but stay at this alien place I had never seen before. Miriam had not taken me there to look it over, had not told me I was to live there. It was my first clue to my essential unlovable-ness, to being rejected by my parent. (I don't know if then I realized I had a father at all. Maybe I had already learned to block out feelings and painful perceptions).

At Miss Kallen's school - I hated it. I was among strangers, I didn't know what to do, I had nobody to hug me. True, I spent one night a week at "home" with Miriam, and sometimes she and Jonathan (who must have been her lover by then) would take me out on Wednesdays which were half-days at school. Something like that, anyway. I do remember going with them and another kid from the school to walk along the top of the Wall around the Old City.

At school I became sneaky. I stole cubes of sugar from the kitchen, was caught with sugar grains in my pockets. Once I stole some Ex-Lax, laxative that looked like chocolate, and my diarrhea gave me away. Once a larger kid, a German Jew I think, fell down and broke his leg. I hated him, he bullied me, and I disgraced myself by laughing when he was taken off to hospital. Perhaps I was a leader of a small coterie of younger kids, because I remember we hid from some activity on top of the flat roof of a garden shed and I was astounded to be caught by Miss Kallen, who apparently saw us from an overlooking (and overlooked by me) window in the main building. The main building, where we boarders lived and all had classes, was large and like all buildings in Jerusalem made of cool grey-gold Jerusalem stone, cut and dressed into 3' x 3' blocks. There was a school yard, a garden, and a stone wall around.

Some time in those years we, Miriam and I, visited my uncle and aunt in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, Asher and Aliza and their son David who was much (4 years or so) older than I. David taunted me because I refused to help him kill a chicken for dinner once. Aliza found me eating strawberries in her garden, and told that that was allright but I had to wash them in the nearby faucet first. After that I carefully held them near but not under a stream of water from the faucet - not washing them, pretending to....perhaps a rebellion but without the courage to face the consequences. I had become a sneaky kid, and no wonder since I didn't have any idea of what would happen to me and no security at all. I had been taken to Palestine, back to Chicago, back to Palestine, and dumped in a boarding school - all without any explanation or warning even at child level.

Another memory of that time. We were in Tel Aviv or Ramat Gan and it was too late to take the Jewish bus back to Jerusalem so we had to take the Arab bus. This was not altogether safe, I knew even then. Arabs had rioted and killed Jews in Palestine, in those days. Now I know about the massacre in Safad and other incidents, but even then I knew it was dangerous. The bus was dirty inside, and instead of rows of seats running across the width of the bus there were just two long benches, one on each side, running down the length of the bus. It smelled alien, too. We sat quietly, avoiding the meeting of eyes, all the way. But nothing happened to us.

My final memory of that time in Palestine was that we went to an Arab village, Abu Gosh, known to be friendly to Jews, for tea with the Sheikh - but other than being there in a large room with a lot of people I have no details.

We came back to the USA on the ss "Exachorda" and I remember being spoiled by the crew. I was allowed on the bridge once, and let hold the helm wheel.

Then we were back in Chicago. One day, my mother was no longer at home. She wasn't anywhere. She was gone. Nobody said anything to me about it. I was too scared to ask.

(Now I know that she had gone through a divorce from my father, had sought custody of me and been denied because she was going to Malaya to marry Jonathan and the court decided that it was best for me to stay in the USA with my father and Berenica who was to be his wife).

Another evidence that I was so awful that my mother couldn't stand being near me, or so it seemed to my 7 year old reading of the matter. Hell, I was so bad she hadn't even said good-by! That was pretty clear, all right.

So there was this stranger, Berenica. We lived in a house, I went to school with strangers, again the outsider. Since both Israel and Berenica worked (in the Jewish school system, in Chicago) they hired a housekeeper and she looked after me. Mrs. Dent was huge and grey and devoted to her dog. Dog was sick often, and Mrs. Dent and I spent lots of time in veterinarians' waiting rooms. Mrs. D cooked American, and I came to love her greybrown gravy over white bread - a dish I would find revolting now. Mrs D had a son in his late teens, who lived in an institution of some sort. Visiting her in our home on a pass once, he became irritated with me and taking up a large kitchen knife came at me. I ran around the diningroom table with him chasing me and yelling until his mother got him under control. I was scared, of course, but didn't think the incident all that significant. Still don't.

