All posts by wadehudson

4. Schooling

First grade was a horror. Growing up, except for occasional visits by my two cousins, my only playmate was my older sister. We had no kindergarten or pre-school, so my social skills were underdeveloped. My school, Landmark, included all twelve grades and I was not prepared to encounter unruly, often violent, teenagers, who scared the hell out of me. During recess, I felt as if I’d been thrown into a jungle with very large animals that might attack at any moment.

When we moved to Dallas, other kids made fun of me because of my Arkansas accent. That made me feel even more out of place. Eventually I learned to talk like a Texan.

I continued to wet the bed often, which embarrassed me, especially when my cousins visited. And I had a low threshold for pain. Throughout my childhood, I would often faint when I bumped my elbow or knee against something hard. As I later learned, that was probably because, to minimize intense emotions, neck muscles around the hypothalamus tighten, which cuts off blood flow to the brain – as with the stereotype of a woman fainting upon seeing a mouse.

School was a snap for me. I was always a “teacher’s pet,” well-behaved and a quick learner. Mother later related a comment by one of my teachers that her students were harder to control when I was absent because I set a good example. My second-grade teacher, who read a Psalm at the beginning of each class, gave me a copy of a book of her poetry, which I treasured.

I did make one mistake, however. Someone stepped into our classroom and asked if anyone wanted to do something (I don’t remember the specifics). Since I always tried to answer first, I blurted out, “No.” The visitor confronted me, “How do you know that?” I knew instantly what he meant (some other student might have answered Yes) and felt embarrassed.

One of my classes helped us buy paperback books. I got Call of the Wild by Jack London and The Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper and loved them both. My working-class schools were not very demanding, and I got very good grades without spending much time on homework.

One day, though, a teacher asked me to repeat what she had just said and I was unable to do it. I was shocked, because I thought I had been listening. I quickly stopped daydreaming so much.

I can’t remember ever enjoying art class. In drawing, my subjects were very limited. They included stick-figure cowboys having shoot-outs in town; battleships being attacked by airplanes; and a scene depicting two facing waterfalls, each with cascades of blue water flowing down and filling up one nook after another. It seemed I was the only student with so little artistic talent.

Once the teacher asked several boys to stand in front of the class. Some of us held our hands clasped in front of us, over our genitals. The teacher ridiculed us. “Why are you holding your hands there?” she asked, and told us to stand up straight with our hands to the side. It’s possible she was merely teaching us good posture, but the sexual reference seemed obvious and I was embarrassed.

Boude Storey Junior High School was worse than grade school. I enjoyed singing in the choir and got good grades. But, being very self-conscious, I was painfully uncomfortable during gym class. I’d never seen naked bodies before, and no one outside my family had ever seen me without my clothes on.

At home at night, we watched I Love Lucy, The $64,000 Question, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and my favorite, Gunsmoke. But getting my family to stop talking and watch dramas was difficult. I’d say, “Why are we watching if you don’t want to watch?” They’d be quiet for a while and then start up again.

In 1957, the Soviet Union jumped ahead in the “space race” by launching Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit Earth. That scared the nation and led to more talk about the risk of nuclear war. In school, we took our “duck and cover” air-raid drills more seriously. Without notice, the fire alarm would go off and everyone had to get under their desk, holding their hands over their heads for protection from the nuclear blast!

At home, I discovered something interesting. I learned that, with practice, I could influence the result when I would hold a coin vertical on a table and flick it with a finger, causing it to spin until it falls down with either heads or tails on top. My secret discovery was that if you tilt the coin either forward or back before you flick it, the uppermost side is more likely to end up on top. At school, I’d compete with others to predict the outcome. We didn’t play for money, but I liked winning.

Football was of course the most popular sport at school. After all, it was Texas. I enjoyed playing touch football and flag football during gym class and after school, and performed fairly well. But I had no interest in playing on the school team. To my taste, the game was too violent. Besides, Mother would’ve been afraid that I might get hurt and would never have allowed it.

When I was fourteen or so, my best friend, David Skoog, bought some boxing gloves. We went into his garage, took off our shirts, put on the gloves, and started to box. After less than a minute, he hit me in the solar plexus and I doubled over in pain, out of breath. That was the end of boxing for me. Then David taught me how to play chess. We played a lot and I quickly got the best of him.

At about that time, the movie “Blackboard Jungle” blew my mind with its great sound track, passion, and realism. To someone attending an all-white suburban school, it revealed a whole other world.

In gym class in the school I attended, we sometimes danced the two-step with the girls. I didn’t care for it.

Another school friend was Tommy Gramly. His father, who delivered mail, used to play semi-pro ball and was a very good Little League coach. His older brother, Jerry, made it to the minors. Tommy and I played golf at the public course and joined a bowling league. I was fairly good at those sports, and at basketball, too, but I didn’t stand out.

In 1958 “The Naked City” was my favorite TV show. It seemed so real, and it was intense. “There are a million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” I also liked “Peter Gunn” and its cool jazz. Like most people, we watched lots of Westerns, like “Have Gun, Will Travel,” “The Rifleman,” “Maverick,” and “Wyatt Earp.”

Mother bought us a small organ. She played it a bit, as did Sally. I played some, but never got into it.

Toward the end of the ninth grade, during lunch, I heard another student, George Littell, arguing that God does not exist, an idea that was completely foreign to me. But the argument intrigued me, so I asked my friend Larry Macon, “Who is that guy?” Larry said, “Oh, he’s my next-door neighbor. He’s a nice guy. I’ll introduce you to him.”

George and I quickly became good friends. I taught him how to play chess and he took me for my first visit to the public library. He introduced me to H.L. Mencken, his favorite author, and turned me loose in the section with books on philosophy and politics. I felt like a kid set free in an enormous candy store. The first books I checked out were essays by Bertrand Russell, including “Why I’m Not a Christian.” My life was forever altered.

South Oak Cliff High School was even worse than junior high. Dallas was dominated by the precursor to the Tea Party, the John Birch Society (which was also funded by the Koch family). The whole city was filled with John Birch Society billboards, and tons of cars sported John Birch bumper stickers. I hated this oppressive, radical orthodoxy and my teachers knew it.

In high school, George and I met three other students who shared our interest in “free thinking” – Ronnie, Mike, and Terry. On weekends, we’d stay up late smoking pipes and cigars, playing poker, and discussing life and philosophy (though we never drank and knew nothing about drugs). We commiserated with one other, reassured ourselves concerning our wisdom, and looked down on most everyone else (I did anyway). Two girls, Charla and Pam, seemed comfortable with our unconventional ways and were affiliated with our circle. (Later they married Mike and Ronnie.)

I started a Chess Club and set up a “ladder” on which each winner would move up a rung to determine his next opponent. My first organizing. George and I played after school almost every day. Soon he got to be a bit better than I was. But he and I both were usually at or near the top of the ladder.

Most of my teachers weren’t interested in the alternative worldview that George and I shared with our friends. I agreed with Mencken’s assessment that most people are “boobs,” members of the “booboisie.” For me, that characterization also applied to my teachers. As far as I was concerned, I was smarter than most of them.

During the first class of the day, “homeroom,” we were often forced to go to pep rallies. As I mentioned earlier, I protested by sitting down during “fight song” and got away with it. But my friend Gary Bishop didn’t fare so well. Gary belonged to another small group of quiet rebels, who raced sports cars in the parking lot of a local shopping mall and listened to jazz. I became friends with Gary, who’s now an accomplished photographer. (After graduating from high school he finished second among Texas amateur racecar drivers and once drove at Daytona.) I’d go over to his house and help him with his homework. Gary would also sit down during the fight song. But being close to the stage he was visible to the principal, who one day admonished him in front of the entire student body.

Gary lived on the “other side of the tracks,” in what was probably only a middle-class house, but it seemed like a mansion to me. I lived in a tiny house, the first house my parents ever owned, without my own bedroom and with six other people, including my two sisters and my mother’s parents. (After I graduated, the student body at my high school became almost totally African-American and Hispanic, and my neighborhood turned into an African-American ghetto with a house church on almost every block.) Gary also had the advantage of living with a family that, unlike mine, seemed to actually like one another. I enjoyed going to his house.

Gary turned me on to jazz and Joan Baez. That opened up a whole new world for me, which I loved. At home we only listened to Frankie Lane, Johnny Cash, Johnny Mathis and the like.

Gary and his friends were influenced by the Beats. My friends and I were, too, though perhaps in a less meaningful way. Pretty much everything I knew about the Beats came from watching “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” on TV, listening to the comedian Dave Gardner, and reading Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy Philosophy.” But I felt an affinity for their lifestyle, and, in one display of solidarity, wore my bathroom slippers, Native American-style moccasins, to school instead of regular shoes. I’d already concluded that there must surely be more to life than the drab conformity captured in the 1956 movie, Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.

I challenged school rules that seemed arbitrary, like having to leave the cafeteria during lunch hour and not being able to cross an invisible line when we went outside. Once I tried to organize an insurrection, but found little interest among my fellow students.

My sophomore year in Speech class I gave two speeches. The first was on “Why I Believe in Flying Saucers” (my mother’s influence). The second, inspired by a C. Wright Mills book that I had read before the United States drove Cuba into the arms of the Soviet Union, was on “Why I Like Fidel Castro.” I’m sure word of that strange affinity circulated among the teachers.

On the first day of my junior-year English Literature class, the teacher told us to read the introduction to our textbook and write a composition of at least three-fourths of a page, right then in class, about what we would have liked to do if we had lived in Medieval England. I read the introduction and quickly wrote the required minimum, which amounted essentially to a declaration that there was absolutely nothing I could imagine doing in Medieval England. With that, I put down my pen, probably with a smirk on my face. The teacher said, “Are you already finished, Mr. Hudson?” I said, “Yes.” She replied, “Well, I can see what kind of a grade you’re going to get.”

Later that year, she gave me a poor grade for spelling “there” incorrectly. When I complained about it with tears in my eyes, she said, “Well, in college if you do that, they’ll fail you.” I did in fact get my worst grade ever in her class, a “C.”

In 1960 I saw Elmer Gantry and was amused and intrigued by its lampooning of Christian evangelism. One day, curious, I went by myself to a tent revival. But at the door, the passion inside frightened me and I left.

I missed the early Marlon Brando and James Dean movies, since my father didn’t show them at his theater in the mid-1950s. But once I could drive, I started going to movies by myself. I was captivated by The Hustler and turned on immensely by La Dolce Vita, especially the living-room strip-tease scene.

Normally, I’d do my homework at my desk while waiting for class to start. The instructor of the anti-Communism course clearly hated it when I scored 100 on his history tests. Math was particularly easy for me, and on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT), I answered every question correctly and scored in the top 1%.

Still, my high school never assigned me to any honors courses, not even math, probably because they didn’t like my demeanor. I assume my parents or I could have requested that I be placed in an honors class. But I knew nothing about them, including any advantages they might provide. Anyway, I hated the whole high school scene and was content to just go through the motions. I even rushed through my SAT tests, not knowing their importance.

My cavalier attitude toward my education quickly brought some chickens home to roost. When I went to Cal planning to major in Physics, I was surprised to learn that I couldn’t take the normal introductory Physics course, because I hadn’t studied calculus in high school. That setback disappointed me at the time, though on reflection, I now see it may have been a stroke of good luck.

