Tuesday, June 28, 2011
In 1956, Dad spent the summer between his Sophomore and Junior years at Yale working at The Block S Ranch outside Jackson Hole Wyoming. He wrote letters back home to his mother and John O'Hara.
It took us three days to get out here driving 750-800 miles a day for fourteen hours. But we're here under the towering Tetons etc. It really is very pretty out here and we're isolated from the rest of the world.
So far my job has been chauffeur, car-washer, guide, horse breaker--a pony hadn't been ridden since it had been put out for winter. It farted and bucked until our teeth rattled BUT I STUCK ON and the foreman doesn't think I'm such a dude now. He had me "oiling" cabins today. And I was just as much in the dark as to how one oiled a building as you are. It consists of brushing linseed oil onto the outside wood--makes it look real rustic. Most boring job.
Ike took us on a ride through the mountains today and although it was a beautiful trip I never was so glad to get back to the ranch for a beer in my life. I was so dry I had three in about fifteen minutes and it hit me like a brick. I just went off to bed.
My job for the last day has been building "Bryan Park". It is a 50 yd by 25 yd picnic area. Clear safe, trees, build benches and fireplaces and garbage pits. This will kill you: I am also building a privy! "What did you do this summer?" Well I drove 2000 miles to Wyoming and made privies, thanks. What did you do?"
I've been doing some shooting out here. I don't think I wrote you that I bought a gun. It's a Marlin 39A, lever-action .2 cal "Pioneer". It is the gun I've always wanted and it was probably foolish of me to get it but it is a beauty. Actually with practice I've gotten to be a pretty damn good shot.
The Fourth passed bangingly in more ways than one. Lost my temper for the first time in years and pasted a Dude. Didn't remember it until someone told me this morning ( Beer party in the bunkhouse, Dude was feeling up a girl who didn't want to be felt- I hope) Ran into the Dude again this morning. He was wearing black around the eye. I said "Hello" he said "Hello-shit" Conversation ended there.
I play the guitar out here for the picnics and it's really commercial but it's part of the job. A new cowboy at the Triangle X sings with me and he has a beautiful voice. He sang "The Cattle Call" the other night--the one with the falsetto theme and came to the chorus of "He's brown as a berry from riding the prairie" and muffed it, result: "Brown as a fairy" I fell off the log I got to laughing so hard. The poor guy was scarlet.-July 6
The dudes are pouring in and with them comes more and more work. I supposedly quit at five o'clock and from them on I become a dude wrangler and keep them entertained. The last weeks have been spent in what I call Death Valley which is a stretch of aspen and pine trees which I disappear into and reappear hours later. I just chop down the dead trees, chop them up, and tote them out. Boring as hell.
Also I have acquired a pet which is now asleep in my wastepaper basket-it's about a six month old squirrel known as "squeeks" and it really is wonderful. She romps across my bed and desk and raises havoc with my papers. She's licking her tail now. Ah, well. When I put on my tweed coat she does wild. Runs up one sleeve across my back and down the other then dives into a pocket. It really is a funny animal.-July 23
On weekends Dad would visit Jackson.
My friends are the cowboys. They all go around in levis faded white and dirty broad-brimmed stetsons. Nobody knows anyone's last name, and none of the cowboys are called Slim or Shorty or Luke. They have names like Frank, Jim and Charlie. They're tough as hell all tall and thin and wear their hair long over their eyes in a Will Rogers manner. Only one rolls his cigarettes the rest smoke Luckies and L&M's or Marlboroughs
The other night Frank ( age 60) and I bought cap pistols and went into one of the bars and pretended to be in a long argument. The places was filled with Dudes and friends of ours who had been tipped off. We'd even tipped off the bouncers and sheriff's deputies. Suddenly in the middle of the argument we whipped out our guns ( he beat me to the draw) and fired away. But his caps didn't go off and I plugged him. He fell to the floor and I got laughing so hard I joined him. By the time the place got under control again we'd gone. It's the same place where the band plays the Whiffenpoof song when I come in.
They shut down the gambling for a few days so that the Governor and Attorney General of Wyoming could cruise through , see nothing and go back to report that "there is no gambling in Wyoming." Gambling had gone underground. This is an underground room where the roulette, crap and 21 tables operate beneath maze of pipes and bouncers. You go around to the back of the bar and walk down to it--only if you are passed up above by one of the spotters.
As for getting home I leave here the 27th by car and put-put across the country for three to four days.
My pet squirrel is crawling on my legs now, I'm sure she thinks I'm a tree. I'm going to set her free before I come home. She's a red squirrel but since she's very young she still has a grey coloring.
That's all from the West except that I'm going around with a very suave 21 year old girl from Pittsburgh. She has all kinds of ideas.-August 20
Saturday, June 25, 2011
On the first day of 1967, Dad moved into an apartment in Fort Collins Colorado where he would be that quarter's writer-in-residence at Colorado State University.
He taught the Creative Writing Workshop and Contemporary Fiction Techniques. He planned to discuss "Casino Royale" by Ian Fleming. "Miss Lonelyhearts" by Nathanael West. "Cat's Cradle" by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., "Seymour: An Introduction" by J.D. Salinger, "The Dwarf" by Par Lagerkvist and "Hopscotch" by Julio Corzazar in his fiction techniques class.
With Viet Nam raging half a world away, an article written by Mike Glover for the university newspaper mentions "The Face of War" ,a Swedish documentary for which Dad wrote the narration.