So I went to school and made some pals and ran around the back alleys. It was winter; I know because my nose would run in the cold and I remember the cuff of my jacket was stiff with snot. I stole things at the 5 & 10 Cent store, Woolworths, toy guns and stuff like that. Israel was against toy guns and wouldn't let me have one so I stole one.

Then one day a woman came and packed my suitcase and took me on a train and we travelled for a few days and got to Los Angeles. I didn't know her but she was my Aunt Lela. She and Uncle Jack were childless (though they much wanted children) and very poor, and I gathered that Israel and Berenica - since I was so horribly unlovable - paid her to take and keep me. Again, nobody said a fucking word about the situation, nor do I remember any farewell from I&B. One more piece of evidence of my essential poor quality, to my 7 year old mind. Since nobody wants a piece of shit I was passed from one to another as soon as they could get rid of me. No wonder.

Well, it is the end of 1935 and there I am in Los Angeles. At least there I got hugs. My maternal grandparents, Anna and Julius, often visited and like Lela and Jack they were good huggers.

And there was my first good friend, Bobby, Roberta Harrison, daughter to Jack's sister Rena and her husband Mike. Bobby and I were the same age, and soon became inseparable. We played in the backyard of the house on Malabar Street in Boyle Heights, then the Jewish section of town. There was a huge fig tree in the back yard, and sitting high in its broad branches I told Bobby stories and we played pretend. I was, I believe, a very good story teller and pretender even then. I went to school, but I don't remember it (Soto Street School?). I do remember shopping with Bubby on Brooklyn Avenue, walking and playing in Echo Park with the family on weekends.

Jack had a battery shop. One day (we were living in a little house in a court, this was before Malabar Street) he came home during the day with the flesh on one harm hanging in blackened ropes. He'd spilled acid on it. His main thought was that I should not tell Laikie (Lela) lest she be upset. I remember clearly how impressed I was with his bravery. Jack was always the soul of kindness and consideration to me and to everybody. I hold his memory warmly in my heart.

My Uncle Ben came to live nearby, with his wife Alice who scared the shit out of me (and rightly so) and I called her in my mind the Black Widow Spider. Ben was fond of me in his way, and would reward me for going to Brooklyn Avenue to buy his foul-smelling cigars by giving me a Nickel so I could buy myself a Nickel-a-Shtickle piece of salami, a real treat.


Late in my stay with her in Los Angeles, Lela organized a birthday party for me. A lonely kid except for dear Bobby Harrison, it was hard for her to round up a group of kids to attend. The site was Echo Park, and Lela devised lots of competitive games to keep us happy, with a little prize for the winner of each. In fact I won none. I was really indignant: whose birthday was this, anyway? In the style of the union actions with which I was so familiar, I made a non-negotiable demand of Lela. She must give me a duplicate of all the prizes that others got at my birthday. I carried on loudly about this, probably threw a fit. I believe that she agreed to do it.

As to my familiarity with union ways, that derived from the political orientation I absorbed from Lela and Jack, and of course Julius and Anna who were progressives too. We all loved the Workers Paradise, the USSR! What the hell did we know. I was enrolled in the Young Pioneers, where we wore red neckerchiefs and at the challenge "Are you ready?" we leaped to our feet, raised our clenched little left fists and chorused "Always ready!". Other than that, and a few hours here and there on a picket line, I have no memories of my days as a Marxist at 7 and 8.

