The choice to go into the Marines in June 1954 was to “get my military obligation out of the way before law school.” I asked whether the Marines had a two-year enlistment, which they did for those going into the Marine Corps Reserve for active duty status. This called for two years, followed by six years of being on call as an inactive reservist.
A couple of funny experiences happened at the Marine Corps recruitment office in downtown Denver. An eye exam was part of the physical test, and I looked at the big E at the top with my glasses on, took them off and reported the big E was pointing right. That was enough to pass, despite my 20-400 nearsightedness (corrected years later by cataract surgery). I had discovered from a page of colored dots in my Psychology textbook at C.U. that I was red-green colorblind, and when I was given the colorblindness test at the recruiting office consisting of twenty such pages, I missed on 17 of the 20. The guy flipping the pages started getting angrier and angrier because I wasn’t seeing the same patterns he was. He was the first of the idiots I ran across during the next two years. That I passed the tests isn’t surprising, since the Marines must have been taking anybody who could breathe. In boot camp, one guy had a kidney infection that caused a puddle to form at the base of his feet. Another guy was trained to fire a rifle left-handed because he was blind in the right eye.
I got the highest score on the IQ or other test they administered at the recruiting office, so I was put in charge of the paperwork for the bunch being flown back to San Diego. The lights of Los Angeles went on spectacularly for miles as we flew into it, and when a smaller plane took us down to San Diego the city with its lights around the bay seemed magical, as though painted by Disney.
The magic didn’t last long. We were met at the front of the San Diego airport by a troop carrier truck, and were brusquely ordered to get in and keep our hands and legs inside. After arriving at the base, we were lined up and everybody was ordered to empty his pockets onto a table, which soon became covered with pocket knives and condoms. I had a top bunk for the three or four hours of “sleep” that remained of the night, but a bare light bulb was right above my head, not allowing much sleep. The first morning, a sergeant called out “anybody here gone to college?” I was the only one to raise my hand, and was put to work in the company office for eight hours taking dental papers off a large stack on my left, stamping them in three places, and putting them into the growing pile on my right. I have no idea what the other men were doing, but no doubt my “duty” was cushy compared to whatever they were going through.
My platoon was number 162, which bunked in a two-story wooden barracks. One of the first things was to learn how to make up our bunks. After a demonstration by one of the drill instructors and we made them up accordingly, we all fell outside into ranks and then were ordered to go inside and make them up again, since by that time they had been torn apart by the other instructor. We did them, and fell back out. Shouting that we’d done a lousy job, the first instructor ordered us back in to do it again. Again, the bunks had all been torn apart. Most things done in the Marine Corps are commanded by shouts.
One winter semester at C.U. I had taken a swimming class that started at 8 in the morning. That was a memorable experience – crossing the snow-swept field to the gym and preparing to get into the cold water. The class proved very beneficial, as I found out on the second day in the Marine Corps when everybody was given a swimming test and one guy who couldn’t swim was allowed to sink unconscious to the bottom of the pool before they pulled him out. The C.U. class had prepared me to pass the 100-yard test easily enough, although I chose to do the backstroke, which brought a predictable sneer from one of the many “macho” types.
The brutality of allowing the fellow to sink unconscious made an impression on me, so I was concerned the next day when we were all being assigned MOS (“military occupation status”) numbers, and when asked what my last job was could only say “ditch digger.” Apparently my scores on the tests they gave at 4:30 that morning held me in good stead, as did my having “been to college,” because instead of some grueling role I was given the namby-pamby MOS of clerk-typist. It didn’t matter what MOS we were given so far as going through the initial six months were concerned: boot camp (12 weeks at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego) and mess duty (35 days at Camp Las Pulgas at Camp Pendleton), and then the ICT (“individual combat training”) course, also at Las Pulgas. As I think back, the Marine Corps had me pretty well pegged all along, since I was made a squad leader both in boot camp and on combat training, and then had “white collar” (so to speak) jobs back at MCRD the rest of the two years. I was promoted to “meritorious corporal” in my second year. I realize now that if I had passionately wanted to “be a Marine” in the truest sense rather than just to survive I would have jumped at the chance to go into infantry.
The San Diego base is likely one of the most beautiful military bases in the world. The long, wide parade ground is lined on one side by an arcade with Spanish-style buildings. Ginny and I visited the Parris Island boot camp on our trip to Tennessee and the Carolinas some time ago, and found that it was an unattractive clutter of buildings with no charm. I spent my 18-or-so months of duty assignment in San Diego and was anxious to get out of the Marines, but should mention that both the base and the city were top-notch. This isn’t to say that life on the base was fun. For enlisted men, the atmosphere in the Marine Corps was oppressive. I was sent over to a Navy base for a three or four day class on military justice, and enjoyed the contrast because of the relaxed informality everyone had there.
Going into the mess hall to eat, the line was what they call “asshole to bully button,” everyone pushed together closely, making me think of how things might be in a penitentiary. At 20, my appetite was far less than it had been at 17, but one 17-year-old ate three trays of food and then 14 ice cream bars. On one occasion, someone from one platoon shouted “butter down,” and was answered by a guy from another platoon “you’d better say please.” I was the only one who didn’t stampede outside for a brawl with brooms and swab sticks.
One member of the platoon was effeminate (although no one suggested he was homosexual, which wasn’t very much in peoples’ consciousness in those days), although I don’t know that that was the reason a mob of the men claimed he “didn’t shower,” and forced him into a shower stall nude and scrubbed him raw with heavy clothes-washing brushes. There was a general mob mentality and little empathy. It’s deeply contrary to my value system, but I do wonder whether it perhaps doesn’t serve well in combat.
