to: teller of other stories
Carl L. Harstad
Part 2 - back to Minnesota, then to China and back again
(The story picks up after Carl has left the U.S.Navy and returned to Minnesota. See Part 1.)
Soon after arriving back in Sebeka, I landed a job as a technician for the telephone company in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Grand Forks is on the North Dakota-Minnesota border 73 miles north of Fargo.
Although I was supposed to work with electronics, I quickly learned I’d be spending the summer on the end of a shovel digging trenches. The phone company was replacing the old lead-covered lines strung from pole to pole with underground cable. Once I got to ride along with a lineman on a call to a rural area. The only thing I learned was how to repel dogs with pepper spray.
I rented a room in the basement of a private home. I had a car, the 1960 Ford Falcon sedan I’d driven home from California.
It wasn’t long before I learned that my ex-girlfriend Kathy was living with her friend Darlene in Fargo, 1 hour and 20 minutes drive from me. I drove down to visit her and we immediately clicked again. Less than two months later, we decided to marry. We planned and pulled off a church wedding at the Kabekona Methodist Church with only two weeks lead time. It was a big wedding. The church was full of guests. We had the usual trappings. Kathy wore a bridal gown. I wore a tuxedo with a boutonniere. We cut a wedding cake. I rented a new Oldsmobile for the getaway.
My mother attended our wedding. My father did not.
We didn’t have a honeymoon. We drove it the short distance from Kabekona to the motel in the small town of Lake George, where we spent our wedding night. The next day, we visited friends in the area. Within a few days we moved to an upper duplex on Fremont Avenue in North Minneapolis.
I landed a position as a documentation aide at Sperry Univac. (Sperry Univac later became Unisys.) I had an undemanding job making copies of schematics for the Nike-X missile system. During breaks I played chess with my coworkers.
We moved to a small trailer home in the 3020 Trailer Court at 3020 Rice Street in St. Paul. That trailer court is next to an A&W Root Beer drive-in. I remember the manager telling us that if we couldn’t even afford a root beer, life wasn’t worth living. We could afford a root beer but not too much else.
My department of Sperry Univac was housed in a brick building about four stories high on the north side of University Avenue in St. Paul across from Porky’s Drive-in. The building is close to the intersection of University and Prior Avenue. Porky’s is a longtime landmark where classic car enthusiasts gather on weekend evenings.
After several months at Sperry Univac, my boss promoted me to technical writer. He encouraged me to pursue a career with the company but I wanted to continue my long-delayed college education.
At the start of the 1966-67 academic year, Kathy and I moved to Bemidji so I could attend Bemidji State College. (All the Minnesota “state” colleges have since been renamed “universities.”) Bemidji is situated along the western shore of Lake Bemidji. The city claims to be the hometown of the mythical Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe, a claim also made by the city of Brainerd. There are well-known statues of Paul and Babe in downtown Bemidji that have been moved a few blocks farther north so they’re by a new visitors’ center. Bemidji also has the distinction of having one of the few remaining Maid-Rite hamburger stands in the state, although there is a new one in Rochester.
Kathy and I lived in three locations while at Bemidji. We spent autumn in a trailer home parked on the east side of Highway 71 south of Bemidji. We spent winter in a very cold trailer home parked on the north side of Highway 10 east of Bemidji. Temperatures can drop to -35o F. or colder at Bemidji. Then we moved to an apartment in the back part of the local sauna in town. We had to share the bathroom with sauna patrons. There were doors on either side of the bathroom. Once I opened our bathroom door and discovered a pretty woman toweling off in the buff. She was very surprised and so was I.
Kathy got the position of secretary to the registrar of the college. I often dropped by the Registrar’s Office to say hello between classes.
I had a variety of short-term jobs, some lasting only a week or two and others lasting for months. One job was teaching assistant in the Department of Astronomy, although I didn’t do any teaching and, in fact, I did very little. Another position was janitor in one of the women’s dormitories. I had to shout, “Man on the floor” when I appeared, which proved to be a signal for the more brazen of the girls to run into the hallway in their underwear.
Another job was clerk at the Coast-to-Coast hardware store, where I stocked the paint shelves and sold merchandise. One day while a woman was occupied with her purchases, her small son ate a refill for a chalk line. The woman frantically called a doctor. The doctor told her not to worry. I suspect her son did not have acid indigestion all that day.
Another of my jobs was cook and waiter at the Gasthaus, a German restaurant serving beer, brauts and hamburgers. I also ran the cash register. We closed about 1 a.m. and then spent an hour or so cleaning up. Sometimes we would all go together to some nightspot and chat until nearly dawn.
I also took a couple of day-labor jobs. One was stacking concrete blocks at a block manufacturing plant. It was one of the more physically demanding jobs I’ve had. The other was assembling a merry-go-round for a carnival.
Concurrently, I wrote for the Northern Student, the college student newspaper. That was the year I changed my goal from becoming an astronomer to becoming a journalist. Four years in the Navy had changed my world-view and promoted an interest in many subjects. I was inducted into the Pi Delta Epsilon honorary collegiate journalism fraternity in May 1967.
While I was a reporter for the Northern Student, the staff went on a field trip to the state mental hospital at Fergus Falls. I remember two of the patients. One was locked in a cell, where she was eating her mattress. The staff was paying no mind to what she was doing. I pointed out, “She’s eating her mattress.” A staff member explained she’d undergone a lobotomy. “Now she eats it quietly,” he said, his voice conveying a sense of achievement.
There were several male patients working on projects in the workshop. I chatted with one of them about the very unusual sculpture he was constructing, an assemblage of wooden rods, spheres and other shapes that had no obvious theme. He pulled a folder from under a counter and began explaining about meeting God on a freeway in Arizona. Initially, he had seemed reasonably sane.
We had some memorable beer busts at Bemidji State. One in particular was in the Lutheran parsonage while the minister was out of town. Friends spilled moonshine on the kitchen floor. It caught fire and threatened to burn the parsonage down. Although the party was tame by contemporary US standards, there was excessive drinking. I found one girl passed out in the upstairs bathtub. I don’t recall the use of other drugs. Drug use other than alcohol wasn’t prevalent in northern Minnesota in the 1960s like it was in California.
My friend Dennis Darr, also a student at Bemidji State, and his first wife Terrie were often with Kathy and me on outings ranging from picnics to beer parties.
Our primary recreation was fishing. I spent more time fishing than Kathy, usually alone on Grace Lake east of Bemidji in the wintertime or Lake Plantagenet south of the city in the summertime. I had the use of a dark house on Grace Lake in the wintertime. I saw the largest fish I’ve ever seen in Minnesota while fishing there, probably a muskellunge. Once I was caught in a dark house by a blizzard. I found my way back to my car in a whiteout by keeping a constant heading relative to the wind.
I bought a small plywood boat from a local man who made them and painted it bright red with epoxy paint. It was only about 12 feet long. I had a small, ancient Sea King outboard motor to propel it that was only about one horsepower. My favorite lake to fish was Lake Plantagenet. I caught crappies there up to 14 inches in length. I often fished near the start of the Schoolcraft River, which is on the south end of that lake. Occasionally, a strong north wind would spring up from the north and I’d had to slowly fight my way back to the resort on a point, with the boat tipping nearly on its stern in the whitecaps.
Kathy and I returned to the Twin Cities after my sophomore year at Bemidji State. We moved into a larger house trailer in the 3020 Trailer Court.
We sometimes returned to Lake Plantagenet to camp and fish. One June 9 while camping there, the nighttime temperature dropped to 19o F.
My objective was to complete a bachelor’s degree in journalism. But I also needed to work to help support us. I tried selling Kirby vacuum cleaners but cut my leg while demonstrating an attachment. Needless to say, there was no sale. I had to go to a doctor and get stitches. Then I tried selling Encyclopedia Britannica but realized the only customer was me. Years later, I donated my set of encyclopedias to the Minneapolis Public Library.
We’d been married two years. We had no plans at that time to have children.
U of M
I attended the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis my junior and senior years of college. My major was news-editorial journalism. My minor was English literature. I read Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton and other famous English authors. (We were never assigned to read Latino, Indian or other authors.) I took courses in the history of journalism, reporting, editing, photojournalism, etc. Most of my courses were in Murphy Hall, the home of the School of Journalism. The Minnesota Daily student newspaper is housed in the basement. I was briefly a technology reporter for that newspaper.
My advisor was Professor Gene Burd. He later moved to Texas to teach. I corresponded with him for many years after he moved.
My most memorable course was Photojournalism because of an incident during that occurred while I was working on a homework assignment. I had selected an area in North Minneapolis undergoing urban renewal as my subject. That area was, and still is, predominantly black. (The term African-American hadn’t come into common use. The terms Negro or “colored” were commonly used followed later by “black.”) Urban renewal in the 1960s meant razing entire blocks and displacing all the occupants in the process. I’d seen the same destruction while in Norfolk, empty blocks, often cluttered with debris. Nothing was spared, including architectural landmarks.
I was strolling down an alley in North Minneapolis, taking photographs, when I came upon a black woman sitting alongside it. I had chatted with her for only a minute when a young black man appeared, brandishing a handgun that he promptly pointed at me. Fortunately, he took time to explain that he’d been displaced by urban renewal and had resolved to shoot the next white man who came around.
I was fearless at that age, so I struck up a conversation with him. After chatting a few minutes, he gave the handgun to his woman and told her to put it away. I learned he was a mechanic for Hansord Pontiac, a dealership that was located on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, in the Gateway district near the Mississippi River. We continued our conversation while having a beer and shooting pool at a neighborhood bar.
Kathy and I had settled into the northern St. Paul-Shorewood neighborhood, occasionally attending the North Heights Lutheran Church on Rice Street. The pastor was Maurice Vaugness, Jr. The senior Rev. Vaugness, Maurice’s father, was elderly at that time we attended North Heights but still occasionally delivered the sermon. One time after a service, he asked me what I was doing. I told him I intended to be a journalist. “I never met a good one,” he responded.
Kathy and I didn’t have a lot of money but I managed to find a few dollars for a used dirt bike. I wrecked myself on it several times. One time I was tearing across a field when I plunged head first into a ditch hidden in the tall grass, snapping the spark plug in half. Another time, while I was sitting at a stop light, I revved the bike. It jumped into gear, flipping me over backward and injuring my ankle. Once I was racing along a curvy trail in the woods when my right-hand footrest caught a stump. The bike went around the stump and I went flying through the woods headfirst, looking up at the sky. Fortunately, I was wearing a Snell helmet. I finally sold the bike when I was about 27. I kept my helmet for many years but never had another occasion to use it. As of 2010, I still have a motorcycle endorsement on my Minnesota driver’s license, although I haven’t ridden one in over 40 years.
Kathy owned a turquoise blue 1953 Chevrolet when we first met. Later, I owned two Datsun roadsters during the ‘60s, a British racing green 1600 cc (1.6 liters) and a silver 2000 cc (2 liters). Later, I owned an Audi Fox and then a white Chevrolet Corvair. By 1969 I had moved on to a rusty 1960 Volkswagen Beetle with an 1100 cc engine. I sometimes removed the four bolts holding the engine in place, lifted the engine out of the car and carried it into the house for repair. That beat lying on my back in the snow in the wintertime working on the rear-engine Corvair.
After we returned to the Twin Cities, I initially worked full-time as a technical writer at the Northern Ordinance division of FMC Corporation in Fridley. After I returned to college, I worked there part time. Northern Ordinance designed and manufactured missile launchers for the Navy.
One of my coworkers was Jewish. Other workers taunted him in small ways, for example, by drawing a kosher symbol on his banana. That sort of behavior would no longer be tolerated now that we are politically correct.
Kathy wasn’t happy about me being a student with intermittent, part-time jobs. She started going to a ballroom on Highway 10 with other men. I remember her coming home at 1 or 2 a.m. and telling me the guy who drove her home could afford to show her a good time and I couldn’t. After awhile, I’d had enough. I moved to an apartment near Larpenteur and Lexington Avenues in St. Paul.
While separated from Kathy, I met a redhead, Nancy, who worked for Control Data. We went to drive-in movies together and hung out at her apartment in North St. Paul or at mine in St. Paul. I recall her showing me data print-outs on green-bar paper, which were standard reports in the early days of computing. She was a congenial friend. Meanwhile, Kathy was living in an upper duplex in New Brighton where she’d moved after we separated.
She was working as a secretary for Global Van Lines, a moving company located in New Brighton. Truckers from Global would sometimes take loads of furniture to Chicago and return with truckloads of stolen items. Kathy bought a stolen 10-key calculator for her father.
Kathy and I managed to make up after a few months. I moved into the duplex with her, despite the fact another man was rumored to have a key. With Kathy listening, I called Nancy to tell her I had reunited with my wife and could no longer see her.
Kathy had gone off the pill. In June 1968 our daughter Tanya Kelly was conceived.
I was still a student at the university at that time. During summer session in 1969, I met a 21-year-old student in one of my journalism classes. I was 27. Her name was Victoria Anne. Vicky and I were friends who often chatted during class breaks or shared a doughnut. I mentioned her to Kathy, who imagined she was my girlfriend. But I don’t recall ever seeing Vicky except at the college while I was living with Kathy.
When Kathy was about seven months pregnant, she went to Bemidji to visit her parents. I didn’t go along. While she was there, her father physically assaulted her. He was probably drunk at the time. Kathy returned greatly distressed and had a nervous breakdown. Her cousins from St. Paul, the Arbogasts, and I took her to the psychiatric unit of University Hospital in Minneapolis.
Kathy made it clear she wanted me out of her life. She had apparently convinced herself I was having an affair with Vicky. Considering her mental state, I decided to comply and move out.
She didn’t call me when our daughter Tanya was born on Sept. 25, 1969. Her mother Emily called me the next day. I immediately grabbed my camera, bought a dozen long-stem roses and rushed to the hospital. I took a roll of photos of Tanya. Kathy was congenial toward me.
But we never got back together. Kathy divorced me in early 1970. She was given custody of Tanya, of course. I was given all the bills. My attorney recommended I file bankruptcy. I did and have regretted it ever since, although it may have been my only option.
I was nearly 28, a new father and divorced. And I had one more year of college to attend to complete my bachelor’s degree.
After my final separation from Kathryn, I moved to an upstairs apartment in a house off Como Avenue near the University of Minnesota campus. It had one room with a tiny kitchen and a bathroom off it. I covered the floor of the main room with a bright red nylon rug that had black accents in it.
I started dating Victoria Anne, “Vicky,” my friend from Murphy Hall. It was a fun, light-hearted relationship. We would lie on the red rug chatting and listening to LPs on my Magnovox portable record player. My small LP collection included The Sky, by Rod McKuen and Anita Kerr. It’s one of a trilogy: The Earth, The Sea and The Sky. It includes lyrics such as, “The Butterfly is Drunk on Sunshine.” We were into that sort of mindset in 1969, one year after the “Summer of Love.”
Vicky gave me a copy of The Prophet, the classic by Kahlil Gibran. I purchased his book Broken Wings. We read the books while burning incense in my wire incense holder.
Her parents lived off Dale Street in St. Paul. Vicky and I would sit in the dark on the edge of the nearby water reservoir, philosophizing about our futures. We both felt that, surely, we had great destinies in store for us, but 40 years flashed by and little of note occurred. There were no preordained destinies, no ascents to greatness. We neither changed the world nor became famous.