At some time Israel sent for me to meet him and Berenica and Harry and Ethel Coopersmith at the Grand Canyon or some such place to join their cross country driving trip. At one point we all went for a horseback ride, my first. Harry and Ethel dropped out after a few hours, but I kept gamely on for the whole bloody day - bloody my underpants too from chafing. Damn horse knew he had a helpless little kid on board, and stopped to crop whenever he damned well wanted. It was very painful to me, and now I see it as an example of Israel's lack of good sense - and not the last. We drove to San Francisco and all the grown-ups went out after I assured Israel (with his talent for manipulation) that I would be allright alone in the hotel room. But after they left I got scared and tearfully phoned the front desk and they caught Israel just as he was leaving. He came back upstairs and we lay down together on the bed and talked, one of the few times in my life that I remember talking with him. We talked about philosophical matters, I don't remember what, but it was rich and precious to me.

On another visit he took me to the premier of Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", which scared the shit out of me and gave me nightmares for years. Not his fault.

Then one day, Miriam came to Los Angeles! From Malaya she came, with the infant Peter. He was a baby, and I loved him dearly. I learned to comfort him when he cried, rocking him in my arms and crooning "Ahhh, ahh, baaay-bee".

Miriam took me to Palm Springs for a while. There my distrust of adults was reinforced by a kind lady who seeing me splash around in the motel swimming pool decided to teach me to float. "Just lie on your back, little boy" quoth she, "and you will float". So I lay on my back and sank like a stone to the bottom of the pool. Screw that! Anyway, we had a pretty good time in Palm Springs. Miriam bought me a palm frond walking stick (very posh), and we saw a wonderful movie about submarines at war, with Chester Morris yet.

It was about then that my Uncle Ben, whose errands to get him stinking cigars I ran because he'd give me a nickel to spend on "nickel a shtickle" salami, pathetically played the Hora Staccata for me on his violin against the background of a recording of Heifetz doing it and implored me to agree that he, Ben, was the better of the two. His wife was Alice, whom I thought of as the Black Widow and who terrified me though in fact she never did me any harm.

Well........Miriam and Peter and I set off on the journey to Malaya where I was to live with them and Jonathan for a while. I had a tearful farewell with Bobby Harrison. We had asked our families if we could get married since we loved each other so much. We realized that we were young, 7 and 8, but felt that we really had thought things through and it would be all right. But it was not to be. On parting, I gave her a cigar band as an engagement ring and promised to come back for her some day, but I never did that.

Off we sailed, first on the American ss "Lurline" for Hawaii. A surly deck steward accused me of stealing ping pong balls, disregarding my tearful defence that I had only picked up the cracked discards off the deck. It was raining in Hawaii, and that's all I remember about it. We changed to the "Empress of Canada", Miriam raised a row and got us a bigger cabin, Peter was tended by a ship's nannie and I think he got burned on his arm, we went ashore in Japan, Yokahama I think it was and had a short tour in a taxi, we docked at Shanghai as the first foreign ship after the Japanese occupied the city. Finally we got to Penang, where Jonathan met us. He took us to Whiteaway, Laidlaw to get kitted out. I had to make do with a thick cork solar topee rather than the slim and dashing Police model I wanted, but was consoled by an ice cream soda.

We three drove down to Batu Gajah, the small town where he was stationed. The house seemed very grand, two storeys surrounded by wide verandahs (one let the chicks down - the bamboo shades - to keep out the afternoon sun), with a huge garden. There was also Sarah, a large, wire haired terrier sort of dog, very protective and affectionate. Sarah and I would go for walks down the dusty road from our house, keeping a sharp eye out for poisonous snakes of which there were many. I strolled with stick in hand, dressed in a white Aertex shirt and baggy long khaki shorts, high woolen stockings held up by rubber bands under the foldover at their tops, stout shoes - and of course my solar topee.

After a few months, we moved to Lumut. An even tinier town, it was on a bay and Pangkor Island was offshore. The Sultan of Perak kept a launch and crew at Lumut and we had the use of it for excursions and picnics on the island. Coming back from one such, a poisonous caterpillar fell on Jonathan's neck. It was very painful. We went to the nearest place where there was a European (Caucasian, that is), a rubber plantation, and the planter made Jonathan drink a hell of a lot of gin as a remedy, and poured some over the irritated spot too. It seemed to work, after a while.