Throughout high school I was only assigned to write one essay – yes, only one. I wrote mine on Voltaire, the French satirist.

The few teachers who supported my independent thinking had to be secretive about it, like the young female math teacher who quietly confided in me that she was reading Anna Karenina. The chemistry teacher would play chess with me in his lab when I skipped mandatory pep rallies. And the civics teacher was not shocked when a fellow student told the whole class that I had sat down during the Pledge of Allegiance at a public event. That had occurred at the city auditorium, where Ronald Reagan was making another stop in the General Electric-sponsored speaking tour that catapulted him to national political prominence. (I did not reject the Pledge of Allegiance per se, but only the oppressive way it was being used.) Besides my math, chemistry, and civics teachers, however, I found all of my teachers oppressive.

I’ve also surmised that the civics teacher may have been sympathetic to nonconformists because he was gay. He took some of us male students to Austin for the state basketball playoffs and carried on noisily with some of the students behind closed doors in ways that puzzled me.

After I had begun my habit of taking long walks during the evening, I read a Ray Bradbury science-fiction short story in a school textbook. It was set in the future and featured a man who would walk alone at night and look through the windows of homes he passed. In house after house, he noted the glaring light from the televisions inside, where people sat passive and transfixed. An automated, driver-less police car then drove up to the man, interrogated him, and arrested him for improper conduct. As I walked the streets alone at night, I felt like the character in the story must have felt, scandalous and something of a freak.

The only other piece I liked in that textbook was “The Wasteland,” by T.S. Eliot. It sounded like Dallas to me!

George once suggested that we run away from home. I was tempted, but decided against it. He did it anyway, but on the first night he called his mother from the edge of town and asked her to come get him.

Later, George was selected as Boy of the Month by the Dallas Optimist Club (his mother had nominated him). It seemed to me that he went downhill from there, perhaps as a result of glimpsing “success.” He even joined the JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps), which struck me as strange.

After graduation, George and I corresponded some. (In one letter, he told me I should become an op-ed columnist.) Then one night at Ronnie’s house during Christmas break, we had a heated disagreement about the Vietnam war (George approved of it) and we never communicated again. Later, I heard he was working for Mobil Oil in Houston and that he had his sights set on eventually becoming CEO of one of the nation’s ten largest corporations. For all I know, he may have succeeded. He was a bit smarter than I was in terms of analytical intelligence – though I did beat him once in a citywide “numbers’ sense” contest, after I secretly prepped for it.

When it came time to apply to college, all of us had to go to the school counselor to get her recommendation. Terry said that when he went in, she asked him, “Is it true that George is an atheist?” Terry lied through his teeth and said no.

When I went in to see the counselor, my preference was to go to Rice University in Houston to study physics. She started to check the “highest recommendation” box, but then noticed that the faculty had not selected me for the National Junior Honor Society. She asked my why, and I told her I didn’t know, whereupon she left the office. After several minutes, she came back and checked the box for second-highest recommendation. I assume she had found out that I had some “character” issues. Rice rejected my application.

I didn’t go to the high school graduation ceremony, or to the prom. To my mind, the sooner I had nothing more to do with South Oak Cliff High School, the better (though for many years afterward I did think about going back and showing them how a good teacher operates).

That summer, in addition to going to some coffee houses to listen to folk music and to the Unitarian Church to check it out, I participated in a marvelous study group conducted by two students from the Perkins School of Theology. Our class valedictorian went to the same church as the seminarians who suggested the study group and she invited our little clique to participate.

We read stuff like Plato, Freud, Marx, and, most memorably, “Coney Island of the Mind” by the Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I had never encountered any of that kind of material in high school, so it was a stimulating summer. After the last gathering, the hosts served us mint juleps, the first alcohol I had ever drunk. What a fitting sendoff to college!

That adventure with alcohol prompted some of us to get some six-packs and find a dark field where we could drink. Unfortunately, small round prickly balls got stuck on the bottom of my pants legs. When I got home Mother noticed and I got into big trouble. I didn’t care. I was about to be free.

3. Baseball

18563_468567730132_852630132_10944141_5291721_sGan-gan started training me to play baseball as soon as he could. He’d only had daughters and really wanted a son, so I was it. He knew the basics and was deadly serious. Crooked fingers on his left hand from having played catcher before real gloves were available proved it. “I also wiped my ass with corncobs,” he said.

We practiced every day. Gan-gan wouldn’t even let me go swimming, because he thought it would deplete my energy for baseball. (I never did learn to swim.) In grade school, he told me not to play softball, because it would throw off my timing for baseball (Eventually, I persuaded him to let me play softball.)

Shortly before I turned seven, I joined my first Little League team. Opposing pitchers almost always walked me. I was so small they had trouble throwing me a strike. So the manager used me strategically as a pinch-hitter and put me in right field, the least demanding position. Once I actually caught a fly ball. Everyone was thrilled, none more so than I was.

After we moved to Dallas, I became a Little League super star, partly due to my speed. In the fifth grade, there was only one student in my class faster than me, John Elliott, and he was barely faster. During recess, my class would play a game called “it.” First, one person would be “it” and run after others. When he managed to tag another boy, the two of them would try to tag others, and so on. John and I would usually be the last ones untagged. Often I’d be the very last.

I soon graduated to shortstop in Little League, my favorite position. One year we were playing on live television. The commentator was a pro on the Dallas minor-league team. On a ball hit to my left, I ran, caught the ball, whirled, threw to first, and managed to nip the runner on a close play. When I came home, Mother told me the commentator had remarked, “That kid’s going to be a big leaguer.”

That comment reinforced my already firm conviction. I was not only going to make it to the majors; I would be first-string shortstop for the New York Yankees.

But Gan-gan never had me do strengthening exercises. That was not the norm back then, and I wasn’t naturally muscular (though my legs were from running so much). I also wasn’t very limber, which you have to be to excel as a batter. The upshot was that I hit poorly, and hardly ever for extra bases. In high school I even failed President Kennedy’s physical fitness test, though I played all sports well.

In baseball, my forte as a batter was bunting. I would sometimes drag a bunt and use my speed to beat out a hit. When I was at the plate with a runner on third and less than two out, the manager would often call for a “suicide squeeze.” This strategy calls for the runner to head for home before the pitch is thrown; if the batter misses the bunt, the runner is tagged out at the plate. With my skills as a bunter, I almost always got the bunt down and the run would score. Those instances remain in my memory as the most exciting moments of my Little League career.

During the summer following fifth grade, my Little League baseball team practiced on my grade school’s field. After practice we’d run to the gym to drink refrigerated water, and, since I was the fastest runner, I usually got there first. One day I found that our normal portal of entry, a window, was locked. So I reached through a broken pane to unlock it and cut my arm severely. I looked down and saw a canyon of white skin that quickly filled with blood. I jogged back to the parking lot and was taken to a doctor, who stitched up my wound. Since the cut was only a half inch from an artery, I consider that incident to be my second close encounter with Death.

When we played softball in grade school, I was always a captain charged with picking players for one of the teams. I was very intense, serious, and hyper-competitive.

Another side of me, however, was quiet and timid. Perhaps for that reason, my baseball hero was Ty Cobb. In addition to being a great hitter, Cobb was a terror on the base paths, very fast and aggressive. He was notorious for his willingness to gash opposing infielders by sliding into them with his cleats high. This gave him a huge edge as a base runner, since it caused the infielders to shy away and made it easy for him to safely take the base.

One spring while playing with my junior-high team, the first baseman from another school irritated me and I decided I’d take my revenge when we played them again. My intent was to get on first, take a long lead, slide back into first like Ty Cobb, and cut his legs. I practiced this plan for fifteen minutes or so and planned to follow through with it. But when game time came, I soon realized it wasn’t practical.

When we moved to South Oak Cliff, I switched Little League teams. My new manager was Buddy Nix, whose hero may also have been Ty Cobb. He was a small, pugnacious, high-strung individual, a manifestation of the worst aspects of youth athletics. The film Bad News Bears captured his personality perfectly.

Every summer, our team would go to Houston to play a game. The fathers who drove raced each other, passing other drivers against the yellow line while going uphill. Their recklessness scared me, though they never had an accident. When we got to Houston, things got even worse. In the humid heat, Nix insisted we wear our complete uniform, including long-sleeve cotton jerseys and wool pants and shirts. I’ve hated Houston ever since.

One summer, playing shortstop in a very important game, I made an error in the final inning that caused us to lose. I was devastated, and cried as I walked to the car. Nix walked up to me and said, “Stop crying like a baby. Take it like a man.”

In Little League baseball, adults often told us, “It’s not whether you win or lose that counts, but how you play the game.” But they did not practice what they preached. More often coaches taught me that “winning is everything.”

By the eighth grade, I was no longer an outstanding player. My peers had caught up with my early training and, in general, their bodies were maturing earlier than mine. I was no longer among the fastest runners. The upshot was that, when three players in my class were selected to play on the ninth-grade team, I wasn’t one of them. That disturbed me greatly, and my confidence was shaken. Maybe I wasn’t going to be first-string shortstop for the Yankees after all.

Once, while still in the eighth grade, I was stationed at second base as we practiced making double plays. Our third baseman would lean back, wind up, and throw the ball to me as hard as he could. In practicing the double play, he should have used a quick-release sidearm throw to get the ball to me as quickly as possible. The manager should have told him to make the throw properly, but he didn’t, and I was nervous about it.

On another day, I was again at second base as we practiced the double play. This time, as the throw from third headed my way, I stepped on top of the bag and raised my body relative to my glove, and the third baseman’s very hard throw, which failed to sink in its trajectory as much as most balls thrown by eighth graders do, hit me squarely in the mouth. After oral surgery, my teeth appeared normal. But down deep, I was terribly embarrassed, and my dreams of playing pro ball faded even further. (Years later, I woke up in the middle of the night with my face swollen like a balloon from an abscessed tooth and even later had to get a bridge.)

Shortly thereafter, our team played a game attended by the school principal, who was a hard-driving sports enthusiast. At pep rallies he’d go on and on about “intestinal fortitude.” The phrase was unfamiliar to me, but I assumed he meant “guts.”

Early in the game, I managed to get to first base. I took a big lead from the bag as usual, hoping the coach would give me the steal sign. The pitcher repeatedly threw to first to try to pick me off, but each time I dived back to the bag head-first safely. When the pitcher realized he couldn’t pick me off, he threw the ball over to first with much less velocity, just to keep me cautious about taking big leads. Even so, I still wanted to take as big a lead as possible while minimizing any chance of getting picked off. So I kept diving back head-first.

From his perch, the principal yelled at me, “There’s no need to do that, son.” His comment prompted Gan-gan (who was at every game) to stand up and shout to the principal, “Don’t you tell my grandson how to play baseball.”

A short while later, maybe 30 minutes, Gan-gan collapsed from a stroke and was taken to the hospital. When I arrived home, Uncle George took me to a game involving the Dallas minor-league team (a rare treat). The next morning, I was told that Gan-gan was dead. I assumed I was responsible, because he had gotten so angry at the principal who was irritated with me.