I had a 1960 Volkswagen Beetle at that time. The running boards had rusted off. It had a rubberized sunroof. There was a lever under the dash that allowed the car to access a small reserve gas tank. I’d painted it bright red with a brush and a can of paint. Once I drove it a short distance into the lake at Roseville Central Park on Lexington Avenue. Another time, we spent a day at a state park in Wisconsin walking along a stream by a waterfall. On the trip back to the Twin Cities, we opened the sunroof and sang Sugar Sugar at the top of our lungs,
Sugar, ah honey honey
You are my candy girl
In the quiet of the evening, we would walk around the lake at Como Park. We would stop under a stately old elm tree, my head lying in her lap while she sang Softly, As I Leave You to me.
I will leave you softly
For my heart would break
If you should wake
And see me go
Somewhere among my papers, these 40 years later, are the notes Vicky wrote to me. She liked to write in a spiral, her words starting at the center of the page and spiraling outward, around and around. If I ever had a soul mate, it was Vicky. Or do I think that because it was the ‘60s, we were both in our 20s and we were in love?
Perhaps it was too good to last. But probably it ended because her parents were very opposed to her dating a divorced man of 27 who wasn’t a Catholic. It also ended because I wanted an enduring relationship with her. But Vicky spoke of giving herself to God by becoming a nun, a tentative objective her parents probably urged her to pursue.
She suddenly stopped dating me. I’ve never learned what became of her. She would be about 61 years old now, as of 2009. What did she do in life? Is she happy? Did she become a nun or, instead, have children? Where is she now? Those questions may always haunt me.
I received about $110 per month in GI Bill money while at the U of M. I managed to buy a new, bright orange Toyota Corolla that cost me just under $2,000. By that time, I’d moved to a house in Dinkytown on the northern edge of the U of M Minneapolis campus that I shared with six university students, both men and women.
The roof of the house leaked and there were squirrels in the attic. At first, I had a room barely large enough for a single bed. When it rained, water dripped onto the bed. A female dentist in Pennsylvania owned the house, collected the rental income and ignored maintenance. When a girl moved out, I moved into her former, large, relatively dry room on another side of the upper floor of the house. My rent was $52 per month.
The largest and nicest room, downstairs in the front, was occupied by a beautiful young woman with raven hair down to her waist who played her piano daily. In the kitchen, the Asian student in charge of the house cooked noodles and eggs with hot sauce. The boyfriends of the girls in the house were sometimes walking the hallways in their underwear.
One of my friends while I lived in the 3020 Trailer Court had been a guy with a pretty young wife. They would come over to visit Kathy and me on his motorcycle. She would ride behind him wearing a mini-skirt and white stockings that showed off her lovely legs. After both she and I were divorced, I visited her to show her some photographs I’d taken. I discovered she was intent on seducing me. She put her young daughter to bed and poured two glasses of wine. And then...
There were several other women whom I briefly dated. Some had a child. Some had a boyfriend whom they worried would find out about us. Nearly all of them were pretty. None were married. I can no longer remember the names of all the women or exactly when I met them. It was the ‘60s and the young and relatively young were indulging in the newfound freedom of the Age of Aquarius.
I never did drugs and seldom had a beer despite the prevalence of beer busts, commonly called keggers. One beer was my limit. I was older than most students by 6-8 years, I’d been married and divorced and I’d served in the military. So I was no flower child. I was straight-laced by the standards of that era.
From the house in Dinkytown, I moved briefly to a new apartment in St. Paul. But I found that I couldn’t afford the rent. I was soon evicted. I moved back to Dinkytown, where I shared a house with a Greek student and a dental student from New Jersey. The Greek, Demetrius, had his own large room and a study girlfriend, Jane, who came by and cooked for him. That fact didn’t stop him from seducing pretty young students when his girlfriend wasn’t around. He was quite the lover boy. He was especially fond of pretty young Asian students. “No, no no,” they would object. “But of course,” he would calmly respond as he pulled them into his bedroom.
I shared a room with two single beds with the dental student. He also had women over. I had to sleep on the couch in the living room when he did.
I had a girlfriend at the time who was the daughter of the postmaster in Elmwood, WI. I never inconvenienced my roommates by bringing her into the house. I still had a key for the apartment in St. Paul I’d been tossed out of. It was still vacant. We would sneak over there when we wanted privacy.
She eventually left me for a young programmer who worked for Control Data. He had just returned from working in Puerto Rica. I had no appreciable income, so I was no competition for him. And he probably had an apartment to himself. The last time I talked to that girlfriend was via a payphone on 14th Avenue in Dinkytown. I said perhaps we’d meet again in 20 years. I haven’t seen her since.
I moved to an upper duplex on Maryland Avenue in St. Paul. By that time, I was driving a very rusty Ford Falcon station wagon. It was so rusty I had to wire up the rear fender wells to keep them from off the tires. One time the brakes failed on a downhill stretch of Maryland Avenue causing me to bump into the car ahead of me. I had to pay the driver $60 to repair the damage to his bumper.
Initially, I had a couch and television set I’d purchased on credit from the Fridley State Bank but I couldn’t keep up the payments. Two men showed up in a pickup truck and repossessed my furniture. Meanwhile, the local gas station seized my Mobil credit card because my payment was overdue. My only income was a short-term job frying burgers at a Burger King on Maryland Avenue. I still have the Burger King string tie I had to wear.
It was about that time I got involved with a church group, Bachelors and Belles, at a Presbyterian church in downtown St. Paul. That’s how I met William “Bill” McGaughey. I also met other people via that group. I had dates with two of the women. I attended a party at a member’s home. I made friends with Agnes “Aggie” Slette, a teacher in the church group whose hometown was LaCrosse, WI. I lost contact with Aggie later on. I sometimes wonder what became of her. She was a nice person.
Another friend from the group was Louis, whom I dated awhile. She shared a house in Minneapolis with another woman. She eventually gave up on me. She wanted to get married. I didn’t want to marry her. I heard she later settled for another member of the group, Pete, who was more willing to get married but showed little promise.
Eventually, I got a job as a counselor at Lino Lakes Juvenile Detention Center north of St. Paul. I worked the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, which allowed me to attend classes in the daytime. I never got used to that schedule. I always felt queasy around 4 a.m.
I could study on the job, because most of the 13 and 14-year-old boys under my jurisdiction were sleeping while I was on duty. The boys were incarcerated for minor offenses such as truancy. There were two wings to the cottage, one of several cottages on the campus. Girls 17 and 18 years old occupied the other wing. A female counselor was in charge of them. The girls were more hardcore and street wise. They usually had committed several offenses such as assault or burglary before the court sent them to prison. Although the girls were four of five years older than the boys, they were a volatile mix when together. The girls would flirt with and tease the boys.
Frank Woods headed the guards at the prison. He was rumored to be an ex-convict. His guards would sometimes chain the older, 17 and 18-year-old boys in C cottage to their bunks and deprive them of food and water.
I had one of the boys in my cottage try to hit me over the head with a Coke bottle. Once the boys put a pound of butter on a plastic plate and put the plate in the oven under the broiler element. When I had trouble, I reported it to the guards. They would come by, take the boy into a private room and ensure he never gave me any more trouble.
My fellow counselors and I volunteered to paint the interiors of cottages on weekends.
It was during that period of my life that I met Lois Elaine Kietzmann while roller skating in North St. Paul. She was about three years younger than me, cute, smart and she had a pleasant disposition. She lived in a rented upstairs room in a house in the better, southwestern residential neighborhood of Minneapolis. She’d just ended a 6-month relationship with a boyfriend. She was a social worker for Hennepin County who specialized in working with mentally retarded individuals, a term that has since become politically incorrect. Now they are “special” people. A rose by any other name is still a rose. I hate euphemisms.
Lois would become my second wife.
We Move Again and Again
Lois Elaine Kietzmann and I were married on Halloween 1970 in a church in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. We each had a friend as a witness. My friend was Carlos Dante Palamo, a college pal attending the University of Minnesota. Carolos was from Buenos Aries, Argentina, where his wealthy father owned a stereo factory.
Lois was from Milaca in central Minnesota, near Lake Mille Lacs. Her father was retired from a career with a railroad. Her parents were quiet, elderly people who lived in a modest house. We sometimes visited them on weekends. Her father liked to show me old photos from his railroad days.
The main thing Lois and I had in common was roller skating. Lois loved to dance. I danced but was not as enthusiastic about it as she was at that time. I later got into disco in the late 1970s after Lois was history.
Lois was slightly disfigured due to a problem with a taught tendon in her neck that over the years had distorted her face. But she was cute and fairly petite.
We moved from my upper duplex on Maryland Avenue to an apartment in Georgetown Court Apartments on East River Road, just north of I-694 in Fridley, a northern suburb of Minneapolis. We drove a new, blue Ford Pinto.
Some weekends I had custody of my daughter Tanya Kelly, who was a 12-18 months old while we lived in Georgetown Court. I would pick up Tanya and Lois and I would spend the weekend playing with her. Tanya was at an inquisitive age, exploring everything from puddles to Lois’s shoes.
I was still working at the Lino Lakes Juvenile Detention Center. I went to another cottage there in the middle of the night to get firewood and stumbled upon one of the guards and the female counselor for that cottage making out on a blanket in front of the fireplace. I did what I believed was my duty and reported them to the Center administration. Apparently, the couple called me a liar, because subsequently I was ordered to report to the Department of Corrections in downtown St. Paul for a polygraph test. The Department never told me the result of the test, nor did I ever learn the outcome of the investigation.
One evening soon afterward, my old college friends from Bemidji State College Dennis and Terrie Darr stopped to visit us. We went to a bar in downtown Minneapolis, where I nursed one drink and we all danced and chatted. I had to report to work at the usual time, 11 p.m., so we said good-bye about 9 or 10 p.m. and I headed for Lino Lakes. While at work several hours later, a guard came by my cottage. I briefly chatted with him. I told him my wife and I had spent the evening at a bar in Minneapolis dancing with my old college friends. He left and promptly wrote me up for being drunk on duty, although I had had only one drink hours earlier and was totally sober. I’ve never been drunk in my life. The time I’d helped friends drink wine in the Martine Alps in the summer of 1963 was the tipsiest I’ve ever been.
The report had no merit and it appeared to be retaliation but, nevertheless, the Center suspended me without pay. The suspension was ridiculous even if the assertion had been true, because the guards loaded into their pickups at lunchtime and rushed to a local bar to drink beer. I realized I was in a no-win situation with the guards, who would probably continue to harass me. I also realized that Center administration would always side with the guards against a member of the counseling staff, many of whom were mere college students like me. So I quit rather than fighting a hopeless fight.
The loss of my job put us in a financial crunch but I was able to complete my bachelor’s degree in news-editorial journalism at the U of M in March 1971, about four months into our marriage.
In the spring of 1971, I landed a job as a reporter for the Monticello Times in Monticello, Minnesota, just north of the Twin Cities. The newspaper was well known for the publisher’s annual “smoke out” anti-smoking campaign. Lois and I moved into an apartment in a house in nearby Big Lake, Minnesota, three miles from the newspaper office,
I purchased a Chevrolet Nova so I would have a car for work. The newspaper publisher told me I needed a Polaroid camera too. The car and camera put us into debt but I had a job and so did Lois, who was commuting to her social worker position with Hennepin County, about a 45-minute commute each way.
I had been on the job at the newspaper only a few days when a fire destroyed a nearby farm. I drove out to the farm to interview the farmer and take photographs of the destruction. My story and photo spread was published under the headline, “Fire Season Destroys a Man’s Life Work.”
I pointed out to the production staff that one of my fire photographs had been printed upside down. That rankled the publisher, who apparently thought a newbie shouldn’t be criticizing any of his longtime staff members.
A few days later, the publisher’s son made a decision to return from Arizona and apprentice to eventually become publisher. The publisher decided I was no longer needed with his son on board. He terminated me after I’d been on the job only a couple weeks.
Losing my job for the second time within a few months put us in a financial bind. I had to sell the Nova at a substantial loss. I inquired about suing the publisher of the Monticello Times but was advised I had no contract and therefore he had no obligation to keep me on board.
Lois was very understanding and stuck with me.
By September 1971 I had gotten a new job as area editor of The Faribault Daily News in Faribault, Minnesota, which is about a 45-minute drive south of Minneapolis. Lois moved with me to an upper duplex in Faribault. Living in Faribault meant she had to commute to Minneapolis for work, not an easy feat in the wintertime when it’s snowing. A 1-hour drive to work could take two hours or longer in a snowstorm. But Lois endured it.
My new job involved collecting and editing news from the rural area and small towns surrounding Faribault. I also wrote feature stories and took photographs. Faribault had a population of about 18,000. It is an old city containing several well-known, historic businesses. It is the site of the Minnesota School for the Deaf and Shattuck and St. Mary’s military academies. The Associated Press distributed a feature story I wrote about Shattuck.
We had a small, close-knit editorial staff that frequently gathered at a private club, Evergreen Knoll, for drinks and eats. The establishment had previously been a house of ill repute (a bordello). Faribault fixture Managing Editor L. E. Swanberg, known to all as Swanee, presided over sessions at the club.
At the publisher’s encouragement, I joined the local chapter of the Jaycees, an organization for young businesspersons. One of my Jaycee acquaintances, a photographer, and a friend of his drowned when their kayak went over a dam on the Cannon River during high water in the spring of 1972. The city spared no effort to find their bodies. It even tried blocking the river with an earthen dike. But it didn’t find the remains of the victims until weeks later.
I enjoyed my work at the newspaper, especially writing feature stories and taking and developing photographs. But the year I spent at the Faribault Daily News wasn’t always smooth sailing. The advertising manager backed me into a corner in the morgue (where old copies of a newspaper are kept) and swore at me due to feature stories I’d written. One story was about the snowmobile club violating the law and another was about illegal incinerators at local businesses. The stories had angered the owner of the local SuperValu supermarket, who was president of the snowmobile club. He canceled a significant amount of advertising in protest. The editorial department of a newspaper is theoretically supposed to be insulated from advertising but the smaller the newspaper, the less likely that’s the case.
Despite those hiccups, our managing editor Swanee and our publisher backed me up. I was doing good work and the newspapers and its readers apparently liked it.
My marriage to Lois was beginning to come undone by the spring of 1972. I was almost totally responsible for that. I’d become disenchanted with our relationship, because we had so few common interests. I had a desire for someone better, whatever that meant, although I was never unfaithful to Lois and I did not have a girlfriend. The grass was always greener on the other side of the fence. I was immature. I didn’t know how to have a successful relationship. I ignored Lois’s protestation that she loved me and asked for a divorce. In retrospect, it is one of the major regrets of my life.
I helped Lois move to an apartment in the same apartment complex I’d previously lived in while separated from Kathy, one near Larpenteur and Lexiington Avenues, just north of Como Park in St. Paul. Although we divorced, I visited Lois occasionally.
I had applied for a teaching assistantship (TA) position at the University of Minnesota in the slim hope of landing one. The position was on the counseling staff. Usually, only graduate students in psychology got TA positions in Counseling. I was surprised when an applicant dropped out at the last minute in August 1972 and the University selected me to fill that position.
My publisher wasn’t happy to see me leave The Faribault News but he understood my decision. I left the newspaper that August to pursue a master’s degree in journalism and work half-time as an academic counselor. I’d been with the Faribault newspaper one year.