I have always gotten a laugh when I’ve seen pictures in the newspaper of Marines wearing their dress blues and white hat. For that picture, the men in the platoon were lined up and taken into a room with a stool and a camera. We put on a false dress-blue front (covering the shoulders and top half of the chest), and the white hat, and had our picture taken that way, with an American flag as the background . That was my total experience with dress blues at any time in the Marines. I’m not critical of the other uniforms, though, which were always well trimmed greens (winter) or khaki (summer). Part of the trim look came from not having back pockets, causing us to keep our billfolds tucked into a sock.
Part of the 12-week boot camp was spent at Camp Matthews, located about 13 miles north of San Diego. Buses took several hundred of us to a residential street abutting the start of the “mountain” that’s just behind La Jolla (a mountain that is probably covered by expensive homes now). Forming a long line, the recruits hiked the 13 miles to the Camp. We were housed in tents high on the hill above highway 101. The time at Camp Elliott was primarily for rifle training, but we also practiced firing a machine gun, throwing hand grenades, and shooting a pistol (finding it not an easy matter to hit what you think you’re aiming at). There was a week of “dry firing,” snapping the trigger on our M-1 rifles without ammunition while in the various firing positions, and then live-firing. That first year, I qualified as a “Sharpshooter,” a step better than “Marksman.” The next year, I spent some more time at the rifle range, as all Marines did annually, and qualified as “Expert.” (I would concentrate by repeating a word from the novel “East of Eden” that I had just read.) When we weren’t on the firing line, we were “working the butts,” raising and lowering the targets and inserting markers to show where the shots had gone. If someone missed the target altogether, we waved a flag in front of the target, and this was called “Maggie’s drawers.” Many years later, there’s a Maggie in our bowling league, and on the rare occasion she rolls a gutter ball I tell her she’s rolled a “Maggie’s drawers.” I’ve explained it to her, but I’m not sure she’s ever paid enough attention really to understand it.
We saw one horrendous thing while at Camp Matthews, and I’m still thankful we weren’t the ones who experienced it or were pressed into duty as the clean-up crew. We went into the lavatory and shower stalls one night and found runny feces all over everything, even filling the sinks and urinals. One of the platoons must have had a never-to-be-forgotten case of dysentery (or whatever).
As a squad leader, I was called upon to witness some discipline handed out to a recruit who was caught smoking while the “smoking lamp” was out. It consisted of the drill instructor’s putting a bucket over the guy’s head and covering that with a blanket. The guy then had to smoke two or three cigarettes inside the bucket. I tell myself it was until he passed out, but honestly don’t remember whether he crumpled to the floor or not.
One thing I hated was when the platoon had to “duck walk.” We were crouched down, with our knees low to the ground and us holding our rifles above our heads. This may have been mass punishment for the ever-perceived offenses, but I’m not sure.
After we returned to MCRD, we finished the process of becoming a polished marching unit, which became good enough to qualify us as an Honor Platoon. As soon as the graduation ceremony was over, we boarded buses for the trip up Highway 101 to Camp Pendleton for what proved to be 35 days’ mess duty before combat training. (There was some time for furlough to go home for a brief visit, but I think it was after combat training, though it might have been earlier.) What a dispiriting place Camp Las Pulgas appeared to be. There was nothing but dirt, cinderblock buildings and virtually no trees. Our barrack was a few feet from the mess hall. Consistently with the Marines’ use of me, I was put in charge of collecting the money at the officers’ mess (the officers had to pay). That was much better duty than, say, “pots and pans.”
Every night, our half-wit sergeant would count the proceeds I had collected from the officers’ mess. Every time, he would find I was short, and would berate me, accusing me of stealing. Then every time, he would recount and find that there wasn’t a shortage, after all. I became so used to this that I began to take it in stride. After a few days, I was talking with another Marine in the mess hall office and told him all about it, with some emphasis on how dumb the sergeant was. Then suddenly the toilet flushed in the adjoining bathroom, and out stomped the sergeant, madder than whatever. He grabbed me by what we called “the stacking swivel” (the front of my shirt) and shook me violently. That’s all I recall about it, except that not long after that someone urinated on my bunk during the daytime, while the men were all over at the mess hall. It was a top bunk, and so had required some effort. There’s no proof the sergeant did it, but that has long been my suspicion.
If I recall, we had to be over to the mess hall by 3:30 in the morning, so we went to bed at nine. One time, I was shaken from a sound sleep and told it was time to get up. Men were running around preparing for the day. I rushed to get dressed and shave, and then headed over to the hall. It was dark. I took it as good fun when I found that the whole thing was a prank, and that it was only 9:30 – with still the precious night’s sleep to get.
After mess duty, we moved to another barrack nearby for combat training. (I was again made a squad leader, but to my chagrin I think back on its never having entered my mind to have been a “leader to the men.” It was more just a passive assignment to me.) One of my good friends during combat training was William Howard, the son of movie actress Dorothy Lamour. We finally got a day or two’s leave, and on one of those occasions he and a car full of us went south to Tijuana to experience the strip clubs. It was my only trip to Tijuana, other than with my parents to see a Jai Alai game when they came to visit the following year. On that first trip, I remember a boy of about 10 or 12 calling out to me, “Hey, Marine, you want my seeester?” I never partook of such treats, at that time or any other (nor, at least on that trip, did any of the other guys in the group), but back at the barracks every third urinal was labelled “venereal disease,” no doubt for a reason. This is a part of “experiencing the world” that is a benefit of having been in the service. One emerges not quite so naïve.
There was an elaborate obstacle course that started with about an 8-foot wall. One of us would boost the next guy to help him get to the top and go over. A problem arose when I helped the next-to-the-last guy and he went over the top without reaching back to help me. I was stuck, and even to this day don’t know what I could have done to go farther. (It was out of the question to go get something to stand on, or to go around the wall.)