I was in shock. The anchor in my life, the source of my meaning, was suddenly gone. But Nix had taught me his lesson. I did not cry. No one else cried either, so far as I knew. We didn’t discuss Gan-gan’s death or how we felt about it. We just went on with our lives. But there was a big void in my world.

Years later, as a sophomore in college, I went to the mental health clinic to talk about sex. After I entered his office, the psychiatrist never spoke. I don’t think he even said hello. So I just sat there, not saying a word for almost the entire hour. Then I started talking about my grandfather’s death and my feeling that I was responsible for it. The psychiatrist immediately told me there was no possibility I was to blame. With that verdict, an enormous, almost orgasmic, sense of relief swept over my entire body. Nevertheless, to this day I still wonder whether I may have contributed to my grandfather’s death.

Even without Gan-gan’s encouragement, I continued to play on my junior-high and high school baseball teams, and in college I proudly wore the letter jacket that I’d earned my senior year in high school. Yet, in truth, I stuck with baseball largely out of habit. The passion was gone. The dream of making it to the Yankees had evaporated and I’d become more interested in chess and books.

In high school, my homeroom was assigned the last row at the back of the auditorium for mandatory assemblies and pep rallies. Even though the baseball coach stood right behind us with the other coaches, I sat down during the school song to protest being forced to go to these events. I feared the coach would punish me for my rebellion, but I don’t believe he did. I wasn’t good enough to win a starting position until my senior year, and even then the coach may only have given me the spot as a reward for my persistence.

I never became friends with any of my teammates, who probably viewed me as an oddball. Once I had a confrontation with Karl Sweetan, who later became a pro football quarterback. While still in high school, Sweetan had reportedly hit someone over the head with a pool stick in a fight at a pool hall. He was our starting second baseman and, following practices, was supposed to bring the second base bag into the locker room. One day, carrying the bag after practice, he threw it at me, hitting me in the chest, and told me to bring it into the locker room. I left it on the ground, though I worried he would beat me up for refusing. But he didn’t and got into trouble with the coach for flouting his duties.

That’s pretty much all I remember about my high school baseball career. Not too much excitement there.

Mostly out of curiosity, I went to a baseball workout my freshman year at Cal, thinking I might try out. But I soon realized it was pointless.

I was through with baseball, but I did enjoy playing intramural softball at Cal. My student co-op, Ridge House, organized a team and I was the coach. One year the fields were so wet from rain that they couldn’t be used for practice. But a nearby parking garage, still under construction, provided our team a convenient dry place to get our act together. So we practiced incessantly, gaining on the competition who couldn’t practice.

One day while hitting infield practice, I knocked the ball over the fence and across the street into the backyard of the Chancellor’s mansion. I went to retrieve the ball, knocking on the front door and being let in by the Chancellor himself. I walked through his house with my wet shoes, retrieved the ball from the backyard, and went back to practicing. The Chancellor seemed unfazed.

Even though the softball we played was fast-pitch, and we didn’t have a very good pitcher, we almost won the championship that year.

Professional baseball, however, fell off my radar that year. The San Francisco Giants competed in the World Series in 1962, but I was immersed in my academic and other activities at Berkeley, and obsessed with sex, and hardly noticed. In the late 1980s, however, I again became a passionate major-league baseball fan. I was inspired by Roger Craig and his “Hmm Baby” Giants, especially by their proclivity to steal home, the most daring play in baseball.

In 2002 I went to my first World Series game, the Giants against the Angels. My sister, Mary, had purchased a share of two season tickets in the left field bleachers and took me to a game at the Giants new, beautiful downtown park. Unfortunately, however, two large, tall Angels’ fans, bikers, sat in front of us. I didn’t know there were bikers in Anaheim! But these guys fit the stereotype: loud and obnoxious. Worse yet, they were very witty and quickly put down anyone who engaged them in trash talk. And when the Angels started scoring many runs, they would stand up and block my view. The Angels won the game handily. Not the best introduction to the World Series.

I finally had my ultimate World Series experience in 2010. The Giants had won the National League Championship and captured the town’s love with an endearing “band of misfits” that perfectly reflected San Francisco. The players included Tim Lincecum, who had been busted for marijuana possession, Brian Wilson, the notorious performance artist with a YouTube video featuring a “neighbor” in S-and-M garb that went viral and elicited praise from Governor Arnold Swarzenegger, and Aubrey Huff, known for his red “rally thong” that he wore throughout the post-season and displayed at the victory parade and rally.

Prior to the Series, the Giants first offered tickets to their season ticket holders. I initially assumed they would all sell out and that tickets on the secondary market would be too expensive for me. But one day I was home in the afternoon and received a bulk email from the Giants announcing that a few tickets were still available at regular prices. I jumped at the opportunity and got a seat in the first row of the upper deck right behind home plate. It was arguably the best seat in the house, and I got to see Lincecum win the first game!

The Giants then went to Dallas-Fort Worth, where they eventually won the Series. For me, the victory was especially sweet because George Bush, the war-monger, had a clear view of his Rangers’ defeat from the very first row next to the field. Beating Texas added to the joy. I joined in the celebration of the Giants’ victory in front of AT&T Park in San Francisco. On the day of the parade to City Hall, I took a folding chair and got a front row seat. More jubilation! The first ever World Series victory in San Francisco!

Baseball is still my favorite sport. The pace of the game appeals to me. There is no clock imposing an artificial deadline, and even at the last minute, the losing team can still win. Violence is minimal. Many different skills are involved, and even very small players can be successful. The moment-by-moment tactical decisions are intriguing. The critical subtleties of team dynamics are a challenge. Confidence and fearlessness are fundamental to success. And, at every game, fans see something they’ve never seen before.

In addition, baseball has a spiritual dimension. Playing it well requires a delicate balance between action and a meditative state, between being forceful and being relaxed, not getting too high or too low, maintaining an even keel. Staying “in the zone” is key, and too much thinking gets in the way. “See ball, hit ball” is the rule, and, for this, concentration is fundamental. Some players report not even being aware of the crowd noise. Wes Krukow, a very successful professional dancer who is the son of the former big league pitcher Mike Krukow (currently an announcer for the San Francisco Giants), has reported that one baseball lesson he’s trying to absorb from his father is: “As a professional, you have to find a balance and moderation in all of it. The thing I’ve been able to get from [him] is to ground yourself, be humble. You’re never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never as good as you think you are.”

Perhaps baseball’s most attractive trait is that it demands a primary commitment to the team, rather than to individual self-interest. In recent years I’ve been hearing more and more stories about how players have dedicated themselves to the well-being of their teammates. Such camaraderie is especially important in baseball, because players are with one another almost every day for eight months. But nurturing team spirit is tricky. The manager has to have a careful touch, and veterans on the team must set a good example. The Giants found their chemistry only after the departure of Barry Bonds, the ultimate prima donna who undermined team unity. Even as an adult, I continue to learn new aspects of the game that apply to life in general and offer clues for how to live.

Finally, baseball is great for the sense of community it generates among its fans. In San Francisco, complete strangers will talk with fellow fans on the streets who are wearing Giants’ gear. The gear serves as a “uniform” that signifies common membership in a community. That same sense of community prevails at games, where differences in socio-economic status are no barrier. Everyone is a member of the same family. I know this community is shallow. But it does bring fun and enjoyment to life. In a world characterized by increasing isolation, I’ll take any sense of community I can get.

For all these reasons, I wait each winter for the baseball season to begin. I know the boys of summer will take the field as soon as it stops snowing, and keep playing until it starts snowing again. Play ball! A metaphor for life.


2. Daddy

IMGMy father was the enforcer. He hid in the closet until Mother summoned him to lash my butt with his belt. Once or twice a year. Enough to keep me on my toes. Even when all was quiet, he was lurking.

Daddy would whip Sally, too, though less often. Once he went after her with such fury Mother feared he would seriously injure her.

Ulcers ate at Daddy’s stomach, and he was always ready to explode. His own father had been a sharecropper, and when he was young Daddy had worked the farm too. Until he retired, Daddy worked hard, real hard. Still, the only thing I remember about him from my time in Arkansas is the Jewel Tea truck he drove while distributing and selling sundries. In my life, he was a non-entity. Gan-Gan was my de facto father.

Around the time I was born, when Mother took the family to Arkansas, Daddy decided he would divorce Mother as soon as I left home. He decided to wait because he didn’t want people to say about him what they had said about his father: that he left home when his kids were still young. In Daddy’s case, the birth of my sister Mary confined him to another ten years of love-less marriage. As noted previously, I rarely observed any exchange of affection between my parents.

Before he married Mother, Daddy had been married to another woman, but his first wife had died. I think that broke his heart. And maybe he had been worn down years earlier by having to be “the man of the house” after his father left home. As the eldest son of a single mother, and having a bad back, he was excused from serving in the military during World War Two, but the war must have affected him. That event, and the Great Depression that preceded it, traumatized many of his generation, leaving them numb.

As was the case with most of his peers, Daddy was not very good at handling or communicating feelings. Visiting someone in a hospital, for instance, was a traumatic event for him, so he hardly ever did. The only heartfelt feelings he ever expressed to me before I left home consisted of long monologues. I think there may have been three.

Daddy’s father, George Sr., lived in Corpus Christi, and we’d visit him from time to time. When he was sixty or so, he married an emotionally disturbed woman who was thirty or forty years younger than he was. They had a child, who had her own hard time in life.

During our visits with George Sr., Daddy, his father and his siblings would mostly drink and play 42 and Moon, two games played with dominoes. They were very serious about it and played for money, a penny a point.

Daddy was serious about everything. The main lesson he taught me was, “A job’s not worth doing unless it’s worth doing right.”

We’d go over to his mother’s house in Dallas for Thanksgiving and Christmas. His mother was rather strict, and I didn’t particularly enjoy her company. The females would prepare the food and the males would go into the living room and watch football or play 42. I did enjoy my cousin Sonny, who was closer to my age. I also liked my two uncles, Roy and George, who were quite lively.

Daddy worked afternoons and nights seven days a week managing theaters, so I’d only see him during dinnertime. The family would eat while watching the evening news on television. We didn’t talk much.

Daddy and I basically only discussed sports. He never told me anything about sex. But when I was twenty and very involved in the young adult group at the Northaven Methodist Church, one of my best friends, Frank Murray, was an older man who sold beauty supplies. He was gay, but I had little inkling of that. He’d give me a ride home and, when we’d pulled up in front of my house, I’d stay in the car with him awhile, continuing our philosophical conversations.

Mother was worried and told Daddy to warn me about homosexuality. He did so one day while I was riding with him in his car: a ten-minute lecture that mystified me. I knew little about heterosexuality, much less about homosexuality. So I just listened and said something like, “Okay.”

But, with Mother’s concurrence, Daddy did buy me the Vespa motor scooter for my paper route. Without ever complaining, he also paid for the windows I’d break when I’d zoom down the street, throw a bundled paper toward the porch, and hit a window.

During my high school years, Daddy hired me to work at the South Loop Drive-in Theater, which he managed. Though Daddy never cursed at home, he cussed up a storm at work, revealing a hidden side of himself that stunned me. To me the change seemed like Jekyll and Hyde.