By that time, Kathy had remarried to John Smith and at his request had put a halt to my seeing Tanya. Kathy was disgruntled because I had failed to keep up the $10 per week court-ordered child support. I don’t have any excuse for not doing that. I suppose I was short on money but, actually, I don’t recall why I was irresponsible about paying it.
John was very jealous and he had a temper. He would threaten me on the phone. John, Kathy and I fought over visitation rights via our respective attorneys for the next 13 years, until my daughter was 15. I was never successful in regaining visitation rights, because I had allowed John to legally adopt Tanya. The understanding between Kathy and me was that she would allow me to continue to visit or have occasional weekend custody of Tanya if I would permit John to adopt her. But that understanding wasn’t a legal agreement whereas the adoption was. I only saw Tanya once while she was ages 2-15. The one time I saw her, she was dancing in a dance class review at about age 4 or 5. The next time I saw Tanya was at my Grandmother Ida’s funeral in January 1985, when Tanya was 15 years old.
About the autumn of 1972, I stopped visiting Lois but we remained on friendly terms for about the next 12 years. I subsequently worked for Hennepin County in the same building as Lois. We would chat whenever we bumped into each other. About 15 years after we divorced, Lois remarried. She had retained the surname Harstad until then. Pamela Lary-Harstad, a subsequent wife, found herself on the same panel with Lois Harstad at a meeting. People asked them if they were related. I’m not sure what they responded but Pamela told me they were congenial toward each other. I assume Lois retained the surname Harstad to avoid the bother of switching back to her maiden name and perhaps also because she liked Harstad better than Kietzmann.
I began my teaching assistantship at the University of Minnesota in September 1972 after a short period of training. I was an academic counselor for freshmen and undecided sophomores. The latter were sophomores who had not decided on a major.
I shared an office in the Temporary North of Mines (TNM) building with George Henly, who was working on his Ph.D. in psychology. I was also friends with Valentine “Val” Arnold and Judith DeHaven Atlee, who were also working on their doctorates. (Val and his wife Darlene, who were dating, are still friends of mine.)
Temporary North of Mines was so named because it was a temporary building that was located north of the Mines building on the U of M campus. It was immediately south of Frazer Hall, the law building at that time. TNM had been an Army barracks at one time before being moved to the U of M. It is no longer on the campus.
Each counselor had a case load of about 175 students. We helped students decide on a major and plan which courses to take each quarter. (Classes lasted one quarter at that time versus one semester.) I also provided minimal personal counseling and referral to the university’s mental health counselors. The most common personal problems were those involving boyfriends or girlfriends.
George and I became personal friends. (We are still friends, as are his wife Sue and their children.) He and I went fishing on the Mississippi River at Clearwater and on other outings. We drove to Quetico Provincial Park in Canada to camp and fish. We apparently looked like a couple of hippies to the Border Patrol. When we tried to reenter the US, an agent ordered us to pull to one side so the Border Patrol could search our vehicle. The agent even inspected the inside of our tent poles. But we did not have any marijuana.
I attended a party at the upper duplex George shared with Tom Segal on the university West Bank. The attic room was pungent with marijuana smoke. I spent much of my time on a teeterboard in the living room while drinking cheap wines, Annie Greenspring and Cold Bear. I never smoked pot, not even when my companions were smoking it on our way to see Disney’s movie Fantasia. I was probably as much fun to them as a wet blanket.
George and I also hung out at Palmer’s bar on the West Bank, where we drank beer and at salmon sharpies, which were small, salty strips of smoked salmon.
It was 1972-73 and the Age of Aquarius hadn’t worn off yet. Although the Summer of Love had been several years earlier in 1968 and Woodstock had occurred a year after that in 1969, the mood of openness and exploration didn’t totally abate until disillusion with the Vietnam War set in and the violent protests against it occurred in the early 1970’s. After the war was lost in 1975, the flower children of the ‘60s got down to the business of becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers or some other way of making a living.
From 1969 until 1972, I often hung out on the U of M West Bank, where the Riverside Café, the Coffeehouse Extempore and Palmer’s Bar were located. There was also a theater, a dance studio, a Chinese bakery, a bank and other establishments.
The Coffee House Extempore was the most interesting of those hangouts. It was an old brick building about four stories high with various activities occurring in its rooms. There was a snack shop selling cookies in one room and people playing chess in another. A guitarist might be playing in some other room. There were sometimes smoke-filled rooms where students smoked pot and talked about the meaning of life, Kierkegaard or their classes. The Extempore later burned down, which was somehow appropriate, because its era had ended.
Judith and I became friends even though she didn’t work in TNM. We saw each other on campus occasionally and more frequently at the social get-togethers of the counseling staff. We eventually started dating.
Meanwhile, I finished the coursework for my master’s degree while serving as co-editor of The Freshman Handbook during the spring of 1972. The Handbook is the bible for incoming students. It would be four years later, in March of 1976, before I finished my three Plan B papers: one in political science, one in sociology and one in journalism. (They may still be available from Wilson Library at the U of M.)
By the spring of 1973, a year later, I’d moved into Judith’s apartment on Lake of the Isles in the Uptown district of Minneapolis, a district known for young people and gays. Judith was three years younger than me. She was nearly 28. I was 31. She’d been briefly married to her first husband Dennis Countryman. She tired of being required to play the role of homemaker and hostess, roles she was ill suited for, so she divorced him.
She was still working on her Ph.D in Reading and Study Skills. She had a job in Health Sciences at the U of M. After completing my stint as an academic counselor and editor at the U, I was a freelance writer for various newspapers and magazines, including The Minnesota Daily, The Skyway News and Pro Con magazine.
Judith and I moved from the Lake of the Isles district to an apartment on Blaisdell Avenue in South Minneapolis. On Aug. 28, 1973, a judge at the Hennepin County Government Center married us. It was her second marriage, my third.
Judith was originally from Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, where her parents and other relatives still lived. Bellefonte is in the center of the state near State College, the home of Penn State University. Her father Hugh Stewart Atlee had been a cook in federal prison commissaries. He was retired by the time I met him. At one time he had worked at the women’s prison at Sandstone, MN. Her mother Dorothy, called Dot, was a homemaker. Judith was an only child. The family was descended from notable ancestors, including Clement Atlee, a former prime minister of England.
We lived on Blaisdell Avenue only a short time before purchasing a patio home in Jonathan, a new town in Chaska, MN, a southwestern suburb of Minneapolis. Jonathan was a semi-rural, self-contained, planned community, a new concept. We paid about $35,000 for our new house.
One memorable event there was a surprise birthday party that Judith threw for me. A number of our friends attended it. There were also community activities such as the annual cross-country ski race. There was a small lake close to our house where one could canoe. A shopping center was about half a mile distant. It took 30-45 minutes to get to Minneapolis via County Road 41 and Highway 5.
In our small patio, we had plants and a small ceramic bird feeder. There were more plants in the house.
I built a clock drive for my 35 mm camera and used the set-up for astrophotography. I remember seeing Comet West during that time, although we missed most of the display due to weeks of cloudy weather.
During the latter part of our stay in Jonathan, Judith drove a community commuter bus to Minneapolis and back each day. It was no joy ride during the wintertime. By springtime, Judith had tired of the long commute from Jonathan. She held an important position at University Health Sciences by that time and she wanted to live closer to the U of M. So we sold our house in Jonathan and rented an upper duplex in a large house on the northwestern corner of Minnehaha Parkway and Bloomington Avenue in South Minneapolis. It is a very nice neighborhood, right across the street from the strip of park that straddles Minnehaha Creek.
An elderly lady, Mrs. Nordley, owned the house. Apparently, she slept on her couch, because there was a pile of clothing several feet high on her bed. She served us lemonade with fruit flies in it when we came by to rent the duplex.
There was a spacious back porch about 8 by 20 feet in dimension on the back side of our upper duplex that I used as a study. We also had a large kitchen, a dining room, a living room and two bedrooms. And we had the use of a garage out back. In addition, Mrs. Nordley let me turn a small room in the basement into a darkroom.
In 1975, I got a job as a staff writer for the Sun Newspaper chain, which consists of a number of suburban Twin Cities newspapers. I was based at the South St. Paul Sun office but I reported on news in several St. Paul suburbs. My friends at the office were Margaret Peck and Marcia Anderson. (Marcia is still an acquaintance.)
Later, I transferred to The Minnetonka Sun, which covered the communities around Lake Minnetonka, west of Minneapolis. I was a staff writer, photographer, business editor and columnist at that newspaper.
My editor was Dave Duff, who was wealthy and apparently edited the Minnetonka Sun for something to do. His wife spent part of her time jetting about to places such as Switzerland, often arriving back at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) inebriated due to too many drinks during her flight. Our social editor Emmy Burke was an elderly lady nearing 90 who was a notable in the Lake Minnetonka area. I was sometimes drafted to take photographs for her.
On one occasion, I tagged along with Emmy to take photos at a tea party at the home of the conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra. While I waited at the side of a room, one of a pair of royal poodles came up to me and looked me in the face. I stared back and raised an eyebrow. The poodle let out a yelp and went tearing around the house, with the lady of the house in pursuit, scolding it. I quietly slipped out of the house.
On another occasion, I was supposed to take photographs at the exclusive Lafayette Club for Emmy but the club wouldn’t allow me inside. I wasn’t a person with old money, one acceptable to the Lake Minnetonka aristocracy.
Still later, I worked out the Sun office in Edina, a southern suburb of Minneapolis. It was during that time, probably in the spring of 1977, that the Society of Professional Journalists invited me to speak at the regional convention in Eau Claire. (I’d joined SPJ in 1971. I served a term on the board of directors of the Minnesota chapter.)
My topic was Sun Newspapers and, specifically, the link between advertising and editorial content. For example, I mentioned that our managing editor got free meals in return for good restaurant reviews. When the food was mediocre, he nevertheless wrote an insipid comment such as, “I sampled all four quarters of the pizza and like them just fine.”
My speech was not well received by Sun management. I was already under surveillance for having written a column critical of a secret meeting held by the Wayzata City Council, some of whose members were friends of the publisher. Although I had won Sun awards for my stories, including a feature story on bicycling in Washington County, Sun management fired me. The reason cited was that I had thrown away a manual pencil sharpener without permission. The sharpener was broken and un-repairable. Those same managers were known to be corrupt. One of them had approached me at the opening of the Radisson Hotel – Plymouth and suggested I hit up the hotel for a free room, which I didn’t do.
After leaving the Sun, I worked as a temporary for Dolphin Staffing, which posted me as a messenger for the Dorsey Law Firm in Minneapolis. One day I was handed a manila envelope to deliver. I recognized it as being from a senior attorney to a senior executive of Cargill Corporations, one of the world’s largest privately-held and most secretive corporations.
Being a journalist and naturally curious, I took at look the contents. It detailed illicit activity by Cargill in Spain involving “black pesetas” to avoid payment of US taxes. I drove to the U of M and had Judith make a copy of it. Then I delivered it to its intended recipient.
After studying the document further, I contacted a business reporter for the Minneapolis Star newspaper who subsequently wrote an article based on it. He agreed to keep me a confidential source. Unfortunately, the US government demanded to know his source and the Star did not protect my confidentiality. The government then subpoenaed me to testify at a hearing, blowing my cover. An FBI agent was assigned to protect me from Cargill.
The government found Cargill guilty of tax evasion and collected $5 million. I was supposedly entitled to a 10 percent finder’s fee of $500,000 but I declined both it and payment for my time in court. I got nothing out of my effort except bad press about being a messenger who snooped into Dorsey documents. I lost my job with Dolphin, of course.
I’ve never decided whether what I did was right or wrong. It was wrong of me to look at the document but, having recognized it revealed illegal activities, did I do the appropriate next thing?
The Break Up
Women’s liberation was at the forefront of national consciousness during the mid-70s. Feminists were burning their bras and denouncing all men. Traditional marriage was portrayed as akin to women’s slavery. A popular T-short carried the message, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
Judy was caught up in the feminist movement. She and her two best girlfriends sat around our duplex denouncing men and discussing women’s liberation. Judy advised me to read The Liberated Man, a book popular with feminists that was supposed to change a man’s way of thinking. I considered myself relatively liberated. Judy and her friends apparently considered me, and all other men, to be unnecessary cretins.
In September 1977, I got a telephone call from Robert Morris of Hennepin County Training and Employment Assistance (TEA) asking me to fill the position of Management Information Systems supervisor in that department. He had tracked me down while Judy and I were staying in the Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue in the Chicago Loop. We were there to see the King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum of Natural History.
I was a free-lance journalist at the time with little knowledge of information technology but, Bob had been impressed by my earlier work at TEA while I was a temporary employee. He assured me I could do the job, so I accepted his offer in 1977.
By 1978, Judy and I were drifting apart. Judy admitted to having an affair with a co-worker at the University of Minnesota. She asked to speak to me in our garage one day, where she surprised me by announcing she had filed for divorce. Her attorney was a neighbor of ours whom we both knew. That was my first indication she intended to split. She proceeded with the divorce, which was final in June 1978. We’d been married not quite five years. Judy turned 33 the month following the divorce. I was 36.
Judy was AC/DC, meaning bisexual. Following the divorce, she lived with another woman in a relationship for a number of years. The woman had mental health problems that apparently eventually led to a break-up of their relationship. I last saw Judy in about 1981, three years after our divorce, while she was in the Twin Cities, for a conference. We met for lunch. But we remained in contact via letters and, later, via email for the remainder of her life.
Judy apparently had a boyfriend for awhile after breaking up with her female partner. Then she entered a relationship with another woman. Judy had moved to Stockholm, WI by that time. She had a counseling practice in nearby Red Wing, MN. She also owned and operated a bed and breakfast at Stockholm. Her last relationship continued until Judy died of breast cancer in January 2006. She survived the cancer for about two or three years after it metastasized. She made several trips with her partner during that time and remained otherwise active until just before her death, when the cancer had spread to her brain, causing her to slip into a coma. She was very courageous.
Her cousins in Rochester, NY notified me of her death. I had just returned to Beijing, so I had no opportunity be there when her ashes were scattered on a favorite meadow of hers somewhere near Stockholm. The ashes of her dog were to be scattered there also. I may not have been welcome there anyway. It had been a long time since the divorce, 28 years, and her new partner had never met me.
I’ve remained in contact with Judy’s cousins: the Charles family in Rochester, NY and the former Caspero family in Pittsburgh, PA. (John Capero and his wife Carol divorced and both have remarried.)
Judy’s mother Dot died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at home. I never saw her after my 1978 divorce from Judy. In 1991, 13 years after the divorce, I stayed overnight with the Caspero family in route to a military reunion in Virginia Beach, Virginia. On my way from Pittsburgh to Virginia Beach, I stopped at Hollidaysburg, PA to see Judy’s father Hugh. He was still very alert. He told me the old ladies in the retirement home were attracted to him. Judy apparently had differences with her father and never visited him after her mother’s death to my knowledge. Not too long afterward, he died of pancreatic cancer. Hugh and Dot are buried at a cemetery alongside the highway between Bellefonte and State College. That branch of the family ceased to exist. Judy was their only child and she neither wanted nor had a child of her own.
I joined MAS, which was then called the Twin Cities Astronomy Club (TCAC), in 1974, about six months after its founding. In 1980 I was elected secretary of that organization. The following year, I was elected president.