While in Lumut I was invited to use a kayak that some German adventurer had paddled from Germany to Malaya. I went out in it, terrified of the poisonous sea snakes and sharks that really were very numerous in those parts, but I felt I should not show fear. Sod it!

It was also at Lumut that a Royal Navy submarine visited and gave a party and toured us through the incredibly cramped interior.

After some months at Lumut Jonathan was transferred to Taiping, where we had a fine big house. There was a swing in the garden and I used to hypnotize myself swinging high for hours. At the bottom of the garden was a fence between us and the cantonment of a Gurkha regiment or maybe other Indian, anyway they were very friendly and made me a sort of minor mascot and I liked it. I saw them on parade a few times, and their band performed at a gymkhana I attended.

I suppose I lived in Malaya for about 8 or 10 months. Then, with Miriam and Peter and Geoffrey in utero, it was by sea to England. We sailed on a Blue Funnel liner, the "Carthage", about 10,000 tons. There were two kids about my age, a brother and sister, John and Elizabeth Hopper. We formed a gang, and used to make lightening raids on the sandwiches and cakes laid out for tea on tables on deck in the afternoons. One of the passengers seemed to us to resemble Ronald Coleman so much that one evening I dared ask him if he was, as he walked into the grand dining room for dinner in his dinner jacket, and he said "Yes". Ah, glory. The story that I told John and Elizabeth was that I was an Albanian secret agent, an assassin dedicated to protecting King Zog and Queen Geraldine, she being an American. Very straight faced. I had a special folding knife, I told them, but could not show it them because once revealed it had to be blooded before it could be put away (reflecting the Gurkha kukri story I had heard).

When we got to London, Elizabeth and John (note the order: I had invited her to take her panties off while we were on the ship, and I rather think she did) went to their parents' home, Pa being a Lt. Commander, RN. Miriam got John and me cap pistols for when he'd come to the hotel to play with me, thanks Miriam, and I went to their house to set off stunning firecrackers and Catherine wheels for Guy Fawks' Day.

Then Miriam put me on board the "Queen Mary", alone in a cabin with a steward tipped to look after me and the top berth loaded with comics and boys books and so farewell. She did stand on the dock and wave me off, big with Geoffrey although I didn't notice it.

The voyage across the Atlantic was very rough and the gigantic ship heaved and pitched like a bastard. I was deeply seasick for the first three days. Friend steward brought me dry chicken sandwiches on toast, but mostly I brought them right back up again. On the third day I felt better, and went out to be on deck but got lost among the different banks of elevators a lot. Then I decided to use the swimming pool. The one for cabin class passengers was on a very low deck, in the bowels of the ship. It was quite deserted when I got there. I went into the empty changing room and changed, then walked through the tightly closed door into the tiled chamber where the pool was. Walked into a tidal wave, I did, the rolling of the ship causing the water in the pool to move rapidly in a solid wall from one side of the room to the other. By great good fortune an attendant stuck his head in at that moment and grabbed me out of the room by my arm as I was being carried away by the wave. No notice that the pool was closed seemed necessary to the staff: who would be so crazy as to go there in such weather? Of course, I was 9, and alone.

When we got to New York everybody else knew what to do but me. I hung around the main lounge while everybody went through Immigration, the American authorities had come on board. I hung around while the stewards took down the trestle table the Immigration people had used, and started cleaning up. Finally somebody came for me. Then down on the dock there were Israel and Berenica. I was, it seems, to live with them forever.

1938 (age 10) - 1942 (age 14)

We lived in a two-storey house with a semi basement for the housekeeper, and a front porch with stairs down to the street, in Chicago. I have faint memories of an asphalt paved schoolyard, a back yard with a fence and back alley behind it. A memory that is sharp: Israel, furious because I'd slung a snowball at a gent who protested, grabbed hold of my arm and slung me from the sidewalk up five steps onto the front porch, right through the air. Lucky he didn't snap my arm right off. Then he cooled to his usual bland controlled self. I think the lesson I learned from that (and from a similar experience later in Winnetka) was "for God's sake don't (let myself) get angry or somebody will get killed!".