Most drive-in theaters were known as hot-beds for adolescent sexual activity, but Daddy was proud of South Loop’s reputation as a “family theater.” One popular feature was a children’s playground in front of the screen. Daddy would walk the back rows of parked cars, snooping on patrons with a flashlight. Whenever he found flagrant sexual behavior, he’d demand that the perpetrators leave. Years later, I deduced that those inspection tours probably gave him a sexual thrill.

Once, he horrified my mother and surely disturbed many of his regular customers by showing And God Created Woman. The movie introduced the world to Brigitte Bardot, the French sexpot known for being photographed nude on the beach. Though the film contained nude shots of Bardot, it was tame by today’s standards. Back at that time in Dallas, however, it was considered to border on pornography.

On another occasion, we were leaving the house and Daddy glanced at a film on television featuring Sophia Loren. He made some comment about her large breasts, which disturbed me. He was definitely a man with a dark side.

After I went to Berkeley, Daddy disapproved of my involvement in the civil rights movement and reduced his financial support because of it. He did this in spite of his increasing income. After I graduated from high school, Associated Popcorn Distributors, Inc. hired him to be Vice President in Charge of Sales. The job involved selling concession supplies to the Astrodome in Houston and to theaters throughout the Southwest. Daddy was a great salesman, so sales boomed and he began to earn big bucks. His crowning achievement was an invitation to join the Dallas Athletic Club, an old, exclusive country club where he played golf. He bought several pieces of land throughout Texas, including the “ranch” in the Hill Country where he ultimately retired.

Over the years, however, the ice between us melted. One turning point was reached when he heard two sermons about racism and the civil rights movement. Those sermons were apparently an epiphany for him. He told me about them and said he had been wrong in his views on civil rights in the past. He didn’t express explicit appreciation for my involvement in the movement, but it seemed to be at least implicit, which was comforting. (But when Mother invited her spiritualist friends over to hear my report on LSD, he fell asleep in his recliner.)

Later, when Mary was in high school, Daddy softened even more. I couldn’t believe how much he loved the family’s poodle, Choo-Choo. He’d sit with that dog in his lap for the longest time.

Daddy was living and working in Houston, and having an affair, when Mary finally graduated from high school. Soon thereafter, with no warning, he mailed Mother the divorce papers, which shocked and devastated her.

Daddy’s new wife, Wilma, was about twenty years younger than he was, and proved herself a loving, compassionate woman by the good care she took of him in his illness-plagued later years. She was good for Daddy and he became noticeably happier.

Despite his heightened mood, however, he still never gave my sisters or me praise for our accomplishments. Occasionally, I’d try to explain my life commitment to community organizing, but I don’t think he ever understood. Once I told him, “I think you should tell Mary you are proud of her.” He never did.

One day I told Wilma, “You know, Daddy has never visited me in San Francisco. I’d really appreciate it if you could get him out there.” A few years later, she and Daddy came together, and we had fun touring around. Wilma kept saying, “Well, anything goes in San Francisco.” She was a serious evangelical Christian, but had a tolerant streak.

One of Wilma’s siblings who had several children got into serious trouble of some sort. In the circumstance, she and Daddy adopted two of the children, who were in grade school at the time. Whenever I visited, I’d notice that Daddy would treat the children like slaves, ordering them around to do this or that. That behavior bothered me, in part because it reminded me of how he had treated me.

As it happened, when his best friend at Popcorn Distributors died, the remaining partners fired him. They later regretted the act, for the company’s business rapidly collapsed without my father around to massage his contacts.

Daddy then made a serious mistake. He invested in a jewelry company that failed when the Texas oil economy tanked. His brother George had to persuade him, in the face of Daddy’s great reluctance, to declare bankruptcy and salvage what assets he could. Thereafter, he was forced to sell most of his properties and squeak by on Social Security. A sad downfall.

Once he visited me in San Francisco for about a week by himself and stayed with me in my apartment. I enjoyed his visit, especially our road trip north to Bend, Oregon, where we spent the night next to a beautiful river. In the city, he seemed thrilled like a young child by the sound of fire, police, and ambulance sirens. Once, while we were walking down the street, a hooker passed in front of us. Daddy crudely lifted his cane horizontal to the ground simulating an erection and made a suggestive comment. I ignored him.

My father’s older sister, Jenny, had been married multiple times and had several children. The last I heard, the children were all still at odds with one another. Daddy’s younger sister married twice and had a troubled second marriage. My father’s two brothers were married a number of times, never had children, and had many health issues. They both died at a fairly young age.

Since neither of my uncles had children, I was the last male on that branch of the family tree. (There was some distant Hudson male who may have kept his branch alive, but we weren’t in touch with him.) Once I asked Uncle George if Daddy was concerned that the family name might die with me. George said he was. But I felt our branch of the tree was profoundly poisoned. I didn’t care to keep it alive.

After I had settled in San Francisco, one of her sons, Sonny, moved to the Bay Area. I visited him and his family once or twice, but he and his family never accepted my invitation to come and see me in San Francisco. Once, my father and I visited them on the peninsula. At one point, out of the blue, Sonny started talking about the shape of my thin lips, which felt creepy.

All in all, it was not a healthy extended family.

In early 1987, Daddy’s youngest sister told me, “Wade, you should go see your father. He really needs you.” She said it in a way that indicated that was all she wanted to say, so I didn’t ask why.

When I arrived at his home outside Harper, Texas, I learned that he was in trouble with the authorities for sexual abuse of the twelve-year-old girl he and Wilma had adopted. After dinner, Wilma went to bed and left us alone to talk. He told me that he’d been accused of fondling the girl and had agreed to go to a certain number of therapy sessions in exchange for having the charges dropped. But now, he said, the authorities were threatening to file charges against him anyway.

During my previous visit to his home, Daddy had been using a large scalp massager to give family members back massages. At the time, I was encouraged to see the interest he had taken in massage and relaxation. But in retrospect, I suspect the scalp massager was a surreptitious sex toy for Daddy that he used with his adopted daughter.

Though Daddy never fully admitted the crime, he left no doubt in my mind that he was guilty. But he was seventy years old and I didn’t want him to go to prison. So the next day I consulted with a friend from high school, Mike Doughty, who was a social worker. He recommended that, because Daddy’s caseworker was on vacation, I talk with the caseworker’s supervisor instead and urge him to honor the agreement Daddy had described. I did so, and the supervisor assured me that the charges would be dropped. Later, they were.

I left Harper with an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. In my own mind, I basically disowned the Hudson family. I had long ago lost any sense of attachment to them. This discovery was the final straw.

Sometime later, I learned that my father had engaged in similar behavior with my older sister Sally when she was about the same age. When Mother found out about it, she was outraged – though, overtly, she blamed Sally! It must have been because of that incident that she told me she was thinking about divorcing Daddy. No wonder!

Still, I loved my father and continued to visit him occasionally, often with other family members. Daddy and I pretty much talked only about sports and politics. He was basically a right-wing populist. He hated “the Rockefellers” as much as I did.

The last long conversation we had before he died was when Ralph Nader was running for President in 2000. He asked me who I liked. I told him I hoped Nader would get 5% of the vote to qualify the Green Party for federal funding during the next election, since that would give Nader a platform for promoting his ideas. Daddy said he agreed with me. I was thrilled and relieved. Other than our shared disdain for “the Rockefellers,” this was more than we had ever agreed on anything in connection with politics, and he was eighty-eight years old.

In the end, Daddy died a long slow death as a victim of Parkinson’s disease. Over the years, he got more and more stiff. The last time I visited him, he seemed to be frozen solid. Lying with his back to me, he said, “Son, do you ever cry?” I said, “Yes, I do from time to time.” He replied, “Well, so do I.”

After a while, he said, “I feel I was not a very good father.” I answered, “You did the best you could.” I could also have told him that I appreciated his repeated support for my independence, and that I had picked up from him his moral concerns, his interest in politics, and his dedication to hard work.

Prior to the funeral in Dallas, the wife of one of my cousins brought the scalp massager to the house and laid it on the floor by the door, which came across to me as a statement of disgust about Daddy’s sex abuse.

When Uncle George and I were alone in the living room, I asked him if he knew why Daddy and Mother had moved to Arkansas. He didn’t say a word. Instead, he got up and left the room.

Not many people came to the funeral. When I arrived, I sat down next to George, feeling close to him and sympathizing with his loss. He moved away to another seat. I can only guess why. I assume he disapproved of my religion, my politics, and my life style. And he probably thought I had not been a good son.

Since Wilma had warned me not to say too much, I said only a few words at the service. So did Sally and a few other people. Then, with Wilma’s three sons and some other family members, we scattered Daddy’s ashes at a golf course, the field of green where he played out one of his greatest passions.

When I headed back to California, I swore I’d never set foot in Texas again.


1. Mother


Born feet-first with a thick skull and a big head, I was trouble from the get-go. My family had their hands full trying to control me. After Mother found me unconscious on the floor, her father raised the walls of my crib to keep me in, but I still got out. After I graduated to a bed, I’d walk in my sleep. One night I stepped on a stinging scorpion, which woke me instantly. Another night Mother found me sound asleep in our snow-covered front yard.

Mother was physically affectionate. I particularly loved it when she scratched my back. We were very close. She weaned me early and toilet-trained me easily. My father’s family said she was spoiling me.

My mother’s father, Heywood Presley Marsh, whom I called “Gan-gan,” had wanted a son as a first child, so when Mother was born, he named her Willie, short for the “William” he would’ve named a boy. But her parents called by her middle name, Corrine. Later, I became the son Gan-gan never had, as he groomed me to become a professional baseball player from an early age.

My grandmother, Sallie, or “Ma-ma,” was very quiet. I hardly remember her at all. Mother told me more than once that Ma-ma had “Indian blood” and some photographs I later saw of her did seem to indicate Native American features.

After we were grown, my father, younger sister, Mary, and I took a road trip from Dallas to Arkansas to explore our Arkansas roots. We looked up “Marshes” in the Pangburn phone book, visited some, and showed them photographs. They identified some of the people in Mary’s photos, but they were all strangers to us. Many Marshes, we learned, lived nearby on top of a large hill, in an area known as Marsh Mountain. The town of Pangburn now has a Marsh Mountain Road. But the three of us from Dallas knew none of them, because we had never visited with any of my grandparents’ relatives, for reasons unknown to me.

My mother had dug deep into her secretary’s income to purchase our farm on the outskirts of Little Rock, Arkansas as a retirement home for her parents. I lived there during my first seven years. Gan-gan planted corn and other crops, and raised rabbits to sell in town. Once I counted 114 rabbits. That number changed quickly.

IMGWhen I visited the farm decades later, neighbors told me the land had always been rocky and infertile. But Gan-Gan worked it so hard, the neighbors thought he was half-crazy. Their impression didn’t surprise me. Gan-Gan was very hyper. Watching a boxing match on TV, for example, he’d sit on the edge of his seat throwing punches into the air empathizing with the fighter he was rooting for.

With me often riding Belle, the work horse, he brought in produce for the kitchen table. And we ate lots of rabbit! Eggs and brains (pork) were an occasional treat.

Best of all were the strawberries. Every year I’d wait for them to ripen, so we could make homemade strawberry ice cream. We may have had to grind the machine for an hour, but the reader can take it on good advice that there “ain’t nuthin’” like homemade ice cream!