I think my first leave was spent going into the seacoast town of Oceanside, where I visited the USO facility (which had tables where Marines could write home). The crossword puzzles Ginny and I work now often call for the 3-letter USO, and I always think back fondly of even that one small contact with it. Some of the men rushed to get tattoos in Oceanside (and I’m thankful I didn’t get one, and haven’t to this day). I mainly rented a motel room with what little money I had and slept the two days. (The company had its picture taken, and everybody looks young and chipper, except me with a sober exhausted look.)
The combat training involved long hikes with full gear, which was heavy enough to make me feel rooted to the ground. (From pictures, it seems infantrymen today carry an unbelievable amount of stuff.) The “night firing problems” were spectacular, like an augmented Fourth of July fireworks show, including tracer bullets streaming to a distant mountain. Today, we might think it remarkable that there in 1954 the Marines had a searchlight that could send a concentrated stream of light for several miles, illuminating whatever it hit as though it were daytime. That sort of optics wouldn’t be surprising now – but that was some considerable time ago.
One Saturday when I didn’t have leave I was nevertheless able to catch up on sleep. I was shaken awake by none other than my brother. Larry was on his way down from Bremerton to San Diego, where he would be a drill instructor. He had found out I was at Camp Las Pulgas, and came to get me. We were able to arrange leave for the rest of the weekend and went in to Long Beach, about which I have no recollection other than the visual memory of a large red-brick hotel and the impression that I had continued to do a lot of sleeping.
I felt a great yearning to get away from the crowd in the barracks, and one Sunday was able to walk into a nearby ravine (or “valley,” if it was that) and sit under one of the rare trees. Ah, blessed contemplation! Thoreau never felt the benefit of solitude more than I did that day.
One part of the training almost killed me. We had to stand in a waist-deep foxhole while a tank approached, and were instructed to crouch down low in the hole at the last minute and allow the tank to pass over. A problem was that the tank threw up a dense cloud of dust ahead of itself as it approached. I probably feared the recriminations of the sergeant more than I did the tank, because I wasn’t getting down as the tank got within five or ten feet. I couldn’t see it. The sergeant screamed “Get down!” and I did, just in time.
The practice using a compass consisted of a “compass march.” Certain points given for a compass reading were on the top of one mountain, and after we climbed that, the next readings were to the top of the next mountain, and so on. (The “mountains” may not have compared with Colorado’s, but they were several hundred feet high piles of dirt and rock.) There was a small bleacher “way out in the boonies” one time where a sergeant gave a lecture using flip pages. A Marine was tasked with flipping the pages as the sergeant needed that done, but went to sleep on his feet. The last we saw of him was as he trudged high up to the top of the mountain behind us with his pack on. One night, the company was bivouacked, sleeping on the ground. Sentries were posted all around, but when some on them went to sleep, we were all taken prisoner. In an actual war, we probably would all have been shot on the ground. (The Marines could be harsh with discipline on little things, like closing a wall locker with a bit of clothing caught in the door; but nothing at all seemed to come of it for the guys who went to sleep as sentries.) October out on the west coast at Pendleton was nice weather, but I recall that as we walked down into ravines it was like walking into a pool of water, with cold air gathered in a mass without transition. I felt sorry for the company of Navy underwater demolition team trainees whom I never saw but who, I was told, would get up before even we did in the mornings and go out into the Pacific to do their thing.
When the ICT course was over, we all received our orders where to go next. I think it was then that we had a few days leave to go home, which I did to Denver. My orders were to report to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) in San Diego to serve as a clerk-typist in the Headquarters Company, part of the Headquarters and Service (H&S) Battalion, which had its barracks down by the large administration building at the west end of the immense parade ground.
When I returned from furlough in Denver, I drove Highway 70 past what is now the town of Vail. In those days, there were no towns there, just the most pristine mountain country with rivulets of water streaming down. I stopped at one point and hiked down to the stream, where I caught and released two or three small brook trout as a “goodbye” to Colorado for a while.
Most of the time, I was a clerk-typist in the company training office, but near the end of my tour (spring of 1956) I was in charge of the company mail room. There was another brief period I was assigned to the Guard Company office.
The company commanders for the Headquarters Company must have valued maintaining an oppressive atmosphere. There were frequent orders for everyone to stay late into the night to scrub everything down. All the fixtures were brass, and required endless polishing. Of course, we spent many hours “spit polishing” our shoes to a mirror finish.
The food in the mess hall was always good. What sticks in my memory is the pineapple pie. One time, several of us were sitting at a long table eating when suddenly the table began to convulse as though an NFL linebacker were picking up the far end and shaking it. That was the most powerful of the earthquakes in San Diego during those months, although I remember another time when the clipboards hanging on the wall of the company mailroom in which I worked began to sway.
Early every morning, the bugles sounding reveille started at the far end of the base and soon came closer, until finally the doors of the barrack room were thrown open and a bugler blasted the reveille to us. Douglas MacArthur wrote fondly of the mystic memory of distant bugles, but that was a sort of romanticizing that escaped me.
I had a music-record turn-table there in the office on the second floor of the administration building, and at night often stayed in the office listening to classical music. To rediscover the music I had loved so much that was in Neil Ashby’s collection in the dorm room at C.U., I went to the San Diego Public Library and listened to a large number of selections in one of their soundproof rooms. One of my friends in Headquarters Company loved Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien,” and had me play it for him often.
As a clerk-typist in the Headquarters Company training office, I was the one who typed up the transcript of a long interrogation of one of the Marines who was being discharged for homosexuality. The account was quite an eye-opener, since he hold of orgies of 30 or 40 people having sex together in a house in San Diego. The memory of that has long provided me with information about male homosexuality that I think most of the public doesn’t have.