I served as newsletter editor of Gemini, the newsletter of the Minnesota Astronomical Society (MAS), for about 15 years in total during two different stints as editor. Initially, I created each edition using canary yellow paper and an IBM Selectric typewriter. I often had to retype it due to changes or corrections, sometimes several times. Each edition was typically 8-16 pages in length. I was also responsible for bulk mailing it. In the early ‘80s, I switched to producing the newsletter on a circa 1980 Morrow Designs microcomputer and dot-matrix printer. I sold that computer and the printer and monitor to a collector in about 2002.
The TCAC name was changed to MAS in about 1980. That year, we also had several meetings to discuss purchasing a 16-inch professional telescope from the University of Minnesota – Duluth. We bought it, although it would be years before Onan Observatory at Baylor Regional Park was built to provide a place to house it.
Also in about 1980, the MAS bought a tax-forfeited parcel of land east of Kenyon in Goodhue County. It had formerly been the site of a schoolhouse but had long been used as a dump. We went to work clearing and leveling the property. Then we moved two buildings, an observatory and a warming house, from the site of the 3M astronomy club observatory to the new site. Unfortunately, we had to have four giant oak trees over a century old cut down to permit a view of the southern sky.
I called the new site Cherry Grove Observatory in the newsletter, after the name of the former school and also the township. The name stuck.
By this writing in 2009, I’ve dropped out of amateur astronomy except for occasional financial support, usually anonymous. My telescope needs refurbishing, it is an hour’s drive to an observatory and I don’t enjoy staying up until dawn and either freezing or fighting mosquitoes. The Hubble space telescope, the Internet and a PC have made it possible to view astronomical wonders in the comfort of my home. But I want to fix my ‘scope so I can view nebulas and galaxies first-hand again, despite the reasons just cited for not doing that.
Following the divorce from Judith, I moved to a small apartment in an old brick building on Pleasant Avenue in South Minneapolis. One of the first things I did was fix the place up, including sanding and varnishing the floor. I started eating at the Java Restaurant on nearby Nicollet Avenue, still one of my favorite places to eat.
I went through a transitional period during the last half of 1978 and the first half of 1979. I briefly dated a co-worker, Suzanne. I went on a memorable trip with her family to their lodge on a lake in Canada. I took many photographs while on the trip. When I returned, I gave her parents an album of those photos. But after Suzanne and I returned from Canada, she broke up with me. I can’t say exactly why except apparently I didn’t meet her expectations. She never gave me a good explanation for breaking off the relationship.
After that experience, I met a charming, cute, lively young woman age 21 named Phoebe. She was a legal assistant at the law firm of Faeger & Benson in Minneapolis. We met while taking disco lessons on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota. Phoebe proved to be a delightful disco partner. We danced to Donna Summers songs and other disco music at Scottie’s on Seventh in downtown Minneapolis, a popular club that was later demolished to make way for City Center. (The very popular and wonderful old Nankin Restaurant was also demolished in the name of urban renewal and forced to relocate to a sterile modern environment.) Phoebe and I began going on other dates besides dancing.
About that same time, I was also dating a graduate student at the U of M named Carmen. Carmen was a pleasant, good-humored woman. She was intelligent and attractive, with long brunette hair. Thirty two years later, I came across her page on LinkedIn and we reconnected. By that time, she was working for a major advertising agency in Minneapolis.
Meanwhile, there was a third woman in my life. I had first met Pamela Rae Lary in the summer of 1977 while working as a temporary at TEA. When I walked in the door of TEA for the first time, she was sitting at a table wearing a light brown dress and sorting through paperwork. She glanced up at me and then returned to her work. Pam was an attractive, petite brunette age 25 at that time.
While Judy and I were still married in 1977-78, Pam sometimes joined our group of friends for dinners at restaurants, so Judy and Pam knew each other. Both Pam and another co-worker, Joanne, who shared a birthday with me (March 11), were among a group of us who once went camping in Split Rock State Park on the North Shore. Pam, Joanne and I went skinny dipping in the Split Rock River. Greg, Joanne’s boyfriend and future husband (they later divorced) did not join in the fun, nor did Judy. I’ve lost track of Joanne but I remember her well, especially each year on my birthday.
I was Pam’s supervisor at that time. The supervisor-subordinate relationship wasn’t always smooth. I recall she once called me a bastard to my face. I didn’t mete out discipline for that comment, considering it may have been valid from her point of view and also considering I encourage subordinates to speak their minds. We did good work together despite the fact Pam was sometimes temperamental.
Some months after I became Pam’s supervisor, she transferred from her job with TEA to an accounting position with Hennepin Technical College (HTC). Sometime after the divorce and the transfer, Pam and I started dating, even though she lived with a boyfriend, Richard Berus, at the time.
I realized I couldn’t continue to have three girlfriends. I needed to make a choice. I chose Pam. I made the decision while we were at the Omnitheater of the old Science Museum of Minnesota in downtown St. Paul. (The new Science Museum is on the Mississippi River in St. Paul.) I recall thinking it was important to have a partner who was intelligent and interesting, one whom I enjoyed conversing with. Pam and I had a history of long discussions about books, the arts, etc. We often chatted over a Peptito’s Plate of Mexican food at Pepito’s restaurant in South Minneapolis.
By that time, Pam had moved out of Richard’s apartment and was living in her own apartment in the Triangle neighborhood of Minneapolis, which is an area between Hennepin and Lyndale Avenues north of Lake Street that is popular with young people and gays.
I ignored some negative facts about our relationship. We seemed alike enough to proceed. In 1979, I broke off my relationships with Phoebe and Carmen and moved into an upper duplex with Pam on Kenwood Avenue in the upscale Kenwood neighborhood of Minneapolis.
While we were living in that upper duplex, my friend Guy Dangréau and his wife Evelyne came from Vincennes, suburban Paris, to visit us. I hadn’t seen Guy for 18 years but we had frequently written to each other. Their visit was the first time I’d met Evelyne. The four of us took a trip to Ft. William in Canada.
I continued to work at TEA while Pam continued to work at HTC. I drove a Renault. Pam drove a 1979 Volkswagen Rabbit.
Pam had her moods. She was introverted and anti-social. She despised and avoided ever having to supervise a subordinate at work. When she was in a bad mood, she would stay in bed for hours or even days. Despite those personality traits, the relationship continued, although not always smoothly.
In the spring of 1981, I wrote marriage vows for us. The date we married, May 9, was a windy day. I practically dragged a seemingly reluctant Pam to the Hennepin County Government Center, where she finally started smiling. She had dreaded the ordeal of getting married even though we’d lived together two years. A judge married us in the presence of my sister, her boyfriend Kap and my friends Val and Darlene Arnold and George and Sue Henly. It was Pam’s first marriage, my fourth.
Mid-Life Slips By
I was married to Pamela Rae Lary-Harstad for the 16 years, from 1981 until 1997. It seems like very little happened during those years, which should have been the most productive of my life considering I was in my 40s and early 50s.
I continued working at Training and Employment Assistance until 1984. That year, my supervisor was in a meeting. He requested a rush report. My principal clerk, Ray Kepulis, and I produced it as quickly as we could but my supervisor thought we were too slow. He suspended me without pay for five days.
The real cause of the suspension might have been friction that had developed between my supervisor and me. He was running a business out of his office at the county and paying a county secretary to do paperwork for it during hours when she was on the county payroll. I filed a formal complaint about his business activities that led to a hearing. But the complaint went nowhere because my supervisor and the department head took the hearing examiner to lunch during a recess in the hearing and persuaded her to find that my supervisor was not at fault. The hearing was a sham and so was the county complaint process.
Eventually, my supervisor lost his job but the suspension had prompted me to quit and move on. Another factor in my decision to quit was my inability to get a promotion despite excellent scores on advancement examinations, because I wasn’t an employee of the Information Services Department. There was no way to get to the next rung on the career ladder, because senior IT positions were filled by IS Department insiders.
I had been with TEA for nearly seven years.
Pam and I bought a small house in South Minneapolis, a block north of 38th Street, soon after we got married in 1981. In 1983, we sold our first house and purchased a new quad-home in Burnsville, west of I-35W and south of Highway 13. We financed it with a Veterans Administration (VA) mortgage loan.
After I quit my job in May 1984, we were short on money. Pam was still working at Hennepin Technical Centers (HTC) but she didn’t make enough to cover our mortgage payments. We were forced to sell our home and move to an apartment just off Old Shakopee Road in Bloomington. While there, I brought in a few dollars doing free-lance writing and editing books.
By the following year, we had gotten back on our feet financially and were able to purchase a 2000-squarer-foot house in South Minneapolis. It had a basement and two stories above ground. I went to work rewiring the entire house, a skill I had learned from my electrician father and a course taught by South Side Electric, an electric company in South Minneapolis. I had electricians install 200-amp service. Then I rewired the house using 12-gauge Romex throughout. (That gauge is the standard for a 20-amp circuit, even though it is more difficult to work with than the 14-gauge wiring that meets code for 15-amp circuits.) I had to remove the old Greenfield wiring prior to wiring from each of the dozen or more circuits. Rewiring the house was a big job.
I also started putting up sheetrock in the basement and prepared to insulate the attic. Pam and I painted the garage.
We took some memorable trips. In 1980, we drove to Seattle, through the Cascades, to visit Pam’s parents Max and Margaret Lary. The trip occurred a few weeks after the Mt. St. Helens eruption. The rivers near that volcano were gray with ash. Ash was still blowing about on the roadways. I collected a small plastic bag of it as a keepsake.
Max was a mechanical engineer for a railroad. Max and Margaret lived in a fine house but were selling it and retiring to Peoria, AZ, a northwestern suburb of Phoenix. We also visited Pam’s sister Jo and her husband Jay, wealthy civil engineers who paid $1 million for the property in Seattle where they built their house. (Later, they also bought a house in suburban Phoenix, so as of 2009, they have two homes.)
In 1982, Pam had a conference in Dallas, TX. I drove to Dallas and picked her up. Then we proceeded to Alabama and Tennessee, camping along the way. We stopped at points of interest such as the Civil War battlefield at Vicksburg, TN. Our destination was the Knoxville World Fair. We camped nearby and enjoyed exploring the pavilions. Then we drove home to Minnesota.
After Max and Margaret bought a house in Peoria, AZ, we made several trips to visit them and explore Arizona. We made one wintertime trip in a Datsun pickup, driving to Phoenix via Kansas City, Texas and New Mexico. We explored sites such as Santa Fe in route. After visiting Pam’s parents, we drove from Phoenix to San Diego, then across California to Salt Lake City, UT and finally back to Minnesota. We drove on glare ice across the mountains east of Salt Lake City.
On some of our trips to Arizona, we drove to other places in that state such as Casa Grande, Tucson and Sedona. We drove up Kitt Peak to check out the telescopes and then up Mt. Lemmon. In Tucson we discovered a peculiar recreational activity, driving up Mt. Lemmon, making a snowman on the hood or top of one’s vehicle, and then quickly driving back to Tucson before it melts.
We also explored Taliesen West in Scottsdale. (Pam is a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie school of architecture.) We visited the experimental town Arcosanti and archeological sites such as Mesa Verde and Montezuma’s Castle.
In 1985, recruiters persuaded me to join the US Naval Reserve. I was 43 years old and had been discharged from active duty 20 years before. I finally got the promotion the Navy had denied me in 1965. I was promoted to intelligence specialist (IS) second class and assigned to Intelligence Class A School at the US Naval Air Reserve Center – Twin Cities (NAVAIRRESCEN – Twin Cities). My unit was Fleet Intelligence Rapid Support Team – Pacific (FIRSTPAC) 0179.
I had previously had a secret security clearance while in active service and while working as a technical writer for defense contractors. An IS rating requires a top secret compartmentalized clearance. Naval Intelligence commenced an investigation of minutia about my past, including eating a plate of beans in a jail in South Dakota when I was 19 after being arrested for selling magazines without a permit. I forgot to report that brief incident on the exhaustive application. Naval Intelligence later called me on the carpet for omitting it. Investigators interviewed many of my friends, relatives and co-workers. They also showed up at my home in South Minneapolis. Later, I requested a copy of the resulting report. I found the investigators questioned whether I wasn’t too honest based on the opinions of people who knew me. They suggested I might reveal Navy secrets such as its false cover stories.
Meanwhile, I continued studying in IS school. I also occasionally worked in the library, checking materials in and out. Like most Naval reservists, I had duty one weekend a month plus a 2-week annual active duty training (ACDUTRA). My goals were to become a Limited Duty Officer (LDO) and to complete the remainder of the 20 years of service required for a military pension.
Pam and I received an unexpected letter shortly after we bought our second house in South Minneapolis. It informed us the federal government demanded immediate payment of about $24,000. The claim was that we owed that amount on our previous house in Burnsville. We learned that the buyer who had assumed our VA mortgage for that house had in turn sold the house to an equity skimmer in Newport Beach, CA. The latter owner was charging rent to tenants but not making mortgage payments. The federal government elected to go after all veterans who had originally taken out the VA mortgages on properties in default instead of seeking payment from the equity skimmers.
The Navy immediately put my clearance on hold due to the financial claim. It pulled me out of IS school. It also cancelled an upcoming ACDUTRA at the former US Navy Guided Missiles School in Dam Neck, VA that I had attended in 1961-62, which had become an intelligence school.
The material we were studying in IS school up to that point could be found in reference materials at any public library. Nevertheless, the Navy now considered me a security risk due to financial difficulties the government had suddenly imposed on me and prohibited me from continuing IS school. The claim blocked my IS career. Several of my officers and an attorney in our sister unit, Terry Louie, wrote letters to Naval Intelligence on my behalf. I don’t recall any response. Naval Intelligence refused to grant me a security clearance. No one in Washington, DC would stick their neck out for me, not even a little.
My unit reassigned me as the yeoman to a group of non-billeted intelligence officers, that is, officers without assigned positions. The officers trained like all reservists except they volunteered to participate in additional ACDUTRA. Whereas I previously had no access to classified information except when on duty in the library, I could now listen to discussions of top secret information among officers about their recent experiences in the fleet. I also attended what was supposed to be an unclassified briefing by an admiral about the Walker spy case. He assumed everyone in the room had a top secret clearance, so he divulged some very sensitive information. Our intelligence office spotted me and ordered me to leave the room but not before I overheard top secret details of the case.
I had been ostracized to a special class, the one person on base who couldn’t be trusted. Not long after that, I spotted an enlisted man photocopying secret material and collating it on the couch in the visitor’s lounge. I reported him to our security officer.
The officers in the non-billeted unit took me to lunch at the Officer’s Club on Post Road. I was the only enlisted man in the unit so I was treated like one of the boys. (Although there were enlisted women in my initial unit, FIRSTPAC 0179, there were no females among the non-billeted officers.) My job consisted primarily of typing documents and correspondence, including performance reviews extolling each officer’s ability to walk on water. (We didn’t have a word processor, an innovation dating from the early 1980s. My Naval Reserve enlistment predated the introduction of the IBM personal computer by several years.)
My prospects for ever resuming my IS career appeared to be poor. My unit encouraged me to change ratings to yeoman. Doing that would mean becoming a seaman again, two ranks lower. At that same time, I was having difficulty seeing at times due to retinal inflammation that may have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. That eye problem, which began in 1981 and continued until the mid-90s, was becoming more acute. (I was getting injections for it from Dr. Jon Tierney of Retinal Specialists, which was affiliated with the Phillips Eye Institute.) My eye problem would have made the stereoscope work of an intelligence specialist difficult for me.