Then we moved to Winnetka; I was told it was so as to get me into the renown progressive school there, so I've always been appropriately grateful. We took a lovely house at 1059 Chatsworth Street in the section called Hubbard Woods. I am told we bought the house from Arthur Goldberg, the union lawyer who later became an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. It may be that this was the "Jew house" - I think we were the only Jews in Hubbard Woods though Edward and Sophie Nudelman and their daughter Judy did live over on Elm Street, in Winnetka but not in the Hubbard Woods neighborhood. Lovely word, "neighborhood".

I loved that house, and had happiness there streaked through my overall deadness of feeling. The house had two stories. On the ground floor there was a large livingroom with the stairway to the second floor, a proper dining room, the kitchen large and well appointed, and a glasswalled porch that was sort of our den. There was a front porch too, across most of the front of the house, and we had a glider on it, a couch suspended on a frame that made it into a swing. The second floor had a master bedroom across the front, a bathroom, then my smaller bedroom and through that another smaller room that was the maid's room. Yes, we had a live-in maid. There was always a tension about money, and when Israel's salary reached $5,000 a year we had a victory celebration, but in those days it was possible for a modest petit bourgeois to employ a live in servant. Some of our maids, they changed every year or so, were pretty. I had sexual fantasies about them, sneaked into their room and looked at their underwear. Well. We also had a garage and a big back yard with a gate into the back alley. I spent a lot of time in the driveway hitting a tennis ball alongside the side of the house, one bounce allowed. Israel forbade it, but I did it anyway.

I did all sorts of things that kids do, particularly lonely kids. Once I was tossing a hatchet up in the air and catching it by the handle, until somehow the edge caught me coming down onto my face and cut a big gash under my eye. I ran inside and went up to the bathroom to clean it. Berenica saw me and helped me clean it up, both of us agreeing to keep it from Israel because he handled such things very poorly and was queasy about blood, and there was a lot of blood.

Berenica and I were comrades. I dried the dishes as she washed, and we sang a lot. She had illusions about a career as a singer, studied with Manuel & Williamson, practiced a lot (I liked to hear her) and made a haughty "professional" tsimmes about the whole thing. We went shopping in Chicago now and then for a rye bread or black bread we both liked to eat about two days old, thick cut, with sweet butter smeared very thckly on it.

Hubbard Woods school was small and okay. I liked my teacher, Edith Woody (and we had her as our gentile guest at a Seder one Pesah, and later she retired and moved to Walla Walla, Washington, imagine!). In summer I avoided most games, in winter I slid down icy slopes upright, my shoes sliding easily, with the others. I had friends. Arnold Giesman, Dave Burgoon, Mike Rich the fat kid whose father was some sort of museum curator. I had a crush on Dorothy Merriam (of the Dictionary Merriams, I think) and used to show off fancy bicycle riding in front of her house but I never manifested to her otherwise.

We always had a dog, and one saved our lives by barking when the house filled with smoke and gas because the pilot light on the coal furnace went out. He must have felt sick because he vanished when we all rushed out. I rode all over Winnetka on my bike calling for him. Eventually, later that day, somebody found him and brought him home. It was a small town, everybody knew who I was and where I lived.

Every Saturday I biked the 5 miles over to Wilmette to the movies. All kids. The ushers were stern, they let us yell a lot but not shove or fight or throw down trash. Two features, a cartoon, a newsreel, a short subject/comic, a serial of course, and coming attractions.

The winters were cold, lots of heavy snow. I biked the 3 miles to Skokie Junior High and back home again in the dark; hilly streets, and icy. Summers were hot. I don't remember any vacation trips, maybe I just stayed home and read. I read swiftly, voraciously, many hours in day and night. That's where I was alive. Outside of books I just got through as best I could, keeping a tight asshole. No show of emotion. But I stole money from guests' handbags and bought comic books and one time, forging a written authorization from Israel, a .22 cal rifle. He found it and made me return it.