I went to San Diego’s large and beautiful Balboa Park to sit in my car and read, one book of which was Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” One night I was reading Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” in the Public Library when they announced they were closing. So I went to the cavernous railroad station and continued to read, sitting on one of the benches there. I was the only person in the place, and that led to a police officer’s coming along and ordering me to leave. I went back to the barracks and continued reading, sitting on one of the stools in the lavatory (it was after “lights out.”)
The problem of where to read came to an end when I rented a room at the back of a house that fronted on an alley-like street just south of Balboa Park. That was where I did most of the work on my first book, a draft called “An Infant’s Cry.” It was a laborious chore making seven carbon copies, since every typo required me to insert protective slips of paper behind each sheet of carbon paper before making my erasure. I had a small Corona typewriter, and often took it out to the wooded area on Point Loma (probably covered with homes now), where I had the typewriter on my lap writing. The times at Point Loma featured watching whales swimming south about a quarter of a mile offshore, frequently shooting water up through their spouts.
The book was, in a way, an early draft of “Emergent Man.” There were several days of pondering about the underlying principles of a free society, and it’s then that I analyzed “coercion” and came up with the formula “maximize the voluntary, minimize coercion.” That became the formula behind “Emergent Man,” but a number of years later I came to believe the formula isn’t sufficient in itself. Still adhering to the ideal of individual liberty, I felt the libertarian premise needed to be supplemented by a recognition of the value of rounding out the institutions and infrastructure for a free society. In effect, this called for a “systems theory” approach, not a simple process of deduction from one or more beginning premises. This change in methodology no doubt proved important to my later being able to write “A Shared Market Economy.”
Each weekend, I was anxious to get off the base and to my rented room. Not returning meant not eating in the mess hall, so with the small amount of money I had I wound up eating, in the entire weekend, two tacos from a nearby taco stand. That would be a good way to control weight, but that isn’t why I did it.
Larry was living with Joyce (whom he’d marry some time later) in a small mobile home somewhere off base, and I visited them often. Larry loved flying remote-controlled model planes, and we went out for that occasionally. One time, we did a cook-out of large steaks in Balboa Park. Joyce had a darling little boy from an earlier marriage – Bobby, who walked on his tip-toes and took in the world with eyes that looked like saucers of black. Years later, Bobby was killed while in the Army in Georgia. He and a Sunday bicycling group were on a country road in South Carolina when Bobby, who was at the front of the column, turned his bike to look back at the others, and was instantly killed by a pickup truck, driven by a 17-year-old who had the $10,000 minimum liability insurance required in South Carolina. (Of course, the insurance was an incidental, but now that I’ve mentioned it I should tell how the Army’s insurance did make a sizeable payment to Bobby’s widow.) I attended the funeral service with Larry and Joyce at Fort Huachuca near Tucson, and we shared fond memories of those days in San Diego.
Sometime in my second year, I was promoted to “meritorious corporal,” almost certainly at the initiative of a fine officer in charge of the training office who had graduated from Annapolis.
Near the end of my tour of duty I was in charge of the H&S Battalion mail room. One night military police came to my rented room and arrested me for investigation about missing Easter packages that families of Marines had complained had not reached their sons. So, like Thoreau and Martin Luther King, Jr., I spent my night in jail (“the brig”). I was let go the next morning when the private who worked under me in the mail room confessed to have stolen packages to get the cookies. After the families’ complaints, an officer had inspected the mail room and found package wrappings in the waste paper basket. I heard my assistant wound up getting an 18-month sentence and a dishonorable discharge. He deserved what he got, but he created a tragedy for himself. He was a unique personality who aspired to be an actor, and I believe he actually had been active in one way or another with the Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park, which featured Shakespearean productions.
That’s not all there is to the story, however. The night in the brig got me to thinking about how my head would have been shaved if I hadn’t been released right away, since that’s what they did before Marines went up for court martial. (The courtroom was on the same floor as the training office I worked in, so I saw the head-shaven men taken down the hallway from time to time.) The idea of such belittlement, before trial, seemed outrageous to me. I wrote letters to Colorado Senator Eugene Millikin and California Senator William Knowland about it. Both senators contacted the Commandant of the Marine Corps in Washington D.C., but Millikin didn’t reveal my name, whereas Knowland’s office did. I was called in to Colonel Crowe’s office for a royal chewing out for going outside the chain of command. Among other things, he took exception to my having written that the defendants’ heads were “shaved,” saying that taking all the hair off with an electric clipper is not the same thing as a “shaving.” (Years later, he’d had done well to have served in Bill Clinton’s White House; “it all depends on what ‘shaved’ means.”) (There had never been a word about how the proper way to register a complaint was to go to the base Inspector General, whose existence I knew nothing about.) I thought Crowe had been my hero as a boy years earlier for his role in the Tarawa invasion, but I apparently was mistaken, since it is Shoup, not Crowe, that is mentioned in the Tarawa histories. I had excellent sources of information because there were enlisted men, friends of mine, in each office in the administration building. I was told that Crowe had reported to the Commandant that he was going to court martial me, but that the Commandant’s office had communicated back a broad hint, “We presume any court martial of Murphey will not relate to his having contacted the senators” (or words to that effect). That was the end of it, and my tour of duty came to an end a few weeks later. If I’d re-upped, I might not have made “meritorious sergeant.”
I had taken Russian as my language course at C.U., and continued my study of the language by taking a night course at San Diego University. I started to translate Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” into Russian, but soon became interested in the story and just went ahead and read it in English. It was probably too daunting a task anyhow, because sometime after that I decided the Russian words were becoming too long to remember (and I never seemed to become facile with the all-too-alien Russian alphabet), and shifted over to studying German instead.
When a wisdom tooth became infected, a Navy dentist on the base pulled it. In the process, a vein inside my mouth was cut, and I bled profusely. Eventually, I was sent to the Balboa Naval Hospital for a transfusion. At the end of a three-hour wait in the anteroom, a doctor came out, looked at his watch and saw it was almost the five o’clock quitting time, and decided to send me back to the MCRD infirmary instead of giving me the transfusion. I was given eggnog to drink for two or three days.