Following rains, my older sister, Sally, and I made sand castles in the driveway. We loved to play with the rabbits (before eating them), and, when I got my tricycle, I was ecstatic going down small hills that seemed liked mountains. Once when our cousins visited, Mother told me later, we picked blackberries with bees swarming all around.

In the evening, we’d listen to radio dramas, like The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, and The Shadow. On weekends, we relished The Grand Ol’ Opry with Minnie Pearl, live from Nashville. I loved Minnie Pearl and her silly humor.

At bedtime, I’d lie with my head in Mother’s lap, with Sally on the other side, rocking back and forth in the front-porch swing. Lightning bugs flashed in front of us and the crickets chirped in the distance. That was my favorite time of day. Often we’d catch the lightning bugs and put them in a jar with holes punched in the lid. Mother sang songs and read stories. I took pride in being less frightened by the scary ones than Sally was.

On the surface, my life was idyllic. But trouble loomed on the horizon, like the woods on the edge of our property where I was forbidden to go.


When I was three, Mother went back to work. I found the separation hard to take. I started to wet my bed frequently (which continued for many years), and had vivid nightmares, including one in which I killed my father.

In the afternoon, we’d go to the highway, Arch Street Pike, where I waited anxiously for Mother’s return on a bus that had a dog painted on the side. I was told it was a greyhound that ran very fast, and to this day I still love the sight of that image.

My sinuses were the source of another traumatic encounter with reality. They’d get terribly congested and, when they did, the doctor would stick a tube down my nose to suck out the mucous with a vacuum. It hurt like crazy, but I “took it like a man.” (It was this doctor who told us that x-rays revealed I had an especially thick skull.) Eventually, I went to the hospital for an operation to widen the openings to my nostrils.

It was still another experience, however, that produced the most enduring shock of my childhood. It happened the day the whole family piled into our Nash Rambler for a rare, exciting shopping trip to the city. I was so eager to get to our destination that when we had to brake and wait for an African-American woman to cross the road in front of us, I yelled out the window, “Get out of the way, nigger.” Mother turned to me and yelled, “Don’t ever let me hear you say that word again!”

There weren’t many non-racist whites in Arkansas at that time. Mother was in fact the only one in my own immediate family, where I had surely learned the “n”-word. But in that moment, she displayed the courage of her convictions and her intention to put me on a moral path.

Mother was a very spiritual person. When my father, “Daddy,” told me after her death that he considered her to have been “a saint,” I thought he was simply parroting sexist Southern gallantry. But, thinking it over now, I’ve concluded that maybe he really did respect Mother’s strong principles. He said she never went to church regularly because “she never found a preacher she didn’t consider to be a hypocrite.”

Still, Mother would often get Sally and me to go to church, sometimes by arranging rides with other members. Sometimes, Mother would go herself.

Her most consistent message was the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. She was stern, often moralistic, and puritanical about sex. And preachers weren’t the only targets of her often harsh judgments. No wonder her children called her “Mother.” Nicknames simply would not have fit.

Before I was born, in 1944, Mother had moved to Dallas, Texas. There she met my father, whom she married at the age of twenty-five (considered old at that time). Sally was the first child. But when Mother was pregnant with me, she and my father moved in with her parents in their small farm house in Arkansas. The house had no bath tub, so, when I came along, Mother bathed me in a large metal tub in the living room.

I don’t know why my parents left Dallas. Daddy once told me he was drinking a lot at the time. He also hurt his back while delivering large blocks of ice (before refrigeration was common). These problems may have kept him unemployed for a while in Arkansas, before he got a job in Little Rock selling and delivering concessions for the Jewel Tea Company.

Another factor in my parents’ leaving Dallas may have been that their marriage had collapsed. I rarely saw any expression of love between them. And Daddy loved to flirt (if not more). I suspect Mother wanted the comfort of home and whatever love she could get from her parents, since she wasn’t getting much from Daddy.

During my first year in school, I experienced another emotional separation from Mother. My male classmates and I would piss in a large, swampy hole in the ground. One day, someone pushed me from behind. While gaining my balance to keep from falling in, I peed on the boy standing next to me and he angrily attacked me.

I ended up in the office of the school principal, who was convinced I had purposely urinated on my fellow student. He reprimanded me forcefully and called Mother. I went back to my first-grade class crying and sat down at my desk, next to my best friend, a girl. When she asked me what had happened, I was speechless, too embarrassed to tell her.

Even worse, when I got home Mother herself castigated me. I was devastated. Not even my own mother believed me. For me, the bond between us weakened again. First she had left me to go back to work, and now she called me a liar!


The next year we moved into the city. It was the first in a series of almost annual transitions, as Mother, frustrated and depressed, kept looking for salvation in the form of a better home. Each house was in fact a slight improvement, but none was large enough to provide me my own bedroom, not even when I was in high school. And our frequent moves prevented me from forming many friendships. I don’t believe Mother ever organized a birthday party for me or my older sister, Sally.

At the house we moved to in Little Rock, we lived on the side of a hill, which made our back porch about six feet tall. One day I was holding the screen door open when a gust of wind knocked me off the porch. I hit my forehead on a large, arrow-headed rock that bordered a flower garden. The doctor said that if the rock had penetrated a fraction of an inch deeper, it would have killed me. It was my thick skull that saved me. I count this as my first close encounter with Death.

Another incident that year haunted me for decades. After one of Sally’s friends, a girl, irritated me, I scared myself when I hit her on the head with my baseball bat. At least, that’s how I remembered it. I got into big trouble with Mother and felt terribly guilty about it, until Sally later told me she didn’t even remember the incident. That led me to conclude that I probably only tapped the girl’s head lightly.

Before I entered second grade, the family moved back to Dallas, with grandparents in tow. We took up residence on the edge of the black ghetto, South Dallas, where my father managed a small cinema. This was a really big city compared to Little Rock, and a whole new experience.

One day at home I saw a man walking down the street whose head appeared to be flat on top. He may have been afflicted from infancy with what I later learned was a deformity called brachycephaly; or he may have been a Jewish man wearing a skull cap. Frightened, I ran upstairs and told my family, “I just saw a man with half his head cut off.” Thankfully, they managed to calm me down.

But the theater my father managed was wonderful. There was all the popcorn I could eat and tons of free movies! At first, my favorites were Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. But when I was eight, High Noon blew me away with its intensity and realism. I identified with the hero (Gary Cooper), who cancels his honeymoon to return to town and take on the outlaws who threaten to run roughshod over the town and then track him down to kill him in revenge for having arrested their leader. No one in the town will support the hero, so he has to stand up against the bad guys alone. I saw that movie countless times. It may have helped to shape my character, as did the “Lone Ranger.”

After we moved from South to North Dallas, Mother gave birth to my younger sister, Mary, in 1953. This was said to be the result of an “accidental pregnancy.” I’m not so sure. Mother may have wanted to give a new focus to her maternal instinct. Even with the new baby, however, she remained generally tense. She was too nervous, in fact, to learn to drive. I assume she transmitted her anxiety to me by osmosis.

Mother often pressured me to tell her, “I love you.” Or she would ask me, “How much do you love me?” In those cases, I had to reply, “A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.” As I got older, I resented the pressure.

The family next door was Catholic and had many children. Among Protestants in the South at that time, Catholics were considered some kind of strange, dangerous cult that had to be avoided. But the Catholics next door had a television, the first one I ever saw, so we visited them and played croquet in their back yard.

My grade school years were consumed by baseball, and Mother began to fade into the background. Nevertheless, she kept a close eye on me, always wanting to know about my life and worrying about my friends. She taught me that all humans are sinful and urged me to rise above my base instincts.

She wouldn’t even let me join the Boy Scouts when I was eleven, probably because she worried about homosexual scout masters. I was a quiet and gentle boy, which probably fit my mother’s stereotype of a gay man. Once, in high school, when I was walking in the living room trying to swivel my hips like sexy women on television, Mother harshly admonished me.

The only fight I ever got into was in the fifth grade. I was about to score a goal playing soccer when a spectator ran onto the field and stole the ball. That prompted me to whale into him and led to the principal spanking my hands with a paddle. Otherwise, I was basically a coward, horrified by schoolyard fights, like when a boy would bash another boy’s head into the asphalt.

In junior high, however, when we lived on Ramona in South Oak Cliff, I was a “bad boy” once. I’d sit on our front porch with large bushes on each side of me and use my slingshot to hurl pebbles at passing vehicles. Eventually a driver got out and came after me. I ran into the back yard, but was trapped. My parents did not appreciate that foolishness.

Mother was deeply interested in ideas, spirituality, and politics, and bought the Modern Library’s “World’s Best Books” for our home library. When I was in high school, she urged me to read Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain and the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I don’t know when she became metaphysical in her perspective, but by that time she was deeply into all kinds of spiritualism.

She and several women of about the same age shared interests in Edgar Cayce, extra-sensory perception, spiritual healing, UFOs, and the whole gamut of psychic experience. Some of her friends even went to séances. Cosmic Consciousness by Richard Maurice Bucke was their bible and their leader was Father Tollifer, head priest of an upper-class Episcopal Church in North Dallas.

Episcopal priests have enormous job security. Once in place, they can get away with almost anything, it seems. Father Tollifer belonged to the Rosicrucian Order, a society based on ancient, esoteric beliefs said to have been kept secret for one-hundred-twenty years. He conducted mass with rapid chanting that was unintelligible, even though it was in English. And he presented weekly lectures on various subjects like the Soul, Spirit, and the Mind, to which Mother often took me.

Though I didn’t agree with everything Father Tollifer said, it was certainly more interesting than anything I heard in high school. Then one evening he made a casual comment that sparked a heated controversy at school the next day. He affirmed legalized prostitution – in Dallas, Texas, in 1960, no less!

I passed on his comment at lunch hour to my clique of pseudo-intellectual high school rebels. When two of my friends continued to talk about it in their Honors English class, some cheerleaders got involved and created a scene. The teacher told everyone to stop arguing and stay after class to discuss the issue. When I got wind of it, I joined in the debate, arguing the affirmative. I felt indebted to Father Tollifer for spicing up my life!

A further breakthrough occurred when Mother surprisingly agreed to my taking on a Dallas Morning News paper route. Things spiced up even more when my bicycle broke down and she supported my purchase of a Vespa motor scooter. That greatly expanded my freedom to get around.

But when “Picnic,” the somewhat racy movie with William Holden and Kim Novac, was released when I was eleven and my father showed it at his theatre, she wouldn’t let me see it. Like so much in her world, she thought the film was sinful.

Mother was a bundle of contradictions. She taught me I was a sinful creature, but also repeatedly told me I would be “a great man.” She encouraged me to be a free-thinker, but smothered me with her love and manipulated me into doing what she wanted me to do with her hurt feelings, which undermined my own capacities for self-knowledge and self-confidence. One of her favorite tactics was the use of expressions like, “How could you do that to me?” and “If you loved me, you wouldn’t do that.” More concrete actions included breaking open my locked diary to read it and pulling back the covers on my bed to see if I was masturbating.

Mother’s lack of a good sex life undoubtedly contributed to her growing hysteria and her need to get her emotional needs satisfied through her children. I was a particular target, as I was her only son and the apple of the family’s eye. Once I walked into the bathroom when she was getting out of the shower and she screamed bloody murder. During my high school years, she was also afflicted by worsening emphysema and the drugs doctors were giving her, which made her more emotional.

