Part 11: Writers, Thinkers, & the Past is Never Dead
Let's take a little break from Riley's childhood. Please note the trigger warning in the first part of this blog.
In the 1960s and early 70s, my father was writing a series of sex books under the pen name Zachary Quill. The books were classified as porn, but these paperbacks must have been a disappointment for buyers looking for classic porn. For some reason, Dad decided to write these books as if he was a professor writing a text book on the history of this or that. The one on the left is Riley's version of the history of prostitution. I knew my father's views on prostitution, he believed it should be legal, and that the church had too much influence on our laws. In the book "Whoring Through the Ages" he expresses that viewpoint. You can see the full list of his sex books below, in the third photograph.
Inside one of the books, I saw evidence of Dad's quirky sense of humor, he snuck his real name on a dedication page:
On another page he actually included his "Encyclopedia of Folk Music" along side the other books, the series of sex/history of sexuality paperbacks:
I wondered, who was John Nagy? How did they meet? I never found out, but had more luck with another dedication page. These books were written in the 1960s, and when I first bought this book from a used bookstore in Seattle, I saw this dedication, "For Leonard Bishop, who moved away."
Who was Leonard Bishop? I looked him up, found out he'd passed away in 2002. Here's Leonard Bishop's Wikipedia page.
After finding out who Leonard Bishop was, I decided to look up his son and write him an email, just to see if he remembered my father at all. His father had passed away, and he didn't remember my dad, but we had a nice chat. This is what I've been up to all these years, sometimes I'll call someone up and interview them, just to find out what the relationship was, or what people remember. It's become a strange hobby of mine. Some people like bowling, some play card games, I call up people who knew my father. I've had some great conversations.
I believe my father met Leonard Bishop when they were both homeless and riding the rails, and it might've been Bishop who encouraged my father to write. After I was born in Portland in 1965, my father left us for San Francisco, and sent for us later, (we were evicted from the apartment Dad rented while he was away) using bad checks to buy airline tickets.
Riley writes about Leonard Bishop in San Francisco in his journal as if they already knew one another. I do recommend reading Leonard Bishop's Wikipedia page, what a fascinating person, what a journey he had. Both men were writers, and perhaps that connected them. They'd both experienced abuse and homelessness, and ended up being thinkers and storytellers. Although Bishop was younger, he may have mentored my father's writing, because Bishop became a writing teacher. Who knows, it might've been the other way around.
Ok. Break is over.
To refresh, I'll go back to Riley's teen years. He'd been to the Eastern Carolina Industrial Training School for Boys in Rocky Mount, North Carolina starting at age 12. He ran away from that place three times, and on his "freedom breaks" did radio shows, performed on the stage, had periods of being homeless, and brief stays with relatives. The "school" would send boys out (fellow inmates) to chase after him, but it seems Dad outwitted those boys, or perhaps the boys secretly rooted for him and weren't so keen on catching him. Riley had long periods of freedom, although it extended his sentence.
Here's an entry, where he's looking back at the time (he was 13) and one of his escapes:
Ran away from Rocky Mt again. Lived a while with Lena Belle's daughter and her husband at Pinehurst. Next, went to live with father's brother Steven and his family on farm near Jacksonville, Onslow County.
Remember, he's just a kid, this is ages 12-15 years-old, but he looks much older. After he was captured for the third time, the "school" kicked him out by court order, and he was sent to a "country farm" which is like a work/prison camp for men.
After the incident where where Riley escaped and hooked up with the boys that stole the gun, and then then the 4 month sentence at the Country Farm, he managed to get his first radio program.
Oct. 21, 1933 15 years old Some memories
Served 4 months on the country farm; it ended my association with the Training School, who said they did not want me back.
Roosevelt assumed Presidency in January, and started the NEW DEAL.
I went to Raleigh, Richmond, New York City----Remember giant billboard advertising THE GOOD EARTH with Louise Rainer and Paul Muni.
Steven's farm near Jacksonville. Kirby's farm, near Wilmington. Radio Program in Wilmington. Kingston Radio show...Charlotte...Raleigh, Richmond, New York, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Toledo, cross-country through Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, Los Angeles.....San Francisco, back cross-country, Ashville, Charlotte, Columbia.....
In a separate entry, he goes over some of that time again:
1st radio program, local, Wilmington....
Went out on my own...drive to the highway by Louis...Hitched to Raleigh...through Virginia, to New York City on truck....Lost my clothes...The GOOD EARTH was playing at a theater....I got out of N.Y., hitched rides to Pittsburgh, and on to Detroit where found uncle's store and spent the night or maybe two...Left....
Did I go across country, to California, or was that later?
I had a radio program in Kingston. Lived at Blackwell's relative's house, with their son and two daughters....Met young prostitute....
Smith Ballew was in SUNNY SIDE OF THE ROCKIES, shown at theater where I made personal appearance the following week...What year was movie made______________ Editor of Kingston paper liked me...gave me write-ups...played theater in Goldsboro.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. --Bert Bertram Players (Tent show)...Thayer Roberts...Lived at YMCA....what year______________________.
Columbia, S.C.: Transient Camp....Did shows...prize fights...
Nov: People repealed the 18th Amendment and Prohibition was dead.
Nov. 16: U.S. officially recognized Soviet Union.
Dec." Utah, 36th state to vote, put an end to the dry law; prohibition was a thing of the past.
1933...Major beginning of the SWING ERA: it lasted through 1945, then rapidly gave way to vocalists.
Below are Dad's notes looking back on 1933. I found this entry to be extremely salient. This is the father I knew my entire life, a man who was always thinking about the world, about history, and our place in it. The "Hidden Brain" producers kept asking me about what songs he sang around the house when I was a kid. My Dad was always reading, researching, and typing away. He did sing sometimes. When people came over, the conversations began, and the talk focused on religion, the women's movement, gay rights, civil rights, and the politics of the day. My parents wanted me to understand the Holocaust. Dad wanted to make sure I knew all about the "Red Scare" and McCarthyism.
Hitler assumed power (chancellorship) in January, 1933....Purged Ernst Rohm, the leader of the Nazi storm-troopers, and other unreliable party members, in June 1934
Millions of people paid little or no attention to Hitler, and most of those who were paid to pay attention reached the wrong convictions....
Dorothy Thompson, decided in "less than 50 seconds", in an early 1933 interview, that Hitler was a man of "startling insignificance" who would never be dictator of Germany...
William E. Dodd, began ambassadorship to Germany in the spring of 1933, was certain he'd return home within a year because he felt that by then Hitler would be ousted as chancellor...
There is a two-fold lesson to be learned here:
(1) Never predict that a fanatic cannot attain supreme power, and
(2) Never think that the achievement of power will moderate him.
When I first connected with my half-brother, Richard, he had a William Faulkner quote at the end of his email, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.”
Next, in blog 12, I find another page of my father's journal, and I realize why my father never wanted to call the police, no matter how extreme the situation might be.
Today is Sunday, Feb. 9th, 2020.