Though there were happy times in Winnetka - often by immersion in books - I was always careful to control my emotions so I wouldn't get hurt. Got good at that. I knew I was a piece of shit, and worked desperately to prevent others from finding out. That was a full time job in a way. Left me no way to see other people as people, at all.

After sixth grade at Hubbard Woods School, I went to Skokie Junior High School. Its Principal, Carlton Washburn or maybe it was something Chandler...not sure, was renown for his pioneering progressive practices. Yes, it was a good school. We did projects a lot, integrating various areas of knowledge (math, English, statistics, geography etc.). I stole there too, and having become a bigshot in the School Store was found out and charged with pocketing the change when I made sales. The school authorities were of Israel Rappoport's school, cool and manipulative. We all "agreed" that my punishment would be doing guard duty over the bicycle shed after school without pay until I'd made up the shortage. I didn't mind doing that.

It certainly is painful, writing all this.

In my second and last year at Skokie we were visited by an exhibition folkdance group from Pleasant Hill Academy in Tennessee. I like the dancing, and somehow it was arranged that our shop teacher, a nice fellow, would take two of us and his wife and two kids down to visit Pleasant Hill during the Easter vacation. My memory of the trip is cloudy. I do recall jacking off in the car while the man was filling it with gas, and I think the other kids knew. Ah youth. Anyway then came graduation time. I was all set to go with all my classmates to New Trier High School. I would have won an award, too, but for my theft. My heart broke as we sang the school anthem:

When Skokie crowns her valiant heroes
No coward's brow her laurels wreath
But those who serve because they love her
The emblem of the school receive.

Fucking cruel to everybody who doesn't win an emblem, now that I think of it.

But I didn't go to New Trier. Israel and Berenica moved back to Chicago, to an apartment at 59th and Blackstone (then a good University neighborhood)...............and I was to go to Pleasant Hill Academy. I was getting to be too much of a bookworm, right? And the hard physical work (students worked out their tuition and keep by running the farm) would make a man of me, right? Right, sure Pa, I do agree, you have shown me what I should want and so of course yes this is my own plan now.

And so it was that on one memorable day in September of 1942, Israel and Berenica and young Lee went on the town. First to Soldier's Field to a political rally at which we saw the aging Franklin Delano Roosevelt drive past pretty close on his way to the dais. Then to a splendid farewell meal at some good restaurant. Then to a showing of Eisentein's film "Alexander Nevsky" in the course I which I excused myself to go to the toilet and vomit. No, no, Pa, everything is fine. Must have been something I ate. And then to the Greyhound bus station at about midnight, for the poor young fucker Lee to get on board for the trip to fucking Tennessee.

Which I did. Got off a bus a day and a half later outside the school property and stood there with my suitcase for a long cold hour before gritting my teeth and going in the main building. Nobody there, everybody was at a meal in the dining hall. Went there. Walked inside. Stood inside the room. Finally one of the teachers I'd met before noticed me and brought me over to a table to eat. I wish to god that was the end of my story about Pleasant Hill Academy.


Pleasant Hill Academy was located at Crossville, Tennessee, between Nashville and Chatanooga. It was a co-educational boarding school sponsored by the Congregationalist Church to teach modern agriculture to the boys and home-making to the girls living in that isolated part of the Cumberland Plateau. The isolation made for inbreeding, xenophobia and fierce independence. Secret stills brewed "white lightening", people read the Bible and attended revival meetings at which some became possessed of the Holy Spirit and "talked in tongues". The land was stony and poor, the people flinty and poor and proud. They feared and hated strangers, outsiders. Sunday chapel was compulsory.