When I came home from the public library with a copy of Bertrand Russell’s Marriage and Morals, which advocates “open marriage,” she became upset and showed my father a paragraph in the book that criticized monogamy. He responded by saying, “Well, Wade, you can’t check out any more books from the library.” Mother replied, “Rex, that’s too harsh. Let’s let him check out one book at a time.”

I next came home with a book by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Attorney General, Thurman Arnold, who was recognized as a “trust buster.” The book’s title, The Folklore of Capitalism, disturbed my parents almost as much as Bertrand Russell’s advocacy of “free love.” But when Mother discovered me reading Arnold’s book in the early morning, she resisted making any further issue of it.

I knew Mother wasn’t happy, and that she hated “Texas men.” The movie Giant, for example, with its implicit critique of sexism, racism, and materialism, was a favorite of hers. But when she told me she wanted to leave my father, I freaked out and begged her not to do it.

Mother hadn’t worked in many years, wasn’t healthy, and, as far as I was concerned, was loony. Her enthusiasm about a simple sunset, for example, and her certainty that I would want to join her in that experience struck me, with my adolescent cynicism, as weird. I also found strange her belief that we were related to President Andrew Jackson because one relative had “Jackson” as a middle name. Given her irrational streak, I thought, Mother’s intention to leave my father was fool-hardy. I didn’t see how she could possibly make it on her own. And that was before I became aware of how anti-female Texas divorce laws were.

In the midst of my concerns about Mother, I struggled mightily for my independence. I would go for long walks by myself at night, ending up in the swings at the playground where I went to grade school. Still, I loved her and enjoyed our intellectual discourse. Our conversations about UFOs, for example, prompted me to present a speech in my sophomore year Speech class on “Why I Believe in Flying Saucers.” One night we thought we had spotted a UFO and ran out into the backyard to get a closer view, only to discover that we’d seen a red light on a telephone pole!

As a cook, Mother was lousy. Lots of fish sticks, macaroni and cheese, pot roasts that would last for days, grilled cheese sandwiches, canned tomato soup. But she insisted that I eat everything on my plate. When I refused, she made me sit at the table until I finished. Still, I resisted the pressure. Once I threw my food in the garbage while she was watching television. She caught me and gave me hell. Another time, though, I managed to flush the food down the toilet without her knowing. Eventually she gave up.


During the 1960-61 school year, the Dallas school district required every junior to take a special course on anti-communism. The only textbook was J. Edgar Hoover’s Masters of Deceit and my instructor was the basketball coach, who also taught history. During the course, we watched a documentary produced by the House Un-American Affairs Committee (HUAC) entitled Operation Abolition. The film included footage of a chaotic scene at a HUAC hearing in San Francisco, at which police swept protestors off the steps of City Hall with fire hoses. The narrator blamed the disturbance on trouble-makers from the University of California at Berkeley (“Cal”). That reference stuck in the back of my brain.

The next year, as I was considering where to go to college, I went to the public library to look at Cal’s catalog. The introduction began, “Renowned for its richness and diversity, the San Francisco Bay Area….” Having spent the previous ten years of my life in narrow-minded Dallas, and attending all-white segregated schools, “richness and diversity” sounded like heaven to me. When I went on to read the university entrance requirements, and saw that I would definitely be accepted and that tuition was free, I became dead-set on going to Cal.

It was little surprise that Mother wanted me to stay in Texas to go to college. We argued back and forth about the issue for weeks. Even the urging of our neighbor, the basketball coach, to “Let him get it out of his system” did me no good. Mother persisted in her position. She wanted me to stay close to home.

Finally, I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. I told her, “Look, I’ll go talk to Father Tollifer. If he says I should stay in Texas, I’ll stay in Texas. But if he says I should go to California, I’ll go to California. Okay?” I figured anyone who favored the legalization of prostitution would support my going to California; I also knew Mother absolutely adored Father Tollifer and would respect his judgment as gospel. As I expected, Mother accepted my offer.

When I explained the situation to Father Tollifer, he immediately said, “Go to California.” After I replied, “But I don’t want to hurt my mother,” he responded, “Son, it’s a question of your own integrity.” We talked some more. I thanked him and, as I left, he suggested that I visit the Rosicrucian library in San Jose. I reported our conversation to my mother, who immediately backed off her objections. Freedom was on the horizon.

In early September, 1962, I escaped Dallas by the skin of my teeth on a Greyhound. The bus ride to Berkeley was incredibly exciting. Our family never took vacations, so I had never been out of the state of Texas since we had moved there from Arkansas. Before that, I had never been out of Arkansas.

On the bus, I discussed America and its problems with Latin American students. Among them was a young female student who had attracted a number of boys, including me. She spoke openly about sex in a way that was very refreshing. I was on my way to a new world! Little did I know that I was about to encounter a hurricane called “the Sixties” that would sweep me up and change me forever.


Following my arrival in Berkeley, I often wrote Mother long letters reporting my experiences. These frequently included line-item financial reports, accompanied by exhortations to make sure enough money was in the checking account to cover an essential check I had just written. Since I relied on my parents’ financial support during my first year at Berkeley, I had very little money for discretionary spending. I hoped to earn grades that were good enough to obtain a large scholarship. While I failed in that objective, I got a government loan.

In my letters, I raved about the beauty of the Bay Area, about my instructors, and about public affairs programs on public television, some of which were not broadcast in Dallas. Mostly, I wrote about politics – in particular the Cuban Missile Crisis and the civil rights movement. I tried to get Mother to agree with my opposition to Kennedy’s blockade of Cuba after the Soviet Union placed missiles there, and with my involvement in the civil rights movement. But she supported Kennedy and believed Dr. King should be more patient. Eventually, she told me she wanted to stop discussing the ethics of civil disobedience.

Starting with the summer of 1964, however, Mother seemed to demonstrate a small change of heart. In that year, she let me use the family car to collect canned goods for the Mississippi Freedom Summer. In 1965, she was deeply moved by Bob Dylan’s performance of “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” on the Les Crane show (though she was bothered by references to sex and drugs in other songs). And in the late Sixties, she bought me a VW bus with a bed in the back, just as that mode of transportation was becoming a fad with hippies.

In 1966, I bumped into Dr. Bob Beavers, my former boss at the Dallas County psychiatric hospital, at a conference on LSD in San Francisco. Because he had to leave the conference early, he asked me to send him my notes from the session. I did so, and Dr. Beavers later used them in a lecture he presented at Southwest Medical School, where he served on the faculty. Mother was impressed with my connection to that event, and invited several of her friends to our house to hear me give a report on what I had learned about LSD. As it turned out, not only were all of the guests interested in what I had to say, one of them had actually taken a trip on the drug before I had first read about it in the Scientific American while still in high school!

Overall, however, my relationship with Mother was strained. I resisted her efforts to shape me in the image of what she wanted me to be. Instead, I tried to get her to agree with me!

When I was released from the mental hospital following a months-long recovery from a bad LSD trip, Dr. Beavers, who had become my therapist, supported my inclination to return to the Bay Area. Though I was still very shaky, he thought it was important for me to strengthen my sense of independence. How fortunate I am that he supported me in this decision and persuaded my parents to do the same! Who knows what would have happened with me if I had moved back in with my parents in Dallas! I needed space to breathe.

When I returned to my student co-op in 2012 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my liberation from Dallas, I read through the old binders that contained member profiles. They were based on answers to standard questions, and often included efforts at humor. When I came to my own profile and saw that I too had tried to be funny, I began reading aloud for the benefit of those standing around. But then I came to, “My mother castrated me.” Shocked, I stopped reading and quickly put the book down.

For a couple of years in the early 70s, I became interested in psychic healing. Mother was amazed at this, and pleased. But her health was deteriorating.

When I visited her in the Will Rogers Hospital in upstate New York, where she was being treated for her tobacco-induced lung disease, she was really happy. She loved the mountains and had taken up painting again, which she had enjoyed as an adolescent.

She also began writing poetry. She explained her interest in writing poetry by reporting that the bosses had told staff and patients to stop visiting her.  (I suspect the supervisors had restricted visitation because they feared she would get too agitated in her conversations with others.) As a result, she had ended up “talking to herself” so much that she had decided to put her thoughts down on paper as poems.

About one year before she died, Mother wrote to Mary:

What you and Wade call my possessiveness is something else. I cannot explain it to you – if you do not already know, what I would say would have no meaning.

One thing I can say – I am cursed with the ability to feel another’s pain as if it were my own – in fact – when you are unhappy, I suffer twice – once for you and once for me. This makes me overly protective. My mothering instinct is multiplied.

As I tried to explain in my other letter, you have been trying to deal with a shadow – a shell – but that does not mean that in my heart, where I live, my desire to be a good mother has not been strong and terribly painful because I know I was failing. No wonder you and Wade don’t want children.

It is my sorrow that now as I am slowly thawing, coming alive, you are not with me. I will have to admit it is slow, but the poems are helping me express many things that have long been buried in a pit of self-pity and frustration. I wish your heart had ears to hear what I am saying. Maybe it is not possible for my own to hear – I have to turn to strangers or friends. All I really want is for my family to be my friends too.

She loved the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and believed in The Age of Aquarius. At heart, she was a hippie long before hippies existed.

Some of her drawings are quite good. Mary has framed one and placed it on her living-room wall. One friend of Mother’s said she should publish her poetry. I can see why. I think the sixty-four poems she typed up shortly before she died are quite good. Four of my favorites are the following. The first two express her spiritual convictions, the third refers to Mary and Steve Hutson (an ex-boyfriend), and the fourth refers to me, I believe.



God is truth

And truth is God knowing


There is no way to climb His mountain

Because His mountain is here where

I accept you.

God is trust

And trust is God loving


There is no need to seek His kingdom

Because His kingdom is here when

I affirm you.

God is love

And love is God wanting


There is no need to ask His blessing

Because His blessing is here while

I comfort you.



Our one desire,

Our ultimate reason for living,

Must be to become

A simple-hearted servant

In the Kingdom of Heaven.

This constant prayer

Will become one with the heartbeat,

A breathing in and a breathing out

Of Life and Love and Light,

Bringing the Peace He left to us.



I just talked to my beautiful young daughter

in San Francisco.

She told me her friend and ex-love

Are living together as “spiritual friends.”

She said she was going to write to

let them know I was home.

So they can visit with me.

She says she knows I will be interested in Steve’s

“new thing.”

How lucky can a mother get?

Oh, it would be hard for some people I know

to understand that I, an old wreck of a reject,

Can actually communicate on a level where

just young hearts meet,

Where sex and God are clean three-letter words

And where “spiritual friends” are at home.




The time has come for you

To recognize me as a friend

With gifts of understanding and love

For you no longer need nor want

Mother’s protection and nurturing.

My love for you is so deep

That my happiness depends

Upon your freedom.

When you come to me,

It must be your desire

That brings you, not my call.

Your maturity gives me freedom.

Your emotional and mental balance

Brings fulfillment to me.

And your courage and honesty

Add to my measure of strength.


Partly because I had little money, and partly because I was getting my feet back on the ground after my spell of madness, I didn’t see Mother much during her last years until December, 1974, when she was on her death bed at the age of fifty-eight. When the doctor told us we could be with her during her last moments, I accepted the invitation and held her hand until her last breath. I felt a circle had been completed.