While at Colorado University, I had bought a car from one of Pop’s law partners – a 1946 Plymouth, if my faint recall serves me correctly. (I remember the car well, but not the year or brand.) I got years of excellent driving out of it, especially going to and fro between Denver and San Diego, but my first experience was shaky. After being given possession, probably in 1953, I drove it about twenty blocks before suddenly it began to gush white smoke. I rushed to phone Pop’s partner, who came out to inquire. He found the problem was from my having left the emergency brake on. This story about the origin of my car ownership becomes pertinent to my Marine Corps experience when I recount that a week or so before I got out of the Marines a car smashed into the back of mine (the same one I’ve been talking about) as I waited for a light to turn green in front of the San Diego airport. My precious little car was forced up into the back of the car in front of me, so that my car was “totaled.” A tow truck came and hauled my car away, and when I went to the tow company’s lot it turned out the tow charge was $20 and they were willing to pay me $5 for the car as scrap. The fellow who had rammed me had no insurance (and I must not have had collision coverage on my own policy). He had just been released from the Balboa Naval Hospital mental ward. I tried to get in touch with him to get him to pay something, but wound up having to take a water taxi out to a ship in San Diego bay, where I talked with his captain, who told me the guy had gone AWOL (absent without leave). At some point, I heard the guy was in the naval penitentiary for some offense.
It came time to muster out of the Marines in June 1956. I was on the rolls of the inactive reserve for another six years and then received my Honorable Discharge. Larry helped me find another car for my return to Denver. This time, again, it was an old Chevy, which cost me $150. It turned out to be worth no more than that, since the tail pipe broke off near Las Vegas (then a small urban strip), and the radiator boiled over 12 times as I went over Monarch Pass (and some, too, as I went up Grand Mesa east of Grand Junction). The hood opener broke off after I got home to Denver, and I wired a spoon to where it had previously been to be able to open the hood when needed.
When I entered Colorado, I got out and kissed the ground by the side of the road. Despite the ordeal with the car, I drove straight through, going without sleep for 25 hours. It was a dumb thing to do, since I was dosing as I rounded curves in the mountains west of Denver.
It was great being back in Denver again as a civilian in the summer of 1956. Jack Deeter and I went to the movie “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” in which Doris Day sang the “Que Sera” song. The song is played frequently even today, and it always brings back a happy memory. I got a job driving a truck for a lumber yard in Denver, and used to get a laugh from classes at Wichita State when I told them the way I got “the magnificent physique the remnants of which you see before you” was by unloading freight cars full of lumber or bags of cement. In all the years since I had that job, I’ve been leery of driving close behind a truck loaded with lumber. I’ve known from experience that a load will slide off if the truck driver hasn’t secured it adequately.
New York City; study under “Austrian School of Economics” at NYU:
When September came along, I was off to New York City to be a special student in the Graduate School of Business Administration at New York University. (The “special student” status was because my three years’ pre-law at C.U. hadn’t made me a graduate.) It was always my intention to go on to law school at Denver University, but first I wanted to study under the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, whose book “Human Action” had been my free-market bible while I contended with the socialist faculty at C.U. In addition to lecture courses by Mises and Bill Peterson, I attended the famous Mises Thursday night seminar in one of the brownstones bordering Washington Square. My classes at NYU were in two places: the Graduate School of Business Administration quite near Trinity Church, which itself was at the end of Wall Street (really a narrow alley of a street); and in the brownstone just mentioned. The building near Trinity Church was not far south of where the World Trade Center buildings were built and destroyed later. The church featured a small cemetery, with ivy growing on the grave stones, one of which was that of Alexander Hamilton. My grandmother, Reata Dils McDonough, told me she had once picked a twig of ivy off his grave there and planted it in her garden at Palmer Lake, Colorado.
The search for a room to rent was interesting. One effort involved a several-story walk-up, which led to going down a narrow hallway with wallpaper peeling off the walls, and then to a small bedroom with a sagging single bed. Ah, there was a window – but the glass was dirty and the wall of the adjacent building was just a foot or so away. I didn’t rent that one, but with the help of the NYU residence office was able to rent a room in a lady’s apartment 11b at 500 Grand Street, just south of the Williamsburg Bridge. Her son was a psychiatrist, and it was interesting to witness the relationship between a Jewish mother and her son, even though he was a professional. The lady would let me heat TV dinners in her oven and take them to my room. She would buy the Sunday New York Times and spend the entire week reading it. She must have let me watch some TV in her part of the apartment, because I was able to watch Ron Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees in the 1956 World Series. His pitching style was unusual, since he didn’t do the customary “wind up,” but pitched the whole game from “the stretch.”
At first, I thought I was going to have to move. A constant wailing came from the courtyard eleven stories down. It turned out it was wailing by Orthodox Jewish men dressed in long black outfits and tall black hats commemorating the Jewish New Year. The landlady assured me it would last only a week, which it did.
The walk from the subway stop to my room on Grand Street was four or five blocks, as I’ve mentioned, and there was often a young woman beckoning from a large ground-level window. One Sunday, I thought it would be interesting to walk to that spot to see whether she was in her window. She wasn’t, but I found I couldn’t really infer much from that. Either she didn’t “work” on Sundays, or she was too busy at the time to be in her window. So that these recollections don’t suggest anything unintended, let me mention that I was never a customer of hers (or of anybody similar).
I was perhaps the only gentile in that part of the lower east side. One effect of this was that my ignorance limited my culinary options (as though I had any; my money was such as to allow me only to eat the TV dinners, and meals in the Automat near the graduate school, where I could make lemonade with water from the tap and lemons and sugar from the table). All of the restaurants on the way to the subway stop (four or five blocks) had signs “Kosher food only” in their windows, and I was sure I wouldn’t like so exotic a thing. (A delicious Seder dinner put on at the Universalist Church I attended in Denver years later disabused me of the notion that Jewish food wouldn’t be to my liking.)