Everything considered, I opted for an honorable discharge from the US Naval Reserve after one 3-year enlistment. Ironically, subsequent to that decision, a court responded to a class action suit filed by veterans who were subjected to federal claims related to VA mortgages. The court threw out all such claims, declaring them illegal. But by the time that occurred, Pam and I had been forced to file bankruptcy to discharge the government demand. We renewed all obligations except for the federal claim. The bankruptcy would have made any attempt to rejoin my unit unlikely to succeed, despite the circumstances, because Naval Intelligence would have seen a bankruptcy as a red flag.
It is difficult not to be bitter after the Navy twice thwarted my attempts to become an officer for illicit reasons, once when it rejected my application for NAVCAD because my parents were divorced and again when it canceled my IS security clearance due to an illegal federal claim, sabotaging my Naval Reserve career. That’s how adverse to risk our intelligence agencies are. Everyone is a foreign agent until proven otherwise. Any financial duress, including an illegal claim by the same government evaluating my financial situation, is cause for denying a clearance. My current connection to China, to be discussed later in this work, makes it impossible for me to get a clearance now. The current eligibility rule is that an applicant cannot have spent more than six months outside the US during the previous five years.
Terry, my advocate in the Naval Reserve, became and remains a close friend. He made captain before retiring. He is now a prosecutor (assistant regional counsel) for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in Minneapolis and also a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.
In the autumn of 1985, I landed a job typing engineering documents for Angiomedics, a medical catheter manufacturer in Plymouth, a suburb of Minneapolis. After a few weeks on the job, I persuaded the senior managers to allow me to create the Information Services Department. I subsequently developed and managed that department for two years. That included supervising its employees and overseeing acquisition of an IBM System 38 computer. Other departmental employees and I attended IBM schools together in Kansas City and Philadelphia.
Pfizer had a 10 percent stake in the company. It bought out the other 90 percent in 1987. Not long afterward, my boss Anthony Rees, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), summoned me to his office. He announced that a new manager I’d been instructed to train in was taking over my job. I learned I’d been training my replacement. The CFO told me to leave the premises immediately. I was not allowed to collect my personal possessions or say speak to anyone. I had to return after hours and have a guard escort me to my desk to collect my belongings. That is the way Pfizer terminates employees. That was my thank-you for building a information management system and IS department.
A week later, the remaining middle managers and my former subordinates hosted a lunch for me at a local restaurant. The CFO was not invited. They bemoaned the way the company had treated me but could do nothing about it.
The president of Angiomedics, who had touted the take-over as a great opportunity for everyone, also lost his job. He became an attorney in Brainerd, a mid-size city in central Minnesota. My former boss, the CFO, lost his job too a little later. It was sweet justice but too late to do me any good.
So in 1987, I found myself unemployed once again. I only had part-time work or free-lance writing for the following two years. Pam continued to work at HTC.
In 1989, I was offered the position of managing editor of The Chisago County Press, a weekly county-seat newspaper in Lindstrom, MN. Lindstrom is a Swedish town a half-hour drive northeast of St. Paul. It is one of three adjacent towns on Highway 8: Chisago City, Lindstrom and Center City. The latter is the Chisago County seat of government. The area is close enough to the Twin Cities for residents to commute to jobs in the metropolitan area.
Pamela decided to remain in the Twin Cities rather than commute to her office in Minnetonka, west of Minneapolis, which would have been a drive of an hour or more in good weather. We sold our house in South Minneapolis. Pam moved to an apartment in Plymouth, a northwestern suburb of Minneapolis.
I signed a 1-year lease on a condominium in Chisago City. Pam drove there some weekends to visit me. I was on call all the time. I spent weekends covering parades, other celebrations and various other events. I had no time for a girlfriend even though Pam and I were separated, although we were still friends and still married.
The publisher of the newspaper was John Silver, a middle-aged, conservative businessman. Silver and I had different perspectives on Lindstrom and the content of the newspaper. He wanted the paper to reflect a Lindstrom that was the little, idyllic Swedish town that time had forgotten. The reality was Lindstrom was becoming a residential suburb of the metropolitan area populated by commuters, the majority of them not descended from Swedish ancestors. But Silver begrudgingly tolerated our difference of opinion. We compromised by including content reflecting both perspectives: kiddie parades and photos of strange looking vegetables as well as court records and photos of accidents.
Silver was first and foremost a businessman, as is any small-town publisher. He was a booster of the Chamber of Commerce and the local development commission. I did my best to remain a purist, including an investigative story about the local orange juice factory.
My job included supervising news and sports reporters. I also supervised the layout of the paper by the production staff for each edition. I edited the content of the newspaper and contributed news stories, investigative stories, photographs, columns and editorials to it. I was also responsible for editing the stories submitted by the stringers (part-time reporters) who covered meetings and other events.
I received a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) permit to carry a police radio. That allowed me to rush to the scene of accidents or fires and take photographs and gather information. Highway 8 was a notoriously dangerous road. Many accidents occurred on it. Photographs of accidents were not the kind of content Silver preferred.
During the 11 months I spent as managing editor of The Chisago County Press, I expanded the content and the coverage area and provided advice during an upgrade of its style.
One month before my lease on my condo expired, I arrived at the newspaper office to find an envelope lying on my desk. I thought it might be notice of a pay raise. I was making $20,000 annually, not much for a managing editor, and I was approaching my 1-year anniversary. When I opened it, I found it contained a pink slip terminating my employment.
The newspaper was owned by the Red Wing Newspaper group, which had imposed severe budget cuts due to the recession that was occurring in the late 1980s. Newspaper advertising had fallen off 20 percent or more nationwide. Silver eliminated my position and became publisher/editor to save money. My news reporter quit, leaving only Silver and the sports guy. Sports coverage was the next most important thing after advertising, so the sports reporter had the most secure position in the News Department.
I had to scrape up the money to pay the last month of rent on my condo and move back to the Twin Cities. I moved into Pam’s apartment, where I briefly stayed. Then I moved to an apartment in a house on Stevens Avenue just south of Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis. I lived there at the time of the Halloween blizzard of Oct. 31, 1991, when the Twin Cities received 26 inches of snow overnight.
To earn money, I started working IT consulting contracts as a sole proprietor. I got very little work at first but my income doubled each subsequent year. In October 1993, I incorporated the business as C. Harstad Consulting, Inc. About three years later, I changed the name to C. Harstad Associates, Inc. to accommodate other types of services. In 2010, I retained the business services in C. Harstad Associates and created a separate line of business, Zadada, for information services. I had originally used Zadada for media services but failed to get customers.
I primarily provided desktop database design, development and administration when I began providing IT consulting. For awhile in the mid-90s, I had two part-time employees, Hannah Tilsen, who wrote documentation, and Walter Kim, who did quality assurance testing. They worked a project with me for the Indianapolis office of Managed Care Solutions. I made several trips to Indianapolis to participate in meetings and interview staff. I helped design and administer the database for the Indiana Medicaid system. I met Tom Dombrosky of Naperville, IL, who was also working on contract to Managed Care Solutions. He later commissioned me to do an international medical software study for Medicus Systems of Evanston, IL.
Six months after I rented my apartment on Stevens Avenue, the house was sold and I had to move out. Pam had moved to an apartment in Loon Lake Apartments in St. Louis Park. I moved back in with her but I had the bedroom and she slept in the living room, so we were like roommates rather than a married couple. That situation continued until 1995, when I purchased a condo in Sunset Ridge, which is off Cedar Lake Road in St. Louis Park, not far from Pam’s apartment. Only a short time later, Pam bought a condo in Sunset Ridge near mine.
After moving to Sunset Ridge, I briefly had a girlfriend named Caroline who worked for Anoka County and lived in Champlain. I met her on a Sierra Club trail maintenance outing to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) of northern Minnesota one October. (I participated in several of those annual trail maintenance outings, which were usually held over Columbus Day weekend.) Carolyn and I enjoyed bicycling together. She got me interested enough in biking to purchase a Trek cross-bike and a Trek touring bike. Within a few years, I’d added a Specialized mountain bike and a Trek carbon frame racing bike that I once got up to 47 mph. I fell off it once, injuring my left elbow and breaking several ribs.
Caroline was divorced from an abusive husband who had beaten her so severely she had been hospitalized. She still had mental issues as a result. She unexpectedly had an attorney send me a letter advising me any future contact with her or her family was unwanted. Apparently, we had gotten too close for comfort.
Pam and I continue to socialize. We remained friends. But after two years of living apart, I wanted to move on with my life. I filed for divorce in late 1996. It became final in January 1997.
The divorce shocked Pam, who told me she thought we were getting along well and would soon reunite. She told me she loved me, something she hadn’t said for years. I told her it was too late to say that. I’m not sure the divorce was justifiable even though Pam and I hadn’t lived together most of the preceding seven years. And I’m not sure we couldn’t have found happiness together eventually. Some things we will never know.
Due to the divorce, Pam went into a deep depression that required counseling and Prozac. She was angry with me for a couple years after the divorce but eventually she got over it. Now we are friends who chat on the phone and sometimes meet for an outing or dinner. My wife Sophie tolerates my contact with Pam. I also stayed in touch with Pam’s parents Max and Margaret, who are still living in Peoria, AZ, for about ten years following the divorce. Then they reportedly got old and grumpy and told me not to write anymore. They have been living the good life since retirement for 28 years: gambling in nearby Laughlin and playing golf and bridge.
Following my 1997 divorce from Pamela, I continued working as an IT consultant on contract, primarily at US Bank. I worked on a series of projects for US Bank during 1997-2003 that provided me with a good income.
I lived in my condominium in St. Louis Park until 1998, when I sold it and purchased a 2-bedroom townhouse in Chanhassen for $115,000. I chose Chanhassen because the townhouse was available and because I was dating Sheila, who worked nearby in Jonathan. I met Sheila on a Sierra Club ski outing at Itasca State Park. I gave her a ride back to the Twin Cities. We struck up a friendship during that drive.
Sheila was a few months older than me, about 57. She was attractive, with long red hair, a nice smile and a good figure. She was the manager of a retirement facility. She was living in a house with other women in Excelsior.
As I too often did when getting into a relationship, I ignored the red flags. Sheila came from a history of alcoholism. Her father and her former, longtime, live-in boyfriend had been alcoholics. Her boyfriend had been killed on a Christmas Eve when he wad driving drunk and ran into a parked truck on I-35W in Minneapolis.
I mistakenly continued the relationship after Sheila began throwing temper tantrums and exhibiting other abnormal behavior that was later tentatively diagnosed as borderline personality disorder. We tried expensive joint counseling and also took a course in relationships at a counseling center but neither had a significant effect. But it wasn’t all bad. She was intelligent and we enjoyed spending time together, except during her temper tantrums. We especially enjoyed long walks together.
She had three daughters by her former husband. I got to know them, especially Penny and her husband Don Hon. I became friends with Don and Penny’s two sons Trevor and Evan, who were about ages 10 and 8 at that time. I sometimes took the boys to a movie or to a park.
Sheila and I attended The Center (The Center for Life and Learning) religious services in a banquet room in a Holiday Inn in Golden Valley. It is a non-traditional, non-denominational service. The members include the musically-gifted Peterson family and jazz singer Debbie Ducan, so we enjoyed a lot of good music. The minister was an elderly woman in her 70s who believed in reincarnation. She called each Earthly incarnation “a refresher course.”
I was hospitalized for the second time in my life in June 2000. The first time was when I had tonsillitis at age 2, 56 years earlier. I knew I had a heart murmur. And I knew I had a congenitally defective aortic valve that doctors had discovered during an ultrasound in the mid-90s while diagnosing what turned out to be only a pulled chest muscle.
In late 1999, a routine annual ultrasound showed that my defective valve was causing an aortic aneurysm. I had no symptoms even when bicycling uphill, so I was lucky to catch the problem. I needed an operation to replace the aortic valve and the dilated portion of the aorta with a composite graft, which is a polycarbonate mechanical valve mounted in a Dacron ascending portion of the aorta. My longtime doctor, William “Bill” Turcotte recommended Abbott-Northwestern Hospital in South Minneapolis, which is well-known for heart surgery and does more of it than any other local hospital. He arranged for me to meet with the dean of surgeons there, Dr. Demitri Nicoloff, who was one of the developers of the heart-lung machine.
Dr. Nicoloff had 40 years experience as a heart surgeon. He was very gracious. He brought me into his private office and showed me souvenirs given him by prominent patients. One of his former patients, the designer of the famous pedestrian bridge between the Sculpture Garden and Loring Park in Minneapolis, had given Dr. Nicoloff a framed drawing of that bridge.
In mid-June 2000, Dr. Nicoloff performed the implant while Dr. Anil Paulose did a bypass to correct a 70 percent blockage that appeared to be related to a second congenital defect, namely, an unusually small artery. I spent six days in the hospital. I returned to the hospital twice due to complications. The first complication was a very rapid pulse. I stayed only overnight, until my pulse returned to normal (for me, 52 bpm). The second complication was fluid around the heart, inside the pericardium. A doctor inserted a drain. I requested no anesthesia for that procedure, which was apparently a first for that medical team. I was in the hospital ten days. I also experienced a problem with fibrand strands detaching from the valve and causing transitory ischemic attacks (TIAs), temporary, small strokes, in my eyes and frontal lobe. The former caused me to temporarily lose vision in one eye. The latter caused dizziness. That problem abated after several years.
My mother stayed with me at my apartment very briefly immediately after the initial surgery; otherwise, I was alone and fending for myself.
Due to the implant, I must take warfarin (Coumadin) daily to thin my blood and have my International Normalized Ratio (INR), a measure of blood thinness, checked at least once a month, more often if my INR is higher or lower than the target value.
Sheila and I took a trip to London and Paris Oct. 19-31, 2000. We stayed in a crappy hotel in London that had terrible plumbing. Sheila decided to fight with me, I don’t recall why, so she snubbed me. She often went her own way, especially in London, leaving me to sightsee on my own. We got along somewhat better after taking the train to Paris. We visited my friends Guy and Evelyne Dangréau at their flat in the Paris suburb of Vincennes. Guy drove us to Giverny to see Monet’s home and his famous lily pond and also to Versailles.
In April 2001, I was back in Abbott-Northwestern Hospital for a hernia repair using mesh. It should have been simple but because I had been taking warfarin and had unusual blood, I hemorrhaged. I also had a series of about ten TIAs in my eyes and frontal lobe because my INR was lowered for the operation. A week later, a different doctor operated again to pump one liter of blood from my abdomen and stop the bleeding. I spent 18 days in Abbott.
I was alone in my apartment in Loon Lake Apartments following surgery but Sheila stopped by for visits.
In May 2001, Sheila broke off the relationship. She was moving into an apartment in the retirement facility she managed. She felt I didn’t give her enough support, according to her daughter Penny. I mistakenly thought she wanted some time to herself after she moved in to sort things out. I’d taken Trevor and Evan to Como Park instead of spending time with her.
I continued to see Don, Penny and their boys after Sheila and I broke up. Eventually Penny decided that had to stop, because it made Sheila furious. I also had to stop attending services at The Center, because Sheila insisted it was her church and I had no business being there. The Center was very female-oriented and supportive of its members who were emotionally fragile. Many of the women who attended it were dependent on the church services and fellow attendees as part of their support networks.