The school's fees were remitted by the pupils' work on the farm and in the kitchen and sewing rooms, at 10 cents an hour (about half of the least wage, even then). The school did some fund raising by sending an exhibition folk dancing group to schools in other parts of the country. It was when they gave an exhibition at Skokie that I saw them and got interested. I persuaded our Shop teacher to take his kids and another two of us down to visit Pleasant Hill during the Easter vacation, and after that Israel got it into his head that a school year there would make a "man" out of bookwormish me.

When I arrived there I was greeted warmly by the teachers, some of whom had high qualities. Victor Obenhaus was the Principal, tall and high mannered. Aaron Parsons was a young teacher, erudite and pleasant; he was a friend to me. (Berenica apparently met him when she was in the WAAC, some years later). Walter Heineman was another impressive teacher there.

The pupils were drawn from the Scotch-Irish mountain people in the vicinity, and I was the first city boy they had ever seen. Al ehad pi kama v'chama I sure as Hell was the first Jew they had ever seen. I gained acceptance to a degree with my talent for blending and tracking. I grew a Tennessee accent and used "fuck" a lot when among boys, started smoking cigarettes, bought two-bit half pints of moonshine and drank - but unlike all the rest of the boys and the girls I did not screw. After Chapel on Sundays there was a compulsory walk through the woods in decent weather, we'd all start but after about twenty minutes all that were left were me and Aaron Parsons who was the teacher responsible for the walk. All the rest had paired off and gone into the woods.

These were rough kids. Their roughhousing and pranks involved such gleeful things as throwing brick-sized rocks at each other.

In order to get some alone time I chose milkman as my work. That meant I got up at 4:00 and was out in the barn by 4:15. Fed the chickens, called in the cows, washed their udders and milked them. Usually about 24 cows, and I used the milking machine on about 16 of them (though of course I had to hand strip those too). The rest had torn teats or were heifers whose teats were too small for the machine. After I fed and milked them all, I turned them out to pasture, separated the cream, filtered the milk and cream, cleaned out the barn and took the milk cans in a hand cart up to the kitchen in time for breakfast.

After breakfast we all had school for the morning. After lunch the others went straight to work but I got to nap until 3:30 before going down to the barn and repeating the morning performance.

Sometimes we learned folk dances and "singing games" in the gym; I liked that.

But I loathed being there. I stole money and got back to Chicago where Israel manipulated me into returning. I did it again. And again. The fourth time I ran away to Chicago I faked throat pains and worked a tonsillectomy; but then Israel did his thing and I went back down into Gehinnom.

What was so awful? First - being sent away again, renewed evidence of my being a piece of shit. Second - being so extremely alien or, to look at it from my side, being alone amongst people so extremely alien to me. More alien than Palestinians or French, because of class and culture gaps. Third - the work was so cruelly hard, and the climate (at 15 degrees below zero at times) so painful that I was mostly very uncomfortable. Then - being alone and friendless. I wrote once a week to Father and another letter to Mother - but that wasn't any real help, I was just trying to avoid a complete rejection with no hope of ever getting back.

The experience was useful in one way, at least: I knew that nothing I would ever experience in the future would be worse. That was almost reassuring.


When I was done with the hell of Pleasant Hill Academy I came back to live with Israel and Berenica in Chicago. At that time they had a nice apartment on the South Side, at 49th and Blackstone. I had a room at the back, next to the kitchen. At night I heard the noise of the elevated railway, the Illinois Central which we called the "IC". It was okay.

I went to summer camp with Habonim, at Michigan City. Roamed with my peers, and was fine in every area but sex. Just about everybody else in my age group - 15 - was flirting and petting if not actually screwing. I, of course, put up a psychic shield that said "No sex here", out of fear and low self esteem. But I longed, oh god how I longed! It may have been there that I first met Ruthie Bronstein and fell wildly and hopelessly in "love" with her. Other lasses made passes at me, which I let drop to the ground to my intense frustration. It would have been fine if one had just pushed a little harder, but none did that.