1956 was the year of my first eligibility to vote, and I spent a few hours as a volunteer for the New York Conservative Party, addressing envelopes and handing out literature along the east side of Central Park. I had been an avid Taft supporter and wasn’t about to vote for Eisenhower, so my first vote went to T. Coleman Andrews of the Conservative Party. There was a guy at the Conservative Party office who had a strange fixation, brushing his teeth every fifteen minutes or so.
While I was at NYU, I enjoyed long walks, sometimes on very cold nights, up the east side of Central Park and then back down eventually to Times Square. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was midway up the park’s east side, and I found that a fascinating place to visit often.
The Mises seminar consisted of twenty or twenty five people who were either “disciples” of Mises or at least serious students of this thought, sitting around a long conference table with Mises at its head. (Mises was an old man, quite small in stature, very pleasant and soft-spoken with an Austrian accent.) I had gone to New York because I wanted to satisfy myself whether there was at least a satisfactory theory about how a capitalist economy could avoid catastrophic downturns, which I believed could sound the death knell for a free society. Unfortunately, the topic for the seminar that year was “the theory of capital,” not trade cycles. Although I revered Mises, I submitted a couple of papers to the group analyzing critically two of his central theories: the pretentious claim that a free market makes the best possible allocation of resources, and that a centrally planned economy can’t operate because it lacks a meaningful price system (and hence lacks needed “economic calculation”). I won’t go into the substance of those points here, but can mention that my analysis on both points is explained on my collected writings web site. An unattractive feature of the “Austrian School of Economics” in which Mises was a major figure has been the intolerance its devotees have toward anyone who voices the slightest disagreement on a point of doctrine. (This is a frame of mind that, it has always seemed to me, is inherently anti-intellectual, since it forecloses thought, much less discussion.) I don’t remember how I came to have the impression, but it seemed some members of the seminar group concluded I was a socialist because of the critiques I had given. During all the years since, I have not counted myself, or been counted as, a disciple of the Austrian School (or of anyone else).
After the seminar sessions, which were in the evening, a small group of us would go out for coffee together there in Greenwich Village. I was a newcomer, so not integral to the others, who had long been friends, but I enjoyed getting to know Murray Rothbard, who was then a young man and who went on to be the leading member of the next generation of the Austrian School, and George Riesman, who was or became an economist. Murray and George sometimes met with Ayn Rand there in New York City, and I’m surprised that I never took advantage of the opportunity to meet her. (At one time, I was very much a devotee of hers, and my book “Emergent Man” was greatly influenced by her philosophy, as it was by Mises’, but again I never adopted the mode of a disciple, and I wound up highly critical of certain aspects of her thinking and personal value system in things I wrote over the years.)
I took a day’s trip up the Hudson River to the Foundation for Economic Education building (quite a nice large country home) to meet the free-market devotees there. Leonard Read’s office featured an enormous table covered with working papers. The group there (it was a think-tank) spent much time talking about how they would do away with government altogether, with the streets and parks, say, being privately owned and charging tolls. I was never inclined toward the anarcho-capitalist position and found that somewhat incredible. So I never pursued more contact with them. (I do feel some remorse, though, over the lack of appreciation I showed for the minute attention one of their staff people gave to the manuscript of my book “An Infant’s Cry” while I was still in the Marines. The FEE people were doctrinaire, but so was I on behalf of the thoughts I took so seriously. It took quite a while for me to mellow, in fact.)
I certainly didn’t have my car on Manhattan island, so I’m at a loss to remember what car I drove when on occasion I went out to Princeton to visit my Uncle Bud, Aunt Carol, and their girls Carol and Margot. Bud, Carol and I would take walks on the Princeton campus, and Bud prided himself on running “the Princeton dog college” in which their dog chased the squirrels that were abundant on the campus. Five or six young members of the Princeton faculty were over one night, and I thought how remarkable it was that the two young women sat on the floor in the center of the group chattering gaily the entire time while the guests, all highly educated, listened with enjoyment. I was with Bud and Carol when they took the young Carol, their oldest daughter, to move into her apartment in Philadelphia to attend the University of Pennsylvania.
One time when I was coming back from visiting them, I made a wrong turn on the Garden State Parkway and wound up in downtown Newark. Fortunately, I didn’t read Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities” until years later, or I’d have been scared silly. (Wolfe’s book has to do with a couple making a wrong turn off a highway in New York City, and winding up in the Bronx.)
My closest relationship was with Prof. Bill Peterson, who would call on me in class sometimes to offer a point about free market economics that he was diffident about saying himself. He was about to work on a book about farm price supports and had in mind a short story about a man held as hostage in a church (Trinity Church, if I recall) by a Communist. Peterson and his family (wife, daughter and son) lived in Summit, New Jersey, where the parents “home-schooled” the children and had to keep them hidden during the day because home-schooling was illegal at the time. The reason for mentioning these things is that Peterson invited me at some time in the late Fall to come live with them, so that I could work with him on the writing projects. I thoroughly enjoyed the family, and found that a happy time, except my impression is that I wasn’t much help with the writing, having no ideas to contribute to the hostage plot and no materials with which to do research about farm subsidies. Besides, I was engrossed in my own studies, which included reading Milton Friedman’s book on monetary theory and writing a paper for my own purposes on the trade cycle.
A great memory from that time comes from our taking the train in from Summit to the Lackawanna Railroad terminal on the Hudson River, then joining the crowd in trotting onto a ferry, which then crossed the river to lower Manhattan just as dusk set in. The water was silvery and the lights of the resplendent city were coming on. It’s a memory I mention on the opening page of “Emergent Man.”