After breaking up with Sheila, I met a woman who lives in Sydney, Australia named Anna Fajmon via the Internet. She was a nurse who had emigrated from Czechoslovakia about 20 years earlier and married a Portuguese man. They’d had a daughter, Diane, prior to divorcing. Anna was unemployed and on disability due to a previous battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In mid-summer 2001, Anna flew to Minneapolis to see me. We explored Ft. Snelling, Duluth and the North Shore during a 2-week period. We had a fun, enjoyable time. After she returned to Australia, we corresponded about getting together again. Then 9/11 happened. Anna said she wouldn’t fly again. Her reason for not seeing me again had more to do with her personality. She was a notorious flirt who flitted from one man to the next, never wanting to get too involved.
By 2005, after I’d gotten married to Yong Hua “Sophie” Yang and was teaching in Beijing, Anna sent email telling me that she and Diane were coming to Beijing on holiday. Then she wrote to say the trip was delayed. Eventually, she cancelled it for reasons unknown. It may have been one of her whims. I still correspond with Anna occasionally. We are two old friends who once went on holiday together.
I met other friends via the Internet. One was Swee Khoo of West Penang, Malaysia, whom I’ve never met face-to-face but who remains a friend. She is a well-educated member of a wealthy Chinese-Malaysian family. Another friend is Carol Chang of Beijing. When I met Carol, she was the marketing manager for Motorola China. She is a US citizen with a house in Milpitas, California but she was living in the Garden Apartments in Beijing. She has an MBA from Golden State University.
Carol’s family had fled the Communists in 1949 by moving to Taipei, where her father managed a chemical plant. The family is very wealthy. Carol has properties in California, Nevada, Taiwan, Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and a small town in central China east of Wuhan, where she owns a new 14-story office building her father built prior to his death. She has one brother and one sister, Nancy Chen of Taipei, neither of whom work. Her brother races dogs for a pastime. Carol has a low opinion of his idleness, because she is a person whose life is dictated and organized by one project after another.
Not too long after we met, Carol surprised me by announcing she was coming to Minnesota from Beijing to visit me. I later learned she was in the habit of pursuing adventures with men she met. I was living in my townhouse in Chanhassen at that time. We took a trip to the North Shore.
Carol soon moved from China back to the San Francisco Bay Area. I made several visits to Milpitas to visit her. During one visit, a friend of hers, Kent Tang, and I painted her garage to make it suitable as an apartment. She had several renters in her house, all Chinese. I also cleared the weeds off a property she owned where she tentatively planned to build a restaurant. I researched that project, including working on the architectural plans with Stephanie Fang of Baldwin Park, suburban Los Angeles, an architect who was a high school classmate of Carol’s sister Nancy. I also did research with the city of Milpitas. In the end, Carol didn’t build the restaurant because it would have been too expensive.
Meanwhile, Carol pursued adventures with other men, including a trip through western Canada with a married friend from Taiwan named Lamont who his wife thought was in Vancouver getting his daughter situated in school. His wife was visiting friends or relatives in China at that time and presumably knew nothing about his trip with Carol. Carol didn’t tell me about the trip until afterward. She later showed me the photographs he’d taken of her in the Canadian Rockies.
Meanwhile, on May 11, 2003 I got a call from my first wife Kathy informing me that my daughter Tanya was in Regents Hospital in St. Paul. She had been diagnosed as brain dead. I rushed to the hospital, as did Kathy but Tanya was already effectively dead. After tests did not detect any responses indicating brain activity, the decision was made to disconnect her from life support. Kathy held Tanya’s left hand while I held her right hand as we waited for Tanya’s heart to stop beating, which took about 20 minutes. Tanya had lived a risky, tumultuous life since age 16. Both Kathy and I knew something like this might eventually happen.
We learned from the autopsy that Tanya had been strangled. She was 33 years old.
In January 2003, Carol was staying in her apartment in Beijing. She alternates between the US and China. I flew to Beijing for a 5-week holiday that encompassed Spring Festival. By that time, I regarded Carol as my “Chinese sister” and she regarded me as her lifelong friend, which to Chinese means friends forever. She also considered me to be “like family.”
Our relationship had become platonic. Like the relationships of many brothers and sisters, it wasn’t always smooth. Carol admitted to having “a psychological problem” that manifested itself in temper tantrums. But most of the time we got along, partly because I had learned to accommodate her unusual personality.
While in Beijing, I got to meet some of Carol’s friends, including a retired senior official of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) who lives in a compound for retired high officials. I also met a consultant to the ministry for agriculture, B. K., who sets up international trade deals. I also met Joan Wang, a business owner, and her daughter Lulu, who was one week old when I first saw her. Joan’s husband had died when overcome by gas in a rental property he owned just prior to Lulu’s birth.
A former intern of Carol’s at Motorola, Jinsu Wang, also became my friend. Jinsu and her boyfriend later obtained student visas and moved to the US, first her boyfriend and then Jinsu later. They now live in a 3-bedroom house they purchased in suburban Los Angeles in about 2008. She is finishing a Ph.D. in IT at the University of California – Irvine and working full time for a technology company.
While in Beijing, I was exposed to real Chinese food, including skin of turtle and other disgusting delicacies. I’d previously gotten a taste of authentic Chinese cooking during meals at Carol’s godmother in Sunnyvale, who made dishes such as salmon heads. They are actually quite tasty.
After spending Spring Festival in Beijing, Carol and I boarded a train for Shenzhen at the last minute, because Carol had taken too long closing up her apartment. We ran about a quarter mile before jumping on board. I made it just as the doors were closing. The doors actually closed on my suitcase, so I had to jerk it free. I thought I might have a heart attack after running so far with luggage.
It took 25 hours aboard the train to get to Shenzhen, where Carol’s distant niece Yao Wei has an apartment she shares with her daughter Holly. Wei is a very attractive woman who was about 39 at that time. Holly was 12. We stayed there several days while I explored Shenzhen and bought gifts. Our stay was during the SARS epidemic, so hotels and gift shops had slashed prices due to a lack of business.
Carol and I moved on to Hong Kong, where we stayed several days in the BP International Hotel in Kowloon. It was my first time in that city since 1965, 38 years earlier. Everything had changed. Stores such as Sax Fifth Avenue had replaced the crumbling apartment buildings in Kowloon. There were no junks or sampans remaining in Aberdeen Harbor. Old China had vanished except for a few remnants in the Chinese sector of Kowloon.
We flew JAL from Hong Kong to Taipei, where we stayed with Nancy Chen, Carol’s sister. Nancy owns a large house in the city, one of the few remaining. Developers have offered the equivalent of millions of US dollars for it so they can raze it and build a high-rise. She’s always declined their offers. Nancy’s three children are grown. Two of them live in southern California. Her husband lives in Singapore with his number two wife and the children from that marriage.
One of my first days in Taipei, I got lost while walking about and spent hours finding my way back to Nancy’s house. Nancy had called the police and gone searching for me by the time I returned. I didn’t know the address or speak Chinese, so I was in a bind. But I recalled a landmark nearby that I searched for with the help of a few residents who spoke a little English. I walked miles and miles before finding my way back.
In mid-February 2003, I flew home from Taipei to Minneapolis. I haven’t seen Carol since, although we remain in contact.
In September 2004, Carol was still in Taipei. Stephanie, Nancy’s high school classmate, was the architect for a planned unit development (PUD) in Las Vegas. She offered Carol a house there for $20,000 below market value. Carol couldn’t get back for a closing so she wired about $33,000 into my bank account without any paperwork. I used it to purchase the house, paying 20 percent down plus closing costs. The idea was we would share ownership but my share of the mortgage payment was a burden for me, so I ceded my share to Carol; however, the deed to the house remained in my name for about three years afterward, until she paid off the mortgage balance and I transferred the deed to her name.
I didn’t make any money on the deal. It cost me about $700 plus a great deal of my time. It also made my tax returns more complicated. But that didn’t matter, because it was a favor to a friend. Whether that friend is capable of appreciating my favor is uncertain, because Carol uses people for her ends. I knew that early on but I try to be a good friend to her nevertheless.
I’ve never seen the house I owned. It is in a gated community, so that would be difficult even if I were in Vegas.
In June 2003, Yao Wei invited me to return to Shenzhen to visit Holly and her. Apparently, the invitation followed some matchmaking by Carol Chang. I accepted Wei’s invitation. I flew to Hong Kong and took the subway to Shenzhen. We spent four enjoyable weeks together but Wei thought me too old to become her husband. I am about 22 years older than Wei. So I enjoyed the holiday and then we parted as friends.
We went to the Culture Park and other sights in Shenzhen. We shopped for gifts. We lazed about the air-conditioned apartment to stay out of the oppressive summertime heat. Wei had to work much of the time. She works for a technology company in Shekou District, nearby her apartment. I explored and took photographs while she worked.
Toward the end of my visit, we took separate trains to Hong Kong. Wei and Holly had to take a different train with their tour group. In 2003, signing up for a tour was the only way a resident of mainland China was permitted to visit Hong Kong. Once in Hong Kong, she was free to leave the tour. We nearly didn’t connect at the large train station in Kowloon. I waited for them for about two hours while they waited for me on another floor. They finally spotted me when they went looking for a restroom.
All three of us stayed in a small room at the BP International, where Carol and I had stayed. We explored downtown Hong Kong and Aberdeen Harbor. The Tai Pak floating restaurant where I ate inn 1965 is still there. It is the only thing remaining from 1965 that I recognized. We also went to Ocean Park. It was oppressively hot and humid there. I survived by eating snow cones with fruit cocktail in them.
I last saw Wei and Holly as they walked across the Kowloon train station in route home. They turned toward me at the other end of the station, waved and were gone. I haven’t seen them since. We remain in touch. As of 2010, Holly is now 19 and attending a university in southern Paris. Wei is about 46. Wei had graciously invited my wife and I to visit Holly and her. I’m not sure how my wife feels about that, because Carol told my wife everything about my recent history.
Wei told me later that, if I had been more persistent, she would have married me. Whether that would have worked out we will never know.
After returning from Shenzhen, I dated a Korean woman named Kim McGee. Her Korean name is Hyon. Kim was nearly my age, petit and very religious. She had married a pot-smoking Army enlisted man stationed in Korea, moved with him to America and bought land in Arizona and a house in South Minneapolis. Despite her husband’s continuing drug habit, Kim was devoted to him. When I met her, he had recently died. She had defied his wish to be cremated, because as she told me, “I couldn’t put him into the fire.” Instead, she had him buried in the sand of Arizona.
Kim’s sister Nam had helped Kim pretty herself up for our first date. Nam was a civilian working for the US Army in Germany, like her second husband Mitch was also. Both worked in information technology, Nam as a trainer. She was visiting her sister in Minneapolis when I met Kim. Both Nam and Kim came from a large Korean family in Inchon that included several sisters. The family owns a motel near Inchon.
Kim has limited English. She worked as a cook at the Hennepin County jail. She later worked as a nursing assistant at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Minneapolis. She was sweet but by her own admission not the brightest among her siblings. To compound the problem, her father had told her so. I helped Kim invest the money her husband had left to her and take care of other personal business.
Not long after I met her, she decided to sell her large house in Minneapolis. I helped her pack up her belongings. Nam’s son Byron Ramsey of Christiana, Tennessee was supposed to come to Minneapolis with a truck and haul Kim’s stuff to his home for storage. He told Kim at the last minute he couldn’t make the trip due to work. So I volunteered to rent a truck and haul her things to Christiana.
I stopped in route for an overnight stay at the home of my father’s sister Glenice and her husband Vern in Plainfield, Illinois. After Byron and I unloaded the truck, I stayed one night with him and his wife. Then we dropped off the truck and I took a Greyhound bus home via Chicago. A large Amish group boarded the bus in central Wisconsin. The trip was otherwise uneventful.
Nam was very appreciative of the help I gave her sister. She invited Kim and me to her home in Vilseck, Germany for the holidays at the end of 2003. We drove Kim’s Cadillac to Christiana, dropped it off and flew to Philadelphia. We flew from there to Newark and then to Frankfurt, Germany, where one of Kim’s aunts lives. Nam and Mitch met us there and drove us via the autobahn to Vilseck.
It was a strictly platonic trip, with Kim and me sleeping in separate bedrooms.
I walked about the village of Vilseck, some of which dates from the 16th century. It was cold, not Minnesota cold but raw, with a few inches of snow on the ground. I particularly liked the German pastries and stollen (German Christmas bread) that were available at shops in the village center.
While staying in Vilseck, I took the train alone to Nuremburg. Kim did not want to go that day. The family was somewhat concerned about my adventuring on my own but I had no problems. I walked about the old city, including the castle. I did not see any evidence of its Nazi past, although I didn’t find the famous stadium where the Nazis had held rallies.
All four of us went to Regensburg on a day trip via train. I particularly liked the dinner we had at a restaurant there. I had a giant ham hock, spaetzle and other German food. The portion was so large that although I shared some of it with my three companions, there was some left over. Now I know why some Germans are very large! I washed down my meal with a cloister beer that was wonderful. It was the best beer I’ve ever drunk.
The four of us also took a day tour via bus to Prague, Czech Republic. It is a long day’s journey. Our departure point was the Army base where Nam and Mitch worked at Gressenwhor, which is where US Army tank units receive training. I found Prague to be quaint and expensive. The architecture is wonderful and so are the hot dogs, which are available from stands along the main streets. As usual, I took many photographs.
We went to the base commissary at Gressenwhor sometimes and we also attended a church service there. Security was tight. Our car was searched inside and out for bombs and we all had to show our documents.
After the trip to Germany, Kim moved to Virginia to be close to one of her daughters. She has a daughter who lives in the Twin Cities but doesn’t get along with her. Kim bought a house in Virginia and got a job with a VA Medical Center there. Only three years or so later she moved back to Korea to help her family with the motel.
Nam won a battle with breast cancer that was diagnosed not long after our visit in 2003.
I’ve kept in touch with the family but I only rarely hear from them. Kim and I remain friends. She came to Minneapolis for a brief stay one summer, while she was living in Virginia. We took a walk in Minnehaha Park and chatted about life in general and her family. I haven’t seen her since.
Nam invited my wife Sophie and I to visit her in Vilseck but she and her husband transferred to a US Army base at Frankfurt before we had a chance to do that. They were planning to transfer from Frankfurt to Korea at last report.
Carol Chang called me the first week of March 2004 to suggest I contact Yong Hua Yang of Beijing. Carol thought she might be a suitable match for me. Yong Hua’s former live-in boyfriend of six months, Irvin, was concerned about Yong Hua. Carol was trying to help him out by playing matchmaker.
At the time Yong Hua began living with Irvin, she didn’t know he was married. She learned later that he was unable to divorce his wife due to mutual investments that would make a divorce too complicated, or so he said. Meanwhile, he had a series of girlfriends, including Yong Hua.
Carol suggested I call Irvin for a chat, which I did. I learned he couldn’t marry her for the obvious reason he was already married as well as a compatibility issue with their personalities. Yong Hua was too eager to please him, in his opinion.
I subsequently contacted Yong Hua via email. A correspondence between us began. As her former boyfriend predicted, Yong Hua was eager to please. Within a month she was beginning her emails “My sweetheart Carl” and telling me she loved me, although we had never met. By early June she was referring to herself as “your wife” in our correspondence and to me as “my husband.”
I learned later that she knew little English. She was having her nephew write her messages for her. She also posted phrases on the wall such as, “I will wait for you patiently” that she could copy into messages she sent me.