Back to Chicago, where I enrolled in the local High School, Hyde Park. It was a big school, said to be a good school. I had no friends, of course; new boy, as usual. It seemed like a huge factory, with us worker-kids rushing about through the corridors between classes. I disliked all the classes, but English in particular. I spoke well and wrote well, and deeply resented having to learn all the grammar that I already used but did not know to define. Also the teacher of that class was not bright, and I wrote better than she did. I cut classes, and even days. Went downtown to the Loop on the IC, went to triple-feature movies a lot, a lot. After a few months I dropped out of school.

Got a job delivering flowers for a downtown florist. In Winter it was very hard, staggering onto frigid streetcars with huge floral tributes to funeral parlors all over the city. Many were in Cicero, Chicagoland gangster country, for the funerals of gangsters shot by other gangsters. Those, at least, tipped me well.

Israel tried all sorts of manipulations to get me back into school, but he had other problems and his energy may have been elsewhere.

It was at that time that Berenica enlisted in the Army as a WAC (Women's Army Corps) and was posted to a camp in New Jersey. (She worked with artists of all sorts in education/entertainment projects that she talked about at great length forever after). She and Israel may have been separating. All I know is that Israel left his longtime position with the Chicago Board of Jewish Education and got a job in New York City where he could be near her and where she could stay with him when she had leave. His job was something with the American Jewish Committee, or whatever was the USA end of the Joint Distribution Committee that helped support Jewish DPs (Displaced Persons) who were in the camps in newly liberated Europe.

I left or got fired from my job with the florist, got a job delivering printing plates from an engraver's shop but somehow that didn't last long.

When Israel left, I stayed on in Chicago. Got a room in the YMCA on 57th Street. I was on my own, at 15 1/2.

Then I got a job as office boy in an advertising firm. O'Neil, Larson, McMahon had great offices in the Carbon & Carbide Building on Michigan Boulevard, very classy. I soon made myself useful and well liked. As did the other men, I longed for the office beauty and in fact she was kind and friendly to me though in a sisterly way. A lot of young men were in the military, so I had more scope that otherwise. I worked hard, and ambitiously tried my hand at copy writing. That was at the level of small newspaper ads for neckties: "By day, a stylish night, the glowing letters pulse out the message: "MAY I KISS YOU IN THE DARK, BABY?"". That sort of thing. I did pretty well, and a Big Boss, Mr. McMahon, promised me advancement to copywriter. Alas, working late one night I had a brilliant slogan and, seeing a light on in his office, went to share it with my boss. He was there, all right - lying face down across his desk with the lovely office manager spread out under him with her skirt up around her waist. "You're fired!" quoth he to me as I fled. Next day I crept in to get my pay, avoiding the office manager's eye as best I could. So it goes.

My next job was night bellboy in a Lake shore hotel, medium fancy. Many occupants were monthly renters, a few casuals. I ran the elevator (old, manual model of course, and I got pretty good at coming level with the floors), brought up bottled water and mixers, relieved at the switchboard, did odd jobs. Good tips, mostly, up to A Dollar when people came home late and tipsy. But I was not happy. Ruthie, my beloved, had moved to Los Angeles.

(Was it at this time that Lela asked me to come to Los Angeles because Peter and Geoffrey had come there as refugees from the war and were uncontrollable when planes were flying overhead? I think may be yes).

So I quit my job at the Edgewater Hotel, and took train to Los Angeles. As had happened whenever I was traveling in those days (running away from Pleasant Hill, and going back there from Chicago) I was stopped my Military Police and Shore Patrols and asked for my papers, and, since I had no draft papers and looked to be about 20 years old, hassled.

Or was this the time that I got a ride with Rappoport relatives who were ferrying municipal buses from Detroit to Los Angeles, and rode nonstop for days talking with and singing to the driver to keep him awake until I jumped ship near Los Angeles and then took the train in and stayed with Yonah Shamir until she got me that crummy job at County Hospital and I defected?

Eli Home | Roots | Childhood | Adolescence | Young Warrior | Imperialist | And After... | Philosophy