Instead of telling me I was a good person who merely did something wrong, my mother told me I was essentially a bad person, sinful at the core like every human being. Instead of simply expressing disappointment when she disapproved of what I did, she expressed deep hurt and anger. Instead of telling me, “I respect your effort,” she told me, “You will be a great man.” Instead of demonstrating to me how to be engaged with others in a compassionate manner, she preached to me about how evil people can be. An excellent April 2014 review of studies on child rearing in The New York Times, “Raising a Moral Child” by Adam Grant, helped clarify my understanding of these issues.

At the same time, however, Mother taught me to pursue truth, justice, and beauty, for which I will be forever indebted.

At the service for her at Casa View Methodist Church, Rev. Wilfred Bailey gave the eulogy. Most vividly, he recalled how he would occasionally be driving around town (Dallas is very spread out, so locals spend lots of time in their car) listening to talk radio and would hear a familiar voice. It would be Corrine, offering her two cents.

That was my Mother. She had strong opinions and was not afraid to express them. God rest her troubled soul. For years after she died, I felt her hovering over my shoulder, like a Guardian Angel, urging me on to become a Great Man.


The “deep community” I’m looking for would help its members remove their masks, go down to the ground of their being, feel connected with all humanity and Life itself, tap their profound reservoir of compassion, truly love themselves as they love others, consciously help one another become more fully who they really are, do what they can to correct the root causes of needless suffering (including destructive national policies), and help turn our nation into a caring community dedicated to the common good.

This book tells the story of my efforts to find or help develop that kind of community. Since my quest remains unfulfilled, I conclude the book with practical suggestions for how we can move in that direction.

Over the years, I’ve connected with many people who share my dream. My hope is that someday we will realize our aspirations. I believe we’re close.


Throughout most of the book, I tell a narrative story of the actions I took and the thoughts and feelings I drew from them. Each chapter begins at a later point in my life, tells a particular story, and ends when the story ends. “Mother” and “Daddy” conclude with their deaths. “Baseball” carries forward to the present day. “Schooling” ends with my graduation from high school. Some chapters like “Sex” and “Spirituality,” focus on personal issues up to the present day. Others address particular periods of time, like “College” and “Madness.” Consequently, the chronology often overlaps from chapter to chapter.

In the next to last chapter, “Reflections,” I evaluate my life, its achievements and its failures, my mistakes and accomplishments, and my strengths and weaknesses. The last chapter, “Beliefs,” presents a concrete twelve-step plan for how we can help our nation grow into a more compassionate society and also summarizes some of my basic convictions that motivate me.

My recommended strategies for pursuing deep community, first in small groups and then as a nation, are merely the ones that make most sense to me at the moment and are intended only for those who are inclined in the same direction. I don’t claim to propose methods that will work for everyone. Nonetheless, I do believe the ideas I put forward are ones that many like-minded people can find useful. I welcome criticisms that can help me improve them, and still hope to discover or help develop new, more effective approaches.

Organizing methods currently used by activist groups turn off many concerned individuals. They reflect superficial patterns of behavior common in today’s society that tend to be impersonal and corrupt our ability to be fully human. As I see it, those of us who participate in social activism, whether occasional or full-time, will be more effective if we relate to our colleagues and the general public with a greater appreciation of the need all humans have for deep friendships that enhance personal growth and social responsibility.

When I’ve discussed these issues with organizers, I’ve often been told that the groups they’re in already foster supportive friendships informally. My life experience, however, leads me to conclude that activists need to deepen their efforts with conscious, intentional, carefully structured activities that leave space for spontaneity. I don’t expect every activist to take this path. But I hope the number who do will greatly increase.

In light of this, I encourage readers with an interest in social reform to examine yourselves honestly, work on your self-development, devote some time to political activity between elections, and, as you create yourself, look for like-minded allies with whom you can pursue your efforts in community,.

No authority can justifiably or productively prescribe how you need to grow. We do best by trusting everyone to look into their own heart and make those decisions for themselves. We can, however, become more disciplined in our self-development work by regularly reporting on our own efforts and being available to listen to others report on theirs. In that way, we can learn from the best teachers we have, our peers.


For myself, I’ve concluded that the highest meaning in both personal and social life is associated with the expression of compassion – for oneself as well as for others. I’ve tried to be true to who I really am and to take care of myself in order to better serve others. I’ve initiated new projects to fill voids and set examples. I’ve consistently experimented and explored, both in the outer and inner worlds.

Over the full spectrum of my life, I’ve had lots of good sex, been intoxicated countless times, immersed myself in music, received countless massages, watched innumerable movies and TV shows, cheered on my sports teams, laughed and joked just for the hell of it, and indulged in many other pleasures. At times I’ve questioned whether I was being too self-indulgent and should instead devote more time to my social-change work. But I’ve usually concluded that those pleasures, in addition to being valid in and of themselves, helped me focus more effectively on my central purpose: changing the world and myself.

A major issue in my life has been the tension I’ve felt between my own needs and those of the community. On the one hand, I affirm independence and self-determination. On the other, I affirm community and compromise. Resolving this conflict has been an ongoing struggle.

Though I’ve had numerous rewarding intimate relations with women, I’ve never been married and have no children, partly because I’ve been so focused on my community work. Humanity is my family. I miss not having children, but one child I helped raise, Brandon Faloona, a dear friend, honored me by inviting me to be Best Man at his wedding and naming his first son Azure Wade Faloona. I dedicate this book to Azure, a symbol of our future.

After once falling madly in love and expecting to become a father, my lover decided to have an abortion and stopped seeing me. That trauma led me to become profoundly distraught and briefly contemplate suicide. After that, I decided to learn how to be alone so I would be better able to be in a relationship without being so vulnerable. Now, more than thirty years later, I enjoy my solitude, and feel ready to finally engage in a healthy, lasting love relationship. Even more, I’d like to participate in a deep community.

Throughout my life, my primary commitment has been to foster compassionate communities whose members support one another in their self-development efforts and work together to restructure our society. My approach has changed over the years, but that goal has remained the same.

After I took the break from my organizing in 2004 that I described in the Preface, I reached certain conclusions that underlie the case I make in this book for a “compassion-based” political activism that moves beyond the “left-right” continuum and combines personal development with political action. I believe that, by affirming a holistic perspective that nurtures the whole person, we can integrate personal, social, and political dimensions in ways that foster growth in each of those areas. That many-sided awareness can help us avoid ideological rigidity. And, by applying it to the development of small, face-to-face communities whose members inspire and support one another, we can build a foundation for similar growth across the nation and throughout the world. My experiments in initiating deep community since then have provided only a taste of fulfillment.

I‘ve also looked for a holistic community that I could join. So far, however, I haven’t found what I seek. It seems to me that no community has yet put it all together. I would love to find one that has.

Through these explorations, I’ve collected and developed some ideas about how we can foster and nurture deep community. To be deep, we must get to root causes, which means we have to change national policies that create so much needless suffering. As our Declaration of Independence states, when a government becomes oppressive, “it is [our] right, it is [our] duty, to throw off such government.”

To achieve that goal, we must build unified popular power nationwide. To do that, it will help if we develop some simple, user-friendly tools that concerned individuals can use on their own to strengthen their connections with one another and bolster commitment to political action to impact the government in Washington. Those example could then encourage others to use the same tools to grow deep community. As that network expands and becomes larger, its roots could grow deeper and become more solidly grounded.

This book explores how we can move in that direction.


Those who make their way through these pages will find that I’m open and honest in describing my experiences. In this way, I hope to set an example that encourages you, my readers, to also deeply examine yourselves, acknowledge your mistakes, and share your conclusions with others – even if only with a few trusted friends. To change the world for the better, we must be real, journey below the surface to get at the truth, allow our spirit to guide us, and follow our thoughts to their logical conclusion.

As I anticipated, writing this autobiography has been liberating. It has taught me that the more transparent I am, the easier it is to overcome fears associated with being honest. The more willing I am to reveal secrets, the less ashamed I am and the more I accept myself.

This honest self-examination is also a political statement. Our society teaches us to fear honesty. From an early age, we learn to stop being spontaneous. We become secretive in order to gain rewards or avoid punishment. At times, of course, withholding our feelings is understandable. But, if we aren’t careful, that discretion leads to habitual dishonesty, and we deceive even ourselves.

Often, too, we worry too much about what others think of us and modify our behavior to shape their reactions. We manipulate others with hidden agendas, and they manipulate us. We internalize the judgments of others and beat ourselves up with guilt, shame, and harsh judgments. These dynamics deprive us of the self-confidence to be authentic, which, in turn, undermines our ability to challenge illegitimate authority.

In general, the more integrity we maintain, the better. The same applies to society as a whole. Suppressing authenticity undermines creativity and productivity. One way or another, we need to learn how to foster compassionate honesty. I hope this book will contribute to that growth.


I’ve gone through lots of changes over the years and, hopefully, I’ve matured. Overall, though, I think I’ve remained essentially the same. I’ve felt like “a new man” at times, because I’ve “become more of who I am,” to use a phrase I learned from my friend Mike Larsen. But that self-development didn’t come easy. By recalling and evaluating my experiences, I better understand who I’ve been, who I am, and who I may become. Those reflections have allowed me to accept myself more fully and have grounded me in greater self-confidence.

At seventy, I feel I’ve finally grown up. I’ve paid a hefty price, but it was worth it. As I look out my window at a view that stretches from Twin Peaks to Mount Tamalpais, I’m at peace —to the degree that one can be, given the state of the world.

I now find myself with a few close friends, and fifty or so good friends I see occasionally. This informal community provides me with valuable informal support. I would prefer, however, to participate in a semi-structured community that enriches my life more deeply, and also serves as an example that encourages others to grow similar communities.

When I turn eighty, I trust I’ll be even more who I am. If I’m lucky, I’ll also be participating in a deep community rooted in hope, love, and action, forever young, with lust for life.

Front Matter

Cover A-page-001my search
for deep

An Autobiography


wade hudson

Copyright © 2014 by Wade Hudson

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

My Search for Deep Community: An Autobiography

Wade Hudson —Web edition

Published in the United States of America

ISBN 978-0-692-25215-4


For Azure Wade Faloona, the future.


The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson


A day will come when you will trust you more than you do now and you will trust me more than you do now. We will trust each other. I do believe, I really do believe in the New Jerusalem. I really do believe that we can all become better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous and people are not yet ready to pay.

— James Baldwin













Politics (1962-1971)







Alternative Futures



Outer Sunset







625 Leavenworth

Boulder Creek


The System





Compassionate Politics


Deep Community






As a longtime community organizer and social activist, I’ve written this story of my life in the hope that it will be useful to you, dear reader, as you strive to more fully love yourself, others, and life itself. In these pages, I’ve honestly portrayed my own halting personal growth as an active participant in some of the most important cultural and political movements of our times. I reveal many sides of my personality, acknowledge my mistakes, report how I’ve changed, and share my current recommendations for action. I hope these testimonies from the heart, and the social struggles they reflect, make my story interesting, and provide some assistance to concerned individuals who want to steadily improve themselves and the world.