Her first marriage had failed because, according to Yong Hua, “I was never home.” She had begun working at Qing Hua in Student Services at age 18, right after high school. She later transferred to CICS. No doubt, she got her first job at Qing Hua because her father was a PLA officer. Her brother also worked at Qing Hua awhile. She had retired from Qing Hua at age 40 in 2002. During her 22-year career there, especially while working in CICS, she had traveled extensively throughout China with staff and faculty, attending meetings and conferences. She estimated she’d been away from home 90 percent of the time. Her first husband responded by acquiring girlfriends. The marriage lasted about 12 years, until 2001.
It is very difficult for a divorced woman in her 40s to find a new husband in China. Her best prospect was to marry a foreigner.
Yong Hua and I finally met in mid-June 2004, when I flew to Beijing. I spent four weeks in Beijing at her two-bedroom apartment near Qing Hua University, in Hai Dian District. Her nephew was also living there at that time. He had just completed high school and was studying for the unified examination.
I was in China in a 30-day L visitor’s visa, so I had to leave for home after four weeks. We got along well during my visit. I saw much of the capitol and sections of the Great Wall I hadn’t seen during my first trip to Beijing in January 2003. And I got to eat a lot of Chinese food, both the large suppers in restaurants when families or friends get together and Yong Hua’s good cooking.
After I returned to Minnesota, Yong Hua sent a photograph of herself nearly every day, usually with some message of endearment written on it. A typical subject line for a Yong Hua message was, “My husband! Miss you! Kiss you! Love you! At any time in my heart!” Occasionally, when her nephew wasn’t available, she wrote in Chinese. I translated those messages using an online translator.
By July, I had decided I wanted to spend more time in China with Yong Hua. I began looking for a way to work in China, which would allow me to stay there for a year or longer. My friend Jinsu Wang, Carol’s former intern whom I had met in 2003, recommended I contact Delter China. Delter had done training for the company she worked at, Lucent Technologies. Delter had 17 business institutes scattered about China at that time.
I was surprised when Bing Liang, head of Delter China, quickly accepted me as a teacher in Beijing. I found out later that the bar for teaching at a third-tier institute in China is relatively low. I was a native-English speaker with a college degree, which were the necessary qualifications. I had no teaching experience or certification. The only hurdle was my age, 62. Chinese schools usually won’t hire foreigners over 59 years old, because the mandatory retirement age for men is 60, even though mandatory retirement doesn’t apply to foreigners. Due to my age, I had to have a physical exam before getting my Z, or work, visa. Later, the Chinese required me to have a second physical exam in Beijing.
By mid-August 2004, I was back in Beijing again, about to teach at Telfort International Business Institute at Beijing Youth Politics College (BYPC) in Chao Yang District, which is the district containing the foreign embassies. Carol Chang had told me, “You could never live in China.” But there I was, with a 1-year supply of medicines and vitamins and Wang Jing Yi Yuan (Wang Jing Hospital) only half a block down the street, where I could get my INR checked monthly.
My contract began Aug. 24. I began teaching the first week of September. I taught English, Communications, Presentations and Business English. Delter China students are for the most part either precocious or disinterested 18-21 year olds. Many are the children of wealthy cadre. They are students who did poorly on the unified examination and were, therefore, unable to attend a better college. Their desperate parents bought the Delter China pitch about an “all English” college education even though many of the students knew virtually no English.
At that time, Telfort offered two years of education, one year of English and one year of business. Later, it added a third year consisting of advanced business courses. There were two Delter campuses in Beijing when I arrived, Delter and Telfort. During 2006, the two schools merged into one, Delter-Telfort, but Delter China constructed a new, business campus in the Beijing suburbs.
Yong Hua and I moved into an efficiency apartment about 400 square feet in size in a dormitory on the BYPC campus. It would be our home for the following two years. We had a bed, wardrobe, desk and armchair in the main room. There was a tiny bathroom and an equally tiny kitchen with a sink, small refrigerator and hot plate in it. We had a wall-mounted heater/air conditioner. Our electricity stayed on 24 hours a day, unlike the student quarters, thanks to a special foreign expert key that fit into a control device on the wall. We shared the flat with cockroaches. I bought an air purifier in a futile attempt to clean the pervasive coal dust from the air and a humidifier for use during the dry, cold Beijing winters.
On Sept. 24, 2004, Yong Hua and I went to the Marriage Bureau in Beijing. Her project to marry a foreigner had succeeded. Now she had an American husband, something her best friend Hui Li Zhang had recently acquired. Her father was happy and relieved because she had a husband again, she told me.
Yong Hua and her best friend Hui Li had grown up together on People’s Liberation Army (PLA) bases. Both were children of officers. Yong Hua’s father, Yang Feng Dong, who was born in 1930, still lives in an apartment that is a perk for retired officers. He receives a princely pension of 9,000 RMB ($1,324 as of 2009) per month, two to three times the starting salary of most Chinese college graduates. His apartment is on a PLA base by Fragrant Hills Park in Hai Dian District. He joined the PLA in 1943 at age 13 during WW II and retired at the mandatory retirement age of 60, having served 47 years in uniform. By the end of his Army career, he was a sports director who taught ping pong.
His wife Wang Shu Tien had died when Yong Hua was 16. Yong Hua claims her mother died of heart trouble. A person who knows the family told me she committed suicide. She was about 48 when she died. As of 2010, Feng Dong’s son Yang Yong Jing, daughter-in-law Wang Ning and grandson Yang Le live with him. His granddaughter Yang Yang stayed with him too while attending a private high school in Beijing, before transferring to a school in Singapore. Her parents, Feng Dong’s daughter Yang Yong Qing and her husband Li Shu, live two hours away in Hebei Province, where they have a wholesale business that sells fabrics for manufacturing straps and belts. Two dogs, QuiQui and MiMi, are also members of Feng Dong’s household. Yong Hua also has a room in her father’s apartment, although she lived in her own apartment about a 15-minute drive away, walking distance to her job on the Qing Hua campus. That apartment is across the street from the Old Summer Palace on an apartment house compound, next to a police station. Her father’s apartment is still her legal residence in China.
When I first met Yong Hua, the other five people and two dogs shared two bedrooms in an old, dilapidated building. During 2009, the family moved to a new, larger apartment on the same base a short distance from their old one. By tradition, Feng Dong invited me to move into the apartment also, where I would, of course, have shared Yong Hua’s room. Obviously and thankfully, that wasn’t necessary, because not only did Yong Hua own an apartment but also Delter provided us with an apartment on campus. It would have been inconvenient to live in Yong Hua’s apartment in Hai Dian, at least half hour’s drive across town from the Delter-Telfort campus. And anyway, foreigners are not allowed to drive in China using an international driver’s license. Even if they know Chinese and can obtain a Chinese license, the government does not permit them to drive on expressways, which are the only convenient way to get around town. This restriction is apparently an attempt to limit their movement and keep track of them.
Being a foreigner, specifically a “foreign expert,” I was not allowed on the PLA base where my wife’s father lives but Yong Hua frequently frequently smuggled me onto the base anyway. Sometimes I would duck down in the back seat of Yong Hua’s Jeep, which has tinted windows. Other times I would wear a hat and sit upright in the back. The guards at the gate would think I was an officer. Sometimes they gave me a crisp salute.
Only once was I apprehended while on the base. Yong Hua and I liked to walk the paths in the foothills on the base adjacent to Fragrant Hills Park. An officer spotted me when I didn’t have a hat on. My brown hair was a give-away. He phoned Security, which sent four young enlisted personnel to apprehend me. The four were unarmed, polite and bemused. They could see I was obviously no threat to Chinese national security. They escorted us to talk with an officer in civilian clothes. I showed him my Telfort business card. My wife explained that her family lived on base and I was her husband. The officer told us to return to her father’s home and then leave the base. He also admonished us not to go near the secret part of the base. That was funny because I had been around its perimeter previously and knew there was little to see other than office buildings. I knew it was probably where some of the joint Russian-Chinese weapons development I’d read about on the Internet was underway. I’d photographed that area from the overlooking hills, photographs no doubt inferior to those US spy satellites take. If I were a Chinese-American, Security would have never stopped or questioned me. I was a potential spy because I was a Caucasian.
Although Yong Hua’s nephew Yang Li and her niece Yang Yang both speak a fair amount of English, no one else in the household speaks it. My brother-in-law’s wife, Wang Ning, speaks half a dozen words of English, which she is fond of trying out on me. She is a policewoman with the Beijing Security Bureau, the equivalent of a US police department. She has a badge but works at a desk job.
Yong Hua spoke only a little English when I met her. She was attending classes, because she was worried about not being able to communicate with her new husband. Her zeal for learning English has since abated.
Throughout my two years in China, I sat in on many conversations in Chinese in restaurants and homes, unable to follow what was being said and, therefore, feeling isolated and a bit lonely. I studied Chinese a little using Pimsler lessons but wasn’t able to learn more than a few words of that difficult language. I also had a friend and colleague, Snow Chen, tutor me with an equal lack of success. I began calling her Miss Mosquito because she would accost me at any time to see if I understood one Chinese phrase or another. Language has always been the most difficult subject for me, so I was a somewhat hopeless student of Mandarin.
Snow has since moved to Shenyang, near her hometown, and married her longtime boyfriend. She is a teacher and also a graduate student in German. So she is tri-lingual.
I had discovered Yong Hua had a nickname used by her family but unlike younger Chinese, she had no English name. My Delter-Telfort students had names ranging from the pedestrian Alice or Betty to weirder names such as Snake and Ice. It wasn’t uncommon for young Chinese to change their English names periodically, on a whim. For example, Summer changed her name to Eva. Often, teachers or family members had given the students their English names years before.
I gave Yong Hua the name Sophie, because I admired French actress Sophie Marceau. Also, I thought Sophie was just a tad exotic. I didn’t want to be married to Alice or Mary. Sophie is not like other women, something she’s told me several times, so she needed a slightly exotic name.
I didn’t know what to expect while teaching in China. I should have expected the unexpected. I was plopped down in a different country and culture, where a different language is spoken, and asked to do something I hadn’t done before. The closest experience I had was conducting training sessions while working for Hennepin County two decades earlier.
Advertising materials and fee schedules for Delter-Telfort were printed in Chinese as well as in English. There were Chinese-language classes where bi-lingual Chinese teachers mirrored some of what students were supposed to be learning in the English-language classes but couldn’t understand. Individual students understood differing amounts of what foreign teachers said in class.
Some of my students complained about my American accent. To them, only a British English, the Queen’s English, was truly English. Australian English came in second, because more native English speaking teachers came from that country than from any other due to its proximity to China. We also had teachers from the USA, New Zealand, the Philippines, Sweden and Britain. There were none from India. I doubt Chinese students could understand a word an Indian teacher said. Even I can’t understand most Indians.
I learned a great deal about teaching during my two years at Delter-Telfort. One of my first lessons was never to tell Chinese students I don’t know everything. I was replaced in my first business class, a finance seminar, after saying that. The students went to my boss, the program director, and complained that I didn’t know everything about the subject. I had told them so. I also learned that the students and their parents ruled the school.
The maturity level of an 18 or 19-year-old Chinese students is equivalent to that of an American student about four years younger, that is, a 14 or 15-year-old. This is due to the sheltered environment Chinese children are born into and doting parents who lavish on their only child anything he or she desires. Chinese children are known as “little emperors.”
School and studying were not foremost on the minds of a majority of my students. The girls invariably spoke more English than the boys and dominated the ranks of top students. But they were often distracted by their mobile phones, fashion magazines and idle chatter. Every child of affluent cadre had a mobile phone, MP3 player and electronic translator. One of my male students owned not one, not two, but three cars.
Most of the boys were lazy, knew little or no English and were unmotivated. They were concerned with acquiring expensive toys, chasing girls and playing basketball. Some spent their time in the toilet smoking cigarettes or on the basketball courts rather than attending classes. There were no entrance requirements for practical purposes except the parents’ ability to pay tuition.
It was difficult to maintain discipline, because Delter-Telfort avoided upsetting protective parents, its source of income. Discipline of any kind would offend them. Nevertheless, I sometimes resorted to measures such as temporarily confiscating mobile phones when students insisted on text messaging under their desks during class.
We caught students cheating during examinations. We expelled them from the exam but they were allowed to repeat it, so there was no effective penalty. Cheating was rampant. Many Chinese students, as well as many Chinese businesspersons, equate cheating with cleverness and honesty with stupidity.
The first year I taught, our program director was an Australian attorney, James Broadbent. He left to work for a private firm in Shanghai. Broadbent believed that our students were hopeless children with little potential and should be treated as such. Thomas al Khalouffi, whom we called Tom, replaced Broadbent. He is a Moroccan fluent in French and English. Khalouffi introduced innovations. He thought of Delter-Telfort as an institution of learning. He believed that improvements were possible and Delter-Telfort students had potential. The Beijing Youth Politics College administrators frequently stymied Khalouffi. They had to sign off on every change at the Institute. BYPC administrators, in turn, had to answer to the Beijing Education Department. And everyone involved in education ultimately answered to the Communist Party of China (CCP). For example, Delter-Telfort staged an annual Christmas party that included skits by students. The CCP had to pre-approve all the skits. Presumably most or all of the members of the BYPC chain of command were CCP members.
Many middle and upper-class Chinese celebrate Christmas by staging concerts, sending Christmas cards and decorating their homes or shops. Major department stores play Christmas music. There are Christmas orchestral concerts. But there is no religious connotation to the holiday except among the tiny Chinese Christian minority. It’s predominantly a commercial promotion and a prelude to Spring Festival.
BYPC, as its name implies, educates students who will oversee the political education of youth. Although the Delter-Telfort Institute was devoted to teaching English and business, its students were also required to attend political lectures. They viewed the content of the lectures with skepticism. They were not afraid to criticize what they heard among themselves although they avoided being overheard by BYPC teachers or staff members. They were much less concerned about what foreign teachers like me might hear them say, knowing we shared many of their opinions about communism.
Sophie and I lived in our efficiency apartment in one of the dormitories, as previously mentioned. Our dorm was co-ed, unlike the other dormitories. Most of the occupants of our dorm were teachers, young staff members such as maintenance personnel, guests such as parents, or Korean summer students. There were five floors. There was no elevator. There was a reception desk where visitors had to sign in. Each floor had a small kitchenette that doubled as a laundry room. There were usually two washing machines on each floor, one in the kitchenette and one in a very small room at the end of each hallway. In the laundry room-kitchen, drying laundry shared the air with grease from staff cooking their lunches. Competition for washing machines was intense, because the staff used them to wash the linens from guest rooms and, also, everyone shared the washers for personal laundry. The machines frequently broke down.
Foreigners warranted a combination air conditioner and heater, as previously mentioned. The central heating in all of Beijing goes on Nov. 15 and off March 15 regardless of the weather. My students often had to wear their coats during the first half of November and the last half of March. The wintertime temperature in Beijing can drop to 15 F. whereas temperatures in summer can climb to 105 F. It is usually just below freezing in the wintertime with a wind that makes long underwear mandatory. It seldom snows, some winters only two or three times. The amount of snow from any snowstorm is usually one or two inches. Beijing had to close its international airport after a “blizzard” dropped three inches of snow on the city, an amount that Minnesota residents would barely notice.
There was a cafeteria in the building next door to our dormitory where we could eat for a small fee per item. The food consisted of fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit, white rice and other selections such as pieces of greasy lamb on a skewer. A 100-yuan (about $12.50 at that time) cafeteria card lasted for several weeks.