The world there at Summit came crashing down abruptly to produce what was likely the most desolate day of my life – and for no reason I have ever understood. One morning, Peterson told me, out of the blue, “we want you out of here” (or some such brusque thing), had me pack my things, and drove me into Manhattan, setting me down with my bags on a curb somewhere in the downtown area. There was, and has been, no explanation. Was it that he and his wife were having marital problems about which I had no hint? Or what? I’ll never know. (A few years later, Peterson did write quite a favorable review of my booklet “The Principles of Classical Liberalism,” but otherwise there was no reconciliation, and certainly no explanation or apology.) By that time, the fall semester was over and I was just biding my time until the spring quarter began at Denver University Law School, so I had no further contact with his class or with the seminar.
It was urgent that I find a place to stay, so I contacted my old landlady on Grand Street, who, though reluctant to have a renter at all, kindly took me on again as a renter. If she hadn’t, I’d been among the homeless in New York City or, more likely, have gone to the YMCA.
Much of the time I was in NYC before leaving for the Peterson home in New Jersey, I had a part time job as a runner for a photo studio located a block or so north of Union Square. I ran envelopes full of photos all over the city, mostly by subway but sometimes by taxi. Each new destination was a challenge, such as one time when I was on an empty subway car down near the tip of Manhattan when a workman quietly came along and did something with the doors. It turned out he was locking them without saying anything, so I had to ride several stops uptown before the doors were opened and I was able to get out. The owner of the photo studio had me out for dinner one Sunday at his home in Brooklyn, and I was impressed by how much food was presented in a series of courses. (He and his family were Jewish, which may have had something to do with the abundant and very good meal that was served.) At the studio, it was impressive how the same beautiful model would come in looking 14 sometimes and the next time looking 25 or even 30. I learned a real lesson in human dignity from the building’s elevator operator. He was expert at getting the elevator to stop exactly level with the floor. Where the dignity came in was that although he wore a short uniform-like jacket while on the job, he would come and go in a suit, carrying a briefcase that made him blend with so many of the other men in downtown Manhattan. He was going to define his own identity and not let his job diminish him.
I was contacted by an outfit called “The Princeton Panel” that was planning a series of books on free-market economics, and went to lunch with one of their officers. Their thought was that I would write the books, which would then be published under the names of well-known conservative leaders. The idea was attractive to me, but I was aware it would take me off onto an entirely different career course than the legal career I was planning. So I turned it down (without, I should say, having been conclusively offered the job). I don’t know whether the intended series of books ever appeared.
When it came time to apply for admission to law school, I took the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) at the NYU Law School on the south side of Washington Square. Today, everybody would probably prepare extensively for the test, and maybe even take a preparatory course, but that never entered my mind, and I passed it without any of that.
I stayed in New York City until late February or early March 1957, and then headed by train back to Denver to begin my law studies at the D.U. School of Law in the Spring quarter. (By what I think is coincidence because I did so well in law school, the school stopped letting students start in the spring after that, and began requiring an undergraduate degree rather than just the traditional three years of pre-law college work that I had.) On the way home, I stopped in Washington, D.C., for a week, not with any work to do but as a tourist. The “touristing” turned out, because of a week’s solid rain, to be a much-valued week spent inside the magnificent National Gallery of Art. My favorite painting was Salvador Dali’s “Last Supper,” which at that time was set off ideally in a room with fine lighting. In later years, whenever I’ve been back and gone to see the painting, they’ve had it either on a stair landing or at the end of a hallway where the elevators are – in neither case with decent lighting. It’s enough to justify firing the head of the museum, or charging him with a crime newly defined to catch the essence of his felony.
I immediately launched into work as a law student. That first quarter, I wrote a paper on “Habendum Clauses in Oil and Gas Leases” that won me first prize in the Rocky Mountain Mineral Association’s (or some name like that) writing competition. The article had three effects: to be published in the D.U. law journal “Dicta”; to lead to my appointment as the Note Editor of the journal; and probably most importantly to my being hired upon graduation by the Gorsuch, Kirgis firm, which had oil and gas law as one of its specialties. Prof. Walker, one of the D.U. faculty teaching the course on oil and gas, was one of my professors, and my work in his course no doubt was important to my being hired.
I didn’t continue with the law review long, though. Prof. Carrigan, the faculty representative, insisted the content be entirely “how to do it” pieces, whereas my interest was in public-policy articles and I thought of his preference as a form of anti-intellectualism. (It’s ironic that as I look back today I’m critical of my Water Rights Law professor for giving us absolutely no idea how to practice law in the area. I received the top A in the class, but have never had any idea where the information could be found for applying the principles we’d learned. So my negativity toward “how to do it” at least somewhat runs counter to what I wished I had been given in law school.)
The law school in those days was in a ramshackle building across the alley from the D.U. Business School, each a block or so north of the Denver Civic Center courthouse.
Now back in Denver, I lived my with mother and step-father again in their home at 650 Williams Street (they later moved to the small Mexican-style stucco home next door to the north at 656). There was an unfinished basement that was a good place for me to have a study desk.
If memory serves, I took classes during the summers of 1957 and 1959, but had summer jobs in 1958. I put that in the plural because the first part of the summer was spent working on the Southern Pacific railroad docks unloading freight cars. The national teamsters union was on strike, so all the truck cargo was going to the railroads; and the teamsters themselves got jobs working on the docks. The teamsters were a rough-and-tumble sort, but I found them (or at least the ones I got to know) an admirable bunch. (Experience over the years has shown me that often the “working man” is highly intelligent, with well-formed opinions and strong values. I could probably say the same about “working women,” but have had no comparable contact, other than to observe that the women Ginny and I come upon, for example as waitresses, are for the most part a “live wire” sort who earn our admiration. By no means do I feel that I stand on a higher platform from which to condescend to praise these “lesser educated” folk. Advanced education is itself a worthy achievement, but some of the darnedest fools I’ve known have doctorates while some of the wisest have blue collar jobs .)