The civil rights movement, which was inspired by the holistic nonviolence of Mahatma Gandhi, provided me with my first experience of deep community. White participants in that movement weren’t merely helping African-Americans. We were also helping each other become better human beings. We saved our souls by fulfilling our social responsibility. In loving others, we loved ourselves more deeply. I’ve tried to rediscover that experience ever since, with varying degrees of fleeting success.

This book traces my efforts to grow in ways that increase my own capacity for compassion. Learning how to engage in effective compassionate action does not come easily. It matures through the hard process of meeting life’s challenges. To nurture that growth, we need peer support. If communities combine internal activities aimed at the mutually-supported personal growth of their members with external activities aimed at eliminating root causes of needless suffering, both efforts, the personal and the political, will be strengthened.

Until recently, my quest was semi-conscious. What motivated me was partly just below the surface of my awareness. Writing this book helped me better understand what I really want and why.

I know I am not alone. Countless numbers of others seek deep community. If we acknowledge that need and act on it, maybe we can figure out how to support one another in meeting that need and fulfilling our human potential. Growing deep community is no cake walk. But if we learn from our mistakes, we can do it. I wrote this book to communicate what I’ve learned about my deepest desires, hoping to encourage readers who experience similar desires to pursue satisfaction, and let others know what happens.


From what people tell me, my life of seventy years has been a remarkable one, marked by Sixties-inspired adventure and experiment, and relationships and collaboration with a host of creative people. Since I was fourteen, my instinct has been to buck “the system,” form caring connections, enjoy an authentic life, and try to improve our society. In 1967, I dedicated my life to organizing “communities of faith, love, and action.” That commitment has ever since provided my life with meaning and purpose.

After participating in the civil rights, anti-war, student, human potential, and other movements associated with the Sixties, I initiated or co-founded a number of community-based projects focused on a variety of issues, including educational reform, men’s liberation, alternatives to psychiatry, public transit, food co-ops, a low-income housing co-op, job creation, a neighborhood cultural center, and national antipoverty policy. In addition, I contributed to efforts initiated by others that focused on issues like corporate power, rent control, high-rise development, and the Iraq War. Those projects resulted in some victories, some unplanned benefits, and some resounding defeats. Through it all, I kept plugging away, addressing unmet needs, and working on my personal and spiritual development.

In 2004, I took a break from my organizing to step back and explore new strategies to promote fundamental social change. I reviewed some old books that had previously influenced me, read some new literature, initiated a series of strategy workshops, circulated a number of online surveys, continued to be active in various organizations, and engaged in extensive dialog with a wide range of individuals. The most recent in that series of workshops was held in January 2013 at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, which was co-founded by Howard Thurman, the first African-American to meet with Mahatma Gandhi and a major mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Since 2004, I circulated fourteen questionnaires that were completed by more than four hundred respondents and consulted or collaborated with scores of individuals, including the following authors and community leaders: Michael Albert, Dean Baker, Larry Bensky, Rev. Dorsey Blake, Kazu Haga, Philip Harvey, Aileen Hernandez, Rev. William Homes, Claudia Horwitz, Jakada Imani, Taj James, Van Jones, Paul Loeb, Julianne Malveaux, Eva Paterson, Wilson Riles, James Vann, John Vasconcellos, and Howard Zinn. Many, if not most, of those hundreds of individuals have resonated with my interest in fostering compassionate communities whose members support one another in their personal and political growth. Those allies have provided important encouragement for me to proceed with my quest.

Over the years, I self-published two books that are posted on the Web: Economic Security for All: How to End Poverty in the United States; and Global Transformation: Strategy for Action. I also published three booklets: Promoting the General Welfare: A Campaign for American Values; The Compassion Movement: A Declaration; and Baghdad Journal. Since October 2010, I’ve published a blog, Wade’s Weekly. In late 2013 I started publishing Wade’s Wire, to which I post no more than one item each day. And in early 2014, I launched Wade’s Monthly, an Internet listserv. While writing this book, I wrote the Guarantee Living-Wage Job Opportunities petition, engaged in other efforts to promote full employment, and, in my continuing exploration of how to nurture holistic political communities, circulated “The Personal, the Social, and the Political: A Survey.”

To make ends meet as a community organizer, for twenty years I hustled grants from foundations and worked with non-profit organizations. Then in 1989 I decided to drive taxi part-time, which left me free to do my community work as a volunteer while continuing to live simply on a poverty-level income. In the year 2000, I got my own taxi permit, which boosted my income considerably.


Thanks to the encouragement of several close friends, I began writing this autobiography in mid-October 2013. I took my correspondence, journals, and other documents to Las Terrenas on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, where I refreshed my memory and worked intensively on the book for several months. Then I rented a cabin at Lake Tahoe, where I worked on it for several more weeks, until I returned to San Francisco to finish it.

This self-published book is my statement. The only person who read the first print edition prior to publication was Robert Anschuetz, my excellent line editor who focused on helping me clarify my intended meaning, rather than suggesting substantive changes.

I primarily distributing that edition to individuals I discuss in the book (as well as some consultants). After receiving feedback from those readers, I decided to post the book to the Web chapter-by-chapter, after making some minor corrections. I also hope to write and publish a second, much briefer print edition, with an index, photos, an appendix with resources, and a Foreword by a prominent individual.

I’ve tried to be transparent in recording what has been most important to me in my life. In so doing, I’ve attempted to avoid divulging private information that was given to me in confidence. However, discussing instances of conflict or disappointment concerning people who are still alive is a delicate matter. Even if one aims to be fair and accurate, the individuals involved can object to how the writer characterizes the situation or even resent that it is becoming public. So, wanting to be sensitive to those feelings, I decided to offer a free copy to people I discuss in the book and ask for their feedback before deciding how to proceed.

Their feedback was very helpful. Prior to writing the next print edition, I will thoroughly review their comments and post a reply.

If you want to receive the Web-edition chapters and other posts about the book as I post them, you can subscribe to the blog at You can also comment on the book at that site or send feedback to wadeATwadehudsonDOTnet. I will correct and update the Web version as needed.

Once the new book is in shape, I’ll offer cash prizes in a contest to name chapter titles and a title for the book. So stay in touch!

I appreciate your interest and would welcome your comments.

Wade Lee Hudson
September 29, 2014



I would never have written this book if numerous individuals had not urged me to do it. In particular, the following friends have provided important encouragement:

  • My sister, Mary Hudson, who has been a consistent source of support for decades and is my best friend.
  • Dave Robbins, a retired English Literature professor, who expressed great enthusiasm about this book.
  • Leonard Roy Frank, editor of the Random House Webster’s Quotationary, who has been a dear friend for more than forty years and knows me well.
  • Roma Guy, founder of the Women’s Building in San Francisco, with whom I’ve collaborated off and on for forty years and who has repeatedly recommended that I write more.
  • Mike Larsen, a literary agent and good friend, who in response to an early draft of the preface said, “You definitely have had a life worth writing about. Your preface proves that.”
  • Sharon Johnson, former legislative aide to Supervisor Harry Britt and Assemblyman John Burton, who’s known me and my work for almost 40 years, and told me, “The list of accomplishments … is very moving and inspiring, and reflects your exceptional sense of integrity. You should be proud, Wade!”
  • Numerous subscribers to Wade’s Weekly, my blog where I posted early drafts of several chapters of this book.
  • I am also deeply indebted to Robert Anschuetz, who helped me rewrite the book with valuable line editing, and the friends, associates, lovers, books, movies, music, communities, and institutions that helped shape me into the man I am. I trust the book will make my appreciation clear.

Step Twelve: Million Member Monthly Mobilization.

Some Soul Club members gather endorsements from community leaders and activist organizations for the following proposal: A number of existing national organizations form an alliance aimed at mobilizing at least one million Americans once a month to communicate roughly the same message to their Congressperson on a timely, top-priority issue. That message might be a demand, a question, or an appreciation. The organizations encourage their members to join the Mobilization, which is also open to individuals who do not belong to any organization. All Mobilization members have the opportunity to offer input concerning the monthly message, but a representative, inclusive committee makes the final decision, following a two-hour face-to-face discussion (including video conferencing) that is streamed live. The Mobilization backs campaigns that other organizations have initiated. Those organizations continue to lead those campaigns and engage in negotiations about their proposals for action. The Mobilization defines achievable objectives, such as obtaining a certain number of co-sponsors on a bill, or holding an official hearing on the bill, that can help lead to eventual enactment of the bill. The Mobilization may or may not decide to back the same issue in consecutive months. This approach allows a wide variety of individuals to schedule a brief break from their routine activities to help shape national policy, before they return to their regular commitments. It also helps activist organizations to enhance their results by briefly supporting one another once a month. Members of such organizations are encouraged to join the organizations that guide the Mobilization. Early on, to assure people they will not be wasting their time, the organizers merely ask individuals to sign a pledge to support the Mobilization if and when a certain number of individuals have signed the pledge. It is only at that point that the organizers launch the project.

Step Eleven: Congressional Community Dialogs.

Some Soul Club members gather endorsements from community leaders and activist organizations for Congressional Community Dialogs. These are held at the same time each month, such as the second Saturday at 1 p.m., with the following format. At any time, those constituents who want to engage in dialog with the Congressperson write their name on an index card and place it in a bowl (or basket). Someone other than the Congressperson facilitates the event. The Congressperson opens with a seven-minute report on her or his recent activities. The facilitator then selects names randomly. Those constituents engage in dialogs with the Congressperson for no more than four minutes. The constituent may make a statement or ask questions, and can interrupt the Congressperson at any time. After one hundred minutes of dialogs, the Congressperson makes a closing statement of no more than seven minutes. Afterwards, constituents may stay for up to one hour to interact informally. Community-based literature is distributed at tables made available for that purpose. The Congressperson publicizes the Dialogs in her or his regular taxpayer-funded newsletter.

Step Ten: Dialogs from the Heart.

Persuade one or more organizations to convene an ongoing series of public Dialogs from the Heart with the following format. For arriving participants, place two bowls (or baskets) at the front of the room that are marked “Dialog with Speaker” and “Future Speaker,” as well as a stack of index cards. Participants can place a card with their name on it in either of the bowls at any time. The speaker presents an opening statement of no more than seven minutes, draws a card from the Dialog with Speaker bowl, and engages in a dialog with that participant for no more than seven minutes. The participant may make a statement or ask questions, and can interrupt the speaker at any time. After ninety minutes of dialogs, the speaker makes a closing statement of no more than seven minutes and then draws a card from the Future Speaker bowl to select the next speaker. That’s it. No pre-determined topics. Just “speaking from the heart” about whatever moves the spirit at the time. At the first event, another bowl marked Today’s Speaker could be used to select the first speaker. Participants are asked to donate money to cover expenses. No one is turned away due to a lack of funds.

Step Nine: Persuade existing organizations.

 If you belong to an organization such as an activist group or a religious community, engage in Steps Six and Seven with a fellow member of that organization with whom you feel an affinity. If that goes well, invite that person to invite other members of the organization to form a Soul Club. If those meetings go well, propose to the organization that they officially endorse the idea and encourage other members to conduct their own Soul Dialogs and explore organizing their own Soul Clubs. Not every member of the entire organization would necessarily be required or expected to participate. If you don’t belong to any such organization, recruit someone you know who does to get their organization to take on this project.