Sophie lent me one of her bicycles but it was stolen from in front of the cafeteria. Bicycle theft is a major industry in China. One of our friends had four bicycles stolen in rapid succession. Many Chinese are not hampered by morality or religious convictions, although most are honest. The majority of merchants will try to cheat any foreigner in one way or another, usually by selling shoddy merchandise or by overcharging.
I bought a new bicycle for 400 yuan ($50 at that time) at Five Star Golden Merchandise Market to replace the stolen one. Although it was a better brand manufactured in Shanghai, it was totally rusty in only six months due to the sulfur dioxide in Beijing air.
I learned to ride my bicycle in Beijing traffic, which is a mixture of private vehicles, trucks, taxis, buses, donkey carts, motor scooters, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians. The bicycle seat must be low enough so the rider can quickly stop and put both feet on the ground. A Holiday hotel catering to wealthy foreigners was located only about half a mile west of Delter-Telfort, within a few minutes via bicycle. Up and down Wang Jing Lu (road) in front of the hotel were businesses catering to foreigners. Among them were massage parlors full of prostitutes, bakeries, telephone card outlets, shops selling pirated movies and groceries selling Western brands. The prostitutes were very aggressive. They would sometimes link arms to form a chain from the door of their establishment onto the sidewalk, then grab passing foreign men and tow them in. The shops with illegal wares or services played a cat and mouse game with the police. Some had secret rooms where pirated DVDs were sold. The apparent intent was to appear that the business was complying with anti-piracy laws. No doubt the police were fully aware of the secret rooms and were financially rewarded for ignoring them.
More insidious graft existed. The police arrested one of my acquaintances, a single, young Chinese businessman, at a brothel. They held him at a Beijing prison for several months until one of his friends paid a large ransom to a senior police administrator. The payoff was about 20,000 yuan ($2,500 at that time), a lot of money in China. Millions of Chinese have been arrested and sent to “reform through labor” camps without any adjudication. I’ve heard a there are 4 million people in those camps.
While teaching at Delter-Telfort, friends of my wife who own a company with a connection to Qing Hua University invited me to teach a business class at that famous institution. My wife’s friends told me the 30 or so students in the class, all adult businesspersons, where very excited about having a “foreign expert” as their teacher. I was honored to be asked to lecture at Qing Hua.
From the start, the course was a bit shaky. The sponsors were unsure what the content of the course should be. And they suggested a book that wasn’t suitable. They left it to me to put the course together, which I did as best I could.
I found out that the students, who claimed to know English, didn’t know enough to comprehend my lectures, even though I accompanied each lecture with a PowerPoint presentation. Part of the problem stemmed from trouble with my voice, which was sometimes reduced to a whisper due to a persistent, unidentified problem, making an amplifier essential.
The second or third lecture, I decided to discuss American perceptions of Chinese businesspersons and vice versa. I knew some of what I said could be touchy, perhaps even perceived to be insulting, so I cleared the lecture in advance with the sponsors. No problem, they said. Shortly after that class, I was told the course was on hold for spring exams. It never resumed. The sponsors did not want me to lose face by telling me the course was cancelled. It took me awhile to figure out that was the case. The sponsors were trying to let me save face.
It was a humiliating experience for me and probably for my wife also, because the sponsors were friends of hers. That episode occurred early in my teaching career. Had it been later on, I could have probably made the course succeed somehow. I haven’t seen my wife’s friends, or perhaps they are her former friends, since the incident. I probably won’t be given a second chance to lecture at Qing Hua so I can redeem myself.
In addition to teaching at Delter-Telfort, I contributed to several administrative projects. I designed and conducted the first student activity surveys ever done. Delter-Telfort administration was still referring to the results years later, the program director told me. I helped form and guide the Activity Committee. I created PowerPoint presentations for all the core business courses. And I organized the online teacher resource materials.
I had a casual meeting with Bing Liang, director of Delter China, at a nearby Starbucks, by the Holiday hotel. Liang wanted my help expanding Delter to the US. While home in Minnesota for a visit, I and a friend from St. Mary’s University, Karen Gulliver, drove to the main St. Mary’s campus at Winona to discuss the proposition with the person in charge of international studies. But in the end, the lack of accreditation by a trustworthy accrediting organization and the lax requirements at Delter institutes made expansion to the US impossible.
There was deep distrust of the Chinese education system among US college administrators. It was not unwarranted. When a Delter-Telfort student wanted to attend a foreign university, a GPA was dummied up to satisfy the intended university’s requirements. Delter-Telfort didn’t assign letter grades to avoid offending parents; therefore, it had no legitimate way to compute GPAs.
We applied for my wife’s immigration visa in November 2004. We finally got it in March 2007 after several hassles. It was good for six months, so we had to leave by September 2006. My contract expired in August 2006 but Delter-Telfort extended it one month. We left for America the last week of August 2004. We paid a small fortune in airfare, about $3,000, because we had to leave during student summer break, a peak travel season. Only one Northwest Airlines and one United Airlines flight was allowed in and out of Beijing daily. Obtaining tickets was a challenge.
Delter China invited me to teach business in Shanghai during the 2008-09 school year but I couldn’t afford to. Medical care considerations grounded me too. China-Japan Friendship Hospital had previously refused me adequate care, saying I was “too risky.” And the Western medicines I need cannot be obtained in China, so I have to being a 1-year supply with me. The same is true of most vitamins and supplements, so I have to lug a big load of supplies with me.
Sophie in America
Sophie adjusted to life in the USA by staying as Chinese as possible. After briefly attending an ESL class, she quit studying English. Instead, she made Chinese-American friends who became her social circle except for a few friends of mine whom we seldom see. She spends much of her time chatting via phone with friends and family in China or the US and surfing Chinese websites. Minneapolis-St. Paul and their suburbs have a number of Chinese supermarkets or markets where she can purchase ingredients for Chinese cooking, so she often goes shopping. She is an accomplished shopper and bargain hunter. She often returns from the Salvation Army store with large bags full of clothing, most of which she gives away to friends or saves to carry with her to China to give to relatives.
When we moved to America, we lived in the basement of my friend Patrick Melvin’s house in Deephaven, where I had rented a room while teaching in China. We shared the kitchen with Pat and his girlfriend Tessia, whom he later married. The four of us would sometimes eat together. Pat also invited us to eat dinner with them when they had company over. He treated us like members of his family.
After three months of looking for an IT position, Jim Luehrs, my former boss at US Bank, helped me land a 3-month contract at Wells Fargo Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW) department in downtown Minneapolis. Luehrs was the senior project manager for an EDW project. I was a business analyst there from December 2006 until February 2007.
I hoped to get extended but the managers decided I wasn’t the right type of person. The right type of person was a middle-aged female whom they believed could handle boring tasks. Many of the EDW managers were women who had risen through the ranks due to seniority without necessarily having management skills. My immediate supervisor opposed keeping me on board, because I didn’t match her perception of the right type of person, one who would fit into their female-dominated organization. She was demoted following the project, because she lacked supervisory and organizational ability.
Sometime during 2004, my prostate specific antigen (PSA) started to rise, passing the upper limit of “normal," which is 4.0. When I checked it in January 2007, it was about 6.5. That was an indication I had prostate cancer. I also need yet another hernia operation, my third, but on the opposite side. (When doctors repaired the left side hernia with mesh, I suggested repairing both sides just in case, but they told me the chance of getting a hernia on the right side too was remote.)
Because I am on warfarin (blood thinner), the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Minneapolis wanted to wait until March so it could do a needle biopsy and hernia repair simultaneously. That required only one reduction in my INR and only one session under anesthesia.
In March, I underwent those procedures at the VA Medical Center. The surgeon decided to baseball stitch the hernia rather than use mesh to reduce the chance of an infection caused by the biopsy. Afterward, I was in terrific pain. My right groin and leg burned like a hot poker had been thrust into me. Two nurses dragged me down the hallway, one on each arm, to force me to walk.
After a short hospitalization, I returned home to Pat Melvin’s basement. I stayed in bed most of the time due to the pain except for short trips to the bathroom. Sophie was helping from the bathroom back to bed on my third night home when I suddenly passed out. I woke up lying on the floor. Sophie was sitting on the basement stairs crying and frantically dialing “911.” I was told she called 911 several times but couldn’t tell emergency personnel where she was or what the problem was due to her poor English. Fortunately, after I came to, I was alert and able to talk to 911 myself.
A Deephaven policeman and a Carver County sheriff happened to be close by. They arrived within a couple minutes after my call. An ambulance from Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) arrived a short time later. The VA Medical Center doesn’t accept ambulances, I was told, so the HCMC paramedics transported me to Abbott-Northwestern Hospital in South Minneapolis, where I’d had my heart operation in June 2000. I’d told Sophie to stay home, that I’d be fine. It was a bumpy and painful ride. Ambulances appear to lack adequate springs and Minneapolis streets have many potholes.
I waited in receiving at Abbott all night. The following morning, an Abbott surgeon redid my hernia operation to stop the hemorrhaging that had caused me to black out. His team pumped 1.4 liters of blood out of my abdomen and chest. I spent about a week in the hospital.
Within a week of my hernia adventure, the needle biopsy confirmed prostate cancer. The good news was that there was 5 percent diffuse involvement and the stage was Gleason 6. The PSAs and biopsy had caught it early.
I opted for prostate surgery but my urologist, Dr. Raymond Hackett, wouldn’t consider it, because I was on warfarin and had a history of hemorrhaging after surgery. He referred me to the Mayo Clinic. I made half a dozen trips to Rochester, about a 2-hour drive each way, for screening appointments and pre-surgery tests. When the surgery was supposed to be scheduled, the primary doctor sent one of his assistants to tell me that Mayo had decided not to treat me. The Mayo Clinic collected thousands of dollars for diagnostic and pre-surgery appointments and then did nothing except to advise me to undergo external beam radiation treatments in the Twin Cities.
I subsequently underwent 42 sessions of radiation therapy during June, July and early August 2007 at North Radiation, which is affiliated with North Memorial Medical Center (NMMC), my home hospital. As of two years later, my PSA indicates the treatment was successful, although a reoccurrence of the cancer remains a possibility.
The month after I finished radiation therapy, Dr. Hackett removed a kidney stone from my left-hand side using a laser. It was supposed to be a simple procedure. Usually, it is an in-hospital, outpatient procedure that allows the patient to go home within a few hours. I stayed in NMMC eight days due to severe hemorrhaging. I had intermittent muscle pain in my left back for about two years afterward.
In mid-July 2007, while I was undergoing radiation therapy, Sophie told me she was taking a short trip to California to visit her best friend Hui Li. Sophie was gone three weeks. Soon after she returned, she left for California again to work for Hui Li as a masseuse. (Hui Li had dumped her husband Patrick Clarke soon after she and her daughter got green cards.) Sophie continued to spend the majority of her time in California until May 2008, except for 1 or 2-week visits with me every 4-6 weeks.
In the spring of 2008, Sophie took a job as a masseuse for Oriental Massage at the Northtown Mall in north suburban Minneapolis. She worked there for Cherry, who became her friend, until July. Then she started searching for a place to open her own business. In August, she opened Sophie’s Oriental Massage in Eden Prairie, southwest suburban Minneapolis. Sophie’s Oriental Massage is an assumed name of Sophie’s corporation, Sophie Yang, Inc. I provided support for acquiring everything from space and equipment to credit card processing and telephone and Internet service. It would have been impossible for her to do that on her own due to her lack of both US and Minnesota business know-how and insufficient English ability.
Her suite in the Bremer Bank Building has four rooms: a reception area, a small kitchen and two massage rooms. She’s filled much of it with a variety of plants. Most of her clients are men. They like the deep tissue massage she can provide. Some of her clients are women who want the $10 special, first-time massage for females. She charges women $25 per half hour, men $40 per half hour. It’s unclear whether that’s legal.
Business at Sophie’s has been slower than it should be during due to the recession. Her competitors report the same situation. The overhead is high due to the location and taxes take over half the gross income, so she makes only a modest profit. But it gives her something to do. I am her de facto manager due to her poor English and lack of business skills. I take care of the bookkeeping, tax payments, bank accounts, federal and state reports, etc. I also created a website for Sophie’s and I place online advertising.
During March through June 2008, I was a business analyst and later a technical architect for Carlson Companies in Plymouth, Minnesota. Carlson is a travel and leisure company that owns Radisson Hotels, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, TGIF restaurants and several other lines of business, including other hotels, motels and resorts.
I liked Carlson and especially the people there. I hoped to be hired as a permanent employee, because I was working on a contract-to-hire. But the recession forced Carlson to impose an across-the-board hiring freeze. My contract was extended one month but I was then let go due to the freeze despite the accolades I received for my work.
Since then, I’ve only worked two short-term, part-time IT contracts. Work has been scarce due to a combination of factors: companies moving IT jobs to Bangalore, India, thousands of H-1B IT workers streaming into the US, the recession and my age. It is becoming increasingly difficult to convince a 30-year-old or younger hiring manager that it is okay to employ a person over 45 years older than him or her. Age discrimination in the US is rampant and laws prohibiting it are usually unenforceable, because there is often no way to prove it occurred. Companies now conduct most employment screening in secrecy with little or no feedback to the applicant.
As of the spring of 2010, I have split C. Harstad Associates, Inc. into two companies, C. Harstad Associates for business services consulting and Zadada for IT services. I and four associates are hoping to generate contracts by focusing on dentistry IT as our primary market segment.
I have been ill for the past four years. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2010 and with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, in 2012. I’ve grown progressively weaker during the past four years. As of the end of 2014, I have only a few months to live.
Due to illness, I haven’t done much since 2010. I haven’t taken any trips. Much of my time is spent at medical appointments.
I live at the Golden Living Center nursing home, a place I thoroughly hate. I’m chronically sleep-deprived. I spend as much time as possible at our condo in St. Louis Park.
Sophie is going to be left with a huge amount of debt. I’m unsure what to do about that. All I get at the nursing home is a bed and three meals per day and medicine, but it cost about $200 per day. I’m encouraging her to buy back the condo from the sheriff for about $65,000 so she won’t have to move our stuff.
There is so much I would like to do before I die but so little time and opportunity. I hope to visit my aunt Clarice and my mother. There is a lot of unfinished paperwork. I haven’t dealt with any of my possessions. I’m too tired and weak to do much of anything. It’s no fun but I am carrying on.
Note: Carl Harstad died at the Golden Living Center nursing home on Sunday, March 22, 2015. A memorial service was held for him at Fort Snelling national cemetery on Tuesday, May 19, 2015., attended both by relatives and friends. Carl had many friends.
A thought about mortality by Carl Harstad Jan. 1, 2014
"I have certain regrets about dying soon. I regret leaving Sophie behind, especially because she might have financial problems. I regret not being able to eat pumpkin pie anymore. And I regret not seeing the technology I will miss after I’m gone, planetary exploration, the discovery of other species somewhere out there, the deciphering of the riddle of gravity and much more.
But every generation has its regrets. I have been privileged to witness many scientific advances during my lifetime, Ajet planes, cell phones, videos, HDTV and Select Comfort beds, to name a few. It’s a pity I can’t live forever so I could witness the past, present and future. Mortality is one of the biggest drawbacks to being human."
Carl Harstad and Bill McGaughey at Benihana restaurant in Golden Valley Jan. 2, 2014
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