During some of the summer in 1958, I had a job taking a survey for the Colorado Business and Industry Council of benefits given employees. The “right to work law” was on the ballot by referendum that summer, and the rest of my summer was spent as a fund-raiser for the campaign favoring it. (The referenda were on the ballot in several states, but successful only in one, if I recall correctly. It lost in Colorado. I had had the nerve to put a “Vote Yes for Right to Work” sticker on my flatbed on the loading docks, and was never given a hard time about it, which probably shows the men in general had a protective attitude toward me. Otherwise, there were some fights there on the dock.)
During the Christmas breaks in 1957 and 1958, I worked for the U.S. Postal Service. In ’57, the job was to pick up mail out of the mailboxes for several blocks on 6th Avenue immediately west of Broadway. The drivers picked up their mail trucks at a central garage downtown early in the morning, and I remember how much I was reminded of how pleasant it had been to be out of the Marine Corps (where the culture is very different than in civilian life, so that few people treat each other pleasantly). As I and the others drove our trucks out of the garage, a man was standing at the exit wildly waving his arms and giving imperious commands (totally unnecessarily). He was the first of that type I had seen since mustering out of the Corps.
The next winter, I was a door-to-door carrier, going from house to house with the mail in pretty much, as it turned out, the Williams Street neighborhood. The loads were heavy, and the job gave me a lot of respect for mailmen, who in those days walked their routes with large leather bags full of mail over their shoulders. (In our neighborhood in Wichita in recent years, the mail has come by someone driving a small postal truck and putting the mail in the box that stands on a post by the curb.)
It’s worth mentioning that during those years I was doing charcoals instead of the oils that came later. Among the pictures: the portraits of the two Hungarian “freedom fighters” who were pictured in the Life magazine special issue on the Hungarian Revolution (the two were waiting for the Soviet tanks to come into Budapest, and I presume the two were killed, but don’t know that for sure). Another was the picture of Elizabeth Taylor, Mike Todd and their baby. (I gave this charcoal to the girl I was dating, and her parents ruled it was pornographic and made her return it to me. I remember carrying it home one winter’s night when it was either four above or four below zero. It was bitterly cold, and the walk long, but I was steaming over the ridiculous artistic judgment of those parents.)
A fellow law student, Martha Iwaski, and I were fond of each other, more accurately described as good friends than romantically connected, and I did a charcoal portrait of her, for which she posed there at the Williams Street house. She died in about 2014 and I saw her name listed among deaths in the D.U. Law magazine, causing me to look up her obituary. She never married, and the obituary made her sound like quite a character. She was from Santa Fe and from appearance seemed to have some American Indian heritage.
The law school had a chapter of Phi Delta Phi legal honorary society, and I was sworn into it in a ceremony in the Colorado Supreme Court’s courtroom in the State Capitol Building. Students who were already members sat in the justices’ chairs. My grandfather Pop gave a short talk and presented me with his own Phi Delta Phi lapel pin, which I had made into a tie clasp that dangled proudly from my chest during the years I practiced law in Colorado. He was himself a graduate of D.U. Law and, of course, a member of Phi Delta Phi. I still have the tie clasp and hope that someday it will pass to perhaps a great-grandchild, if any choses to become a lawyer.
The law school put on an oratorical contest for students in probably the spring of 1958, and I gave a speech in honor of Senator McCarthy, who had died a year before. The event sticks out in my memory primarily because I had bought the only hat I’ve ever had (other than in the Marines and a floppy one for sun protection on walks now) -- and it was stolen during the contest, even though the only people present were students, faculty and a couple of waitresses.
In one of the law courses, we were enabled to try a case in the Denver Municipal Court. I had the task of defending a fellow charged with speeding on Colorado Boulevard. It turned out the witness against him was a district court judge, who testified he was himself going the speed limit and the defendant went around him like he was standing still. There wasn’t much to do so far as “impeaching” that witness was concerned.
I had pretty nearly a straight-A average in law school (3.87, for a magna cum laude, top in my class), but got only a C in the Domestic Relations course, something I blamed on the final exam’s being too easy. Everyone did well because of that, and when I goofed up on one question, that lowered me relative to the others. There was only one test in each course, an end-of-the-semester final. My method was not to cram for tests, but to be so prepared that I could go to a movie the night before. My preparation was attested to pretty well by my having gone into a final expecting it to be on Torts, only to find that it was on Estates and Trusts. It didn’t matter; I got the top A anyway. All of this reads like a lot of braggadocio, but is important because it defines who I was during those years. I knew later that Pop’s advice about the importance of people was certainly true, although it wouldn’t have made any difference in the course I followed. What I found was that the students who went out for beers with their fellows and who got C’s were likely to become the successful law practitioners. There was an axiom that “C students become successful in practice; B students become judges; and A students become professors.” The axiom contains much wisdom about people, their personalities and passions, and describes my ultimate trajectory to a T, since I wound up practicing law for six years in Denver, then going to Colorado Springs where I ran for district judge unsuccessfully, and then to Wichita State University as a professor.
An odd thing happened during those final days of law school in perhaps July of 1959. I developed a dizziness that forced me to lean far to one side in my chair at my study table to avoid falling out the other side. Our family doctor, Dr. Curfman, opined the problem would go away when I no longer had to work so hard, and sure enough it did. (This isn’t to suggest that I didn’t work hard at the firm a few days later, since I did, but it was different from the book grind.)
I’ve mentioned that I was initiated into Phi Beta Kappa in the spring of 1959. It was at the end of my law school attendance, but based on my work at C.U. through the end of my junior year.
[End of Part II. There are five Parts.]