Of the film he said
It was a ban-the-bomb movie made by the Bergman studios. It showed the devastation of war, like scenes from Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bomb was dropped, nuclear tests in New Mexico, and shots taken from a World War I biplane over Verdun showing absolutely nothing but pock marks and ruined villages.
Dad talked about serving as an Army Intelligence Officer in Korea.
I don't know which would be more patriotic, to be against the war in Viet Nam or to go into the military and make the best of a very bad thing.
I can't remember ever enjoying pain or death. I didn't like escorting prisoners in Korea, threatening them with death. I used to shoot bird, but the last time I went hunting, something changed. I suddenly realized the birds, and life itself, were so beautiful and so free, that it was a shame to shoot them.
Dad said he admired the generation in college in at that time.
This generation realizes that war is an idiotic way of solving a political conflict. It is an old man's way of politics. The same generation in communist countries probably realizes the same thing.
Dad was optimistic about the future of the writing profession.
The one thing many people don't know about writing is that if you write something good,it will be published. Publishers are begging for good materials, especially novels.
I hope there are many people here interested in writing. There is nothing more exciting than knowing you've done something good, particularly in writing.
I don't think I could stand being in business. There's no freedom.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
It never occured to Dad not to do military service "A Bryan," his father had told him, " has been an officer in every war this country has fought"--a true statement until Vietnam.
At one point Dad was stationed on Okinawa overlooking on one side the airfield where the torpedo plane in which Grandpa Joe was flying was hit by Japanese Anti-aricraft, and on the other side the bay in which his Uncle Lamont had his destroyer escort sunk out from under him by a kamikaze.
In Korea Dad was a nuclear targeting officer and was given an elaborate scoll of appreciation by the South Korean intelligence in which it said "You have done much to fester mutual understanding between our two nations".
Thursday, June 9, 2011
At 17 and forced to attend the Hotchkiss summer school after flunking four out of five final exams, Dad lit up a Lucky Strike and walked into his favorite teacher's room.
(George Norton Stone) looked as stricken by what I had done as by what he knew he must do. "Well, you might as well finish it," he said.
That was certainly the final straw. Dad had already been caught with an electric coffeepot in his room at the beginning of the year. At the end of the summer Dad was "asked not to return". This would be his second expellation. The first ( see http://saintbryantv.blogspot.com/2010/10/so-much-unfairness-in-things-1962.html) would lead to his writing career. Dad finished his boarding school career at Berkshire.
In a chapter called "Kicked Out", published in Hotchkiss: A Chronicle of an American School, Dad explains why he has such fond memories of Hotchkiss and why he wanted me to attend a school from which he'd been expelled.
Hotchkiss Campus today
Externally, the Hotchkiss I attended in the early 1950s was, with the exception of young women, pretty much the same as the Hotchkiss of the late seventies and early eighties. More important, many of the same faculty members were still there, among them the two men by whom I have been most influenced throughout my schooling: George Norton Stone and Robert Hawkins.
Stone and his wife Jodie lived in a small apartment in Coy in the 1950's where they "somehow, intuitively knew a boy had had enough of pretending to be grown up".As kind as they both were to Dad on the corridor, Stone could be brutal in the classroom.
Mr Stone, 1953
"Bryan, you're an idiot in math! I suggest you complete this course, fulfill your math requirement, and never ever come near a numeral again."...My God, the number of blackboard erasers and pieces of chalk he whizzed by my ears! "If you don't pay attention, I'm going to be all over you like a tent!"
Mr Stone 1981
Stone was much kinder to me. Probably because I was even more pathetic at math.
Mr Hawkins 1953
Dad's favorite English teacher was "The Hawk" --a nickname having less to do with Robert Hawkin's name, I always thought, than his ability to swoop down on the hapless student who was unprepared.
Mr Hawkins 1981
Mr Hawkins taught me French. Again, I was helpless. I entered Hotchkiss as an immature 13 year old. Both Stone and Hawkins flunked me prep year, so I spent the summer trying to make up for a D Minus average.
In so many ways, our Hotchkiss experiences were alike.
Dad writes In those days I never had a girl friend, much less a girlfriend, and I went to proms and concerts alone. But, then again, I suppose there was not much demand among the girls at Farmington or Miss Hall's for a boy who looked like he'd be most comfortable on a twig.
Senior Portrait with Bill Newman on the left, 1981
I didn't need a report card to feel like a failure at Hotchkiss. I was surrounded by more wealthy, better looking and much happier students. Or at least they seemed that way. Eventually I decided that I couldn't compete head to head so I became a class clown. Over four years, I sent out no noticeable S.O.S's to the faculty. I also somehow managed to graduate without having sent out a single college application.
What followed was a dramatic "lost year" I'll have to write about in the near future.
Class of 1981 reunion, 2006
In the meantime, this is the weekend of my 30th Hotchkiss reunion. I will spend it watching my daughter play in a soccer tournament three thousand miles from campus. Despite everything I've written, I do have memories of a very special time, a keen appreciation of education as well as some enduring friendships.
Those were Dad's greatest wishes for me.
THIS POST COMES WITH A FOOTNOTE
Dad, third from left.2003
At my father's memorial service a member of The Berkshire School's faculty handed me this clipping from The Berkshire Bulletin. The headline: "He's all ours, Hotchkiss". Yes, Hotchkiss has a way of claiming succesful alumni they've expelled.